Tuesday, March 31, 2009

we join 31 days to build a better blog

Concentrated effort's the best way to launch or improve your business blog, so I'm among the 6700 bloggers (so far) who've signed up for Darren Rowse and Problogger's 31 days to build a better blog online training. It's a month of daily exercises, tips and ideas on which we'll all be working, and my hope is to put it into use on this blog and on The Eloquent Woman blog. Will you join me? I welcome hearing your comments on both of my blogs and hope you'll take part in the exercise and share your experiences.

Monday, March 30, 2009

creating an engaging blog: PRSA April 28

Registration's open for the PRSA National Capital Chapter program "Getting Your Message Out: Creating a Successful Blog" on Tuesday, April 28, and I'm pleased to be among the panel sharing insights on what it takes to create an engaging blog as we approach the 4th anniversary of this blog.

I'll be joining these great panelists:
    • Brendan Hurley is senior vice president of marketing & communications for Goodwill of Greater Washington, creator of the DC Goodwill Fashionista blog;

    • Chris White is director of PR for AirTran Airways and former acting assistant administrator for the Transportation Security Administration, where he launched the Evolution of Security blog and the Got Feedback? Passenger contact program.

    • Rachelle LaCroix, account supervisor at Fleishman-Hillard, is one of the agency’s
      experts on social media and blogging and maintains relationships with bloggers for clients ranging from AT&T to the YWCA.
      Here are the program details: Takes place from 8 to 10 a.m. on Tuesday, April 28, with networking, registration and continental breakfast from 8-8:30, and the program following. The location is the U.S. Navy Memorial Heritage Center at 701 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC. The nearest Metro is Navy Memorial/Archives (green/yellow lines). Cost: $35 PRSA members/$55 non-members/$10 students/retirees. There's a $10 surcharge at the door. Online registration opened today and the registration/cancellation deadline is 10 a.m. on April 27. After that, you can register on-site and pay the additional fee of $10 at the door. These sessions are always jam-packed, so be sure to register!

      Here's my offer: Crowd-source your questions in the comments below and we'll be sure to address them. What do you want to know about starting an engaging blog?

      Saturday, March 28, 2009

      try the don't get caught top 10 March tips

       Readers chose our top 10 tips this month, so you can March forward into April with the knowledge that these tips and insights come well-recommended:
      Don't get caught missing next month's top tips. Send me your ideas, questions and wish-you'd-cover-this thoughts at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

      Thursday, March 26, 2009

      picking low-hanging social media fruit

      2009's the year to get into social media, if you haven't already begun to use it as a communications tool--for entirely new projects or to adapt your previous communications techniques. Try picking the low-hanging fruit of social media--ripe, ready to pick and relatively easy options that will get you started fast. These ideas work for the new-to-social-media, but also for organizations and companies looking for fast, easy and economical ways to expand their presence:
      • Share photos: If you've been running a typical communications or PR operation, you've already got photos to which you own the rights, from event candids to portraits of your corporate officers to pics of your headquarters, and more. Start a photostream on Flickr and create albums of your photos on Facebook (the most popular photo-sharing site), and make sure you allow the photos to be used by others, to encourage downloads and republishing. This makes it easy for all sorts of groups to spread your visuals, from reporters and bloggers to your members, customers, and advocates. Even better: Encourage your members, employees and fans to post their photos relevant to your topic or from your events. Check out data from the Library of Congress's successful Flickr project for more evidence.
      • Feature your existing bloggers: Starting a blog couldn't be easier, but for really low-hanging fruit, find out who's already blogging about your topic, company or cause and ask whether you can feature or host their blogs on your site. Your already-blogging colleagues may be your employees, faculty, customers, suppliers, students, alumni....you get the idea. While you're at it, ask who's Twittering about your topic, too; it's easy to assemble a Twitter feed on your website that shows real-time updates from a variety of authors, especially if you issue a topical hashtag. Check out how online retailer Zappos displays tweets from anyone who mentions the company on Twitter--some from employees, some from customers.
      • Post events on Facebook: Not ready to create a Facebook page for your company? Then post calendar events--sales, openings, special events--as a quick and easy way to start a presence. Be sure to promote your calendarizing ways with employees and with customers, as well as on your website. Once you've built up some buzz this way, you can work to migrate those followers to a more official page.
      • Feed one social-media update into the others: Lots of applications exist for automatically feeding your updates from one social-media site into another--for example, you can have a frequently updated Facebook profile or page by importing notes from your blog's RSS feed, or get your blog or RSS feed listed on Alltop.com, where readers can scan your first few posts easily, and all feeds are sorted by topic. Cross-promoting one site on another helps you build audience without working twice as hard to do so.

      she's speaky: my upcoming speeches

      A check of my calendar shows I'll be speaking in all sorts of places in the next month or two. Here's where you can catch me:
      • Saturday, April 18: At the DC Science Writers Association professional development day, I'll join a panel with speakers from US News & World Report and the Washington Post to discuss social media tools for reporters and communicators. Watch the DCSWA web page for updates.
      • Tuesday, April 28: I'm joining a panel to speak on how to engage bloggers in Washington, DC, for the National Capital Chapter of PRSA. Stand by for details on the PRSA-NCC website.
      • Thursday, April 30: I'll facilitate another in the Communicating Science series of workshops sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Foundation, this time at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. Registration details are here.
      • Tuesday, May 5: I'm keynoting the annual meeting of the Construction Writers Association in Alexandria, Va., talking about social media and how it can help communicators as well as journalists.
      • Monday, May 11: Look for me in New York City, where the Science Writers in New York have asked me to speak on social media as a branding tool.

      Tuesday, March 24, 2009

      5 C's for engaging bloggers

      Earlier today, I told a colleague that it looks like "engaging bloggers" is the new black: I'm seeing more attention being paid to the topic (and will be speaking on a panel about that topic for the Public Relations Society of America's National Capital Chapter in late April). Since blogging began more than 10 years ago, it's good that communications and public relations folks are focusing on engagement, rather than avoidance, standoffs or confrontation. While you're figuring out what makes sense for your outreach to bloggers, don't overlook the five C's -- commonplace, cheap and creative ways to help bloggers that will pay big dividends:
      • Camera snaps: Photo-sharing's one of the biggest trends in social media--and a missed opportunity for many organizations. As a blogger, can I easily find and illustrate my copy with copyright-free, useful photos of your building, meeting, conference, leadership, current projects? Be sure to create (and promote) photostreams on sharing sites like Flickr and Facebook (the latter is the most popular photo sharing site), as well as on your own website. Go here to learn how one institution, the Library of Congress, used photo-sharing to great result.
      • Codes: While someone will come up with a hashtag--a short identifying code used by posters on Twitter, preceded by a # sign (as in #biocon08 or #greenjobs)--if you don't, it's better to issue a hashtag for your issue, conference or meeting. Then, take the next step and clue the bloggers in: Promote the hashtag in your meeting materials, pressroom, even on the tables in your meeting rooms. It's not just a convention and a convenience--it tells bloggers and Twitterers that you welcome their posts about your event or topic.
      • Confab space: The meetup or "tweetup" for bloggers and Twitterers is a great way to bring high touch to high tech, letting online mavens meet and greet in person. If you're convening a conference, trade show, meeting or other gathering, make sure those who blog and tweet know whether you can make available space for an informal gathering. (Most of these are pay-as-you-go affairs, so a cash bar will work fine.)
      • Complete source documents: Skip the news release, as far as I'm concerned. Where are your complete reports, source documents and footnotes? Giving bloggers access to the full menu of material--sans the skimming promotional material--gives them the chance to delve deeply and write more than you'll ever see in mainstream media.
      • Credentials:Let 'em in. Offer bloggers the chance to register in your on-site pressrooms at events, or to receive online updates and advance materials. Yes, they may be your members, employees, competitors...but they bring a unique perspective to your efforts.

      Thursday, March 19, 2009

      is social media 'unprofessional?'

      I have plenty of clients struggling to make the case for business uses of social media (and plenty who resist its charms). One of the most common protests: It's unprofessional, just for fun, a time-waster. Or, it's what "those companies" do, but Would Never Work In Our Business. So I had to laugh when a law firm colleague pointed me to this post on Lance Godard's blog about legal marketing. He provokes a good discussion on whether law firms can move social media use beyond just networking or pushing out news to real communications and conversations that leads to real earnings from clients. And one comment offered perspective on how people resist sweeping changes--especially in technology--in exactly the same ways they have done for more than a century.
      In her comment, business development consultant Ann Lee Gibson recalled a time in the mid-1990s when many firms debated whether to let non-lawyers have access to the Internet, lest it become a time-waster, or voicemail, too unprofessional. Then she spoke with an emeritus partner who recalled his father, also a lawyer, who:
      ...initially resisted using anything as crass as a telephone for business communications, but finally succumbed and had a line installed to a phone on his desk. However, for several years thereafter he continued to resist installing a telephone on his secretary's desk, thinking she would merely waste time talking all day to other lawyers' secretaries....Here's my point, and I think you can take this to the bank: Any time powerful senior partners in a large law firm characterize a new communication tool or medium as "unprofessional," prepare to see that tool become ubiquitous very fast. The more inflammatory the debate waxes about whether that tool is appropriate for widespread use in a law firm, the more useful that tool will eventually prove to be and the longer its utility will continue.
      Call it the inverse relationship between pushback and innovation, if you will.
      I don't think this is an issue limited to law firms, by any means--I see it in universities, nonprofits, small businesses, government agencies and corporations. It's evident in what they're not doing and what they're saying about others who are experimenting. If adapting to new technologies and new methods of work were easy, we wouldn't have books like Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life. That's why I like to prompt my clients to consider all the technologies they've already mastered in their lifetimes. For many, that means reaching back to the manual typewriter, fax machine, briefcase-sized cellphones, electric typewriters, word-processing systems....you get the idea. Yes, you can adapt.

      Let me know your reactions in the comments. What kinds of pushback are you getting at your organization? How are you handling it?

      Monday, March 16, 2009

      letting fans take the lead on social media

      I like to counsel my clients that they'll need a deft hand and a light touch when using social media as a communications tool--in large part, to avoid alienating their existing fans. In a world where traditional PR and advertising are viewed as spam, companies and brands seeking to have a credible presence need to follow the audience closely, and even let fans take the lead, to figure out what works. Don't get in the way of your own cheering squad--hand them a microphone. Here are some good examples:
      • Coca-Cola has the most popular Facebook fan page after President Obama's--with 3.2 million fans--and it's a site built by fans, reports Ad Age. The article describes the care the company took in engaging the fan page hosts, avoiding a heavy-handed approach in favor of a more collaborative style.
      • NPR Talk of the Nation Science Friday host Ira Flatow discovered a fan group on Facebook called "Science Friday--It's the Best Day of the Week." Flatow understood the balance of give and take with the fan group, answering questions, sharing behind-the-scenes content and encouraging them to pose questions he could ask of his interviewees. Science Friday, in addition to Facebook and Second Life, now takes questions on Twitter. The show, with the slogan "making science user-friendly," now has a stream of information about its fans by making lines of communication with the host as user-friendly as the science.
      • Fedex has taken advantage of audiences' love affair with voting and set up its Citizenship Blog, a corporate social responsibility blog, so that readers can rate each post--shown as stars--and even subscribe to an RSS feed based on which posts are most popular.

      Sunday, March 15, 2009

      newspapers not in the local news equation

      Americans are well aware of reports about the demise of print newspapers, says a new Pew Research Center report, but that doesn't mean they're missing their local paper. Fewer than half, 43 percent, say that the lack of a local paper would hurt their community "a lot," and fewer still say they'd miss reading a local paper if it went away. So where are people turning for local news? The report notes:
      When it comes to local news, more people say they get that news from local television stations than any other source. About two-thirds (68%) say they regularly get local news from television reports or television station websites, 48% say they regularly get news from local newspapers in print or online, 34% say they get local news regularly from radio and 31% say they get their local news, more generally, from the internet.
      Another option's emerging: The hyper-local social network (check out TownSync, launching this spring) that combines profiles, community news, classified ads and more. Local blogs are already popular, some honing in on the neighborhood level, some citywide. Where do you get your local news?

      we're a newsletter all-star

      Constant Contact, the email marketing site I use for my free monthly email newsletters, has named don't get caught a Constant Contact 2008 All-Star. Every month, newsletter subscribers get links to my most recent posts from this blog and from The Eloquent Woman, my blog on women and public speaking. Newsletter subscribers also get a heads-up on my seminars, speeches and workshops, as well as other special discounts and offers. You can sign up here for a free subscription.

      this media cloud yields new data cuts

      Social media's prompting everyone to scramble for new metrics and new ways to measure them. In that climate, you'll enjoy playing with the Media Cloud, a new tool from Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports here on the cloud, describing it as a:
      research tool that designers say will help researchers study news-media trends with a level of quantitative precision previously unavailable. Powered by software that automatically identifies various elements — such as people, places, and topics — contained within an article, Media Cloud allows users to query a database of online content from more than 1,500 blogs and traditional publications.
      You can check for a news media outlet or blog's top 10 covered topics, or find out which words occur most in coverage about your subject, which may help you see which way coverage is leaning. The Media Cloud's been issued as an open-source tool, which will allow developers to come up with even more measurement tools.

      social media & hard-to-reach audiences

       Any box officer manager can tell you there's a method to getting a crowd organized into an orderly line of people heading into the doors to become your audience. But what if your audience is difficult to reach--far-flung geographically, not in touch with your normal methods of communication, or just out of your grasp? Some observers are finding that various types of social media -- from networks like Facebook to messaging services like Twitter -- can get the crowds coming toward you, if not lined up neatly. Given the recent rapid growth in social networks, blogs and Twitter (which grew 30 percent last month alone), you may find that a previously elusive audience is not only using social media, but self-identifying so you can find them.

      One emerging example: Pharmaceutical companies, nonprofits and others are recruiting patients for clinical trials of new treatments. Newsweek looks at the pros and cons of using social media to recruit patients for trials, noting that social networks can reach patients in far-flung areas and amass large cadres of potential research subjects, like the Susan Love/Avon Army of Women -- almost a quarter-million women who are willing to volunteer for research on breast cancer risk factors, gathered in just a few months since the site's launch in November 2008. If you want to try using Twitter to recruit clinical trial research subjects, check out these top 10 tips for doing so from Carmen R. Gonzalez, the Manager of Strategy and Communications at Healthcare Communications Group, a firm that recruits trial participants.

      What audiences are you looking for? I'm looking for your examples of how you've found, stumbled upon or recruited a previously hidden audience using social media as a communications tool. Share your examples in the comments.

      Tuesday, March 10, 2009

      why contests work in social media

      Audiences today want to stand up and be counted, either with votes or contest entries. So when you're looking to engage an audience--be it members, customers, supporters, donors--a contest is proving popular, and effective, at helping organizations get into social media communications.

      Why? Contests offer the egalitarian promise that everyone has something to offer--a key concept with today's audiences--along with prizes, recognition, or further achievement. Want to test a product, build a following, test the customer-opinion waters? A contest may be the thing to do.

      Even more important when engaging audiences with social media: contests suggest an open, authentic, anyone-can-win process -- and also suggest that you don't think you have all the answers. That's critical. One university I know attempted to create a video featuring students by pre-selecting a student, working with a professional video company and going through lots of edits and approvals. While that was happening, other students got wind of the project and blogged about the 'secret marketing campaign.' Had it been opened to the crowd's ideas in contest form, that tag wouldn't have been attached to the project. The video went on, but an opportunity was lost.

      Here are a few creative contests that are using social media to crowdsource their content, ideas, or followers:
      • Need a blogger? McDonald's 'Station M' blog for employees--a closed site--held a contest for employees. To become the blogger for a year, they had to submit a video and an essay. Rick, the winner, got the ultimate prize: He was taken off of deep-fry duty for a year. Now that's an employee incentive! McDonald's goals for the blog, aside from employee engagement, are to boost sales.
      • Want a young spokesperson? South Carolina Federal Credit Union's looking for a 25-or-younger spokesperson, and has pulled out all the stops with a special website,offers for iPod Nanos and Flip cameras, and a photo gallery of young people who've entered, letting the audience see themselves and their competition. Align Left
      • Want to build a cadre of active members? GottaMentor.com has a 5 Million Mentor Challenge on, aiming to get mentors and those they're guiding to sign up for this specialized social-media site. The challenge page offers reasons to mentor, opportunities to sign up with your current mentoring relationship, and ways to share the idea and recruit others.
      What kinds of contests would help you communicate with your audience?

      Saturday, March 07, 2009

      law firm blogger covers our tips

      My top February posts got a boost from Law Firm Blogger, who offers this weekend reading list for the law community. It's a pleasure to be part of such a meaty reading list, and Amy Derby, law blogger and consultant helping law firms to blog, offers a mix of links to good advice about social media with a heavy dose of law-focused sites. There's a growing community of law firms, lawyers and legal media on Twitter and Facebook, and several burgeoning specialized social networks focused on attorneys. Check out Law Firm Blogger as a good guide to this online community.

      Thursday, March 05, 2009

      building connections with social media

      I'm keynoting the 2009 annual meeting of the Construction Writers Association, Tuesday, May 5, in Alexandria, Virginia, with the theme "Building Connections: Linking Media and People." I'll be talking about using social media as a communications and connection tool--no pun intended--for construction, building, architecture and related professions' communicators and the journalists who cover those topics.

      Among the resources I'll be offering, with a tip of the hardhat to Christopher Hill of the Construction Law blog, construction writers may want to check out this list of construction and building professionals and groups on Twitter.

      Sunday, March 01, 2009

      If Dan Schorr can Twitter....

      After this weekend, I don't want to hear that you think you're too old to use Twitter, because that's when Twitter met veteran journalist Daniel Schorr, National Public Radio's senior news analyst--a mashup of one smart 'old school' journalist of longstanding and a vast social media community, ill-defined, burgeoning and incredibly useful as a communications tool. Schorr, 92 years old and reporting for many decades, is one of the famed "Murrow boys" hired by Edward R. Murrow at CBS News. And this week, he was introduced to Twitter by NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon and NPR senior strategist for social media Andy Carvin, putting three generations together to make sense of the thing. (Go here to see video of the session.)

      Simon and Carvin put out tweets asking folks on Twitter why they used it--Schorr's question--and got back interesting responses, including one that asked him what he thought people were gaining or losing from it. Schorr said:

      "What we are losing is editing," Schorr said. "I grew up and nothing could be communicated to the outside world that didn't go through an editor to make sure you had your facts right, spelling right and so on. Now, every person is his or her own publisher and/or her own editor or her own reporter. And the world is full of people who are sending out what they consider to be news. It may be, it may not be, it may be made up and it doesn't matter anymore. That, to me, is the worst part of this. The discipline that should go with being able to communicate is gone."
      That's true in many cases, but not all (check Carvin's article to see his examples of how Twitter helps news coverage, and I agree). Schorr compares this social-media community to the news-sharing marketplaces of ancient Greece, and now has a Twitter account.Carvin asked those of us already on Twitter for encouragement for this "newbie."

      You can follow Schorr on Twitter here, and click on the links above to follow Simon and Carvin. While Schorr will get some staff help to answer his tweets, Simon and Carvin handle their own Twitterstreams. What's in it for NPR? Just what's in it for your business: Twitter lets you give your audiences a peek behind the scenes, advance notice, solicitations of input, and immediate contact to start or cement an ongoing relationship.

      I'm a longtime Schorr follower, having assisted a broadcasting professor at Boston University, Murray Yaeger, whose dissertation is thought to be the first in broadcasting, analyzing Murrow's See It Now programs firsthand. Since I feel like a generational bridge between that world and this, I'm already impressed with how NPR's handling its social media efforts -- Carvin and Simon are naturals at it -- and hope they, and Schorr, will keep it up. Now, what was that bit about your age being a barrier?