Monday, March 1

Breaking News: It's Not Your Grandpa's PR Environment

The Pew Research Center study that finds 59 percent of all Americans get their news from a combination of online and offline sources isn't breaking news as much as it solidifies the shift in how people seek information and how information spreads. Even reporters are relying heavily on online content, making some of them online curators more than they are offline investigators.

Sometimes the results are absurd. CNN recently ran a story about a 140-year-old hot dog. Even after the story was revealed as a hoax, it still spread across social networks because people want to believe such things to be true.

What's more, people might use multiple platforms for news, but they continually choose from a relatively narrow field of Web sites. Fifty-seven percent rely on two to five Web sites for their news. Twenty-one percent say they get their news from just one site. Often times, those singular sources of news are the same outlets shared on a different platform.

What Americans Consider Their Source For News.

78 percent get news from their local television station.
73 percent get news from networks and cable news stations.
61 percent get news from online sources.
54 percent get news from a radio news program.
50 percent get news from a local newspaper.
17 percent get news from a national newspaper.

The study also reveals that online news consumption is increasingly portable (cell phones), personalized (customized news outlets), and participatory (shared via social networks). It also seems to be search reliant, with the most popular subjects searched: weather, national events, health and medicine, business and the economy, international events, and science and technology. The study can be found here.

Typically, what we've found from in-house research is that public will hear about an event online, search for content, and then pick among perceived trusted sources, headlines, and summaries. There is some difference in the type of content searched among different search engines.

How It Has Changed The Public Relations Environment.

With an increasing number of possible outlets, companies can no longer be satisfied with public relations firms that turn out lists of random runs from a variety of news outlets captured via lists. New stories need to be increasingly targeted to reach specific outlets, which requires a better understanding of the publics those firms hope to reach.

After all, with the average person being exposed to approximately 112,000 words of communication every day, the chances that a one-time run story in a local outlet will be seen, remembered, or acted upon is relatively small. The average niche blog can reach more people and have a greater impact.

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Sunday, February 28

Digging Deeper: Fresh Content

Do you think you know why people share your posts? How to fool search engines? How to leverage personal brands for business? How to manage a crisis? How to gain exposure by pretending to do good?

You might want to think again.

Here are five posts to remind you why bullet points, best practice duplication, and pat answers are not the end-all to communication. They are only the beginning. They also make up five timeless and compelling fresh content picks.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of February 15

The Psychology of Influence and Sharing.
John Bell believes that psychology is the next rediscovered territory for marketers, and he is right. (Whether marketers will truly understand psychology is a different question all together.) Inspired by new information from a column sharing a study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Bell adds value to New York Times trends that suggest people tend to share positive, long-format, and challenging topic articles.

• 3 Reasons PR & Communications Pros Need to Know SEO.
Not many people know more about SEO than Lee Odden, which is why we were thrilled to see a shift in optimization thinking. With 91 percent of journalists, editors and reporters surveyed using standard search engines such as Google, Yahoo or Bing to do their jobs, Odden's three divisions of optimization can be summed up as considering people first.

Your Business Is Worthless if It Depends on You.
With so many people talking about the importance of personal connections, it's refreshing to see John Jantsch remind entrepreneurs that a business only has value when it can stand on its own. He doesn't mean that individual-reliant businesses can't be profitable. He simply means that if you ever want to sell it, you have remove yourself from the sales and marketing first. (Maybe that explains why the Zappos success story is often told in past tense.)

Brand Crisis: 10 Crisis Response Myths.
Shel Holtz might have hated it, but Bob Conrad's post perfectly debunks patented assumptions often employed in modern crisis communication. Sure, using the proven points of crisis communication are worthwhile, but unless public relations practitioners are prepared to see how that stacks up in unique situations, the prescription might fail. My personal favorite among his points is number six. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to crisis management.

Authenticity in Corporate Social Responsibility.
Corporate giving and strategic communication have been around a long time. What has changed, however, is the visibility of these various programs via social media. Geoff Livingston suggests companies might slow down before they turn otherwise good corporate citizen programs into thinly veiled marketing campaigns. Given that 90 percent of organizations cannot discern the difference between cause marketing and corporate social responsibility, he might be right.

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Saturday, February 27

Writing For Public Relations: On Spreading Messages

Since people first learned to speak, they have attempted to master the art and science of persuasion. Throughout history, new methods to manipulate, control, and manage information have always followed every single innovation designed to set it free.

Think about that.

The adoption of social media is no different. Today, public relations professionals and communicators are tasked with balancing the opportunities that come with infinite reach as well as the new challenges it creates. Part of the job is to manage organizational communication; not with an intent to manipulate it, but to ensure misinformation doesn't overshadow the truth.

How can they do it?

The above deck is one of the teaching tools I'm using this year for Writing For Public Relations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The intent of this deck is to help students understand the opportunities for and threats to organizational communication in the modern world. Enjoy.

Friday, February 26

Exploring Validation: Do We Need It?

Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, can be considered a colorful thinker of sorts. He has argued that Asian cultural traditions inhibit Asian scientific creativity; poor health in some countries is related to lower IQ and not poverty; and that beautiful people are 26 percent less likely to have male offspring.

On more than one occasion, his conclusions have been wrong. And yet, there is some buzz over his new theory, published in Social Psychology Quarterly, that liberals and atheists are more intelligent — here, here, here, and more than two dozen others. Why?

He believes it. And others want to believe it too.

Most recently, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid claimed on the Senate floor that "women aren't abusive, most of the time. Men, when they're out of work, tend to become abusive." There are more than 16 groups calling for him to issue an apology for misrepresenting 250 scholarly studies. Why?

He believes it. And others want to believe it too.

Brian Solis writes about a similar phenomenon. He calls it the Verizon Network Theory, which suggests that we gain confidence with online interaction, reinforced by updates, followers, retweets, etc. In sum, people seek out validation and hope for validation on the Internet. He cites several surveys that demonstrate it, with a growing percentage of the population wanting to be noticed. Why?

He believes it. And others want to believe it too.

Understanding the increasing need for validation.

With increasing regularity, people are seeking out sources that validate their beliefs. Kanazawa seems to do it with research, which is readily lifted up by people who want to believe in it. U.S. Sen. Harry Reid did it, which reinforces his erroneous gender stereotypes. And Solis is right that people lean toward validation activities online (and, increasingly so, offline too).

You can see some similarities in Robert Cialdini's book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which Fortune Magazine lists among the “75 Smartest Business Books.” In it, Cialdini centers his idea on six key points that we also see in social media.

• Reciprocation. People are likely to share information from people who have shared their information.
• Credibility. Although nowadays, online, credibility is associated with popularity over expertise.
• Friendship. Salespeople have always understood that people tend to buy from people they like.
• Scarcity. Items with a perceived scarcity have greater value. Online, this amounts to a number of followers.
• Social validation. People are predisposed to follow the majorities rather than minorities.
• Commitment. Once people are engaged, they tend to become more brand loyal over time.

But the question that needs to be asked is: given the increasing regularity of misinformation and the proliferation of self-validated theories, is this increasing need for self and social validation a good thing? Albert Einstein, IQ estimated at 160-180, didn't think so.

"He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice." — Albert Einstein

Thursday, February 25

Branding Advantages: Credit Suisse Links Brand To Market Performance

Credit Suisse Research Institute, which identifies and provides insights on global themes and trends for Credit Suisse AG, released an in-depth analysis of how a company's brand can be one of the few true competitive advantages remaining in modern industry. The study focuses on industry and company conditions that are vital for brand success as well as a model for brand lifecycle that suggests key entry and exit points for investors.

"We believe a strong brand is one of the most powerful and sustainable advantages a company can have, but one that is often ignored by the financial markets," said Omar Saad, director at Credit Suisse. "We believe brand stocks will continue to outperform the market, and our proprietary framework analyzes brand lifecycles to determine how and when to invest in brands for optimal returns."

Key Findings From "Great Brands of Tomorrow."

• Stronger brands consistently generate out-sized long-term growth and returns for shareholders.

Companies that invest at least two percent of sales revenue on marketing outperform the S&P 500 by more than four percent annually. The top one-fifth of strongly branded companies outperform the market by 17 percent.

• Some industries are more brand friendly than others.

The study demonstrates that brand power is strongest in industries that have the closest proximity to the customer. This suggests that even B2B companies benefit from some direct-to-public communication. The study also demonstrates that reputation is one of the most important roles in customer purchasing decisions.

• Most brands follow a sustained arc with five distinct stages.

These stages include: emerge, hit the wall, transform/proliferate, dominate, and reinvent. For investors, this means spotting companies that transform from a niche player into a powerful brand that can be proliferated across new markets and categories.

• Tough financial times are often the most opportunistic backdrops for great brand companies.

As weaker competitors scale back and new entrants delay riskier plans, strongly branded companies emerge out of a weakened economy and outperform the market by as much as 18 percent within the first six quarters of recovery. According to Credit Suisse Research Institute, brand stocks are already beginning to outperform their markets by seven percent since March 2009.

In addition to its report, which identifies brands and their relationship to the market, Credit Suisse released a list of 27 brands that it believes will outperform based on their brand advantage. They include:, Almarai, Amazon, Apple, BIM, Capitec, China Merchants Bank, Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Enfamil, Facebook, Hyundai Motor, Indian Hotels, Julius Baer, Li Ning, Mahindra & Mahindra, MercadoLibre, Mercedes-Benz, Polo Ralph Lauren, Sonova Holding, Swatch, Tiffany & Co., Tingyi, Trader Joe's, Tsingtao Brewery, Under Armour, Uniglo, and Yakult Honsha.

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Wednesday, February 24

Going For Gold: How To Win With Social Media

Social media experts, social network managers, and bloggers could learn something from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. There are 2,636 athletes from 76 countries competing in 15 sports, which have additional variations in form and technique. All of these athletes are different.

Each and everyone of them has a different attitude, approach, skill, technique, style, and degree of teamwork. And yet, they share a common bond in that they all represent the best of the best in winter sports. So does social media.

Every time I read a well-meant post about how social media should be approached, I cringe a little bit. Should doesn't really have a place in communication, let alone social media. In an environment where more than 69 million people might define social media as playing Farmville, who's to say what should or should not be done? Either it works or it doesn't.

Sure, there was significant back and forth when Forrester Research reset its analyst blogging policy. You can find one of the most comprehensive and thoughtful summations offered by Shel Holtz. However, while his conclusion may or may not line up with what works for Forrester Research (it's too soon to tell), his conclusion certainly doesn't work for social media. Here's why...

How To Win Online Like An Olympian.

Know Your Sport.

Can you imagine what might happen if figure skaters approached pairs like ice hockey? I doubt Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China would not have taken home the gold in figure skating pairs for a body check. I also doubt that Jarome Iginla of Canada dreams of a reverse rotational lift with Alex Ovechkin from Russia.

Social media is much like that. Different niches develop their own sense of the sport. Foodie bloggers and mommy bloggers are different from business bloggers and communication bloggers (though some blend the elements). Even in communication, there are variations. Advertising, public relations, marketing, social media, and communication education all approach social media differently (and the best of them tend to manage client social media efforts differently too).

Know Your Game.

Not everyone believed that Evan Lysacek from the United States could win gold without the all-important quadruple jump. He did. Lysacek edged out Yevgeni Plushenko from Russia with an overall routine featuring better jumps, spins, and footwork. Meanwhile, Daisuke Takahashi from Japan employed a much more playful style to win bronze.

Social media is much like that. Long format or short format, lists or no lists, personal or formal, pictures or no pictures, comments or no comments, video or no video — all of it is as diversified as various sports. What really matters is that any individual blog or online community excel at whatever sport it might be similar to.

Know Your Team.

In the Olympics, not every team is the same. It takes a different kind of team to be part of a four-man blobsled than it does to play hockey. Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue had to consider each other's strengths to win gold in figure skating pairs. Shaun White didn't have any partner limitations in landing a gravity-defying double McTwist 1260 in snowboarding.

Social media is much like that. One of the things that Forrester Research did was reconsider how it views the team. Holtz doesn't have any such limitation. He is an all star, even when he plays for a team. Seth Godin has a different style too, one that is much more independent and isolated. Yet, it works for the people who read his books and blog.

Know What Matters.

Apolo Anton Ohno is one of the most popular Olympians on Twitter, with almost six times the followers of Lysacek. Does that mean Lysacek might consider giving up his gold medal figure skating success in favor of the short track? Does it mean he is less of an Olympian?

That would be silly to think so. And yet, it's not so silly to some people in social media who adopt a prevailing thought among communication bloggers. Some are torn between being more conversational or controversial because their colleagues seem more popular. The truth is that their comparison neglects that they might be in a different sport with a different style and a different team approach.

When bloggers align themselves with what the most popular people are doing based on perceived success, they've lost. In most cases, with some exceptions, the most popular reach a perceived success by knowing what sport, game, and team approach they want to take. And then, they play it perfectly.

Sure, some copycats can duplicate what those who came before them did. (It's very simple to do in social media circles, if all you care about is numbers.) But they will never quite measure up with compelling ideas because they are trying to be something they are not. So, popularity aside, maybe people ought to do what works for them or their organizations.

After all, the best sky jumpers don't dream of being figure skaters, they set their sights on being the best jumpers that they can be. How about you? Do you feel a disconnect with the sport you chose because it's less popular, flashy, or self-reliant? Don't be. Just be the best you can be. Or, if you're working in social media for an organization, make it the best it can be.

This is how I've come to view the Forrester Research policy change and the conversation that lingers on. Forrester Research is trying to be the best it can be.

And when you look at the Forrester Research case without the emotive buzz of taking something away from all-star analysts, then you realize Forrester didn't change sports. What it changed was the team approach and style of play.

Instead of picking star players from NHL teams, Forrester wants to play like the Herb Brooks' 1980 Miracle team. Does it matter? It doesn't matter if they continue to score shots for their clients. Conversely, it might matter if individual players feel less empowered to take opportunity shots that still score for the team. Time will tell.

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