Pass the Mic Blog

Strategic Communications for a Changing World

Archive for April, 2011

Five Tips To Take A Company Blog to the Next Level

Posted by Derek James under Strategy, Tools, Trends

April 29th, 2011

If you are like most organizations, you understand that a corporate blog can be a valuable tool. However, you probably also have questions about what corporate blogging entails and how it should be done to yield the best returns. The reasons for starting a corporate blog are very well documented. From the largest organizations using their corporate blogs as thought leadership platforms, to small- to medium-sized businesses seeing increased Web traffic over competitors without blogs, the corporate blog is a communications vehicle you can use to take your point-of-view direct to your audience.

Whether you have already started blogging, or are in the process of developing a corporate blog, there is work to be done. A corporate blog is like any other component of your marketing and communications portfolio. It should be constantly evaluated, tweaked and evolved to ensure it serves your organization in the best possible way, and helps you meet your communications goals.

While the need for constant evolution holds true, there are core items that should always be in place to ensure you get the most value from your blog. Here are five tips I believe should be in place on every corporate blog. If you have been blogging for some time, consider these tips to make your blog reach new heights. If you are just about to embark on the corporate blog journey, implementing these tips early on will help speed up your time-to-value and deliver great returns.

Establish a Clear Content Theme – Central to any corporate blogs success is the theme and coverage area. Your various audiences, whether they are customers, partners, employees or industry influencers, are more likely to come back to a blog they can rely on to present timely, relevant information about specific topics. This doesn’t mean you have to only cover a single topic, but you should look to establish a clear focus for the blog and stick to providing insight or commentary on information pertinent to that theme. If your company develops security products, you should provide commentary on security topics and dive deeper into the things that make that industry tick.

Identify Multiple Voices – When it comes to corporate blogs, having a single, mono-toned contributor rarely cuts it. Unless your company addresses a very specific group, focused on a single issue, a single person can’t speak to all of the audiences you are trying to reach. This makes establishing multiple voices or subject matter experts critical. Look to enlist the blogging prowess of three or four people, and have them focus on different aspects of your business. We find that having one blogger focus on providing commentary on industry trends, one to provide context and discuss the market impact of news from the company, and a technical voice to discuss the technology from a high-level, as a great way to address a the information needs of the majority of an audience.

Take the “Two Cans and a String” Approach – The communications process has certainly changed over the past decade. Your audience no longer wants to have product and company messages blasted out to them with a megaphone. They want to participate in the discussion. Look to engage your audience by enabling and responding to comments, asking questions to spur thought, and inviting criticism.
Develop a Promotion Strategy – If a tree falls in the woods, and there is no one around, does it make a sound? You can have the best content in the world on your blog, but if you don’t promote it to your audiences and point people to it via your social media channels, no one will notice. Use your corporate and individual team member Twitter and Facebook accounts to link to posts. Put the blog’s URL on your company’s LinkedIn and YouTube pages. Include a link in your company’s e-mail signature template. These are simple steps you can take to help get the word out. You should also look into actively linking to other blogs on the topics you cover within your blog roll, which will often lead to people reciprocating the gesture.

Avoid Jargon and Hype – Keeping your corporate blog in line with the spirit of social media is essential. Just as corporate Twitter and Facebook activity should provide context, perspective and POV, your corporate blog should not become just another place to post marketing content or press releases. Avoid using industry jargon, buzz words and overall marketing hype, instead opting for honest commentary on industry trends, topics or news.

–Derek James

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Using Social Media For Small Businesses

Posted by John Kreuzer under Strategy, Tools

April 27th, 2011

These days, most major brands and businesses are embracing social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, and their executives are also blogging on a daily basis. Unfortunately, while some small businesses have begun to dabble in social media; many still don’t understand why ongoing participation is so important. If results from a recent survey are any indication of the importance of being active in social media, then small business owners need to change their way of thinking right away.  They are the ones who stand to benefit the most.

The 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report found that 90 percent of marketers believe social media is important to their businesses and small business owners are seeing the greatest results from their social media efforts. @Mike_Stelzner, founder of the Social Media Examiner, authored the industry study in which he surveyed more than 3,000 marketers, 47 percent of whom were either self-employed or small business owners.

So why is social media so important to small businesses? Phil Merson of the Social Media Examiner highlights some areas where small business owners saw greater benefits than their peers:

Forty-eight percent of self-employed and small business owners saw improved sales as a direct result of their social media efforts;

The self-employed (59 percent) and small business owners (58 percent) were more likely than others to see reductions in marketing costs when using social media marketing;

The self-employed and small business owners were more likely to report new partnerships, with at least 59 percent noting a benefit;

Small businesses were twice as likely to find qualified leads as other types of businesses.

One of the key benefits to social media is that it gives small businesses the opportunity to “keep up with the big guys” in their industry. Using social sites such as Facebook and Twitter allows small businesses the ability to interact with consumers and promote their products and services without being burdened with the high costs associated with building websites and launching their own, private online communities. It also provides them with an opportunity to gain insight into what is being said about their brand, their business and their industry.  Never before has this opportunity to receive immediate and important feedback been so easy to obtain.

When it comes to creating a successful social media campaign, it isn’t as difficult as you might think. What takes the most time is being sure that to keep up-to-date with the conversations that are being had, and ensure that you are actively participating. Remember: just having a Facebook, Twitter or YouTube account for your small business doesn’t mean you have a presence in social media. To build up a following, you must be sure that you’re posting updates, comments and links on a regular basis. If used correctly, social media will help develop awareness of your business, establish your expertise in your industry, build relationships with customers and promote your products and services. Keep in mind that the social media landscape is constantly changing and social networking sites can come and go within a matter of months. By keeping informed on the latest social media developments, you’ll be able to adapt your strategy accordingly to maintain continued success.

For more information on how small businesses are using social media, be sure to check out this infographic on Mashable. 

-John Kreuzer

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5 Years In The Making: The New York Times Paywall

Posted by Cynthia Horiguchi under Media, Public Relations, Trends

April 14th, 2011

Back when I took my first journalism class at USC, my professor told us that we were in the throes of a grand restructuring of the news media, and that the aspiring journalists in the room would have the opportunity to shape the new landscape. Five years later, and media companies are still struggling with what that new landscape looks like.

At the time, newspapers were just starting to feel the strain of losing classified ad revenue to Craigslist. In fact, Craig Newman of the eponymous site had just been the guest speaker for USC’s Annenerberg School for Communication and Journalism graduation ceremony. He was met with boos from the audience. The Huffington Post was little more than a year old, fresh off a brush-up with George Clooney over a political blog post arguably misattributed to his name. The New York Times, which at the time was charging online readers to access regular columns and archived content, was about to discontinue its TimesSelect program and offer all content online for free.

A little more than five years later, there is a feature-length movie involving Craigslist and classified ads are barely a part of the equation for newspapers. The Huffington Post has been acquired by AOL for $315 million . And The New York Times has reintroduced a paywall in a very different form from the original TimesSelect, in an attempt to reverse the steady decline in revenue that the New York Times Company has experienced since 2006.

Cultural shifts in the way we consume news (just think—Twitter was founded in 2006) are profoundly influencing media organizations’ business models. A perfect example can be found in the differences between The New York Times’ initial paywall, which was very straightforward, and today’s version, which takes into consideration the significance of social media and the various other ways consumers are accessing content. The current New York Times paywall, introduced last month, charges users $15 a month for access to the website and mobile phone app, $20 for web access and an iPad app, or $35 for an all-access plan. Print subscribers have unlimited access, except through e-readers. However, there are special conditions so as not to discourage casual online readership of the Times. All online visitors are given 20 free articles a month, five free articles a day if they are directed to articles through search engines such as Google, and unlimited free access to articles if they are directed through social media channels.

The New York Times reportedly spent $25 to $40 million to develop its paywall. And it will likely have to spend even more to plug the dam that is leaking in the form of tips and tricks on how to exploit loopholes in the paywall. Some of these tricks include a Twitter account posting links to all articles, various user-written scripts, such as a Chrome extension which has since been removed, and even more simply, removing certain characters from the article’s URL.  That the internet immediately reacted by finding ways to subvert the paywall is further confirmation that the Times and other media outlets are facing vastly different societal expectations than they were just five years ago. They are fighting an uphill battle to combat peoples’ unwillingness to pay for content, which has become even more entrenched over the last five years for a number of reasons.

First of all, we’ve simply gotten used to free content. Second, we have shorter attention spans—internet users are now getting their news in 140 characters, not 1,000-word feature stories. In addition, we aren’t going to news organizations’ homepages to find articles we want to read; we’re getting linked to articles from social media or news aggregators and don’t want to be locked into reading only one publication. While the Times’ paywall addresses this to a degree, as social media increasingly becomes the primary news aggregator for more and more people, the customer base willing to pay to access the Times through its homepage will dwindle. And finally—and perhaps most importantly—so many online news outlets have cropped up in the last five years, we figure we can always go elsewhere to get our news for free. (But as baseball-statistician-turned-New York Times-politico Nate Silver points out, there are actually relatively few news organizations which are responsible for the original reporting on which many other newspapers, broadcasters and bloggers rely.

In 2011 and beyond, media companies must re-educate consumers about the value of their services and content. They must also find ways of making their businesses sustainable without ignoring the changes in how people want to consume news. While paywalls might not necessarily be the answer, the fact that The New York Times is making an effort to see what will work in the new landscape is crucial to maintaining a viable business. The determining factor in which organizations thrive and which fade out will be who is willing to break away from traditional models and to come up with creative solutions.

–Cynthia Horiguchi

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The United States of Europe? Not So Much

Posted by Jon Bloom under Clients, Media, Public Relations, Strategy, Tools, Trends

April 5th, 2011

We recently hosted a roundtable series with clients at our offices featuring insights provided from our Worldcom Public Relations Group partners from Germany, Spain and the Czech Republic. McGrath/Power Public Relations has a strong track record of extending client programs into diverse European territories and bringing European brands into the U.S. Since 1989, McGrath/Power has been the San Francisco Bay Area partner of the Worldcom Public Relations Group. Worldcom has 100+ partner firms and we have shared programs with the majority of them.

Today, the essential question for U.S. communications professionals is whether Europe 2011 is united enough for a brand to communicate effectively across still-diverse borders. Has the power of the conversation crossed the Atlantic? Is Twitter the same tool in Lithuania as it is in Los Angeles? Are bloggers in Bosnia the same as they are in Boston? In a word, the answer to these questions is no, nyet, nein or something else depending on your location.

Many U.S. communications professionals believe what plays in New York will do likewise in Newfoundland. The advent of global social media platforms (read: Facebook and Twitter) have fostered this thinking for many. Our Worldcom roundtables illustrated that new communications approaches are indeed in play, but not to the extent they are here. Pitfalls a-plenty await US brands who believe otherwise. Combining practical experience, a recent Worldcom survey and other industry/demographic studies, input from our partners was eye opening and often humorous.

Consider:

Europe equals 47 recognized countries, 65+ nationalities, and 23 official and 207 unofficial languages.

Daily newspapers are read by 65 percent of all Europeans.

Fifty-four percent of Europeans use the Internet but only 14 percent access the Web via a mobile device.

The U.S. has a nearly 2x higher “individualism” index score than Europe, meaning we tend to look after ourselves first and “groups” second.  Marketing to U.S. audiences is far more of a 1:1 proposition.

We have a one-third lower “uncertainty avoidance index” than Europe, meaning Americans are more comfortable with “unstructured” or different communications approaches. While unique marketing campaigns thrive here, they may be less effective in more structured cultures.

Facebook is big in Europe but is one of dozens of social networks, many of which are country-specific.  European social networks are used predominantly for fun.

Nearly 50 percent of Europeans say privacy concerns are a barrier to using social media.

Given this, consider the following eight rules when looking to extend a program onto European soil:

1. Choose The Right Entry Point: The UK isn’t always the best entry point if you are looking to influence Europe’s “mainland.” Often it is better to pick a more central country.

2. Get Mixed Up: No single channel rules. A good mix is still the message for Europe. TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and online counterparts remain highly viable vehicles.

3. It May Not Be Sexy But It May Be Best: The traditional media is still the preferred channel for many European audiences.  It may not be as sexy as social media, but it may be more effective.

4. Aim Small: When dealing with traditional media, handle meetings in 1:1 format or small group sessions. Journalists will likely only travel if their expenses are covered and many dislike larger social events like the US “launch party.”

5. First Language First: Use local languages for written communication when at all possible — only the UK and Portugal prefer to receive information in English.

6. Not Yet B2B: Avoid relying on Facebook as a B2B communications tool because B2B companies aren’t there yet.  For B2B campaigns, the traditional media and its vertical subsets may be better choices.

7. To Tweet Or…?: Many journalists are not yet on Twitter, so Twitter use is a country-by-country proposition.

8. Be Certain With Messaging: If you are targeting a country with a high uncertainty avoidance index, aim messaging to key groups within that country’s social fabric as opposed to individuals as we often do in the US.

The world may be changing, but not everybody is changing at the same time. Vive la difference and remember it when extending your brand across the pond.

–Jonathan Bloom

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