SXSW Is Oozing With Stories

Posted on March 2, 2012 by Comments Off

As the world’s tech nerds prepare for geek Spring Break, aka South by Southwest, I wanted to take a moment and share how I think somebody in the world of integrated communications can make the most of this experience.

All you need is a bit of love at SXSW.

For those of you who don’t know, #SXSW (aka “southby” for the really cool kids) is when 5,000 12,000 20,000 a lot of the world’s developers, social media gurus and marketing types invade Austin, Texas, for a week of insightful, thought provoking conference sessions parties. I’ve been to three of the last four, and I am equally thankful and remiss I won’t be there this year. I’m missing out on groundbreaking tech and emerging digital trends. But thankfully, I realize that I don’t need to be on the ground to make an impact.

Talking Story

The best part of SXSW is the people. Hands down. This is the “can’t miss” event of the tech world, and it’s an opportunity to see those Twitter friends who are usually nothing more than a scrolling avatar. In the Hawaiian culture, “talking story” is simply sitting with a good friend in the sunshine and talking for hours. And SXSW is no exception. Some of the best moments I’ve had have been while talking story or roaming the halls.

Telling Story

What’s a social media conference without the ability to create terabytes of photos, videos, podcasts, vlogs, blogs, tweets and text messages? SXSW is no different. The important thing here is to find somebody who has a story and help them tell it. Entrepreneurs, hackers, PR flacks, we all have a story to tell. Pull out the camera and help the next big thing tell its story.

The Human Story

I wrote a post in 2009 that was essentially about being human at SXSW. And the principles are the same. Just be a human. We all have a pitch. I’m a PR guy, the person next to me is the co-founder of a location-aware geo-tagging service that will add a social layer to RSS streams of daily deals. The point is, at the end of the day, we’re all human. Don’t be afraid to let your guard down and interact with the person next to you.

Your Brand’s Story

OK, we’re here to make money, right? Finding a new app to partner with or invest in; seeking a new reader base for your emerging blog even. It’s OK to pimp your brand at SXSW. Everybody expects to hear your pitch and get your business card, so have your brand’s story down. Have your twit-pitch down to a science and be ready for the comparisons — ”So, it’s like the MySpace of Groupons?”

At the end of the day, SXSW is an adventure, one you must prepare for and one you must be ready to conquer. But the best part about it is the stories you can tell before, during and after the event. Let’s hear your stories in the comments.

Thank you to @Krystyl from mylovetravels.com for the great photo from last year.

Taking My Own Advice

Posted on November 16, 2011 by Comments Off

Subtitle: What I learned at BlogWorld L.A.

Write it. Just hit publish.

Those were my closing thoughts during a workshop I gave on how to utilize the real-time Web for better storytelling. We get so distracted by processes, editing, review cycles and proper tone that we miss the boat. We miss an opportunity to tell a story when telling that story is most vital.

Being able to tell a story is more than the words you use. Sometimes, just writing from the heart is the best way to ensure that people listen to your story. There’s no strategy that enables you to tell a story. While at BlogWorld & New Media Expo, I had a fair number of informative and enlightening experiences.

Cloris Leachman gives me a hug.

I got to meet Cloris Leachman. Thanks to Amber Osborne, aka @MissDestructo, for taking this great picture.

LA Kings lasers

I got to attend my first-ever Kings game. Here’s the view from my seats at the game. Thanks to Brian at shareasale.com for these tickets!

And I even got to learn something along the way. The main thing I learned is that at the end of the day, the stories we get to tell are just content. Creating content is fun. Being able to start a new email or a new blog post or a new tweet is fun. Getting to tell stories for a living is amazing. If you happen to be able to make money from the stories you tell, that’s even better.

My workshop focused on how to create a strategy and utilize the technology available to tell better stories faster. While I was telling my aunt (who happens to be a newspaper publisher) about this, she asked me “How is this different from journalism?” Without hesitation I smiled to myself and said “it’s not.” My background is in reporting, so telling a story, quickly, is a skill I’ve been able to make work for me.

It’s just content

At our hearts, we are all storytellers. We want to connect our clients and business groups with customers, reporters and shoppers (they’re all “influencers”), and we want to do it with soul and passion and adept skill. As communications professionals, there is nothing more fun than telling a great story.

I was surrounded by food bloggers, mommy bloggers, tech bloggers and even bloggers who blog about blogging. All of them, though, are storytellers creating content. As communications professionals, we tell stories. We work with clients to create messaging and compel people to act. There are countless pieces of research on how to appeal to emotions and how to optimize for search. You can A/B test your headlines. You can put a picture above the fold or you can add a video.

But at the end of the day, your story is just content.

At BlogWorld, CC Chapman shared the story of a site created by the U.S. Army to tell the stories of soldiers on the front lines and returning from home. Go spend a few minutes reading their stories.

These are human stories told without editors and without a content calendar or SEO in mind. Whole platoons can write from the front line in Afghanistan. No filters or editors at all. And the Army is adamant about the blog having a human voice. If the U.S. Army can speak human, you can too.

Measure twice, cut once

The old carpenter’s adage seemed to ring true here as well. Being able to prove your mettle was an underlying trend at BlogWorld. From back-channel debates on what constitutes science to super smart people like Tom Webster presenting enough stats to melt your mind, the emphasis on measurement and analytics was clear. Here at Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, we place an emphasis on measuring actionable metrics and using them to influence the decisions you make.

Having the tracking systems in place that show both where traffic goes and whether the goals you have in place are accomplished is vital to the continued success of your content strategy. Content and storytelling doesn’t have to be all for profit. Telling stories and communicating with an audience is great in and of itself. Being able to track performance and metrics, you can create actionable plans for future content strategies.

Products such as Ripple Effect and Narrative Network® make deciphering the streams of information easier. It’s up to you how you want to act on it.

There’s perpetual discussion about the ROI of social media. The person that tries to claim that social media doesn’t have an ROI is seriously flawed. If you can’t track, test or convert on the content you’re creating, you need to rethink your strategy. Everything has a metric. ROI means being able to track the outs of what you’re putting in. It may not have a dollar sign in front of it, but it does have action.

So, just publish. Just tell a story. Just remember to tell the story you want to tell and tell it the best you can.

The Real-Time Content Tool Kit

Posted on November 4, 2011 by Comments Off

Being able to tell a story is the cornerstone of what we do here at Waggener Edstrom Worldwide. Being able to tell that story as quickly and as efficiently as possible is what makes for a successful business. Having a strategy and the tactics necessary is only part of being able to tell a story in real time.

For those of you that came to my session at BlogWorld and New Media Expo recently, welcome. For those of you looking for a real-time content toolkit, thank you for stopping by. As I recently wrote, being able to tell a story in real time is a vital part of a successful integrated communications strategy. Being able to be nimble and agile enough to post content in real time has a number of positive effects, including SEO boosts, community engagement and thought leadership.

In order to get started, there are a few things necessary. The absolute first thing you need is a content management system. For multiple author blogs, I like Windows Live Writer (disclaimer: #client). Sorry Mac guys, us PCs get to have all the fun with this one. Manage multiple blogs, manage formatting offline and draft posts when you have spotty Internet coverage. From there, even though this is real-time content, having a content calendar to supplement social channels and content marketing will help you reach your audience. This editorial calendar features social networks as well as a content flow for a multi-author blog. There are even several macros built in to help you plan your content.

From there, you need to be able to monitor trends and analyze success. In order to do that simply, I recommend a couple of tools, including Simply Measured, the Twitter client of your choice and Twendz.

Creating content in real time is far less about the strategy and more about trusting yourself and your writing. By having the systems in place in advance, all you need to do is open you text editor, write and hit publish. Having your team of content guerrillas at the ready is essential as is having an exciting story to tell.

Of course, these tips, tricks and hints would be useless if I didn’t give you the methods to use them, right? Below is a huge list of some great apps and tools for monitoring various social networks, social sharing sites and even forums (yes, forums).

  • Google Insights: Custom search trends.
  • Rowfeeder: Monitor Twitter and Facebook conversations based on keywords. Import into a Google Spreadsheet.
  • Social Mention: Pull out mentions and other metrics.
  • Twitter widgets: Customizable Twitter widgets that can be embedded on any website.
  • Friendorfollow: Establishes your followers/followees for mutual relationships.
  • Klout: A standardized measure of a Twitter account’s influence.
  • Wildfire: Manage contests and promotions. Can track the Facebook fan ID and allow you to follow up.
  • Knowem: Username check across multiple social networks.
  • Digg Alerter: Notifies you when you get votes or hit the Digg front page.
  • di66.net: Digg stats.
  • Big Boards: Monitor message boards and forums.
  • OMGILI: Bulletin board and forum search engine.

I hope that you put these tools to use as you tell your story. And, if you’d like to learn more about how WE can help your company be the story it wants to tell, contact us and we’ll make some real-time magic happen.

Join Me at BlogWorld

Posted on October 13, 2011 by 1 Comment

As a communications professional, one of the best parts of my job is getting to tell a story. Being able to connect the information that our clients have with customers, media and analysts that are looking for the latest innovation or product announcement is why I log on every day.

In an age where everybody is an influencer, being able to tell a story well is essential. The adage “it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it” has been redefined. The words you use are now as vital as the medium you use to convey the message. Gone are the days of issuing a press release and relying upon the nation’s media to tell your story for you. Instead, we can instantaneously shape the day’s news events simply by posting to Twitter or Facebook. Real-time communications is an essential part of the overall integrated communications landscape.

In a few weeks, I’ll have the honor of presenting an hour-long workshop at the upcoming BlogWorld & New Media Expo in Los Angeles. On Friday, Nov. 4, I will be presenting Real Time Content In No Time: How to create and manage a content strategy that is nearly real time to show that a content strategy does not have to be created three months in advance in order to be effective. By utilizing search trends, emerging social trends and analytics, it is possible to create a multichannel communications strategy that reaches your audience and influences it to act — regardless of the timeframe.

Here at Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, we have the opportunity to work with innovative companies to tell great stories in the moment. But those stories, even though they were created in real time, couldn’t have happened without advance planning and strategy.

I’ll be talking more about this in the coming weeks, but for now, I want to invite you to join me Nov. 3–5 at the Los Angeles Convention Center for BlogWorld. If you do want to register for the conference, you can use my special code: BWEVIP20 when you sign up to get 20% off of ANY pass (that means $300 off of the full access pass). So, go register now and I’ll see you in LA!

Crisis communications lessons from News of the World scandal

Posted on August 2, 2011 by Comments Off

Note: I co-wrote this with my colleague Kelly Perkins.

The News of the World phone hacking scandal will permanently affect the perception the public has of the word “journalist.”

To recap, the News of the World is a British tabloid that has been accused of hacking the phones of international figures, 9-11 victims and British Royalty. Poynter has a great explanation. The event is still fresh in our minds and we felt it important to explore the larger implications on journailsm and communications.

As communications professionals, we’ve all watched the debates on the future of journalism, the future of communications. We’ve talked about what blogging, social media, citizen journalism and content aggregators will mean for the coveted written word. Now Rupert Murdoch, one of the most iconic figures in journalism, is the center of an ethics debate — and on the frontpage of many of the newspapers he owns. Needless to say, the situation gives us pause to contemplate.

Lingering effects on journalism

The state of journalism is in flux. It is either morphing into a free-for-all landscape where anybody with Internet access is a journalist. Or, the true journalists still exist in the form of somebody willing to conduct interviews, challenge the information given and work to gather facts not normally accessible. The effects of this scandal on the public’s perception are still unknown, but some of our colleagues in the UK have come up with a few possible scenarios.

We may see political parties distance themselves from media organizations in the short term to avoid being implicated by complicity. However, as traditional media organizations still hold a lot of power and influence, it is important not to discount their impact on elite decision-makers and the electorate. As noted by Nick Robinson, political editor for the BBC, “Politicians and the press are fated to be locked perpetually in a loveless embrace.”

It is likely that there will be a change in the dichotomy between newspapers and the likes of social media outlets. For example, a Twitter campaign to boycott the paper and put pressure on advertisers gained a lot of traction and cannot be discounted as a factor in the decision to close News of the World.

The reputation of traditional media outlets and journalism may have been significantly tarnished by this episode. As such, it may now be important to place emphasis on direct consumer engagement, rather than relying on traditional media to deliver key messages.

Controlling your message

Here’s what we know: Social media spreads rumors information faster than wildfire and thanks to the incredibly tech-savvy individuals out there capturing stories in real time. So, if your behavior has crossed the line, it’s already too late. You’ve lost control. You’ve become the story.

Ideally, you could get in a time machine and go back to the moment where you didn’t ask the right probing question, hired the wrong person to represent you and fix it. Second best? Have a strong moral compass and use it at all times. Avoid the worst-case scenario by thinking about the consequences with your most trusted advisors. But if you don’t, you must react quickly. Things Murdoch & Co could’ve done here are:

  • Identify the right person to be accountable for communicating.
  • Immediately issue a holding statement such as “We recognize how serious this is and are looking in to it.” Digital media is a great tool for this as well.
  • Be transparent quickly — rather than trying to avoid it.
  • Apologize at the right time — whether it’s for being uninformed or for actual wrongdoing. Be humble when taking feedback.
  • Do everything you can to earn back the trust of your constituency, but recognize it will take time.
  • Examine external activities closely — from press engagements and marketing campaigns to leadership appointments. Scrutinize the actions your company takes to make sure they don’t reignite emotions.

Now that media IS the controversy it so often covers, there will also be lasting effects for journalism. Other companies will undoubtedly take a hard look at policies and procedures for investigative reporting.  Some will need to make changes — more may be exposed publicly. Public trust may temporarily or permanently shift to citizen journalists from recognized outlets. Media mergers and buyouts could stall, given that governments may examine the risks posed by larger media conglomerates. And, next time the media go to cover a big corporate scandal, its credibility will be questioned more than ever. Big media, as a whole, loses even more power to influence public opinion, elicit action from leaders and gain access.

What happened with the News of the World is sad. It’s sad for the victims. It’s sad for the reporters, editors, police and other officials involved. But there’s stories to tell here, and being able to stay on top of that story is as important now as ever.

SEO Resources for Public Relations

Posted on June 24, 2011 by 2 Comments

Search engine optimization is a PR tactic. And if you think it’s the other way around, you’re doing both wrong.

Let me rephrase that. Certain elements of SEO are important tactics for integrated communications professionals to keep in mind. SEO is not an overall problem that PR should try and tackle. It can affect ecommerce, reputation and, if not managed properly, can be detrimental.

I recently attended SMX Advanced in Seattle and had my mind blown by the smart insights on how to make your content discoverable. The great thing about SMX Advanced is that it is just that: advanced. This isn’t how to write keywords or meta tags. Instead, we heard about correlation statistics, how to properly architect 301 redirects and how to optimize your PPC efforts.

And if you find yourself wondering what I just wrote, here is the best beginner’s guide to SEO.

What I took away from this experience is that while we advocate for creating our own content and being the story we want to tell, we need to make sure that people can find that story before they find any other. After all, we’ve come a long way from “write good content and share it.” So, how do we boost our rankings by using SEO as a public relations tactic? By exploring the tactics and resources below, you should be pretty well on your way.

Note: You’re going to see the word “correlation” a lot. Remember, correlation does not equal causation. For more on causation versus correlation, please see this Wikipedia entry.

Optimize Your Content

Many factors affect how your content will fare in search engine results pages (SERPs). Thankfully, the folks at Search Engine Land have put together the Periodic table of SEO factors. What’s important to note is that your text still matters.

SEOmoz recently released its 2011 search ranking factors and found that keywords still have a significant impact. In fact, as you can see in the chart below, keywords in the domain of the content you want to rank is one of the most important factors.

Domain Level Keyword Usage

Domain Level Keyword Usage

The important piece of keyword optimization is to stick to a core set of keywords. Properly choosing which keywords you focus on is vital. Here are some articles from Search Engine Land that explore the topic of keyword research in more depth:

Speaking of keywords, the way people talk about you matters. The anchor text that is used to link back to your content carries a special place in the hearts of the algorithms that dictate where your page lands in the SERPs.

The quality the sites that are linking to your content matters as well. As social factors matter more and the Web crawlers get smarter about automatically written text, security exploits and recognizable sources, the metric that one SEO expert calls QualityRank matters more and more. What this means: When working with a reporter or blogger, ask them to link to your site or announcement with the keywords you have identified.

If you want to define wether or not a source is quality, Google has made it easy by offering a list of 23 questions that help it define a quality source. Measuring quality can also be done with tools from Raven Tools, SEOmoz or Google.

The freshness of your content also matters. By creating fresh content, you are helping in a number of areas. Specifically, you are making it more likely that people will share your content across social networks, as well as making your content more engaging. And the Web crawlers look for engagement metrics.

Optimize Your Website

Whether it’s a product page, a blog or a press resource, having the proper site architecture is a key consideration. For PR professionals, there are a few key areas that you want to ask your client’s technical resources about.

Telling a Web crawler how to navigate your site looking for content to index can help it focus on the essential content. It is important to link to content on your own site. It is more important to focus those links on only important content. Some search engines will actually enforce a penalty for too many internal links. On a broader scale, Robots.txt is a standard that tells Web crawlers which pages on your site to ignore and helps focus them on the key pages on your site, such as your blog and product information pages.

For those that are producing product marketing content, as well as new product announcements and other PR content, there will be times where duplicate content can and will appear. This post on SEOmoz breaks down how best to work with duplicate content using a variety of methods. Handling this is an important part of sculpting how the Web crawlers index a site.

Technical limitations beyond your control can also affect how your content fares in the SERPs. Being able to display your content fast makes Web crawlers happy. Covario, which provides SEO consulting services, recently released a data set that examined 800,000 landing pages. It found that page load time had a “surprisingly strong correlation” to search results. Here’s an extra geeky look at how to optimize page load time.

One aspect of optimizing your site for search is in the URL. Most content management systems allow you to set up how your permalinks display. What is important to note is that your permalink does not need to match the headline you’ve written for your press release or blog post. Both SEOmoz and Covario found strong correlations between how a site ranks in the SERPs and how it displays keywords in its URLs, which we also address above. Bonus points for those keywords coming before the .com in the URL as well.

Optimize Your Social Experience

I have recently realized that tweeting and sharing/interacting on Facebook is SEO because Twitter and Facebook are search engines. As of April 2011, Twitter’s search API handles 1.6 BILLION queries per day. Twitter fields nine times more search queries per second than it does tweets. That breaks down to 18,000 queries per second. Keep in mind, Twitter averages 2,200 tweets per second.

The social factors have various effects on each other. For example, if searchers “block” a site, it can have a negative effect on both the trust and personalization variables that have been linked to the various algorithms used to rank sites. However, both Google and Bing integrate Facebook share data into their search results.

Various social actions have a positive correlation on how the page will rank. Source: SEOmoz

Now, it’s important to note that sharing articles on Facebook might not inherently boost their search rankings. It’s just a common trait that well-performing pages have. That being said, while at SMX Advanced, I watched SEOmoz CEO Rand Fishkin create a page and then test how it would perform in searches based solely on Facebook shares.

Sharing in and of itself is not the only aspect that matters. Who shares your content and the language they use comes back to work in your favor. A factor called “author authority” weighs who is sharing the content and how influential that person or account is. This post explains just what Google looks for in determining author authority. Other factors such as online reviews or tweets have had a measured effect on the performance of a website.

By optimizing how you tweet about a Web page by having an editorial calendar and focusing on your desired keywords, researchers have seen a positive correlation on the SERPs. In addition, Twitter, most of the major Twitter clients and search engines can parse shortened URLs for your search terms. Meaning if your search terms or keywords are in a URL, it can be seen, even though it has been automatically shortened.

The cumulative takeaway on the correlation effects of various ranking factors is simply: It all matters. There is no smoking gun; however, social sharing and authority indicators are loading the clip with some pretty shiny bullets.

There is a lot of other information out there and I fully intend on sharing more information and strategies, as well as best practices for taking advantage of this information in the future. Until then, if you have an SEO resource, please share in the comments!

The Role of Public Relations in Influence

Posted on June 3, 2011 by Comments Off

When we discuss influence, we immediately think about popular movie stars or athletes. But what if I said that in today’s society, each of us is an influencer?

I listen to a lot of people talk a lot about influence. The amazing thing is that they all have something different to say. Here at Waggener Edstrom, we of course have our own answers about how to define and measure influence. But this got me thinking. What is the future of influence, and what role do we as communications professionals have in that future?

What is influence?

A recent panel I listened in on had the stated mission of establishing just how we can define influence. But even after an hour of people talking, nobody had a clear definition. At the end of the session, I tweeted: you know who should be influential for your brand? Your brand.

And I stand by that.

As integrated digital communications professionals (see also: public relations), being able to influence your key audiences by creating content and telling a story is the key to establishing and maintaining influence. But first we really do need to establish just what influence is.

While at South by Southwest, I had an opportunity to interview Klout CEO Joe Fernandez about Klout, what factors are important to influence, and what the future is for scientific research of influence.

YouTube Preview Image

A research team at Yahoo! recently examinedthe various conversations that occur on Twitter and reported “a striking concentration of attention on Twitter roughly 50% of tweets consumed are generated by just 20K elite users|where the media produces the most information, but celebrities are the most followed. We also find significant homophily within categories: celebrities listen to celebrities, while bloggers listen to bloggers etc; however, bloggers in general rebroadcast more information than the other categories.” What’s that mean? It means that influence is as much created as it is earned, which has a definite impact on the future of public relations.

Be the story you want to tell

One of the tenants we profess at Waggener Edstrom is to be the story you want to tell. What we mean by that is when you have a message you want to convey, the best conduit for telling that story is to control how it is told. To influence how you are perceived through your own words and use the channels you build to influence the audience you want to reach the most.

So, how do we do that? To me it comes to three key strategies:

  • your own corporate blog
  • your own corporate website
  • your customers.

Your own corporate blog

By creating a two-way communications channel, you are able to interact with potential customers, existing customers and anybody interested in learning about the business problem your company solves. Being able to create a community around a central content hub, you are able to create influence among your core audiences. Social media is important for engaging and building a community, but your corporate blog is where you get to tell your story.

Your own corporate website

As important as real-time and in the moment communications through a personable blog are, having static content that is informative, engaging and compelling is vital to the success of your products. At the end of the day, ROI is not measured in clicks, likes or followers. ROI is measured in revenue. By having a website that is designed to convert the traffic your digital storytelling drives, you will continue to realize benefits over the long term.

Your customers

Empowering your customers to tell your story is the most influential thing you can do for your brand. Creating content that your customers can share and evangelize is essential. Being able to tell your story in a meaningful manner that is compelling and actionable will help influence not only the purchasing decisions of people interacting with your content, but influencing the purchasing decisions of others through their social interactions.

Digital media is the great influence equalizer. Anybody can create influence, and there’s no reason why your brand shouldn’t be an influencer as well.

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