Thursday, March 11, 2010

Top 10 Social Media WORST Practices

It's called "social" for a reason. Social works when you listen well, give generously, and collaborate. Otherwise, you're standing on a soapbox in an empty room.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Uncertainty Principle of Modern Language

Back for a quick visit to post this important message. It should be required viewing in high school English, to begin with.

Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Off the Ground and Into the Coop

Like pastured chicken farms, these things grow organically.

Visit The Social Coop experiment. See you back here in a year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Pecking new ground on the social media farm

The Screaming Lady started off as a sort of private water cooler where I’d go with the ladies in the novel I am writing to take a work break. It was part of a deal my husband/editor/compass requested if I was to leave my communications consultancy and enter a two-year (he thought one) hermitage, knowing where the media world was headed and why I needed to keep in touch with it. Blogging was fits and starts of mostly ramblings on nature, travel, kids and served as a kind of reverse thermometer for the novel’s progress. That is, the more my three or four readers got from the blog, the less the novel was getting out of me. Extrapolate that to dabblings in Facebook and a community network I created, a few blogs whipped up for friends and family, video projects that made it all so much more fun, Flickr, Picassa, and LinkedIN, and well, you get it. Then, last February, when economic forces forced me out of creative self-indulgence, Screaming Lady the blog swapped sweat pants for slacks and set about morphing into a portfolio of health care writing. She quickly joined Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIN accounts where all the other communications strategists already were social marketing away to their social networks in the social media space.

Screaming Lady has evolved again as the buds of business have begun to break, her boots are getting muddy, and tilling the social media soil calls for a more rugged pair of work pants. The metaphor trail intentionally veers to farming references here for a reason: At the beginning of 2010, the Lady begins a year-long social media science experiment taking a small pastured egg and chicken farm in Solano County, California, into marketing orbit. Soul Food Farms and I are working in trade: owner farmer Alexis Koefoed can begin marketing her pastured eggs and chickens, her community service agriculture program (CSA), and cooking school, and I get to tame the social media dervish to a local scale, where the analytics point directly to the communications efforts, and we can draw some straightforward ROI from it. Together with a few colleagues, advisers, and social media gurus (including aforementioned compass), we’ll start with the bare essentials, move to some simple basics, and expand to more creative tools and techniques. We’ll seek advice, try some moves, switch gears if they don’t work – all in a very public blog (a temporary detour from ScreamingLady) that will expose the challenges and test the promises we have all come to know as the holy grail of new media marketing.

We also hope to get some fresh and tasty eggs and chicken out of the deal.

Monday, November 30, 2009

First, Do No Spin

When people talk about communications strategy or public relations, "spin" is a cheeky term many like to use to describe a handily-worded defense strategy. And they are correct on occasion. Thankfully, ninety nine percent of illuminating conversations don't cover the topic of public relations, so when the word "spin" comes into one, it's usually the ill-advised celebrity version often employed in high stakes crisis communications. Like when Wall Street banks are vilified for multi-million dollar bonuses during the economic wreckage and ruin of businesses, communities, and families. When sports heroes' mug shots are plastered across TV screens during news coverage of domestic violence cases. When quietly composed, ashen-faced wives conspire at the confessional stanchion to exonerate their philandering politician husbands.

The rest of the time, communications, messaging, and public relations is comparatively mundane: help companies identify and understand their target audience and articulate their product or service in terms that matter to said audience (sometimes contrary to what organizations think). To those of us in "the business," it's cool. But to businesses that count on us, it's like taking vitamins: good for them, but better taken once a day, trusting the benefits are quietly at work in the background.

When Graham Bowley, in a New York Times article on Wall Street spin, served up five pieces of low-spin, relatively folksy advise to Wall Street on the verge of reporting profits on track to exceed those at the height of the credit bubble, a lot of us flaks were grateful that for once a true picture of "the real communications department" came through. That is, most of the time, we simply recommend you use plain talk, speak the truth, and do good. No, seriously.

So, when the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, an independent health care agency highly respected for its dissociation from deep pockets and politics, neglected to explain to millions of alarmed women, doctors, and advocacy groups why they suddenly reversed breast cancer screening guidelines that kept most women feeling, well, safe from harm, we wish they'd read Bowley's piece first. Not that they tried to manipulate anyone nor that their findings were in any way disingenuous. They just didn't seem to think people would need more than a quick announcement. Curiously, women, doctors, and advocacy groups blasted the alarms, but by the time the USPSTF rushed to the talk shows to defend what turned out to be some well-researched, well-founded guidelines, the damage was done.

A cautionary tale is delivered by hindsight, so to put a spin on another profession's oath to place a priority on the client's best interests, we offer the following advice that Bowley quotes from Richard Edelman, a New York public relations executive:

"Show you create real products that benefit people.

. . . one of the best things Wall Street could do now is clearly “explain how you make your money and why your business model makes sense for a stakeholder society.”

If they can demonstrate in vivid terms the real role they play in the economy — by helping companies borrow money to grow and create jobs, for example — they might also justify their profits and pay."

In other words, whatever the occasion, but especially when the news is unwelcome, be up front. Commit to taking the time to talk it through. Explain how you solve a problem. Use practical, straightforward talk. In the end, you'll have to defend yourself a whole lot less than if all that gold you're spinning turns out a poor excuse for the emperors clothes.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

In a word, the difference between fact and news

In my strategic communications partnership, Left/Right Strategies, we promote documentaries. My business partner and I took on a daring independent film called The Living Matrix about a year ago. The Living Matrix puts a cerebral health and healing slant on a style the industry describes as, for lack of precedent, "What the Bleep Do We Know." A collection of interviews with scientists and researchers along with real stories of energy healings, it explores the science of bioenergetic health care in hopes of contributing to the discussion about what constitutes our health and wellbeing.


We had to ask: "Explore?" "Contribute?" That's it? This is one of the biggest thrills we get in the communications biz. We get to tell important, gutsy entrepreneurs, "No, that's not what you do." And because entrepreneurs love a devil's advocate, they cut us some slack. That's when we get to say, "That's what you ARE. That's not what you do." And because they hired us to tell the difference, we impart two pieces of advice:

1. What you have to offer is a fact.
2. The problem you solve is news.

So, in the case of our documentary, we told the filmmakers that it is a fact, and a good one, that the film explores the science. But it is news because it challenges conventional medicine to revise its understanding of human biology. . . that scientific evidence shows energy and information are as critical as genetics in determining health and wellbeing." We love documentaries because they walk the talk with one foot in journalism and the other in advocacy. Our advocacy headline for The Living Matrix, eight months later, continues to shake it up on health and healing blogs and websites around the globe. Facebook fanship went from 2 to 2000 in six months. And 20,000 DVDs were sold in about that same time.

Interestingly, the second documentary we represented, another exploration into the science of consciousness and matter, came to us from a communications consultant who didn't have the bandwidth to continue the job. The news in her original press release pretty much stated a good solid fact: "New Documentary Reveals the Science Behind Psychic Phenomena." Good deal. But with a single word - again "challenge" came to mind - the news went from "here we are," to "we tap into the frustrations of people around the globe who want concrete evidence to explain paranormal and psychic experiences."

The real news, "New Documentary Challenges Science to Demystify Paranormal and Psychic Experience," hit this month, and the film has enjoyed a happy spike in DVD sales on the website. What a difference a word makes.

Rethinking the Mission Statement, part 1