Friday, November 18, 2011

Looking In The Rear View Mirror

Feet
Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons - Castle79

You know all those people who always dream of coming to America? I was never one of them.

Yet six years ago, I landed in New York on what was a rather cold November day. I was a newly married 25-year-old who had never visited the U.S. before and ended up here to join my husband who worked here though he too, like me, is from Bombay. Thanks to visa processing delays, I had to wait behind for over two months after our wedding, which meant making the big move by myself.

I packed into two suitcases as many of my treasured possessions as airline regulations would permit, bid farewell to all my friends and family, and landed at JFK airport after a 24-hour long journey. As excited as I was to start a new life, along with me, unnoticed by the watchful eyes of the immigration, slipped in a certain sense of displacement, which though has diminished with time, I suspect will never really go away.

I barely knew anyone in the U.S. – I didn’t have a single relative here (can be a good thing sometimes, especially if you’re Indian) though I did have a few friends from school and college scattered in other cities. And if the amount of time spent together is directly proportional to how well you know someone, you could argue that I didn’t know my husband too (though I’d like to believe that was not the case.)

We had what is famously labeled in India as an “arranged marriage*” made more complicated by the fact that we were in two different countries and could only communicate virtually for almost a year before we got married. During this time, we had spent a total of three weeks of actual time together – the only time when the husband-to-be could take leave and come back home for a visit. (Sounds crazy, right? But crazy or not, considering it’s been over six years now, that’s still 30.417 times Kim Kardashian’s marriage (365x6)/72))!

Though I was no stranger to American culture – if a regular diet of Hollywood movies, American TV shows, MTV and Archie comics can be considered educational – I still had lots to learn about the new world I had landed into. At times, the smallest of things perplexed me:
  • How could the smallest cup of coffee at Starbucks be called ‘tall?’
  • In India, the floor at the ground level is called the ground floor and the level above is the called the first floor. So the ground floor in India = first floor in the U.S. This meant that I did mistakenly get into an elevator once (ok, maybe more than once, out of habit) to go up to the first floor.
  • Taking the ‘u’ out of words like colour and humour just seemed wrong, as did replacing the ‘s’ with a ‘z’ in organise and analyse. But I hastened at making a good effort to switch from British English to American after some of my spellings were marked “wrong” on college writing assignments <inserting eye-roll here for dramatic effect./>
Six years later, my written English is now completely purged of its British influence and I can’t help but reflect on how far I’ve come. While moving to a new country opens up a whole universe, it also has the unintended consequence of making you feel stuck in between two worlds. Most people end up clinging more than ever to their roots, struggling between the dichotomous paths of retaining a sense of their identity, even as they try to integrate themselves with the culture and people of their new home.

There was no Facebook or Twitter when I first got here and it’s also been interesting to observe the role new media has played in my life as an immigrant since then. Agreed, it’s often been a source of endless distraction – not everything I end up reading is of cerebral value, sometimes nothing more than inane details of other people’s lives. But at the same time, it’s helped me stay in touch with friends and events back home. Sometimes, I learn about breaking news events in India even before my family and friends do. It serves as an optical illusion that makes everything seem less distant and more connected.

At the other end of the spectrum, it’s also helped me better acquaint myself with my new home. I find myself more attuned to the world around me. In some ways, I have found it easier to connect with people through online channels. I don’t mean to suggest that virtual interactions can replace the depth of IRL friendships but I have found that the Web can have a unifying effect – factors like where you're from and whether you speak English with an Indian accent, matter much less. Virtual communication can make differences between people less pronounced and place the focus more on the actual interaction.

Six years later, I am grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had and all the good things that have come my way. And that’s only appropriate considering Thanksgiving is around the corner. (Traditional turkey with an Indian twist, anyone?)

How does new media touch your life personally? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

*arranged marriage - No, I wasn't forced to marry my husband. I could have said no if I wanted to. And I did, to other ‘prospects’ before him (God bless them!)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Clout Is Spelled With a 'C'


Doesn't she look a little too excited for a Klout score of 38? 

Chasing a high Klout score to become influential is somewhat akin to chasing materialism as a way to achieve happiness. Both are bound to end in disappointment. Or at least that’s what the Dalai Lama would say if he knew about Klout.

Klout raised a huge furor yesterday when it changed its ranking algorithm. The scores of a majority of people on Twitter fell by at least 5-10 points, if not more. Klout’s blog post announcing the change in algorithms to reflect a “more transparent and accurate’ score, attracted a lot of angry (and some very entertaining) comments from people who were terribly upset about the steep drop in Klout scores. I joked on Twitter that the extreme reactions made it seem like the stock market had just crashed. But if Klout scores had gone up across the board, would the same people have been complaining? (Some of them definitely weren’t complaining when they got all those free Klout perks.)

Klout’s formula of influence itself has continued to shift as the company grew. It started off by only measuring people’s influence on Twitter and soon expanded to include other online networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, FourSquare and even blogging platforms. It seems that the change in algorithm now gives greater weight to Facebook than it did before. And as a result, most people on Twitter have found seen their Klout scores drop.

If you think about it, it makes good business sense. A LOT more people are on Facebook than on Twitter. More numbers = more revenue for Klout. So far, most people registered with  Klout have been Twitter users. Know anyone who is only on Facebook and knows/cares about Klout? It seems that this is exactly what Klout is looking to change by adding Facebook as a major variable in the influence game.

I absolutely agree that Klout is not an accurate measure of one’s influence, as many others have said before. It never was, even before they changed their algorithm. Case in point: Two of the top topics Klout believes I’m influential in, include ‘Congress’ and ‘Terrorism.’ As an outsider to the U.S., I am hardly knowledgeable enough to be influential in Congress. And as a Muslim...well, never mind.  Let's just say the existing stereotypes are damaging enough. (I’m just glad it’s possible to hide topics you don’t want to be considered influential in because it's really so off-base!)

The biggest lesson from the Klout debacle should be this: As Klout’s algorithms change, so will your score and your so-called 'influence.' Are you any less influential than you were yesterday even though your score has dropped? Of course not. That itself should speak volumes about the wisdom of focusing so narrowly on Klout as a barometer of influence.

That said, can we completely ignore Klout scores? It depends on who you ask. If you’re influential in the online and offline world – that is, you are well-known in social media circles, have plenty of connections and are widely recognized as an expert in your field – you can probably afford to ignore your Klout score, you have earned your influence and you don't need it to prove your worth. But if you’re a 22-year-old, looking for an entry-level job in social media, you will probably need a high Klout score, among other qualifications and skills, to have a good shot at getting a job in this market because recruiters and hiring managers are looking at your Klout score (hopefully, among other things.)

We can cry ourselves hoarse over the unfairness/foolishness of using Klout as a metric, but the truth is that as long as there are people who attach some degree of importance to Klout scores –companies giving out free products to influencers, recruiters, conference organizers looking for speakers with high Klout scores—there will be people paying attention to their scores and consciously looking to game/improve on them.

As Kellye Crane wisely said during yesterday’s #solopr chat, “Easy scores like Klout are for the lazy, IMO. We need to keep educating.” Hopefully, with time, there will be a greater understanding of Klout’s limitations and people will pay less attention to scores when reaching out to influencers or hiring new candidates. Till then, it’s worthwhile to remember that clout is spelled with a ‘C!’

What are your views on Klout? Love it, hate it, ignore it?

Some other recent Klout-related posts worth checking out:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Is Social Media For Everyone?


By now, most people understand the ‘why’ of social media – why it’s important as a communication/marketing/PR and customer service tool to engage with your target audience and amplify your message. The ‘how’ is what a lot of people still grapple with and that’s where, most often, PR and social media consultants come into the picture. As much as we all champion social media, is it really for everyone and for every type of business?

With all the blog posts and material online that wax eloquent on the benefits of social media for every type of business, there is no lack of proof that it works. But sometimes, we need to examine the question more than the answer and I don’t believe social media alone is the answer to everything.

Recently, I had the opportunity to delve into this question a little more deeply after I met with a prospective client who runs a hair loss restoration clinic for women. This client had been grappling with the question of starting a Facebook page for a while and said she’d gone over her head reading books, listening to webinars and other tutorials on using Facebook and was still trying to figure out if it would work for her business. Hair loss being a very personal (and often traumatic) experience, especially for women, her clients preferred to keep their treatments private. In many cases, even the spouses of the women did not know that they were undergoing treatment. Since most current and prospective clients would not want to make their interest or association with her public, her question was if a Facebook page made sense for her business?

I’m sure there are other similar businesses, especially in the health care sphere to whom this question applies as well. How do you then decide whether a Facebook page or social media in general, is for you?

Here are five suggestions on how to evaluate this better:

1. Evaluate your goals and target audience: A lot of businesses make the mistake of focusing on the tools instead of the broader strategy. Before thinking about whether Facebook is right for you, it’s better to start at the beginning by evaluating your business goals and target audience more thoroughly. In the case of the hair restoration clinic, the client’s goal was mainly to focus on the local target audience, mainly women in the New York City and Long Island area, and to generate a few new clients every month. The strategy would be to reach out to these women in a way that they felt comfortable with and provide them with enough information to trust the client’s clinic for their treatments through a variety of integrated approaches - a combination of PR, marketing and social media. Once you have the goal and strategy mapped out, selecting the right tool will be easier.

2. Focus on the basics first
Before wading out into the social media world, evaluate the basics.
- Does your website provide the information potential customers may be looking for?
- Is it easy to navigate?
- Does it include keyword-rich copy?
- Does it have a clear call to action?
- Does it have the relevant title tags and meta tags to help clients find you online when they search for you online, besides implementing othe off-page SEO techniques?

3. Just ask your target audience
When in doubt, ask. If you’re not sure if your audience would like to engage with you publicly on social media sites, the best thing to do would be to ask current clients.

4. Keep track of what your competitors are doing
Every business has different goals and so while it doesn’t make sense to do blindly emulate your competitors, it does make sense to examine whether your competitors are using social media and what level of success they’re achieving, if any, and how you can do better than them.

5. Evaluate all the possible tools and see which one best meets your goals
In the case of the hair restoration clinic, it would make more sense to start with a blog than a Facebook page since prospective customers could read and comment anonymously and still learn more about the clinic and the various treatments available. A blog would also give the client an opportunity to create keyword-rich and informative content that would help potential customers find the clinic when they search online. An e-newsletter may also make more sense since customers could sign up for it on the website and receive and read it privately over email.

Since one of the major reasons businesses use social media is because of its ability to allow us to engage with other people, it is worthwhile to ask if it makes sense to invest in it if it is likely to yield limited engagement. Solo PR pro Kellye Crane wrote a great and somewhat related post recently ‘Does it Make Sense to Blog Even If No One is Reading’ that talked about the indirect benefits of blogging – letting your customers find you through your content, giving them an opportunity to learn about your expertise and driving traffic back to your website.

Back to the original question, while a Facebook page may see limited engagement and interaction, it can still be used as an additional, if not the primary, channel to share blog posts, e-newsletters and other updates. The fact still remains that people spend a lot of time on Facebook (even more than they may admit) and are more likely to read your e-newsletter and blog post even if they may not open your emails.

Do you think social media is for everyone? Does it makes sense to have a Facebook page if actual engagement is likely to be low? Share your thoughts!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Socializing In Circles

This week, I finally managed to get on to Google+ (A special shoutout to my friend, Reevi Rajan for the invite!) It took a while to get there, thanks to Google's night-club-velvet-rope approach. (No, I didn't receive a special early bird invite. Guess I'm not important enough. Sigh!)

I’d already read a lot about Google+’s features, so I somewhat knew what to expect. And I immediately started putting my friends, acquaintances and people I follow on Twitter, into circles (earlier, I just put them in boxes – so the change is merely geometrical, so to speak.)

I haven’t tried out all the features yet (I'm yet to play around with Hangouts and Huddle for lack of enough friends who’ve made the move to Google+) so I won’t wax eloquent on all its features or crystal-gaze into its future since I’m no ‘expert.’ But I will say that I am glad that there is a social network that recognizes that ‘friends’ cannot be clubbed together under one homogenous label. There were times when I held back from saying something too personal because apart from my close friends, a lot of acquaintances and people I know professionally, would be reading it. There were also times when I shared links or other information that I felt would be completely irrelevant to some of my ‘friends.’

A good friend of mine had even started a second Facebook account, which she hoped would allow her to be herself with a select group of close friends since her other account had more acquaintances than friends. So I’m thrilled that Google+ makes it so easy to arrange people into friends, acquaintances and other people whom I may not know personally - such as folks I follow on Twitter -- but whose posts I would like to ‘follow.’ I also love the fact that Google+ allows you to edit comments or posts. I hate typos and ended up deleting and reposting on Facebook quite a few times. I’m hoping that Google+ gains enough traction; it's still quite lonely out there and the network's success hinges on how many people will be willing to make the switch from Facebook.

Jay Baer made an interesting point in his blog post ‘Why Google Has The Hammer To Make Businesses Use Google Plus.’ Because Google mainly controls search and also has a whole range of other products under its wing, the ability to offer an integrated experience is what makes Google a powerful player. (I love how I can integrate Picasa with my Google+ profiles so easily  uploading lots of pictures to Facebook is usually a painful process.) Once Google starts incorporating Google+ in search results, businesses will have to start using it to stay ahead of the SEO game.

A big question on my mind though is if Google+ becomes popular with businesses and people alike, what happens then to the time and effort spent in building engagement and ‘likes’ on Facebook business pages? It really would be undoing a lot of work to start all over again on Google+. Any answers?

If you're looking for information on Google+, here are a few great posts I read this week:

1. 8 Quick Thoughts on Google Plus by Sree Sreenivasan, DNAInfo
2. I Really Wanted To Hate Google Plus by David Meerman Scott
3. Will Google Plus Let Me Hang Out With Halle Berry by Baratunde Thurston
4. Why Google Has The Hammer To Make Businesses Use Google Plus by Jay Baer
5. It Pays to Wait by Kellye Crane
6. Nine Reasons to Switch From Facebook To Google Plus by Mark Sullivan, PC World (via @sabera)
7. Google+ is Facebook's Number One Challenger, and LinkedIn Better Watch Out Too by Paul Sawers, The Next Web (via @sree)

Have you tried out Google+ yet? I'd love to know your thoughts.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Top 5 On-Page Search Engine Optimization Tips

Recently, I met with a prospective client to evaluate PR and marketing strategies for his business, which has been around for at least over a decade. I did a thorough evaluation of his website and realized that none of the web pages had any on-page SEO applied to it. Think of all the business lost because the site never came up when his potential customers tried to look for his services online. I’m quite certain it was because the website designer thought his job was only to design the website and not to do the SEO.

Though this is is the subject of another blog post all together but to achieve success in the online world, a lot of seemingly disparate functions such as web design, graphic design, content writing, SEO, marketing and public relations, must work together. They are all so intertwined now, that it’s almost impossible to separate them from one another.

I’ve mentioned this in another blog post, but all assets or content created for the Web should follow a simple rule of thumb: It should be easily accessible when someone looks for it online. There is little point in having a website if people won’t be able to find it when they type important keywords relating to your product or service. And that’s where Search Engine Optimization comes into play.

Here are five basic but important on-page SEO tips that must be applied to your website:

1) Website copy
Keywords are at the very heart of SEO. Before writing your copy or registering your domain name, make a list of all the keywords that your clients or customers may use to search for you online. Include all the possible alternative phrases and words you think may be important. When working on the website copy, try to ensure that you’re using as many of these keywords as possible while keeping the content relevant and not stuffing too many keywords at the same time.

2) URL
The URL of your website or blog plays an important role in helping others find you. Include relevant keywords in the sub-directory of your domain name. For example, an internal page on your website should not contain random alphabets or numbers, such as:

http://www.prismmedia.com/Page1

A good example of a keyword-rich and relevant URL would be:

http://www.prismmedia.com/Search-Engine-Optimization/On-Page-SEO-Tips

3) Page Title
The page title is probably the most important on-page SEO component. The page title is what shows up on top of your web page when you view it in a browser and it is what search engines display prominently in blue when you type in a search term. Each web page should have a distinct title tag that includes important keywords, separated by pipes. It’s more important to include your keywords in the page title than your company name though that can be added right at the end. The ideal length of a title tag should not be more than 70 characters because it will appear truncated in search results.

4) Meta Description
The meta description is the black text below that appears below the title page in search results. Meta descriptions describe what the page is all about and help users decide whether the website or web page has the relevant information they are looking for. Though they won’t directly affect your site’s SEO, they help increase its relevance to a user, thus attracting more traffic. The meta description should not be the same as the page title and should not be more than 150 characters.

An example of the title tag and meta description I've given to one of the pages on my website.
 
5) Sitemap
A sitemap is an index or list of all your web pages and its hierarchy. A number of free websites will generate a sitemap for you, which should be submitted to search engines (as a text file or RSS/Atom feed) such as Google and Bing. This will help search engines index all pages on your site more efficiently and will help your site’s SEO, especially if your site has many pages and sub-folders.

Do you have any other on-page SEO tips? Share them in the comments section below!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cracking The QR Code

When I was young, I wanted to be a detective for the longest time ever. This vocational pursuit sprung mostly from my voracious reading of any mystery book I could get my hands on at the small local or school library. As a wannabe Sherlock Holmes, I was naturally fascinated by codes, their cryptic vocabulary and stealthy ways of passing secret messages. I read up a great deal on secret code languages and even attempted to develop one of my own that I could share with a select group of close friends.

Perhaps that explains why I was so fascinated to learn about QR codes, which have been all the rage over the last year. Quick Response Codes, as they are called, are those little black and white squares that resemble patterns of tetris game. QR codes were invented in Japan in the 1980s and have been popular in Asia for a while. They can be scanned by a QR code reader on your mobile phone and linked to a Web page, text, phone numbers or SMS. QR codes can be generated for free by a number of websites such as Kaywa or QRStuff.

Lady Gaga posted this QR code on her Facebook page so fans could download her latest 'Born This Way' ringtone.
The best feature of QR codes is that they act as a bridge between the online and offline world. One of the biggest disadvantages of print or outdoor advertising has been the inability to measure results. QR codes, to some extent, help solve that problem because they make it easier to measure how many people not only saw the ad but also acted on it.

What’s cool about QR codes is that while you need a website to generate a unique code for you, they can be made out of anything. In the past year, I’ve seen some pretty wacky examples of QR codes made out of sand, Frisk mints, M&Ms, Lego bricks and even cake icing (talk about making your own code and eating it too!)

You can put QR-codes on flyers, business cards, billboards, window displays and even merchandise (such as this QR-code pendant by Blend Creations that allows you to encode your own custom message or URL.)


Picture credit: Blend Creations
One of the most promising examples of QR code campaigns I’ve seen recently is to use it as a channel for some clever story-telling that creates better engagement and connects the end consumers with the makers of a product and the product's story. The IOU Project by a Madrid-based designer named Kavita Parmar, allows buyers to scan QR codes and see (through videos and pictures) the entire story of how their unique hand-crafted product was made -- from the artisans in India who wove the fabric to the designers in Europe who created the garment. Buyers also have the option of uploading a picture of themselves using or wearing the garment, allowing them to connect with the designers and craftsmen who created their product.

John Fluevog Shoes is another great example. Each of their handcrafted shoes from the Ask Clogs collection has a unique QR code that links to a video of that item being made from start to finish.

 
Picture Credit: John Fluevog Shoes

I think these are both fantastic examples of the use of QR codes. Isn't this the very essence of what we try to achieve through social media tools -- greater engagement, deeper consumer connections with the brand and a more interactive experience that allows people to really relate to the brand and become passionate advocates?

Of course, QR codes are still new and not a lot of consumers outside the social media world know much about them yet but from a measurement standpoint, they certainly have great potential to combine online and offline interactions and make them more meaningful. Besides, they are also somewhat fun to scan -- it always makes me curious to see where a code may lead me to. (Also why they've been so popular in organizing games and scavenger hunts such as the recent Starbucks and Lady Gaga campaign.)

Have you seen any great social media campaigns executed through QR codes? Share them in the comments section below.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

(Don't) Spam A Lot (Or At All)


“We eat ham, and jam and Spam a lot.” ~  Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975

I’m seeing an incredible amount of virus-generated spam on Facebook these days. It’s ruining the Facebook experience for a lot of people who are tired of seeing unwanted messages being posted automatically on their walls. The spike in spam prompted me to post this message on my Facebook wall the other day:


Spam is distracting, intrusive and even destructive. It's virtual environmental pollution that's threatening to overwhelm us in this digital age where it’s so easy to keep creating and distributing content for free. And I don’t mean just on Facebook or Twitter. It’s crept into many aspects of our communication:

when we write gobbledygook.
when our content is not meaningful to our audience.
when we distribute releases that have no news value.
when we send e-newsletters/email blasts to people who never opted in.
when we hit reply all to emails that may not really be relevant or necessary for all recipients.
when we push our links on Twitter during a Tweetchat we’re not participating in.
…the list can go on and on.

It may seem obvious but I’ve been surprised by how many of my (smart) Facebook friends have clicked on spam-like content so there is definitely a need to educate people about spam and the viruses it can infect their devices with.

How can we eliminate or at least reduce and protect ourselves from spam?
Here is a list of some possible steps:
  • Report and block spam on Facebook and Twitter (Norton has a Safe Web App for Facebook that automatically scans all links that are viewable to you on Facebook and warns you of potential threats.)
  • Don’t click on anything that seems too good to be true, odd or even fishy.
  • Think and plan our content carefully and stop publishing for the sake of it.
  • Include unsubscribe buttons on email newsletters (a former client once asked me to make the unsubscribe option as small and obscure as possible so that it would be difficult for people to find and unsubscribe. I cannot even begin to point out the futility (not to mention illegality) of pushing content out to someone who is not interested and doesn’t want to keep reading it. )
  • Educate yourself about the anti-spamming laws in your country (such as the CAN-SPAM Act in the U.S. to protect yourself against spammers.
  • Include your name in the 'National Do Not Call registry' to avoid receiving automated and unsolicited sales calls if you are in the U.S. (On a recent trip to India, I got a local phone card and was inundated with constant automated phone calls from the phone company.)
  • Hotmail is a magnet for spam so if you still use Hotmail for your emails you may want to switch to gmail that has better spam filters. You can also create a filter that checks for messages that do not include your email address in the "To:" or "CC:" fields, which is quite common for spam emails.
  • Uncheck the ‘would you like to receive emails and offers’ box if you are signing up for a service or registering on a site and don’t want to receive information from them.
How do you keep out spam in your personal and professional communications? Share your tips.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Breaking News In 140 Characters

I casually logged on to Twitter last night at 10.30 pm to check my timeline. It only took a few seconds for me to realize that something big was brewing. I read that there were unconfirmed reports that Osama Bin Laden had been killed and that President Barack Obama was scheduled to make a televised national address soon. Within a few minutes, more and more people started tweeting and as the Twitter updates gained more urgency, it became clear that the news was, indeed, true.

Keith Urbahn, Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s current chief of staff, is credited to have been the first one to break the news on Twitter that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.

News breaking over Twitter instead of the mainstream media, is not new, of course. We’ve seen it with a lot of other recent events. Most people who are active on Twitter and who regularly check their feeds, naturally, get their breaking news from Twitter. What’s amazing to observe is how many people are increasingly turning to Twitter to find out what’s going on and to discuss and share their opinion on the turn of events. Twitter is truly the new age, virtual watercooler around which we all like to hang out and interact, irrespective of geographic boundaries, especially when something big happens.

What’s also fascinating is the speed with which news and information is being pushed out, in the age where everyone is a publisher of content. By 11.45 pm, Sysomos, a social media analytics firm, tracked 500,000 tweets, 796 blogs and 507 published articles about Bin Laden. Within 12 hours after the news broke, Sysomos had tracked 40,000 blog posts and 2.2 million tweets. By 11 pm, there were reportedly more than a dozen Facebook posts with the word ‘Bin Laden’ every second and quite a few Facebook pages and groups (one page 'Bin Laden is Dead' had over 100,000 ‘likes’ by 12 pm. During President Obama’s address, Twitter reported 4,000 tweets were being sent every second.



Just a few minutes after the news was confirmed, there was already a @ghostosama Twitter account up and running, with over 900 followers, which kept growing every second. The number of people checking in at Ground Zero on Foursquare last night also kept increasing by the minute. Google Maps had 'Bin Laden's compound' in Abbottabad marked out in no time as well.

While not everyone may have received news of Osama Bin Laden’s death from a social media channel but it was amazing to observe first-hand the exponential effect of how quickly news can flow over these channels and also it’s potential to draw worldwide attention to events and mobilize people into action.

Speaking from my own recent personal experience, I was a lot more aware and interested in what was going on in the Egypt, Libya and other Middle Eastern countries because of the updates I was constantly reading on Twitter from the people themselves. Normally, I would have just quickly read through these items in the news but I felt a lot more connected with these events over Twitter. As more and more people join social media channels, I expect that this will only enhance the power of these networks in getting information out and building a sense of community over events. We've come a long way from the time when we had to wait for the morning newspaper or the evening news program to get breaking news. And it's going to be interesting to see how far we will go thanks to the transformational power of social media.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Making Education Social

School in Andhra Pradesh
Flickr Creative Commons/ILRI

I take a great amount of interest in people who devote themselves to the cause of educating others -- especially the underprivileged who lack the resources and opportunity to educate themselves or their children. And that may be because I’ve been lucky enough to receive a fantastic education despite many odds myself. It’s almost amazing that I have two Master’s degrees, one of them from NYU -- something I had never dreamed possible.

I’m a fan of people like Greg Mortenson, who’s devoted himself to educating children in Afghanistan and Pakistan and also Dr. Abraham George who started Shanti Bhavan that educates children from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. And of course, there are countless others who are working for this cause and whom I may have never heard of.

This week, I checked out Salman Khan’s TED talk on the use of video to reinvent education. I had heard of the Khan Academy a few months ago when I saw a tweet by Bill Gates, who is a big champion of the organization and who has called it “a glimpse into the future of education.” It’s a simple but powerful idea -- Salman Khan has produced nearly 2,100 videos and other test prep exercises that cover a range of subjects including math, science, finance and history -- all accessible over YouTube or the Khan Academy website for free.

All created by ‘Sal’ Khan himself, the videos are not only being used by home-schoolers but also as a supplemental teaching aid in classrooms. Of course, you would still need access to a computer and an Internet connection but I’m sure this has great potential to make a good education available to people who can’t afford it or even to those who need help with what they are learning inside the classroom. The videos offer a great library of resources for kids and allow them to learn at their own pace, replay something they didn’t understand or revisit concepts they had learned earlier.

Learning about the Khan Academy got me thinking about the potential social media holds for the cause of education – in making it accessible to many more people. On some level, we are, of course, already tapping into this potential. As a communications professional, I use Twitter to follow many peers and experts in my field and I continuously learn from them – from the blog posts and other information they share. It’s a way for me to keep myself on my toes and stay updated on latest trends in the field. I also ‘like’ Facebook pages of other media companies or communication-related news and that’s another way for me to continue my professional education.

But I’m sure that we are just getting started and by combining the power of social media tools along with a passion and commitment for helping to educate others will help us give many kids the opportunities they deserve. In the past, I briefly worked as a volunteer and teacher for a few non-profit organizations that worked to educate street children and other economically disadvantaged kids though I haven't been able to pursue that as much lately. I’m writing this post as a reminder to others, but mostly to myself, to work more for this cause.

I’m no expert but I wholeheartedly agree with Greg Mortenson that education is really the solution to many of the world’s problems (including terrorism) – it’s the only way we can help others break the cycle of poverty and give them the hope of a better life.

Building their School
Flickr Creative Commons/Gurpal Kaher

Friday, March 4, 2011

How To Attract Media Coverage For Your Small Business

It’s easy to get media attention if you’re a celebrity or a big organization with a sexy product or service that people love and that directly touches the lives of millions of people.

But what if you’re a small business that is not making or providing anything that is traditionally considered interesting or is simply ...boring?

A Florida-based printing services company is called Boring Business Systems (no kidding!)
An interesting choice of name?

As a PR and communications professional, the most common question I hear from small businesses is how can they attract media coverage given the lack the resources available to bigger organizations.

The challenge for small businesses is not so much about getting their news out. Even if you have a small budget, there are many tools and channels – free press release distribution sites, blogs, social media – that can help you share your story. The bigger challenge, these days, is to make yourself interesting, especially in the age of information overload where everyone is competing for attention – from the media and various target audiences.

But then if Blendtec can sexify a blender, there is hope.



Based on my experiences, here are a few tips on how small businesses can attract media attention:

1) Tell a story
Journalists are much more than storytellers but they are primarily storytellers (ever wonder why newspaper articles are called stories?) As storytellers, their job is to present information in the most interesting way possible (remember, they are vying for attention too!) And if your business or PR person can achieve this for them, you have a better shot at successfully pitching a story. Unearth the stories behind your work and weave a narrative. Follow the 'show don't tell' principle and focus on the solutions you provide and how they are helping people, rather than just talking about your business and products.

Bottomline: Think like a journalist

2) Piggyback on the hottest news/trends
When I worked for the Sunday edition of a popular weekly newspaper in Mumbai, a news story that caught fire during one particular week was of a news channel that had conducted a sting operation on the casting couch phenomenon that existed in the Bollywood movie industry. Very soon, this story captured the interest of all print and news media channels and was all most people were talking about.

Red Couch Project Set 8 (14 of 19)
Flickr Creative Commons - The Red Couch Project by DaveAustria.com

Being a Sunday paper,  my editor came up with a fresh approach – a story on the most stylish couches in the city that would be featured in our lifestyle section. We generated interest in our story by carrying teaser announcements of our own exclusive 'sting' on casting couches, creating a great amount of curiosity on what we were about to reveal in our weekend issue. This was a perfect opportunity for anyone who owned a furniture store to pitch a story on the hottest or most stylish couches while the casting couch story was in the news but no one actually did.

Bottomline: If you’re not big or interesting enough to generate news on your own, look out for what’s already in the news or an emerging trend and how you can tie your own product or service to it.

Word of caution: Be sensitive when dealing with events or tragedies in the news that have affected human lives. Trying to get press coverage at an inopportune moment can come across as being callous, even predatory.

3) Offer your expertise
Services such as Help a Reporter Out (HARO) are quite useful because they help connect reporters who are looking for sources for a particular story with organizations or individuals who can provide expert opinion on the same. It can be a perfect opportunity for a small business to get quoted and receive coverage without having to send press releases to dozens of news organizations, hoping that at least someone will be interested in their story. News organizations such as NPR also have Facebook pages where they ask questions and invite sources and monitoring these pages for a suitable opportunity may also help you attract coverage. Apart from newspapers, trade publications offer the best opportunity to reach a targeted audience through media coverage.

Bottomline: Be proactive in looking out for opportunities and responding to them.

4) Organize community programs and events
What does a pizzeria have to do with scholarships for kids? Absolutely nothing. But that’s how a restaurant in Chicago is driving its public relations efforts. Instead of spending on advertising, the restaurant invests in social responsibility programs that actually help the community and this brings in new customers and generates a lot of buzz. (Read the case study here.) If you’re a local business, it makes even more sense to focus on direct community outreach through such programs and generate local press coverage in the process.

Bottomline: Do good, keep it genuine and the rest will follow.

Do you have any tips to share on how small businesses can generate media interest and attract coverage? Please share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Beyond The 140-Character Mark

Foreword: This week, I invited my good friend, Moksh Juneja, to share the fascinating tale of his travels to a remote village in South India with the help of his tweeps (Twitter friends whom he had never met IRL.) Though this piece was published earlier in an Indian newspaper, I asked Moksh if I could share it on my blog since it's a great story of the power of 140 characters and building a network, one tweet at a time. Moksh is a well-known name in the circle of social media influencers in Mumbai and is regularly quoted on social media trends and issues in leading publications.

By Moksh Juneja



I had to make an emergency visit last month to a remote village in Kerala called Thevalakkara. And Kerala, for me, is as good as Germany — I’d never been there and I don’t know the language. In moments of crisis, we think of our friends — and I thought of mine; my Twitter group.

The first person I thought of was @suddentwilight who, I remembered, studied in Kerala. Assuming she would be able to guide me, I gave her a call. She hadn’t heard of the village I was to go to, so she connected me to someone in her list — @nithinkd — who, although based in Delhi, belonged to Kerala. In fact, his native town is close to the place that I had to reach.

Hearing my exact situation, @nithinkd guided me through an itinerary. I sent him the name of my destination through a DM since I couldn’t pronounce it. He advised me to book my air tickets to Trivandrum and assured me that the logistics in Kerala are very manageable. After taking printouts of the tickets, I called him in panic. I’d booked tickets for Trivandrum, but the printout read Thiruvananthapuram.

A Stranger Offered Me His Car
He offered me his car to drive to the remote village. Just a reminder — I haven’t still met @nithinkd. To pick his car up, I need to reach Kollam. And to help me get there, he connected me to @bijunarayan.So I flew to Thiruvananthapuram, took the Volvo bus to the city, and then met @bijunarayan, who had taken time off from work to help me reach Kollam. He picked me up from the bus stop, took me to Trivandrum station, and bought me a ticket to Kollam.

Before we took the train, we went to this coffee house and I surprised both of us with the amount I ate. I hadn’t realised how hungry I was. While I was hogging on the dosas, idli and coffee, he connected me to @BaluKLM, who travels daily to Kollam from Trivandrum. (It’s how far Pune is from Mumbai).

In Safe Hands
I met @BaluKLM at the platform and realised that even though I hadn’t met these guys before, I was in safe hands. In the local train, we talked, and our conversations this time weren’t restricted to 140 characters. When we reached Kollam, @BaluKLM dropped me off at @nithinkd’s doorstep. Aunty had already received the call from her son, and she handed me the car keys.

Although @BaluKLM left, I wasn’t still alone. @nithinkd was taking me through the directions to reach Thevalakkara. In case of any eventualities, @BaluKLM had already informed @Ivan457, who stays close by in Shaktigualangara, that I was in town. Thanks to my Twitter friends, I reached the village in good time.

As I sat ruminating about Twitter, I realised the power of social networking. It helps in emergencies and is an excellent if you need to plan a trip, because it connects you to people who help. For this trip, the world became flat for me, and I have only my Twitter gang to thank for it.

Moksh Juneja is the founder of Avignyata Inc., a Mumbai-based social media marketing consultancy. Moksh has been at the forefront of social media marketing in India since 2007 and has created campaigns for Sony Pictures, Colors (Viacom18) and more sustained campaigns for Shoppers Stop and Inorbit Mall. In his personal time, Moksh believes in sharing his knowledge and teaches social media and public relations at colleges in Mumbai University and SNDT University. He also conducts workshops and sessions on social media marketing. You can check out his blog here or follow him on Twitter at @mokshjuneja

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Let’s Face It: An FB Post Trumps Nagging, Hands Down

Foreword: This week, I invited my good friend, Leema Thomas, a journalist and assistant editor at Newsday in Long Island, to write a guest post on my blog. As Valentine's Day approaches, Leema muses on the role of social media in her personal life and how it helps her get her way with the hubby in her typical tongue-in-cheek humorous style, which she so often displays on her personal blog, Diary of The Wimpiest Mom.

By Leema Thomas

The power of an aptly-phrased 140-character tweet on Twitter or a status update on Facebook has been well-established. We’ve seen the people of Iran, Egypt and other nations — as well as most businesses, man, woman and child in America — harness the power of social media to enact radical change.

But it was only recently that I inadvertently discovered the power of a Facebook post as it pertains to family life, particularly in my relationship with my hubby. You see, unlike most women, I am not a typical nag, just ask B. I hardly ever throw a temper tantrum or scream at the top of my lungs when I feel that B. did not get around to doing a task he should’ve done 10 yesterdays ago. Screaming and yelling would snuff the life out of me. But, like a typical nag, I might throw around a few hints here and there. After all, women alone are born with this skill that is totally useless at effecting any real change.

So my usual pattern, in all these married years, to enact any change had been to wonder out aloud, for example, “Hmmm . . .this couch would really look better against that wall.” Hubby may be in the other room but I expect that, like most men, he has super hearing powers. I’ll walk away for a few minutes, come back to the room and see hubby planted on the couch — still in its original spot — watching TV or reading the newspaper. By now, seething internally, I shoo hubby away and start moving the couch myself. I’d end up with a pulled muscle or a sprained ankle that I’d expect hubby to take care of later but that’s been the socially accepted and tried-and-true method of getting my man to do what I want him to do in the house.

But women of all nations who have access to modern social media tools such as Facebook, have I got a status update for you. Ditch nagging right now. Sure, it is a time-honored strategy but a totally useless one and we knew it the minute we were born. And, if your man is low-tech, the sooner you open a Facebook account for him the better.

Just last week, the power of social media was the subject of a conference in many parts of this world, including one in New York and San Francisco. The purpose of Social Media Week, per its website, was to bring “hundreds of thousands of people together every year through learning experiences that aim to advance our understanding of social media’s role in society.” Had I attended the conference, I’d have narrated my recent experiences of how social media — Facebook in particular — helped change our family dynamics.

My first experience using this social media tool instead of nagging to get a task done at the house happened quite by chance. About mid-January, while passing by the Christmas tree still standing in all its glory in the living room, I pulled out my BlackBerry and mused on Facebook: “I suppose I will have to wait till Valentine’s Day for the Xmas tree to come down.” Now, my hubby hardly ever posts a word on Facebook but he’s better attuned to the happenings in the virtual world than to a word I say. After posting my update, I ran out for some errands and came home to witness a miracle — the Christmas tree in various stages of undress.

Being a social scientist to some extent and a journalist to a full extent, where you need at least three sources to establish credibility, I decided to repeat the experiment. The second time, I went straight to hubby’s Facebook wall and mused: “C'mon babe, where’s my java?” Shortly after, hubby delivered the much-needed caffeinated drug for me and a good friend. I took to hubby’s Facebook wall boldly again to post: “please for my sake charge your phone.” I’ve since been able to reach B. at all times of the day and night, and hear his sweet sound live.

So, ladies, while we are taught not to air our dirty laundry in public — and I strongly advise caution here — I urge you to wise up and leverage your social currency by tapping into the powers of social media.

Of course, the Christmas tree has yet to be put away in its box but we still have about two days before Valentine’s Day. Plus, I think hubby has a gripe of his own and before he posts anything on my Facebook wall, I had better retire my Christmas lunch bag right away.

A journalist, Leema Thomas is an assistant editor on the night news desk at Newsday in Melville, New York. She is also a blogger, injecting a dose of humor and a touch of irreverence in her musings about her kids and family life.  She graduated from New York University with a bachelor of science (cum laude) in Communication Studies, with specialization in broadcast journalism. Check out Leema’s blog, Diary of the Wimpiest Mom at http://wimpiestmom.blogspot.com/

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Apology Lessons From The Groupon & Kenneth Cole Debacle

Flickr Creative Commons/runran
We all mess up from time to time. We make mistakes – whether it’s in our personal relationships or our work. From an early age, most of us are taught the rules behind apologies – you should only say sorry when you really mean it and saying you are sorry means you won’t repeat the same mistake.

This week was an interesting one as far as apologies are concerned. First, Kenneth Cole angered people on Twitter by relating their new spring collection to the situation in Egypt. Soon after, Groupon’s Super Bowl ads offended people for appearing insensitive to serious issues in Tibet and elsewhere. (All this was topped off by the NFL and Jerry Jones apologizing for 400 fans not getting seats at the Sunday Super Bowl.)

Though Kenneth Cole posted a slightly more extended apology on the company’s Facebook page, they initially tweeted this reaction: “Re Egypt tweet: we weren't intending to make light of a serious situation. We understand the sensitivity of this historic moment –KC”

Groupon’s CEO fared no better as his apology, delivered in the form of a letter, was considered both defensive and, in essence, a non-apology.

Which brings me to the question, what’s the right way to apologize, especially in crisis situations? From a public relations standpoint, I think three things are essential when issuing an apology:

1. Timing
With even small issues snowballing quickly online, timing is a critical element in offering an apology. The fear of legal liabilities is usually the biggest reason for remaining silent. But silence can often be seen as arrogance or even indifference to the situation and issuing an apology can help diffuse the situation and prevent greater damage.

2. Saying it like you mean it
This sounds obvious but it can be difficult to be in the shoes of the person tasked with delivering an apology -- blame it on ego and our tendency to be defensive. But in a crisis, nothing is worse than a half-baked or insincere apology. To say it like you mean it, your apology should at least acknowledge and take some responsibility for the mistake and express regret, if not offer a way to rectify the situation.

3. How the apology is delivered and who delivers it
When a crisis breaks out, people turn to online social media channels to discuss, vent out and pick it apart. It’s always a good idea to first issue an apology using the same channel (and then over other channels as well.) If the crisis broke out over a tweet, tweet an apology. The 140-character limit can make it difficult but you can always post an extended apology later, as Kenneth Cole did on their Facebook page.

Who delivers the apology matters a great deal too, especially when people are outraged, offended and slighted. It’s usually a good idea for the CEO or some other top-ranking executive to deliver the apology to make people feel that the company has taken the incident seriously and values its customers. (At least, Groupon and Kenneth Cole both got this right, with the apology being delivered by their respective CEOs.)

What do you think makes for a good apology (and how did KC and Groupon fare?) Are there any situations where apologizing may not be the best option from a PR perspective? I would love to know your thoughts.

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Twitter Tale & A (Free) Giveaway


If there’s one thing common among all the Twitter skeptics out there, it is this: They all ask, ‘Who cares what you had for lunch?’

If I could make lunch out of it, Twitter skepticism would feed many hungry mouths. But skepticism doesn’t feed anything. Okay, except for maybe fear, distrust, doubt and suspicion. So I thought perhaps I’d share my own experiences of how I use Twitter and what I gain from it to quell some of that skepticism. So here goes:

1) Promote my work and my skills
For me, Twitter is a great channel to share my work and interests – it’s a way to build my online brand. I use Twitter to not only share my blog posts but also share other compelling content that would interest others. Overall, I find it a great interactive network to spread the word about who I am, what I do and what my professional expertise and interests lie in. On occasion, it's also helped me find freelance projects to work on. 

2) Connect with other communications professionals
I’ve always been proactive about networking and building new connections. But one challenge I always faced was continuing the conversation beyond the one-time meeting at a conference or event. Though I usually followed-up over email or sent an invitation to connect over LinkedIn, I found it tough to sustain the relationship. Sending emails every once-in-a-while just seemed too intrusive. With Twitter, I’ve found the perfect solution. It’s now easy for me to stay on the radar of people I follow -- by commenting on or retweeting what others say. It’s a great way to stay connected -- minus all the awkwardness.

I also participate in the weekly #solopr chats (every Wednesday 1-2 pm EST.) where solo PR professionals get together to discuss trends and issues relating to PR and working independently. I’ve connected offline with some of the connections I made over the solopr chat and even turned to them for help and advice. I also chime in on other chats from time-to-time such as the #PR20 and #SEOchat – all of which helps me learn from others and make new connections.

3) Keep up with latest trends
Twitter is much like a personalized RSS feed – I receive updates from those whom I choose to follow and can keep track of latest developments in the PR/communications/social media field. An amazing variety of content is shared on Twitter every day and this gives me an opportunity to learn from the best in the field and keep track of latest trends, events, webinars and news that I may otherwise have missed.

4) Make friends
I’ve ‘met’ a wide variety of extremely talented, interesting, highly motivated, cool and generally awesome people from all over the world, over Twitter. Some of my Twitter friends are now my Facebook friends, and I’ve actually met (face-to-face) some of my local Twitter friends at Tweetups and other events.

5) Preserve my sanity
Moving from a country where your neighbor not only knows what you cooked for dinner but how many people attended your dinner party (India) to a country where most neighbors don’t know your name (United States) can be an uprooting experience. I don’t mean that in a bad way -- I love the fact that there is so much respect for other people’s space and privacy here but all said and done, it can be an unsettling and even (shall I say the word?) a lonely experience.

At the risk of sounding a little loony, I find Twitter has often served as a channel to preserve my sanity. There’s something strangely therapeutic about broadcasting your thoughts (and being careful about what you broadcast, of course) out in the Twitterverse, even if nobody is listening or responding. It’s why people handwrote entries in personal diaries they didn’t allow anyone else to read. Y’all know what I mean?

Sure, there are people who tweet what they had for lunch and other seemingly inane details of their lives. But let’s face it -- don’t people send random email forwards? Should that make us stop using email? A lot also depends on what interests you and your audience. I have food blogger friends who live, breathe, eat and write food -- and sure enough, they’re quite interested in sharing and learning about what they and others are having for lunch. Like I said, a lot depends on what interests you and your audience.

My food blogger friend @sabera posted this on Twitpic. 


THE GIVEAWAY: So that’s my Twitter tale. Share yours to enter the free giveaway. Leave a comment below on how you use Twitter. Or share some Twitter tips. If you’re not on Twitter, tell us why. The giveaway closes on February 15 at midnight, EST and is only open to current U.S. residents.

One randomly selected commenter will win a copy of Real-time Marketing and PR by David M. Scott (Read my post about the book here.) If you’ve already read the book, I can offer you Unmarketing by Scott Stratten instead. If you’ve read Unmarketing too, then you don’t need a free book. (I kid, I would be happy to work something else out within the same price range.)



A few rules and other details:
1. You need to leave a comment to participate in the giveaway.
2. I reserve the right to delete spam-like comments, which will not qualify to participate in the giveaway.
3. The giveaway is only open to current U.S. residents and includes the cost of shipping.
4. The giveaway is not sponsored by anyone other than the author of this blog.
5. I will announce the winner of the giveaway on this blog and via email on or after February 16.
6. I will assign a number to each commenter and use the random number generator (www.random.org) to pick out the winner. I’ll also post a screenshot of the result.
7. The winner will have two weeks to send me their mailing address after I contact him/her. 

P.S. I love being praised and being agreed with, but hey, I know you can do better than only saying "great post" or "I agree with you" in your comment. So don’t be a lazy commenter -- share something that will help me and others learn. Thanks in advance! 

February 16. Addendum: Andddd.... the winner of the book giveaway is... Moksh Juneja. Congratulations! 

 (Note: The first commenter was not eligible to participate and hence the number range is from 2-12.)

A big thank you to each of you who participated and contributed so much to the discussion. Thanks also to all my friends who helped promote the giveaway.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Riding The Real-Time Communications Wave

Surf
Surf by Lorando Labbe, on Flickr Creative Commons

Last week, I finally got my hands on David Meerman Scott’s latest book, Real-time Marketing and PR, which I’d been wanting to read for a while. If you’re in the communications, marketing or public relations business, I would highly recommend this book. I learned a lot from reading the New Rules of Marketing and PR, D.M. Scott’s earlier book, and this one did not disappoint either.

Technology has always shaped how we communicate and the growth of the Internet (and now smart phones) has spurred a huge revolution in the ways and the speed with which we can connect with each other.  This has transformed traditional marketing, public relations, sales, customer service and even journalism, as how we find, consume, create and share content is changing very rapidly. And in his book, Scott argues that most organizations are not prepared for this new revolution. With traditional media no longer being the only source of news and information, public relations and marketing professionals must now react and act faster to take advantage of an opportunity or to prevent a crisis.

Earlier this month, a homeless guy named Ted Williams stood with a sign along the northbound I-71 highway in Columbus, Ohio, proclaiming he had a god-given gift of voice and asking for help. On January 4, a  reporter from The Columbus Dispatch recorded his voice and story in a 97-second video and posted it on the newspaper’s website, where it soon became a huge Internet sensation generating millions of views. Media interviews and job offers started rolling in.

On Friday, January 7, on the evening television news, I saw Ted Williams stepping inside a limousine with his mom in Times Square, New York. This was the same guy who was homeless and standing with a sign by the highway a week ago. Wow, he was really riding that wave. (And why not?) But there were others who rode that wave with him, and were quick to spot the opportunity in the story.

While many job offers immediately poured in, very often, being first is everything. And Kraft Foods responded very, very quickly. Luckily, they were already in the middle of making their TV spots so while the story was still getting bigger, they not only hired Ted Williams to do a voiceover for their Fight Hunger Bowl commercial, but also recorded and premiered the commercial on ESPN during the Nevada vs. Boston College Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on January 9.

By January 7, most online sites and publications had posted the commercial video, which Kraft had obviously released earlier to generate online buzz.  Since Ted Williams was still doing numerous media interviews and this was his first voiceover, the Kraft Food commercial was mentioned and aired many, many times. As a result, the ad has obviously received a lot more attention than would have otherwise been possible.



Throughout his book, Scott stresses on cultivating a real-time mindset and making speed, agility and flexibility your power tools in reacting and taking advantage of opportunities in real-time, just like in the example above.  There are some excellent lessons here for all organizations because real-time is more of a mindset that must be adopted by organizations inside out – not just in PR or marketing but within all aspects of business. With social media, we have the tools at our disposal -- it’s up to us how we want to make use of them. Now, are you ready to ride the wave?

Do you have a real-time communications tip or success story to share? How do you think organizations can better adapt to the real-time communications revolution? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Engaging Alumni Through Social Media

Foreword: My good friend, Amishi Shah, a graduate student of Public Policies and Administration at the Ohio State University, recently completed her thesis on engaging alumni through social media. I invited her to write a guest post on my blog and share the lessons she learned.

By Amishi Shah

Image Credit: Amishi Shah
How many of you receive alumni magazines or e-mails from your former college? Does your graduate school have a dedicated page for alumni on social media websites? As a graduate student of Public Policies and Administration at the Ohio State University, my thesis topic was the‘Engaging Alumni of Public Affairs Schools through Social Networking: An Examination of the Scope and Rules of Engagement.'

I looked at the different ways through which Public Affairs colleges use social media sites – particularly Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn - to connect with its alumni. I observed that some schools used social networking sites in a variety of ways and for various purposes, while there were some that do not have a dedicated social media presence for alumni – mainly due to lack of time and resources required to maintain and update the page frequently.

One of the biggest reasons that individual departments should  engage with alumni using social media channels, distinct from the University’s umbrella website, is that this would allow alumni to receive updates and information about their particular field of interest. For example, following or ‘liking’ an official university alumni page or profile will give you information about all schools – medical, business, arts, political science, etc. This can help you stay updated with key developments in your field, you may have otherwise missed. This is where having social media profiles for your school alumni will be truly important.

Once the page is set up, it can be used in different ways:
1.Schools use social media profiles for alumni to disseminate information about employment opportunities. At a time when the nation faces a high percentage of unemployment, this feature is useful for recent graduates who are looking for a job or those who are already employed and are looking to move up the ladder.

2. Another way that colleges use social networking sites is for professional networking. For example, there were some schools where LinkedIn was used by employed people who wanted to collaborate either with their former professors or others in their field. Former students had put their request on LinkedIn to get help from fellow members of that to collaborate for research or work purposes.

3. Some schools also had different groups within the alumni group. For example, there were groups for students living in Boston, Washington D.C, Chicago and other areas where more alumni live and work – providing greater possibilities for professional networking.

My research also focused on potential issues with using social media to engage with alumni. These included questions such as: Are members comfortable with sharing all this information on social forums and also whether the college staff is concerned about inappropriate or negative comments? The Alumni Coordinators noted that the alumni are a very mature group and they are not worried about untowardly messages being posted on the alumni pages. One cautionary step that most schools take is to screen messages before they are posted on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Based on my interviews with alumni coordinators, and learning about their concerns, a few general tips would help develop a good online relationship with alumni:

1. Provide links for alumni to connect to the department’s Facebook and Twitter page from the department’s home page.
2. Posting one message a day would be appropriate. It has been reported that posting several messages a day overwhelms members, resulting in them opting out or stop following that page.
3. Personalize the messages, so that members feel connected to their alma mater.
4. Respond to members posts and comments that they may add to your post. This will make them feel that their suggestions are being heard and considered.


Amishi is a Graduate Student at John Glenn School of Public Affairs, at the Ohio State University, in Columbus, Ohio. She will complete a degree in Public Policies and Administration in March 2011. She has been working at the Ohio Department of Health for a year and a half. With previous experience as an Associate Editor and Writer for newspapers and magazines, she hopes to combine her experience as a writer and policy analyst. Amishi can be reached at: amishi.shah80@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Trendspotting With Social Media

2011: Trendspotting For The Next Decade
is a marketing book by Richard Laermer,
published in 2008.
It’s that time of the year again when blog posts with numbered lists of the top predictions and trends for the year, crowd your Twitter stream. I'm sharing a few here:

1. 2011 Social Media Predictions: Now Social Media Marketing Gets Tough - Forrester blog
2. Trendspotting:  A Top 100 List of Things to Watch in 2011 - ReadWriteWeb
3. 10 Social Media Trends For 2011 - Entrepreneur

But that’s not what this post is about. What it is about, though, is how easy it is for us to now spot trends and tap into what’s hot in real time – all thanks to social media and web metrics.

Let me share a few examples:

1. Once newspapers moved online, for the first time, it became possible to track what people are viewing and commenting on, how much time they spend reading a story and what type of content is popular. Newspapers can now also track how much advertising revenue is being generated from a particular story. (See the New York Times story on this.)

2. In 2008, Google launched Google Flu Trends that uses aggregated Google search data to estimate current flu patterns around the world in near real-time, opening up the possibility of an early-warning system for influenza outbreaks (though the accuracy of the tool has been questioned, this is still representative of all the potential benefits search data can provide us in future.)

3. Facebook was not only the most visited website but also the most popular search term in 2010. Recently, Facebook released its 2010 report that threw up lots of interesting facts and figures, such as:

- Lady Gaga was the most ‘liked’ celebrity of the year with 24,712,169 likes.
- 1,000,000 links were shared over Facebook every 20 minutes
- HMU or ‘Hit Me Up’ was the most-discussed phrase on Facebook in 2010. This was followed by the World Cup and movies (Toy Story 3, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Inception, Alice in Wonderland and Iron Man 2 were the five most discussed movies in 2010.)

I am constantly amazed by the insights and information we now have access to thanks to the Web and social media. It fascinates me that we can tap into what people are saying about a particular subject at any point of time using the Twitter search/ hashtag feature. Unlike traditional print content, it’s possible for us to track what was shared online, how often and on what channel –what piqued someone’s interest, how they got there and whether they found it compelling enough. This presents a great opportunity for marketers, researchers and anyone interested in getting their pulse on popular public activity or opinion.

A tool I find immensely useful for spotting trends on a daily basis is Twitter. When you log in, on the right hand side of your Twitter home page, Twitter displays a list of 10 topics that are trending or most popular at any given time. Sometimes, topics are inane but most often, they help me spot important news items that I may have missed or help me gauge what a majority of the Twitter community is discussing or what’s on top of everyone’s minds on a given day, at a given time. (Lately, I've heard CNN anchors discuss what topics are trending during their news shows.)

Google Hot Trends is a similar tool that gives you a list (updated hourly) of hot topics and hot searches based on the popularity of searches on its engine. Google Analytics can also be a great tool for analyzing trends in how people consume your own content on your blog or Website and help you better customize it based on popularity.

What tools do you use to spot and keep track of latest trends? Share your tips in the comments sections below.
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