Sunday, 8 April 2012

Going viral

These days it seems as though one sign (or maybe expectation?) of success in a communications campaign is if a YouTube video goes 'viral.' It is an elusive request, since videos that do go viral sometimes seem to have no reason for earning millions of views (see Rebecca Black.) So, what makes some videos go viral and others resistant? Is there an element of fate or is it something you can target?

In a post from Emma Gannon, she outlines principles that one can use to garner more views. For example:

- Don't over-brand, your content is what should shine
- Make it human and timely
- Grab the attention from the start and keep it

It would seem that from Emma's pointers, the average social media user doesn't want to feel that he or she is being 'marketed' to or sold something, but rather discovering or sharing information or something amusing on their own terms. In a post from Social Media Today, they shared the results of a report from Invoke Solutions that identified (among other things) what made content share-worthy, according to social media users.

These included:

  • A considerable range of traits defined share-worthy branded social media content for participants including content that was new or noteworthy (75%), entertaining (69%), valuable advice (68%) and exclusive information (67%). Financial benefit also rated highly at 65%, but its fifth place ranking suggests that social media consumers can be motivated by content without necessarily expecting a financial reward.
  • Valuable advice was one of the traits sited for share-worthy content. Third behind new/noteworthy and entertaining. 

When I put these pieces of advice to the test using the video below, I can see the proof. The video was created by a physician at a Toronto hospital. Since posting on December 2, 2011 it has earned 2,368,867. Not too shabby - especially when you consider he is not in the PR biz! It does run a little on the long side, but there are identifiable components that contribute to its success (i.e. content, valuable advice, attention-grabbing design that keeps you watching.)

While there are guidelines that can be followed to make a good video that hopefully resonates, I believe a bit of luck goes a long way to pushing it into viral territory.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Breaking out of my Twitter shell

I remember going to an IABC networking session about social media trends back in late 2008 in Toronto. The panelists were talking about this 'Twitter' thing, and many attendees were even live tweeting during the talks. I figured I needed to get on board with 'tweeting' or be left in the dust, plus it did seem kind of fun!

I opened my Twitter account in January 2009, and I have to confess I developed a bit of a love-hate relationship with the social media tool. It seemed like my comments and observations, my little jokes (that I thought were funny) and personal expressions were just drops in an ocean-sized bucket. I was starting to feel as though what I was putting out there didn't matter. I felt a little shy about reaching out to others too; after all, most of these 'tweeters' were people I didn't even know! Why would they want to connect with me? I began to wonder if Twitter was meant for the Justin Beibers and New York Times of the world. The people and businesses that had already achieved notoriety, and would easily hold the attention of thousands of followers.

Was it really a big deal if I did or did not participate? Instead of bringing me together with people, I felt quite isolated.

Since tweeting for my PR & Digital Media module, I feel a bit more emboldened and I believe it is partly to do with connecting and engaging with a specific group. As Clay Shirkey mentions in 'Here Comes Everybody' p.186, "These twitters are interesting not so much because the messages themselves are informative, but because the receiver cares about the sender." I believe we do look for these kinds of connections with others, whether it is online or in person. It is validating to share with those people who are interested in what you have to say or have something in common, and it builds your confidence when it is acknowledged.

Tweeting won't work optimally for you if you are only throwing random stuff at the wall to no one in particular (although this is certainly allowed). It is really through engagement with others that you truly understand its purpose and get some benefit from Twitter. When I look back at my tweets from my first few months as @laurabee43, there is not a retweet or a link posting or a reply to be found! No wonder I felt alone! Since I've been seeking out others for information, links and ideas, it has felt like a much more rewarding and stimulating experience.

I have found that Twitter is certainly comparable to an ocean, with so many bits and pieces of information zipping by it is easy to feel swallowed up and overwhelmed, but I think you can engage with it as much or as little as you want to. You can jump in and go for a long "swim", or you can dip in a toe; both approaches have their time and place. The important thing is to use the opportunity to connect with others as this will enrich your usage.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Courting the Bloggers

Over the last decade, the number of personal blogs has seemed to increase exponentially (as evidenced by this blog too!). Some have risen to achieve wide recognition and readership, making them appealing to companies that wish to harness their reach. But how do we in PR navigate the waters of blogger engagement? 

An interesting post by Louis Gray outlines some of the challenges:
Not every public relations firm is an expert in dealing with bloggers. Some are waking up to the blogging phenomenon and, guessing at the influencers, are simply adding blogger e-mail addresses to their distribution lists, without taking the time needed to see what it is each blogger covers, learning their focus areas, or personalizing an angle. Others are aggressively hustling the top two to five names and ignoring the second layer - which creates stress for those pursued, and resentment for those who are ignored.
What he suggests is that it is not enough to throw pitches out to an assortment of bloggers without any strategy - you must do your homework, create a blog, and get familiarized with the blog domain. If you are not talking the 'language' of a blogger - you will quickly be identified as an outsider.

Adam Singer, writing for the blog Future Buzz, states: 
...if you want to pitch influential or popular bloggers, here is my advice: only provide content that is both remarkable and marketable.  Resist the urge to give them anything else. 
Sound familiar? Pitching and working with bloggers is often comparable to pitching traditional media. However, it must be said that blogs are a different type of animal. At its core, blogging is a shared experience and bloggers are looking to engage others, and receive feedback from their readers. Dig into what hooks motivate a particular segment of bloggers and then package useful content in compelling and interesting ways that PR can use to engage them. Further, if you can develop relationships with bloggers that are mutually beneficial - there are gains to be had.

One example of successful corporate partnerships with bloggers include Coach's move in 2010 to team up with several high profile fashion bloggers asking them to design their own 'limited edition' handbag. Obviously, the handbag giant realized the the reach and influence of these blogs, but they also understood the audience these blogs attracts - a younger, female demographic.

(Pictured above, left: Kelly Framel and Emily Schuman

Another example of blogger and company partnership success is the meteroic rise of Michelle Phan an amateur make-up artist who garnered fame via her YouTube tutorial videos. As of February 2012, her videos have garnered over 530 million views, and she is most subscribed female on YouTube. As a result, she was hired by Lancome to be one of their spokespeople.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Keystrokes from the CEO

It has become more commonplace for CEOs and organizational leaders to have a blog. The intent is often to personalize the leader so that he or she is less of a figurehead and more approachable. It is hard to deny that peeks behind the curtain are interesting. 

However, while a leader's blog can certainly enhance the transparency of an organization, it does beg the question -  should all CEOs have a blog? According to David Henderson, a former journalist and communications strategist, there are a few basic questions that PR professionals need to consider before automatically throwing a CEO blog into their convergent media mix: 
- Why have the CEO blog? 
- What's the purpose? 
- What's to be achieved by the CEO's blog?

The best blogs are those that are not ghost-written by a member of the PR team, but rather come straight from the heart of the executive. Advice, lessons learned, personal anecdotes mixed with well-researched theories make for good reads, but they also need to have a tone that doesn't feel patronizing or phoney. One example of a particularly fearless CEO blog is Mark Cuban's Blog Maverick. While he does stir up debate and controversy, he is also unapologetically being himself.  

Another example of a well-done CEO blog is Paul Levy's. Levy was the CEO of Beth Israel Hospital in Boston and for years he wrote "Running a Hospital" about his experiences and learnings in healthcare. While he is no longer the CEO, he still maintains his blog (now called "Not Running a Hospital") and adds his perspective on healthcare in the United States. Levy is particularly good at interspersing more serious posts with his day-to-day experiences and humour. 

Successful CEO blogs really come down to the personality and commitment of the CEO. If they have to be led kicking and screaming to the computer, it is going to be a painful experience for everyone. There needs to be trust on the part of the PR team to allow the CEO to speak with his or her own voice.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

A million lenses

Quick, transparent PR response to a crisis or issue has always been an expectation and a basic tenet of good issues management. However, as the social media era progresses and the rate at which information is shared increases, expectations of PR's response have increased too.

There is significant proof of the damage that can be done to a company's reputation through social media channels. A classic example is the following video that was made in 2009 by the Canadian band 'Sons of Maxwell'. The band created this in response to United Airlines' treatment of their gear and complaint.

This video has since garnered over 11.5 million views on YouTube in addition to lots of press attention. The combination of humour and creativity made it a perfect candidate to go viral within days, and left United Airlines scrambling to save face. It certainly demonstrated the ability of social media to give a powerful megaphone to the customer, and the speed it has to reach an enormous audience

With more and more people using Smartphones and devices capable of recording video at any moment, transparency becomes even more necessary than ever for PR practitioners. Any attempt to obfuscate can quickly be disproven by 'citizen journalism'.

Take, for example, the video footage that was filmed by passengers aboard the Costa Concordia in the hours after they were instructed to evacuate.

Even five years ago there simply would not have been the volume of footage of this incident that there is today. It has become the norm, perhaps even the expectation, that we will be able to see events like this unfold from the perspective of the people who went through it.

Another example of the influence of citizen journalism is the large quantity of images and video that were captured during the riots in Vancouver following last game of the Stanley Cup Finals. Police came to rely heavily on these photos, videos and facebook pages in order to identify vandals and make arrests.

What these examples show is that there is mounting pressure for PR to stay ahead of the technology and respond quickly to situations that could flame up out of control. However, are we exchanging immediacy for thoughtfulness? Is there potential to do more harm than good by reacting instantaneously without having time to consider strategies and tactics?

In my opinion, it is of utmost importance for PR reps to be as proactive as possible in social media so that relationships are created and maintained online as equally as they are offline. In doing so, credibility and trust are built in this ever-changing realm, which will equip the organization to face any future issue.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Leandra the Man Repeller

One of my favourite websites to check out everyday is called 'The Man Repeller'. It is written by quirky New Yorker, Leandra Medine, and relates to all things fashion in particular, outfits and clothing that "man repel".

"Man repelling" is a term that Leandra and a friend came up with when they realized that Leandra's way of dressing, while very fashion-forward and inventive, was not something that men really respond to. As she creatively explains on her site:


outfitting oneself in a sartorially offensive way that will result in repelling members of the opposite sex. Such garments include but are not limited to harem pants, boyfriend jeans, overalls (see: human repelling), shoulder pads, full length jumpsuits, jewelry that resembles violent weaponry and clogs.
–verb (used without object),-pell·ing, -pell·ed.
to commit the act of repelling men:
Girl 1: What are you wearing to the party?
Girl 2: My sweet lime green drop crotch utility pants!
Girl 1: Oh, so we're man repelling tonight?
*DISCLAIMER: the above conversation is not a dramatization, took place in this room 5 minutes ago.

I love the way Leandra writes. Her voice is different from many other fashion bloggers in that she doesn't take herself too seriously, and coyly acknowledges that putting outfits together is not finding the cure for cancer. However, she expresses her opinions about personal style intelligently and in a way that anyone can relate to. There is no need to know the intimate details about the latest collection from Chanel, for example, to enjoy her blog. She has a knack for speaking to her readers as though they are close friends, and is confident while at the same time blending a little charming self-deprecation. It is a delicate mix, but one that I feel she achieves with her dry sense of humour and strong writing skills.

Leandra's approach to the fashion world is also refreshing to me. She promotes the concept of women dressing for themselves first, which reaches into the feminist realm. Often fashion seems to be bogged down with expectations for women (size/weight, looks, brand-names to buy) so that they will  fit in with a stereotype of what is 'attractive'. It is nice to see someone who believes that women shouldn't worry so much about how they are perceived by others when it comes to what they wear, but rather make themselves happy first and have fun with it.

At the tender age of 21, Leandra and her website were profiled in the New York Times' Fashion & Style section, which identified that her site has drawn an increasing amount of attention from New York's fashion elite and glossy magazines. This growing interest in her work aside, I enjoy the fact that Leandra remains true to herself. There are no air-brushed photos or attempts to look completely perfect from her hair to her toes. Sometimes she looks beautiful and glamourous, sometimes plain; however, despite an ever-broadening audience, she remains confident in her self and her vision.