Monthly Archives: May 2011

Internet Talk Radio:The Newest Social Medium

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“Social media is not an ad. People don’t see your post, tweet or LinkedIn profile and buy. The purpose (and promise) of all social mediums is simply to start a conversation with someone you’d like to meet.”

I belong to a group called CRITICAL MASS FOR BUSINESS. It’s a facilitated CEO PEER GROUP that meets once a month for 4 hours. The group is limited to 12 members, all of whom own similarly sized businesses in non-competeing industries.

Our typical agenda starts with a recap of what happened to all of us over the prior month including reports on whatever we did (or didn’t do) to implement the suggestions, ideas and “action plans” from our last meeting. For many of us (me included) this “accountability to someone other than yourself” may be one of the most important features of this group. We’re all entrepreneurs, not used to reporting to anyone but ourselves. The problem with that approach (however) is that it’s far too easy to make excuses or put off painful decisions when there is no one looking over your shoulder, prodding you to improve and move forward. “I’ll do it tomorrow” too often means it never gets done.

Then comes the truly transformative part of the meeting: the “round table discussions”. Here is where the rubber meets the road and people really get to the heart of their issues. Using a strictly controlled “question and answer process” (guided by our professional facilitators) we probe, distill and digest whatever issues each member wishes to bring forward. It’s not always a pleasant experience to be on “the hot seat” but it’s always informative and often illuminating. This is the only true “no spin zone” I know. You’re in a confidential setting with 11 other struggling entrepreneurs, many of whom are wrestling with the same issues and obstacles you are. And it s the only place I know where you get really honest, no bs feed back. Who else is gonna tell you such truth? Your friends and family (who don’t want to hurt your feelings?) Your employees (who don’t want to lose their jobs?) Or some consultant (who really wants to please you and keep getting paid and whose narrow expertise may not allow them to see the whole picture?)

This is the magical “mastermind” part of the meeting: 12 individual minds coming together as one urging, adding to and otherwise improving upon each previous thought. Organized brainstorming, proving once again that the sum is greater than the individual parts. How can this help? Well, it’s hard to describe unless you’ve experienced it. But let me say that (in my own case) it gave birth to a whole new business.

I was a long time PR person whose core clients (billiards, hot tubs and other home improvement products) had seen a dramatic decline during the recent “Great Recession”. Hot tub sales alone fell by over 70%. So, one by one, my clients were either going out of business or cutting back dramatically on their overall marketing services (including me). I entered the group to find a way to revitalize my business. Instead, the group opened my eyes to a whole new business opportunity.

As I recanted my problems to the group and discussed how foolishly I’d put all my “eggs in one basket” (by narrowly focusing on just one niche), how “fat and happy” and complacent I’d become in the process and how I’d generally stopped learning, growing and aggressively marketing my services to others, it became clear that I needed a new fire or passion to prod me in a new direction and a distinctive service to offer. Then, after casually mentioning that PR companies were being asked (more and more) to take on the role and responsibilities of “social media strategist” for their clients (since ad agencies-used to making ads–and marketing people-used to collecting and analyzing data–neither knew how nor wanted to explore this new aspect of marketing), the group started prodding me to explore this subject and educate myself on this opportunity. That led to long discussions about “what is social media”, “how is it different than traditional advertising, PR and marketing” and what is its fundamental purpose?

That, in turn, led me to some remarkble insights such as “social media isn’t an ad on the Internet”. People don’t just read your blog or “tweets” and buy. Instead, its something we’ve never seen before. The purpose (and promise) of social media is that it allows you to start a conversation with anyone you want to meet, from which you can learn, explain, explore and otherwise engage them in a meaningful dialog in which (hopefully) both sides receive some benefit. That means you can’t just “ask for the order” anymore. You have to be willing to offer some ideas and information for free, upfront, before you start the sales process. Information that your audience (hopefully) will find so interesting and informative that they pass it onto others in their network and community (creating “brand advocates” or “viral marketing” for your goods or services in the process). Then you have to respond to their questions and comments and keep them coming back for more. In other words, you have to have something interesting to say and then keep saying it regularly and often.

That’s why most social media programs fail. Most companies aren’t prepared to become their own media production companies. They run of out meaningful things to say and they don’t regularly keep at it, primarly because it takes time and discipline and it may not show immediate ROI. And quite often, no one in the company is prepared to take on the additional role of “social media spokesman”, which is why it defaults to the traditional PR people (who are used to regularly speaking for their clients).

And that’s when it occurred to me. This is what I should be doing, particularly since I originally started off in radio broadcasting and communication right after college (as a traditional DJ on WMYK, “K94”, in Norfolk,Virginia). Then came the even bigger insight that “I think I know a simpler and more powerful way to do this!” For if the purpose of social media is simply to start a conversation with someone you want to meet, then what could be easier than simply calling them up, interviewing them over the phone and then streaming that conversation live to the world? You could even record, archive and store it on some server, making it available 24/7 as a download for others to listen to and enjoy later as a “podcast” on ITunes and elsewhere.

Wouldn’t that be much easier to produce than trying to research and write a new blog or mini-article each week? And (ultimately) wouldn’t it be much easier for your audience on the Internet to consume (given the fact that most people would rather watch or listen to something on the Internet than read it?) And wouldn’t these weekly live conversations be more interesting and stimulating than just talking to yourself ? (a problem that plagues most other social mediums like blogs, tweets and traditional podcasts) And wouldn’t a live, weekly broadcast, at a regular time and place, be more likely to engage your audience, particularly if they could call-in their questions (just like any traditional talk show) or log-on, in real time, and tweet their comments ? And wouldn’t your guests immediately tell all their friends, customers and clients to listen? And wouldn’t they put a link to that recorded interview up on their site after the fact (which would help drive traffic and links to your site, thereby raising your search engine rankings and giving you a free ad on their website forever?) The answer to all this was “yes”.

Thus was born a new “social medium” and the business to go with it: OC TALK RADIO, Orange County’s only community radio station giving local businesses a voice on the Internet. For more information, check us out at http://www.OCTalkRadio.net.

Brand, Tell Me a Story, Please

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Courtesy of MediaPost.

These are challenging times to work in marketing communications. The “big advertising idea” is no longer the be-all or end-all. Instead, designing stories around brands is crucial to “social selling” to customers who are media-savvy and increasingly suspicious of traditional marketing techniques.

Social media requires compelling storytelling to thrive. As businesses struggle to break through the marketing noise, brand stewards are finding it effective to craft stories that focus on achieving brand goals while giving customers a sense of what a brand stands for. Brand storytellers who embrace social media recognize that emotion is the currency their communities trade-in. For a brand to connect with its communities, it must tell captivating stories that allow fans to become emotionally invested.

A brand must define itself clearly, articulate its core values, and communicate consistently, but that can happen only when a brand defines its narrative. Content strategy doesn’t just apply to copy but to visual media as well. Storytelling is an important part of the user experience and, at the end of the day, if a brand’s stories are not tailored to audience needs and organizational goals, you are wasting time and money.

Commitment Comes First

To implement successful campaigns, senior management must commit to building storytelling into its overall communications strategy. This sounds obvious, but is too often the missing link. Storytelling can help organizations stand out by fostering emotional connections that provide the building blocks of long-lasting relationships. Hearing stories about your company’s work gives your audiences another reason to care about the brand, and why they should support its initiatives.

Once a storytelling plan is green-lighted, a strategic approach to content development tactics is required. Enter content strategy, which provides a framework to plan content, its delivery and management. So let’s get started:

Prioritize target audiences, concentrating messaging around groups with the most influence. Learn what those audiences want (research and analytics), then focus brand stories around the content that delivers the most hits. Deliver content in the form that your audiences want, whether it’s YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, etc. And, don’t forget to consider traditional media, which are always looking for the next great story. Plan your stories to supplement content on your Web site, then create an editorial calendar to manage the campaign over time.

Develop stories that emotionally convey your message, compel action, and have viral potential. Empower your audiences to support the relationship by giving them something to do! Provide the means to donate, volunteer, share stories, etc. Make it worth their while by showing how they will personally gain by leveraging incentives that benefit your organization and brand community.

Stories are formulaic, so try techniques that journalists use. The 5Ws: who, what, when, where and why/how remain the basic building blocks of any good story. Try to fit in as many as possible when building your marketing materials.

1. Meaning Why is this important? Why should customers care?

2. Importance What’s the big picture? How does your product/service fit in?

3. Human Interest What are the customer goals, achievements

4. Prominence Add credibility – name partners/experts

5. Timeliness Is this a product launch or an thought leadership campaign?

6. Proximity What does the campaign target?

Always keep in mind the key elements of what it means to be human. In every campaign, design the elements to elicit an emotional response, to share knowledge or address a customer need. Your brand community should feel they are getting something of value from the time they spend interacting with your marketing campaign.

Finally, be honest in everything your brand says. There are countless examples of fudged facts, outright lies and omissions that have damaged brand reputations from Enron to Walmart, J&J to BP, and require substantial expenditures of corporate capital and energy to repair.

Winning brands tell great stories that connect emotionally to key stakeholders. To develop your storytelling skills, study the classics, strive to understand their structure, form and the ingredients that make a great story.

MultiMedia Press Releases Get 77% More Views

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Courtesy of Website Magazine.

Distributing press releases through services such as PR Newswire has for years been a highly effective marketing strategy for businesses on the Web. New data from PR Newswire, however, indicates a significant development regarding the effectiveness of today’s releases.

A recent update to the company’s Web analytics program enabled it to compare the copious data that details the activity press releases generate on PR Newswire.com. A closer inspection of the data confirmed that press releases with multimedia elements generate up to 77 percent more views than text-only releases.

PR Newswire’s research reveals that marketers can increase the number of views by 14 percent simply by adding a photo, and that including a video will raise that number to 20 percent. The percentage more than doubles to 48 percent more views with both a photo and a video, and adding additional elements such as audio or PowerPoint to photos, video and text will result in 77 percent more views than a text-only release.

The study determined that the increase in views is due to the fact that multimedia news releases (MNR) are more broadly distributed than text (non-MNR) press releases. Each element of a multimedia release is distributed separately and can attract its own audience on social networks and search engines. Videos, for example, are distributed to more than 70 video-specific portals.

The effect of distribution is illustrated clearly in the stark contrast between traffic sources for text press releases versus traffic sources for multimedia content. Search engines are the primary drivers of traffic to text press releases while other web sites are the primary drivers of traffic for multimedia content.

Multimedia news content is shared much more enthusiastically on social networks. The number is driven somewhat by the fact that multimedia press releases generally include a variety of sharable elements such as photos, video and slides in addition to text. The wide distribution of these elements as described previously also plays a part in driving the sharing process.

Nonetheless, the differences in the degree to which multimedia releases are shared more frequently than plain text is striking. Across the one-month sample of content on PR Newswire.com, multimedia releases were shared 3.53 times more often than text releases. Text releases were shared, on average, .99 times per hour per release while MNRs were shared, on average, 3.5 times per hour.

Multimedia content also has a longer shelf-life, holding the audiences’ interest for more than twice as long as text press releases. On average, text press releases generate visibility for 9.4 days while multimedia press releases generate visibility an average of 20 days. The higher degree of sharing also contributes to extending the message life.

Next Gen iBooks: a Glimpse of What’s to Come

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Had to pass along this video from a recent TED conference re: the next generation iBooks and what is possible with clever audio, interactive video and touchable links to tell your story. Though these books are still based around a linear plot line, they will let the reader stop along the way to wander off and follow some subplot or dig deeper into some idea, photo or topic before returning to the main narrative. In that sense, their narrative flow feels more like someone tracing a tree’s trunk to the top while periodically running up and down each branch that springs off from the main story.

Fascinating stuff. So what will your next brand story look like?