Ad Age Article Touts “Jersey Shore” As the Peanut Butter of Social Media

For better or worse, social media is all about sharing and “spreadable content,” and while MTV’s controversial series “Jersey Shore” reinforces racial stereotypes and bad bronzing, it is undoubtedly the Jif of spreadability. Just ask Ilya Vedrashko, whose agency created social experiment site “Jerzify Yourself,” (complete with fist-pumping while it loads) where users simply upload a JPEG, endure a little poofing, juicing and self-degrading and voila — your Guido or Guidette alter-ego emerges ready to beat the beat and adopt the GTL lifestyle!

Vedrashko found that the site received traffic from nearly as many reshares as direct clicks, proving that with spreadability, the mouse is mightier than the sword (or in this case, the original site). So, social media leans on influential “sharers,” the mavens of Youtube, Twitter, Gawker and all those other treasure troves of always entertaining and often informative content. But what does this mean for businesses entering the social media arena — is their content equally spreadable, or does all that corporate speak and roundabout sales pitching create bumps in the road (or chunks in the peanut butter)?

We’re no “Jerzify Yourself,” but from what we’ve seen, there are two stratas in social media: the funny and the informative — and they very rarely overlap. Understand that funny often takes precedence (especially in the teens  to late 20’s demographic), but people will still come to you if you have some news to give, some expert opinions to share and maybe even something entertaining to post. Just stick to what you know works and tread lightly into what you don’t. And whatever you do, stay away from the “juice” and self-bronzer!

Streamlining Your Social Media Communications

As our firm expands our own social media capabilities for our clients, we’ve gathered some pointers for a seamless shift into an area of communications that sometimes proves sticky for organizations. Check out these simple tips to help you connect with key stakeholders:

1)   Start from one source. Frantic over Facebook posts? Terrified of Twitter? Before you jump straight into either, set up a “dashboard” program like HootSuite, which lets you monitor and post to each account simultaneously. This also helps simplify how you analyze audience response with built-in analytics like URL trackers.

2)   Limit the number of voices. Ideally, an organization should only have one point source for communication.  For many organizations, though, their very nature may call for multiple information channels, like our work with the Congaree Vista Guild, which requires across-the-board messaging as well as coordination with guild members for individual promotions like tweeting Motor Supply Company’s daily specials (watermelon gazpacho — yum!) or posting a link to Trustus Theatre’s grant competition on the Vista Facebook page. At the end of the day, every post and example still comes from a singular, professional perspective and reinforces the Vista Guild’s position as Columbia’s premiere arts and entertainment district.

3)   Fold in, rather than fluff up, the media. Journalists stay on the search for good leads, but they use social media, well, socially. Instead of singling them out to bombard with great story ideas, focus on building relevant relationships with the media and leading them to content that speaks for itself. Also, embrace more visual and audio elements (especially for broadcast journalists), like a snapshot of the lunch crowd or a quick how-to video on oil painting.

4)   Toss the numbers. Ok, peek at them first. Click-through rates help you see how well your posts relate to your followers and numbers of new fans let you know if you even have followers! Once you’re past these preliminaries, though, your social media strategy should focus on quality that leads to quantity. No one’s going to tell their friends to follow the company that posts two-page press releases each week.

With those tips in mind, feel free to break the rules and find your own solutions. Social media is all about melding the medium to your audience’s needs—whether that’s weather (literally), daily menu posts or links to in-depth industry analysis—and sparking constant, candid conversation.

Political PR Lessons from the Brits

While South Carolina’s primary politics were hitting their peak mud-slinging stride, I was lucky enough to be “across the pond” on a long-awaited trip to England. In fact, we landed on Election Day, jet-lagged and wondering what had happened to all the (non-existing) political posters. There might even be some footage of my husband and I taking snapshots of Parliament from the encampment of analysts near Westminster Abbey! (I had to resist an overwhelming urge to talk up the BBC, even though I know nothing of British politics. This PR thing must really be in my blood.)

It’s always interesting to watch the political process unfold in a new place, but we happened to find ourselves in at the conception of Britain’s first “coalition government” since WWII since neither the conservatives nor the liberal democrats could muster a majority. In fact, we were watching for helicopters during the changing of the guard because everyone was convinced the queen would have to return home and settle things over tea. But as David Cameron and Nick Clegg took their first fragile steps as allies, I noted a few lessons we could apply to the political process from the stoic, wordly Brits.

1. Be humbly self-aware. The American political process can be so righteously indignant, which only really leads to bombastic diatribes and hypocritical behavior. But the best moment of new government came when a reporter asked David Cameron at a press conference about previously responding to a question, “What’s your favorite joke?” with the name of Nick Clegg (his newly minted Deputy Prime Minister). Cameron started to reply with a predictable response that everyone in the new government would have previous comments thrown back at them — when he looked over at Clegg and charmingly admitted, “I’m afraid I did,” with an exaggerated “my bad” face. Clegg pretended to walk off the stage, Cameron called “Come back!” and the incident left both politicians looking human and relatable.

2. Know where real power lies. A frequent news topic was the colloquial name of the new government as “Lib-Con” even though the conservatives carried more political weight than the liberals. Too often, American politics equates any concession with defeat. In Britain, however, this was obviously a self-depracating “high road” maneuver by Cameron, and it elicited a tone of respect. Everyone knew Cameron was the real force of the government; conceding a small naming point only solidified that convention in the mind of the public.

2. Be like the BBC. Sprinkled between compelling human interest stories, the BBC provided some of the best, most even-handed coverage I’ve ever seen of the political process. They had thoughtful commentators, top-of-the-minute interviews (on trains!), and even managed to ask relevant questions about the past without insulting viewers’ intelligence. Their reporters were frank, interested and slightly skeptical yet cautiously optimistic, putting a thoughtful face on news with Gothic spires from Parliament peaking over their heads. And they knew when to stop — peppering politics with international coverage and soccer, as if to say, “Yes, politics are important. But life will go on, so let’s all be civil about it.”

Tweeting Live from @beardfoundation

Guest Post by Riley Communications intern, Dana Fisher

As the Riley Communications intern, I’ve had the opportunity to do some pretty cool things. I’ve gone behind the scenes at television studios, attended a magic show and watched Terra chef Mike Davis in the kitchen. Even when my bosses went to New York for Chef Davis’ dinner at the esteemed James Beard House, they managed to make the event an experience for those of us left at home. By tweeting live from the dinner, @TerraSC gave foodie fans a play-by-play that made your mouth water for mahi mahi.

The snow was beginning to fall in the city and Chef Davis was preparing a dinner of South Carolina ingredients for 50+ New Yorkers in a strange kitchen. How do I know this? Aside from the weather report (which called for an epic blizzard,) I followed @TerraSC on Twitter. Even hundreds of miles away, Terra fans could root for Chef Davis as he served Columbia favorites like Port Royal shrimp remoulade and Caw Caw Creek suckling pig.

Pictures provided home Tweeters with the ambiance at the James Beard House. From the crowded “Champagne reception at Beard House. The trout hoecakes are in high demand!” all the way to “A straight 15 s of applause as Chef enters dining room,” followers felt proud that they ate and enjoyed the same food before it was on a national stage.

5 Marketing Resolutions for the New Year

Whether your business is stepping into 2010 in stride or just barely limping out of 2009, you’re probably considering a few strategies to help you stay in shape this year, and there’s one that should be at the top of your list: Commit to a year of marketing. Defining goals for 2010 and outlining monthly plans at the beginning of the year may seem daunting, but when it comes down to the dirty work, this will prove considerably easier than going to the gym every week. Here are 5 marketing resolutions to keep in mind as you kick off the New Year.

1.    Don’t go into it willy-nilly. Set concrete goals and objectives. Resolving to solidify your presence in the community is just like resolving to trim three inches off your waistline – it’ll never happen unless you focus on methods instead of end results. Devote time to your marketing plan, and you’ll come out with a well thought out yearly model that complements your business. Planning ahead will not only save you time and energy down the line, but will also better prepare you for unexpected stumbling blocks.
2.    Forget the fear-mongering. Many businesses resorted to fear tactics in 2009 because of the economy, but this is a kind of sucker-punch marketing: it can work for a while, but ultimately, it cheapens public discourse. Instead of scaring people into choosing your business, set yourself apart from the crowd and be positive. You can do this by sprucing up your real selling points. And get specific. (Everyone says they’re all about customer service, but who isn’t these days? Why are customers really coming to you?) Freshen up your strategies for the New Year, but don’t lose sight of your business’s long-term identity.
3.    Become the expert. At Riley Communications, we champion expertise as a way to sell your business — after all, everyone wants to work with the industry pace-setter. Educate the public by tweeting, giving talks, or helping out reporters; in short, take advantage of every medium to showcase your skills and experience. If you can become the authority in your industry by sharing your knowledge for free, you’ll be top-of-mind when people need a reference.
4.    Learn about social media. For some, this may seem like old news, but I can’t emphasize enough how many ways a business can harness new social media forums. This may not be the best long-term path for your business, but you should understand the power of Facebook and know how to check Twitter to see if your organization is being discussed. Social media is just another method of communication that can help you build relationships with customers, or, at the very least, make you more aware of your customers’ needs and opinions.
5.    Shoot for the stars. Get creative and integrate your campaigns. Take advantage of all the opportunities available to you – from using social media to bring in more clients and coverage, to targeting the great number of business and local publications that could feature your business aside from regular advertising. Take, for example, the excellent chef from Terra, a locally owned restaurant in Columbia, who got national airtime on NPR. There’s no reason your small business can’t achieve similar marketing heights.  Don’t be afraid of having a vision, as long as you stay true to your core principles and have concrete strategies to reach your goals.

To Tell the Truth: Eli Lilly and Zyprexa

Our parents instilled it in us at a young age: be honest. Our marketing professors certainly touted the same message: tell the truth. So what happens when we ignore the advice of our elders? Ask major pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly, who recently settled billion dollar lawsuits with over 30 states, including South Carolina, for allegedly fraudulently marketing their antipsychotic drug and top seller, Zyprexa.
Zyprexa is approved for treating patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. While doctors can prescribe medications for off-label uses, it is illegal for sales representatives to market off-label uses to physicians. Over 30 state attorneys general held that Eli Lilly was doing just that by promoting the drug’s possible benefits for pediatrics, dementia and depression treatment in addition to not fully disclosing harmful side effects.  Eli Lilly paid $1.42 billion dollars to end the criminal probe and settle civil suits.  The company still claims no wrongdoing in the civil suits but pled guilty to a misdemeanor to the FDA for promoting off-label dementia treatment usage of Zyprexa.

For a drug that has brought in $37 billion in revenue, $1.42 billion may seem like pocket change, but that figure doesn’t consider Eli Lilly’s loss in the court of public opinion. When 45 states take some form of legal action against a company for its alleged illegal actions and dishonesty, especially when it pertains to health, people notice.

As public relations professionals, we always stress to our clients that honesty is the best policy. As Eli Lilly tries to rebuild its image and reputation, the public’s trust and confidence in pharmaceuticals and big business continues to fall during the current economic climate.

Why it (begrudgingly) Makes Sense to Interrupt my Online Simpsons snippets

You may have heard that the up-and-coming advertising venue is on-line TV programing.Or you may have just been watching 30 Rock online (during your lunch break, natch) and noticed the mandatory commercials.

As Ian Paul points out in PC World, advertising on an Internet site such as Hulu, where viewers watch their favorite shows on their own schedule, can be more effective than traditional TV methods. Because viewers actively seek the show, they are more willing to sit through a commercial here and there, being unable to simply flip to another channel during the break.  Hulu is certainly aware of this advantage. The site currently charges more for an advertising spot during The Simpsons than Fox does. But there are some points other than higher costs that you should consider before you start buying into on-line TV advertising.

First, this venue is only for national (or international) corporations and markets. This may seem obvious, but a hometown ice cream company is better off advertising on local cable, where it can address a specific clientèle, than on Internet, which has an audience unlimited by geography and uninterested in a business that is.

Paul also points out that, while the online TV audience is broad, it is also small. Only about seven and a half million people watched the entire March Madness online this year; add ten million and you get the number of traditional TV-watchers for the single NCAA basketball tournament. This is a huge difference. The numbers may change in the next few years, especially as people learn to hook the Internet up to their new plasma and HD television sets, but for now the online TV market is a toddler.

Like with any advertising, before you buy a spot on Hulu or TV.com, know your audience. At the moment, it looks like traditional TV is the way to go for most of us. And don’t forget that consulting a PR  specialist could easily save you money and time when it comes to finding the marketing niche that’s right for you.

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