“Newsjacking” – a Good Idea with Some Dangerous Pitfalls

VultureFirst off, if you read this on the day of publication, I hope those of you affected by Hurricane Sandy are doing well.

The concept of “Newsjacking” has become popular in PR circles lately, thanks to a book by David Meerman Scott. Truth is, while “newsjacking” is of recent coinage, the concept – using current events and breaking news as a hook for public relations pitches – is not at all new.

What remains current, if not new, is the need to educate people on how to do this without seeming like an opportunistic stain on society. Just yesterday (as I write this), my friends at Hubspot wrote a post, “5 Hurricane Sandy Newsjacks From Marketers,” taking the idea from David, a friend of Hubspot, and applying it to the then-raging Hurricane Sandy. To be fair, Hubspot puts out a lot of excellent content as well, including much that is lighter in tone, trying to ride the line between content publisher and marketing software company. This post, I suspect, was supposed to be in that vein.

However, here’s where slippery judgment applies. Among the tips were a Pinterest board on “Hurricane Hair” and another suggestion for giving beauty tips for riding out the storm. Considering hurricanes are frequently deadly (16 dead according to the October 30 morning news), not to mention massive flooding, power outages, displacements, and damage, this is dodgy advice at best. Perusing the comments on that post, you can see that the Hubspot folks got an earful – and at least one friend who works here acknowledged that there were issues with the post (ETA: Hubspot’s CMO, Mike Volpe, added a preamble to the post that directly addresses – and accepts – the criticism and calls for more dialogue about the line between good and bad taste). More telling, David Meerman Scott himself commented, then wrote his own post to make sure that his concept of “Newsjacking” did not include vulture-like behavior during a natural disaster.

There are ways, even in more serious issues, that one can offer up PR over a serious story, but there bar for good taste is extremely high. A few tips:

  • Don’t Sell: Selling is usually a bad idea. Beauty products to get you through a storm? No. Placing ads in local media if you are selling generator may be helpful, but make sure you are helping people who may be in trouble, or just stay out of the way
  • Use Your Expertise to Help:  A colleague’s client, an expert in business continuity, placed an article with tips for communicators to keep things going when systems may get shut down. In this case, the expertise was clear, as was the target audience, and in my opinion the tone was not overly frivolous in the face of potential disaster.
  • If You Have to Ask, Shut Up: The Great Bogeyman of modern media relations disasters as regards newsjacking dates back to 2001, where a post September-11 pitch for a service not even closely related to the national tragedy went out. Just read the reaction story in the Wall Street Journal here. Most commonly, companies delay announcements and steer clear of urgent news stories. That’s a good thing.

I’m sure the Hubspot don’t want the concept of “newsjacking” to get a black eye, in what they intended to be a light-hearted post. I know David Meerman Scott doesn’t want that black eye. I don’t either, but there is a slippery slope to repeating what happened to that poor PR flak in 2001. Newsjacking has its place, just not here.

Additional Reading: Danny Brown, “There’s Nothing Savvy About Marketing or Newsjacking Disasters”

Photo Credit: mostlyfaces on Flickr

Nobody Likes a Smartass, Unless It’s Apple

apology deniedHave you ever received a traffic ticket you felt was underserved, and just wanted to serve the police officer a platter of snark? Apple doesn’t see why you can’t do that.

The following is one of the snottiest public tweakings of a court of law I have seen, not that I go looking for this sort of thing. In Cupertino, Apple calls it “Friday.”

The lawsuits Apple pursued against Samsung alleging the latter copied the iPad design for its Galaxy tablets has been reported elsewhere better than I will explain, but there is this: in the UK, Apple did not win at least part of its argument, and the judge ordered Apple to publicly apologize to alert the British public that the Samsung products are indeed not knockoffs of the iPad. Sounds unusual to me, the legal naïf, but there you go.

After losing on appeal, Apple did as ordered, including posting the apology on its own web site. If you read that link, you may note that apple was hardly contrite, choosing instead to mock Samsung, and by extension the British legal system, in the process.

Of course, Apple fanboys (and girls) likely saw this as a clever display of Apple’s omnipotence and superiority in design, as a PR professional my first reaction was: could any client get away with such hubris? The answer, of course, is no – unless you are Apple, where hubris is their PR.

With any other PR client, a letter like that would be the start – or escalation – of a crisis. For Apple, it’s “Thursday.” Such is life in the tech world.


Photo credit: passiveaggressivenotes on Flickr

Shorthand vs Shortcuts: Buzzwords vs the Angry Mob

Buzzword Bingo (2011)We all hate buzzwords, right? Don’t we want to kill them dead before they do more harm? Having been in PR for many years now, I am well familiar with the “Buzzword Bingo” games that pop up on occasion to ridicule the marketing – and tech-speak that make some of us sound silly when we’re really trying to sound clever. Journalists, of course, dedicated their lives to eradicating buzzwords, though usually settled for mocking them publicly instead.

How bad are buzzwords, though? do we really know the difference between a word meant as shorthand for something meaningful and a word used as a lazy shortcut, with the meaning largely ignored?

Buzzwords, of course, are a big-time problem in the social media circus. Engage, guru, influence, monetize, it goes on and on.

However, a real problem has cropped up: sometimes we can’t tell when something is a buzzword or simply, um, not quote really a buzzword because it’s backed up with meaning and practicality.

Just the other day, people I know were a little taken aback at this Tweet:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/AmberCadabra/status/260907346572754944″]

To be honest, this is the kind of thing I am bound to tweet on occasion often. shooting from the hip, especially on the character-limited palette that Twitter is, is a fun sport, and yes, it can ruffle feathers – but can also spark discussion.

The reason some were taken aback was that a very well-written book titled “Humanize” – was co-authored by Maddie Grant, someone I consider a friend and who would probably disagree that it is a meaningless term.

in Amber Naslund’s defense* (and I’m certainly not trying to single her out here – we both were among a group that subsequently discussed this buzzword issue on Facebook) I doubt she was referring to the book, but to a wider use of the team by people that were quite likely beating it into meaninglessness. I feel much the same way about “Social Business,” which gets bandied about by people who want to sound smart and frequently fail, but also is used by serious people, such as those at the Community Roundtable and IBM, to describe a considered way of doing business.

Heck, we’re not sure “social” really means what it should anymore. Much of what people call social media are publishing programs – great efforts which may or may not be strictly social.

So – buzzwords or useful? Another factor- sometimes we just need a clever shorthand. Editors certainly need catchy book titles. It’s just a matter of whether or not we keep substance and meaning percolating behind the terms. It also means that perhaps we don’t dismiss words so readily– or at least be ready, as Amber was, to see that people are ready to defend and explain a meaningful term where some of us see only gloss and buzz.

Please feel free to engage by joining the conversation below in comments. Whether you are a guru or trust agent, I’m sure we can create a real-time groundswell or revolution..or something.

*I consider Amber a friend as well – that’s what happens when we get into these industries when we’re all blogging and Tweeting at each other – we have to learn to have disagreements and move on; thick skins are helpful.

Photo credit: planeta on Flickr

Bleep You Data! Why Numbers Suck Unless You Give Them Meaning

NumberingIn my work, metrics are a big deal. If you don’t measure the success of your social media program, or measure what’s going on before you get started, you can’t see where you’re going, where you have been, or where you are now. It doesn’t matter what you measure – well, actually it does, but  different programs, companies and people might measure different things – but it’s important to quantify your assets and results.

That said, I go back to my favorite made-up “wise saying” about metrics: data lies, trends don’t. Ok, so quantify, but you really want to qualify.

How can data lie, you might ask? four is four, one million is one million. But here is where trends, and just as important, context, come in: perhaps those four are the only four you need, perhaps that one million has…four good ones, whether they be site visitors, social media followers…start to get the picture?

Data is meaningless without context and interpretation – without divining trends and meaning.


How does data lie? Take the hackneyed “best time to Tweet” data, helpfully posed by numerous social media nerds. Yes, it is helpful to think about. Did someone say 5pm? It’s always 5pm somewhere (Happy Hour!). What day at 5pm? What kind of Tweets? What do people do with these Tweets? Is it a good time to get ReTweets? Responses? Click-throughs? Do certain topics or types of content get better response than  others? The superficial reports are great for discussion but are useless for action. Christopher Penn, never prone to silliness, put the lie to the shallow end of science by posting recently, at 8:42 am, but discovering that people who responded were from all over the world (well past Happy Hour in Australia, yes?)

What about social media growth numbers? First, those can be anything – growth in followers, likes or subscribers, rate of engagement (any actions people take on your content, such as comments or replies). Second, they are dependent. There is no such thing as a straight line. Perhaps a campaign meant you had great numbers in October. Is that great or expected? Does the inevitable letdown mean bad news, or have you set expectations? Does your data settle higher than it was before the spike in numbers? What is your six-month trend line?

There are a lot of question marks in this post, but that is the point: you should always be asking questions – and answering them, rather than letting the number speak for themselves.

Numbers are stupid. And they lie. Give them a voice, and give them meaning. If you are in social media marketing, that’s your job.

Yes, Bleep You Data! (Ok, I don’t swear much here, but this clip has a NSFW word in it – couldn’t resist)

ETA: A Facebook conversation with Matt Ridings showed another side of this concept; he remarked on what he can tell about people “based upon whether you text ‘haha’ or ‘Ha Ha’.” In the course of the conversation, it became clear that factors outside of the conversation – age, dempgraphics, tech-savvy – have a lot of weight in deciding how true that is. You just can’t escape contextual analysis of data (or facts).

ETA2: I omitted one of my favorite examples of not letting data get in the way of the truth. Nate Silver, whose Five Thirty-Eight blog runs in the New York Times, is one of my early influences in this line of thought. His insistence on looking down on individual poll results in favor of aggregating polls to tell the greater, more accurate (but still with reservations) story is a model example.

Photo Credit: Voxphoto

When to Leave Beginners Behind (hint: Never)

Mmm smarty pants.In attending conferences recently, and more to the point seeing people I know Tweet live from other events, I have seen a familiar complaint continue to thrive: “Content is too basic.”

…Well aren’t you just a Mr/Ms Genius Smartypants…

Why is this so, assuming it is true? There are a few possibilities:

  • Conference organizers don’t account for who attends
  • Organizers don’t prepare their speakers and panelists for the proper audience
  • Speakers don’t tailor their content to audiences
  • Attendees are going to the wrong events
  • Attendees need to chill out and stop acting so superior and above all the “basic” content
What has been clear to me for some time now is that there is always an audience for the basic content. I welcome the new faces that show up at established events, because it means that more people want to learn about and embrace social media, even if it means a long-running event has to go back over familiar material, causing some of the older community members to roll their eyes a bit. I definitely saw this in the last couple of years of PodCamp Boston, as a new generation of neophytes arrived eager to learn. I found it to be an opportunity to work on teaching, rather than a regression of the overall content. It’s what you make of it.
I would also agree that more advanced content is harder to find. Why? It’s easy for those of us who consider ourselves “advanced” to teach “101” tenets in front of people who are newer. How hard is it to do a master class? Very. I tend to give organizers a pass if there is flexibility in the format (as there was in many session at the recent MarketingProfs B2B Forum), but is it time we hold feet to fires and see who can serve us all better?

I think we first need to define the source of the problem. Is it the attendees, the material, or the programmers’ inability to match them? Or is it the advanced social media professionals whining that they are tired of hearing it, so therefore it must be banished and we should move on?

  • The Attendees:If someone goes to an event without first vetting the agenda, shame on them. Other than that, I’m not sure why I brought it up. Blame the attendees? No.
  • The Material: By this I mean, of course, blame the speakers. Too many times I have seen speakers go up in front of a group they know to be experienced and cough up a loogey of stuff we already know and don’t need to hear (*cough* BlogWorld *cough*). Speakers need to know ahead of time what they are addressing and do the work. They also need to be able to adjust on the fly – throw away the slides and speak down, or up, to the crowd extemporaneously if they have too. It feels strange to say so because too many of them simply show up without preparing, but panelists often have an advantage in that last regard.
  • The Organizers: Are you sure you are marketing your conference to the right people, and that you are drawing the people you wish? A lot lies on the shoulders of the speakers to deliver and punt where warranted, but setting accurate expectations for both attendees and speakers saves a lot of trouble and complaints.

I simply write this as a humble attendee and occasional speaker. In the end, each party – organizer, speaker, attendee – is responsible for their own experience. I just don’t think, in terms of social media marketing events at least, we’re in a position to leave the beginners behind. What are your feelings on conference content? Feel free to share in comments.

 Photo credit: boptart on Flickr

Juggling Content and Voices with Multiple Audiences and Channels

chainsaws are for pussiesIn my last post, I wrote about compartmentalizing  your online lives (personally owned and employer or client owned channels) so you don’t screw up and get in trouble. The more I thought about it, the more I came back to a higher-level view of the voices we assign to social platforms and different accounts. Compartmentalizing gets a lot more complicated when you think about it- or perhaps if you think about it too much.

Should Different Platforms Have Different Voices?

One thing we get hung up on are the tools. A lot of companies and people have “Twitter voice” and “Facebook voice,” for example, but ideally you have “you voice” disseminated consistently across the different channels. There are factors, but in general I don’t think they should change things:

  • Format is different. Yeah, I know Twitter is 140 characters. Get an editor and make peace with emoticons and lol-nguage. Some media are more visual, and that’s a more legitimate difference; but a visual and verbal expression does not have to convey differently  if an experienced, or simply confident messenger arranges them
  • Channel X is for “Personal,” Channel “Y” is for Professional. For individuals, this often comes down to Twitter being the former and Facebook the latter. However, with Twitter getting more popular over the years, and professional groups (and apps, like my client Monster.com’s BeKnown) sprouting easily on Facebook, those distinctions melt away. Sometimes a platform is made specifically for professional connections (LinkedIn, of course), but that doesn’t mean you can’t count friends and family as professional connections. It’s all one you, right? Your thoughts may differ, as I elaborate below.

Different Voices Within an Organization; Rigid Rules or Flexibility?

I love flexibility. While we need rigid rules and processes to run a complex social media publishing program for a client (or for yourself, if you have your own personal social media empire, you guru you), we also need to be able to turn on a dime when circumstances demand it. Sometimes, a company or individual will have distinct audiences. A company might have, for example, consumers that use its public-facing services, but a particular group of professionals for its core set of revenue-producing products. Or perhaps you represent a huge packaged goods company that has a corporate voice but several distinct brands with their own audiences, communities and conversations. Channel makes no difference of course- it’s more likely that you will have distinct Twitter, blog, Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, etc, for each set of constituents. But sometimes there is crossover– perhaps one brand (I’ll call all these distinctions “brands” for convenience) has a particularly busy day dealing with a crisis or event, but there is other applicable content that should get out, but would get lost. Can another brand channel handle it appropriately? Often there is a lot of crossover in that case. Being flexible is important.

Example: a college normally dispenses back to school advice for students and parents via its main school blog, but one August a public crisis involving faculty members hits the news. The college responsibly deals with the issues on their site, and official blog, but does that content belong side-by-side with lighter “how-to” fare? Perhaps there is a portal, a separate blog for student life, or an email newsletter, that would still reach that audience without jumbling the message. 

Your “Personal” Channels: Personal vs Professional Voice

I have long maintained that people see “you” and not separate personal and professional entities. That said, there are many differing approaches to dividing personal and professional lives. As I stated above, I don’t think keeping a strict line between, say, “professional” Twitter and “personal” Facebook is all that easy. The context is what is important, and it is the actual conversations and the people involved that dictate which mode you are in, not the channel.

And don’t get me started about the debate over “personal brand.” Calling it that is awkward, but essentially representing who you are – as whole, because that is what people can find online – is the true focus. Agonizing over whether “personal brand” is proper is even more awkward. You’ll be surprised how those worlds intersect if you let them.

Do we think about voice too much- or not enough? We all have our ways of keeping things straight. What’s yours?

Flickr photo credit: HamburgerJung

So (KitchenAid and StubHub) You Made a Mistake on the Social Media – So What?

I'm on the radio, baby!In college, I majored in radio. Back then, in the days vinyl still ruled, the common nightmare was not being able to put the needle on the record, much like the victim in the horror movie who couldn’t get the car keys into the lock in time. The result was not slasher death, but dead air was close enough. Another waking dread was leaving the microphone on and saying one of George Carlin’s Seven Words.

Why do I bring this up? The new nightmare for brand marketers is putting the wrong message over social media. Worse than dead air, the misguided and often offensive message is what keeps many of us Tweeters and Facebookers up at night.

There is no shortage of examples:

Add to that two high-profile examples from the past week or so:

Each case is different, and the reactions – and consequences – have also been different. Since I am someone who helps brands manage their online social media presence, I have my own waking nightmares of having this happen. Thus, I have a few thoughts:

  • Most of these problems happen with Twitter. That is not an absolute, but Twitter is especially dangerous due to its ephemeral nature. Many times we publish and move on, and it’s easy to make a mistake. In the early days of Twitter I had the occasional private direct message go public due to a simple mistake. I survived, but as these brand issues show that can be a matter of luck or circumstance.
  • I use Tweetdeck as my personal social publishing tool. I use it largely for Twitter and Facebook, but under no circumstances do I add client accounts. I know myself too well, hilarity would not No Cussingensue.
  • I use separate browsers when logging in to a client or corporate social account. The best side effect of the Browser Wars is that I can have my own accounts on Google Chrome, and client’s in, say, Safari or Firefox- think of it as using separate kitchens to bake cookies due to peanut allergy. Actually, that’s a stretch, but that’s the best analogy you’re going to get when I write on a Monday night.

  • Always log out. 
    What’s a bigger pain, logging in anew for each session or explaining how that offensive Tweet got on the corporate account? I’d let you think about it but if you have to think about it I don’t want you in charge.
  • Don’t be profane in your personal accounts. Anyone who knows me well knows I can swear like a truck driver (those poor truck drivers get a bad rap by the way), but you will rarely see me swear in my public social media posts. I may get edgy here and there, but the fewer F-bombs I drop are the fewer F-bombs that have a chance of slipping into the wrong social media stream. It’s a personal choice with which others will differ, but I like to take down the odds (metrics!)
  • Are you still hiring interns to do your social media? A lot of this, outside of the mechanical mistakes, is relying ont he judgment of someone representing your brand. I’m not going to say a 25-year-old can’t manage your social media (and people on my teams might fall into that age group – you all are exempt if you read this of course), but I will say that maturity, regardless, of age, is an absolute requirement (please leave your concerns about my own personal arrested development in the comments).

What’s it going to be? Are you going to be careful with your brand? I’m entertained by the mistakes for the most part, but these things are keeping a lot of us up at night. Put the needle on the damn record, make sure the mic is off and avoid dead air – or worse.

Flickr photo credits:

Conference Content – Basic and Off-Topic, or Not?

#mpb2b Hat with my Warby Parker glasses.A few thoughts from sitting in on Marketing Profs B2B Forum in Boston:

Are conferences too basic?

This question is just to head off the inevitable complaints – and I considered them at times – that the content was “too basic.” There was some “101,” but there were also some more advanced sessions To answer the question: in general, I don’t think so. Speakers need to know the level of their audience, but if you think you are too advanced for sessions you should wither push to speak at these conferences, find events with more advanced curricula, or take advantage of interactive formats to raise the level of discussion within the sessions.

At B2B Forum, there were many opportunities to take advantage of the last point; there, the attendees can reveal their levels of expertise and the more knowledgeable ones can contribute (and be seen as leaders).

What is the theme of B2B?

Unremarkably, B2B themes echo B2C themes. I saw some complaints on Twitter that there were too many B2C examples. I’m not extremely troubled by that, as many tenets of communications are transferable, even if the audiences and many of the tactics are not. It also begs the question I don’t have a complete answer for: is the lack of B2B examples a case of there being fewer examples, or that companies aren’t willing to talk about it? I tend to the former, but that icecap will continue to melt; the problem of companies being willing to talk about their cases is a universal one, so I’m less inclined to accept that excuse. We take our examples where we can get them, and smart people know how to apply the lessons across industries, sectors and verticals – and where that comparison needs to end.

Don’t Forget the Hallways

I hear this – and have said this – a lot, but it still applies; whether you feel like the sessions are valuable or not, you will always get something from the general networking conversation? Me? I learned about some tools that may be of use to me. A small example: Chris Penn told me about Sofa Statistics (http://www.sofastatistics.com/), an open source data compiler that I am checking out. All from a casual conversation.

Photo credit: Steve Garfield