Epic Typo Fails: Proofreading has never looked better

Silly typos have been embarrassing writers throughout history – with some more unfortunate than others. In 1915 for example, The Washington Post was credited with “one of the most famous newspaper typos in US history.” The publication intended to report that President Wilson had been “entertaining “ his fiancée. Instead, it read, “The President gave himself up for the time being to entering his fiancée.” While amusing to readers, the paper was recalled.

More recently, a lone omitted hyphen caused NASA’s Mariner I rocket to explode less than five minutes into flight – costing the U.S. government $80 million. That’s the power of a single hyphen.

Sephora also found itself in the throes of one of the most unfortunate social media mishaps ever after deciding to roll out the hashtag, “#CountdownToBeauty.” One missing letter threw the entire promotional campaign into disarray when the company’s social media handlers mistakenly left out the first ‘o’ in the word ‘countdown.’ A brutal lesson in proofreading.

If you don’t double-check your grammar and spelling, you may regret it – especially in PR, where one tiny error could mean a serious blow to your brand (and budget). As further proof, we have included seven more tragic spelling and grammar errors gracing the Internet below. Don’t let this be you!

This book opener:

Reddit
Reddit

When a space between “C” and “L” would have been handy:

Sharlene King
Sharlene King

This highly misleading ad:

Memerial
Memerial

Amercia the Beautiful:

Mitt Romney iPhone App
Mitt Romney iPhone App

This tweet – always check your numbers:

UN Twitter
UN Twitter

Too much irony here:

ApproveForMe Blog
ApproveForMe Blog

The Chilean coin that misspelled Chile: 

The Guardian
The Guardian

Little mistakes, big consequences.

Socially Acceptable: Disclosure on Social Media

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Thinkstock

I’ve previously discussed the importance of disclosure – that is, making it clear as a day if compensation of any kind occurred for a piece of content, per Federal Trade Commission guidelines. In that post, I noted the FTC’s requirement to disclose within any social post if the content that is linked to is sponsored.

Well recently, the FTC exercised this mandate, settling charges with Deutsch LA for what the FTC deemed deceptive Twitter promotion. The notion that the FTC won’t actually monitor agencies’ social media activity as it relates to clients can officially be put to rest with this important wake up call.

Maybe you’re thinking the agency in question engaged in outrageous practices to mislead consumers. Well, you’d be wrong – the firm simply promoted a campaign for PlayStation (one of its clients) from employees’ personal handles, without disclosing PlayStation as a client. Did agency employees link to sponsored content they should have noted was paid for? Nope. Individuals were simply asked, not told, to tweet positive endorsements of a product while using a specific hashtag.

This isn’t meant to call out a specific agency and its campaign. This really could have been any number of agencies in an effort to build awareness for clients. Most, if not all, agencies only have one goal in mind: to do the best work they can for their clients. But in doing so, it’s easy to forget that while the client effectively operates as the agency’s “customer,” agencies must always keep their client’s customers in mind.

At Blanc & Otus, we have a long-standing policy in place that requires our team to call out whether a company is a client in promotional social posts. However, the rules are constantly changing and this is a great lesson as much as a cautionary tale. Disclosure can’t just occur via the agency social feeds – it extends to every employee of that agency, even those who may not work on or have anything to do with the specific account. Agencies should also take the measures needed to educate their employees on various disclosure mandates. For instance, this case was unrelated to disclosure of sponsored content, just content related to clients.

One easy quick fix to appease FTC regulators: simply add a #client or #ad hashtag to your post. I hope this helps and if you work in PR, communications or any other area where this might apply, feel free to get in touch with me with any questions at ndesai@blancandotus.com.

What Time Works for You? Social Media Posting Guidelines

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Thinkstock

While we all know there is no such thing as a one size fits all approach to social media, there is now a lot of data available that can help us determine what, when and where to post different types of content. For now let’s focus on when, as the time you chose to post directly influences who will see your content. Below, we’ve shared some guidelines to posting on you blog, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.

A note regarding timing suggestions below: All suggestions are based on EST. Although 80 percent of the population is located in the eastern and central time zones, we advise using Google Analytics to locate where a majority of your audience is located to identify the best posting time for you. And yes, this is our version of a disclaimer.

Blog Posts

Blogging is a tricky business; it’s harder to gain visibility for longer-form content in the age of short attention spans. However, as is the case with every social platform, posting can be a calculated science.

Facebook

Research on Facebook’s optimal post timing is more concrete. Engagement is the highest towards the end of the workweek. Thursday and Friday engagement is at about 18 percent, up from about 15 percent through the rest of the week.

  • Audience: A study done by KISSmetrics states Facebook sees its largest audience at noon and again at 7 p.m.
  • Engagement: The best times to post is before work, during the morning commute between 6 and 8 a.m., and again later in the afternoon between 2 and 5 p.m. (it’s ok to admit you check Facebook then as well). Posting towards the end of the week also encourages consumers to interact with your posts on weekends, when engagement is 32 percent higher.

Google+

Don’t underestimate the power of morning people; they may not be fully awake, but they are sharing on social media. Google+ is another network where early-in-the-workday posts do best. Like with Twitter, individual brands can use analytics to see what posting times resonate with their audience – a good resource for this is Timing+.

  • Audience: Google+ sees the largest audience between 10 and 11 a.m. according to data compiled by Fannit.
  • Engagement: As a general guideline, posting between 9 and 11 a.m. while avoiding posts after 6 p.m. will garner the most engagement. Peak time for click-throughs and shares is Wednesdays at 9 a.m.

It’s not just about kids: Be mindful that Google+’s fastest-growing demographic is adults between the ages of 45-54 and adjust your content accordingly.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a strictly weekday social network. While we might all be guilty of occasionally checking over the weekend, that is probably a good thing.

  • Audience: LinkedIn’s audience is engaged periodically throughout the day, however the largest audience is reachable during lunch hours, 12-1 p.m. and at the end of the workday, 5-6 p.m.
  • Engagement: According to research from SurePayroll, optimal LinkedIn posting times are before the workday begins and right after it ends, with peak days being Tuesday and Thursday. Beware though, Entrepreneur reported that between the hours of 9 and 5 p.m., LinkedIn is an engagement “dead zone.”
  • Keep in mind: LinkedIn sends 4 times as much traffic to your business’ website as Facebook and Twitter, so make sure to be consistent about publishing content.

Twitter

Twitter has a fast and high volume feed, so picking your time carefully is crucial. Research pertaining to the optimal time for brands to post on Twitter varies; some studies state that brands get more engagement on weekdays while others say you should be more of a weekend person, so it’s important to experiment with posting times to see what resonates best with your specific audience. However, there are some guidelines to follow:

As you can see, finding the best times to post content will require a bit of trial and error. Continue to tweak posting times until you find what works best. And remember there are a multitude of resources that provide analytics on what posts are getting the best engagement including HootSuite and Google Analytics. Now it’s time to get your message out – post away!

5 Things to Know About Twitter Analytics

Twitter Analytics
Twitter Analytics

Twitter’s been busy this year launching a slew of new services and features to help you get more out of 140 characters. Among those, Twitter Analytics received a facelift and a handful of new updates so you can better measure reach and engagement on Twitter and optimize your content strategy. Here’s everything you need to know about using Twitter Analytics:

1.    Twitter Analytics is for everyone now.

Historically it has been difficult to measure success on Twitter because you either had to pay for ads or use a third-party tool like Radian6 or Hootsuite. But now, whether you’re tracking the success of a client’s campaign or your personal cat Vine, the Tweet activity dashboard lets you measure performance of organic Tweets, within Twitter itself. Just go to analytics.twitter.com when you’re logged in to access your dashboard.

 2.    Pay attention to how people interact with your content.

EngagementShows the number of times people interacted with Tweets. Specifically, click on a Tweet to measure clicks, favorites, expands and Retweets. You can also see if you received follows or profile views from a particular Tweet.

Impressions: Tells you how many times your Tweet has been viewed by anyone on Twitter apps or on Twitter.com, including logged-out users. This enables you to see what type of content gets the most eyeballs. Look for a pattern in the Tweets that get the highest engagement and impressions and work to replicate that in your content strategy going forward. 3.    You can see WHEN your Tweets perform best. To further inform your content strategy, you can now see an hour-by-hour breakdown of the performance of Tweets. So if you start to notice your 10am Tweets are performing exceptionally well, you can alter your posting strategy accordingly.

3.    If you Tweet like a crazy person, Twitter has you covered.

You can export the data for a maximum of 3,200 Tweets (up from 500) for a detailed look at impressions, engagements, clicks, Retweets and more, all in a nicely formatted Excel grid. This is particularly helpful as it enables you to identify trends and use those insights to recreate similar content.

4.    Know who’s watching you.

Click the “Followers” tab at the top left corner of the page to see a timeline of followers and get details on their interests, location, gender and other accounts they follow. This is a cool feature because you can see if there was a spike in followers at a certain date, and if a lot of your followers are into say, comedy for example, you can start to insert humor in your Tweets.

As marketers who rely on social media as a core medium to share our message, we’re excited about these new measurement capabilities and are already using them to help our clients increase their reach and engagement across on Twitter. After all, as Edwards Deming once said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. If you can’t manage it, you can’t improve it.”

How Valuable is the History Lesson? The Value of Experience in PR Part 2

Credit: Andrew Horne
Credit: Andrew Horne

I used to. We did. When we. These are just three of the warning signs that come up when someone is about to explain a campaign or tactic that they did in the past. They are typically followed by details of what worked and guidance on how that could be applied to the current situation.

It would be naïve and arrogant just to dismiss the insights gained, but if the history lesson is more than 5 years old, the chances are it will be past its sell-by date. The technological changes in marketing (and in PR for that matter) have just been so steep. In fact, some experts argue that marketing has changed more in the last 5 years than the last 500.

In the last post, I looked at how these changes have impacted large strategic PR projects like messaging and positioning, but the ripple effect goes much further. As while PR pros could once rely on TV, newspapers, magazines, and maybe some radio to reach their audiences, the reality today is very different.

To simplify the explosion in channels, many marketing and PR organizations added new teams (and some ridiculous new titles) that focus on specific areas. Lots of PR agencies initially did the same, only to find that breaking out social was akin to separating bread and butter. So if this was the wrong approach, what does the ideal structure now look like?

The Harvard Business Review suggests that’s the wrong question to ask. Instead, it recommends that marketing leaders ask themselves “What values and goals guide our brand strategy, what capabilities drive marketing excellence, and what structures and ways of working will support them?” I couldn’t agree more and believe the same is true for PR and communications.

What does this mean for how we reach our audiences? It means that looking at individual channels is a blinkered approach. Instead, we need to think holistically and embrace brand journalism. As Larry Light, former global CMO of McDonald’s and the former chief brands officer at InterContinental Hotels Group, said: brand journalism is now a modern marketing imperative and involves creating “a continuing flow of valuable, relevant, integrated and engaging content — advertising, articles, blog posts, social media, live events, videos and social media.” In other words, it’s a blueprint for modern PR.

That’s not to say that we throw everything out. The relationship building skills that have always been central to reaching and engaging audiences are more valuable today than ever before. We just need to move beyond the idea of a simple Rolodex and instead look at how those skills can be complemented by the wealth of data and technology that we now have available.

Having now looked at the relevance of experience to both strategic and tactical PR programs, the next post will go back to the question of whether experience in PR is an asset or anchor.

No News Is Not Good News in PR: Tips for Consistent Media Coverage

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Thinkstock

The single most important job of a PR professional is getting your clients nice placements in the media. But what do you do when a client doesn’t have groundbreaking product announcements or exciting customer wins? A smart PR agency knows that you don’t just passively wait around for hard news to fall in your lap – you take an inventive approach to media relations. In B2B technology PR this is especially crucial, because drumming up buzz can be tricky for some of the world’s less “sexy” technologies.

Struggling to keep your clients in the press? Use these tips that we have success with on a regular basis:

Join the conversation
Increase brand awareness and drive credibility by inserting your client into larger industry conversations. When a reporter is working on a news story, they usually like to include third party commentary for perspective and authority. By staying on top of the news in your clients’ space, you can proactively pitch your executives as subject matter experts to reporters. In doing so you have made the writer’s life a little easier and also landed thought leadership in an article on a topic that directly relates to your client.

Be sure to closely monitor newsletters like ProfNet and HARO, which are great services that match up journalists with sources, and act quickly on postings relevant to your client.

Show some personality
Executive profiles are a great way to secure major feature articles without news. Start by doing some digging on what makes your clients’ top executives unique. Interesting childhoods, cool hobbies and unorthodox leadership approaches are all great hooks. Often the founder of the company will have a great story about what led them to create their business – use that when possible. There are lots of reporters in business press and local publications who regularly profile executives, so do some research and pitch accordingly.

Get back to the basics
Some of the most successful media placements are not the result of pitching a press release, but instead uncovering a natural match between client and media. Take the time to find that perfect reporter who should definitely know about your client, write them a genuine note explaining why you think they’ll care, and offer them an introductory briefing. Coverage won’t be guaranteed, but this can be a great way to forge important relationships so that the reporter may think of your client when working on a story down the line.

At my agency, some of the biggest hits we secure are the result of proactive outreach rather than an announcement. We see time and time again that being both creative and tenacious in your approach to media relations can lead to impressive results.

When there’s no hard news, what other methods have you had success with for getting clients media coverage?

PR Professionals SHOULD Break Social Media Taboos

Thinkstock Photos
Thinkstock Photos

I recently came across an article on Mashable and it got me thinking: a lot of the self-absorbed social media behavior we are guilty of is exactly what we do as PR professionals. Such as:

1. Stalking your ex’s new partner.

Let’s be real – we all do it. Thankfully, unlike LinkedIn, Facebook doesn’t tell you who has viewed your profile.

While it’s human nature to analyze the competition, it’s generally frowned upon when it comes to late-night stalking. In PR it’s different. It’s our job to know the competition and one of the best ways to analyze our clients’ competitors is through social media.

2. Checking to see how many people have liked or commented on your status updates.

We all like to feel special and know that people are interested in our lives – perhaps that’s why we incessantly check to see how many birthday posts we’ve received or how many likes we’ve gotten on a photo. If you manage the PR program for one of your clients, then you’ll find yourself doing this everyday.

Social media is a powerful PR channel and it’s important to make sure social posts are resonating with the key audience. A great way to know if a post is working or not is by looking at the post’s engagement. Similar to A/B testing, you can see what posts work best and model your future posts around what was successful in the past.

3. Bragging about yourself.

Everyone’s been guilty of excessive online gloating at some point. Social media bragging is often looked down upon, but less so for companies. PR professionals rely on social media to promote company news, accolades and momentum; it helps continue the lifecycle of content. Best-case scenario? The brags news goes viral.

4. Looking at photos of everyone hanging out without you.

Nobody likes to feel left out, and it’s never fun to see pictures from an awesome event that you missed out on. The same goes for PR. Let’s say you saw photos from a recent industry event featuring representatives from all your client’s competitors. That probably tells you one key thing: your client should have been there too.

So what have we learned here? Basically, we’ve all committed some kind of self-absorbed behavior on social media whether we like to admit it or not, but PR professionals actually get paid for it.

What’s Your Point? Ernest Hemingway Would Like to Know

“Yeah, writing the great American novel was cool, but I’m glad my legacy is forever preserved by this mobile app.” (Lloyd Arnold/Wikimedia Commons)

“Robert Jordan lay behind the tree, holding onto himself very carefully and delicately to keep his hands steady. He was waiting until the officer reached the sunlit place where the first trees of the pine forest joined the green slope of the meadow. He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.”

Those are the final few lines of what I consider to be the best novel by my favorite author, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway is famous for his simple, direct, and unadorned style of writing, likely owing to his beginnings as a newspaper reporter. Some people hate this style, claiming that it’s too elementary, but many others love it, because it gets straight to the point without losing any appeal.

As PR practitioners, we are constantly trying to better understand the wants and needs of the journalists we pitch. And one of the most consistent pieces of feedback we get from them is, “get to the point.” We’re thus always looking for the most efficient and direct way to make the most impact, which means avoiding jargon at all costs. Unfortunately, the technology industry is one of the most jargon-laden; when you’re “engaging by utilizing a cloud-based interaction and collaboration tool,” you’re really just catching up with a friend on Gchat. Heck, there’s now a Google Chrome app called The Dejargonizer, which detects jargon on websites and provides that term’s definition in “everyday” language.

In a turn of events that delights me to no end, there’s another language-centric tool aimed at simplifying prose, and it’s called – wait for it – the Hemingway App. This app highlights various parts of text in different colors – such as adverbs in blue and passive voice in green – but the best part is that it highlights sentences that are difficult to read in yellow and very difficult to read ones in red.

This may well be career-limiting, but let’s see what the Hemingway App thinks of some of the recent writing from our fearless leader, Josh Reynolds. Take this sentence:

“Whether you’re in a maturing space with massive consolidation and commoditization of technologies, or whether you’re in a hot new space flooded with startups, there are so many different companies clamoring for attention that virtually every PR practitioner has their own formula for smart messaging.”

The Hemingway App gave that sentence one big fat red highlight. But just to show that I’m not above picking on myself, the app also gave the last sentence of my prior paragraph an identical fat red highlight.

Of course, it’s often impossible in tech PR to avoid superfluous language. But while the Hemingway App may be a harsh critic, it’s also a handy reminder that unless you’re writing fiction, your audience probably wants you to do what Mr. Hemingway did best: Get. To. The. Point.

The State of Opinions on the Social Web

Screenshot from state.com
Screenshot from state.com

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been playing around with the State app. Pitched as the global opinion network, it gives users the ability to state their opinions on a range of topics, organizations, people and current events – from PSY and Snoop Dogg’s latest collaboration to gun control.

As people input their opinions, the data from keywords generates a graph that maps out user sentiment, along with a keyword cloud showing the most common terms associated with the subject.

Opinions of friends are displayed on the user’s home page, so it’s easy to add your two cents to a relevant topic. State has also taken a leaf out of Twitter’s (recently revised) book and allows users to mute (or tune in to) selected friend’s opinions and specific subjects.

The company has grand visions to democratize online discussion, and cofounder Alexander Asseily has positioned the platform as giving everyone an equal voice – in contrast to platforms like Twitter where a small number of opinion leaders dominate conversations.

“You don’t need to be famous or savvy with hashtags. The only requirement is expressing an opinion and we connect you with others who share the opinion”

– Alexander Asseily, State co-founder

From a PR perspective, the platform has the potential to act as an important reputation indicator and source of feedback for brands, politicians and enterprises who are willing to listen. For example, a search of Starbucks shows 362 opinions (at time of writing), which are collectively balanced. However, looking at the user-submitted keywords, it’s clear that a significant percentage of users have a low opinion of the company’s product and consider it overpriced.

State also has the potential to become a go-to source of social media insight for journalists. The platform displays the collective opinions of users in a simple and clean format, and allows users to drill down into comments under specific keywords. If State becomes the shiny new thing online (a big if), expect media to ditch the obligatory quote from Twitter and Facebook in favor of comments, keywords and stats from State.

All of this sounds great – in theory. However, the platform is still in its infancy, with a small user-base. The other downside is that the opt-in nature of the platform will not always make for accurate brand sentiment metrics.

State has gone to the trouble of adding more than 10,000 expressions to make it quick and easy to for users to state their opinions in a way that reduces complexity, making it easier to graph data. While convenient, the various ways in which cultures use words within the English language is likely to create further inaccuracies. For example, Australians’ use of the word ‘sick’ is wildly different from the way it is used by many other English-speaking countries.

These suggested options for response will also have a significant impact on the results, and it’s highly likely that most users will select from the first couple of options available (the most popular ones) rather than searching for a word that accurately reflects how they feel, further tainting results.

Faults aside, the team at State should be applauded for their efforts to create a global opinion network that people might actually use. If it was to garner widespread adoption, it could have a significant impact on proceedings in the court of public opinion. With the 2016 election on the horizon, State could be a dark horse. Watch this space…

Avoid Death by PowerPoint: The Anatomy of a Great Analyst Briefing

Credit: Gareth Saunders
Credit: Gareth Saunders

At this time of year many vendors go into overdrive as GartnerForrester, IDC and other industry analyst firms update their vendor landscape analysis reports. A lot of analysts, and analyst relations professionals, have their own take on what constitutes a great deck, but ex-Forrester analyst Chenxi Wang recently wrote a great blog post on how to design a deck for an analyst briefing.

Of course, vendors never mean to give bad briefings, but many do end up shooting themselves in the foot by either trying to ‘sell’ to the analyst as they would to a customer, or by packing in too much content. Analysts typically recommend between five to ten slides, but we all know that corporate decks rarely stay within that range and can quickly become 20, 30 or even 40 slides deep.

Ultimately, as with any communications activity, you’re telling a story—in this case for someone who is very busy handling multiple inquiries and briefings each day. Brevity, relevance and impact matter hugely. So how do you make a story that appeals to a busy analyst? Here are three bits of advice I’d encourage everyone to follow when briefing an analyst:

  • It’s Not About You: For an analyst, the primary purpose of being briefed by a vendor is to gain insight into how that vendor might be able to resolve a challenge that their clients face, and (on a smaller scale) to source intelligence on market trends for their research. One good trick here is to put yourself in the analyst’s shoes and interrogate each of your slides as a third-party viewer would.
  • Dialogue Not Monologue: Analysts are experts and they can be frustrated if vendors do not take heed of their advice. Check that they’re still awake every few slides by asking thoughtful questions! Seriously though, be sure to engage with their feedback when they choose to give it. If they disagree with you, don’t argue; discuss. Dig deeper on why they have that point of view. And always remember that a hero’s journey is a cycle, with challenges to overcome.
  • Think Holistically: Get your key ‘takeaways’ in early. Focus their attention straight off the bat. Frame content in terms of business problems, and how you think customers can best solve that problem. Nothing kills a narrative—or analyst interest—faster than uninhibited technicality, jargon and detail. To be sure, analysts will sometimes want to dive into technical specifics, but you should start high up and then let their questioning guide you.

What’s your favorite technique when briefing analysts? Feel free to contact me with opinions and questions at tclark@blancandotus.com or tweet at me at @TrisClarkARGuy.