Social Networking Trends Translate to Holiday Sales

With fresh new insights on Facebook and Twitter usage nearly every day, we know the numbers by now:

Between October 2009 and October 2010, Facebook increased its unique visitor total almost 22%, from about 109.7 million to 133.5 million. Compared to September 2010, Facebook grew its unique visitor total 2% from 130.8 million.

Twitter’s growth lags far behind, but Pew lets us know who uses it:

  • Young adults: Internet users ages 18-29 are significantly more likely to use Twitter than are older adults.
  • African-Americans and Latinos: Minority internet users are more than twice as likely to use Twitter as are white internet users.
  • Urbanites: Urban residents are roughly twice as likely to use Twitter as rural dwellers.

And for what:
72% of Twitter users in a sample say that they post updates related to their personal life, activities or interests. A total of one-in-five Twitter users (19%) say they post personal updates once a day or more.
62% of those Pew queried said they post updates related to their work life, activities or interests, with 12% doing so on a daily basis.
55% of these Twitter users share links to news stories. About one in ten (12%) do this at least once a day.

So what does this mean for marketing? Well, everything. Never in our history have we had not only so much information at our disposal, but clear communication straight from our target audience about everything from their personal tastes to their political leanings. Check out TechCrunch’s 25 Million Tweeting Trends in 2010, and as they promise, they’re not all about Justin Bieber (thank goodness).

During the holidays especially, social media offers the unique opportunity to pinpoint  customers (past, present and future) and connect them with the product they probably already want through photo, video and other elements not available in advertising or direct mail. And in place of those door-to-door peddlers of the past, we can do it organically–by simply having the destinations in place for fans to come to us like a Facebook page, Twitter account and a functional website that reinforces these messages. If the climate feels conversational enough, we can take the next step by commenting on posts or tweets mentioning our product or service and directing customers to other offerings, special deals or other value-added benefits that seal the deal for those looking to become “insiders” in only the way that social media allows.

Great local examples include Cromer’s Peanuts, whose Facebook page and Twitter feed list special sales and new product lines mixed with that “worst in town” humor. City Art also fully understands social media integration with an email newsletter, Facebook and newly added Twitter feed that all worked seamlessly to promote its 12+ Days of Christmas Art Supply Sale straight to its target customers: art students at USC and other area institutions and local artists.

It may be beating a dead horse for everyone already on board, but we just have to seize on the holiday spirit and remind the more traditional organizations still on the fence–a smart social media presence is the gift of a lifetime for your business!


Thinking with Typography, Laughing with Ellen Lupton

As public relations people first and foremost, we value crafting an effective message, but design plays a large role in how we convey that message. That’s even more true today in a world of online communications where symbols often trump text in accessibility and colors and other details hold heavy connotations about an organization’s respectability and relevancy.Typography is one of those details. While it may seem like just a means to an end, the type you choose subliminally expresses quite a bit about your organization—big and bold creates a sense of urgency, thin and understated suggests elegance and Arial or Times New Roman says you didn’t give a second thought to type (and makes people wonder what else you skipped over).

And who better to teach us more about effective type than Ellen Lupton, graphic designer, writer/critic for New York Times and Fast Company and author of “D.I.Y.” and “Thinking with Type”? We caught her typography workshop last Friday at the ETV building, hosted by the South Carolina branch of graphic design group AIGA. Needless to say, we were representing the bulk of the PR set there among some epic visual communicators and graphic artists.

Inside Ellen Lupton’s diminutive frame lurks a slightly salacious, always hilarious ball of fury with deadpan delivery (hard to encapsulate in blog form, so you know it’s the best kind of funny).  Her approach to type was just as irreverent, but she stressed the importance of learning the basic rules, or “architecture” to typography, so you’d know how to break them successfully. Her Power Point was just as graphically beautiful and comically pleasing, but here are the basics:

1) Size and Scale. Your type must create a sense of contrast, and too much of the same size won’t cut it. Recent design trends have also transformed scale into a code for content, like with an HIV/AIDS pandemic poster that correlated type size to infection percentages in different countries. Any chance that your content gives you to create meaning with your design — take it!

2) Mixing Typefaces. “Incest is best,” Ellen says (slyly, of course). Font families offer a lot of range for mixing and matching without creating too much disparity, and most of them accommodate all your needs. But on the same vein, Ellen warns that “you can go wrong doing it with your sister” when the weights of the typefaces are too close to mix well. Mixing can also come from contrasting two “personalities” of type, as well as playing with different typefaces from the same time period. Ellen’s favorite families are Mr. and Mrs. Eaves and Glypha.

3) Leading/Line spacing. Historically, line spacing depended solely on the machine in use (usually a typewriter), but now we can experiment with spacing to add a new texture to the page. Leading plays a huge role in online typography, as crowded paragraphs or sprawling sections connote our websites’ focus points.

4)Alignment. Ellen pointed out how current website technology doesn’t allow much in alignment design, so using color systematically can help ease that ill. Book design, on the other hand, has seen much rule-breaking with flush right paragraphs, deliberate “rivers” of blank space in text and other avant-garde experiments.

For more traditional design pieces, though, it’s best not to stack letters vertically, especially lower case letters with those pesky ascenders and descenders. She showed us some great examples of street signs on winding little alleys in Mexico that transformed type to use space economically with squared off O’s and other crafty mechanisms.

5) Hierarchy. This is where all elements of type come together to create style and emphasize different areas of content. Ellen suggests visiting as an example!

For us, it all comes down to being more cognizant of how the elements of type combine to create more layers of meaning in our messaging, and realizing that “Thinking with Type” is a must-read!

Lessons from PRSA International Conference

This year’s PRSA International Conference: Powering PRogress really packed a punch! While it’s hard to distill every little bit of wisdom from the four-day conference (just look at the #prsa_ic Twitter hashtag!), here are some points that stuck out to us:

1) Global Mindset in PR. Mahmoud Arafa, president and creative director of Designframe USA, touched on the trickier subtleties of creating messages in different countries. If you thought it was tough reaching fragmented audiences across several media in the U.S., take heart in that Western messaging at least means being straightforward, addressing a problem and providing useful information. On the other hand, Saudi Arabian messaging must speak to separate classes, drawing on mandates from the Koran and rural imagery for lower classes while playing to the legacy and leadership of Saudi and English royal families with lavish presentations of information, all while staying within the budget. Phew!

Arafa stressed the importance of your target audience’s belief in the product or service and making it strong enough to move them to action. Simple, logical persuasion always wins this battle, no matter the class or country of the audience, but cultural connections must be weaved into this logic to make it relevant.

2) Rubbing Elbows with Internationals. Nothing provides a more unique experience than networking with PR professionals from other nations, like a Singapore woman who shared how PR is evolving as a profession there. She was particularly interested in social media because it hasn’t “hit” in the same way there yet, but she thinks it’s coming. In the US, it’s already hard to imagine our jobs without it!

Crisis communications also drew in practitioners from all over as attendees shared tips at the Travel & Tourism Section Council dinner at Lebanese Taverna, like the implications of a potential plane crash with insights from a Hong Kong airline and Florida airport. On the lighter side, we heard more about sports coverage perspective from Canada and how we’re all facing dwindling media markets that call for more creative strategies.

3) Social Media Still Here and Still Growing. Just about everyone tweeted during the event, and if they didn’t, it was probably only the sometimes-spotty wi-fi stopping them. Not only were there several social media seminars, but there was an entire track devoted to it. It’s safe to say that this strategy isn’t going anywhere, and the PR community is clearing claiming social media under its domain because of the potential for relationships.

So what’s the latest? Author of new industry book “Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform How You Lead” Charlene Li pinned transparency through social media as the wave of future. It’s not about handling each interaction perfectly or even toeing company line, but involving people. Sometimes it can’t always work out the way customers want, but just explain why you had to arrive at that decision and customers will appreciate honesty far more than false promises.

The biggest lesson about social media was a bit of a shocker. Expecting to learn all these complex new trends, we instead heard that the message was very much “Get Back to Basics,” a comforting thought for any firm trying to hone several new social media avenues at once.

Even the conference itself had a great smartphone application that helped organize a complicated schedule with dozens upon dozens of seminars and networking opportunities with daily alerts reminding attendees, in addition to a TweetUp and chances to register for 2011’s conference for free!

4) Case for Cause Marketing. Scott Beaudoin, senior vice president and North American director of cause marketing and corporate social responsibility at MS&L Worldwide and Michelle Vaeth, external relations manager and global oral care at Procter & Gamble partnered for an amazing cause marketing seminar. It was all about aligning purpose and profit, and sharing that genuine connection in an emotional way, like with P&G “Live, Learn and Thrive” spots.

No longer can companies simply cut a check for a nonprofit and call it a commitment. Thanks to increasingly savvy consumers who demand corporate social responsibility, organizations must find new ways to “align their brand DNA” with salient social issues and empower grassroots movements to create a global impact.

There were some overarching pearls of wisdom from the conference as well. Several speakers reminded us we are the storytellers, and that PR needs to fight for a seat at the decision-making table by commissioning research and speaking in business metrics. We still need to stand by the intangibles that PR provides, though. As Charlene Li quoted from American Express CMO John Hayes, “We tend to overvalue the things we can measure and undervalue the things we cannot.” Equipped with new ideas and best practices, it’s time to convince our employers, clients and audiences of the value of public relations.

From Climate Change to Corn Sugar: Implementation By and Implications For PR

How do you change the momentum of an issue? Reframe it or rename it. In the past twenty years, we’ve seen our share of relabeling real life issues: global warming became “climate change”, estate tax transformed into “death tax” (both thanks to this guy) and now high fructose corn syrup has become “corn sugar.”  But what does this actually mean from a public relations perspective?

In the case of climate change, the result is a more accurate term: “climate change” reflects both the increases AND decreases in temperature caused by greenhouse gases and other environmental factors, even though some of the urgency disappears. “Death tax” is blatantly political, but it has still been absorbed in the media and consequently, public discourse. And “corn sugar” settles into a third category: corporate speak. The one that strikes fear into the hearts of true PR professionals, who choose to persuade the public with facts rather than repackaging.

But the Corn Refiners Association’s new campaign for high fructose corn syrup doesn’t stop at dressing it up as corn sugar. They make their target audience seem silly for not wanting to consume it (and like terrible boyfriends, coincidentally). And after the recent push toward healthier, “slower” food, we could see why. As our Twitter follower @GreatNorthern says, “Good move on corn’s part. High fructose corn syrup was becoming a swear word.”

But should the Corn Refiners Association have full license to “rebrand” its product, especially when it plays a direct role in the public’s perception of healthy foods? The FDA thinks so, as it approved the entry of “corn sugar” into the conversation circulated by national advertising and the rehashing of it on mommy blogs, by community organizations, at the water cooler and everywhere else that YouTube goes. Some may argue that if the public wants the facts on food, they won’t take any commercial’s word for it. But in today’s world, how many Americans trust the advice of their favorite blogger over that of their doctor or dietician, and how many of those bloggers receive kickbacks from various corporations? We hope this issue will start a discussion on public relations’ role in the world of Web 2.0 and the short-sighted tendency to “reword” hot button issues rather than focusing on long-term, two-way communication.

Famously Hot Topics: Social Media Through the Hospitality Industry’s Eyes

Riley Communications had the chance to participate in a panel at Hospitality Hotspotter’s Social Media Training on September 15, dishing out some social media tips from a PR perspective and learning just as much about how the hospitality industry uses social media as a selling tool. Because the hotel and tourism sector depends on constant gains in event planning, room reservations and other targets, leveraging social media to achieve these goals is paramount.

Despite the reservations — concerns, not bookings! — some members had about hashtags, analytics and other web 2.0 jargon, social media tactics all link back to age-old sales adages, according to South Carolina Hospitality Association Director of Operations Douglas OFlaherty. While he also focused on the overarching characteristics of social media as collaborative (helping back with friend suggestions, groups, etc.) and light-touch (overt advertising kicks you out of the club), here are his selling staples made new:

1)   People do business with people they know, like and trust. Don’t know how to translate solid selling tactics into technological terms? Social media actually grew out of the most successful part of the Internet in the 1990’s — business web pages. So if you have one of those, you’ve already got the foundation that started the movement. Now you have the opportunity to bring your business proposition to a social environment, at the least in a format that allows two-way communication with consumers and at the most on a person-to-person level with prospective clients.

2)   Too big to fail. Even middle school kids know this phrase, probably just as well as they know YouTube. Douglas pointed out how Google gobbled up this FREE service in a multi-billion dollar deal, simply so it could have ownership of the world’s largest video uploading site before anyone else could.  It just goes to show — even though its biggest players started and still function with little revenue structure, social media is here to stay. Get with it or get left behind.

3) Personal is also business. Douglas good-naturedly made an example of his hospitality colleague Twila Jones after she outed herself as Twitter-less and happy about it. He convinced her that if a prospective client surreptitiously stumbled upon her personal Twitter and saw that she followed a famous Atlanta evangelist, her role as Columbia Convention Center Senior Sales Manager specializing in religious and multi-cultural markets might be that much more efficient.  

Social media’s remarkable reach is consistently farther than other communications, but it remains difficult to quantify to the “unbelievers.”
“Come to the light, Twila,” Douglas urged. “A church is a social network. But not everyone can come to that church. Social media gets you beyond just one group.”

On the flip side, you can get too personal. While millions of people use social media solely to post about their dog, their kids or their day, it’s smartest for you as a business entity (individually or collectively) to strike a balance between corporate fluff and oversharing. If used correctly, social media affords the opportunity to find common threads with clients, look at how close the competition is to them and discover how to promote your strengths in creative ways.

4)   If you keep looking at a closed door, you may never see an open one. Just as the door-to-door salesman of past decades will tell you—so will today’s social media strategists. Sales are all about opening the door with clients and keeping it open. “Social media cracks that door,” Douglas says. “Allow them to dictate the pace of the relationship. Earn the right to be in their network.”

Thanks again to the Columbia Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau for letting us mix some pearls of social media PR with your sales smarts!

My APR Journey: Sniffles, Studies and Scheduling

Originally posted on SCPRSA’s blog, Palmetto PRactitioner.

My journey toward the APR started with nasty bout of bronchitis and walking pneumonia in October 2009. There’s nothing like a high fever and some forced downtime to make you evaluate where you want to go in life! Besides, researching the APR process online offered a respite from daytime television and my endless parade of paperbacks.

The main thing to understand about the APR process is that it is, well, a process. After bouncing back from being sick, I assumed that getting my APR would be similar to submitting a big proposal or writing a PR plan — a big job, but one that I could power through with enough determination. It isn’t designed like that. Instead, there are forced breaks between applying, submitting your questionnaire, scheduling your readiness review, presenting your campaign and ultimately taking the exam. I found that I learned the most when planning for next steps because the new challenges caused me to rethink the language I was using to describe my work, the format for my presentation or the way I was approaching a situational question. There is no real right or wrong, no perfect answer, no SAT-style score for gloating – there is only a greater capacity for strategic understanding as you pass from one phase to the next.

Here are some tips for others professionals considering or working their way through the APR process:

1. Use the Free APR Study Guide. I printed it, highlighted it, wrote on it and carried my dog-eared copy to the allergist to sneak in some extra study time. I found it helpful to study the guide simultaneously while preparing my questionnaire and readiness review presentation because it offers a useful overview of the profession; provides standard definitions for key terms like goals, objectives, strategies and tactics; and shares best practices for PR campaign research, planning, implementation and evaluation. It also provides the best available preview of information that will be presented on the exam (though I found the exam to be much more indicative of my everyday working knowledge of PR).

2. Chat up APRs. The APR process is largely a subjective, personal journey, so it helps to find a few guides! Kim Banks and Dusty Demming were especially helpful, offering encouragement and guidance on parameters. (Kim’s tip: Even though you can’t project a Powerpoint presentation during the readiness review, using Powerpoint to develop printed handouts for panelists is a great way of sharing information). I also talked to the chapter’s newest APR at the time, Adrienne Fairwell, who shared some great tips about incorporating communication theories into my readiness review presentation. Finally, the shared experience of studying and working through open-ended problems (i.e., what type of campaign makes the best readiness review presentation? How much time should I devote to studying? Did you buy the insanely expensive books?) was helpful within the supportive culture of our chapter.

3. Know how you learn and what motivates you. For instance, I had been planning a big trip to England and knew that my brain would probably be the consistency of mash and bangers when I got back. So I scheduled my readiness review for a week before the trip — when I felt that I would be on top of my game — and enrolled in the online study course when I returned to refresh my knowledge before taking the exam. I made flashcards because I always remember things better that way and focused my study time on the conquering the dreaded research section. I wore my lucky suit for the presentation and ate the proverbial good breakfast. I even decided that after the exam I’d reward myself with a new dress — pass or fail — and set up a dinner with friends that evening. Knowing that I would probably be my own worst enemy in terms of action and preparation, I used advance scheduling, smart study time and a series of small rewards to help stay on track.

Though my APR journey started while I was under the weather, I have to admit having those three little letters after my name feels great!

Jacque Riley is the CEO of Riley Communications, a public relations firm serving lifestyle, non-profit and business clients in South Carolina and Washington, D.C.

Phineas The Puppy May Have Figured Out Facebook Better Than Zuckerberg

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about Facebook’s long-term success (shaky at best), almost as much talk as there’s been about founder Mark Zuckerberg’s cold and questionable leadership — even a movie about it. In addition to affecting the oversharing of Facebook-addicted individuals, these social storm clouds also threaten the well-meaning businesses and community organizations attempting to connect to their audiences through these outlets. But never fear — for every crime against online decency, there are social media campaigns to counteract it. Pet treat maker A Dog’s Life customer package design contest and Jones Soda’s labels with customer photography, for instance, revitalize the reasoning behind businesses entering the social sphere.

Perhaps even just as inspiring are the customers who participate in these hybrid social media-customer service efforts (in which companies often pass up immediate revenue for long-term customer retention). In fact, corporate Facebookers and Tweeters could learn a thing or two from recent A Dog’s Life contest winners Sal and Noelle Petruzelli-Marino (and their star pup Phineas)’s approach to social media:

“Phineas has his own Facebook page and Twitter account, mostly because we didn’t want to inundate our friends with updates on a puppy if they didn’t want them,” says Sal.

But it turns out, because they were either interesting, funny or endearing enough, people did want to see Phineas’s pages. And they voted just as Phineas asked, catapulting his cute little face into pet food fame. Even though the constant changes in packaging create some extra costs for A Dog’s Life, they find that the winning pooches’ hometown pet stores and owners more than make up for it by buying extra bags for their famous pet, and more importantly, buying into the brand.

So, take the social media naysayers with a grain of salt—even if the target audience shifts or the social network moguls show signs of humanity, these changes create new opportunities to reach your stakeholders in a way that makes sense for your communications. Yes, stay on top of the trends, but stick to your message above all.