Strategic communications

Customer Service on Snapchat

snapchat customer service

In its short history, Snapchat has grown from a novelty app to a social media platform in which brands are eager to pioneer new styles of social media campaigns. From branded lens and geofilters, to influencer “story takeovers” and specialized in-app ads, there’s a multitude of ways for brands to utilize Snapchat. Users on Snapchat tend to be digital natives, younger and turned off by traditional advertising. They expect personal connections from the brands they love and buy from. Snapchat is a natural platform for these connections, and some brands are taking it to the next level by using the app as a customer service tool.

Brands have already discovered that Twitter makes a great customer service tool and allows for quick responses – but it doesn’t allow for voice or face-to-face conversations. Early adopters of Snapchat are discovering that the platform offers the direct connection of Twitter, with the added benefit of video to help solve customer issues, and puts a friendly face on customer service. Here are three ways brands are elevating customer experience through Snapchat.

customer service

Troubleshoot customer service problems with video

For certain consumer and B2B brands, troubleshooting product issues can be difficult over the phone. But busy consumers often don’t have time to come back into the shop, ship the product back, or make an appointment to have their defective product looked at. Forward-thinking companies like iOgrapher are experimenting with applying Snapchat’s convenient video messaging to their troubleshooting process. Customers with concerns can make a short Snapchat video describing the problem and send it directly to the business’ account. This is convenient for both customer and business: The consumer gets a quick, easy way to send in a “support ticket,” and the business gets a physical look at what the problem is, rather than trying to decipher the issue over email or phone. While this might be difficult for one customer service rep to manage for large corporations (and the multitude of customer issues they respond to daily), small to mid-size startups and businesses can use the platform as a free tool to connect to consumers where they are and respond in a more personal way.

Phone calls without a call center

Occasionally, customers don’t need (or want) to use a video to discuss the challenges they’re having with a product – a phone call can suffice. But some call center systems can be frustrating to deal with, and no one enjoys listening to hold music for 20-30 minutes while they wait to speak to an actual human. Using Snapchat’s phone call feature, brands can connect with customers on an app they’re already spending time on. Brands need to connect with their audiences where they “live” – and that probably isn’t on an automated phone system.

Tutorials and guides

Particularly with beauty, food and health products, consumers love to see real people using and explaining products before they make a purchase. Whether it’s showcasing the variety of ways to use a hairstyling product or sharing a recipe using a new food item, brands can build goodwill by helping their customers learn how to use what they sell more efficiently. Snapchat is a perfect platform for tutorial videos. Brands can use their own staff or partner with popular influencers and offer tutorial videos for their followers. When advertised beforehand on other social platforms, brands can ensure an audience for their Snapchat story (which will only stay live for 24 hours).

 

Though still in its early stages (and facing strong competition from Instagram’s Stories), Snapchat is still growing in popularity, especially among the younger age set. Brands who jump in now will be ahead of many companies, and will be able to experiment and pave the way in this new field of customer service. Customers will continue to demand personal, authentic connections, and brands that adapt to these needs will only benefit.

Dark Social: Digital Word of Mouth

Cellars

“Dark social” isn’t as malicious as it sounds. The term was coined by Alexis Madrigal in an article for The Atlantic in 2012 to describe the sharing of information in emails and instant messengers – sharing that existed long before social media platforms were popular. Social media ROI is getting easier to measure, but dark social is more difficult. And it accounts for a huge portion of the referrals your website is probably getting.

When looking through your Google Analytics, you probably notice a large chunk of the referrals are listed in the “direct traffic” category. These hits can come from a variety of behind-the-scenes sources; a link shared through text, email, native mobile apps (like Facebook’s), messengers, Slack messages, Snapchat, and someone using a secure HTTPS browser all fall in this bucket. It’s word of mouth on the internet, but not the kind you can track easily through Facebook Insights.

The Struggle for Social Media Strategists

While it’s great to have so many avenues for your content to be shared, dark social adds to the struggle for social media teams in proving the value of what they do. If you can’t specifically show that these direct traffic hits are from people copying and sharing a link you put on Facebook, it’s tough to show true ROI. Social media marketers are under a lot of pressure to show concrete metrics, which is sometimes next to impossible. There’s no real way to say “yes, all of these direct traffic hits were from text messages sent in this market.”

texting

Dark social can also make optimizing content tough. Without knowing how the content is being shared specifically, marketers can’t design it for those platforms. These shares are likely hitting demographics that may not be on other social channels, like the 55 and older age group. When you can’t pin down the audience and the channel, it’s difficult to be strategic.

Shining the Light on Dark Social

So, what can PR pros and marketers do about dark social? Here’s a few things to focus on to get a better handle on this type of sharing:

  • Use Google Analytics’ customer URL builder. This can help with proving that your social sharing is driving dark social communication, and which posts are bringing in the most referrals. No matter where the link is clicked from, you’ll be able to see that it was that specific link you created for your latest Facebook post that brought visitors to the website.

 

google analytics

  • Invest in a tool made for dark social tracking, like st by Radium One.
  • Make shareable content a priority. Even when it’s hard to track, dark social is still sharing of your content. Make sure your social posts are shareable – find the emotional connection, keep text short, and include visuals whenever possible. You might not be able to optimize it for a Snapchat message, but you can still focus on creating content that resonates with your audience, no matter where they are.

Is Jargon Bad?

Is jargon bad?

Forward-facing innovators can optimize deliverables by leveraging a holistic view of language.

Last weekend I used the word “optimize” while out with friends. My husband nudged me. “You’re using your business jargon in real life again,” he whispered. My work is a nonstop cycle of blogs, articles, brochures, press releases, POVs, web copy and white papers, many of them for clients in technology or management services. It’s no wonder these words are creeping into my daily conversations more and more. But is jargon bad?

Like most people in buzzword-laden professions, I have strong opinions on the specifics. Still, I’m careful not to write off jargon simply because it’s popular. Content that is all jargon is garbage, but so is content that is all metaphors, or exclamation points, or flowery language. Just as metaphors, exclamation points and verbal curlicues have their time and place, so does jargon. Some terms – including “evergreen” and “disrupt” – are actually delightfully tactile. I don’t like “game-changing” or “siloed,” though I’ll admit to using them. On the other hand, “synergy” and “actualize” make me want to pour hot tea over my keyboard and then bang on it with the mug.

It may be annoying, but is jargon bad? As a writer, it’s my responsibility to communicate messages well. Compelling content requires creativity; clarity is even more important. But writing doesn’t simply relay information: Writing relays specific information meant to leave a specific impression on a specific audience. My work must be unique but still aligned with the client’s voice and industry. Because most of the content and thought leadership projects we produce at A.wordsmith will be consumed by our clients’ peers and customers, they must fit the style that those audiences expect. Sometimes, that style is business-ese.

The business-ese code

The process is similar to code-switching. I don’t speak to my boss the same way I speak to my husband. I use a higher pitch when interacting with a three-year-old, and it’s different than the small talk I make with my Uber driver. I say “ya’ll” when checking in with old friends from Atlanta, throw in Yiddish phrases when chatting with family in New Jersey and dampen my energy with colleagues here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s not limited to verbal communication, either: Watch how President Obama greets a member of the coaching staff for the US Olympic basketball team and then, without missing a beat, changes his body language to address a player.

Is jargon bad?

Barack Obama code-switches like a pro

The change doesn’t indicate insincerity: Neither of these is “the real Obama.” We communicate differently according to our environment and interlocutors. It’s a practice called code-switching, and it’s a natural feature of language that we unconsciously use to indicate relationships, power and culture.

Business jargon is a kind of code that represents the culture of professional interactions. It uses sleek, trendy, smart language because consultants and tech companies acquire business and impress peers by coming off as sleek, trendy and smart. Using the appropriate verbiage establishes credibility by demonstrating that the speaker (or writer) knows what they’re doing and respects the norms of the environment.

Jargon on purpose

We need to get over the idea that jargon for the sake of jargon is wrong. Jargon actually serves a very specific purpose. It’s a hallmark of poor writing, but it’s also a component of skilled and appropriate business communications. My husband sees optimize as a ridiculous word, and, three beers in on a Saturday night, it is. It would be equally ridiculous to write “try really hard to do our very best” in a formal POV targeting CIOs. The challenge is to distinguish between the two, and then infuse the vernacular with enough energy and charm to make it stand out while still fitting in. Every word has a place, even the cloying business jargon we love to hate.

Except for synergy – synergy is gibberish.

4 Considerations for Contributed Content

Contributed content blog

Cision named contributor marketing as one of the top trends for 2017.  Contributed content is an incredibly useful tool for PR pros—whether you’re looking to raise the profile of your client or your agency. Contributed marketing is creating content then pitching it to appropriate outlets.  The demand for content is rapidly increasing. The Atlantic reported that “The New York Times publishes about 230 pieces of content—stories, graphics, interactives, and blog posts—daily. This number has risen by more than 35 percent this decade.” An increasing number media outlets are turning to contributors for content on their sites. Below are some things to consider when contributing content and some potential beneficial outcomes.

1. Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle Content

Work smarter, not harder. Many companies have their own blog (like the one you’re currently reading) with quality content. Re-using this material is beneficial in two ways. First, it saves you time. If your company blog content is strong, there’s no need to spend the time and energy wracking your brain for new topics. Spending time updating and polishing a blog post is easier than starting from scratch. Secondly, refurbished blogs that are posted elsewhere often point back to the original blog site. This can draw readers back to the first site and result in increased visits.

2. Establish yourself as thought leader + target online outlets

What expertise can you or your clients share? Craft this know-how into blog or article form and offer it to specialized publications. Many outlets have online sites that churn out an incredible volume of content—and also receive considerable viewership on their site. Most will also post recently published articles on social media platforms—another way to reach a larger audience.  CIO outlines some characteristics that indicate strong potential for contributor marketing including:  industries with cycles of innovation, customer problems, specialized information or an established online presence.

collaboration contributed content

3. Collaborate

We say it over and over: PR and earned media is about relationships. Contributed content is a great way to develop them. Bloggers are always on the search for fresh content and ways to draw readers to their site. Guest blogging and collaborating with like-minded, knowledgeable people is mutually beneficial. If the contributed post is successful on their site it’s possible that an established relationship will develop.

4. Research

The only caveat with guest blogging is ensuring the site you’re partnering with is legitimate. No one wants to read an a post (regardless of content quality) on a spammy sight with multiple obnoxious pop-up ads. Take the time to research different outlets to target the best platform for your content. Think about the target audience of each platform and who you’re striving to reach with your content. Do the two match up?

Hopefully these suggestions can help you move forward with a successful contributed content marketing strategy in 2017.

Download our Social Analytics POV

free social analytics

“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/

What My Public Relations Degree Taught Me

What My Public Relations Degree Taught Me

“What My Public Relations Degree Taught Me” is part two of a mini-series on education and being a millennial in the world of PR, from some of our young professionals at A.wordsmith. Read part one here.

 

I veered towards PR after five years in the education and nonprofit world. The overlap between development and communications is significant, but I realized that specialized training would give me an advantage in the market and elevate my skillset. I pursued a Master’s in Management Communications with a Concentration in Marketing and Public Relations. This mouthful of a degree combined a wide mix of journalism, sociology, social media, marketing, research, and rhetorical methods courses into a surprisingly cohesive curriculum. While I certainly had a lot to learn post-graduation, I graduated with an excellent grasp of the core capabilities required in public relations. These are a few  of the things my public relations degree taught me that helped me get a head start in my PR career:

What makes great writing

The writing skills taught in kindergarten through college programs often focus on grammar and basic style guidelines. I believe that great writing requires this knowledge. I can easily bore even the most earnest listener with my zeal for the Oxford comma, my personal relationships with Strunk & White and Harbrace, and my embarrassing crush on The New Yorker’s diaereses.

However, advanced writing requires something richer. One of my courses focused almost exclusively on metaphors. Another guided me through sensory writing about music and food. Still others spent time on the logistics of understanding and cooperating with your audience. These exercises gave me the toolbox and the je ne sais quoi that makes great writing great, and the ability to tap them for the vast range of topics and markets that our PR clients belong to.

How to become an expert in anything

When I explain that much of my work involves writing and working on articles with media outlets, the next question is always, “About what?”

“Whatever the client needs.”

On any given day, I may be producing content about anything from the FDA approval process for prescription drugs to the hidden gems of southern Oregon wine country. The tasks can rarely be boiled down to simple copywriting or editing – most of the time I am researching, developing, and presenting complex subjects. I spend hours poring over articles and blogs, perusing competitor thought leadership, and interviewing subject matter experts. Fortunately, rigorous research requirements in school left me quite adept at zigzagging through academic databases and lay publications. My marketing coursework primed me in strategic competitor research. I owe my interview skills to a fastidious journalism adjunct and a supportive qualitative research methods professor. These skills let me become an overnight expert in just about anything – and I couldn’t produce quality work without them.

What My Public Relations Degree Taught Me

Why we tell stories

We tell stories because they work. Stories are at the root of communication. They’re more engaging and can reach a wide audience. In every course I took – from Social Media and Culture to Applied Marketing Strategies – the importance of storytelling was pounded into our minds. Journalists and editors can sniff right through a pitch about a nonstory. The case studies A.wordsmith writes tell a company’s success story with a certain goal in mind, and even web copy has greater impact if it illustrates the point. PR shares messages, and the best messages are usually couched in stories.

Look for part 3 of this series next week!

The Misconceptions of Public Relations

You may not realize it, but you are exposed to the fruits of public relations every day, in every medium. From social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to traditional media like television, newspaper and radio, many of the pieces you enjoy are the direct result of a public relations professional doing her job. There are many misconceptions of public relations that the public takes as fact, but to be successful in PR, it’s important to separate the myths from the facts. Here are some of the top misconceptions that should be dissected.

It’s quick and easy.

Getting results overnight would not only be a great win, it would probably be incredibly cost effective. But, that reality is rarely the case. Often times organizations expect instant results – something similar to the “Oprah effect”. It’s important to set expectations with your team, and yourself, that slow and steady is the way to go to achieve quality results that will last.

PR and advertising are the same thing.

Public relations and advertising are under the same marketing umbrella, but are two very different tactics. Think of it this way – advertising is a first party approach to a conversation. The words that are shared come directly from the organization, therefore leaving customers often questioning motives. Public relations, on the other hand, comes from a third party voice. Knowing that a story was crafted from a neutral source provides it a credibility that money just can’t buy.

Any press is good press.

There’s an old saying, “I don’t care what you say about me, as long as you say someft18i6u09othing about me, and as long as you spell my name right.” Hollywood icon George Cohan may have been seeing stars in his eyes when he said that, but it’s very clear he didn’t live in the paparazzi-crazed era. The idea being that any ink is good ink can be a losing strategy when the negative outweighs the benefit.

PR pros are spin-doctors.

The misconception that PR professionals are spin doctors is a tale as old as time. The idea that our beloved profession is all about trickery and deception, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our profession is about building relationships and telling effective stories. Much like the media, if we lose the public’s trust in our storytelling, then we lose all footing.

It’s all luck.

Those who are not in the industry may not understand the mass amount of work and effort behind each media pitch. From researching the outlets, finding the right media contact, drafting the pitch and engaging with the reporter, the work we do is far from just luck. The reality is that we strategize each element carefully so that everything that happens is not luck of the draw. If you know what you’re doing, securing results is made easier.

It’s a 9-to-5 job.

A PR professional’s job is never complete. Even when you’re home in the evenings, your brain is never completely turned off. Scanning social media or seeing a news report – your mind is always engaged dreaming up a new strategy.

How to Communicate a Business Name Change

There are a number of reasons organizations change their names, from mergers or company splits (Anderson Consulting to Accenture in 2001) to wanting to better align their names with an evolving service or product line (Apples Computer to Apple in 2007) or even distance themselves from a product in the portfolio (Phillip Morris to Altria Group in 2003).

It can be an expensive and time-consuming process – Inc. Magazine estimates that the cost of a business name change, which often requires rebranding too, can range anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million, depending on the size of the business. There are also a number of regulatory steps required, from notifying the IRS to updating contracts.

The key to the success of a name change, however, hinges on how well you communicate that change to employees, customers and partners.  Creating a communications plan that includes six key steps will help your organization’s name change go off without a hitch.

  1. Begin with your employees. Your teams are the face of the organization to customers and partners alike, and it is of critical importance that they understand why the name is changing and be able to explain it, succinctly. Hold staff meetings and offer Q&A sessions to help your teams understand why the change is important – and do this well in advance of launching the new company name. Provide talking points for employees at all levels, and make sure that any policies about speaking to the media are understood throughout the organization.rename
  2. Inventory your marketing materials. From your website to business contracts and company letterhead, minimize confusion or inconvenience for your customers. Don’t forget about social media profiles and email signature lines. Any collateral in use needs to be reexamined and rebranded.
  3. Announce the name change publicly, with a multichannel approach. If you are notifying customers by email, follow up with a letter mailed to their place of business. Reach out to relevant media with a press release and consider placing an ad in key publications, if the name change is a significant one. Use your website to host the press release, FAQs, a video and a letter from the CEO. Explain the rationale behind the name change, but in less detail than you did with employees.
  4. Announce it again, in another way. There’s no such thing as overcommunication when announcing a business name change.
  5. Flip the switch. Pick a day for your switchover and ensure that your customers, partners and suppliers see your new name, not the old one, on all marketing materials. Many organizations have a transition period in which materials have a message along the lines of “new name, same excellent service,” or a temporary logo that incorporates the old and the new, but all materials and communications should switch over to the new name at the same time.
  6. Go big. Don’t miss an opportunity to connect with customers and get out in front of new ones. Consider hosting an event to celebrate the launch, such as a happy hour or meet and greet. Or perhaps offer a promotion or discount aligned with the announcement. Don’t forget to reach out to industry and local media to not only announce the name change but also invite them to any events or offer any promotions.

 

Branding is more important today than ever before, and your company’s name is the public face of your brand. Changing it requires a thoughtful approach that ensures your investment pays dividends.

Top 4 Takeaways from Art + Science of Storytelling across Platforms

Book

I recently had the opportunity to attend a PRSA webinar presented by Geoff Livingston and Andrew Gilman called the Art and Science of Storytelling across Platforms. Given that a huge portion of a PR professional’s job is crafting stories for their clients, this topic was relevant and applicable. Here are my top takeaways from the webinar:

Emotion and fact are the building blocks for your story

“No facts without stories and no stories without facts” – this was one of the first messages the presenter pressed. This is a useful framework through which to filter story concepts. When building a story for a client, start with a headline. Ensure the headline is factual and straightforward—but also unique and with emotional interest. Gilman used an example of UPS and their “no left turns” story.  Their headline UPS values sustainability, is factual, but generic and did not differentiate UPS from their competitors. However, adding the interest element, UPS values sustainability—never takes left turns provides a differentiating factor and unique appeal.

Gilman also recommends crafting a story that can be localized to smaller markets. For instance in the UPS example, a PR professional could pitch to their local outlet and encourage them to follow UPS drivers and see the story for themselves.

Consider a communication wheel

Once the story has been built for the client, it’s time to consider your platform options. Gilman presented the option of creating a strategic communications wheel for your client. The wheel has the client at the center with all the forms of communicating their message as the spokes. Laying out all of the possibilities in a visual can show the breadth of opportunities available.

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Pick your media venue

The primary media venue will determine your primary platform. Livingston recommends that the primary outlet reach the broadest audience possible. The type of content may determine your primary venue—e.g. if there’s video content you may use YouTube or Vimeo. Once you have your primary platform selected it’s crucial to have all secondary and tertiary outlets connect to it. Secondary outlets should appeal to a more specialized audience—they may provide more details or insider information that would attract a more enthusiastic group. Which secondary outlet platforms are best depends on the story, but they tend to be social media outlets and blogs.

Repeat your message—not your story

Do not copy and paste your message onto all your platforms. No one wants to read the same word-for-word content on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook—the content should be tweaked for each. Consider the key elements of your story, then consider the platform and audience. How can it be reshaped to fit a new platform? In-depth, lengthier content? Visual imagery? Interactive elements? Use these questions to make changes to the story as you spread your message across different media.

How to Weather the Storm: Ryan Lochte-Edition

media storm

Crisis communication is a critical skillset for any PR professional. Having the knowledge to protect and defend an organization or individual who is facing a public-facing challenge can often mean the difference between life or death of a public image. Take the recent scandal between Ryan Lochte vs. the city of Rio at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. As you may remember, Lochte falsified information regarding an altercation between him, his teammates and a gas station security officer. Both sides screamed he said/she said, but in the end, Lochte was the one with egg on his face.

Had it not been for the camera footage revealing Lochte’s antics of busting an advertisement sign, peeing on the side of a building and bickering with a security office, this story could have easily come out different. But thank goodness for modern technology in this third world country. Days following the incident, the truth behind the lies started to come out, and Lochte was up against the wall without the proper PR training.

Ryan Lochte, Rio Games

Photo Courtesy of CNN

Had I been on Lochte’s communication’s team, here’s what I would have recommended to him:

Step 1: Know your talking points.

Once a crisis is recognized (ie, the video unveiling the truth is released), it is critical to develop the streamlined talking points. Who/what/where/when. This helps to keep the message on track and the rumor mill to a minimum. In Lochte’s case, his story wasn’t ironclad (because he was lying), and holes were immediately present. Obviously, it would have been smarter for Ryan to start with the truth, instead of his exaggerated version.

Photo Courtesy of si.com

Photo Courtesy of si.com

Step 2: Ensure your team is properly media trained in crisis communication.

If more than one person is involved in the crisis (which is typically the case), then ensure each person knows the talking points. And make sure they have been briefed before speaking with the media. Nothing is worse than being detained while boarding an airplane, all because your bonehead teammate couldn’t stay on message.

Step 3: Don’t veer off message.

I think this is very closely tied in with Steps 1 and 2. Once the truth behind the Rio incident began to come to light, Lochte’s story began to slowly change. And change again. And then again. With multiple versions of a story floating around, it makes the spokesperson less credible and the hype behind the crisis much larger. When in doubt, just stop talking.

Step 4: In times of crisis, leave the internet hype alone.

As the crisis begins to spiral out of control, the internet hype will typically catch up with it quickly. It can become overwhelming to want to jump in and do damage control by responding to social media comments, correct false rumor claims and release a different message than was previously approved. Keep in mind that this hype will eventually subside, and if you weather this storm with class, you will be able to keep your dignity on the other side.

Step 5: Keep your friends close, but the media closer.

Do you know what Ryan’s smartest move was? Scheduling a sit down with the television station that had spent the previous 72 hours throwing him under the bus. What do you do if an influencer publishes an unflattering story of you? You may be debating if you should you engage with them. Well, it may be a good idea – just as long as it’s done professionally and respectfully. And remember, “no comment” is still a story.

But what do you do when all else fails? Just like a bad breakup – continue to look forward, change your hairstyle, and join the next season of Dancing with the Stars. Crisis averted!