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“Today, knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement.” – Peter Drucker

More than ever, public relations professionals are working to quantify PR’s value for their clients. This can be difficult for a number of public relations tactics, but social media is notoriously hard to pin down in terms of ROI. Executives and business owners have been told their business needs to be on social media, but without the hard numbers to back the “why,” many still aren’t on board with investing time and manpower into social. Social analytics tools exist that provide in-depth data for social channels, but these are often pricey, prohibiting smaller PR agencies and small businesses from using them.

Thankfully, there’s still hope for those who have tight budgets or are overwhelmed by the idea of tackling Google Analytics. Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest all provide free, built-in analytics that offer a wealth of information. For businesses on these platforms, these free tools can tell you what’s working, who your audience is, and help you build stronger content for social. The key is knowing which numbers are important.

We’ve created a new, downloadable white paper covering our perspective on free social analytics to help you better understand how to use these tools strategically. Meaningful Measurement: The Social Media Data You’re Underutilizing— and How to Put it to Work for Free includes guides through Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest’s free analytics. Key stats on each channel are highlighted, are well as which numbers aren’t important.

 A few highlights:

  • Discover why page “likes” on Facebook don’t really matter
  • Learn how to understand the impressions stats on Twitter
  • Explore your Pinterest audience demographics in-depth

 

Download the full POV here, and start turning your social media stats into knowledge: http://awordsmithcomm.com/about-us/thought-leadership/

Designing for Gender Equity

On Saturday, the Women’s March on Washington took over not only the streets of DC, but cities all over the world. Participants had innumerable reasons for joining, but women’s rights and equality were clearly at the event’s core. No matter what your thoughts are about the march itself, it did bring attention to a range of women’s issues, one being the wage gap that persists for women in the workforce.

Half, but not equal

Despite great progress for women in recent history, equal opportunity and pay for women in the workplace is still lacking, across all industries. Though women make up nearly half of the American workforce, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “In 2015, female full-time workers made only 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 20 percent. Women, on average, earn less than men in virtually every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio. In middle-skill occupations, workers in jobs mainly done by women earn only 66 percent of workers in jobs mainly done by men.” Obviously your HR department can tell you how your organization is doing on wage discrepancies, but are there other ways companies could be addressing “softer” systemic gender biases?

(And what does this have to do with design?)
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Games for Gender Equity

The AIGA Women Lead Initiative has put design to work in a Gender Equity Toolkit, “a great set of resources including videos and a downloadable DIY activity set you can use to battle one of the leading causes of disparate access to leadership positions in the design field: implicit gender bias.” The kit is distributed to AIGA members with the design field in mind, but could certainly apply to other fields, as well. A series of games/exercises aims to help teams open dialogue, test assumptions, and hopefully begin to change subconscious biases.

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Turning the ship

Sure, a small designed kit isn’t going to end gender inequality in the workplace. But if it opens lines of communication, and helps teams thoughtfully consider how they incorporate all viewpoints, I’d say it’s a pretty cool effort. It also makes me wonder about what other design-driven tools will be useful for professional organizations in creating dialogue around perceptions, personal experience, and stereotypes. Obviously, respect for employee privacy is paramount, but teams also have to acknowledge how personal history and experience shape how individuals approach team dynamics and equity.

Authenticity and PR

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You’ll often hear that public relations is an industry built on relationships. This is true, but there is an added element that goes hand-in-hand with relationships—authenticity.

In an age of curated social media posts (#blessed) and glossy corporate stories sans reference to long hours and employee burnout, consumers are left feeling dubious and duped. Instead of connecting to the brand or business, they are left wondering if what they’re observing is real—and oftentimes it’s not.

People want passion, struggle and relatable content. Storytelling in communications provides the perfect example for the importance of authentic communication. A story is one of the most common ways humans connect, hence its popularity among PR pros. The elements of a story are important: the hero, their obstacle and their solution are essential to drawing the reader in. However, who tells the story and how they tell it can have a big impact on the authenticity.

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Who’s telling the story?

The storyteller is often the one responsible for how the story is perceived. If there is misalignment between the storyteller’s voice or personality and the story they’re sharing, it’s glaringly obvious to listeners.

One example of this in PR is influencer marketing. Edelman’s 2017 Digital Trends report focused on the trend of influencer marketing. Influencers and those who are highly visible on social platforms often have a distinct voice and personalized connection with their followers which makes them optimal story-sharers. However, scripted and impersonal language can derail an influencer’s ability to connect with their followers.  Consumers are smart enough to recognize what is forced and what is real.

How are they telling it?

An element that is often passed over in storytelling is the “struggle” aspect that resides between the problem and the solution. This is what’s real and real is what matters! Don’t leave out the hard stuff because of concern that it doesn’t position the brand in a positive light.

This quote from a MarketingLand article sums it up perfectly, “The world is hungry for more truth, realness and transparency. Social media platforms are enabling our consumers to express their authentic selves — and they expect the same from the brands they choose.”

Next time you are crafting a story, consider who is telling it and how they’re doing so. It’s these (sometimes) intangible things that make the difference between authenticity and inauthentic content.

 

 

Let it go: don’t worry about control on social media

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Brands put a lot of work into fine tuning their voice, and can understandably be protective of their image. Companies want their audience to talk about them a certain way, and marketing, advertising, and public relations all work together in the hopes of achieving positive buzz and brand loyalty. However, brands often have trouble getting their social media platforms to “play nice” and stay in control. The conversation on social media is tough to control, but brands should embrace this fact rather than fear it.

Social media channels don’t function the same way an advertising piece does, where the content is tightly controlled and distributed. You can put in hours of work into a piece of content, just to have it turn into an unflattering, viral meme. Social media moves quickly, and brands can struggle to keep up. However, companies shouldn’t bail on social media entirely or resort to a corporate, sterile voice on these platforms. Instead, brands should jump into the deep end with both feet and utilize social media platforms for what they are – customer experience tools, not a brand megaphone.

Plan, and then let it go

Social media still requires planning and knowing your brand voice inside and out before starting to post. Companies should make sure their brand voice and image is unified across all the channels they’ll be using, and have a set of guidelines in place for tone and style for whoever will be posting on their behalf. Know what your brand would say and would never dream of saying before beginning. Make sure posts are edited before going live.

Once the content is out there, it’s in the hands of your audience. Brands must be ready to “let it go” to a certain extent after this point, as the engagement that happens may not be what you expect. Whatever the response is, take it and run with it rather than try to change it. It’s bad practice to delete negative comments; instead, use them as a customer service opportunity (or a humor opportunity, if it’s right for your brand and the complaint being made). Engage with the positive responses too, and shine a spotlight on the users responding. In some cases, you can even take advantage of user generated content in response to what you post. It might not be the quality or style your marketing department would have chosen, but it makes an authentic connection with your audience, something an ad rarely does.

Choose transparency over control

The days of “no comment” in response to a crisis are long gone thanks to social media. Social media users have no tolerance for slow responses, no response, or robotic corporate responses. When a brand crisis arises, it will be talked about on social media. No matter how appealing it can be to state “no response” or stay quiet until you’ve had ample time to come up with a polished statement, this is rarely the right choice.

While having a few days to think and present a response spears to give a company the chance to get a handle on the situation, they’re losing valuable time with an audience that is already discussing it. Transparency is far more important than an illusion of control on social media. Sometimes it’s even fine for a company to say “we’re aware, and we’re taking some time to collect our thoughts” rather than avoid posting for a few days and then attempt to look like they were always in control. Honesty with your audience (and even admitting you were blindsided) can go a long way with social media users.

Social media is a PR tool, not a marketing one

Marketing and public relations departments must work together to achieve success for the brand, and social media is no different. However, given the inherent lack of control with social media, PR professionals are better positioned to drive these efforts. Public relations is a two-way conversation, as is social media. Marketing is a brand megaphone; great in certain circumstances, but not really a fit for social media. Social media users have an extremely low tolerance for ads, and have high expectations for authentic communication from the brands they follow.

Public relations should work with marketing to ensure that the brand voice on social media is up to par, but marketing should be comfortable with PR leading social and communicating with their audience without several rounds of content approval. Conversations on social happen at the speed of light, and the key to success on these channels is listening and jumping in quickly. When a brand remembers that social is more about their audience than their company, they’ll be able to stay on top of conversations while getting comfortable with letting go of control. The rewards of social media can be numerous when brands let go – for both companies and their audience.

3 Ways to Make the Most of December

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2016 has been nothing if not eventful. Whether you felt this year dragged on forever or thought it went by in the blink of an eye, the end is quickly approaching.

When I was younger, my dad jokingly referred to tendencies to hibernate and indulge in holiday sweets as “cookie foot”. While December is a month full of festivities and bustle, it’s also easy to lose momentum and find yourself doing the bare minimum instead of transitioning to the New Year full steam ahead. Here are 3 ways to make the most of December for your clients and yourself.

1. Reflect

In the fast paced environment of PR it can be easy to quickly move on to the next task, the next project or the newest client. Take a moment (or several) to reflect on the last 11 months. 2016 has been a bit of a whirlwind in terms of current events. What were your key successes for clients this year? Did you have any major failures? Both of these questions are important for growth and goal-setting for the upcoming year. Which brings me to my next point….

2. Plan

With many projects wrapping up before the end of the year, December can feel like a waiting period. Take advantage of this time by getting a jumpstart on your 2017 planning. End of the year planning falls into two categories: planning for clients and personal professional planning.

Take the time to meet with clients and ask about their goals for the upcoming year. Suggest new projects or initiatives you’ve been holding back on for whatever reason.

In terms of personal professional growth, December is a great time to set new goals for yourself for the upcoming year. Set aside some time to evaluate where your strengths and weaknesses stood out during the following year.

You’ll thank yourself in January for taking the time to plan now.

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3. Give back and Celebrate

Giving back is a surefire way to beat any holiday sluggishness. Give to your clients, to your co-workers, and to anyone else who needs it. Let your co-workers know you appreciated their help on a project or admired their poise in a difficult situation.  Don’t let good work go unrecognized.

I hope these ideas will help you avoid cookie foot, make the most of December and head into 2017 feeling energized and motivated.

#ThisHappened – 2016 in Twitter & YouTube

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Major social media platforms are truly a global community. If the Twitter Year in Review and YouTube’s 2016 Rewind video are any indication, this community connects on big issues like social change, elections, and human rights – but also undeniably fun carpool karaoke videos. 2016 has also shown just how powerful brands can be on social media, and that there’s right and wrong ways to create or jump on digital trends.

Twitter’s top hashtag this year was #Rio2016. Even in digital form, humans enjoy coming together for a common cause, and the friendly, global competition is always a time for us to consider how much we have in common with our neighbors around the world. #BlackLivesMatter was also among the top ten hashtags this year, along with #Election2016 and #Brexit. While all of these hashtags certainly had positive and negative tweets, their popularity shows that Twitter isn’t just a time-waster. The third most re-tweeted post this year came from Hilary Clinton’s account during her election concession speech. Social media channels continue to be a place where important discussions happen, and information on major events is distributed.

The top hashtags highlight other topics social users like to connect on, including a big focus on entertainment. Number ten was #GameofThrones, where multitudes of the show’s avid fans theorized and commiserated together (often accompanied with #HoldtheDoor and a crying emoji). #RIP was a trending hashtag several times this year as the world mourned the loss of several beloved celebrities including Prince, David Bowie, and Muhammad Ali. The #Oscars was a popular event on social, and an example of brands falling over themselves to jump on a trending hashtag to boost impressions without putting enough thought into their content. Total Beauty, a fashion site, was one of the worst offenders when they misidentified Whoopi Goldberg as Oprah in a tweet during the red carpet pre-show.

Despite slip ups, brands in 2016 saw the value of reaching out to the social media community and connecting with them where they “live.” Brands are the most dominant “community” on YouTube according to The Verge, and produced most of the platform’s top videos this year. Some of the most viewed videos mirror the Twitter trends – there’s Donald Trump’s interview on John Oliver tonight and a pre-Olympics video by Nike featuring some of soccer’s biggest stars. But the entertainment category wins out on YouTube, with Adele’s carpool karaoke version of “Hello” racking up an amazing 135 million views. The YouTube Rewind video references many of the similarly goofy viral videos that were popular this year.

So, what can brands learn from this? First and foremost, companies need to be very careful about using trending hashtags. Plenty of brands could have a good tie in to #Rio2016, but few if any would have an even remotely appropriate reason to use the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag. Social media is often a place for silliness, but serious conversations are happening on these platforms that most brands should shy away from.

Second, “virality” isn’t a strategy. Some of this year’s trends make sense, and some don’t. There’s not one type of content that rules on YouTube. Although none of his videos were the top ten most viewed, PewDiePie was the highest paid YouTuber this year, bringing in $15 million from his video gameplay channel. His content wasn’t always the most viral, but it brings in money. Brands shooting to be a viral sensation will likely be disappointed.

Lastly, social media users love cat videos, but they also highly value authenticity. We’re facing what might be called a “post-truth” world, and the digital community wants to be engaged with in an authentic, personalized manner more than ever. Every trend isn’t right for every brand, but there are ways companies can join the conversations in a realistic an appropriate manner. It takes a bit of research and understanding that social media is a powerful tool, but the rewards can be much longer lasting than those from a one-time viral video.

How Can PR Combat Fake News?

HOW CAN PR COMBAT FAKE NEWS?

On Sunday, December 4, a man carrying an assault rifle walked into a family-friendly pizza shop in Washington D.C. and fired. He was there to “self-investigate” a disgraceful conspiracy theory that accused Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager, John Podesta, of running a child sex slave operation out of the pizzeria. Instigated by a false news article, the story had spread via social media several weeks before. The restaurant’s owner, its employees, and even their children had already been subjected to death threats and online harassment in recent weeks.

A media and culture crisis

This terrifying incident is only the latest crisis fueled by fake news sites and online rumor mills. The untrue, vile abuse story and the social media users who perpetuated it are a tiny piece of a much larger problem plaguing our media and our culture. With the proliferation of fake news sites during the 2016 presidential election, politicians and pundits are despairing at the possibility of a “post-factual world,” – and wondering what role legitimate media outlets can play in combating it.

HOW CAN PR COMBAT FAKE NEWS?

How PR can combat fake news?

The implications for PR are vast. In addition to the stupefied media, this issue has created a whole new kind of brand disaster – one beyond the experience of even seasoned crisis managers. How can we protect a neighborhood pizza shop whose online reviews include such slander as “They rape children” and “Shady cover up going on here. INVESTIGATE. INVESTIGATE. INVESTIGATE. shut em down ppl!”?

So how can PR combat fake news? Here are a few takeaways that businesses and their PR teams should keep in mind.

  1. Trust in the media is at a record low, and it is getting lower. Ensure that you and your clients are represented honestly and transparently in traditional outlets. Be prepared to argue your case in other ways, like social media and community advocates.
  2. Be vigilant in monitoring your social media and online presence. When a false story is written, time is of the essence. Contact legitimate media outlets, and ensure that customers know that the story is false. In addition, alert news aggregators and curators like Google and Facebook, who are under increasing pressure to stop false news.
  3. Take extra care to work only with legitimate news sources. Efforts to benefit from false news sites will certainly come around to bite you in the rear end.
  4. Avoid picking fights with trolls and online commenters.
  5. Don’t participate in the sharing or spreading of false news, in business or your personal life. It reflects poorly on you and your brand and perpetuates a major social ill.

 

This contagion will continue to assault our culture, our politics, and our public safety. Do your part in stopping the spread of these lies, and take precautionary measures to protect your interests. You never know who will be the next victim.

 

A version of this article was published on Spin Sucks.

Incredible Corporate Holiday Cards

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for beautiful, festive holiday cards. A team photo or holiday graphic gets the job done, but how do you make a corporate holiday card really stand out? Here are a few examples of amazingly creative holiday cards. Unique approaches and high-quality production make for quite impressive pieces:

Let your logo shine

Does your logo lend itself to creative holiday interpretation? How they figured out how to put this together, I have no idea. But it’s perfection:

Make it useful

Making a beautiful holiday card useful to boot means it will not be tossed in the recycling bin. This DIY christmas tree converts to a handy holiday business card holder:

Play peekaboo

Interactivity is always fun—this card takes inspiration from an advent calendar, using tabs that create a tree shape and reveal cute holiday icons and messages:

Decorate their office…with your brand

Put them to work on something crafty—this beautiful letterpress card incorporates cutouts that piece together into a lovely ornament:

Dazzle them

Special effects! This lenticular card celebrates the transition into the new year, with a clean, clever typographical solution:

Show your appreciation

Show your clients how much you appreciate them. I love this “resolution” that doubles as a “thank you for being awesome” message: “We are resolving to work with more great clients. Thank you for being a great client!” It’s eye-catching, printed in beautiful gold foil, and concise.

While most of these would require substantial budgets, it’s fun to dream big. What’s the most memorable holiday card you’ve received? Wishing you Happy Holidays, and a Creative New Year!

What Public Relations Professionals Can Be Thankful For This Year

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For Americans, November is often considered a month of thankfulness. We’re thankful we get a day or two off work for Thanksgiving, we’re thankful to see family and friends, and we’re thankful to have the opportunity to over-indulge on comfort food while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s a time to reflect on the past year and remember what we have to be grateful for while we look ahead to the new year.

For me, this extends to my career in public relations. The last year has provided a lot for PR pros to be thankful for amidst a sea of changes that will mean big things for the field in 2017. Here’s the three things I’m thankful for this year as public relations professional.

The Shift to “Micro”

Not too long ago, social media programs were seen as successful when you’d amassed thousands or millions of followers on each channel. It was a way to prove reach, and thus usefulness. This made it hard for smaller businesses to justify social media programs. Now, we’ve come to learn that having a ton followers doesn’t mean, well, much of anything. Especially with Facebook’s ever changing algorithm, followers don’t always translate to reach. The name of the game is now engagement.

Garnering authentic engagement from the followers you do have is proving to be much more worthwhile. “Micro” influencers in your industry, who may not have one million followers on Instagram, are a useful tool in reaching your target audience and creating engagement. As a public relations pro, this opens the door to creativity. When we’re not focused on creating messages for the masses and instead considering the individual, we can craft compelling, personal experiences that leave a lasting impression.

Work Life Balance

The “Mad Men” era of public relations and advertising is finally beginning to fall away. PR, marketing, and advertising used to be known as fields that dominated your lifestyle and required insane hours. Thankfully, this attitude is changing, and work-life balance is becoming an integral part of agency culture.

With the new Department of Labor overtime rules going into place December 1st, PR agencies that relied on a “churn and burn” culture among junior level staff will need to change course by either raising their pay, or paying overtime for those all-day-Saturday work days. PR still isn’t necessarily a 9 to 5 job (crises don’t happen on a schedule), but flexibility is now desired.  Quite a few agencies, especially those led by women, have already begun fostering a culture that encourages time away from the office and productivity over 80-hour work weeks. I’m thankful to work at A.wordsmith, where we prioritize hard work, but also time for our families and ourselves.

Snapchat Spectacles

Virtual reality in daily life might be commonplace in the next few decades, but we’re not there quite yet. However, 2016 made major strides toward this future, my favorite of which has been Snapchat’s launch of Spectacles.

Spectacles have been referred to as a cooler version of Google Glass, even if they’re not quite as extensive. The sunglasses come in colors and a shape that are right on fashion trends, and let wearers Snap “from their eyes” instead of their phones. When saved to the Memories feature on Snapchat, users can relive events in their life as they saw them before, rather than through a picture or video. There’s some privacy concerns with Spectacles, and they probably won’t do away with selfie culture, but the sunglasses could mean exciting things for how brands use social media and how important video will be in public relations plans. I’m thankful to be in an industry that will only become more important as we head into the future of digital.

I’ll be even more thankful if the Spectacles Bot vending machine decides to make an appearance in Portland so I can snag a pair.

What Public Relations is Teaching Me

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Six months ago I confidentially strode across a stage and collected my diploma. While I now possess a piece of paper that claims I’ve learned, I definitely didn’t stop learning after graduating. After several months working for a public relations agency, here’s what PR is teaching me.

Relationships are Key

Public relations is an industry focused on relationships. These can take many forms, whether between PR professionals and businesses or with members of the media. In order to be successful at PR you have to constantly be putting yourself in other’s shoes and looking at concepts from a wide range of perspectives.

Make Use of Resources + Ask Questions

Resourcefulness is valuable, especially when it comes to problem solving and research. The internet doesn’t have every answer, but it has quite a few. PR is teaching me that using the information I have at my fingertips is crucial.

Using resources also encourages continued learning. Organizations like the PRSA are a great tool. At A.wordsmith we listen to one of their webinars per month. The PRSA webinars cover everything from Snapchat to crafting effective pitches.

As mentioned, resources are plentiful and useful, but they have their limits. I’ve learned the importance of asking questions. Use others’ experience and knowledge as a resource. Gathering as much information up front as possible saves time and energy down the road.

Read, read, read and READ

Most people will tell you that writing is a central skill in PR, and this is true. However, I’ve learned reading is essential as well.  Reading public relations news sites like Ragan’ PR Daily, or PR Week or Bulldog Reporter has helped me learn about the industry, current events and trends.

Public relations is about telling stories. One of the best ways to become a better storyteller is to read well-told stories. Whether its news articles, industry specific blogs or thought leadership interviews—reading quality writing helps you produce quality content.

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Learn by Doing

Finally, PR has taught me that one of the best ways to learn is by doing. Looking over the past few months in a professional position, the points where I felt like I learned the most where when I was assigned a task I had never tried before. Don’t be afraid to say “yes” to attempting things that stretch you. If you succeed, it’ll be an added boost of confidence. If you don’t get it right the first time, ask for feedback and adjust.  In trying new things you may surprise yourself and find you have a knack for something new.