For the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of delivering presentations on career development to the Institute for Humane Studies. Here’s my latest, which offers six best practices to establish and protect your brand online:
A version of this blog post appeared in Fast Company on October 4, 2012.
Everyone makes mistakes, the saying goes. It’s whether you learn from them that separates the brands that retain your loyalty from the ones you now drive by.
In this context, consider last night’s tweet from KitchenAid that mocked President Obama:
“Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he came president’. #nbcpolitics”
Sent from your personal account, where your like-minded friends would compose the primary audience, the tweet would have been par for the live-tweet course: funny and frivolous. However, sent from a corporate channel, the tweet is no longer associated with a person but with a brand—and its products.
The new master of the mea culpa
Apple and “apologize” don’t usually fall in the same sentence. In fact, Apple instructs its retail employees to avoid acts of contrition as a matter of principle. “Do not apologize for the business [or] the technology,” its Genius manual commands.
Following this playbook, when faced with the debacle that is Mapplegate, Cupertino’s flacks first tried spin. “We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and that we are just getting started with it,” a spokeswoman told AllThingsD. But the brush-off backfired, hard. As Gizmodo put it, “The New Apple: It Doesn’t Just Work.”
Realizing that the story wasn’t dying down, the time came for the CEO to step up. Tim Cook needed to communicate two things—(1) an apology, and (2) a promise to do better—both of which he did with aplomb.
For today’s PR pro, the question is no longer whether to tweet, but what to tweet. This is, of course, a loaded question—akin to asking, What kind of pet should I buy?
Happily, the answer need not be prohibitively complex. While the specifics will depend on your specialty—crisis, public affairs, B2B, etc.—a variety of best practices cover our profession as a whole.
Here are eight that every PR pro should follow.
I’ve been using a BlackBerry since 2005. I got hooked as part of the “CrackBerry” generation in Washington, DC, and have gone through scroll wheels, track pads, and touchscreens. I currently have the Bold 9930.
Why am I such a “sucker”? To be sure, I’d be thrilled to get an iPhone. It’s gorgeous. The app ecosystem is unparalleled. And the integration with iCloud and my beloved iPad is tantalizing.
Yet I can’t make the leap for one stubborn reason: when it comes to a phone’s most important facet—its keypad—no one can touch the BlackBerry. For someone like me, who uses a smartphone primarily for email, the ability to type both quickly and accurately is absolutely critical. When I type, I need to think about what I’m saying, not whether I’m making typos (as is the case with my iPad). I need to look forward, not backward. The BlackBerry’s physical keys, curved and tapered, “each one subtly reaching up to meet your thumbs on either side,” as the tech blog Engadget puts it, allow me to do this in a way that I just haven’t found even remotely possible with a touchscreen.
Aaron Sorkin is right: if you claim to be an expert in your field, then it behooves you to boast credentials. This is especially true in a field like digital communications, where if you’re going to sell a client on the value of, say, public relations, then you should have a few clips under your keyboard.
To be sure, that you have 10,000 Twitter followers doesn’t necessarily make you a Twitter expert. But if you want to be considered a pro, then you need to be a thought leader.
In protest, writers for publications such as the Washington Post, New York Times, and Atlantic each have taken turns slugging the SEO punching bag. The headlines describe their complaint: “Gene Weingarten Column Mentions Lady Gaga.” “This Boring Headline Is Written for Google.” “Google Doesn’t Laugh: Saving Witty Headlines in the Age of SEO.”
In other words, algorithms don’t appreciate wit, irony, humor, or style. As reporter Steve Lohr put it, they’re “numbingly literal-minded.” Alas, Oscar Wilde!
These laments ring true in a big way: it is one of the definitive 21st century truisms that in addition to writing for eternity, or for one’s mother, today’s writer must also write for Google. Yet, as always, the devil’s in the metadata. The secret of stellar SEO is that you can have your cake and eat it, too; that is, you can pen pun-based headlines all day long and maintain your journalistic integrity. You just need to draft a second headline that’s straightforward and keywordy.
In February 2010, I wrote a blog post called “Google News.” In November 2010, I revised it. Yet it took almost another year and a half to finish the damn thing, which appeared last week on Mashable. Since the text from 2012 doesn’t include the text from 2010, I figure I should publish the original for posterity.
Google’s announcement earlier this year threatening to pull its business from China stirred the proverbial hornet’s nest. Leaving aside the merits of what the company did, consider the way in which it broke this news.
As the Wall Street Journal reported, “Google’s vice president of public policy and communications, Rachel Whetstone, began crafting and revising a number of versions of a possible statement the company planned to release publicly.”
Pretty standard fare, right? There’s nothing special about your PR person drafting a statement. But this wasn’t your usual corporate spin. In fact, the statement wasn’t a statement; in its eventual form, it was a blog post.
Like an old shoe, the press release has been around forever. Every year seems to bring another proclamation that it’s on its last legs. While the rumors are exaggerated, they emerge from a stubborn truth: the press release is being eclipsed by digital alternatives that are more flexible, more interesting, and more relevant.
A milestone was reached in 2010, when Google made a major announcement not by press release but by blog post. Five years earlier, a company of Google’s stature would have issued a boilerplate statement on a newswire. Now, a Google executive was crafting a more thoughtful, even heartfelt narrative that was published on the Official Google Blog.
This shift in medium and message represented a new era in corporate communications. No longer does a traditional press release suffice to make news. News now needs to be conveyed in an empathetic tone and delivered in a user-friendly format.
Chris Abraham recently published a case study on the “art of writing the perfect blogger pitch.” There’s a lot to like here. For one, the time and thought Chris and his team devote to this esoterica are rare. For another, spilling your trade secrets takes guts.
This is why, when we first sit down with someone, we begin by contextualizing what it is that we do for a living. Instead of tossing around lingo such as “hashtags,” “Klout,” or “search engine optimization,” we present five simple slides on “how to think of social media” (see above).
A version of this blog post appeared on Brazen Life on November 8, 2011.
Whether you’re seeking a job or looking to advance your career, using social media to raise your visibility is a must. Yet if you want to stand out—either in a stack of resumes or when your boss needs someone to head up a new project—don’t just do what everyone else is doing. Instead, go beyond the cliché of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and write a post for a popular blog.
Is this more time-consuming than sharing a link? Absolutely. Is it more difficult than banging out 140 characters? You bet. Does it seem strange to write for someone else’s blog rather than your own? Certainly.
Yet put the time and effort into crafting a thoughtful piece, and you’ll likely experience a rich range of rewards. At minimum, you’ll demonstrate thought leadership, make a name for yourself, and earn a byline in which you can link to your resume or website. Even better, you could land a promotion, secure a job offer, or generate new business.
A version of this blog post appeared on Brazen Life on October 24, 2011.
“The dog ate my homework.”
Even though this famous excuse is rarely used, what it symbolizes is all-too-familiar: an aversion to admit accountability. What’s more, this urge to excuse one’s blunders rather than shoulder them betrays a bigger issue: a lack of character.
Let’s be honest: no wants to entertain excuses—even perfectly good ones. We value friends who are reliable, we promote employees who are consistent, we love spouses because when they wrong us, they rectify it. Not for nothing did the sign on Harry Truman’s desk proclaim, “The buck stops here!”
To be sure, emergencies arise. We all screw up from time to time. Yet it’s how you rectify things that counts, that makes you who you are.
A version of this blog post appeared on Tech Cocktail on October 21, 2011.
Every hack authoring an article and every flack penning a proposal has encountered The Question: how many users does this social network have? Sure, you can Google the answers, but then you run into the problem of making sure that your source is authoritative, current, and doesn’t confuse active users (those who log in at least once a month) with total users (your grandmother, who, after signing up, gave up).
Here, then, a new offering from Tech Cocktail: a continuously updated Google Doc that lists the number of active users for the big social networks (see the embedded spreadsheet above or click here).