Friday, September 28, 2012

A PR Toolkit for Small Businesses

I don’t spend much time in the press release side of marketing. I think all that is about to change Monday when a new Marketing Communications Director comes on board at my company. The director will be filling a newly created spot as my department takes steps toward molding itself into a real marketing department. What it means for me is an opportunity to contribute to the evolving social media strategy of the company, which is late to the party.

As I’ve tried to get smarter on all things PR over the last year, I have subscribed to PR Newswire’s periodic tips and, through them, recently found PR News’ Small Biz PR Report

If your small business is new to press releases or hasn’t even contemplated them, you might find the Small Biz PR Report blog worth exploring. It provides a cost-free introduction to the world of Public Relations (including social media, media relations, press releases, etc.) as a vehicle for expanding the reach of your business. Of course much of their free advice leads to a sales pitch. So remember the source and use it as a respected basis of opinion.

To narrow the focus even further, today I came across a recent post on the Small Biz PR Report that I thought was worth sharing. Pamela Bartlett, VP of channels for PR Newswire, has developed a PR Toolkit for small businesses that is packed with educational and marketplace information. This is a very good place to start for all levels of PR-savvy-ness -- whether you need to learn what a press release is or you have a decent level of familiarity with PR but don’t know quite how or whether PR and/or press releases can work for your business.

The Q&A with Pamela Bartlett is helpful and she makes a very good point that many small businesses perceive press releases to be just for large businesses. She stumbles with her first sentence, heavy on the marketing lingo. But she adjusts quickly and the rest of the dialog is very worthwhile. So that you don't stop at the first line and miss the subsequent insights, the gist of that first sentence is: Write about your latest business accomplishments or solutions and spread the word about them with press releases.

Ms. Bartlett comes across as a cautious social media supporter. And I applaud caution! In her interview, I quickly see that some of the fundamentals of writing a press release are shared with writing social media content. So if you do your homework with the PR Toolkit and other resources, and discover that press releases may be a tool you want to add to your marketing plan, you can leverage your knowledge gained in social media to write engaging press releases. And vice versa: Many of the PR Toolkit tips can be applied to writing social media content.

In reality, press releases, unbeknownst to them, were the stepping stones to social media – businesses use them to publicize significant events. Now we (businesses and individuals) use social media (and press releases) to publicize significant events. The danger and challenge is that so much is publicized via social media that it is hard to sort out what is significant.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Carrying a Social Media Tune

Because there is so much material out there on writer’s block in social media, it is an obvious challenge for many. Or, maybe bloggers blog about blogger’s block to try to work through their own block! One of the beauties of social media technology is that it brings potential topics, relevant discussions and the associated metrics to our fingertips. Staying on top of trends can be overwhelming but we cannot complain for lack of resources.

To help crack a writer’s block, it is essential to stay on top of trending topics by adapting a few of the following techniques:

  • Monitor Twitter & Facebook discussions and industry leaders.
  • Read the blogs you have sought out and subscribed to.
  • Poll your community.
  • Use LinkedIn Answers to troll for what questions are being asked in your industry.
  • Visit trending sites or social bookmarking networks to see what gets the most votes.
But at the end of the day, it is the tone of our delivery that can hold or dismay our audience. In music, striving for perfect pitch, a note out of tune can be sharp or flat. In social media, I'll meld tone and tune and equate a “sharp” delivery as one that brags or is delivered from a lofty space above the crowd. “Flat” would be the negative approach of conveying a success by pointing out failures of others in a demeaning way. Reaching that perfect pitch takes practice and requires writing with passion (not drama – drama and passion are very different!). And, of course, the “selling of the CD at the end of the show” needs to be handled delicately, respectfully, subtly and never overdone.

I recently read a blog post by Scott Weighart of Bates Communications who nicely summed up the tone of content to which he is attracted. I would draw up an identical list, so I thought I’d share his with you: 

  • Here’s a really provocative, interesting article that I wanted to share with you.
  • Here’s a funny observation or a counter-intuitive take that I have about something relevant to you in the world today.
  • I’ve got a concise thought about my area of expertise that will really make you stop and think differently about a topic that interests you.
  • I wanted to share a little story with you that will entertain, challenge, or move you emotionally.

I especially like his last point which includes the “out” to write about a side topic, but one in which your target audience may be interested. As I exercise my own communication strategy for my business, I like the flexibility to include blog topics beyond my industry in order to develop a closer relationship with my readers. Those off-topic posts won’t solidify a reader’s opinion of my social media skills, but it might help shape in their mind whether they would like doing business with me.

The more posts (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) we read from others, the better “ear” we will develop for recognizing tone. Understanding the differences between flat and sharp enables us to develop our own unique business or personal tone.

Let the music begin!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Back-to-School Reality Check

This has been a busy week, dominated by Wednesday’s mark as our town’s opening day of school. There are so many mixed feelings that come with back-to-school: sorrow that the summer is over, parental joy in watching the kids moving forward into a new grade or school, stress and anxiety at the anticipation of the unknown, frustration sitting in gridlock as Boston tries to move-in tens of thousands of college students all at once, claustrophobia in Staples trying to get the right supplies in a frantic setting equal to the shelf-clearing hysteria caused by an impending New England Nor’ Eastern.

This year, my back-to-school experience was broadened by learning that our high school athletic department is now on Twitter. I’ve watched Facebook become the grand communication tool for my son’s athletic teams, officially and unofficially. Now we have stepped it up to Twitter. It will be interesting to watch it catch on. The combination of Parent and Child audience should be an interesting, challenging target for the director. But it just reminds us all that this generation lives and breathes by social media. As email falls off the radar of these young adults (foreshadowing the demise of the e-newsletter), businesses need to keep in mind the evolving communication tastes of their target audience. Even though I’m referencing current high school students, the adults 5 and 10 years older than this crowd are already spending their new or newish paychecks. Businesses need to engage this crowd with social media in order to stay competitive.

While everyone moves forward with mixed back-to-school experiences, it is interesting how personal social media tools such as Facebook carry, primarily, the up-side of the experience. It has been analyzed that the bragging nature of Facebook can carry with it stress for those who read posts of others and feel left out or inadequate. It is human nature to want to report on good things that happen. But there is ample evidence of the dramatization of reality, as well as the flat-out pretending. Especially on the college scene, someone eager to fit in can get depressed at how much fun others are having – or seem to be having - without him or her (on Facebook, that is). The exaggeration is giving Facebook the reputation of dramatizing life. It is a real turn-off to many while to others who can’t see through the fabrications, it is a real source of anxiety. 

In business, it is important to remain true to your followers and true to your mission. Exaggerated claims only lead to trouble and a backlash of un-followers. Followers can be very savvy and quick to rat out braggarts. Businesses do not need to market themselves with false claims or pretend to be something they are not in order to attract a crowd. If you have a good product or service, don’t embellish it to earn followers. That is a short-term strategy. Win with creativity, engaging content, humor, information and truth. Oh, and hard work.