social media

The Evolution of PR in the Digital Era

Public relations flourished in an era when there were lots of local newspapers and three major TV networks. In the digital world, PR has evolved to take advantage of more news channels, more communications tools and more viewer interaction.

Public relations flourished in an era when there were lots of local newspapers and three major TV networks. In the digital world, PR has evolved to take advantage of more news channels, more communications tools and more viewer interaction.

Before the internet, public relations was all about outshining the other guy. In the digital world, corporations, nonprofits and public agencies must communicate in ways that build trust. You still want your organization to stand out from competitors. But how you do it and where you do it have changed markedly in the digital era.

Traditional media no longer owns the turf. People get news from a mix of disparate sources, many of which have a point of view or even an agenda. There isn’t a national fireplace around which a majority of Americans gather to hear the news from a handful of trusted broadcasters. A lot of people open up their morning newspaper, if they still subscribe to one, on their smartphones.

Once upon a time, consumers had confidence in what brand leaders said. Now, people want a more personalized relationship with the brands they buy. They want to make sure brands walk their talk.

Skepticism about claims runs deeper, causing consumers to give more credence to reviews than advertising. Events and contests, long a PR staple, stimulate consumer engagement, but don’t automatically build trust. 

The reality: A digital presence is mandatory to connect with consumers, clients and contributors. Websites, blogs/vlogs and social media platforms are gateways into a brand, a cause or an agency because they can tell a more extended and authentic story than a press release.

Organizations are smart to recognize that a sharp online presence can pay dividends in terms of increased transactions, richer interactions and bolstered loyalty. Websites can be layered tiers of useful and relevant information that invite exploration. Blogs or their video siblings can raise awareness through demonstrated thought leadership. Social media can provide a comfortable conduit for purposeful engagement. 

Digital PR is all about seizing the opportunities afforded by an interconnected world to inform, engage and convince.

Digital PR is all about seizing the opportunities afforded by an interconnected world to inform, engage and convince.

Stimulating digital media doesn’t just happen by accident. It requires skill, patience and a deep understanding of your consumers, clients or constituents. You need to anticipate what they want to know or would appreciate knowing, then provide it in an appealing, even entertaining way. In the digital world, you have a larger palette of communication colors and a virtually unlimited lens to project your information and messaging.

A critical difference between your grandfather’s PR and digital PR today is linkability. A press release, event or contest could build interest, but didn’t have much shelf life – in part because there was no internet to archive them and make it easy to retrieve them later. Digital content shines because it can be linked to other digital sites, especially a website, the mother earth of an online presence. And it never disappears, even if it falls to page three of a Google search.

A press release or press statement organically has limited reach. When first utilized, they went to legacy media that dominated the public’s attention. That’s less true today. Breaking news, other than car accidents and fires, is more likely now to burst into public view on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Savvy organizations need to use these channels to dispense their big news – or respond to news about them – in real time, a luxury digital media affords.

Press releases have limited emotional appeal. Video and photographic content, which flourishes on digital media, isn’t limited. It can touch hearts, create associations and lead to loyalty. Visual and audio content can strike familiar chords and become sticky in people’s brains.

Digital media’s greatest appeal is its interactive character. Viewers can respond instantly, thoughtfully and impactfully. You may not always like what they say, but the interaction gives you a chance to build a relationship, to seize an opportunity to turn a critic into an ambassador. That’s something the venerable press release never could do.

Of course, the press release has evolved into a digital tool. They can contain rich content and useful links. The internet and social media such as Twitter make it easier to distribute your news and messaging to key digital media targets. 

The digital world doesn’t spell the end of traditional PR principles. Story pitches still need a sharp hook. Pitches work best when tailored and aimed at the most appropriate news outlets. Customizing a story for a particular outlet remains a smart strategy. Fresh content, a unique angle and a human touch still get the attention of news people.

You don’t have to toss all you know about PR out the window. Just open the window and scan all the possibilities the digital world affords to tell your story and spread your message.

 

Find and Share the Many Faces of Your Story

Discover a great story to tell, then think how you can share it uniquely and effectively across different outreach platforms such as your website, social media and email. Hint: think of your intended audience and follow where they lead.

Discover a great story to tell, then think how you can share it uniquely and effectively across different outreach platforms such as your website, social media and email. Hint: think of your intended audience and follow where they lead.

Sharing your story on multiple media is smart. But don’t assume a one-size-fits-all strategy for content. Discover the many faces of your story that align with your different outreach platforms.

Some story forms work on a website, but land like a thud on Instagram. Optimally, the story should conform to the audience that dominates individual platforms. The demographics and viewing habits of audiences vary greatly from Twitter to Facebook or from LinkedIn to Instagram. The content should be shaped accordingly.

Russell Working, writing for ragan.com, channels some of the secrets employed by Good Morning America, which he notes is the number one morning news show with a history of online success. Working pulls together some of the top tips from Terry Hurlbutt on effective content and distribution strategies.

One of his tips is to “adopt the story to the medium.” “What is the story we’re trying to tell?” Hurlbutt says. “What is the heart of it? And then how do we adapt that story to a different medium?” It could be as simple as using a video on Facebook and a selfie or behind-the-scenes look for an e-letter.

A story told by a TV anchor works for a network website. Taking the host out of the story elevates the same story’s interest on Facebook. Selfie-style video may pique interest of the same story on Instagram. Live streaming offers a you-are-there perspective that can appeal to viewers who want ultimate realism. 

Sometimes the variations are as simple as where the camera is pointed. For a cooking show, you want to see the chef, but your best view of a recipe-in-progress can be a top-down camera view.

Most brands and businesses don’t have all the resources of ABC or network news shows. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to creativity and maximize what you shoot for multiple outlets. Hurlbutt advises that an advantage of digital content is that it can be easily molded and folded to “feel natural” to conversations on different digital platforms.

Not every story lends itself to repurpose for multiple media. The stories that are most amenable tend to be inspirational and about real people. “The world is full of inspiring stories every day,” Hurlbutt says. “Find them and elevate those stories to a wider audience.”

It goes without saying the critical element in spreading around your story is careful planning. You can’t just wing it or hope it works out. That trivializes what could be a golden moment.

As Hurlbutt advised, look for stories with multiple facets that can be told through a mix of lenses. Identify the core of the story, which needs to be the mother rock of whatever variations you develop. Then do a 360 around that core to see how it looks or can be viewed from different angles. Consider narrators and story forms in the context of audience preferences or platform norms. Think about how to capture these different views. Finally, lay out how to optimize each vantage point to maximize your overall story reach. 

Yes, this involves some hard work and getting out of your comfort zone. Keep in mind, your audience will appreciate the effort and show their appreciation by sharing your story far beyond your immediate orbit.

 

Infographics are Eye-Grabbing Pictures of Information

‘Infographics’ is a seemingly new word to describe pictures of information, but the concept dates back to the days of cave-dwellers and is as common as a subway map. Infographics capture eyeballs and can be easier-than-you-think to create.

‘Infographics’ is a seemingly new word to describe pictures of information, but the concept dates back to the days of cave-dwellers and is as common as a subway map. Infographics capture eyeballs and can be easier-than-you-think to create.

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Marketers and PR professionals frequently refer to “infographics.” You may not recognize the word, but you most likely have seen more than one of them.

In the simplest explanation, infographics are pictures of information. They can include charts, illustrations, photographs and text designed to convey information in a more visual way than a series of dense paragraphs.

Infographics is a new coinage for an ancient idea. Cave drawings may have been the first infographics by showing through pictures significant events or achievements. Mapmakers have produced infographics for centuries that show continents, oceans, mountain ranges, rivers, trails and, more recently, highways. Public transit maps showing routes and stops are a perfect example of an infographic.

The surge in interest in infographics is tied to social media viewing habits. Infographics attract more clicks and are far more likely to be read than messages consisting of only text. Busy (or distracted) people want to acquire information as easily as possible without digging through dense prose. Infographics appeal because they package information so skimmers can pick out key facts and easily follow a short visual narrative. Viewers like infographics because they are easy to share.

Communicators should like infographics because they demand a disciplined approach to what you are trying to say – and forcing you to say it in more than words that you tap out on your laptop.

Like any other communication tool, the secret sauce of infographics is saying something worthwhile, then figuring out how to visualize what you are saying. That starts with your storyline. Yes, infographics are just another storytelling technique. Begin with an eye-catching piece of data to grab attention. Make sure your narrative is logical for your audience to follow.

Once you have a story to tell, think about how to illustrate your key points to keep the story moving. Use stick figures or scribbles to develop your basic design. If you need inspiration, Google infographics, look at some examples and select the styles that work best for your story. 

Some communicators shun infographics, despite their proven effectiveness, because they don’t know how to create them. That’s understandable, but very curable. There are plenty of tools that can walk you through their creation. If you have a teenager or young adult, they could whip one out with ease. You may have someone on your staff who can take your rough draft and turn it into a splendid infographic. There are plenty of graphic designers who will do it for you at a reasonable price. 

Have a point of view on how you want your infographic to work and look. At the same time, be open to other ideas about how to show your story. There is no formula for the perfect infographic. New ideas are being explored everyday – from squares instead of scrolls to 3D illustrations.

The constants in infographics include using color that is consonant with your branding, readable typefaces, social media sharing buttons, mobile optimization and a clear call to action. The design you put into your infographic should be repeated in other communications, so you have a consistent visual identity. 

To achieve its objective, your infographic needs to be promoted and shared. LinkedIn is an excellent platform, along with Facebook and Twitter. Instagram can be the right choice if your target is younger eyeballs. Don’t forget to post the infographic on your website or write about it in your blog.

Still not convinced? Read this infographic developed by Spiralytics about how infographics can benefit your business.

 

Millennials Glued to TV as Much as Other Adults

Contrary to public perception, Millennials consume commercial TV programming as much or more than other adults and favor it over YouTube videos. Millennials forge stronger emotional bonds with programs and actors, which spills over into other digital channels and influences purchasing decisions, according to a report from the Video Advertising Bureau.

Contrary to public perception, Millennials consume commercial TV programming as much or more than other adults and favor it over YouTube videos. Millennials forge stronger emotional bonds with programs and actors, which spills over into other digital channels and influences purchasing decisions, according to a report from the Video Advertising Bureau.

Millennials like TV programming, even with advertising, as much or more than other adults. And Millennials have stronger emotional bonds to TV characters than YouTube personalities, according to a 2018 report by the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB).

The common perception is that Millennials have deserted commercial television. The data in the report indicates otherwise, noting Millennials watch TV as much as other adults, just less so on cable. This finding suggests marketers trying to reach Millennials shouldn’t entirely abandon ad-supported TV programming and dump all their advertising on Instagram and YouTube.

VAB’s members are pretty much the who’s who of broadcasting and premium video content. Nevertheless, the takeaways in the report titled, “Exploring Millennials’ Meaningful Relations with TV Programming,” are striking. The topline finds are:

  • Millennials feel a strong bond with TV programming and regularly set aside time to watch their favorite programs, prioritizing it as “me time.”

  • Millennial viewers are actively engaged beyond when TV programs air by sharing and posting video clips, following actors on social media, reading recaps and scouring the web to find behind-the-scenes scoops.

  • Motivated by their attachment to TV shows, Millennials buy products, select travel destinations and dine at restaurants they have seen featured or advertising on TV.

A key underlying theme in the report is that Millennials do more than watch TV; they engage with programs and actors that interest them. The emotion bond they forge carries over to digital platforms such as “liking” a program or actor on Facebook, sharing video clips and tweeting.

Millennials are often the cultural carriers of phrases or memes that originate on TV programs, including dressing up like a favorite character on Halloween. They also serve as the word-of-mouth ambassadors for programs that have appeal for Millennial audiences and are more likely to feel personal connections to favorite TV program actors. Sometimes the attachment is so strong Millennial viewers go through something akin to withdrawal when a season ends. 

The picture of Millennials sitting by themselves staring at their smartphones or tablets isn’t completely accurate either, according to the report. Millennials enjoy the communal dimension of watching favorite TV programs with their friends.

While Millennials consume lots of content on YouTube, the data from the VAB report indicates they enjoy live TV programming, despite advertising, significantly more (40 percent to 29 percent).

The Video Advertising Bureau report shows Millennials can be ardent viewers of TV content that appeals to them and enjoy sharing and taking about they see with friends and on social media.

The Video Advertising Bureau report shows Millennials can be ardent viewers of TV content that appeals to them and enjoy sharing and taking about they see with friends and on social media.

Small Business Use of Social Media Continues to Grow

Small businesses follow trends of increased social media presence and promotion and use of visual content such as infographics, images and videos.

Small businesses follow trends of increased social media presence and promotion and use of visual content such as infographics, images and videos.

Despite its problems with preserving user privacy, Facebook remains the dominant social media platform for small businesses, but Instagram, YouTube and Twitter are catching up. LinkedIn and Snapchat are in the race, too.

More than 70 percent of small businesses with fewer than 500 employees use social media promotion, according to a recent survey of more than 350 US small business owners conducted by Clutch, an independent research firm based in Washington, DC.

Small business presence on social media platforms has risen in step with increasing user engagement. Clutch says as many as 24 percent of small businesses now posting on social media started as recently as 2017. More than half of small businesses with an online presence post something daily.

Women-owned small businesses tend to rely on social media more than businesses owned by men. Millennial-owned small businesses are more likely to use social media than older business owners.

Fifty-four percent of small businesses post images or infographics on their social media sites, adhering to evidence that visual content draws greater attention than text.

Of the small businesses surveyed by Clutch, 16 percent said they planned to become active on social media, while only 13 percent indicated no interest.

Eighty-six percent of small businesses surveyed indicated they are on Facebook, which isn’t much of a surprise given its overall social media market dominance with 2.13 billion users across multi-generations and the ability to target audiences.

A little more surprising is that Instagram logged in as the second most used social media platform with 48 percent of small businesses. YouTube (46 percent), Twitter (44 percent), LinkedIn (31 percent) and Snapchat (25 percent) also attracted substantial small business usage. Only 12 percent of small business social media users rely only on Facebook.

A social media presence for women-owned small businesses is a virtual no-brainer because women outnumber men as social media users. The same holds true for small businesses owned by Millennials and targeting Millennial consumers, who grew up surrounded by digital media and can’t imagine life without the internet.

Generational preferences indicate Gen X and Baby Boomers are more likely to prefer Facebook and LinkedIn while Millennials gravitate more to Instagram and Snapchat, creating at least a crude form of social media segmentation.

The Clutch survey showed 52 percent of small businesses post something daily on social media, 70 percent post weekly and 94 percent monthly.  Images or infographics (54 percent) are the more popular type of content posted by small businesses, followed by offers or promotions (52 percent), reviews (49 percent), videos (44 percent), blog posts (40 percent) and research data (33 percent).

 

Sending a Message Through Messaging

Content marketing and social media get the headlines, but increasingly direct messaging apps are getting the users because of their speed, convenience and personal connections. Businesses have noticed.

Content marketing and social media get the headlines, but increasingly direct messaging apps are getting the users because of their speed, convenience and personal connections. Businesses have noticed.

Direct messaging is rapidly emerging as a valuable channel to address service issues, support peer-to-peer communications and create stronger relationships with brands.

Often overshadowed by social media, messaging and chat have the benefit of establishing a direct digital contact between consumer and company, whether to deal with a cable outage, modify an overseas travel itinerary, notify someone a package arrived or pass along timely information to a colleague.

Email has most of the same virtues, but users associate messaging with immediacy. While people periodically check their email, they tend to respond more quickly to messaging apps. That explains why Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp both boast 1.3 billion monthly active users and Slack is used by 3 million people daily.

The evolution of messaging, including as a business channel, is evidenced by Facebook’s growing investment in Messenger, which is now host for 65 million businesses.

Dylan Sellberg of Hubspot in a blog post on Medium wrote, “2018 is the year for businesses to engage with customers through messaging. Because it’s not about what your business wants – it’s about what your customers want.” Sellberg shared examples of how companies are leveraging Messenger:

  • Sephora uses Facebook Messenger to streamline their booking process and secure more bookings.
  • Soul Space Media generated 11,000 Facebook Messenger subscribers for 13 cents each.
  • 1–800-Flowers found that 70 percent of its chatbot orders were from first-time customers.
  • Electro house DJ Hardwell teases new songs, livestreams events and engage with fans through Facebook Messenger, which is his brand’s top traffic driver.
  • Love Your Melon announced its new line of caps via sponsored posts on Messenger, and saw a 14X return on investment.
  • Hur Nusrat, a Bangladeshi fashion retailer running its business exclusively through Facebook, used Messenger to triple monthly sales in the course of a year.

The four assets Sellberg sees in messaging include speed, familiarity, convenience and industry forces, which he says are pushing consumers away from traditional channels such as disruptive technology, social media algorithms and concerns about false-flag players. Tine Thygesen, writing for Forbes, added that in addition to convenient, messaging is “inexpensive, personal and instant.” For businesses, it is also cost-effective.

“Offering messaging in service situations enables a customer service representative to answer questions pertinent to the purchase decision and give personal and timely response to time-critical questions,” according to Thygesen. “As the nature of messaging communication is to-the-point, it is much less time consuming than phone calls, also because they are able to communicate with multiple customers at the same time.” Increasing numbers of consumers regard direct messaging as an important service for brands to offer.

The immediacy of messaging matches well with mobile devices, which increasingly is the platform consumers use to engage with brands. Marketers can take some heart that messaging relies on direct contact, not fresh content.

“Messaging has arrived,” Sellberg advises brands, “and it’s time to determine how to leverage it to your business’ advantage.”

 

YouTube: Your Own TV Station

YouTube stars Caspar Lee and Joe Sugg are parlaying their massive online following into gigs in TV and film. It's a bold example of the huge personal branding potential for anyone with their own YouTube channel. 

YouTube stars Caspar Lee and Joe Sugg are parlaying their massive online following into gigs in TV and film. It's a bold example of the huge personal branding potential for anyone with their own YouTube channel. 

As digital media has allowed you to be your own content publisher, YouTube allows you to be your own TV station.

Today, the video sharing giant has become far more than a personal outlet for run-of-the-mill vloggers to vent their frustrations and show off their whacky sense of humor. Now drawing tens of billions of views a month on millions of fresh videos, YouTube has created a massive worldwide platform for its biggest stars, many of whom are finding their successful video careers expanding well beyond YouTube and into more traditional media. But you don’t have to be famous to tap into the limitless marketing potential of YouTube.    

Last week, The Guardian highlighted the story of successful British YouTube due Joe Sugg and Caspar Lee, who started small and built a large following, which they later parlayed into TV and movie deals. Though not exactly household names in the U.S., Sugg and Lee have more than 11 million YouTube subscribers and upwards of one billion views on Google’s video service. Theirs is an example of how far the clever use of a YouTube channel can get you.  

Last year, the duo released Joe and Caspar Hit the Road, a straight-to-DVD movie chronicling their trip around Europe. Behind the production is the team from the popular British TV series Top Gear. While going straight to DVD usually means your movie is a box office dud, the rule simply doesn’t apply for the rising stars of YouTube. After topping the sales charts as a DVD and digital download on the web, the movie will make its way to the E4 TV network this month, and a sequel is already in the mix for this fall.

Clearly, you don’t have to be famous to tap into the massive marketing potential of YouTube. If you self-promote it, they will come. Just as blogs have become a more common marketing tool for businesses in the past several years, YouTube vloggers have begun to gain more traction among branding strategists. Now those strategists are turning to YouTube with their own channels for branding a company.  

According to a 2015 Social Media Examiner study of more than 3,700 marketers, 55 percent of business-to-business marketers and business-to-consumer marketers are incorporating YouTube into their brand-building strategies today. The number of YouTube converts continues to grow, and it should for quite some time.

Consider that we live in an age where video has overtaken written communication as a more popular, fast-growing communication medium online, especially among young audiences. Part of what’s driving so many to seize upon YouTube as a marketing tool is the simplicity and accessibility of YouTube. Anyone can shoot a video and post it to their channel, and it doesn’t have to be long or particularly well made to draw thousands or even millions of views.  

Rising new media companies, like Vice, owe much of their recent success to YouTube. After drawing millions upon millions of views on their short clips and alternative documentaries posted on YouTube, Vice had picked up enough of a following to launch its own daily news show on HBO. Now Vice is expanding in Europe with 30 shows in production and another 100 in development, said Eddy Moretti, the company’s chief creative officer.

“Our model has been we launch a channel online, we create the brand, we create a lot of video for that brand, and find talent … And we’ve been moving that talent, that IP [intellectual property], those videos, to other platforms,” Moretti said.

The success of these new media ventures aside, any successful branding strategy in today’s fast changing world needs to be designed to draw in millennials online, and few places in the digital arena offer a better venue for that than YouTube. That concept should always be top-of-mind for any branding strategist today. Whether you work for a meteoric video producer like Vice or a much smaller local business, YouTube may just be your best friend in marketing for many, many years to come. 

Justin Runquist is CFM’s communications counsel. He is a former reporter for The Oregonian, The Columbian and The Spokesman-Review. Away from the office, he’s a baseball fanatic with foolhardy hopes that the Mariners will go to the World Series someday. You can reach Justin at justinr@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @_JustinRunquist

The Art of Engagement and Spam

Online engagement isn't a choice between what is and isn't spam. Online engagement is all about what works.

Online engagement isn't a choice between what is and isn't spam. Online engagement is all about what works.

The point of social media is engagement, but a lot of engagement resembles spam. Cory Torella says it doesn't matter.

Torella – the founder and CEO of Better Auds, a social media marketing firm – says most posts on social media sites seek to engage other people. He calls that "strategic, purposeful conversation." You may be sharing a video of your dog refusing to go out in the rain or inviting people to participate in a contest. Torella says at some point "spam is no longer spam."

"If you guessed that the amount of spam that I receive on a daily basis is fairly high, you are correct," says Torella. "However, I love reading spam…. I read every single word of it."

Most social media users don't share Torella's enthusiasm for spam, but they may unknowingly share his habit of reading it. Especially if the "spam" has strong visual appeal and an irresistible hook.

Torella's business is all about cultivating an audience online without trying to buy followers. Earning an audience on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or Instagram is all about content that engages people.

As individual users, we seek to engage our circle of friends by sharing experiences, pictures and thoughts. Corporate, nonprofit and pubic agencies seek to engage target audiences to sell a product, ask for a contribution or change a behavior.

The social media strategy for individuals may be as simple as connecting with "pals." The strategy isn't that different for organizations, except they usually want their "pals" to connect with their websites.

Torella's zest for consuming spam posts is tied to his interest in finding what works, what appeals to certain audiences. In effect, he is looking for how users segment social media.

One of the most vexing problems for organizations that have worked to accumulate a large number of "followers" is to keep them engaged. Many people "like" a company or organization, then never go back to the Facebook page. Sustaining engagement takes energy, creativity and perseverance. You have to work at it constantly.

Torella views spam as a form of lab mice. By trial and error – and, in his case, careful observation – you see what works and what doesn't. "I determine if there's anything I can take away from [spam]," Torella explains. "If it's good, I will write it down or screenshot it. If it is bad (and I mean really, really bad), I will write that down, too. So while most [people] see spam, I see art."

Engagement, spam, good art, bad art all may make no difference. What counts is what works – to gain clicks, conversions and customers. The only way to find out what works is to experiment. That is a lot easier and cheaper to do on social media than paid media. You simply have to be willing to engage and let that lead you where it will.

Finding Success on Social Media

Successful use of social media requires treating fans and followers like friends.

Successful use of social media requires treating fans and followers like friends.

Many organizations still use social media as just another advertising channel. They should view social media more like a community.

While social media platforms vary widely, they share a common characteristic of being community-based. People use social media to interact with other people. They weigh their engagement based on common interests and authenticity. Participation is personal and voluntary.

So pushing marketing messages on social media platforms can miss the point of social media. Participants don't check their Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Twitter feeds to listen to you; they tune in to engage.

Success on social media requires engagement. You can still be on a marketing mission, but you have to offer more than your key message. Here are some suggested avenues to success:

1. Offer something useful. It may be an update on fashion trends, a short how-to video on a vexing household chore, an invitation to a clever event or a visual explanation of the process to refinance the mortgage on a house. You aren't selling as much as sharing, with a goal of building or deepening a relationship.

2. Deliver something delightful. Share a backstory, pictures your customers took or key milestone. Make your posts personal to humanize your organization. Invite reactions and new shares from your community.

3. Create a conversation. A great way to start a conversation is to ask a question and acknowledge and interact with people who respond with answers. Some conversations may be frivolous, while others are more serious. Be quick to point out great ideas or suggestions. Be just as quick to address concerns or criticisms. Treat responders as if they were family.

4. Give them a place to click. Customer acquisition remains an underlying goal, so give your social media community clear directions of where to learn more about your products or services. It is usually a website, but it can be an online "newsroom" or a blog. Avoid making this a hard push. Cast it more like an invitation. Track those who accept the invitation, so you can follow up.

5. Treat them like insiders. Make your community feel special. Offer special deals. Give them behind-the-scenes insights. See yourself as the neighbor who hosts the July 4th barbecue and fireworks show on your front driveway. Make yourself irresistible to refuse.

Social media changes rapidly, so don't fall in love with any strategies or tactics. Algorithms can change overnight, requiring new approaches.

At the same time, don't be afraid to experiment. Being unique and different has value on social media.

Social media should be part of an overall marketing strategy, not an end to itself. It is much easier – and much cheaper – to try, fail and correct course on social media than in other forms of marketing.

Most of all, social media can be a lot of fun. You won't always accumulate a huge following overnight, but you can steadily build a loyal community of followers that becomes a brand asset.

Related Link: The Five C’s of Social Media Success

Include Online Influencers in Your Media Relations Strategy

Growing an army of online influencers is an important part of your media relations strategy. 

Growing an army of online influencers is an important part of your media relations strategy. 

You’ve built your media list, filling it with great contacts from local and national media. You’ve included television, radio, newspapers and magazines. Is something missing? Yes. You’ve forgotten online influencers. 

Online influencers are an essential part of any robust media relations strategy. Online influencers include bloggers. Some may not have an official blog, but they have significant followings on social media. 

Online influencers are often more topic-specific than traditional media. In these days of shrinking newsrooms, most reporters cover a wide range of issues. Most bloggers and online influencers tend to focus on specific interests. They have followers, often in large numbers, interested in the same topics. If your business is related to these interests, partnering with an online influencer can create a direct line to your target audience. 

After you’ve decided to connect with online influencers, the question becomes how. Here are a few suggestions for how to connect with online influencers. 

1. Check your media database. Most media databases include prominent bloggers with significant followings. This is a great way to identify some of the most famous bloggers who write about businesses similar to yours. However, if you want to partner with one of these bloggers, be prepared to pay. Most popular bloggers are willing to partner with businesses, but they expect to be paid for the privilege. Their blog is a business. Don't rule this out. A great sponsored post by a top blogger may be more valuable than an advertisement. 

2. Check your social media followings. If you’re active on Twitter and Facebook, take a look at your followers who you interact with the most. Twitter is usually a better platform for this than Facebook, given its one-on-one nature. It’s also very easy to look at Twitter follower profiles to check out their number and quality of followers. If they are blogging, most will link to their blogs on their profiles. 

Instagram is another great platform for finding online influencers. If one of your followers has a large following on Instagram that could be enough to consider them an online influencer. Note that Instagram followings may be smaller than other social media, but the level of engagement on this platform is often higher. If your business has a physical location, be sure to look to see if anyone has checked in to your business. Many people might have checked into your business without finding your account so be sure to follow them. 

3. Hold a social media contest. Having a Instagram contest is a great way to grow your social media following and find great online influencers. Ask people to use a particular hashtag to tag their Instagram photos. Have a physical location? You have even more options. Consider setting up a selfie station. Make sure to follow and engage with everyone who participates in the contest. 

After you’ve grown your list of online influencers you can start offering special promotions and opportunities to keep them engaged. These influencers can be powerful brand ambassadors.

Content Marketing + Savvy Promotion

Great content is hard to produce, but will go for naught without hard-headed promotion to reach the intended eyeballs of your customers or clients.

Great content is hard to produce, but will go for naught without hard-headed promotion to reach the intended eyeballs of your customers or clients.

Effective content marketing requires producing the content, then promoting it through a variety of channels. The art is knowing what to write and the science is knowing how and where to promote it, says Intel content strategist Luke Kintigh.

Like it or not, 90 percent of viewership comes from 10 percent of the content. Some pieces are winners and some just trot along for the ride. Kintigh argues for a promotional strategy of placing your bets on the winners who show the best promise of attracting clicks.

According to a story by Russell Working, writing for ragan.com. Kintigh's strategy has tripled page views of Intel's iQ online magazine over the last year.

Like many other smart brands, Intel has turned to content marketing, using the online magazine as its thought leadership platform. iQ contains a wide array of stories about how technology is transforming everything from health care to craft beer. Intel pays to promote its content.

Many companies and nonprofits lack the financial resources of an Intel or a Microsoft to produce and promote compelling content. But the lessons from the big guys still apply. Good content and savvy promotion can pay dividends.

Not every piece you write will be a big hit. That doesn't mean the piece is worthless if it demonstrates your expertise or grasp of a complex situation. A piece like that only has to be read once by the right person to pay off.

Regardless whether your content is read by thousands or just a few, promotion is critical to make sure the right eyeballs see it. That's why you need to know where your customers or clients are paying attention to relevant content.

When you aren't able to produce enough content to fill an online magazine, it pays to focus on what you know and what your customers or clients need to know. Utility is the golden rule of content marketing.

Tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Reddit are no-cost ways to put some social media spin to your content. Direct email works, too. When you have something really special to share, putting a little advertising money behind it can give it an online boost.

The key takeaway – producing content is hard, but it is a fool's errand unless it is combined with hard-headed promotion so your content reaches the audience for which it is intended.

Five Reasons to Consider a Communications Audit

Have your communications efforts stalled? Not seeing the results you expected? It may be time to consider a communications audit.

A communications audit is a systematic evaluation of your organization’s communications from both a strategic and practical standpoint. Here are five reasons a communications audit can help take your communications to the next level.

1. You haven’t done any research

Research results provide a framework for all communications, setting a baseline on where you are now and a road map for where you should be going. After the audit is completed and changes implemented, future research will shed light on what is working and where further changes are needed in communication efforts.

2. Making a difference

A communications audit provides clarity on which communications efforts make an impact. Where and how people get information is changing rapidly and varies by demographic group. Identifying the tools to use to reach target groups is an ongoing process.

3. You need an unbiased opinion

Free Drinks? Tell Me More

In the scramble to conquer social media, some marketers have forgotten the latent power of the out-of-favor direct mail letter.

Snail mail, disdained as old school, has ironically cleared out the mailbox for smart direct mail solicitations.

Portland Center Stage got it right in its recent letter pitching subscriptions to its upcoming season of shows. "Free drinks? Check. $30 tix for friends? Check. Monthly payment plans? Check. We offer all kinds of sweet perks for our season ticket-holders."

The letter goes on to list "10 things we'd like you to know about season tickets," including your own personal ticket agent, access to best seats and virtual valet e-service.

The letter even shares a "Fun Fact" – tickets are printed with heat, not ink. "We use a special thermal paper that changes color when exposed to heat. If you drag your fingernail across the ticket, it will generate enough heat to leave a faint line. Ooohhh. Even our tickets are magic."

The conversational, enthusiastic tone is matched by on-the-money information about the value of being a season ticket-holder. The letter isn't splashy. In fact, it isn't even illustrated. A mailer describing the PCS 2014-2015 lineup was enclosed. (Who wouldn’t be enticed by "The People's Republic of Portland," written by Lauren Weedman, a former "correspondent" on The Daily Show.)

Your Website Matters

So much attention has been given to social media and thought leadership blogs, websites have become almost an afterthought. They are anything but.

Websites have evolved from their beginnings as electronic brochures, where content contained in print brochures was essentially uploaded online.

Websites morphed into information portals that moved beyond print copy to offer layers of information, often in multimedia forms.

Now websites are centers for content marketing strategies. The content spreads out like religious apostles, but a key objective of the content is to cause a click on the holy land of content, your website.

The look and feel of websites has evolved, too. They have gone from hard-to-read to vibrant and colorful, with images and information packaging overtaking the dull columns of copy that marked earlier websites.

Finding Your Brand Voice

Interactions on social media or blogs should be through a common voice. Finding that brand voice involves a lot more than just picking someone in the intern pool. 

Most companies and organizations have concluded, whether eager or grudging, they need a presence on social media and to engage in content marketing. But discomfort lingers, so the first command decision is who will be delegated the responsibility of tweeting. This is like making a wrong turn into a one-way street.

The whole idea behind consumer or constituent engagement is to build trust. One of the most important avenues to trust is familiarity. You recognize a friend by how they talk. You trust a friend because of their values. The same should be true for a brand.

Here are some of the factors to consider in developing and sustaining a credible brand voice:

Appropriate Voice

If you make hot dogs, your voice should have a different tone than if you are dentist. People associate hot dogs with parties and ballgames. They associate dentists with pain. Your voice needs to reflect your brand personality. 

Blogging about hotdogs has more leeway in the use of humor than dentistry, where the focus of blogging should be on putting people at ease about procedures. There is plenty of room to flex personality in both circumstances. You just need to flex the right personality.

Know Your Objective 

There are differing reasons to engage on social media, which also can influence the tone of your brand voice. Red Bull wants to envelope people in the active adventure lifestyle it promotes. Comcast wants to monitor social media so it can respond immediately to consumer complaints, in the quest to convert people with problems into ambassadors of the brand.

Social Media Manager is Dead-End Job

With social media becoming an ever-increasing part of communications strategies, how can a position dedicated to managing social media be already on the way out?

The answer to that is easy and predictable. Social media never was — or should have been — an end in itself. It is just another tool, a cool one at that, in your integrated communications toolkit.

Social media is the perfect answer for some marketing and issue management needs and a non-starter for others. Just like TV ads, billboards and direct mail.

In the marketing PR world, the right answer isn't what service you sell; it is the tool or tools that get the job done.

Think of social media in the same light as websites. Not that long ago, websites were rarities as part of communications strategies. Now, it is rare to find a communications plan that doesn't call for a website. Social media is following a similar pattern. It is becoming a staple in most communications strategies. But it usually is just a part of the strategy.

Twitterjacking the Grammy's

David Meerman Scott has extolled the power of newsjacking. Josh Martin, social media manager for Arby's, has proven the power of twitterjacking.

Tuned into the Grammy Awards, Martin was poised with some pre-developed tweets when he noticed online buzz comparing Grammy award winner Pharrell Williams hat to the fast food company's well-known logo.

Quick on his fingertips, Martin tapped this simple tweet – "Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs."

Martin's quick-witted addition to the conversation turned into a "great real-time moment," earning 83,000 retweets and was "favorited" 48,000 times.

More important, Williams playfully responded with his own tweet, "Y'all tryna start a roast beef?" which was flashed to the artist's 2.7 million Twitter followers, gaining another 16,988 retweets and 14,195 "favorites" — huge earned exposure for a second-echelon fast food restaurant.

Good Intentions, Bad Taste

It doesn't take a bad deed to plunge into online hot water. All it takes is poor judgment.

SpaghettiOs, a division of Campbell Soup, learned that the hard way when it posted a well-intentioned tweet to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day. The tweet displayed the pasta brand's lip-licking mascot in tennis shoes holding an American flag. The post ignited a firestorm on social media.

Typical of the indignant tweets was this one, "@SpaghettiOs really?? C'mon corporate morons. Ridiculous and frankly offensive."

SpaghettiOs took down the tweet and apologized for the offense. But it left pundits to wonder why someone thought it was necessary to interject a brand into a commemoration, raising questions about whether it was an attempt to exploit the occasion for profit.

In reality, the tweet probably represented a well-intentioned effort to add the brand's voice in remembering when Japanese planes bombed Hawaii, catapulting a stunned United States into World War II. It's doubtful the corporate tweeter was thinking about sales or profits. He or she was trying to engage online.

This is where judgment should have entered the picture. Someone should have paused before hitting the "tweet" button to assess potential reaction to the post.

Tapping into Puppy Love

People love puppies, which is why so many of them show up in ads and marketing content. They are animal celebrities.If you want to attract audience eyeballs, put a puppy in your ad or marketing content. Puppies sell.

Who but the most rabid anti-dog person can resist the flappable, fur-flying action of a puppy. Mankind has spent so much time with dogs at their side or feet, we have infused their faces with human expressions of endless love and loyalty. Even pictures of abused dogs break our heart.

Keep track of the number of dogs (and the occasional cat) that appear in the ads you watch. Of course they show up in dog food ads, but they are also there for cleaning, baby and human food products. They sell tacos. They look adorable wearing outrageous fashions. They appear in go-vegetarian campaigns. They are used to sell reliable Subarus.

Content with a Purpose

Content marketing is in many cases replacing advertising. However, content marketing must follow the example of advertising and provide a clear call to action to customers and clients.

While advertising tries to reach customers by sheer repetition of a simple message, content marketing seeks to convince by the reliable presence of valuable information. Websites and social media become information portals where customers can find tips and advice they trust.

But content marketing cannot slip into the role of librarian or simply serve as a magazine rack. The point of content marketing is to draw customers toward your product and service. Content marketers must integrate calls to action in the information they provide — and make it easy for customers to try out or purchase their products and services.

This can range from easy-to-find phone numbers to offers of free products or consultations. You can invite website viewers to watch a video demo and promote it on your Facebook page. You can feature a trial version of a product or showcase a how-to guide. You can couple a white paper with a coupon.

As the name implies, content marketing means selling your product through content. To be effective, you need both the content and the sales pitch. This demands intelligent website design. Content must be prominently displayed. So must your call to action.

Studies indicate many business fumble the ball by not providing quality, original content and, when they do, failing to combine it with effective calls to action. They have static websites. Valuable content, if available, is buried. Calls to action are either invisible or overdone.