Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How Twitter, Google and even Airbnb can shape your media relations

Media relations is a moving target in a social media age, but it's clear that old tools and tactics need to adjust. One perhaps-overlooked source of ideas: Big social businesses like Google, Twitter and even Airbnb. They've got data and decision-making you can put to use in your own media outreach efforts:
  • That press release diet's looking pretty meaty right now: The latest updates to Google are resulting in huge decreases in the search-results rankings for press releases published by third-party sites like Vocus's PRWeb. What does huge mean, this time? PRWeb lost half its traffic in one night, May 27. Paying attention to Google's algorithm updates and their impact on press releases is a must for media relations mavens. Makes publishing your news on your own blog look even smarter, doesn't it? Those authentically published posts retain their strength in the search engine in this update. Find more ideas on doing that in my series on the press release diet.
  • Running with scenarios: When Airbnb was confronted with a renter who was throwing an open-to-the-public orgy in a New York apartment, the real news became how the company swung into action. Within 24 hours, it had changed the locks on the apartment, moved the owner into a hotel for the week and wired him more than $23,000. The secret to rapid response and crisis management and communications here? Running scenarios. Fast Company reports that "the company spent the past year preparing for scandals not just related to sex parties, but also to prostitution and even suicide. 'Because we're a high-profile company, there are things that will go wrong,' Airbnb hospitality chief Chip Conley told me recently. "So how do we deal with the aftermath of things that don't go well?'" They ran scenarios they thought had a tiny chance of happening, just in case. Does your communications team do the same as part of your crisis comms planning? There's no better way to be ready to respond.
  • Big news event prep: And speaking of events that make big news, you need a different Twitter strategy, whether you are changing how you post on Twitter during a crisis at your location, or responding (or getting out of the way) when a major news event takes over the tweets. Because Twitter has been generous in helping researchers access its gigantic data sets, you can base those decisions on something solid. For example, this study looks at how Twitter changes during a big news event: Everyday conversations take a dive, while attention shifts to the elite users. That doesn't mean you're out of the picture if you've taken the time to establish your Twitter feed as a reliable source of information--and if the issue happens to be yours, you could have a big influence on the discussion.
Where are you getting your creative ideas for media strategies?

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Effie Yang)

Friday, July 25, 2014

The weekend read

After a week of swinging back and forth at the office, it's hammock time: The weekend awaits. So does the weekend read, my finds of the week, shared on Twitter and curated here just for you, communicators. Swing into the weekend this way:
I've got two workshops coming up in the fall. Both have good discounts if you book this summer. And if you have done nothing yet on your professional development this year, we're now in the second half. Get on it, people:
  • I'm leading my workshop on women and public speaking, Be The Eloquent Woman, as a pre-conference session before the European Speechwriter Network conference in Amsterdam this October. Both sessions are worth attending, and you get an early discount for signing up before August 15.
  • I'm launching a new workshop, Speechwriting for Communicators, in Washington, DC, on October 9. If you find yourself writing speeches, remarks and talking points, but have never learned how to do it, find out what you may have missed in this one-day session--including how to do more with boring speech occasions. Every participant gets an online toolkit of resources, too. You can save 15 percent by registering by August 29. I've already got clients signing up in teams for this one, so don't delay.
Love hanging with you every Friday. Have a great weekend!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Nicholas Laughlin)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

New workshop: Speechwriting for Communicators, Oct. 9

If you're like most communications pros, you wind up writing speeches, "brief remarks," or talking points all the time for your CEO, board president or other senior executives. And like most communications pros, you may never have learned how to write a speech properly. That means you may be reinventing the rhetorical wheel every time you sit down to write a speech, wasting time and effort--or repeating mistakes and tactics that make your speaker or spokesperson less effective at the lectern. If you dread writing speeches and find the process boring, that's a good sign you may be perpetuating bad speech skills.

Learning how to write speeches properly not only saves you time and expands your toolkit, but means you'll be ready with stronger answers when your speaker wants to challenge an opening or passage...and you'll have more options to suggest to her. You can catch up and advance your skills in my new one-day workshop, Speechwriting for Communicators, which will take place in Washington, DC, on October 9.

The workshop is designed as a focused fix for communications pros already writing speeches, but needing to fill in the gaps in their training. If you find yourself being called on more and more to "fill in" as a speechwriter, or if several members of your team share speechwriting duties, but lack training or experience as full-time speechwriters, this is the workshop for you.

You'll bring an existing speech or two to work on, and you'll do some hands-on writing and editing throughout the day, as you learn:
  • Five key rhetorical rules and a myth you may have missed. These rules (and the myth) will help you structure speeches and sentences effectively and make them sing, all at once. You'll learn structures for specific speaking tasks as well as the most useful ones to keep in your back pocket for any occasion.
  • How to support or enliven your points with anecdotes, examples, visual language, and storytelling techniques. You'll learn the crucial skill of including only the needed details to make your points effectively.
  • Taking a speech from good to great. We'll share five factors that make basic speeches beautiful and draw the listeners in, every time. You'll learn how to avoid the common problems that plague pedestrian speeches, and what to do instead.
  • Better speeches for boring occasions. Some speeches are more fun to work on than others, so we'll take some everyday, not-so-exciting occasions that demand remarks and remake them into works in which you can take pride.
  • Under the hood: Mechanics of speech preparation. From timing your text and read-aloud tests you should apply, to handling different versions of a speech and preparing a reading text that helps your speaker, you'll learn the tasks that keep speechwriters and speakers out of trouble.
  • Resources for mastering speechwriting. Learn about the resources, organizations and tools you can use to keep your speechwriting skills sharp.
Continental breakfast and lunch are included in your registration. You're encouraged to bring an existing speech or two, as well as a laptop or notebook, so you can write and edit in the hands-on exercises throughout the day. Every participant also will receive a toolkit of resources you can use again and again as your speechwriting progresses. Many participants attend in teams, a smart move that lets you and your colleagues reinforce and extend what you've learned long after the workshop is over.

You'll save nearly 15 percent if you sign up by August 29. Early registration by that date is just $599.00. After August 30, registration is $699.00. All registration closes October 2, or when this small-group workshop is full, whichever comes first. We use PayPal to process payments, and at checkout, qualifying registrants can use Bill Me Later, allowing you 6 months to pay without payments or interest. Click on the button below to find out more about this payment option.

Go here for more details about the workshop, and to register, and please share this professional development opportunity with fellow communicators. I hope you can join me in October!

(White House photo)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Headdesk headlines: You won't BELIEVE how stupid they're getting!

Don't get me wrong. I like Upworthy, the site that entices you to read about "things that matter" and "pass 'em on." I get drawn in by its creative headlines, like "Let's Talk About How That Cheap Stuff You Just Bought at Wal-Mart Costs $6,000 More Than You Thought." I admire its share statistics, and the way it mastered the art of Facebook news feed domination. I can, for the moment, put aside its clever sponsored content, mostly from social change groups.

But that success has spawned a host of imitators in the click-baiting, headline-writing department.  These types of headlines can get you in trouble before we ever read the posts that go with them:

The unwieldy construction
Cue journalists and grammar fans (including me) shaking heads, bemoaning the demise of the copy desk, which used to catch cumbersome headlines like this one. You'd save two characters to say, "Hear From Woman Who Killed Hit Man Hired by Husband," with a clearer result, and you'd only add a few more to add "Her" before "Husband," making it clearer who was married to whom. I'd love to see your rewrites in the comments, please--this one is a good exercise to pass around to the writers in your communications office.

The unscientific conclusion

No, actually, we don't know how many women get groped in public by men--not from this study, a nationwide survey of just over 2,000 people in the U.S. on an issue that's plagued by underreporting. The group sponsoring the study is an advocacy group, but this headline belongs to Mother Jones, a reputable journalistic publication. Jumping to conclusions is a common marketing ploy, and the sign that those tweeting and writing these headlines missed that part of journalism training that advises you never to generalize. Saying "everyone had a great time at the picnic" is bound to unearth the two people who broke up that day, the person who got food poisoning and the ones plagued by ants. Don't do it in your stories, and don't do it in the headline. This type of study is so rarely attempted that it would have been news without the overstated, overreaching headline.

The critical missing word

Study Finds Humans Have Dozens of Universal Expressions, screamed the headline. Since I coach speakers and have written about the difficulties of speaking for international audiences or in your second language, my reading of that headline was that--surprisingly--there might be some universal turns of phrase.

Not so, friends. The expressions in question? Facial expressions. One word would have clarified that headline, still making it of interest to me. It's almost more work to omit it than to include it.

The vague attribution

I'm lucky to know Jonathan Mann, the "Song a Day Guy," who has written and posted a song a day on YouTube for a looooong time. But when he does a clever song with a news hook, as he did when he set Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg's Supreme Court dissent in the Hobby Lobby case to music, the attribution disappears in the headlines. Salon posted it as "Someone just turned Justice Ginsberg's blistering Hobby Lobby dissent into a song."  "Someone," aka Mann, acknowledged on Facebook, "It really is true that "some dude" or "this guy" or "someone" always goes more viral than "Jonathan Mann". So funny." Also lazy. Back in the day, we headline writers had to get clever when fitting names into headlines, and we didn't get to punt with "someone." I've suggested Mann write a parody version of "If I Needed Someone" to get back at the vogue for the vague. Here's Jonathan Mann's latest "someone" hit:




The faked reaction

"This Woman's Speech Leaves The Audience So Disturbed At Themselves They Can't Move" screams this San Francisco Globe headline, which has been all over my social feeds. Again, this is from an advocacy group. To my speaker-coach eye, this looks like a staged speech with a hired audience. And in fact, the video ends with the speaker walking off stage. You don't actually see what the audience does at the end. Faked audiences--the ones who "ooh" and raise their eyebrows and pay wide-eyed, smiling attention uniformly--never quite manage to seem real. Neither does this headline. As more and more cause-related groups try adopting the tactics of marketing to go viral, let me beg you to consider whether your credibility is worth the approach. In this case, a faked audience and exaggerated headline don't, in fact, convince me this group is credible. Quite the opposite. As I like to say, you're not that desperate for the publicity.

The Bad Pitch blog says:
Tricks for clicks may get you a short-term increase in traffic. But it won't build audience in the long-term. If you're worried you won't attract readers without headline clickbait? Either spend money on headline syndication or come to grips with the fact that your content might suck.

xkcd says it even faster:



Share your favorite headdesk headlines in the comments, please....

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Max Karochkin)

Friday, July 18, 2014

The weekend read

You've got mail, communicators: Time to push that envelope toward the weekend. I have a special delivery of great ideas and info, shared this week on Twitter and curated here just for you. Signed, sealed, delivered, this weekend read is yours:
I'm leading my workshop on women and public speaking, Be The Eloquent Woman, as a pre-conference session before the European Speechwriter Network conference in Amsterdam this October. Are you in? Great new speakers are being added to the lineup every week. Please share both these unique professional development opportunities with your colleagues...and show up yourself. 

Put a stamp on it: I'm glad you stroll over to this mailbox on Fridays. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On PR, Wikipedia and the next thing you'll be trying to edit

PR and Wikipedia have long had more of a standoff than a relationship going. Communicators fret about not being able to make simple factual changes to Wikipedia pages about their companies or organizations, but that yen to make changes has led some to revise history, or at least try to do so--witness Five Thirty Eight's list of the 100 most-edited Wikipedia pages, loaded with controversial topics ranging from climate change to George W. Bush. Getting paid to write a Wikipedia article violates the site's terms of use, and the Wikimedia Foundation has banned at least one firm it accused of "paid advocacy editing." Any paid relationship is supposed to be disclosed in your editing account, according to new terms of service on Wikipedia.

But in Narrowing the chasm between PR professionals and Wikipedia, word comes of an organized effort to start repairing that relationship. Eleven firms have issued a statement about their commitment to the goals of Wikipedia, and to the ethics policies of their firms. The statement came out of a meeting earlier this year in Washington with a mix of Wikipedia volunteers and scholars who study the wiki phenomenon. In part, the firms agreed on the following:
We have promised to continually seek greater understanding of the project’s goals for our employees and clients, and to investigate and seek corrective action in any instance where a potential violation of Wikipedia’s policies arise based on the work of our respective agencies. And we have committed ourselves to push our industry as a whole to have more deliberate conversations about a high standard of ethical engagement with the Wikipedia project (and similar initiatives) as well as better education in our field for what the Wikipedia project is striving to achieve.
There was one big transparency misstep with this initiative: It came as a surprise to Wikipedia itself. Maybe not the best of best practices for PR firms. A better approach? The Phillips Collection, a museum in Washington, DC, asked Wikimedia volunteers to help them write and upload articles without a hitch. They weren't self-promotional, but contributed to knowledge about particular artists.

This post from a Wikipedia administrator details just how complicated its posting rules are, which suggests you should at least make an effort to understand them before you start trying to change them. One person who gets the rules is the most prolific volunteer poster of all, responsible for some 2.7 million articles, or more than 8 percent of the total. And yes, he uses a bot for some of that.

In the meantime, I think I've spotted the next thing that PR could ruin for everyone, if it wanted to (and too many practitioners want to). The Knight Foundation just awarded nearly $4 million to an effort by Mozilla, the Washington Post and the New York Times to create an open-source platform "that will allow readers and users to upload pictures, videos, and other media for news outlets to use." Yikes. Just think about that for a few minutes. Described as a publishing platform for readers, you can read more about OpenNews here. It's not clear how this will play out, but the effort is worth keeping your eye on.

If you insist on playing with Wikipedia, at least use these tricks and extensions to improve the experience. And if you're thinking about making anonymous edits to Wikipedia, keep in mind that it's possible to set up a bot that identifies edits from particular IP addresses and tweets out who's changing what, as in this example of a bot that tracks edits from U.S. Senate or congressional offices.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Kristina Alexalverson)