In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape there are not many constants. New technologies are born and die in the marketplace on a daily basis. Audiences that were once known for consuming only traditional media – senior citizens – are now the fastest-growing demographic online. And those who used to delight in watching Oprah on TV would now rather play Angry Birds on their iPhones.
This ever-changing playing field underscores the importance of adopting a “discovery” mentality to keep pace with the medium. As an agency or brand, understanding who is participating on which platform at what time and why is the first step to building a successful communications campaign.
At New York’s Pivot Conference: The Rise of the Social Consumer last week, Adam Duritz of Counting Crows highlighted the importance of a “discovery” approach to reaching and engaging people in social media. As the voice behind @countingcrows with nearly 1.3 million followers, he outlined his approach to promoting his music by tapping into the growing the relationship between artists and fans, instead of relying only on record companies and other industry producers.
Referring to a crumpled paper of notes throughout his presentation, suggesting he too had done a deep dive to fully “discover” the space, Duritz pointed out that tweets, posts, check-ins and other social media activities are like human behavioral data, and it is up to activists in the social space to use this knowledge as insight to inform how we interact.
Britta Schell, Director of Digital Strategic Insights at MTV, said she focuses on implementing research methodologies to ensure MTV stays relevant and fully immersed with Millennial culture and its preferred technologies. After conducting research into Millennial engagement last year, MTV composed rules of digital etiquette, which the company is calling “digiquette.” MTV asserts these rules guide Millennial online behavior and thus, should be respected when brands and individuals alike are interacting digitally with this generation.
Co-founder and CEO of appssavvy Chris Cunningham echoed the sentiment that increasingly there is a fundamental shift in how brands need to think about driving awareness. Understanding what different audience groups are doing in the space and how they are using the environment is critical to initiating effective engagement.
“Think about the experience of your customer,” said Cunnigham. “Where is there friction and how can you improve that?”
Having a dedication to the continued “discovery” of audiences, behaviors, platforms and tactics is what will allow your brand to be relevant. Ultimately it will be your audience who decides whether your brand also has resonance.
After living in D.C. for more than a decade, I’ve become a connoisseur of organized protests. It's rare that a week goes by where I don't encounter a protest or two just going about my everyday business.
And when I do, it's tough not to evaluate and critique them and wonder about their effectiveness.Whether I agree with each protest or not, the cynic in me can't help but think they could be more successful if they did a better job staying on message.
Too often, protests feature a lot of noise with only a loosely consistent underlying message. This disjointed nature risks distracting or diluting from the primary message. And it ensures that many potential supporters will stumble upon something they disagree with instead of focusing on the primary message they support.
This is a widespread critique of most protests and movements across the political spectrum from the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street: there is no common platform.
With that in mind, I’m interested by OccupyDesign, a component of the Occupy Wall Street movement that applies the unique skills, expertise and passions of designers and other visual communicators.
In political and activist discourse, the messages that get noticed and resonate are succinct, unified, visual and sometimes humorous. OccupyDesign plays into that by aspiring to use design to create a visual vocabulary of the movement – to give OWS the most effective messages in the most effective formats.
It is a nascent aspect of the movement but has the potential to dramatically upgrade the traditional protest sign and directly address the critics who wonder aloud what it is they stand for.
I was fascinated by a recent PoliPulse finding on vaccines. PoliPulse is a data visualization tool that spots trends in social conversations and highlights pivot points in online conversations.
A pivot point happened this month when Michelle Bachmann inaccurately attributed the use of vaccinations as a potential cause for mental disabilities during a televised debate. Vaccines drive a fair amount of online conversation. Our PoliPulse research shows that in the three months before the president debate, the conversation was split with approximately 39% positive, 31% neutral and about 30% negative.
Vaccines are a great example of cost-effective smart aid. Our client the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a strong believer in the value of vaccines to protect children from preventative diseases like polio. Most cost less than $2 and vaccines are one of the major reasons why the number of children dying has declined by more than 50 percent since 1960.
However, questions about vaccine safety based on false statements and fraudulent medical studies can set back global will and funding for immunization programs.
After Bachmann’s erroneous claim, medical groups increased their activity online to inform people about both the invalidity of Bachmann’s claim and to debunk other common vaccine misconceptions. The result? Online conversation shifted with more than half of the social conversation positive and both neutral and negative comments decreased.
This shows the power of social media to quickly respond to news-making moments and to educate people about social issues.
At this point in the year, the conversation among our Social Impact colleagues is especially animated around two questions: (1) how the summer flew by so quickly, and (2) which topics we want to examine in our annual research project with KRC Research to illuminate key trends and notable developments in corporate social responsibility (CSR), or nonprofit and foundation communications.
In the past, we’ve interviewed top executives at Fortune 2000 companies to explore the impact of crowdsourcing in CSR and the drivers of corporate investment in CSR. We’ve also conducted research with nonprofit and foundation executives to explore how their organizations are using social media and the value they derive from these efforts.
In building our upcoming research plans, we want to consider how changes in the communications ecosystem are creating new opportunities (and challenges) for corporate and social sector organizations to drive awareness and engagement around their work. We want to shed light on the innovations, platforms, and strategies that are making the most significant impact in the work of companies and nonprofits to create social value.
This year, as we develop our plans, we’d love to hear from you. What questions would you like to see explored? How are companies integrating CSR strategies more directly with business strategies? How are corporate leaders communicating their CSR investment in today’s economic conditions? How are nonprofits bringing new creativity to driving advocacy in a saturated environment? What are the most meaningful forms of measurement for social engagement? Let us know what’s on your mind.
The art and science of media relations has evolved. Bob Brody, our media specialist, outlined the five new rules of engagement in the Holmes Report. Take a look:
While an earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale may not be much to our friends in California, the quake we experienced in Washington was quite an event in the nation’s capital.
When our “big one” hit, those of us still in Washington during August recess did what we usually do when news breaks: we grabbed our iPhones and Blackberries and began frantically calling, texting, tweeting and posting about it.
Flickr Creative Commons photo by NASA Goddard
As a result, our extraordinary event produced a normal Washington response: gridlock. In addition to traffic on the Beltway, phone service was jammed across the region. Fortunately, many people found text messaging, Twitter and Facebook to be useful ways to communicate and seek information.
A survey released the day after the earthquake by the American Red Cross found that Americans are relying more on social media, mobile technology and online news to learn about disasters, seek help during them and share information after they occur. The research showed that nearly a fourth of the general population and a third of the online population would use social media to let loved ones know they are safe – this is a statistic I watched come to life among my Facebook friends and Twitter following on Aug. 23.
Before joining Powell Tate, I ran the Department of Homeland Security’s Ready Campaign, the national campaign to educate and empower Americans to prepare for and respond to emergencies. Of Ready’s three main calls to action – Get a Kit, Make a Plan and Be Informed – establishing a family communications plan always hit home for me the most. As a parent there is nothing worse than not being able to reach your kids or their caregivers during an emergency.
While some may question the positive impacts of social media, I am pleased to know that this form of communication can come in handy during an emergency. As a result, social media is now part of my family’s emergency communications plan.
If Hurricane Irene dramatically affects the Washington area this weekend, as some are predicting, my family will be living off the contents of our emergency supply kit and updating friends and family via social media.
Since taking on a larger role in our firm’s new business efforts, I’ve seen a wide range of requests for proposal from diverse nonprofits and foundations. The first few steps to weighing an opportunity include reviewing available information about the organization, assembling an experienced team and conducting additional research related to the scope of work.
In responding to a recent RFP, I took those steps without running the simplest and arguably most important search. A week or two went by before I Googled the organization’s name. When I did, the fourth organic result and second text ad revealed its rating on Charity Navigator, a site that rates nonprofits in order to guide intelligent giving. This nonprofit’s one-star rating stopped me in my tracks. Should we decline to respond to the RFP because of the low rating? Or should we give the organization the benefit of the doubt and accept the challenge of improving and promoting its work?
I looked into Charity Navigator’s methodology, which calculates how effectively an organization would use an individual’s donation based on efficiency and capacity. As sound as this methodology was, I sought a second opinion. The Better Business Bureau’s website stated that the nonprofit failed to meet its “Standards for Charity Accountability.” Those standards examine charities’ spending and transparency.
Nonprofit ratings are sometimes just numbers. And they’re too often derived from numbers that organizations are required to report, rather than outcomes. Still, I encourage individuals to utilize available ratings before deciding to work for or donate to a nonprofit. Corroborate those ratings with additional research to determine which nonprofits to trust with your reputation or your charity.
Other nonprofit ratings systems to reference include:
Lance Morgan, our chief communications strategist, wrote a piece (linked below) for the Washington Post over the weekend discussing how to restore civility to the political process. Let us know what you think.
It’s safe to say Warren Buffett’s New York Times op-ed caused some chatter yesterday. This first became apparent when a few of my colleagues and I noticed the amount of people in our own peer networks passing the article over Facebook and Twitter. It has clearly raised opinions both in support and against Buffett’s proposal to congress. Living in the world of digital strategy, as we do, we decided to do a quick poll on PoliPulse to understand the conversation and see what people are saying.
The initial analysis shows the article received a healthy amount of traction across social platforms, indicating that a high volume of people view it as “shareable content”, but I am left to wonder: Is this just another piece of content that reached trending status and is gone tomorrow? While close to 60% of Tweets and Facebook posts on the subject favored Buffett’s proposal, with some even calling for Buffett to run for president, only about a fifth of posts actually called on Congress to take action in light of Buffett’s words.
We are often challenged to answer the question: Can social media really be a vehicle for social change? Critics of social media activism argue that this sort of faux civic engagement is all the Internet provides us. In his much discussed New Yorker article Small Change, Malcom Gladwell argued that social media "makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have an impact."
We believe the Internet is a powerful tool for organizing and not just spreading news and opinion. As we saw during the Arab Spring, the Internet provides useful tools for action — but it requires people to step up and organize their networks. Mass expression on social media provides an atmosphere for change but it requires a catalyst to move from words to actions. While Buffett has the profile to speak directly to policy makers through the media he could have taken it beyond just a conversation and sparked a movement had he included a call to action.
There’s no perfect way to determine someone’s social influence.
Sure, many tools promise to crank out a score that measures each person’s ability to influence others online. Using a service called Klout, for instance, I discovered that my influence score peaked at 44.91 on June 29 and has since fallen to 43.0.
Klout began as a service to measure influence on Twitter, but its algorithm has since expanded to examine activity on Facebook and LinkedIn. This week, Klout branched out further into the social media landscape by factoring a person’s YouTube activity and Foursquare engagement levels into each influence score.
It’s an inexact science at best, and Klout scores should be seen as only one indicator and not the end-all-be-all of who is important.
Still, some businesses are signaling they believe the scores to be a reasonable indicator of influence. For instance, European music service Spotify launched in the United States last month by offering access primarily to people with high Klout scores, calling them “U.S. Spotify Ambassadors.”
At Powell Tate, we are versed in the best in breed analytics tools, but our greatest value-add lays within our experience distilling the ocean of data to help drive your strategy.
Besides, the important thing isn’t the “influence score” but rather how you engage those influencers to maximize your outreach and deliver on your strategy.
Businesses, NGOs and the public sector face enormous challenges when trying to effectively communicate a complex issue such as climate change to a skeptical audience.
After all, only a small percentage of the public sees global warming as a very serious problem, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
A lot of science communications experts have spent a good deal of time and resources studying effective communication of complicated topics that lead to changes in behavior. One of the latest resources is a study called “The Psychology of Climate Change Communication” by Columbia University’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions. The study takes readers on a 48-page journey that elucidates the psychology and mental models of what informs and influences behavior and beliefs. The last part of the study provides the most interesting insights from a communications perspective. It outlines eight steps for effectively communicating climate change and climate science – but these steps are applicable to many different scenarios.
Know your audience. Like any communications effort, knowing who your target audience is and understanding what makes them believe what they believe or what shapes their opinion is essential for understanding what messages and stories resonate.
Provide relevant context. When we know why and how an issue is relevant to us, we’re more apt to pay attention and act.
Make the data relevant. What does that mean? It means don’t say “Temperatures reaching upwards of 40.5 Celsius indicate that today’s global warming may have been accelerated due to anthropogenic causes” when you can say “Today’s warm temperatures may have been accelerated by human activity.”
Avoid emotional numbing. We’ve all had moments in our lives when our worries get the better of us leaving us too paralyzed to take any action. Similarly, when we’re inundated with messages that cause worry or fear, our audiences may lose sight of the issue and call to action.
Acknowledge scientific and climate uncertainties. Audiences will accept uncertainty if it’s backed up with resources and information that explain, simply, why there’s uncertainty. You don’t want to overstate or overpromise and it’s better to be honest about what you do and don’t know.
Identify groups and affiliations. When you can create a sense of group responsibility, it may help influence behavior. For example, targeting niche groups within a larger group may be more effective than targeting the broader audience who may not be able to harness a singular sense of responsibility.
Leverage the power of group participation. Social networks, need I say more?
Lower the bar. Don’t make your call to action so difficult that no one will want to do it. You’ll get a lot more engagement if you keep it simple and accessible.
Beyond communicating about climate change, let us know how/if you’ve ever applied these principles to your communications efforts. We’d love to hear about your results.
Flickr Creative Commons photo by ComedyNose
Within the space of five business days, a certain unsuspecting freelance writer recently received no fewer than 47 e-mail pitches. PR professionals from firms large, medium and small approached said writer touting pretty much everything under the sun.
- Serious stuff such as a new bioscience magazine, a camp for grandparents and grandchildren, a study about diabetes and a service that offers to connect seniors online.
- Somewhat silly stuff such as pet products (doggie raincoats, anyone?), back-to-school greeting cards, National Spa Week and a new Facebook craze called “owling” (feel free to look it up).
- In-between stuff such as books, movies, TV programs, art studios, a comedy club benefit for animal welfare, a wine-tasting event in San Francisco and an off-Broadway show about being buried alive
Just one little problem here. All 47 of those e-mail pitches were delivered to the wrong target.
I know, because that freelance writer happened to be me.
Yes, I contribute occasionally to major newspapers and magazines. But all I’ve written for the last seven years are personal essays and opinion pieces, often about my family and friends and my neighborhood and issues close to my heart. I’ve long since stopped covering health, seldom addressed the arts and have never expressed even the faintest interest in doggie raincoats, much less “owling.”
In short, my name wound up on all kinds of distribution lists I have no business being on. Such mistakes are classic, of course – it happens in PR all the time – but that’s no excuse.
Multiply this experience a million times and you can begin to imagine how a beat reporter at the New York Times or an editor at In Style or a producer at “Good Morning America” feels getting pelted by such misguided pitches. One could grow irritable. One could view PR without any particular fondness.
Now, nobody’s looking to castigate anyone here. But all too often, PR firms take the assembly-line approach to developing media lists. They rely on Cision or Factiva – such services, however valuable if harnessed right, are decidedly imperfect.
And that’s your big problem right there.
That’s why our agency, on behalf of our clients, promotes the practice of what you might call pinpoint PR. We vet our media lists. We scrub away the wrong targets and zero in on the right ones. We conduct independent research, such as checking the publication history of the reporter we plan to pitch before we fire off that e-mail.
Such an approach should be axiomatic across the board, and with us it is.
In this economic climate, budget cuts and shifting priorities have led to a difficult environment for arts and cultural initiatives. As a result, it’s more important than ever to bring attention to arts programming across the country.
Earlier this month, the Knight Foundation and National Endowment of the Arts announced a challenge among eight cities to promote local arts journalism, an area that is being cut from newsrooms across the country, especially in smaller media markets like Akron, Detroit, and St. Paul (three of the eight cities eligible for the challenge).
According to the organizers, the challenge is looking for applicants to “rethink how traditional media systems function, harnessing the latest tools and technology to make the transition to the new information environment.”
In our work with nonprofits and foundations focused on promoting arts and cultural initiatives, I’ve seen how difficult it can be to tell these stories locally in the media. To reach key audiences, we often turn to digital avenues to help tell these stories – whether it’s hosting an online Q&A for journalists, releasing an infographic that synthesizes information in a visual way, or creating compelling video content to bring attention to an event or issue.
For example, we’ve helped the National Women’s History Museum in their quest for a physical space, but in the meantime, the museum hosts their exhibits online – a digital solution that shares their content with the public.
I’m encouraged by this challenge, which is sure to spark creative solutions to arts budget cuts and will encourage new ways of thinking about arts journalism in cities like Detroit, which is using the arts as a means of revitalizing one of the cities hardest-hit by the recession.
There are stories to be told, not only to share interesting content, but to bring attention to the broader need for including the arts in communities, schools and the media. It’s my hope that through the outcomes of this challenge (entries are open until Aug. 18), we’ll start to see more dynamic digital solutions that enable these amazing stories to be shared with the communities they serve.
Clients are our key constituents, but make no mistake: so, too are the media. Just as we serve as strategic communicators to the organizations we represent, so do we cater to reporters, editors, producers, correspondents and bloggers alike.
That’s why our agency makes a practice of meeting regularly with media for deskside briefings. The purpose is seldom to pitch a particular story, though. Rather, it is to identify our clients memorably. We describe who they are, what they do and why they’re important. We also listen to reporters about what they need. We inquire about everything from pending assignments and new editorial shifts in the offing to topics they’re likely to address. We look to gauge common interests and find potential synergies.
So it was, then, that we recently held such briefings with healthcare policy reporters and editors at USA Today, NPR, Kaiser News Service and Health Affairs.
In each of these one-on-one sessions, we presented an overview of our agency – its history, its specialties – and, more particularly, of some of our healthcare clients.
It was a lot like speed-dating (or so we imagine).
We introduced eight clients in all. Our “elevator” speeches – no more than a few sentences here and there (unless asked for further details) – indicated where and how these clients fit into the current healthcare landscape. We outlined the role they play, the issues they face and the trends they’re noticing. We also emphasized what these clients are doing that might be different or even singular, and what they may know that perhaps no one else knows.
The briefings yielded a high return. In general, all the reporters expressed interest in hearing more about those eight clients, particularly any new research. All plan to keep those clients in mind as sources, preferably available – on short notice if need be – to offer insight, context and all-around expertise on the news of the day. Better still, one of our clients has already held highly productive background briefings with three of the reporters.
As one reporter later told us, “We’re always looking to discover new voices.”
“Perfect,” we said. “We’re always looking for reporters ready to lend an ear.”
David I. Leavitt
So. What does everyone think about Google Plus?
If you’re like most people, you haven’t joined it or played around with it too much. Still, when a $190 billion digital company starts a social networking platform, we should all take notice.
To start with, Google did a great job by redefining what it means to be someone’s online “friend.”
Over the years, the term “friend” on Facebook has come to mean just about anyone we’ve ever met or done business with. However, all friends are not equal, and the sort of thing I want to share with my family is different than what I discuss with my college friends or work colleagues.
The entire Google Plus platform is based on that premise.
(Yes, there are ways to set up different categories in Facebook to share things with only certain people, but most people find that process overly complicated and neglect to do it.)
On Google Plus, you see discrete streams of the “circles” you create. Just your family. Just your high school pals. Just your buddies who like baseball.
Given Google’s product portfolio (Google search, YouTube, Gmail, Picasa, Maps, Docs, Calendar, etc.), chances are that if you’re looking to do something online, Google can help make it happen.
Will it work?
With Facebook’s 750 million users, half of whom log in every day, it’s likely that most people you know are regular or occasional users. The fledgling Google Plus has a long way to go to reach the critical mass it will need to become a go-to sharing tool.
On the other hand, Google’s search page gets more than 1 billion visitors per month, and it features a new toolbar across the top of the page with a Google Plus "notification window" similar to Facebook that will bring a lot of attention to the new service. Suddenly, anyone doing a simple Google search will be reminded that there are new things to see on Google Plus.
What about business and nonprofits?
On Facebook, brands have set up shop. Nonprofits collect donations. Activist groups collect letters to policymakers. Stores can sell their products. Consumers can even buy plane tickets on Delta’s Facebook page.
The landscape is different at Google Plus. For now, brands will have to stay on the sidelines.
Google writes: “We are discouraging businesses from using regular profiles to connect with Google+ users. Our policy team will actively work with profile owners to shut down non-user profiles.”
We’ll check back with updates as the situation changes.
Executive Vice President and Senior Global Corporate Strategist
Senior Vice President
Chief Communications Strategist
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