Saturday, November 18, 2017

When Bad Punctuation, Spelling and Grammar Happen to Good People

 I'm delighted for these students but to paraphrase the words of Inigo Montoya, "This headline does not mean what they think it means."

For heaven's sake, where was the copy editor? Managing editor? Reporter? Anyone?

What ever happened to reading your work before hitting "send" or going to print?

It seems that more and more, people are making grammar and spelling errors that are funny to many, cringe-worthy to multitudes, but also embarrassing for the perpetrators; in many cases, they show an ignorance to rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation that should have been mastered throughout 12 years of school, not to mention college or grad school after that. It's getting so bad that HubSpot ran a blog article about this back in June. In fact, there are a lot of web pages dedicated to these writing snafus and I just found this Pinterest page devoted to these bloopers.

This need not be. Thanks to the internet, there are plenty of sites to use for doing a quick check on spelling (American vs. British English, online dictionaries) as well as grammar. Journalists and public relations/news release writers use the AP Style manual (I just looked to make sure it was in there, and yes, firsthand as an adverb or adjective is indeed one word!). Publications have editors and proofreaders (well, they should have them) as do ad agencies.

Have you read the wonderful book, "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation" by Lynne Truss? Please do. Do you check Go ahead, I dare ya. Or have a friend or trusted colleague read over your work before it's published. Please. There are plenty of resources available if you're not sure, folks—but if you are a writer, please, in the name of all things sacred, learn to spell and punctuate correctly, and check your work before it's printed, published or recorded.

Here's another goody for you, from a local restaurant:

Now, I know the owners meant that the place was "formerly" Giovanni's, since they changed the name (the tip-off). They did not mean that it is "formally" known as Giovanni's as in, "officially" and then misspelled "formally." I'm sorry, but the Grammar/Spelling bitch inside me says this is simply not acceptable. A friend of mine who is a printer said that printers may sometimes bring up suspected errors to clients if they have the time to do so (if they actually recognize the error, right?) but often they assume it's how the client wants it. I sure wish this restaurant owner's sign printer had noticed the error and corrected it.(I have fingers crossed that "cappuccino" is spelled correctly on the menu and that, here in New Jersey, the restaurant does not serve "expresso" but that's for another day.)

I believe we can partially blame spell checking programs for this social ill. I mean, why bother to learn how to spell when the computer will (not always) correct your mistakes? I also blame the societal meme about how no one has time to read anything, everyone is skimming, blah blah blah de blah ... I don't believe it and it shouldn't matter. That said, I would like to know who was able to read and decipher this nugget:asdf.jpg

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Note to Techno Dinos: Don't Worry, You Can't Break Social Media

To all you late adopters who somehow managed to get through decades in advertising and public relations without tackling social media, here's a comforting thought: you won't break it, so go ahead and try it.

Recently, I had a tutoring session with a colleague, a PR pro, who is not using social media in any way. Knowing that I manage various social media accounts for clients, she hired me to create pages on two platforms for one of her accounts, and post there on behalf of the client. After a few days, we decided the time was ripe for getting her acclimated to the world of Facebook and Twitter, where the client's pages now reside.

Word of caution to younger readers: Please remember that not all of us grew up as "digital natives" and even navigating a computer or making the most of certain software can be a challenge for some ... so don't judge.

However, if you categorize yourself as a techno dino who only uses what you need when you need it, have difficulty learning computer skills, or shudder at the thought of rising to the challenge of logging into multiple accounts and platforms and engaging there, relax. Remember, you can't break social media.

My friend and I sat down at her computer and began at the primordial ooze tank of understanding where to go online and then signing up for an account. Interestingly, we discovered there were phantom accounts in her name or under her email address already there (on both networks) from several years ago. We got around that, set up new accounts and got rolling.

First, I explained the difference between profiles and pages. Then on to the images; profile pictures ("yes, those always stay that small") and cover images ("they're like billboards") were explained and we uploaded a Facebook profile pic (nothing yet on Twitter).

Account names got done and the descriptions were easy, since she works in public relations and is a good communicator.

I could see that my colleague was overwhelmed by all the tabs, cards, text and images on the screen. All the while, I told her to take a deep breath and take it slow. Take the time to read what's on the screen -- the platform will tell you what it wants you to fill out if you just relax. I encouraged her to click, explore, check out other accounts ... because you can't break social media. Nothing will happen but you might learn something! Deep breaths! Go line by line ... it will get done and you'll have mastered another step. And don't forget, there's always the HELP tab.

We discussed posting in general, various types of content, and how to get other pages and people to engage. This led into a discussion about privacy settings. Lots of concern about who sees what. We set Facebook to very private, only friends can see posts. However, as we users know, it's all about getting more people to see, like and share those posts so if you have a professional page, don't be shy! But also don't be lax. Be sure to monitor the activity and address any negative activity happening on your feed. Remember, you're the boss (to a certain extent, at least).

Of course, it's also a good practice to retweet other users' posts when it's relevant, quoting the original tweet as well for additional commentary or context related to your field. On Facebook, helpful to share other people's content and tag, tag, tag (but not be annoying).

Ratings and reviews -- tricky -- depends on how open you want to be and perhaps what industry your business is in. The client's business is in a highly regulated field so for her client's page, we did not allow ratings and reviews (enabling ratings and reviews requires the admin to attention tp activity and the notifications on a daily basis and to address any review issues right away). I explained that we can open up the privacy settings later for her client and for herself when she is more comfortable. At least now, she can see how her client's posts look on Facebook and Twitter and check out interactions with the pages, which was the goal of the session.

We looked at other accounts, zoomed around to see other users' profiles, checked on some posts and got her comfortable. Her confidence rose a little bit with every click. She emailed me later to say that she felt encouraged enough to put up a cover image by herself on Facebook (bold step!). You see, you can't break social media ... but you can break into it at any age at any stage.

Friday, February 17, 2017

What to Do When that Reporter Calls

Communication is written, spoken and in many cases, unspoken (body language). There are ample opportunities to communicate well or poorly, to cast yourself and your business in a positive light or leave the other person wondering "what the hell?"

The one person you don't want scratching a head and wondering what's just happened is a member of the press.

Although I am far from an expert on crisis communications, I do know a thing or two about communicating with members of the press and how to handle a call from a reporter. That call may be in search of your perspective or information about your company (or client, if you are in PR) as it relates to a particular issue in your field or in your community. Or, it could be in response to a negative matter your business was embroiled in for one reason or another. Either way, keep your head on straight, keep your cool, and like the stalwart Joe Friday of "Dragnet" fame, deliver just the facts.

Appoint the right spokesperson
This should (must) be someone who is very articulate, fluid with public speaking, and who thinks on his or her feet. It's important that this person have a nimble mind and stay a step ahead of anticipated conversation or be able to respond quickly (and well) to a question or comment. If the CEO, COO or president is not a great speaker or not necessarily the person the journalist is trying to reach, your marketing manager, community liaison coordinator, or public relations officer is the one to take the call. It needs to be someone who can ...

Stay calm
That's not to say you should be robotic, but communicating with a journalist is not the time to get emotional. This person is writing a story and is requesting your input, not your hysteria or gloominess. Journalists are seeking facts for their stories and dispassionate discourse is a great way to get your point across. You can be friendly and conversational but stay on guard as well. This speaks to the importance of ...

Know your talking points

Be like a Scout and be very prepared in advance with your talking points. Write them down, rehearse them if you need to. Whether you are discussing the positives about your company or organization or the organization's viewpoint about a particular issue, be very clear, concise, and on message. Know your mission statement, think about the "About Us" page on your website and what it says about your company or agency, and know the stance on the issue at hand. If your organization was involved in some way and it was a positive participation, be proud of it and state why. If there was a misstep of any kind, acknowledge it, apologize, and move on with positive points because ...

This is your chance to get free press
And you don't want to blow it! This is an opportunity to show your organization in a good light with the public, stakeholders, or employees. Even one positive quote in a long story is a good thing ... and many times better than one negative quote anywhere! This is also an opportunity to start developing a relationship with the reporter or writer, who might tap you in the future for comments about a news story, which can position you as an expert in your field (more good press). Being truly helpful to the journalist--by staying calm, delivering your talking points well (in a manner that moves the story along a positive path), and engaging the caller in a way that shows you are a partner and not an adversary, you'll drive good media relations for your brand.

Image result for telephone

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

How Content for Home Appliance Brands Can Put the Spin on Engaging Users

Content is the platform by which manufacturers can tell their stories, answer consumer questions, and demonstrate their products to potential buyers. It presents multiple opportunities across media for companies to interact with consumers (and potential customers) and can provide a space for customers to interact with each other in the social space. This collaboration in turn expands a company’s online presence, polishes its reputation, and boosts sales. All the better when content is part of an integrated marketing mix, as with home appliance manufacturer Whirlpool.

Home appliance manufacturers have ample opportunities and formats to engage target consumers through content. For example, rather than just talk about machine features, Whirlpool has used storytelling to convey the benefits of its products. This content (through TV spots, website content and print advertising) draws in consumers with stories that relate to their concerns.

Print ads and television commercials can drive users to social media and websites, where niche marketing messages can live. Online videos that tell relatable stories easily demonstrate product uses and features (and are easy to share with other users). In the case of home appliances, these can be about dishwashers, washers and dryers, ovens and cooking ranges. This video content can be written to address specific niche markets (home chefs who want to know how the cooktop will help them look like Food Network stars, teenagers concerned about how their jeans will wash). Microsites on the brand’s parent website can continue the conversation with more videos, FAQs, and case studies.

Touting product benefits without overtly promoting product is a vital part of a successful content marketing effort. This makes social media an excellent place to talk directly to consumers via targeted informational posts that create an open online community. For example, consumers can tweet questions about how to use a product or post something to a company’s Facebook page, giving the brand an opportunity to “talk” to potential customers and become a trusted resource for them.

Engaging case studies/product usage stories can make for great social media fodder, along with links to the product website and its additional content. In Whirlpool’s case, its Institute of Fabric Science enables consumers to ask for help with issues related to the company’s appliances but not necessarily about the actual products. Questions about how to wash or dry something—unrelated to Whirlpool’s products—are answered by corporate representatives and this content in turn positions the company as a trusted brand.

If you market home appliance brands, think about how content can be used to engage your target audience. Videos for product demos, FAQ sheets, online forums for product discussions, social sharing of appliance “wins” from happy consumers are all ways that content puts a positive spin on customer engagement. 

Images courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Colleges and Universities are Earning High Marks Through Tailored Content

It’s not just large corporations that use social collaboration tools and content to connect different audiences. Institutions of higher learning are reaching out and communicating with their various stakeholders through different types of content as well.

Graduation Cap, Education, SchoolStudents, faculty, staff, alumni and donors … these all represent different audiences for whom content must be tailored. Those colleges that are using content to engage and create stronger community are going to the head of the class.

Content for educational institutions must sometimes be the same and just as often be quite different.
  1. Students want to read about what they’ll discover at the school or get information about courses, clubs and schedules; staff needs access to content regarding employee policies and procedures or financials.
  2. Prospective and current students may want to read the school’s blog on career advice, the advantages of various majors, or learn about successful graduates and their paths to success.
This content can be used to attract new, high-quality students, recruit strong faculty, encourage donations, or boost the school’s online visibility and brand reputation. It can be website content, an alumni newsletter, segmented emails, even social media posts. By inviting various constituencies to read and comment on content creates community and in the world of higher education (just as in the corporate world), engaged students are happy students.

For example, the Fashion Instituteof Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in California had needed to create content and platforms for its various groups to use. Students, staff members, alumni, student prospects all need access to different information and applications (not the enrollment kind).

The college needed solutions that would weave together the thousands of students, employees and others. Three portals are used (one for the public, one for students and alumni, and another for employees), the different programs are related to those specific audiences, but all users have a single point of access to get the content they need and enjoy online collaboration. You can read the full case study of how solutions from IBM helped various stakeholders access the online information and apps they need.

Content for different users: students, faculty and staff
There are many ways to create content geared to the different constituents in a college/university setting—and many reasons to do so. From developing and maintaining a donor base to recruiting new students, content can be a dynamic growth generator. And because the audiences are so diverse across ages in particular, the need to communicate across traditional and digital channels is important. Here are a few ways to bring content marketing into higher education and go to the head of the marketing class.

·        Blog posts, infographics and videos are excellent recruiting tools, combining the valuable information that prospective students and families need in an engaging, image-rich format. The more information (or education about the school) you can give users without being sales-y, the better.
·         Website content hubs by user – Microsites for various audiences, all accessed through the school’s public website, allow for community engagement for new students, prospective students, parents/families, alumni, and faculty. Everyone has access to the same general information but can read up on what’s most pertinent to them at any time.
·        Online tutorials and competency-based learning -- Self-paced learning, outside of the traditional lecture hall, gives students as much time as they need to grasp a challenging concept and is an excellent tool for students who need additional help with course material. They can watch the content as many times as they need, at their own pace to keep up with class work and achieve better grades. Remedial courses or massive open online courses (MOOC) can also be deployed by colleges to boost efficiency and serve more students. MOOCs, which arose out of distance education (a growing trend) use collaborative tools that help build a community for students, professors, and teaching assistants.
·        Online press releases help support an institution’s messaging about programs, the student body or faculty, and feed into website and newsletter content about the same or similar topics. Together, they can be a marketing powerhouse.
·         Alumni magazines help keep alumni connected to the school through their content. A 2010 survey from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) found that 58 percent of alumni feel that these publications strengthen their personal connections to universities.
  • Articles may be about interesting faculty or alumni, new research or curriculum initiatives, and showcase outstanding students or staff. These stories all engage alumni and can help keep endowments strong and develop the next generation of students there.
  • For younger students or alums who are accustomed to doing lots of reading online, digital editions make a lot of sense and save money over print versions.
·        Email – Offices of student life, alumni, student financial services and the bursar, the dean of students or department heads … the list of emailers and audiences is vast in a college or university setting. Email marketing requires content to engage each particular audience.
  • Another CASE study* (about the use of social media in higher education) found that many school administrators think of email as a legacy medium that is being replaced by texting and other short messaging tools; however, the white paper states that, “When asked to compare email to social media for its success in meeting unit goals, 46 percent of this year’s respondents confirmed that they considered email more effective than some social media channels, and an additional 31 percent rated it over all social media.” [Source: *Social Media Enters the Mainstream: Report on the Use of Social Media in Advancement, 2014 by Jennifer Mack and Michael Stoner

·         Social media – it’s here to stay and it’s growing in the higher education field. But even YouTube videos need well-written descriptions (content) to help boost each video’s online presence and social media communications (Facebook posts, tweets) can be part of an overall content marketing strategy. Between 70 and 87 percent of institutions in the study were using it in their annual giving programs (generating interest in an initiative, thanking donors, keeping donors in the loop); and 47 percent overall (public and private institutions) were using social media in their fundraising efforts.

Content enables educational institutions to connect with its diverse audiences in so many ways. Implementing collaboration tools that help foster even stronger connections pave the way for a more engaged student body, provide opportunities for distant (and different) learning, and provide avenues for alumni and donors to maintain long-standing connections to their alma maters.