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The case for a new professional competence based on well-known functional expertise

Business strategy is designed based on multiple variables. Core competencies, competitive advantages, marketplace dynamics, threats, consumer traits, talent, etc., all form the internal decision apparatus necessary to plot strategy. In the end, the true mark of an effective business strategy is, of course, performance.

That’s why in today’s volatile environment most businesses operating in a strategy that they led with may find it’s not the most potent or even viable.

Much like a football coach who architects a detailed game plan against an opponent only to discover that after the first quarter it’s not working, business leaders now must be more agile and adept at recalibrating strategy to reflect the realities of the marketplace.

In football there is always halftime to pivot to a new strategy but in business no such time out exists. In business, organizations must be clear on intent and capable of harnessing employee behavior quickly to a different set of priorities once it’s evident change is necessary.Tyson Knock Out

“Everyone has a strategy until they get punched in the face.” – Mike Tyson

Companies in all sectors are discovering the validity of this premise shifting initial strategy as soon as it’s known the original game plan is proving to be ineffective. Look no further than JC Penney, Ford, Xerox, Dell, and McDonald’s to reflect the point.

Juxtapose that with companies who maintain a business strategy regardless of its effectiveness wasting resources and de-valuing its purpose until it’s too late. Think Kodak, Burger King, AB, Sears.

But how do leaders orchestrate such a shift while the business is moving at such a fast pace? Again, unlike football, there is no half-time to recalibrate and come back on the field with a new game plan after the original one was battle tested and you were able to witness how the competition reacted. It is here that strategic communications based on today’s progressive model is critically important to achieving the level of organizational agility to migrate to a different place on the board.

Pivoting to a new strategy…a new profession emerges

Following is a partial overview of the latest thinking and practices on how progressive organizations (and marketers, communicators) are “game planning” for success by rethinking the traditional definitions of PR, Communications, and Marketing.

It’s worth asking yourself which of these your company is – and isn’t – doing.

Create Context Through A Narrative: When things are uncertain, it’s important to at least provide a framework for how people should follow the situation. In this case, the need for a corporate narrative, or story, detailing the current state and evolving as conditions change allows people to latch onto something tangible. The narrative is the foundational story for not only all communications but management actions as well. It provides managers a baseline on which to build their priorities, budgets, resource plans, and communications.

Initiate New Conversations – The Power of Influence: Starting with a complete understanding of how your brand, company, product, etc., is being perceived and then determining who is generating the commentary, adopting an Influence model is now table stakes for business of any size. Communications must drive discussion, dialogue and debate to be effective and relevant. At its most basic, communications is about conversation. Communicators can facilitate new conversations inside and outside the company as a means of conditioning new attitudes and behaviors.

Get Closer with Managers: Other than their immediate peers, mid-level managers enjoy the most credibility with employees – even more than C-suite leaders. Invest time making sure your managers are engaged in the current business reality and the management thinking that’s driving decision-making. Equip them with information and tools while holding them accountable for their use in employee interactions.

They have to be convinced first or else all bets are off!

CEO: An increased role for managers aside, it’s been proven through our experience that the more senior-most leadership calibrates communications as they lead and manage the business the greater the chance that people will connect in the right ways.

One executive recently described his senior leadership’s efforts in this regard as “drive-by” communications. His point: Leaders are scheduled for town halls, diagonal slice meetings with select employees, and plant visits with managers and employees that have the appearance of communicating but are sometimes nothing more than choreographed “events” that neither reflect how the business is being managed nor provide answers to how employees need to be working. CEOs were often removed from customers except for well-choreographed events and media interviews. Social media operating in a digital context allows senior leaders to be more actively engaged with all stakeholders on a daily basis bridging gaps in understanding and interest.

Always tricky, but the closer communications are aligned with CEO actions and business decisions versus designed around them, the clearer things become and the greater the chance for trust to be sustained.

Empathy is Appreciated: So often, the rational aspects of communicating during a turbulent time overwhelm the internal discourse that employees don’t pay attention and ultimately, lose faith. Talk with people and share the emotional side of what they are feeling through your management behavior, communications and messaging.

Challenge the Status Quo; Challenge Your Instincts: Are you actually getting through? How do you know? Is your strategy just a bunch of tactics without a central premise and is your communications part of a broader management plan to engage people, influence behavior, and impact performance? Your instincts tell you to just communicate to everyone the direction and benefit of the enterprise…your instincts could be wrong as credibility may be frayed preventing your narrative from getting through. Thus, a completely different strategy and communications approach is needed.

Insight that Influences Decision-Making: In this environment, communications functions are focusing more than ever on aggregating information from multiple sources both within and outside of their control – turning this information into nuggets of insights, trends or red flags and sharing that information with senior management and other functions, thus impacting decision-making at a level and pace not seen before. What is the blog chatter concerning your situation? What’s the predominant characterization being perpetuated? This is essential in developing a new business strategy quickly and effectively.

Organize Before You Strategize: Take an opportunity to rethink what skills are critical for the organization today, and where those skills are best deployed. Also, ask yourself if the company physically brings together all areas of communications, along with select management, on a weekly or even daily basis to continually reassess the situation at hand and how to gain more control over the story the company is telling. The tendency in difficult times is to just do something without comprehending the purpose, effect, or result.

Rather, first organize the various elements surrounding the situation in a manner that can be visualized and internalized by all parties in order to then strategize about what needs to be learned and accomplished.

Employees As Your Next Product: Employee advocacy is a major differentiation to achieving relevance and gaining advantage from a strategic standpoint. Your workforce is the best set of knowledgeable and credible spokespeople you possess. Train them, outfit them, listen to them, and engage them in the business and with their own networks to amplify your narrative and stories and gain interest in a distracted world.

An active form of business strategy formulation and execution driven by a new skill set

The pace and seemingly always-transforming nature of business today is making it increasingly challenging for leaders to gain success by employing a new business strategy and not determining its effectiveness in a timely fashion.

Rather, business strategy is a means to engage and test the marketplace in order to shift course, assimilate competitive and consumer moves, and come back quickly and confidently with a new approach and fresh thinking better suited for sustained performance.

As a result, a new form of public relations, communications, and marketing is emerging – based on data, analysis, and insight – that embraces a more open, transparent, seamless, interactive, and engaging approach to stakeholder relationships and strategy formulation.

The impact is nothing short of a revolution in business strategy thinking and practice.

In a professional sense it means discarding your title and even your role based traditional descriptions.

What matters most now isn’t what you do but how you Solve!

Social media is my quickest way to discover my world daily. I use it as an aggregator for work-related knowledge, client monitoring, traditional news, my personal interests for everything from tech to fashion, my boys’ schools and sports teams, networking, my close friends and more. There is a reason behind each like or follow.

I always tell people to consider the websites they visit each morning. Maybe you go to the New York Times, Amazon to see the deals of the day, your kids’ school page and ESPN. If you have all of those in your Facebook feed and/or a Twitter list, you would have one source to see all the things that interest you. Build out your interests in one place. It’s a huge time saver – think your news in real time.

As social media became popular, billions of people shifted their habits. For example, as Facebook became a go-to, brands wanted to be there telling stories just like the Wall Street Journal is. And brands can have a two-way conversation with people versus marketing via TV, for example, which is one-way. This was all fascinating to me and quite relatable. I see social media for brands as the modern newsroom to create stories – perfect as content consumption is still on the rise. And for one’s personal brand, brands have a unique opportunity to give the nine-percent sharable content.

For context, I initially hated that my major at Xavier University would be in “Electronic Media.” What’s electronic media? I was focusing on television and radio, but “electronic” seemed so odd. In the years to come, I would simply tell people that I majored in communications with a focus on television to avoid the confused look on their faces. Now electronic media makes total sense. So ironic.

Television news was perfect for me right out of school. I can remember the high of constantly scouring the newspaper and feeds for a story – thinking it through to make the content relevant to our audience. The news feed was never-ending and in real time. There was always something to read and learn. Who knew how this would prepare me for a life in digital marketing of the future? And I’m especially grateful for the skills that I honed using video and pictures to help tell my stories.

Like news, social media happens in real time. Brands can’t wait until tomorrow to react, because the trend will probably be old news or in modern terms “not trending” anymore. I help brands to plan out their posts in an editorial calendar, but leave room for agile, responsive content. Think of it in terms of how CBS has “60 Minutes” for stories that they have more time to develop versus the evening news each night. Both are important. Both are agile though.

A newsroom approach is a shift for brands who are often still chained to traditional marketing mindsets full of TV commercials, banner ads, etc., or working in silos within the organization. Telling stories with a newsroom approach partially means not just telling stories about yourself. Nobody “likes” that guy, brands; he gets defriended. It’s more about working the conversation at a cocktail party, or with your boss, asking the right questions and adding to a great topic with your point of view or related experience. If your story is good enough, others will want to go research it more and share it. Think water cooler conversations. Influencers talking about a brand is always better than the brand saying it themselves.

For activation of the influencer, there is not a day at work that goes by that I don’t utilize my television newsroom skills, which led me into PR, marketing and technology. I need the story or point of view to be sharable to live on. When social media was born, I felt like somebody rolled together all the things that I loved into one. Brands are still evolving with the change in mindset. I feel lucky to coach them on thinking social and digital first as the social assets can’t just be chopped from that multi-million-dollar TV commercial. For influencers and targeting of content, social also now requires the funding that traditional marketing has paid for years for influence. Yes, that means paid social that’s smart thanks to analytics for a laser-focused ROI. And shifting marketing dollars for social because you get what you pay for even in social. And what about employees as brand advocates – have you tapped them?

It’s a very exciting time to work with brands. They are being reborn in a new space that changes quickly. Early adoption and being flexible to try new things has never been more prevalent and necessary.

The fruits of my efforts are literally at your fingertips for you to consume while second-screening during a movie on Netflix, while waiting to pick your child up from ball practice, picking a restaurant from a food blogger, while Googling brand info during that pre-commerce moment and so many other places. I love change. My job won’t be what it is today in five years, but it’s my duty to be ahead of wherever we go. Influencers will continue to influence more as people consume more content than ever. I’ll find new ways to serve creative whether that’s on SnapChat, Tinder, Vine, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or who knows what. It’s the first thing I do when I wake up each day and the last thing I do before I fall asleep. I’m watching and thinking about what we should do next.

On September 14th, during London’s Social Media Week, a global panel of social experts from across industries will converge in London for the #PreCommerce summit, hosted by W2O EMEA, with a special focus on how we work, live and create in the digital time. If you’re on that side of the pond, don’t miss it. Thanks for learning how social media has forever changed my world and your world through our clients. Keep evolving. You’ll always have a new story to tell.

headshotColleen Hartman, a 1993 “Electronic Media” graduate from Xavier University, can be found on Twitter at @Miss_Colleen and on various other social channels. Be sure to see her LinkedIn profile which documents her journey from newsroom to PR to marketing to sports to technology to the combination of all of those which she now calls social media. She is a director for W2O Group where she finds success helping brands use sharable, visual social media with a newsroom mindset.

Lifecycle of a Technological Revolution_today

With the revolution of media and technology disrupting the marketing industry, and business models altogether, marketers are trying to navigate through the storm. On the communications side, TV dollars are shifting to digital. But, digital ads aren’t nearly as effective nor transparent as we want them to be. The traditionally distinct and siloed roles of marketing communications (once upon at time, just known as ‘advertising’) and PR are converging.

Because of the advent of social media, and the frustration with traditional and digital advertising, marcomm is moving into earned media with influencer marketing, native advertising and more responsive campaigns and editorial content teams. Because of the rise of the new influencer – everyday people and celebrities using blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, SnapChat, Periscope and other platforms to create personal media companies – PR is expanding beyond traditional media relations and ‘the pitch’, and into influencer marketing, sponsored content and responsive editorial content teams as well. It’s a race to the middle where the lines are blurred. That’s why agencies and publishers are partnering to create wholly new content companies that service brands.

If we take a step back from the race, though, things haven’t changed much since 2009. The big three: Facebook, YouTube and Twitter had launched and matured as three distinct and valuable social communications platforms for users. Since then, other social platforms have launched – Foursquare (and Swarm), Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, SnapChat, Meerkat and Periscope being the most touted. But, each of these just feels like an iterative evolution of the discontinuous leaps that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube made. Platforms, and the content they enable, shifted to become more visual, shorter and ephemeral. When Meerkat and Periscope launched, didn’t it feel like they already existed? And, the fundamental rules for how to engage audiences on those platforms is the same; we must adhere to the Reciprocity Theory.

So, I actually take a contrarian point of view: innovation has slowed in media technology. We’re at the tail end of our current technological revolution’s lifecycle, moving past the discontinuous revolution and into the iterative evolution. While folks in the industry are making claims that: “Advertising is dead.” Or that, “Data will tell us what content to make, so we don’t need creatives anymore.” I’m claiming that we need creative more than ever. The discipline just needs to evolve too. As the roles of advertising and PR converge, storytelling becomes an even more critical discipline for marketing.

Just pushing the message through TV and radio and print and display ads is lazy creative and lazy advertising. Great creative has always been about great storytelling. Now we just tell that story across new media platforms/channels in partnership with the new social influencers and in partnership with our customers. Sometimes those influencers and customers are the same. Great creative (‘the story’) is the glue that holds the story together, wherever we’re telling it. It’s what inspires people to participate.

In the late 2000s in the entertainment industry, we began exploring transmedia storytelling. This is where we would develop a core story – characters and the world in which they lived. And, then we’d plan out those stories across media (books, graphic novels, movies, TV, web series). It was a shift away from the linear model of: writer publishes book –> studio buys book and makes movie –> network turns movie into TV series. Instead, we developed it all at the same time. They lived together as extensions, or chapters, of the same story instead of separately as different and distinct adaptations of the story. This style of storytelling became particularly popular in the fantasy/gaming/comics genres, as we could delve deep into the story of a world we were creating.

Now, in marketing, we have the opportunity to take the same approach. How do we create a core story – the story of our brand, which reflects the story of our customers and employees – and tell that story through new (and traditional) media platforms and people? Like a vision, the story we tell requires an intuitive leap of faith. It must inspire. It must create new possibilities. Is that so different from great advertising fifty years ago? Maybe. Maybe not. But, in an increasingly ephemeral world, wouldn’t it be nice to have some moments that impact and last?

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This post originally appeared on The ReciprocityTheory blog.

Something unusual happened in Congress in early July — an overwhelming bipartisan approval for a health care bill. But despite the 344-77 vote for the 21st Century Cures Act, the increasingly vocal opposition from oft-quoted critics of pharmaceutical, biotech and device companies should be taken as a warning sign for advocates who want to see this measure become law.

The bill is designed to boost drug discovery and help get patients with rare diseases additional access to treatments and cures, mostly through various reforms of the FDA approval process as well as additional funding for the National Institutes of Health.  (The Regulatory Affairs Professional Society has done a terrific explainer for those who want to dive into the deep details.)

More than 700 groups, from the Alzheimer’s Association to the American Society for Clinical Oncology, to patient-focused rare disease groups to companies and trade associations in the pharmaceutical, biotech and devices spaces, support the Cures bill. That support has shown up in traditional spaces such as Capitol Hill visits, as well as digital campaigns on Facebook and Twitter (#Path2Cures, #Cures2015.)

As it should be, the focus of these efforts has been on the benefits for patients with challenging diseases. Even rank-and-file House members have gotten into the act, such as in this short video from Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI).

The critics emerge

Yet now with the bill headed to the Senate, that kind of organized support may be even more important. Media-friendly experts such as Rita Redberg, editor of JAMA Internal Medicine, and cardiologist Steve Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic, are being quoted in articles criticizing the Cures bill. The New York Times’s editorial board, often taking cues from the opposition groups, criticized the legislation last week, though it stopped short of saying the entire effort should be scrapped.

The challenge now for those who want to see the bill through the Senate – in addition to trying to avoid big arguments about petty differences as the process unfolds — is to continue to emphasize the real world impact the bill would make. Patients who could benefit from expanded access to “compassionate use” of drugs should be front and center. Groups who want to see “patient experience data” folded into regulatory decisions – because different patients may have different risk tolerances – should be talking more often. And, to reflect the widespread backing for increased research funding that is in the Cures bill (nearly $9 billion extra for the National Institutes of Health over the next five years), scientific experts should be explaining over and over the need for new discovery.

Where are the physicians?

A quick review of our MDigitalLife database—a validated list of U.S. doctors with digital footprints—suggests that physicians aren’t out in droves driving the conversation. That means some of the most trusted voices on the subject of medicine haven’t been heard from yet, and doctors could yet shape this debate. Communicators trying to line up new wrinkles for the continuing campaign to pass the Cures bill should consider engaging with physicians. As our colleague Greg Matthews has written, physicians are not only active on social media, they often influence news coverage.

Conversation about the Cures bill seems likely to spike again in mid-September, when a hearing or hearings could be held in Senate committees. We’ll continue to monitor and look for new and old voices influencing the debate as action develops over the fall. Senate leaders have signaled that they will write their own version of a Cures bill, which could extend the discussion about this legislation until early 2016.

Reporters covering the legislative process will likely focus on the lobbying effort and the political clout of the industries backing the bill. This makes the real world stories – and the use of paid, earned, shared and owned content online – even more important for a successful campaign in the months ahead. The next treatment or cure could be dependent on it.

By Gary Karr and Brian Reid

In my earlier post on the topic, I discussed using technology to stay connected to reporters. It’s pretty common these days for brands to make communications team members responsible for producing content on social properties and company blogs. If you are in a content production role, using some level of technology during the development process will result in more informed, relevant content overall.

These days, we’re swimming in data, and it makes sense that it gets confusing for a lot of folks in Comms or Marketing. That doesn’t mean you have to become a technologist or data scientist to gain some level of insight that informs the content you develop. In my experience, it’s an iterative process. Start somewhere, and expand from there. Find a few things that work for you, that you can incorporate into a daily (or at least regular) routine. Success will lead you down more specific paths.

While there are tools to help you get a sense for the content and the influencers that are moving the needle, there’s no substitute for real analytics insights. W2O Group’s analytics chops were a big part of why I decided to join the company in the first place. Understanding what content and topic trends with free tools is a start, knowing who the topic influencers are takes some real effort. Beyond that, we identify the sources that inform the influencers. Putting that level of insight together with a solid understanding of content is where the magic happens.

In my view, the best content strategy focuses on providing balance between things that matter to your customers, things that tie your company to broader industry trends in a seamless way and the things you want to communicate as a brand. In other words, you have to earn your way in to market to your customers.

Credibility Builders

A good place to start is to look more deeply at the analytics behind the content you’ve been publishing. If you work for a big, established brand that has regular social media reporting meetings, take advantage of them. Whether someone in your company’s analytics team or an outside agency delivers the results, ask questions. If you’ve got a lot of questions, ask the presenter or team to meet separately. Many times, those reports show trend level-level items in a week, month or quarterly basis. They’ll usually also show some level of reach. Those are both useful from a directional standpoint; but in my view, it’s more helpful to dig into engagement metrics at the content level. Whether you’re responsible for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, or other social properties, engagement metrics are things such as Likes, Shares, Comments or retweets. When you’re looking at these metrics, pay attention to how they are helping acheive your objectives. Once you can get to this level of detail, keep it simple: do more of what’s working, and less of what’s not.

That’s definitely true in terms of managing blog content as well. Like I mentioned in my Content Hub post, there are a handful of metrics that really matter. In my view, the two most important are 1) the # of inbound links and 2) the # of shares into social platforms. Links (especially ones that come from other sites directly to your blog post) are the lifeblood of blogs. Inbound links are the best indicator that a blog post is hitting the mark. And speaking of social shes, if more people are sharing your blog post on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or elsewhere, that’s validation they see value in the content itself. Data backs up that social shares continue to matter.

Beyond inbound links and social shares, I’d add time on site, # of comments and # of page views as blog traffic metrics that give you a good sense for what content’s working (or not). Working from the inside out, thinking about content from an external perspective, start with credibility builders I mentioned in the image above.

You’re probably already paying attention to things that matter to customers in terms of traditional media. In the digital realm, it’s as easy as reading comment threads on your company’s social properties (or @ replys to your company Twitter account). That’s how I found much of things that became systemic issues we needed to address on the Dell blog.  Regarding the broader trends part, when done well, adding your brand’s perspective to a broader industry trend makes your company relevant to a wider audience. Finding those trends quickly and efficiently is the hard part.

So, how can you get a better feel for what’s happening around the web? Using aggregation sites like Techmeme.com and Mediagazer.com (and the search feature they both offer), are a good place to start if you’re in the tech or media industry. Otherwise, Facebook and Twitter already offer some level of trending stories. Facebook’s Trending section tends to be consumer-oriented, but it does allow you to offer feedback on what types of stories you’re interested in seeing in your trending feed. Twitter’s Trends feature on the left hand side of your profile page offers a tailored view of what’s happening now, but much like Facebook, seems too general to be of much use in this context. Twitter recently unveiled Project Lightning curated news served real-time, but Instagram’s already rolled out its version and some feel Twitter will be playing catchup with it and Snapchat in this regard. The curated news space is heating up quickly, so there will be plenty more to come.

For now at least, here are three curated news tools I’ve used to help cut through the clutter:

  • Nuzzel – I just start using this service recently, after reading this article. In that short time, it’s become my favorite. It’s a service that surfaces the stories that your friends and connections shared most often. In other words, it delivers a curated list of headlines based on either your Twitter or Facebook contacts.
  • Newsle – This is a service LinkedIn purchased about a year ago. It surfaces stories that feature contacts in your LinkedIn network.
  • Prismatic – This one is a social news recommendation engine, but it doesn’t seem to be as closely tied to the people you follow.

And then there’s Google. They’ve been on a tear recently, starting with last week’s rollout of the redesigned Google Trends website, then launching YouTube Newswire. They followed it up this week by introducing the Google News Lab, and the related Google News Lab site. Even though Google positions all three as journalistic endeavors, I’d argue there’s usefulness for PR folks as well, specifically with Google Trends. At the very least, I think it’s worth following @GoogleTrends on Twitter.

In spending a bit of time on Google Trends, I’m impressed with the level of real-time data it makes available to anyone on the web. Beyond showing trending news and topics, it displays real-time demographic data, topic queries  and in some cases, questions users are asking related to those searches. And make no mistake, having access to real-time questions is massively valuable to brands, especially in issues management mode. I sure would have loved to have a tool like it back in my Dell days. Why? Answering those questions directly in the content your company publishes is the best way to ensure its relevance to customers and reporters.

A few quick examples:

Google Trends can show you changes in real-time in things like the 2016 Presidential race. Like this tweet where they show how Bobby Jindal’s announcement to run for President affected searches for Donald Trump, who had led earlier. Click on the image below to get to the before and after images.

Google Trends - Trump vs. Jindal

Going to the Explore section, you can enter your own topics to compare. One caveat: it only works for topics that have enough volume. Here’s a comparison between Facebook, Google and Twitter. The cool thing thing: it shows more than just a volume graph—it also allows you to see the demographic and query data for all three.

Google, Facebook and Twitter on Google Trends

But probably the best example is the U.S. Supreme Court rulings currently happening. The top section shows the most relevant articles. Those are the ones I’d read first, (and potentially link to), followed by Top Questions for the U.S. Supreme Court, plus separate top questions for U.S Supreme Court Justices and the Affordable Care Act, searches over time, search interest by state, etc. In other words, tons of real-time information. Click this link to go to the Google Trends page itself, or click the image below to see a larger version:

US Supreme Court - Google Trends

While I understand there’s a very limited and finite amount of time for Comms people to spend researching trends and news, finding some time is a worthwhile excercise in my book. There’s definitely a purpose here. I’ll blog more about that soon.

I recently published a post on LinkedIn that charted my career path from Archaeology major to Chief Blogger. Along the way, I spent the vast majority of my 18 years as a member of Dell’s Communications organization. What really helped me forge a path was infusing so much of my Comms work with my passion for hardware, software and web technology. Thinking that way made the transition to digital communications a natural one. Especially these days, if you want to stand out as a member of the Communications team in your organization, applying a bit of technology can go a long way.

A few caveats:

1) Before you embark on sharing company-related content or engaging customers (or reporters) online, make sure you are aligned with your company’s social media policy and training guidelines. Many companies these days have a training or certification process that you’ll need to go through. Make sure you take care of compliance issues first.

2) Don’t think of traditional comms and social or digital communications as two opposing things. Like I’ve said before, they are complementary.

3) Just start somewhere. I’m not suggesting you have to become a technologist to be successful. You don’t have to become an expert in all things digital. Pick even a couple of things you can start doing to connect with reporters or make more informed contenet for your customers.

Whether you spend your days maintaining relationships with reporters on the corporate side at some of big media outlets, or if you maintain connections for a specific part of your company’s business, the good news is there’s never been more ways to build those relationships. There will always be a place for ongoing phone calls (or emails) with reporters. That doesn’t go away, nor should it. In my view, digital tools offer multiple ways to increase touch points with reporters.

Where are the best places to interact with reporters online? Twitter and the comment section of their blogs in my opinion. In my experience, starting on Twitter will lead you to their blog posts. My advice, check their tweets. Most reporters these days have to care about personal branding. And that means when they publish someting, they’ll tend to promote it via Twitter, LinkedIn or elsewhere. Read the links they share to get a sense for what interest them. Pay attention to the context they provide in their tweets. Share the articles they publish when it makes sense. @ reply them when you have some perspective to add, or questions to ask. If you have more to say about a post they wrote, take the extra step to comment on their blog posts. And be thoughtful when you do comment. Add to the conversation instead of trying to force your agenda down their throats.

So, what if you are starting from scratch? If you don’t have a Twitter account, create one. Then follow all the reporters you need to stay connected to. Even though it’s a painstakingly manual process, spend time to create Twitter lists for all (or at least the main reporters you interact with). Though it’s the most manual process, I still recommend taking the time to do it for all the reasons in the paragraph above. You can start small, then add reporters to your list over time. Once you’ve created your list, bookmark it in your browser.

Another option is following reporter lists maintained by top tier media outlets (see point #3 in a previous post). To find these lists, all you have to do is find the outlet on Twitter, like the Washington Post for example. Then click Lists. Scroll through the page and you’ll see general lists like Post people, and beat-specific lists like Video / Photo/ Design, Post World, Post Business and op-ed writers at Post Voices. Then click the Subscribe button. If you’re ready to go deeper, looking at a service like Muckrack.com might make sense. Beyond basic Twitter lists by outlet, they can help you keep track of interactions with reporters over time, campaigns, organize your reporter lists in ways that work for you, etc.

Beyond connecting with individuals, some tools can help you keep up trending stories. If you’re in the tech space, bookmark Techmeme.com now. I’ve mentioned it several times before, but still feel it’s one of the best tools to see what tech stories are moving the needle in the blogosphere. See screenshot below. Newest stories appear on the right hand side, and Top News shows the most impactful articles, with the main story featured with an accompanying image. The More section shows related stories from other outlets. The Tweets section underneath highlights significant tweets related to that topic. Just spending a few minutes looking at a trending story and related conversations around it  gives a good sense for the context and the sentiment around that  topic.

Techmeme.com

Mediagazer.com works the same way. Like the name implies, stories there are focused on the media industry, and that includes a lot of articles about the changing state of journalism. If you care about that, bookmark it as well. And speaking of the changing state of journalism, Nieman Journalism Lab is my favorite site to keep up with. The For Immediate Release podcast is a great source for how social (or digital) and traditional PR mix. Shel Holtz is one of the best in my book at understand where tech and PR intersect. Besides Shel, other individuals who are great on this topic are Mathew Ingram, Jeff Jarvis, Josh Bernoff, Richard Binhammer and Scott Monty.

If you like to keep up with a list of media outlets, but want more efficient process than visiting each one manually, RSS feeds are a useful tool. I’ve blogged about Feedly, which is a great reader especially if you read a lot of articles on a tablet. If simplicity is key, I highly recommend Digg Reader. It’s great for tracking a handful of media outlets, and it makes it easy to add sources.

If you are in communications and have yet to jump into the digital side of things, take steps to change that. There’s much to be gained once you start somewhere. They key is to incorporate some of these activities in your daily routine. Doing it right will lead to more engagement with reporters about the stories they write, which results in better relationships. And regardless of how technology changes the landscape, building those relationships will always be essential to PR and Communications.

Each year, more than 25,000 interactive experts visit Austin to hear about what’s next and reflect on what it means for their organizations. It’s very easy to get caught up in the buzz. Very hard to sort through it all and figure out what really matters. Basically, what is the trend underlying an innovation or what is the truth that we should live by as we lead our communications teams? Here are four key trends related to innovation and four pearls of wisdom from leading professionals that emerged at SXSW. Each is focused on how it will influence our work.

1. The importance of Meerkat. On its face, it’s simply an app that allows you to share video via Twitter. In reality, visual content is our favorite way to learn and it is driving many innovative models.

The Fortune 500 is doing a poor job of leading with video first, however. In fact, often it is just an add-on to our work. Big mistake.

We prefer to learn visually, technology is making it easier to do so and the marketplace is creating more visual solutions. Are we evolving our own use of video inside our companies?

2. Speed kills old models. We groan as we wait six to nine months for a campaign to be created, approved and released. The good news is that technology enables speed and when speed gains enough momentum, it destroys old models. We’re moving into the era of the agile campaign, where hours matter, not months. You can see it in how companies share news at SXSW. More important, communicators can develop libraries of content in advance of trends and then react within minutes when necessary. Speed + Right Content + Right Window = Results.

3. Data scientists are the new media planners. Customer behavior (earned and shared media) will influence greatly how we plan for paid media. We should always know what our customers actually do online before we develop a paid media plan. Earned media makes paid media smart.

For communicators, this is a gift from heaven. Will we be ready to take advantage of how analytics is reshaping the market? Do our communications teams have geeks on staff? We should.

Source: W20 Group

4. Responsive experience trumps responsive design. We used to focus on ensuring the same website experience was shown in the same way via any device. This responsive design approach now is table stakes.

For our owned media, we need to ensure the right experience, not the same experience, is shown each time. With more than 50 percent of content consumed by mobile phone, we only get one chance to get it right. It’s critical for communicators to understand search habits, who visits their site and what that experience should be. We can’t just count site visits.

And here are some tips from senior executives patched into business communications:

1. Change is normal. “One thing I’ve learned about being a communications professional—especially in digital—is to be open and flexible to change. As you know, the digital landscape changes approximately every 6 months. You have to think about how you’re going to reach your customers on the platforms they use, it’s not the other way around.”

Paul Buckman, Director, Online Communications, US Food and Drug Administration

 

2. Say hello to real KPIs. “It’s very easy to say that communicators need to be data-driven, but the real trend needs to be communicators focusing less on rear-view mirror measurement and more on what helps to inform the road ahead.

It’s great that the goals for a particular campaign were met, but how does that information help us plan the next campaign?

How does it help us hone the list of people we plan to engage with for the next quarter? How does it help us use the right sort of keywords in our copy? How does it help us achieve greater brand lift for the upcoming quarter? Rear-view mirror measurement doesn’t always help answer those questions, and the industry is still doing far too much of that sort of work.”

Chuck Hemann, Manager, Analytics, Intel Corp.

 

3. New school ROI. “Too often we are caught up in vanity metrics like the number of views or clicks and likes and less interested in or able to explain the true business value related to our effort.

Did we create a piece of content that can be leveraged by marketing, sales or recruiting? Are we moving the needle on corporate reputation or adding value to the brand?

Whether it is positioning the company, selling product or recruiting new talent, communications professionals need to explain more succinctly what we are doing, why we are doing it and the value it brings.

Doing so allows us to tangibly show that our communications outcomes are creating true business results.”

Michael Marinello, Head of Global Comm., Technology, Innovation & Sustainability, Bloomberg

 

4. Avoid content pollution. “We are on the cusp of a new horizon for communications professionals but are dangerously close to messing it up as a profession. The modern communicator needs to meld great content with the science of content distribution and the insights of big data.

We can no longer shout messages and hope they stick. Instead we need to be data modelers, big data and insight experts, digital channel pros and world-class storytellers who create content that cuts through the clutter, minimizes content pollution and is measureable by its impact.”

Andrew Bowins, Senior VP, Corporate Reputation and Engagement, MasterCard

As we sort through the innovation as well as some hype, the message is pretty clear. We have the best opportunity in our lifetimes to evolve the communications profession. We also have the most urgency to do this now with intent, purpose and skill.

CONTACT:

Bob Pearson is President of W20 Group and author of “Pre-Commerce: How Companies and Customers are Transforming Business Together” (John Wiley and Sons). He can be reached at bpearson@w2ogroup.com

This article originally appeared in the March 16, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.

The W2O Group Center for Social Commerce is proud to announce its 2015 student Ambassadors. The Ambassador Program, now in its second year, gives at least two Syracuse University students the opportunity to take on a full-year leadership position within the Center. These Ambassadors are tasked with being our “boots on the ground,” helping promote the Center, its initiatives and its value to students, faculty and the industry. Along with their daily responsibilities during the Spring and Fall semesters, these two students will join W2O Group’s New York City office this Summer as interns. Along with their internship, both Ambassadors will attend W2O Group events at SXSW, an opportunity to truly integrate themselves in W2O Group’s thinking, and get quickly onboarded for their future responsibilities.

Please join us in welcoming our newest Ambassadors! Below, they’ve shared a few thoughts on what this position means to them:

Anna HodgeAnna Hodge

I’m so excited to be joining a digitally advanced team like W2O Group this upcoming summer as a Corporate and Strategy intern. As a junior journalism major at Syracuse University I first came across W2O Group when I was searching the web for articles related to journalism in the digital age. I stumbled across a 2013 W2O Group blog about the evolving journalism industry and the rise in paid online content. As a freshman, I maintained interest in the company and was excited to gain the opportunity to apply to W2O Group Center for Social Commerce program within the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. With a previous summer internship in corporate communications and on-campus experience in writing and social media, I understand the importance of conveying brand messaging.

As a journalism major, I am excited to use my abilities as a writer and social media producer to tell the stories of corporate clients and engage audiences on new and innovative platforms. When asked why I made the switch from journalism to public relations, I always respond that my passion for storytelling has evolved in to one surrounding a brand’s narrative. I’m excited to work with W2O Group in moving brands forward with the combination of new practices such as social media and the traditional practices of effective writing. I view W2O Group as a pioneering brand, molding the future of a more digitally advanced public relations industry, and am excited to be a part of such a progressive and innovative team.

Andrew PetroAndrew Petro

I am extremely excited to be joining W2O Group through the Center for Social Commerce Ambassador Program. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to be a part of such an innovative and forward-thinking agency. After experiencing Social Commerce Days, I can’t wait to give back to the cause that has already impacted me in so many ways.

Last semester, I took advantage of the impressive speaker lineup and other events that comprised Social Commerce Days. It was during those days that I learned exactly what the Center for Social Commerce really does. I learned how big of a resource it is for the students and faculty of Newhouse. I can’t wait to help promote and develop the center so that more people will be able to take advantage of all that it has to offer.

As a public relations and marketing dual major, I have taken an interest in the field of research. This summer I will get to spend 10 weeks interning at W2O Group’s New York City office. I cannot wait to get hands-on experience with analytics and learn from the industry professionals working for this agency.

Overall, I feel overjoyed to be in this role. I am eager to take on the responsibilities of the Ambassador Program and will work hard to take the Center for Social Commerce to the next level.

 

In2

Last week I had the pleasure of attending The Holmes Report’s In2 Innovation Summit in San Francisco, “a global network of events that explore innovation, disruption and evolution that has — and continues to —redefine influence and engagement.” That’s a lot to take in, right? “Redefine influence and engagement.” What does that mean? Well, here’s three things I took away from the conference:

– Storytelling is alive and kicking, but participation is key. Daina Middleton, head of global business marketing for Twitter discussed how today we are in the age of participation. In her book, “Marketing in the Participation Age,” she discusses how now is the time to evolve from the traditional marketing methodology developed over 50 years ago to one that embraces how people engage in conversations today. The world has become smaller and more complex. It’s not a competition in who can be the loudest. There’s so much content available and people are now choosing how, when and where they spend their time consuming content. Daina discussed how the key for customer participation is to activate all three elements of the framework:

  1. Discover: The human desire to continually learn, and the satisfaction of becoming competent at something. In what ways are you inviting participants to learn more about your product/brand?
  2. Empower: Inviting someone to have a meaningful contribution to the brand and/or product. Do you invite participants to connect with the brand: provide feedback, offer tips and suggestions, and help to create the product itself?
  3. Connect: Humans love to interact with others in meaningful ways. Brands often only think of creating environments that allow Participants to connect with the brand, but do you build environments that foster relationships with others who may share the same interest?

– Chief Marketing Officers are under pressure to show ROI. We heard from some of the biggest brands this week: Starbucks, MasterCard and one of my favorite brands, Method. These leading brands are all on the cutting edge of engaging in a more participative conversation with their customers. I am a brand advocate for Method. Why? I tell everyone how much I love their laundry detergent. I also proudly have their hand soap on my sink counter vs. in a soap dispenser that matches my bathroom decor. Why? I am proud of my decision to bring a brand into my home that is socially responsible. That’s all great and fine, but how does that translate into sales? Despite all the chatter around mobile and the term “big data,” many chief marketing officers (CMOs) are at a standstill in reaching digital and data-focused marketing goals. Why? Internal silos, resistance to change within their companies and limited expertise with emerging technologies and solutions. Here’s the Oprah aha moment: Companies can’t keep up with the pace of consumer adoption. How do you fix the problem? Baby steps. First, ensure you’re CEO is supporting the cause. Are business objectives clear and do they align with marketing objectives? Second, CMOs must get all functions of the marketing organization to talk to their finance and IT departments. The idea is to find an approach that works for all functions and to slowly identify ways to measure the connection of marketing to sales. That approach can include the use of CRM data, scan data from supermarkets, insights from digital conversations and/or measurement of influencer engagement, to name a few.

– Analytics and Insight – no longer just an afterschool special! During the conference, I heard one of our leaders Bob Pearson at W2O Group say that companies are starting to develop insights through analytics, but then they stuff it in their pocket and move on with their regularly broadcasted TV program. Worse yet, if they do use analytics, the insight is elementary… learning of “likes” and “RTs” is not a strategy. In the course of the conference, there was a panel discussion entitled, “Speaking CEO – The Next Frontier in Measurement & Analytics.” It was clear that the panel participants, including Seth Duncan from W2O Group, are on the forefront of analytics and insights. The idea is to actually use insight to help make strategic business decisions, not just communications decisions. Overlapping market segments with an understanding of where customers spend their time online, plus insight into what their passions are could be incredibly lucrative. It means not just counting the numbers, it means understanding human behavior. Once you do that, it’s not just about holding onto that data, it’s about identifying how to align with business objectives. It’s about creating the right conversation, identifying the right channels online and offline and it’s about having an engaged experience with your customers. Not only that, do it fast, be agile and evolve it over time.

So, you can see that the market is ready for us to redefine the way we influence and engage. It’s about participating in a conversation. It’s about understanding how people behave, what gets them excited. Where are they spending their time? It’s about finding ways to engage all parts of your organization to identify opportunities to link marketing to sales. Finally, it’s about taking those insights and turning it into action – FAST!

Diane Parrish, Group Director, WCG World
Diane Parrish, Group Director, WCG World