Friday, December 17, 2010

Prism Media Services Featured In Long Island Business News

This week, my guest column on social media insights was featured in the Long Island Business News. You can read the article here.

To provide a quick overview, the piece focused on how small businesses can glean useful customer insights from online conversations. The next big social media leap for businesses is all about taking these insights and using them meaningfully to achieve bottom-line growth. While a lot of sophisticated tools are now available to automatically capture, analyze and draw out valuable information from online conversations, they are either too expensive or unnecessary for small businesses to invest in because thousands of people are not taking about them online everyday.

My article offered four tips to help small businesses get started without the use of automated tools:

1. Monitor - Proactively monitor by setting up keyword alerts such as the name of your organization, products or services. Use tools such as Google Alerts, Social Mention, Twitter search, TweetBeep and Monitter.

2. Ask Questions - Ask questions to generate insights and invite feedback.

3. Distill Sentiment From Comments - Record positive, negative and neutral comments. Once you have the data organized, ask the following questions: How does the volume of positive feedback compare with the negative? How does the volume and nature of conversation about you compare with that about your competitor? What are the words people use most to describe your company or brand?

4. Plan For Leveraging The Insights Generated - Think about how you can play up your strengths, improve on your weaknesses or even implement ideas based on customer insights.

To view a PDF of the article, click here. Feel free to share your thoughts or tips in the comments section below.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The New Social Order: Not Your Grandmother's Idea of Privacy


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the shifting notions of privacy. Communicating through social media requires a radically different view of privacy, one that your grandmother would certainly not approve of. Over the last few months, I’ve met so many people between their forties and sixties who all seem to ask the same question: Why would someone want to put themselves out there and make so much information public?

Though I enjoy social networking, I must confess that it took some initial self-grappling to get completely comfortable with the idea of sharing 140-character updates so publicly on Twitter. I’m still not on Foursquare because I don’t like to constantly share my current location. (this is not just due to privacy issues but also because I don’t see how constantly sharing my current whereabouts has any relevance for my friends or followers.)

Of course, I am careful about what I post and recognize that all that I say over Twitter is going to be archived forever not only on the Web but also in the library of the Congress. But over time, Twitter has graduated to the status of a good friend – you know, the types whom you can talk to easily without being too guarded and worried about revealing too much about yourself. In doing so, I realize I’ve made a huge leap where my private and public life are now somewhat intertwined despite the fact that I regulate what I want to share with whom, how much and over what channel.

But let’s go back to the question of why do we like to put ourselves out there and make our lives so public. I read this piece in New York magazine a while ago, which I think sums it up beautifully: “The public life is fun. It’s creative. It’s where their friends are. It’s theater, but it’s also community: In this linked, logged world, you have a place to think out loud and be listened to, to meet strangers and go deeper with friends.”

I’ll add to that: Besides entertainment, I think it’s also all the attention that makes a celebrity out of everyone. It’s the reason reality shows are so popular. We love to be a silent part of someone else’s life and have unbridled access to it. We also thrive on the constant affirmation of our thoughts – the metaphorical applause in terms of ‘likes,’ the reassurance that things will be okay, and proof of our wide-spread social influence in general.

For those who worry about putting themselves ‘out there,’ it may already be too late. I think we are all already out there – with the incredible digital footprints we leave behind. Even if you don't have a presence on social media channels, a lot of information about you is stored by websites you visit and what you search for or even shop for online. In the digital age, complete privacy is a utopian concept.

It’s amazing that there’s a generation out there that’s practically growing up socially. I was shocked when I found out that my 10-year-old nephew in India and all his classmates were on Facebook. But that was before I read about a recent survey by Internet security company AVG, which found that a majority of children in 10 developed countries have an online presence before the age of two, with nearly a quarter of them starting before they are even born. In the U.S., 92% of toddlers under the age of two have an online presence, the same survey found. It will be interesting to see how their notion of privacy will be so different from my own.

The question is: When I become a grandmother, will I approve?

How do you feel about this shifting notion of privacy? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section below.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Being Social In The Social Media World


There’s an amazing volume of conversation online on social media and how businesses can leverage these tools to increase their sales or attract customers. Yet, what’s also amazing is how much confusion still surrounds social media and how you can truly be social in the social media world.

Given the buzz and even noise surrounding social media, many companies, including small businesses, are jumping on to the bandwagon before even stopping to figure out why or where they want to go.

Without a doubt, if used correctly, social media tools can reap huge benefits. Social media creates opportunities for both big and small companies to build their brands virtually and interact directly with customers and other target audiences at little or no cost. Before social media, the only way most businesses could get their message across to customers and draw attention to their services was through expensive advertising or media coverage. But what many businesses do not realize is the considerable amount of time, effort, commitment and planning required to use these tools to achieve success.

What’s Your Objective?
Before creating a Facebook page, blog or Twitter profile, you need to stop and ask: What is my objective?

Possible objectives could include:
1.Finding and converting prospects into customers
2.Building a stronger reputation for your organization
3.Demonstrating your expertise
4.Building a stronger relationship with existing customers and obtaining their feedback
5.Building greater awareness about your organization and improving your visibility

Who Is Your Target Audience?
Once you determine your objectives, ask yourself who your target audience is and if you can reach them through social media? What is their age demographic? Do they engage in social media? Are most of your customers on Facebook or Twitter? Do they actively look for information online? The answers to these questions will help determine whether social media is right for your organization and help you choose the right tool to start your social media efforts.

How Are You Going To Engage Fans/Followers/Readers?
Before you set up a Twitter profile, Facebook page or your blog, plan out your strategy for:
1. Attracting targeted fans/ followers/readers: Think of how you will promote your blog, Facebook page or Twitter profile. One way to do this is to integrate your social media profiles with your website and into offline marketing efforts.
2. Keeping fans/ followers/readers engaged:To keep your fans engaged, you need to give them something useful, interesting, interactive and a reason to keep coming back. Your content should be relevant and aimed at solving your target audience’s needs or problems. You can also offer incentives such as exclusive discounts and offers to your Facebook or Twitter followers. Hold contests in which they can participate and share their own content, generating some buzz and interaction.

What Are You Going To Post?
1. Prepare a rough schedule for posting content: Think of who will be responsible for posting, managing and updating content for your social media initiatives? How often will you be posting? How will you respond to negative comments? How much time/money can you allocate for managing social media? Do you have the resources in-house or do you need to hire a freelancer or consultant?
2. Plan for type of content to be posted: Prepare a strategy for how you will use social media to drive people back to your website or blog? What topics will you blog about? Are you creating enough content to share with your followers and fans? In general, you should use social media to share insights, offer advice, ask questions, obtain feedback, share pictures and latest news about your company or industry and invite discussions on relevant topics.

How Are You Going To Monitor Social Media and Measure Success?
1. Monitoring what is being said about you can help you generate useful insights and improve your product or service. Proactive monitoring can also help you deal with negative comments early on and solve potential issues before they snowball into bigger problems. Use tools such as Social Mention, Google Alerts and Monitter to keep track your online mentions.
2. Lay down some basic criteria for measuring success. These can include increased website traffic, comments and online mentions, increase in sales and number of followers/readers/fans.

What You Should Focus On:
1. Being personal, authentic and transparent in your interactions
2. Building relationships. In the end, social media is just about the tools. The basics remain the same – you have to engage and build relationships with your network to convert prospects into customers.

What You Shouldn’t Focus On:
1. Just Yourself. You can’t call it a conversation if you’re the only one talking in a room full of 500 people. Don’t make your blog, Facebook page or Twitter profile only about YOU. Social media is all about conversations so use it to also post and share other people’s content, offer useful news about your industry, comment on other people’s blogs or Twitter updates and to get the conversation going.
2. The numbers. We all love numbers; they validate our popularity and offer some measure of the success of our social media efforts. But then again, do they really? Instead of focusing on increasing your follower/fan count, focus on improving engagement with your existing network.

This post was first published on Social Media Today

Friday, November 5, 2010

Social Media Is The Answer. But What's The Question?

The Social Media 'Experts'
Is social media the answer to everything? I’m a little concerned when I hear the ‘experts’ tout social media as the be-all and end-all. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in the power of these new tools or why would I have an entire blog dedicated to the subject, right?

Social media offers immense opportunities to big and small organizations to amplify their message. It has transformed the way we consume, access and share information, how we influence and are influenced, and how we engage, build relationships and make decisions.

But here are three reasons why I don’t think social media alone is the magical formula that can revolutionize your business:

1. Not Everyone Is Using Social Media
Those of us in the social media club often forget that not everyone is on Facebook or Twitter. True, the numbers are growing but it does not represent the universe, only a certain demographic of the population. (I still have to e-mail or call a few friends who are not on Facebook to find out how they’re doing.) It all depends on the profile of your target audience, whether a majority of those use social media or not and whether social media is the right channel for your message.

2. Use of Social Media Requires a Combination of Content, Marketing and Public Relations Strategies
We’ve all often heard misconceptions of how organizations think they should start a Facebook page or start tweeting because they’ve heard they’re supposed to be doing that but don’t really understand why. Just starting a Facebook page or Twitter profile will not achieve anything. The truth is social media needs a content strategy that defines what you will post or share and how you will engage others meaningfully. It also requires a PR and marketing strategy that determines how you will use it to share your key messages or promote a latest product/service or build your online brand.

3. Social Media Needs To Be Integrated With Everything Else
If your PR efforts are being handled by one agency or consultant and your social media efforts by another, you are doing this the WRONG way. Social Media must become intrinsic to your organization and complement everything else you do online or offline – whether it’s recruiting efforts, sending out a press release or publicizing your latest campaign. Social media offers tools to share your message (among other tools) and it must be integrated with your offline PR, HR or marketing efforts to represent your brand or organization authentically.

What are your thoughts on this? Weigh in using the comments section below.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Key Social Media Lessons For Non-Profits From Long Island's Day of Giving

The Long Island Social Media Day of Giving event for non-profit
organizations was held on October 19 at Touro Law College.
(Photo Credit: Mo Krochmal)
Earlier this week, I volunteered, along with other social media pros, at Long Island’s Social Media Day of Giving event to offer social media training and advice to non-profit organizations.

The event was held at Touro Law College, where I was in the good company of some extremely talented and experienced social media professionals and enterprising non-profit organizations that wanted to understand how they could leverage social media to take their mission forward.

While most of the participants understood the benefits of social media, common concerns that resonated among the group were how to create a framework for using social media, how to develop social media policies and get board members and executives ‘on board’ with using these new tools they may not necessarily understand.

Based on what was discussed, I’d like to share my own and the collective insights of the group, for the benefit of other non-profit organizations that may be facing the same questions and issues.

Creating a Framework for Using Social Media:

1) Before you start a blog, create a Facebook page or Twitter profile, lay out a strategy for being truly social in the social media world. Consider your objective, target audience and how you can best engage them. This will help you choose the best tool for your social media outreach.
2) Plan ahead for what type of content you will post, how much time you will devote, who will be responsible for managing social media and how you will integrate social media into your overall communication plan.
3) Lay down criteria for monitoring and measuring success.

Developing a Social Media Policy:

1) A social media policy should roughly define how your organization will participate in online conversations, who will have the authority to speak on behalf of your organization and what key messages you should convey.
2) Define the topics or information that should NOT be shared to maintain confidentiality and legal compliance.
3) Ask that comments on blogs or your Facebook page be respectful and within certain defined parameters (no violent, abusive or racist language etc.) Lay down a policy for dealing with negative comments.
4) Just like IBM and other large organizations, ask employees to use the first person (‘I’ versus ‘we’) so that anything they say in the social media space is representative of their own opinions and not necessarily the opinion of your organization.

Tip: Check out the Environmental Defense Fund’s Social Media Policy.

Getting Board Members and Higher-ups ‘On Board’:

1) If senior executives don’t ‘get’ social media or perceive it as a frivolous activity for teenagers, reframe the context by avoiding ‘social media speak’. Instead, try calling it ‘community outreach.’
2) Focus on results rather than the tools. Senior board members don’t need to understand the technicalities of Facebook or Twitter though they need to understand what results these tools can achieve.
3) Presenting case studies of similar non-profit organizations who have successfully implemented social media may strengthen your case and add more credibility.
4) Show them the numbers. In rough economic times, low-cost (and even free) social media tools can amplify the reach and effectiveness of your message and help you promote an event/campaign, raise funds, publicize your cause and garner support for your mission.

If you have a question or advice on how non-profits can use social media, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

Special Shout-out: Thanks and kudos to Mo Krochmal, a digital journalism and social media specialist, who organized the hugely successful event in collaboration with Prof. Jonathan Ezor, director of the Touro Law Institute Center for Business, Law and Technology. Also to Jeff Namnum and all other volunteers who helped make the event a success.

Visit Prism Media to learn more about our social media services.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Whose 'Gap' Is It Anyway?

Last week, international clothing retailer, Gap, unveiled a new logo that unleashed a firestorm of harsh criticism from customers and fans over the Internet. According to Gap, since they’ve had the same logo for more than 20 years, the company decided to redesign it to make it look more contemporary.

But far from contemporary, the logo has been perceived as dull and unimaginative, drawing hundreds of negative comments on Gap’s Facebook page and spawning several Twitter accounts (@GapLogo, @CrapLogo) that make fun of the company and its new logo. A few customers even swore on the company’s Facebook page that if this logo was brought into the store, they would no longer shop at Gap. A week later, people are still talking about the logo fiasco and wondering what the heck Gap was thinking (some are also questioning if this was a gimmick to generate buzz for the brand.)

The Gap debacle reminds me of the font furor that ensued last year when home furnishings company, IKEA, changed the font in its logo from Futura to Verdana. Verdana became a trending topic on Twitter as customers from all over the world expressed their disgust with the new font, calling it ‘just plain ugly.’ Just like Gap, IKEA also said it was ‘surprised’ by the response. They simply never thought it would be a big deal.

Both these incidents prove yet again what a few brand theorists have always asserted: A brand is defined by its customers, not the company that creates it. One of my favorite books on social media, Groundswell (Charlene Li & Josh Bernoff) quotes Ricardo Guimaraes, founder of Thymus Branding in Brazil. According to Guimaraes, “the value of a brand belongs to the market, and not to the company. The company in this sense is a tool to create value for the brand…Brands live outside the company, not in the company.”

The idea that brands are defined by customers is not new and neither does it have anything to do with social media. (Think about 'New Coke' in 1985 and the uproar it created.) But in the age of social media, where it has become easier for customers to instantly voice their opinions, connect with each other and exchange their reviews and comments about you, companies need to be even more mindful of the role customers play in shaping brands and how social media has empowered them more than ever before.

Does this mean every company or organization should be crowd sourcing every new initiative/idea/logo redesign? Not necessarily. But the least they should do is to keep customers in the loop, explain their decisions or plans, and ask for suggestions. Just listening to customers can make them feel more valued and better prepared to accept an evolution of a brand they love and are accustomed to.

Post Script: After first announcing that they would be crowd sourcing ideas from customers for logos on their Facebook page (seeing how much customers and fans hated the new logo,) Gap has now announced it will keep its classic blue box logo for now. Here’s a statement from Gap Brand North America’s President, Marka Hansen, taken from a press release:

“At Gap brand, our customers have always come first. We’ve been listening to and watching all of the comments this past week. We heard them say over and over again they are passionate about our blue box logo, and they want it back. So we’ve made the decision to do just that – we will bring it back across all channels.

“We’ve learned a lot in this process. And we are clear that we did not go about this in the right way. We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community. This wasn’t the right project at the right time for crowd sourcing. “There may be a time to evolve our logo, but if and when that time comes, we’ll handle it in a different way.”

My own Gap-like logo, created from http://craplogo.me/.
Go ahead, crap your own logo now!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Writing & Optimizing Press Releases For The Web

All content created for the Web should follow a simple rule of thumb: It should be easily accessible when someone looks for it online. This rule applies to press releases as well, which are increasingly being distributed and made available online through services such as PRWeb, PR Newswire, BusinessWire and other sites.

In general, content is made more accessible for the Web by ensuring that it is optimized using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques. Having worked at a few PR agencies, I have been surprised by how little thought was given to optimizing press releases for the Web. Don’t get me wrong — NOTHING trumps good writing and good content and yes, traditionally the sole objective of press releases has been to distribute them to the media and to generate coverage.

But in the online world, where all your audiences converge and your brand interactions are transformed into a social experience, you might as well try and earn maximum visibility for your press or news release (as marketing/PR guru David M. Scott prefers to call them) over the Web and use them as an opportunity to reach your customers directly. For small businesses, news releases offer the additional advantage of  strengthening their online presence, linking back to their websites and improving their search engine rankings.

How Do You Optimize Press Releases For The Web?

1. Identify Keywords
Keywords are the very heart of SEO. Before beginning to write your press release, determine the keywords you should be optimizing for. Keywords are select words or phrases that people enter in search engines when they are looking for solutions/products that your business or service can provide.

If you already use Google Analytics for your website, then you should examine what keywords people use the most to reach your site. Think of all the words that best describe your company, industry, product or service. Once you compile a list of keywords, use tools such as Google AdWords’ Keywords (free) or Wordtracker (paid) to determine related keywords, how often the keyword is used and how competitive it is. To increase the chances of ranking high and being found easily, it is best to choose keywords that are not extremely competitive but still have sufficient, if not high, search volume.

2. Add The Keywords To Your News Release
Once you have identified your main keywords, you need to incorporate them into different parts of your news release. The headline is the most important part of the release for adding keywords since search engines rank pages for search terms based, in part, on the headline or title of the page. Include your most important keyword in the headline. While the headline should include keywords, it should also be short (65 characters or less is the maximum length Google will display) and catchy enough for readers to want to click on it.

Distribution sites such as PRWeb also ask you for a summary of the press release. Include the same or different keywords in the summary and the body of the press release as well. Depending on a user’s search terms, search engines often pick out parts of content that match that word or phrase and display the summary below the title for each search result, helping users get an idea of what may be most relevant to them. While including keywords is important, they should not be overused in your press release – this will affect the quality of your content and you could possibly be penalized by search engines.

3. Add Relevant Links
News releases intended for online distribution must include relevant links that point back to your website. This will direct readers on where to look for more information and improve your website’s rankings in search engines. Relevance is important for creating links so a mention of a new product, for example, should point back to a page on your website that describes the new product. Include your website link in the boiler plate of the release as well.

Sites such as PRWeb also allow you to include images and videos, which can make your release more Web friendly, draw more attention and make it more searchable by including relevant tags. Add social bookmarking and social media links to your release, allowing readers to share it easily over Facebook, Twitter, delicious and other social media sites. Besides online wires, post the release on your own website and post links to the release on your blog, Facebook page and organization’s Twitter profile, to draw more readers.

Other tips to keep in mind while writing press releases for the Web:
a) Avoid jargon
b) Keep copy short and Web-friendly
c) Make it interesting and newsworthy.

On a related note, see this PRWeb video on the benefits of writing and distributing press releases online.



Do you have any tips for better writing and optimizing press releases for the Web? Please share them in the comments section below. Visit Prism Media to learn more about our public relations and search engine optimization services.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What's Plaguing Print Media & Why We Should Pay For Quality Content Online


Before my husband and I got married, we were both in two different countries and spent many long hours talking over the phone. At times, my husband racked up as much as $200 in monthly phone bills.

Fast-forward to five years later, when I attempt conversation with the husband later in the evening or during dinner, I am often met with responses that range from ‘I’m hungry and don’t want to talk right now’ to ‘I’m tired/working on something/watching TV, and can’t talk about this right now.’ Each time this happens, I (unfailingly) remind him of the time when he paid good money just to hear me talk and how ironic it is that when he can talk to me for free, for as long as he wants, he simply does not want to.

The moral of this story? When something is available for free, its value is invariably cheapened. This, in my opinion, is precisely the root of the problem facing the print journalism industry in the United States.

When newspapers shifted online and made their Web versions free, they buried the very business model that they were built on. As readers flocked online, choosing to give up the experience of reading a physical paper in exchange for free content on the Web, circulation and advertising dropped. Since then, print publications have been fighting a tough, long battle as online advertising has failed to generate as much revenue.

Over the last few years, the survival of print media has been as discussed and debated as the-is-the-recession-over or will-the-world-end-in-2012 questions (in which case we have a lot more to worry about than just the demise of print media.) Last week, The New York Times’ publisher and Chairman, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., hinted the company will stop printing The New York Times “sometime in the future.” He also said he believes that “serious media organizations must start collecting additional revenue from their readers.”

The question of whether and how much readers would pay for content has been a perplexing one with no conclusive answers. Among the major national newspapers, currently, The Wall Street Journal and Newsday charge for online access to large parts of their websites. Other newspapers, such as The New York Times and the Financial Times, have experimented with the part-payment (keeping certain parts of the site free) and micro-payment model (charging a few cents per article) on an on-and-off basis. In the short-term, this strategy has not worked, since consumers could simply shift loyalties to other publications that continue to be free.

Having worked for a few print publications, the survival and spirit of print journalism and media is a subject close to my heart. While they will continue to evolve to keep up with the technological habits and demands of its consumers, I am deeply optimistic about their continued existence.

For one, as the Web gets more and more crowded, we will need authoritative and reliable sources for information and news about the world around us. The Internet is cluttered with all kinds of information, and I don’t believe that blogs and user-generated content can replace the quality of credible information and insight that newspapers offer.

One way to cut through the noise and separate quality content from everything else is to put a price on it. Convincing readers to pay for what was, thus far, available for free will be a challenge but as consumers if we can pay for an iPhone app/game or to download music on iTunes, we can pay for quality journalism as well.

Would you pay to read a newspaper or news article online? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Quick (& Fun) Guide To Twitter Lingo

On April 17, 2009, Oprah Winfrey uttered her first words in the Twitterverse. They read like this: HI TWITTERS. THANK YOU FOR A WARM WELCOME. FEELING REALLY 21st CENTURY.

It was the only time the big ‘O’ sounded more like Sarah Palin. Just like ‘refudiate’ is not a word (and Palin is no Shakespeare,) the correct term to use is Tweeters, Tweeps, Twitterers or maybe even Tweeple, but not TWITTERS.

Oprah's first tweet
If you’re a Twitter newbie who feels like a twit for lack of the right Twitter vocab, you can avoid such gaffes by reading this quick guide to Twitter lingo. It will have you winning followers and tweeting with confidence in no time. Read, comment, share, retweet and then go forth and conquer the Twitterverse.

1) Twitterverse: The Twitter Universe or virtual world of Twitter. Populated largely by social media gurus, social media companies, social media enthusiasts and such. Oh and, of course, there are the celebrities and losers others who love to share every minute detail of their mundane ordinary lives every minute of the day.

Twit Tip: Robert Scoble used to be the king of Twitter till he was dethroned by Ashton Kutcher, proving that just like in the real world, good looks get you far in the Twitterverse as well. If you don’t believe me, ask Pete Cashmore.

Pete Cashmore
2) Tweet: Messages/updates that are 140-characters long. You can tweet about anything from the weather to your pet cat to what you just devoured for dinner. But it’s best to stick to tweets that would really be of value and interest to your followers to avoid boring them to death.

Twit Tip: Think Before You Tweet. Careless tweeting has landed many tweeters in a hot unappetizing soup or even gotten them fired from their job.

3) Follow: When you follow someone, their tweets appear on your Twitter home page. Most people follow someone because they’re hoping that person will follow them back and increase their follower count interested in what that person may have to say or share. When someone follows you or becomes your follower, you achieve a cult-like status and thus boost your ego, they can view your tweets. The more the followers you have on Twitter, the bigger your ego influence. To ‘unfollow’ someone means that they were too dull/stupid/annoying for you you will stop seeing the person’s tweets in your timeline.

Twit Tip: Choose your followers based on your personal and professional interests. Use the follow feature meaningfully to connect, learn and schmooze network with others.

4) Twitter Handle/Username: This is your own unique identity on Twitter @ followed by your user-name. The @username automatically becomes a link to your account and helps your followers or other tweeps to identify and discover you.

Twit Tip: Choose your twitter handle wisely. While choosing something cute like littlebunnyrabbit or narcissistic like KingOfTheWorld may seem like a good idea to you, your potential employers may not be impressed when they look for you online.

5) Mentions/Replies: To reply or direct a Tweet to someone specific, use the @username followed by your tweet. When the @username appears at the beginning of the tweet, it is considered a reply, when it appears anywhere else within the tweet, it is considered a mention. You can view both from the ‘replies’ tab on your Twitter homepage.

Twit Tip: If you don’t have any @ mentions or replies in your Twitter stream, then you are like Tom Hanks conversing with Wilson the volleyball in Cast Away. In other words, you are simply talking to yourself.

6) DM: Though DM also stands for Dispersion Measure, Diabetes Mellitus and Doctorate in Medicine, in the Twitterverse, it is short for a Direct Message. DMs are private messages sent by one Twitter user directly to another and are only visible to the sender and the recipient. DMs cannot exceed more than 140 characters and you can only DM people who follow you.

7) Retweet: Retweeting is a good way to suck up to someone you follow repost an interesting tweet by someone you follow, to your own followers. You can retweet by directly hitting the retweet button at the bottom right of each tweet or by adding the letters RT before the message to give proper credit to the tweet’s original author.

This list is by no means an exhaustive one, so please feel free to add your own Twitter lingo in the comments section below. And last but not the least, connect with me on Twitter.





Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Quick Guide To Facebook Pages

A Quick Guide To Facebook Pages is the first in the series of guides on social media. It's a short primer for anyone just getting started or thinking of creating a Facebook page for their business. This post is also available as a downloadable PDF on the Resources page. Please feel free to download or share. Comments and feedback are welcome.

Overview

A simple rule of business communication is to take your message where your customers are. Facebook, one of the largest social media networks with over 500 million active users (collectively, we spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook,) has grown beyond its role in personal networking and emerged as a powerful marketing tool for businesses. Facebook pages are now an essential branding tool for all organizations, helping businesses or non-profit organizations of all sizes interact and engage directly with customers or a community in a way that’s least interruptive.


Facebook pages enable you to create your own unique presence where customers can interact with you and keep in touch with your brand, product or service. By clicking on the ‘Like’ button on your page, customers can access the latest updates on your wall, read your latest blog entry or event, and view videos or photos you may post on your profile. They can also participate in discussions and post comments on your posts.

When someone likes, posts a comment or interacts with your page, their activity is visible to their friends through Facebook’s News Feed. The social nature of Facebook gives your page greater exposure, allowing you to attract more fans and draw attention to your company or organization.

Besides these benefits, Facebook pages usually rank high in search engines, helping potential customers find you easily and own more ‘real estate’ in the first few search pages. By sharing links with company-related news or other information on your website, you can drive more clicks and better optimize your site for improved search engine results.

How To Get Started

1) Set up your profile. If you already have a personal profile, just log in to your account and click on ‘Ads and Pages’ on the left hand side of your profile or on ‘Advertising’ on the bottom right of the page. Once the advertising page opens up, click on ‘Promote your Facebook page or website’ under the heading ‘Deepen Relationships.’ Next, click on the green ‘Create a Page’ button. If you can’t find it, click directly on this link.

2) Select an appropriate business category for your page and enter your company information.

3) Upload a profile picture. List your website’s URL and links to your blog or Twitter profile, along with other contact information. While creating a profile, think about how you want to project your company to your fans and what keywords you want to include in your profile and business description.

4) Click on ‘publish your page’ once the page is set up, to make it public.

5) Invite friends from your personal profile to ‘like’ your business page. If you don’t have a personal profile, it is recommended that you set one up first before creating a business page. Having a personal Facebook profile will make it easier to promote your Facebook page among your existing network.

What Should You Post On Your Facebook Page?

1) Post regular updates on new projects your company may be working on, links to latest company news, press releases, press coverage or your latest blog post. You can also post latest events, videos and pictures or start discussions with your fans, inviting ideas or soliciting their feedback. Keep your profile active to engage and retain existing fans and attract new ones.

2) Use applications such as Facebook polls to gauge what your customers think about a particular product or new service you want to introduce.

How To Attract More Fans (or Likes) To Your Page

1) ‘Like’ your own Facebook business page so that your Facebook friends learn about your page through the news feed. You can then also invite your own Facebook friends to like your page by using the ‘Suggest to Friends’ feature that shows up below your profile picture on the top left.

2) Publicize your page by adding links to it on your website, e-newsletter and blog. You can even add a clickable Facebook badge or icon to your e-mail signature that points to your Facebook page. If you wish to try paid options, use Facebook ads to publicize your fan page to a select target audience based on demographic or geographic criteria or other criteria such as profession or interests.

3) Offer quality content that would be useful to your Facebook fans. Dell is a great example of a company that does a great job of providing useful content and giving fans a reason to visit their Facebook page. Another way is to create a contest that persuades fans to participate or offer them an exclusive discount or deal to provide them with an incentive to ‘Like’ your page.

You can download this article as a PDF here (requires logging in using your existing SlideShare account or creating a new one.) Visit Prism Media to learn more about our Social Media services or to contact us for more information.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Foursquare Checkin @ Social Media Rehab Clinic

Picture Credit:
http://www.stopwritingonmywall.com/
Like a lot of people my age, I tend to embrace technology and I’m quick to adapt to the new social mediums that have sprung up as a result of technological innovation. It has made communication interesting, exciting and full of new possibilities. But lately, even I haven’t been able to stop myself from asking how much is a little too much?

Recently, I went on a weekend trip to Cape Cod in Massachusetts with my husband. Two other friends were travelling with us and the four of us – all between the ages of 29 to 31– each had an iPhone. The constant access to the Internet, email, news and social media applications made our trip quite convenient and stress-free. We could plan our local sightseeing itinerary by looking up all the relevant information during our trip itself and also easily look up nearby places to eat on Google Maps and search for reviews using the Yelp application. The long drive was also less tedious since we could keep ourselves entertained by listening to music on Pandora and checking out our Facebook updates and Twitter streams, all thanks to our smartphones.

At the same time, I could not help but notice how fidgety we all were. Throughout the trip, all of us were constantly inclined toward pulling out our phones every now and then and checking for new emails, surfing the Web or engaging socially online. Given that we had only one (slow) iPhone battery charger in our car, each of us competed and took turns in giving little bursts of life to our dying, over-used phones. When we stopped at rest areas, we ensured that we refueled not just ourselves but also our phones by carrying our iPhone charger and looking for plug points at food courts.

This may be a little exaggerated, but in some way, the continual survival of our phones seemed to have become almost essential to our existence. As this new reality sank in, I wondered: Are we over-wired, over-connected and over-indulging in all forms of media?

Part of the answer lies in this experiment called 24 Hours: Unplugged, conducted by the University of Maryland in April. Around 200 students from various majors were asked to abstain from all sorts of social media for 24 hours – this included not using any media device such as phones, laptops, iPods, and not engaging over Facebook, Twitter or online chat. The students were asked to write down their experiences during this experiment (which were later chronicled on a blog.)

Some students failed the experiment because they simply did not know what to do without access to media. Others failed because they could not avoid media – it was everywhere and inescapable – televisions playing at the gym, music blaring in hallways or their room-mates playing video games. The common responses among students included "In withdrawal. Frantically craving. Very anxious. Extremely antsy. Miserable. Jittery. Crazy.”

Many students also said they felt uninformed and cut off from others since their friendships and relationships were dependent on technology. At the end of the experiment, many admitted being addicted to technology and said while they felt ‘freer’ and a ‘little happy’ during the experiment, they also felt more disconnected and thus more discontented. Here’s one conclusion from the study: “Overall, a day without media ends up making you feel very uninformed and lost….Not being able to use media also makes you realize how much you are missing and how much time you are wasting. Media has a trade-off between its usefulness and its ability to waste your time.”

Increasingly, I find myself hearing or reading about people opting for a self-imposed exile from media-driven technology to help them overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed and dominated by it. Recently, The New York Times presented a challenge to readers, asking them to unplug for a period of time and share their experiences through short videos. Most readers took up the challenge with the objective of proving to themselves that they could survive without constantly consuming media, and thus feel liberated by that knowledge.

How do you deal with the onslaught of information and technology-driven media, which though useful can be a time-sinker that distracts you from other priorities? Some experts suggest measures such as setting aside specific times and places to use technology, and keeping computers and other devices away from the dinner table and the bedroom. Others suggest maintaining a time log to record one’s daily media consumption and also accept and recognize the fact that there is more information out there than one can possibly consume.

Do you follow a regime to regulate your usage of the Internet/social media and have you ever tried to unplug to avoid it all? How do you balance the need to participate in social media and communicate without over-indulging? I’d love to hear about your experiences.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What Does Google Say About You? Top Five Tips For Protecting Your Online Reputation

On one hand, the online world has the potential to turn you into an overnight star (yesterday’s story about JetBlue’s flight attendant, Steven Slater) while on the other hand, it can sink your ship in an instant (Remember the video of Domino’s Pizza employees tainting food and consequently, the company’s reputation?)

Thanks to the instant publishing power of the Web, anyone with an opinion (and a computer or mobile device with an Internet connection) can easily broadcast his or her thoughts into this virtual space. While this has empowered the voice of a lone consumer, a single negative comment or story, whether deserved or not, can ruin the reputation of a company and seriously hamper its business.

Recently, I was involved with helping a few clients mitigate some of the damage done to their online reputation. One of them was a local small business that had a negative comment by a customer on a notorious website called Rip-off Reports. When you searched for the company online, the comment was the first thing you saw in search results, appearing even higher than the company’s own website. As a result, the company’s business and reputation were both taking a huge hit.

So what do you do if you find yourself or your company in such a situation? Google will not remove the site with the negative comments or content from its search results, though the site’s rankings or where it appears in search results may change over time. In a lot of cases, even if the comments were deserved, they can deprive a person or organization of a second chance.

Based on my experiences, I am recommending my top five tips to help repair, protect and better manage your online reputation. But before outlining the tactics, I would recommend evaluating and identifying the right strategy for managing your online profile. Again, based on my experiences, I have found that clients are often myopic when it comes to dealing with negative content. One unpleasant experience is also often enough for them to clam up and be less willing to embrace the Internet. As a result, they make the mistake of simply wanting to push down the offensive content, without giving a thought to how they can really use the Web to build a strong online reputation.

While your objective should be to crowd out or push down negative information, your strategy should be to do this in a way that actually enhances and helps you control your online profile as much as possible. In other words, focus on creating quality content that will expand your influence, display your potential and win the trust of your clients or customers, while pushing down the negative content at the same time.

Executing the tips I have outlined below requires knowledge of both Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques -- knowing what content search engines will rank high and how to optimize that content and knowledge of Public Relations techniques -- understanding what kind of content will help enhance your online profile and how to generate it.


Picture Credit: evisibility.com

Top Five Tips for Protecting Your Online Reputation

1) Create Websites
If you don’t already have a website for your company, you must create one immediately. If you already have a website but the negative information about you appears higher than your site in search results when people look for your name or your company’s name online, it is important to ensure that proper on-page and off-page SEO techniques are applied to improve your site’s rankings. You may also want to consider adding more pages to your website, creating additional websites or adding subdomains to push down the negative content that appears on page one of Google.

Websites give you a chance to choose what information about yourself you want to put online. Since this is information that you will be creating and which you control, you should make good use of this opportunity.

2) Engage/Network on Social Media Sites
Search engines love frequently updated content so blogs can be a great way to not only get high rankings but also to display your personality or your organization’s expertise. If you can write quality content and attract enough traffic, it will help crowd out or push down the embarrassing content and help you engage with potential customers and build a strong online profile. You could also consider addressing the negative comments and presenting your side of the story on your blog but this should be weighed carefully since this would also mean drawing attention to the negative comment.

Other social media sites I would recommend using are LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, del.icio.us, StumbleUpon and Flickr. Again, it is important to not just create these profiles but also to use them meaningfully. At all times, your strategy should be to build your online personality and reputation and engage with potential customers.

3) Get Listed on Online Business Directories
The Web has many online business directories where you can get your business listed. Sites such as MerchantCircle, Best of the Web Local, Manta, Naymz and Yelp.com usually rank high in Google’s search results, helping you easily create an additional online profile for free. If you have a bigger budget, you can also opt for premium and paid listings on online business directories, which may give you higher rankings.

4) Write Articles, Issue Press Releases
Writing articles or columns for trade publications and local newspapers can be a great opportunity to not just display your expertise but also only create highly-ranked search listings that may push negative content deeper into the search pages. If you can’t get your articles published, then you can self-publish on online sites and ezines such as Scribd.com, Docstoc.com, Articlebase.com and EzineArticles.com.

Similarly, you can write and issue press releases regularly, announcing new products, events or other newsworthy information about your company. If you can’t hire a PR agency to do this, you can write them yourself and submit them to press release distribution sites. Releases distributed through paid sites such as Businesswire.com and PRNewswire.com usually generate good results but if you don’t have the budget for it, you can even consider using free press release distribution sites such as PRLog.org.

5) Invite Testimonials
If one bad testimonial or customer review is hurting you, be proactive and invite other customers (who are happy with you) or your former colleagues/employers to present their testimonials. You can record these in the form of a video or text that you can add to your Website or blog. This will help counter the negative information and build the confidence of potential customers or employers.

Remember…
• Managing your online reputation requires continuously monitoring the content being published about you on the Web. Many large organizations opt for paid and more sophisticated online tracking services but the best way to do this for free is to set up Google Alerts. You can also try using a nifty little tool called Monitor This, which allows you to set up alerts for your keyword in 26 different search engines at the same time.

• Knowing what keywords people use to search for you online is very important. Tools like Google Analytics are a great way to monitor what keywords people use to reach your website and under what search terms the negative comment shows up. Once you determine these keywords, all content you create should be optimized for those words – whether it’s your own name, the name of your product or your company.

• Lastly, it is important to understand that the higher the authority Google gives to the page or site with the negative content, the tougher it will be to push it down in rankings. There are no easy, quick-fix solutions for repairing your online reputation and it will require consistent effort over a period of time.

Do you have any tips to share for better managing or protecting online reputation? Have you faced the consequences of a less-than-desirable online reputation as a result of a negative comment or article? Please share your experiences and comments.

Special Offer: If you or your business needs help with managing your online reputation, visit Prism Media to learn more about our online reputation management services and contact us to receive a free initial evaluation.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Does Social Media Make Us Happier, Healthier?

Ever since I read Blink, I’ve been a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell. After wanting to read Outliers for a long time, I finally got my hands on it last week. The book begins with an interesting reference to a town called Roseto in Pennsylvania, U.S. The residents of this town, all migrants from the village of Roseto Valfortore in Italy, immigrated to Pennsylvania between 1882 to 1894, working in the local slate quarries.

In the 1950s, a physician named Stewart Wolf heard something interesting about the Rosetans; a local doctor mentioned to him that in the two decades of his practice, he had rarely found any patients from Roseto under the age of 65 with heart disease. At that time, heart disease was one of the leading causes of death in men under the age of 65 in the U.S., so Dr. Wolf found this fascinating.

Digging deeper, he uncovered some strange statistics. The town of Roseto had no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction and very little crime. Even though their eating habits were unhealthy and many of them were even obese, the death rate from heart disease among men over 65 was three times lower than the neighboring villages and half the average rate prevalent in the country.

After much research, Dr. Wolf found the answer: it was the sense of community that prevailed in this little village. The tight-knit community of Rosetans would often visit each other or just stop to chat with one another on the streets. Three generations of family often lived in the same home and 22 civic organizations existed in this town with a population of less than 2,000 people. The answer to their healthy and happy lifestyle lay not in genes, eating habits, geographic location or even exercise but in the community they had built for themselves in the mid-1900s.

But what does this have to do with social media? As I was reading this, I wondered if social media, could, in any way, make us healthier or at least happier? (The assumption being that we indulge in moderation.) This is a complex research question and I agree, the sense of community the Rosetans created through face-to-face communication, cannot be compared to engaging virtually on social networks.

But some similarities do exist. For one, doesn’t social media lead us to, well, just be more social? Don’t social networks spark more conversation between us? Don’t we stop by to have brief (140-word) conversations with our community of followers on Twitter? Without limiting our interaction to geographic location, social networks can be a great way (especially for immigrant communities) to keep in touch with family and friends, making them, perhaps, feel less isolated.

As I was pondering this question, I came across Jim Stolze’s Virtual Happiness Project which studies the relationship between the social aspects of the Web and happiness. According to his experiments, sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube “give people a sense of belonging and community, which is a fundamental piece of our well-being.”

Of course, there are studies that suggest otherwise. There have been many studies about how social networks lead to addiction, even isolation, as virtual interactions replace “real” ones and how we are becoming increasingly dependent on the Web (a subject I will tackle in another blog post.) Yet, I don’t think it would be illogical to assume that the sense of community we build from engaging in social networks probably does contribute, even if in a small way, to our well-being. After all, don’t we all feel happy when our community of friends on Facebook wishes us on our birthday or when we get in touch with a long-lost school friend we were once close to?

I would love to hear about your own experiences. Do you think social media or specifically, social networks, have contributed to making you a happier person? Do you know of any other studies that have measured this correlation?
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