An alternative title to this is “How I plan to shape the future of PR from within”

You see, after nearly six years helping run PR programs across global organizations that are launching their first-ever tablet to startup software companies looking to reinvent their brand with a new product or application it’s time for me to go chase awesome from behind the brand.

Starting next week I’ll be helping a local Seattle manufacturing company share its awesome story and running its communications team. RAM Mounts makes a mounting system for tablets, smart phones and cameras so they can be secure in planes, boats, cars or on your helmet.

I’ve had a lot of really cool opportunities over the year and I’m extremely appreciative of the opportunities I’ve had, especially with Voxus PR. I’m bummed to leave a great team doing some really cool work but I’m off to chase an adventure and RAM Mounts gives me that adventure.

So, what does this mean? It means that I get to learn, grow and experiment some more. It means I get to help a home-grown company (it started in south Seattle and the current manufacturing and corporate offices are just a few blocks from where it started) tell some awesome stories. I get to work in the outdoors/lifestyle sector and there might be some B2B things to work on in the near future, but we have nothing specific to announce at this time.

But what about those lessons I promised in my headline? Sure, I’ll give you five lessons I’ve learned from PR.

  1. Be awesome. Tell awesome stories. Put up awesome pictures. Give awesome quotes. If you’re not being awesome, nobody will care about you.
  2. Don’t back away. Publish the blog post. Put the bolder call to action on it and then blast it everywhere you want. It’ll be OK.
  3. Be human. Have a voice, have something to say and be passionate about it.
  4. There’s a story in there somewhere. Every product, new customer, new use case or even potential announcement has a story that can be told. Put content together and tell that story.
  5. Have fun. I have adopted a motto: “It’s PR and not the ER.” For some, it is. But for most of us, lives don’t hinge on our next tweet or press release. Get it right and refer to lesson #1 if unsure.

There you go. A major life announcement, a listicle and a cool image. This blog post had everything. Here’s to adventure!

Every social media program starts from scratch with an audience of zero. That’s a universal truth even for global brands with a significant social following. When a social media program gets off the ground, the initial audience for a campaign, contest or even blog post is zero. So, how do you get the first, second or 4,000th person to pay attention?

Starting from null can be an intimidating place to begin. But it’s a reality that we all face. Before we publish the blog post or the contest app, we have only a potential audience to work with.

Augie Ray is a former analyst at Forrester and he made an apt corollary to the world of Physics:

“There is an appropriate and interesting corollary in the world of high school physics: If you lift a ball off the ground and hold it stationary, it has no kinetic energy but it does have potential energy; drop the ball, and the potential energy becomes kinetic energy. Facebook fans are like that — all potential energy until you introduce something that creates kinetic energy.”

Now, we won’t get into the theoretical physics of social media audiences (we’ve all wanted to introduce some major acceleration trajectory to members of our communities, right?). But the core idea is that, until we introduce an action to an audience, no activity will occur — it is the premise under which we must approach content and community. The concept of organic shares and organic interaction is often a fallacy, and when they do occur, it’s time for celebration.

That’s why we stress the importance of voice, active participation and content creation. The potential energy of an audience is significantly higher when the mass is increased. Let’s refresh a bit on our physics:

potential energy text equation

In physics, the potential energy of an object is dependent on two variables and one constant. In social media, the potential energy is tied to three variables. Let’s examine the new equation for social media potential energy:

social media equation for energy

Audience size is a known quantity. It is the organic audience that you have created for a brand. Facebook fans, Twitter followers, email list size and RSS subscribers all factor into this figure. It is the starting point for the beginnings of transitioning your campaign to kinetic energy.

Story quality is a variable that is difficult to compute, yet is highly important to the success of a campaign. People don’t share uninteresting, boring or generally “bad” content. Making sure that the story or contest you want to gain momentum is worthwhile is an integral part of success. The shareability of your content draws from knowing your audience, the type of content that has worked in the past and the type of information that your audience needs.

Sharing imperative is a variable that the audience dictates. This is a difficult variable to measure, but its impact can’t be understated. The drive to share your content or engage with it in other ways relies on your ability to solve a problem, make an emotional connection or create an irresistible value proposition. The Sharing imperative is a concept we’ll explore more in the future.

As you can see, being able to start a communications campaign from null is possible. Just make sure that you have your physics in order (that’s a subtle joke about chaos theory, BTW) and create amazing content.

Posted in PR

So, you stare at your Twitter account, Facebook page and LinkedIn business profile and nothing happens. You send a flurry of tweets. Maybe “engage” with an “influencer” or two and then you jump over to Google Analytics to watch the conversions increase 10x. But that conversion rate actually went down.

  • If you have ever felt that more content was the answer, your social media strategy is broken.
  • If you’ve made a concerted effort to RT more people, your social media strategy is broken.
  • If you’ve ever boosted a post without adjusting targeting, your social media strategy is broken.
  • If you’ve never boosted a post, your social media strategy is broken.
  • If the only URLs that appear in your social media feeds are your own, your social media strategy is broken.

Let me clarify something at this juncture. There’s a key word I want to emphasize in all of this: strategy. Your content may be great. Your calls to action are on point and your messaging is tight. But what’s the strategy that guides you forward?

Define your voice, define your strategy

A strategy is the methodology you use to accomplish a set of goals. Tactics, plans and deliverables constitute your strategy. Your strategy is not a two-page Word document or 10 PowerPoint slides. Your strategy is a living entity that grows and evolves alongside your social media program.

The core element to a successful social media strategy is the voice of the brand. The words, images, structure, tone and humanity that bring a brand to life. Is it pithy, serious, humorous, contrite, morose, or some combination of other traits? Perfect. Own it. Be that voice.

If you don’t tell your own story, somebody else will tell it for you. You’ll be dependent on the words that others use to share your strengths and, more often than not, the way they amplify your weaknesses. The first step in any social media program that has any opportunity for success is determining how you want to tell your story.

How to win social media

If you’re worried that your social media strategy sucks, just know that it can be fixed.

So, how do you win at social media?

Commitment to excellence

We’ve established that in order to have a successful social media program, one must be inherently committed to maintaining a presence and being an active part of the communities you want to have a presence in. Social media is a long-term commitment that is governed by the precedent you set. If you start out by Tweeting 15 times a day and your team is posting 6 blog posts per week, guess what happens when you start having one tweet a day and maybe one blog post every other week: You lose your audience. You just lost at social media. In order to win, you must set a precedent and stick to it.

Be data based

Think of the audience you want to reach. What data supports your choice of that audience? Think of the calls to action you use. Have you a/b tested to make sure you’re optimizing your conversion rates? Look at your Google Analytics. Are you actively present on the sites sending you referral traffic? By making decisions on content that are based in measurable results, you can ensure the success of your social media strategy.

Be awesome and don’t suck

People share awesome. They don’t share content that is bad. Unless it’s awesomely bad, but I would encourage you not to seek out that kind of content. Go ahead and post a meme or a video. In fact, recent research shows that Facebook prefers you post a video. But you also need to tell great stories with your content. Find out what resonates with your desired audience and create content that works for that group.

Fixing your social media strategy takes work. It takes commitment. And, it takes a little bit of awesome too. Let us know what elements you think make for a great social media strategy in the comments!

The bruises and scarring and suffering are not a PR problem.

The signs of battered woman syndrome are not a PR problem.

The tears of children are not a PR problem.

These are our problems and ones that society as a whole must address. The recent spate of domestic violence issues surrounding NFL players such as Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and others has shone a blinding spotlight on these issues and I hope it doesn’t go to waste.

But this is a PR blog and so we’ll tackle the PR issues. The NFL isn’t “messaging this correctly.” How could they not “get ahead of this?” What’s the talking point around the league owners’ positions?

This, of course, is all nonsense. The only thing that matters right now is for society to ensure that we do what we can to eliminate the sense that physical and emotional assault are acceptable behaviors. For the NFL, this means that any player arrested (key word as investigations do need to occur) for domestic/child abuse is suspended indefinitely without pay. A conviction results in immediate expulsion from the league.

I am an ardent fan of the NFL. I have spent more money with that league than I should even consider admitting. And I know that, ultimately, my singular voice is not enough to instigate change. But for those considering boycotting, do it. For those considering selling season tickets or burning Adrian Peterson jerseys, do it. For those considering reaching out for help, by all means, please do it now. Please.

Seattle-area domestic violence resources:

I know this is a sensitive topic and that words and actions matter. I am hoping that the PR and league leadership show that these issues truly matter and quit trying to sweep it away with union contracts and empty talking points about “due process” and wondering if certain players are “available” for a game.

Of course, there’s the story line of football being an aggressive sport and that they aren’t equipped to “shut it off.” I have spent off-field time with multiple NFL players. Some more genuine than others perhaps, but I’ll be damned if they weren’t able to turn it off. This is a cheap out for those that are accused of this. It’s time to take that easy excuse away.

So yeah, this isn’t a PR problem. This is our problem and I’m hoping that we as a collective society won’t continue to tolerate this problem.

I’m spending the weekend in a small town (the sign says population 350, but I’d guess it’s half that) attending my sister’s high school graduation. A large part of my time here will be spent just sitting and watching the customers in my mom’s small cafe.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about customer service, public relations and the importance of word of mouth marketing by sitting in my mom’s various restaurants. She has a 40+year career as a waitress, restaurant manager and now owner/operator of small cafes, and has always been full of lessons that she does not know she is able to share.

Reputation is everything

In a town of 350, bringing in new business is actually second to ensuring that the business you do have sticks around. Keeping the regulars happy, even the ones who come in only for a morning cup of coffee is vital to your long-term success. In PR, we see similar opportunities. That reporter at the small, independent blog could soon be leading TechMeme’s leaderboard. By taking care of those around you, you can ensure that your reputation bolsters your ability to generate results.

A quality product goes a long way

The Seiad Valley Cafe is known for its pancake challenge. You get two hours to eat a mountain of pancakes that occupies the space a medium pizza normally would. But by offering a great product that is of consistent quality, the success of the business is ensured. This means the avocado is freshly cut and the gravy is made every morning. Your product needs to keep the customers coming back. It needs to solve problems that customers didn’t even know they had and encourage them to want more of your products or services.

Community is key

This is the most important aspect of running a successful business. For my mom’s restaurant, it means treating everyone with respect, buying the occasional meal and welcoming weary travelers making their way down the Pacific Crest Trail. Similarly, we utilize social media in an attempt to share content and to embark on a “content marketing” mission. The reality is, by utilizing digital and social media, we are enabling our community to interact with our businesses as people. This is why being a human (and not a bot) on social media is not only a good idea, but something I advocate for as being a best practice. Even if you’re simply sharing a news item, adding just a slightly human voice can make a tremendous impact on your overall success.

By embracing the same principles as a small-town restaurant’s approach to its daily operations, you can build your business’ marketing and pr programs with ease. Just make sure your biscuits and gravy are the best in the area.