Walking the Line Between True and False in Your Content

By Communications, Corporate Strategy, Crisis Communications, Marketing, Media

There was an interesting article today in the Washington Post about David Sedaris, who’s been getting kudos for awhile now as a contributing writer and storyteller for “This American Life,” the ever-popular NPR program. As the Post states, “Starting with his reading on NPR of a now-beloved story about his experiences as an elf for a Macy’s Santa Claus, Sedaris has grown into one of America’s preeminent humorists.”

The problem, it turns out, is that many of these “realish” stories have had a lot of fabricated characters and events in them, even though they were marketed as true stories, which is what made them so interesting. It seems that truthfulness is really important to journalistic organizations such as NPR.

In this period of amazing pressure to create really compelling and interesting content 24-7, it’s really challenging to create enough to meet the demand and to stay top of mind. I mean, are there really that many really amazing stories out there every day, especially TRUE ones? Who has the time to dig them up? Wouldn’t it be easier to take a pretty average story and maybe gussy it up a bit with a few fictional enhancements? What’s the harm if it makes the point and closes that sale?

In defending Sedaris, NPR execs said things like “…we just assumed the audience was sophisticated enough to tell that this guy is making jokes and that there was a different level of journalistic scrutiny that we and they should apply…” Sorry, not good enough. It’s never made clear on the show that these stories are fictional. Seems like folks are trying to get some journalistic mileage out of them by placing them in the context of real journalism.

So what?, you say. The point of all this whining is this: your company cannot afford to take this kind of license when you present yourself. You must be truthful, open, transparent. You must own your weaknesses and engage your customers to find solutions to them, with their input. You must struggle for missing excellence just as they do. Taking shortcuts or making good stuff up just doesn’t work anymore. Once your credibility is shot, like Sedaris’s might be, then it’s really hard to get it back, if you ever do. Ask JP Morgan. Or Jim Bakker. Or John Edwards.

Why it’s Important to Do Your Hair Before Going on the Radio

By Communications, Crisis Communications, Media, Social Media
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My friends Ginger Germani and Erica Haskins will be happy to see this.

And while you’re pondering what “radio hair” looks like, please listen to the podcast from Charlottesville — Right Now! We talked about reputation management, brand engagement and social media with Coy Barefoot!



Five Ways to Beware the Social Media Scammer

By Corporate Strategy, Media, Social Media

There was an interesting study released last year by Booz & Co. in partnership with Buddy Media on social media and marketing and its impact on job growth. Some highlights:

  • Virtually every company (96%) has plans to spend more on social media; 40 percent plan to spend “substantially more.”
  • As companies are building up their social media, much of their investment is focused on hiring in-house staff. Partners also will play a key role in supporting companies as they use social more widely.
  • The money spent on social media will primarily be shifted from other forms of digital advertising, so new expertise will be required.

Great, we’ve gone mainstream!

But I gotta say, I’ve been really bothered lately by these so-called “social media experts” and “social media marketing firms” that are cropping up everywhere. “We have a decade of experience with Facebook marketing,” they say. Really?? It’s only five years old. Trust reduced. “View our case studies,” they invite. Really? OK, it says here your team worked with the client to develop a Facebook and Twitter marketing strategy. Cool. But what did that strategy actually include? What insights did you gather that make it worth sharing and using as a promo? Are you just spamming our news feeds with promos, or are you actually engaging? Why should I believe you without evidence?

Um, I don’t. Trust further reduced.

My point here is that there are a LOT of people out there capitalizing on the ignorance and fear of those who don’t understand how to tap into the amazing potential of engaged, strategic, social media use. They need real help, and so might you. So here are some guidelines to help weed out the opportunists from those folks that can actually get your social media projects off the ground.

  1. Make sure they create and deliver a strategy, not just tactics. Social media without a plan is worthless. You need to determine what your business goals are, how social tools fit into those, how content fits into that and who will do what. There also needs to be legit measurement against actual business goals, not just a laundry list of “likes” and “retweets.” If your potential vendor glazes over when you ask about those, run away.
  2. Check references. Did they actually accomplish anything of value for others? Not just what their web site claims, but real accomplishments that map to what you’re hoping to do as well. Can’t find those? Run away.
  3. Does what they claim sound reasonable? Anyone claiming to have more years of experience with a platform than it has actually existed would be a example of a suspect vendor.
  4. Run away from specific promises. “We’ll get you page one on Google, guaranteed!” would be an example. Another would be “get thousands of Twitter followers right away!” These things are theoretically possible, but without strategy and patience it will either be fleeting, damaging to your brand, or both.
  5. Focus on the conversation, engagement, and long-term relationships. These are the hallmarks of all the best social media campaigns. A legit social media strategist will embrace these ideas. Scammers, not so much.

Lock your doors, set the alarm, hide the kids!  Or call someone who can really help.

Have you ever been the victim of one of these scammers?

Remaining Calm Regarding SEO

By Communications, Corporate Strategy, Media, Social Media

We just got a call from a potential new client that runs a web site. Her site is currently the market leader in our area for her specific area of expertise, but a new competitor has just launched and she was a little worried about how that would impact her. She already has an excellent publishing platform, writes, contributes and shares regularly on the topics her customers care about, and has built all the necessary relationships behind the scenes to support her customers. She has a presence on all the appropriate social networks, but she still felt the need to get in touch with another local “SEO expert” to make sure she was on track.

Whenever I hear that, my neck tightens up.

The bottom line with SEO, just as it was way back in 2007 when this seminal post by Scott Karp was originally created, is that good content and user experience drive links and readers, and links and readers drive good search engine rankings. That hasn’t changed. In fact, Google already hinted at SXSW this spring that if you try too hard to optimize for SEO you could actually LOSE rankings. One thing that HAS changed is that your supporting social media presence is now a big part of how well ranked your site and content remain. Social is tied directly to search results. So what does this really mean and what should you do?

  • Google+ is going to have a huge impact on search results. One way Google can drive adoption of Google+ is to reward participation. What a concept! They have over 90MM users already and they all see personalized search results (SERPs). High participation and large, well-connected circle counts matter in Google’s search rankings. So get on there and start sharing!
  • Conversations and traffic are being emphasized almost more than keywords (which are still really important). The more visibility and connections a piece of content can generate, the better it does for SEO. Social networks are now the primary drivers of those connections.
  • Content remains king. The king is dead. Long live the king! Content has to be fresh, regularly updated, and well-distributed over the social web. So a good content publishing strategy with social distribution is a core competency for your business to develop.
  • Tweets and retweets matter. Google says they don’t directly count tweets in rankings, but a popular tweet containing a link earns a lot of re-publishing across the web that Google does crawl, index and count.
  • Facebook really helps Bing results. Through Bing’s partnership/integration with Facebook, results are massively personalized for any logged in Facebook user. So building a presence and sharing content there is no longer optional.
  • Social content distribution drives awareness and branding, which also drives searches. People just knowing about you and what you think will make them search for you more, yes? It also can lead to more love from the press, who are looking for easy ways to generate stories via social networks and connections.

In the end, it all comes down to content. As usual. If you regularly publish things that are worth reading and sharing and you hook up the necessary social platforms to actually DO that sharing (and enable your readers to help you), you will earn a social search rankings boost, gain natural followers and links, amplify your reach and influence, and bias consumers towards your stuff. And towards your business. All will be well. Deep breaths…


Maintaining a Social Presence as a News Professional

By Media, Social Media

 I had the great pleasure of returning to my old stomping grounds at the Newsplex, today. For more than a year I was the social media correspondent and blogging segment guest on-air on CBS-19. Great fun, that, but my time on TV has been very limited in the last couple of years.

In addition to being included with the “talent,” (ha!) I did some consulting behind-the-scenes to help the news and sales staff with their social strategy. I returned this week, to both provide a refresher and update for the more seasoned staff members and social media orientation for the new folks.

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News professionals, whether in broadcast or print, all seem to have the same issues:

  1. Creating definition and separation between their personal and professional personas and online lives.
  2. A lack of comfort in sharing what’s personal (not private) online.
  3. How blogging, generally thought of as a venue for opinion, can be done as an objective journalist.
  4. How to deal with the really nasty and downright rude comments left by viewers/readers.

A couple of approaches shared today include the concept that there is a CLEAR difference between what is considered private and being personal (and personable) online. Never mistake one for the other. Your comfort level in engaging online is important — watch how someone else you admire conducts themselves online and let that be a guide to your own behavior.

[blackbirdpie url=”!/carterjohnson/status/182483092517294081″]

Blogging as a journalist is commonplace. If you’re telling the story behind the story, you’re providing another perspective for the audience. It should enhance the experience, not replace it. Bloggers do not have to share opinions (being a blogger and being opinionated are only coincidentally common). Bloggers are, like journalists, expected to tell the truth. What would happen if a journalist who blogged didn’t blog about their beat or the news they cover, but blogged about their life as a journalist, or their personal interests?

Whoa, right?

Trolls, or the nasty mean people who leave anonymous (or even named, public) comments on blogs, websites and Facebook pages, are really awful. No one likes to read that kind of unfiltered, sometimes WAY over the top criticism. It’s hard to simply thank them for their feedback and walk away. Establish a policy (as the Newsplex has done) that you will delete obscene and inappropriate comments. Make sure you’re showing up and entering the conversation regularly. Turns out that even trolls are more polite when they know you’re in the room.

I encouraged the team members to keep an eye on their Klout scores and set some personal goals for influence and engagement. I think it’s great to see a local news team so genuinely interested in professional development and community engagement.

You can find the Twitter handles of all the on-air staff as well as News, Weather and Sports on the group’s website.