Blog posts don’t matter… do they?

Blog_Now

In a recent conversation with the HB team, someone asked if the work we do to keep our blog up to date with relevant content, interesting perspectives and topical news was worth it. You see, it requires a great deal of time and investment to do it well and to do it consistently. And sometimes it’s a struggle to keep up with the pace of the rest of the world’s zeal to produce content. But it is so worth it.

As a member of the HB new business team, I talk to a lot of prospects. Among the things that come up in our conversations is how they found HB and what interested them about us. This is also true of prospective employees and new partners. Very often they mention our blog. For example, last week one of the first things a prospect in the energy and sustainability world brought up was Nicolas’ blog about Solar. In another recent meeting, a prospective employee brought up a post I wrote years ago about an unfortunate incident at the OCCC. And there’s the prospect who was about to make a decision on which agency to select, read Chuck’s post about Tom Brady and chose HB.

A blog is an opportunity to express a point of view, take your opinions for a stroll, vent or wax poetic about… anything. And yes, it’s worth it.

Why B2B Video Should Feel Like Child’s Play

HB knows B2B marketing. From high tech to med tech, from energy to sustainability, to financial services firms to universities, taking complex messages and delivering them creatively to the right audience is where we thrive.

When Project Giving Kids asked us to create a video explaining the organization’s mission, we said yes for three reasons. First, we thought the mission of PGK was really cool. Second, we like to stretch our B2C muscles. Third, we saw parallels between our B2B work in corporate motion graphic assets and an animated video to motivate kids to volunteer.

B2B videos and animation? Yes, you read it right. There are three reasons that B2B marketers may want to infuse a child-like quality into their corporate videos:

  1. Emotion spurs engagement. We’ve come a long way from corporate video serving as nothing more than animated brochure-ware or another way to tell a complex story. Instead, treat B2B customers like consumers – make an emotional connection, and see engagement rise.
  2. Animation is an entirely different way to tell a story. Don’t worry about sharing every technical detail. You still have your website, a sales sheet and trade shows to get across technical messaging. Make your animation a departure from the norm to see how your audience reacts.
  3. People share fun stuff. How often do you see spec sheets shared on social media? Infographics, fun video, powerful SlideShares and other visual content captures the imagination.

Check out our video – an award-winning video, BTW – below.


Thanks to the Holmes Report / In2 Sabre Awards for recognizing this work as the best Animated Video. We’re proud of it, and hope you’ll enjoy watching it as much as we did creating it.

And of course, check out Project Giving Kids, dedicated to connecting families to age-appropriate service and community activities through an easy-to-use website experience. Founder Molly Yuska created the non-profit organization to help children understand at an early age the power of giving back and to support the vibrant nonprofit community by connecting them to a new stream of passionate volunteers.

PR Pitches Are Valuable Real Estate

In the spirit of effective pitching, I’m going to keep this post short and sweet. PR Knowledge

Communication is expressed in different forms. I get that. So why try the same communication approach across channels? Specifically, why do some pitches reaching journalists’ inboxes start something like, “Hi, XYZ. I hope your day is going well. I wanted to talk with you about …”

“I hope your day is going well.” – Let me tell you why that’s wrong.

The potential ROI of leaving that line in does not surpass the risk you take leaving it out.

Every word in a pitch is real estate, from the subject head to a signature. The value of that real estate is dependent on the order the journalist would read the pitch. Meaning, your email subject is the most important. It’s the first impression and what will get that person to delete or open.

The second most important copy is the first two sentences of your pitch. This is where the journalist decides whether they delete or keep reading. Chances are if you’ve got them to read that far, you might actually have a shot at closing the deal or at the least a response.

So why waste this valuable real estate on an insincere-looking greeting? Do you “really” care how this reporter’s day is going or do you care if this person will cover your client?

I asked my Twitter friends to chime in on this today and had some thoughtful feedback from a few journalists. Mitch Wagner, editor in chief of Internet Evolution, said “It’s a courtesy. It’s fine.” He followed up to clarify, “Pitches are entirely impersonal. I assume they’re generated by bulk email software. And I’m fine with that.”

While conceding that the greeting is a waste of real estate, Senior IT Reporter for Ars Technica, Jon Brodkin, followed up with “…the ‘hope you’re well’ doesn’t really bother me so much. There are tons of worse things.”

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So the basic point here: While it’s not always considered a rookie mistake to include a warm greeting in your pitch, you’re wasting valuable real estate and potentially lowering the value of your pitch.

How are you measuring your PR?

Throughout my career companies have asked for coverage. They know what they want to say, they know what they want to promote, they know the sales figures they want to meet. They know they need PR.

They just aren’t sure why.

Todd likes to say that the best thing about social media and modern PR is that you can measure everything. Oh, and the worst thing about social media and PR is that you can measure everything.

His point is that you may not be measuring the right thing.

Many of our clients focus on a single but very important measurement: website traffic. That is, does a media hit (online or offline) result in website traffic? There are multiple ways to measure this, whether it’s looking at referrals, measuring traffic from a geographic location, looking at traffic numbers from a day with coverage versus a similar time period, or including twitter traffic generated by a particular piece of coverage. It can all go into that measurement.

But not every piece of media will drive traffic. For example, we’ve put clients in the big city publications that used to make clients drool, only to see little or no discernible traffic spike. The reason is simple: some big publications just don’t provide links. No links, no traffic. Asking people to take an action (searching on a company name or finding a website) is a barrier to results.

So the question becomes, if a piece of coverage doesn’t drive traffic, is it effective?

The answer isn’t so simple.

Let’s take the work we did for TeraDiode, a laser manufacturer in Littleton, Mass. As part of our outreach Xconomy’s Greg Huang wrote a great piece. Thanks to some great writing that piece got “slashdotted.”

If you just look at the traffic numbers, SlashDot drove quite a bit of traffic, though it tended to be low quality. Most of the users bounced and few knew anything about the type of lasers TeraDiode is in the business of building.

But that SlashDot hit helped the story get picked up by a number of other publications, like PhysOrg and R&D Magazine. The traffic from those sites had low bounce rates, high pages per visit and resulted in whitepaper downloads. It also caught the eye of a reporter at Jane’s Defence Weekly, a primary target. It should be noted that Jane’s doesn’t include links in its coverage.

So, was SlashDot worth it? Yes, if you measure its broad impact, not just its direct impact.

Of course, most media programs won’t have that kind of turnaround. A mention in a broad publication like the Boston Globe or Newsweek may not result in immediate impact. But its ancillary benefits include third-party validation and helping build credibility so you can gain bigger or more relevant coverage.

To get there, you need to plan for the long-run.

So what are the takeaways here?

  1. Know what you’re measuring — Yes, you can easily measure site visits, but that may not be your only goals. You may also be looking for venture funding or doing some recruiting. You may simply be looking to build awareness. Different hits have different purposes and need to be measured with a different yardstick.
  2. Have realistic expectations — A single “hit” in a widely read publication isn’t going to bring you thousands of new users. You need to keep your information flowing, both through your own content and by sharing others. Your primary goal is to build an audience, not just gain a short-term bump.
  3. Know where PR Fits In — Influencer relations is a part of the traffic-driving puzzle, but if you don’t have a way to capture that traffic, then it’s like going fishing with a hoop instead of a net. People should come to your site and know what to do next. Don’t let them bounce, keep them warm.
  4. Plan for the long haul — It’s tempting to measure PR on a week-by-week basis, but a program takes time to develop. A hit today in a small online publication may be what you need to move up to the bigger, more impressive and more traffic-driving publications down the road.
  5. Understand where you belong — While the Boston Globe may not yield major results for technology companies who want site traffic, I’ve spoken with consumer-goods companies that say a single piece their made their year. They needed awareness that later turned into sales. It’s a very different measure. Another company may find that CMSWire drives the most relevant traffic. Success depends a long list of factors.

Just a Number: Measuring Influence is Personal

Mention “Klout” in a social media conversation and you’ll hear groans, frustrations and grumbling.

But all those folks know their Klout score.

I don’t need to rehash how Klout recently changed its algorithm and sent Twitter ablaze with vitriol. You can read a great piece on the impact and find the alternatives here. But what has always been frustrating about Klout is how it tries to apply a number to something rather arbitrary. We’ve trod this ground before, but it came up again today during an online event called “Relevant Influence – Discovering and Engaging with Influencers for Effective Social Marketing” moderated by Chris Selland of Terametric. Mike Maney, who is an incredibly intelligent marketer, pointed out how he does most of his work by hand. He becomes an influencer, he learns the influencers he needs to know and just talks to them. Sure, there are tools out there to help him do that, but sometimes it comes down to something simple.

Like collecting the top influencers on a given topic at a Mexican restaurant at SXSW, pouring Margaritas and having a conversation.

But if you’re looking at a number like a Klout score you need to ask yourself “what are you truly measuring?” Even accepted measurements have flaws. For evidence of that look no further than a great Freakonomics video on Football stats. They point out how seemingly simple metrics like a QB’s passing yards never tell the whole story. The video points out that last season, quarterbacks who threw for 300 or more yards a game went 47-49. When you look at those QBs with 400+ passing games, that record drops to 3-11. (I’d like to note here that Joe Namath was the MVP of Superbowl III without throwing a single touchdown pass. He didn’t throw any passes in the 4th quarter. Yet the Jets still won.)

I like what Klout is attempting to do: trying to provide everyone with a simple way to measure influence. The problem is, it means different things to different people and has a dozen different contexts.

In other words, “influence” isn’t so simple to measure.

Death of the Twitter Celebrity

**Editor’s Note – Fresh Ground is pleased to welcome Kristin Grages to our team.  In addition to doing great work for our clients, she’ll poke her head in here from time to time to talk about influencer relations, among other things.**

Much has been made of the Twitter following some celebrities have. Millions of people follow Kim Kardashian and Ryan Seacrest, reading daily about their lives and latest projects.  Sometimes interesting, sometimes not, their voices are heard by millions.

That voice can be useful.  Celebrity (and twitter) can be put to good, productive use; raising money  by pumping up (and pimping out) particular causes.  Pleas go out daily from celebrities for their latest pet charity, often to the betterment of those organizations.

For the latest celebri-twitter campaign, a number of high profile celebrities (with sky high twitter followings) came up with a new strategy.  They’d “kill” themselves on twitter and await resurrection by donation.  “X celebrity sacrificed her digital life to help save millions of real lives affected by HIV/AIDS.”  The goal was to raise $1 million.  They hoped to do it in a day.  Now, three days later, they haven’t even broken $200,000.

So what went wrong? With more than 26 million twitter follwers among then, this should have been easy.  That’s 26 million impressions of… what exactly?  Silence? The problem is, silence isn’t a twitter strategy.  It’s not any kind of public relations strategy.  The absence of a conversation does not persuade.  So instead of imploring their followers with daily, even hourly reminders to consider a donation, they are silent.  And not actually dead, they’re continuing  lives far more fabulous than the donors they seek could possibly imagine.

The flaw in the strategy is within the medium.  Twitter is busy, loud and quick.  With your feed continually refreshing, pumping out updates by the second, who notices when you don’t hear from someone for a few hours or even days?  These celebrities overestimated the value of a day’s worth of twitter.  But more than that, they overestimated the impact their absence would have on their audience, which seems to be rather small.  The conversation moves on, whether you’re in it or not.  It’s up to you to keep up.

Media Relations Tips: Finding the Why

As a PR person I find it oddly refreshing to be pitched. It’s like the assignment Prof. Padwe gave us in journalism school to profile each other. You learn a lot when you hear your own life translated by someone else. Your own quotes come back sounding quite a bit different.

I recently received a pitch noting that I’d written about Foursquare, then went on to tell me all about another product that is similar to Foursquare, but never really told me why I should care. The PR person sent me links to a some great stories on the product, but it didn’t encourage me to write at all. In a nutshell, the PR person forgot the “why.” That is, why should I, as a blogger who writes what he likes, care to write about the product? To continue the pitch analogy, the PR person on the other side of this email “dropped the ball.”http://www.tanophoto.com/index.php?showimage=250

This isn’t an easy thing. For journalists the why is pretty easy: they have to fill their content stream and something happening now often qualifies as news. Media relations folks like myself have made a career out of creating news hooks that encourage writing because those hooks answer the question “why should I write about you now?.

But targeting those motivations has become much more difficult as the ranks of journalists decrease. Plus, the rise of pageview journalism fundamentally changes the equation. Now, instead of relying on a journalist to write because your client is important to the industry, they must be sure that a story on the topic will drive readers. If it won’t, then you’re out of luck. Worse, if they write and find it doesn’t drive readers, they’re not likely to come back.

David Weinberger identified this problem by encouraging marketers to avoid the echo chamber, but the problem remains that journalists like the echo chamber as much as marketers. You want a story in in a top tech destination? First prove that you have an audience that will drive traffic to the story. But how do you build the audience without the exposure? Does building that audience even as you’re in beta or stealth mode fit into your strategy? What work can you do to gain a foothold without broader media relations?

Hello? Is this Thing On?

Like any small business we here at Fresh Ground watch our pennies pretty closely. While we believe that there are many fine services worth paying for, we also realize that, for the short term, we can get by without many others.

In the past I relied pretty heavily on the ProfNet emails. These are emails sent out several times a day from PR Newswire that contain lists of requests from reporters. Looking for an expert to talk about security policy? Send out request. Need a mom to talk about how to create the perfect 1st birthday while still working a full time job? Send out a request.

But now there’s Help A Reporter Out (HARO), as well as Twitter and Facebook. Most reporters who are looking for feedback use these channels for their instant gratification. What’s more, they’re free. HARO is closest at approximating ProfNet, though I always wonder if Peter Shankman will eventually burn out on it. He works pretty hard at it, mostly on his own.

So I asked my friends. I put out a Tweet asking simply whether ProfNet was worth the hefty ($2650) price tag or if the other tools worked just as well. I heard from plenty of people.

But not from ProfNet.

This is interesting since ProfNet is promoting its social media presence, boasting that they now have 10,000 followers on Twitter. It’s not like they’re being inundated with information on Twitter. A simple search on the phrase “Profnet” returned a managing sized list, mostly of people retweeting that Profnet is giving away a Snuggie. To get the Snuggie you have to retweet the following, now oft-repeated phrase: “#PR pros: Get your clients quoted in the media. Follow @profnet for updates on what reporters are working on. #profnet”

Maybe it’s me, but responding to my question about their value may have been more than a blanket with sleeves. And if I can get the information by following ProfNet on Twitter, why do I need to pay for the email?

Oh, and the answer from my Tweeps was loud and clear: save your money.

Journalism: Profession or State of Mind

During a recent Journchat, Chris Anderson and I had a bit of a back and forth about the idea that journalism is a state of mind as much as it is a profession. “It is a profession. Sorry. 100%” he Tweeted. Yes, he agreed that everyone has the power to communicate, but, he believes, journalism shouldn’t be the goal. “Everyone is empowered now. Zero barrier. But you don’t want to be a journalist — it’s an unholy priesthood,” he continued. “It is essential not to paint yourself into a corner. America has rejected your sort of “objective” journalism for dead.”

Fox news and MSNBC have proven that bias can attract an audience, but by the same token, the New York Times continues to act as a standard base. What’s more, Wikipedia keeps making adjustments and changes meant to eliminate the bias from it stories, focusing entirely on the facts and grows stronger because of it.

No, journalism isn’t dead.

But the original question Chris and I were debating centered on whether content creators (bloggers, tweeters, Facebookers, you name it) are journalists. I believe it really depends on the mindset of the person creating the content. Some will consider themselves journalists, and they and their readers will hold them to journalistic standards, while others will not care about those standards, wanting just to tell the story of their day. The trick for us, as readers, is to separate the two.

This is an issue Sree Sreenivasan and I touched on during our podcast conversation. He looks at it from another direction: turning people with other skills into journalists. Sree pointed to the trend of the “programmer journalist” someone who has skills as a coder as well as a journalist. “I would hire and consider somebody a journalist if they make iphone apps with a journalistic mindset,” he told me about 10 minutes into the podcast. That mindset includes finding the truth, maintaining ethics, getting the story right and being able to get it out on deadline.

As for whether journalism is a mindset or a career, that depends on the person. “It can be both. It can be one for some, the other for others and both for many,” Sree says.

Part of our job as PR people concerns understanding this landscape so we can better guide our clients. We need to understand what gives a individual influence so we can better keep them updated with information.

Back at my previous job a member of my PR team messed up big time. Long story short, she made an edit that she thought was innocuous, got a story placed and later found out that her edit changed the very nature of the story itself. After hearing from the client’s customer and the editor of the publication, we cleaned things up, but during the issue the team member tried to put things aside by saying “it’s not like someone died.”

No, no one died. But I told her in no uncertain terms that the error got in the way of the editor’s credibility, and that’s all he and his publication have to sell.

Our job is to understand and respect that, whether we’re creating content for our clients or pitching stories. We can’t feed them false information and expect to be taken seriously.