Monday, February 24, 2014

Business blogging made simple

On the day I wrote this post, bloggers were creating and posting more than 2.2 million new posts. On a Sunday afternoon.
Ready to enter the long tunnel of blogging?

You want a presence in the blogosphere. You know social media can reach new customers and prospects. But, creating and maintaining a business blog isn't easy.

A well-written blog can help build your brand and visibility. The downside: you need to refresh a blog consistently with meaningful, persuasive content that your customers and followers will find engaging.

And you need to get them to read it. And come back to it again and again. That's how you build awareness and a relationship.

It can seem like you're entering a long tunnel, without knowing where the journey may lead.

Steamfeed.com recently shared a concise article about business blogging. The most useful tip: planning ahead, and developing a steady flow of topics and stories that resonate with your customers.

That's a tall order. You may have a dozen good top-of-mind stories to share. But twelve posts doesn't make a blog. And a blog that fades after a few entries sends the wrong message to your customers.

Let's say you want to post a weekly blog update. That's 52 stories. Or twice a month -- 26 posts. What's your comfort level with creating several dozen original stories a year? Do you have time to write those posts and find images to help illustrate them -- images that aren't copyrighted, so you don't risk legal repercussions for using someone else's original work?

Chances are, the answer is: No. Even if you sometimes write a personal essay or share off-topic information, such as recipes or worst-travel experiences.

That's the moment you need to find an experienced public relations professional (he said humbly!) who can analyze your business and unearth its success stories. A PR pro can create a plan to highlight your customers, technologies, industry trends, thought-leader opinions, and more -- over months or longer. Gather video or image content. And create a blog that positions your business as a source of innovation, insight, and service.

Another benefit of asking a skilled PR pro to shepherd your business blog? He or she will also know how to promote it. Estimates suggest there are as many as 450 million active blogs worldwide. How do you entice prospective customers and readers to pay attention to yours?

That's the topic of the next installment on PR Architect. Please check back next week.



Monday, February 17, 2014

Your lengthened shadow is online

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that an "institution is the lengthened shadow of a man." Biographers sometimes use the phrase to describe titans of 20th century industry -- George Eastman, Henry Ford, etc. -- whose personal imprint lived on in their companies after they passed.

Today, viewed through a PR lens, I view your personal brand online as your lengthened shadow. Like a shadow, it follows you and says things about you that you don't verbalize. This is especially true when you create a Facebook or Twitter account -- and do nothing with it.

Twice this week, I've looked up executives' pages on Facebook to try to learn more about them. Yes, I know -- I should be finding them on LinkedIn, where business connections override social contacts. But Facebook garners the most traffic of social media sites. And people often share opinions and stories on Facebook that offer some insights on their interests. Plus, I was curious to see how these women, both recognizable in our business community, put forth their presence on Facebook.

Here's what I discovered (with user names altered):

  • Stella, who recently resigned from a public executive position, has a Facebook page consisting of her name, head shot, and the town in which she lives. Nothing else. No mention of the organization she led, achievements, nothing. 
  • Olivia, who leads a marketing function for a commercial venture, has a slightly richer Facebook page: about 15 images from an online game, and a head shot from 2012, when she joined.

I get it. Not everyone updates their Facebook pages with frequency. It can be an inconvenience, a time-waster, and people have legitimate concerns about one's personal privacy on the site.

But here's the thing: these women both created these pages. And, like an unfinished symphony, the pages appear abandoned. As if the executives both contracted a sudden case of Severe Shyness.

Stella and Olivia's pages aren't hidden. They're just neglected. And their unfinished presence in our Era of Social Media space leaves a gap. Visitors will come away with some doubt about their personal brands. Are these executives absent-minded? Busy? Shy? Is Olivia game-obsessed? Is Stella hiding something? Has she entered a witness protection program?

Fact is, you don't need a Facebook page. It's not mandatory. For some, it's a nuisance.

But taking a half-hearted step into this space and walking away doesn't do much to strengthen your online personal brand. More specifically: it tells visitors that you don't "get" social media, and that's not a message any executive really wants to send.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Media relations you can afford

My budget won't permit me to join the PRSA conference in New York City in April. You could learn a few good techniques there. But I may be able to save you a few dollars, the joy of air travel, and the challenge of reading notes on a whiteboard with these media
relations practices that seem to work for me:
  • Get to know the reporters and editors you want to reach. Many still cover beats, such as education, crime, health care, personal finance, and more. You wouldn't pitch a health care story to a sports reporter, so do a Google search on a reporter's byline. If she covers biotech topics and your client has some expertise, there's a potential match.
  • Twitter's real value in public relations? You can listen to anybody. Many journalists tweet about the stories they cover, and when they're in need of an interview subject. Don't 'stalk' a reporter, but do listen.
  • Tie in with a trend. Media gatekeepers think in terms of rating periods and packages. So should you. Give thought to how your client's story can tie in to upcoming events that drive news directors to "package" stories. Example: March is Women's History Month, so your female entrepreneur's success story may fit with an edtor's plans for that time frame.
  • Respect the journalist's time. Pitches -- whether in an email or by phone -- should be brief. Much as you'd counsel your client to prepare sound bite-friendly talking points, keep yours brief, bulletized, and to the point.
  • Ladder your successes. Maybe there's a great national story waiting to be told, but convincing media gatekeepers in New York, DC, or Chicago often calls for laddering your story up from coverage in regional news outlets. Take your local and regional media wins, and share them in your pitches to national media. Learn in advance whether links to online content or PDFs are preferred by the editors and producers in larger markets.
The bottom line: success in PR often comes from listening first, and taking time to understand the needs of the journalists and producers you're trying to reach. Good luck!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Won't you let me take you on a sea cruise?

Sailor. Skipper. Cruiser. Crew. A man for all seasides.

Disney Wonder, at port in Nassau, Bahamas
A few personal nicknames, all reflecting my interest in nautical pursuits. None of these, however, makes me an expert on cruise lines. Experience on watercraft provides only modest preparation for events that can threaten even the most casual of seagoing experiences:
  • I've taken two commercial cruises on those giant floating hotels masquerading as "ocean liners." The Disney Cruise Lines' crew on the Disney Wonder did a better job than Norwegian Cruise Lines' Norwegian Dawn. Both were mostly trouble-free but I helped prevent a potential shipboard fire on one trip.
  • I sailed the Abacos with a Boy Scout troop aboard a 20-year-old Beneteau whose skipper struck a submerged rock on our first night at sea. We limped through the rest of the week-long cruise.
  • I've skippered a small sailboat and a powerboat, wrecking the powerboat engine's prop on a semi-submerged log.
What took place on the Explorer of the Seas last week -- with some 600 passengers and crew taken ill by a virus -- reminds me that it's not easy to prepare for such calamities. But how you respond to an illness on the water can test your PR smarts. PR Daily analyzed Royal Caribbean's response last week, suggesting that the cruise line's CEO can do a better job of responding to outbreaks of mal-de-mer.

What usually takes place? The stricken ship lets off afflicted passengers for treatment or a quick trip home, apologizes, and brings the vessel back to port for a thorough cleanup and sanitization. If the vessel gets an extended bout of negative news coverage, it's not uncommon for the ship to be repainted and rechristened before re-entering service.

In reality, when you pack 2,000 or more people into a confined space for a week or longer, viruses and bacteria have an environment in which to thrive. You'd do yourself a favor by getting a checkup before hitting the gang plank. Beyond that, a bottle of hand sanitizer and some vitamin C, there's little else a passenger can do.

The cruise lines, however, ought to have a pro-active communications strategy in place. They can encourage passenger checkups weeks before the cruise begins. They can work with travel media to demonstrate the extent of their sanitization and health procedures. They can create instructional videos for their websites and YouTube. They can interview physicians on the best preventive measures to follow, pre-cruise and during a voyage.

Instead of saying seaborne illnesses are "common," cruise lines need to recognize that overlooking this issue is an invitation to negative news coverage and a loss of business.

But if you hit a log beneath the surface of Honeoye Lake, you're on your own.