How to be a showman without becoming a showboat. Or: How to make your message hot without looking like a hot dog.
“Politics is a direct-response business,” declares the digital director of President Obama’s re-election campaign. “People do things if you ask them to do it, and ... don’t … if you don’t ask.”
Exactly! In fact, this is true not only in politics, but also in social media. If you want your readers to click “like” or “retweet” or “reblog” or “pin” or “plus,” you gotta ask for it. Not for nothing do two of the web’s most popular sites—BuzzFeed and Mashable—serve up big buttons at the top of each article, beseeching you to “share me now!” What’s more, these icons now include the number of shares in real time, boxing you in with peer pressure: “Don’t share me—I dare you!” This is marketing at its finest: so subliminal, you think you’re making a considered choice.
Just because you can write well—even brilliantly—doesn’t mean you can write well for the web. The web necessitates special know-how—not just in substance but also in style. To master the medium, start with these two tactics: perfect your headline and employ strategic headings.
When creating their company website, many small businesses defer to their “web guy” on the address. “Oh, JanesFlowers.com isn’t available? Ok, JanesFlowers2.com is fine.”
No! No! No! While seemingly trivial, your URL is in fact critical. Don’t let it be an afterthought; make this decision an integral facet of your planning and branding.
After all, not only will your domain be printed on your business cards and in your email signatures. You’ll also need to pronounce it in a way that leaves no room for confusion.
Consider a few case studies.
Let others sing your praises.
After college, I did what most liberal arts grads do when they come to Washington: I interned at a think tank. As I subsequently embarked on my career, I shied away from the word “intern,” a moniker that I felt would betray my lack of experience. Instead, my bio and LinkedIn profile said I “did media relations” for the Cato Institute.
This was true: I edited op-eds from Cato’s scholars and pitched them to the media; I just didn’t volunteer my job title. I’d argue that this sin of omission is the benign kind of biographical betterment.
Digital branding starts in your inbox.
It’s something you take for granted, something seemingly trivial, even mundane. When executed thoughtfully, however, it makes a splash. It says, “This guy is sharp—I want to work with him!”
What is this opportunity, obvious but overlooked? It’s the bookends of your emails: your address and signature block—often, the first and last thing your recipients will see. For better or worse, your email bookends are powerful purveyors of your brand. What are yours conveying about you?
A version of this blog post appeared in PR Daily on February 21, 2013 and the PRSA-NCC Blog on February 26, 2013.
Anyone can apologize. Indeed, we all do from time to time. But to do it well—to extinguish the fire rather than re-ignite it—ultimately requires the one thing that even we PR pros can’t fake: sincerity.
A version of this blog post appeared in PR Daily on February 18, 2013.
You just finished a killer blog post. Reliving the process: first you had to pitch the idea to your editor. Then you reworked the angle to satisfy his feedback. Then it was research time, wherein you bumped up against facts that challenged your hypothesis. Finally, you penned the piece, sweating over decisions as light as commas, as lofty as conclusions.
Now, the post has been published. And you, like a wide-eyed kitten mesmerized by a shiny new object, sit in thrall to the whimsies of the web—watching, waiting, wishing for the big payoff.
Slowly, the clicks come trickling in. But why settle for a trickle when these numbers could be a raging torrent? As soon as your article goes live, it behooves you to SHOUT IT from the rafters. You labored so long and hard on the writing, shouldn’t you reward your efforts with a little promotion?
Indeed you should. In fact, every hack must now be his own flack.
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.
A version of this blog post appeared in Fast Company on October 2, 2012.
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.
A version of this blog post appeared in PR Daily on September 19, 2012.
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.