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Google+: The party where no one wants to be January 20, 2012

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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Whatever social media site you favor most, you at one time heard about it from somewhere, got curious, joined it, learned its in and outs. Probably, if you found this blog via Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn, you ended up finding your social media of choice useful and/or enjoyable and decided to stay a while.

Social sites have worked because people have wanted to join the party and then stayed. They’ve found social to be cool and fun and full of interesting people posting interesting things.

But now it’s Google’s party, and it’s all very… different. Google’s the overbearing boss at the office holiday party. No one really wants to be there — everyone has places where they’d much rather be — but they can’t get out of the obligatory party and they can’t even leave early or there will be repercussions come Monday morning.

This week, we learned that now Google is forcing adoption of Google+ by automatically creating G+ accounts for people who sign up for Gmail, YouTube, or other Google products. If you think that sounds like the strong-armed tactics of early Google Buzz, you’re right. Chalk another one up for Google’s continuing ugly pattern of favoring dominion over choice.

Now, despite my own personal dissatisfaction with G+ (“Hello? Is this thing on?”), I’ve been recommending G+ business pages to my clients because of its SEO implications. Having to do this already feels forced and a bit icky, and there’s no joy in it. Social media junkie that I am, I have yet to meet more than a handful of people who favor G+ over other social networks. Most people seem to be annoyed that there’s yet another social network vying for time and attention, especially since it’s not, for most people, a very exciting place to be. Very few people I know seem happy to use it, or to use a +1 button. But: they’ll be joined on G+ anyway by millions of more people in the coming months who will have it forced upon them.

Google is changing the web, even though no one wants it to. Its tentacles are everywhere as it uses its position in the market to boost its numbers — by coercion. If you’re a marketer, Google’s tightening grip on both search and social is not something you can afford to ignore — but it doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good party.

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A word about press releases December 12, 2011

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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Although it’s a common misconception, PR does not stand for “press release.”

I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek, but as PR professionals know, there is a significant number of people who question the value of hiring an agency (or in-house PR practitioner) because “I can write a press release myself.” I can almost hear the PR people out there nodding their heads in agreement.

PR is, in fact, public relations — a component of which is media relations, but it’s not by any means synonymous. If an activity has anything to do with actively relating with your audience, the public, investors, customers or anyone else: It’s PR. Customer service? Part of it is definitely PR. Social media? PR. Working with analysts? PR. I could go on.

But for the purpose of this article, let’s actually go there and talk about press releases… because even those who know a bit more about marketing and PR — enough to be dangerous, one could say — often believe that all news should be heralded by press release. And these same people will be disappointed when each release is not met with widespread coverage and a splashy above-the-fold article in the WSJ.

This is what I tell my clients: Press releases, while a perfectly useful PR tactic, are not always the best way to disseminate news. They don’t guarantee coverage and are not the perfect tool for every situation.

The absolute best public relations strategy is to determine the most effective strategy to reach people. Right? Most often, this means integrated campaigns as part of an ongoing communications process that includes social media, blogs, email, speaking engagements, webinars and podcasts, websites, conference activity, whitepaper placement, personal outreach and pitching to media, bylined articles — and yes, occasional press releases.

I use several criteria when considering issuing a press release to the media:

  • How newsworthy do we believe this announcement is? Do we believe it stands a fighting chance of being the one release — out of the hundred a journalist or analyst will receive any given day — of being spared the recycling bin?
  • What other announcements have we recently made or are planning to do in the near future? Less is more; releasing too-frequent announcements over a short period can detract from our PR program’s overall impact, even erode credibility.
  • Is a release appropriate for the kind of announcement we are making? What are we trying to accomplish with a release that can’t be accomplished another way?
  • Do the journalists/bloggers/analysts we are targeting for this story respond to press releases? There are also cultural norms that pertain to PR that vary around the world that we must take into account when releasing different news stories.
  • Is a media pickup critical for this kind of news? Can we reach our audience more directly and more effectively another way?

The bottom line is that each organization has its share of important and exciting developments to announce, and each deserves its own considered plan based on available resources. Each announcement you make should be optimized for maximum reach. And if that plan includes a release, then great. But don’t feel too bad if your latest piece of news doesn’t make it into a release. It only means that there are better ways to get it out to the public.

It is, after all, called public relations!

Infographic: Why organizations should use social media to reach journalists December 6, 2011

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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Why should PR practitioners use social media? It’s not just for direct B2B or B2C communications; many journalists use social media and use it to enhance their own research and reach.

To follow is my first self-generated infographic; clearly I’m no designer, but imagine how this would look if I had some graphic assistance! 😉

The great enemy of clear language… (or, why your PR should use narrative and lose the technobabble) December 5, 2011

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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Today I came across a release on the wire. Here’s its lede:

“The new AXM-75 is a multi-function I/O extension module that adds A/D, D/A, and digital I/O signal processing functions to a FPGA processor board. Acromag’s extension I/O modules plug directly onto their PMC and XMC reconfigurable FPGA cards equipped with an AXM mezzanine connector…” 

Snore.

Here in the Bay Area with its preponderance of tech companies, I see releases such as this frequently enough: They’re ostensibly written in English but not really in what we might call language. The argument organizations use when they put out such news is that their core audiences will know what this technobabble means. But they forget that if they’re sending out over the wire  they’re hoping it will get picked up by journalists and bloggers — not engineers. Journalists, whatever their medium, are looking for a story to tell so they can engage their readers. Has this release, and others like it, helped them do it? Will it speak to them? Did it speak to you?

Even tech PR can be written in plain, understandable English. Better, it can tell you right away what the takeaway is; what the news means to customers and the industry. And best, it can be told in a way that helps people understand the ideas and value that often get hidden behind the jargon. Think about it: If your product or service underscores your company’s creativity or problem solving abilities, wouldn’t you put your news into that context, making it engaging, likable and actionable?

In PR — whether it’s press releases, web copy, social media posts or video — whoever tells it best can cut through the clutter of people’s lives and really reach them. This doesn’t mean manipulation, or hard sell, or making things up. It means knowing what your value is and being able to convey it in a manner that people (and not only engineers) will be receptive to. And this means narratives, told in accessible language, accompanied by or made up with relevant and interesting images.

This is common sense, but there’s a deeper reason for it.

“The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.” — Donald Calne, neurologist

As much as we’d like to think that we make decisions rationally and logically, it’s really our unconscious mind that drives most purchase decisions, and our unconscious responds to — and remembers — narratives. Those of us also in advertising pretty much know this already, but PR has been slower to adopt this attitude.

In the end it’s easy and even mindless to put out a release that mirrors exactly what your engineers think you should say. But we as PR professionals need to generate content that puts news into context and encourages emotion that allows our audiences to relate to our company, product or service. But: Only if you really want to reach humans!

Google+: It’s time to rethink your SEO and SM strategies November 15, 2011

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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Last week, the business SEO landscape changed significantly: Google+ opened up its company pages to the public. All things being Google, this means that brands need to seriously consider incorporating a G+ page into their marketing strategy.

It’s a no-brainer that Google will use its ubiquity to ensure that G+ pages rank higher than Facebook or LinkedIn pages in Google search. Already we’ve seen that the +1 button has made a difference how searches are ranked. Links from G+ to webpages and blog posts will also continue to provide a higher search ranking. It makes sense that Google will continue to skew its algorithms to favor its own results.

And now try this one out. In your Google search bar, type in “+Pepsi”. You will be automatically land on Pepsi’s G+ page — even if you haven’t signed up for G+. How’s that for simple? Now imagine if it were that easy for people to land on your organization’s social media presence.

All signs point to G+ being on the path to having a powerful social media presence (even if, in my experience, virtual tumbleweeds have been blowing across my G+ feed since July). Its audience is currently made up of mostly business people and the tech savvy. Its circles and hangouts have a clear business use case, and can be used with Google’s other business products, such as Docs, Calendar and Blogspot. Clearly, Google is quickly becoming the go-to for business solutions.

Today, Google announced that it is going to be working with media management companies and tools to make it easier for organizations to manage their social media presence across multiple social networks. In other words, Google is poised to help you shift your business emphasis away from other social media networks to G+. And your decision to do so will be made easier as it continues to shift its SEO algorithms to favor your presence there as well.

Machiavellian? Maybe. Savvy? Absolutely. And definitely something a business marketer can’t afford to ignore.

Tweetjams: Tactical suggestions for this high-impact marketing tool November 10, 2011

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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Want to increase your number of engaged Twitter followers? Boost your website’s SEO? Increase awareness, brand esteem and perceived value for what you do? Extend the reach of your thought leadership? Promote your products/services and increase sales conversions? Showcase your brand enthusiasts and reach key influencers?… All for a few hours a month, and largely for free?

A secret weapon of marketers, Tweetjams (or Twitter chats) do all this and more — when done effectively.

A Tweetjam is generally defined as a fast-paced conversation held on Twitter around a general theme. A format that has been gaining traction quickly, these live events are a way to showcase your organization while furthering discussions already happening in your industry.

Although there are many ways to conduct a Twitter event — from the completely unstructured, “everyone-and anyone talks about anything they like” approach, to the highly structured panelists-only approach — for business effectiveness I recommend a middle ground, in which a handful of core panelists are invited to discuss a predetermined subject for an hour, while allowing commentary and questions from the Twitterverse. This approach enables full audience engagement, while making sure that there is a small group of industry experts to lend expertise and thought-leadership to the discussion. A moderator kicks off the discussion, keeps it moving, wraps it up and monitors for any irrelevant/disrespectful chatter.

When marketed well, planned with care and conducted regularly, Tweetjams can become a highly successful marketing program all their own. And ideally, you would be planning them two at a time so that you can promote the next event during the course of the ongoing event.

But what are some other considerations? How do you plan one effectively? Here are some tactical recommendations to help your Tweetjam program take off:

One month before your first event:

  • Come up with a short yet descriptive hashtag. This will be your de facto event name and used each time you host a Tweetjam, so be sure it works for you from a branding standpoint. Use of this hashtag will allow anyone in the Twitterverse to follow the discussion and participate if they wish. And remember to keep it short! If everyone has to add #yourreallylonghashtag to the end of each tweet, your 140-character real estate will quickly be eaten up.
  • Designate a moderator. Often, someone in marketing communications is the best choice. Decide whether your moderator will use his/her own Twitter handle, the organization’s handle, or a new handle created just for this use.
  • Choose a topic, along with a set of 5-10 questions to periodically ask your panelists to keep the discussion moving. Make sure that it’s a subject that provides value to participants, panelists and the passive audience, either by being thought-provoking, or by providing them with information or perspectives they did not formerly have.
  • Consult one of the several Tweetjam calendars on the web and open to the public to find the best time/date for your event. Perusing these calendars will also help you determine if the subject you have chosen is already being done elsewhere. Here’s a handy one to consult.
  • Draw up a mission and guidelines statement specific to your event. This will be useful in spelling out value statements, firming up goals for the program, and listing expectations. It should also spell out panelist responsibilities, how you’ll moderate comments, and how you’ll any damage control issues  that may arise.
  • Create materials: To give to panelists, to use for your website, etc.
  • Determine the appropriate technologies for conducting the chat. There are several free Twitter chat resources designed for just this purpose, Twebevent, Tweetchat and Tweet grid being just a few. Some of these enable participants’ tweets to be automatically tagged with the event hashtag, and make it easier for everyone closely involved to track the discussion. You’ll also need a conference call tool to use during the event to keep communications lines open between the moderator, panelists and any marketing teams. FreeConferenceCall.com is a good resource if you don’t already use one.

Three weeks before your event:

  • Extend invitations to 3-5 panelists — these are your experts, who will lend gravitas to the event and keep the discussion moving. They don’t all need to represent your company; often it will help your cause to bring in experts who will lend outside credibility to your discussion (and, therefore, to you).
Two weeks before your event:
  • Send panelists background information on how to participate in your Tweetjam: What it is, what they can expect, how it will work. Ask their help in promoting your event with their own Twitter followers. Send them the list of questions so they may begin formulating 140-character answers ahead of time (don’t worry: with plenty of public participation, this will just move the discussion along; it won’t come off as canned).
  • Confirm your panelists’ bios, headshots titles and twitter handles
  • Enlist marketing departments from panelists’ organizations to help promote the event, where applicable. Don’t forget to liberally tout and showcase the expertise of your panel. This is an excellent cross-promotional opportunity; take advantage of it!
One week before the event:
  • Hold a prep call with panelists to go over questions, rules of engagement, logistics, expected questions so they can prepare.
  • Publish a blog post promoting the upcoming Tweetjam, along with promotions on social media, email marketing, and other blogs and message boards. Alert your staff and your panelists’ marketing departments to the blog so they can begin promoting it as well.
  • Begin promoting the event daily on Twitter, including the event hashtag and the blog post.
  • Begin writing moderator tweets in preparation for the event.
During the event:
  • Open up a conference call during the chat so that panelists, the moderator and the marketing teams can collaborate in real time during the Tweetjam.
  • Moderator sets up the chat, kicks it off and keeps it moving, and closes it after an hour. Don’t forget to announce when and where results will be made available, and when next Tweetjam is scheduled (and what the topic will be).
Post-chat:
  • Thank panelists by phone or email, and definitely on Twitter, and provide them and their organizations with the raw transcript of the tweet capture.
  • Within one day, publish a blog that recaps the event outcome and provides excerpts of the chat, and announces the next chat; promote the link to the blog.
Once your Tweetjam program gets going, it will almost begin to run itself — and you’ll discover that it is not only one of the most valuable marketing programs you have, but that it also serves as a listening tool for gathering additional perspectives and attitudes. Tweetjams are a multi-use marketing tool with the potential for a high level of influence. So start yours… and let me know how yours turns out!

Using QR codes to move down the sales funnel November 8, 2011

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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QR codes: You’ve no doubt seen these on transit advertising and magazine ads — even on your fruit from the grocery store. They’re all the rage in marketing circles at the moment. But that isn’t to say that they’re a passing fad. The idea they represent is here to stay.

Originally called Quick Response codes, they’re a type of matrix bar code that was developed for the automotive industry back in the ’90s. But now, marketers have discovered that they’re handy for giving traditionally one-way or static mediums — like billboards or product packaging — an opportunity to become interactive and engaging with the widespread use of smartphone apps like QR Reader for iPhone.

Sure, QR codes are shiny and new. But there’s a real opportunity to use these to create more touch-points and give people the single piece of information that they at that stage will use to move them further into the sales funnel. But used incorrectly, they’ll just lead to burnout. It’s not about slapping a sticker with a QR code on every piece of collateral or signage you have and expecting success; it’s where the code leads the person, what that webpage says or does, and how it helps engage them or move them toward taking action. They need to be actionable, contextual and relevant to where the consumer is at that moment in the purchase cycle.

A great example of this was when I was at a Halloween store a few weeks ago. My kids were looking at a mask that, when released from its packaging and worn, would become animated some way. But it wouldn’t work in the store, in its packaging. So what did the mask’s marketers do? They included a QR code on the packaging. When we scanned it, it sent us to a video of the mask in action. Scary! But excellently done. If we had been in the market for such a mask, this would have definitely moved us closer to purchase.

Notice that the QR code didn’t send us to the mask manufacturer’s home page. It didn’t send us to an online store. Neither of these would have moved us down the sales funnel the way sending us to a video demonstration did. The key here is sending your audience to a webpage specifically built for this purpose — without requiring the consumer to write down or remember or copy the URL — or giving them whatever content is most appropriate for where they’re at in the sales cycle.

Now, what if you’re a B2B organization and you’re not selling masks, fruit, or other consumer products? You can still use QR codes in several ways. For instance:

Events:

  • Include in presentations for people to find more information on a particular subject; this is often more useful than providing a URL
  • Flyers and/or schedule printouts, again for more information or for special pricing, promotions, videos,  surveys, etc., or to lead to a mobile app
  • Name badges
  • Event exhibitors can use them when providing more information
  • Promotions: Use them for the “around the world” promotions or QR scavenger hunt promotion
  • Audience feedback/questions during live events
  • Put them on event swag
  • Put them on temporary adhesive stickers and affix them to banners and more for instant information

Static advertising

  • Again, as long as this is relevant to where people are in the purchase cycle; or, to engage an audience further. Contests and promotions, or ways to supply feedback, are excellent for this use

Publications

  • For hardcopy publications, print them on the covers or on stickers affixed to the covers. This way, no matter how the recipient gets the publication there is a way to engage them and drive traffic to your website. The great thing about this is, the web page it leads to can always be updated, no matter how things may change with time or circumstance (if there is a new edition, for example, or a related publication subsequently published)
  • I scanned a bottle of wine recently, where the label included a QR code. It led to a review by Wine Spectator on that wine. Brilliant! Think of doing the same thing with a publication. Talk about moving someone toward a purchase!

These are just a few of my ideas. What are yours?

Tiger Woods: More Stagecraft Than Sincerity February 19, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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A few thoughts after watching today’s Tiger Woods “press conference”:

There’s no point in holding a press conference on marital infidelity to reveal no new information, refuse to take questions, or to call attention to his wife being nowhere in attendance.

All in all, a PR stunt gone wrong. And it’s not like anyone couldn’t see it coming. Who is the publicist who OK’d this unnecessary, public self-flagellation? All it accomplished was to:

  • Annoy reporters who, inexplicably, like to ask questions
  • Open the door for two of his former mistresses to have their own press conferences
  • Put Woods in the spotlight again for his personal life, which was probably not a good idea. Already the twitterscape is rife with new Tiger jokes.

What it did not do:

  • Improve his professional reputation
  • Give his supporters and sponsors any idea of when he would be back playing the game of golf
  • Convince anyone that he was sorry for anything more than just being caught.

Personally, I would have advised him not to have made a statement at all — after all, really no new information was introduced, other than his insistence that wife Elin did not, in fact, work him over with his own golf clubs, and that he made a mistake (read: conscious decision). Woods really didn’t need to cater to the public’s salacious need to see him further humbled over what is really a private matter.

Get a new publicist, Tiger. Then close your mouth, apologize to your family again, and get back in the game.

PR At The Speed of Twitter February 16, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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How long does it take for your business to go from zero to crisis mode? The answer is: As long as it takes an unhappy someone with a significant social media presence to whip out his or her Blackberry.

What so many companies don’t seem to realize in this age of instant communications is that they need to react — immediately — when negative communications begin swirling around the blogosphere. As I noted last week, in the Google/Twitter/Facebook era of today, crisis communications response is measured in hours, if not minutes.

To demonstrate exactly what impact social media can have: On Saturday, Director Kevin Smith tweeted his 1.6 million followers within minutes of being thrown off a Southwest Airlines plane in Oakland, Calif., allegedly for being too overweight to fit comfortably in the seats. Whether his ejection was justified or not (Smith says it wasn’t), the incident was retweeted, blogged and then noted in mainstream media almost immediately, ultimately prompting Southwest to tweet and blog its own expressions of regret the next day.

In addition to how quickly companies must react to protect corporate reputation, what this story illustrates so well is that you can never know exactly when or how a threat to your company’s reputation will crop up. In this case, a customer relations gaffe — for certainly, whether Smith’s girth was against airline policy or not, his ejection from the plane wasn’t handled as well as it probably could have been — caused Southwest an unpleasant media uproar culminating with Smith relentlessly and quite publicly declaring to his millions of followers that he will never again fly Southwest. And it also nicely illustrates that it’s not enough to have a social media web presence; companies must effectively manage their social identity by sustaining a solid online reputation and addressing potential PR crises immediately.

When companies craft their crisis communications plans, they need to fully realize they have literally minutes to react to any threat to their carefully crafted brands. Be prepared!

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