Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Seven Tips for Staying Above the Social Fray

As I watched the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Twitter yesterday, inspiration came from @iamdiddy (P. Diddy for those who don’t know) of all people, who Tweeted: “Let no man pull you low enough to hate him. Martin Luther King Jr. #MLKDAY”

Anyone who works at InkHouse has heard my “stay above the fray” mantra. I generally offer this advice for real-world scenarios, for example, those nasty emails that compel the recipient to compose a two-page, line-by-line defense. My advice is to write the response, read it out loud, and then delete it. I have desperately wanted to get into the fray on a number of occasions. But I cannot name one instance where it would have created a positive outcome (other than the short-term gratification that I spoke my mind, which leads to longer term regret).

The fray can be a tough place to avoid in social media. We’ve all seen nasty blog comments and as a blogger, I’m on the receiving end as well. One of my personal favorites: “Other than boring us with ‘social networking’ anecdotes, what are you good for? Nothing. Precisely.” I liken this to driving. Cars provide people with emotional armor that emboldens them to hurl insults and nasty gestures at other drivers. Would this happen if we were all standing next to each other?

Participating in the social media conversation means that you’re going to get some negative feedback, which can be hard to take. However, it’s part of being social. And the social universe requires the same measured response you would provide in the real world. We always tell clients not to say anything to the press that they would not like to see in tomorrow’s paper. The same is true for tweets, status updates, blog post comments and anything else in the public social sphere. If it’s publicly posted, it’s fair game.

I am not suggesting that we should stand by and passively agree with everyone we encounter. I am suggesting that a thoughtful discussion is the reason we enter into the social conversation, and we, as content creators have a responsibility to foster it. So how can you stay above the fray in social interactions on behalf of your corporate or personal brand?

  • Ignore spam. You will inevitably get blatant spam in your blog comments and even through Twitter. Take it as a compliment that someone (or some robot) deems you worthy enough to target: then delete them.
  • Respond to thoughtful comments. These will be evident. If someone has taken the time to consider your points, add to them or provide another point of view, acknowledge it and respond with your own perspective. This is the best of social media – it’s about creating these kinds of conversations.
  • Acknowledge differing points of view. Offer your own perspective and use it as an opportunity to bring forward more of your own content.
  • Look for other relevant conversations. Take the example above and find more. If you have something interesting to say, become a thoughtful commenter, Twitterer, etc. 
  • Respond to negative missives. Don’t worry; you’ll be able to identify these without difficulty. They’re the ones that reek of road rage and offer nothing constructive to the conversation.
  • Get into a point-by-point debate. You will never win, and you will only leave the encounter angrier than you began it.
  • Discount a thoughtful comment. Even if someone only has 50 followers on Twitter, or is a student somewhere, it’s part of the deal. Conversation starters can come from anywhere, even @iamdiddy.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Words as Weapons

As I watched the events unfold in Tuscon this weekend and hoped against all hopes that Representative Giffords would make it through, I came across this article in The New York Times by Matt Bai: A Turning Point in the Discourse, but in Which Direction?

Bai noted that a number of politicians had begun removing pages from their Web sites, pages that contained powerful rhetoric that could be associated with some sort of militant response to politicians on the other side of the aisle. My post is not about politics, so I will leave those details out, but I encourage you to read Bai’s piece, and many of the other thoughtful articles that have followed (just do a quick Google search on “Giffords and political rhetoric”).

This kind of article is a reminder for communicators whose job is focused on elevating conversations and points of view above the din. The din is a powerful obstacle, and as I have noted here in the past, controversy almost always leads to interest. There is an appropriate role for controversy in many kinds of industry conversations. However, frequently the most extreme points of view garner the most attention simply because they are extreme.

Controversy and differing points of view are powerful tools, particularly when you are competing against millions of voices in social media. And they can be a great tools, when used properly. We live in an age where “news” is defined by an amalgamation of professional and “citizen” journalists. This means that depending on what you are reading, fact checking does not always happen. Consumers must be more cautious about which sources they trust.

While reporters like Bai will continue doing his research and writing thoughtful, balanced stories, there are lots of other outlets that exist solely to advance an agenda. As communicators increasingly become creators of original content that promotes our clients’ points of view, we have the responsibility to balance the need for visibility with the need for accountability and responsibility. We need to push ourselves to take the hard route to getting out the right message in the right way.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Quora: distraction or deliverance?

Contributed by Samantha McGarry

As a communicator, Quora pushes all my buttons -- in a good way. But folks, let’s get serious. Let’s get over ourselves. Let’s stop trying to be cool and popular, let’s put on our business heads and focus on value and effort. Amid all this Quora buzz (and there have been several interesting articles written in recent days,) the following questions leap out at me. I don’t have the answers; I’m not sure anyone does yet. But it behooves us to think about this stuff before we jump on the bandwagon.

  • How do I manage another social site? I could spend hours on Quora but, seriously, I have a long, long to-do list to get to.
  • How do I best use it to complement what I’m already doing for clients on Twitter, LinkedIn, SlideShare, …etc.?
  • Show me the APIs! If Quora is going to stick around, I’m going to need it to talk to my social media monitoring and measurement systems.
  • Other than we cool PR/social media/ IT peeps, who else is using Quora? Aren’t we just all talking to ourselves right now? Or is there a serious B2B or B2C audience?
  • Should I be recommending that clients participate to share content and build thought leadership?
  • Is it a viable lead gen or referring traffic source for inbound marketing?
  • Is it influencing attitudes and buying decisions?

Ultimately, Quora feels like another interesting model for finding and sharing information and answers, engaging with quality people, and for distributing and linking to valuable content. But I also think we need to slow down and assess its viability – or we’ll be spending all our time in Quora-land and not enough time focusing on what really matters as PR professionals: delivering value and results.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Finding Quality Interactions on Twitter – Lose the Auto DM!

What is the benefit of an auto-DM on Twitter? Practically speaking, I suppose it’s great.  Automated responses reduce the time that you have to spend personally acknowledging new followers.

Sure, sending an auto-DM after someone follows you might sound like a good way to begin a Twitter relationship, but the more I receive, the more I feel like unfollowing the person (or company) sending it to me. It feels canned and makes me wonder if a real person actually manages that handle.

Conventional wisdom tells us to follow everyone who follows you on Twitter, and I believe in that principle for quality followers. Increasingly, the followers who auto DM me after I follow tend to be people or companies that appear to simply be trying to secure large numbers of followers, and therefore, just don’t have time to respond to every inquiry personally.

If you have 54,321 followers, that is probably true. And it only begs the question – with that many followers, is it possible to keep up and interact in a meaningful way with all of your followers? Are they even followers who matter? If you’re @MarthaStewart, the answer might be yes, but for most of us who don’t make the news for snapping a photo of our new handbags (see below), it’s just not the case. I should note that Martha actually does handle many of her tweets personally (and dictates many others to an assistant).

 Twitter, at its most basic, is a platform that facilitates conversations. It’s one of the only social tools that enables you to become part of a broader conversation among people you know, and people you don’t. But the only way to do this is to be present in that conversation.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Gawker’s Wisdom of Drawing a Crowd

Contributed by Beth Monaghan

This morning NPR aired a piece by Jesse Baker titled,
“Gawker Wants To Offer More Than Snark, Gossip,” on Nick Denton and Gawker Media. It was sparked by Denton’s redesign plans that will include more in-depth and analytical pieces to draw in upscale readers and advertisers.

Denton said, “I would like to show the full range of content, from scurrilous and sensationalist through to beautiful and uplifting. Because People can’t live on snark and viscous gossip alone.” This is an interesting development for a media brand that’s built its name by breaking news quickly (news that is often characterized as gossip).

Gawker’s success is indicative of today’s news culture. People gravitate toward sparks of news (
irresistible headlines), and these sparks tend to be more of the sensational and less of the heartwarming.
The media industry has become somewhat of a Wild West since blogs have ignited a culture of round-the-clock news with a priority on bragging rights for breaking it first. In turn, consumers read hundreds of headlines each day through Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds, you name it. This has fueled a competition for eyeballs – we want more Twitter followers, more likes on Facebook, more followers for our blogs, etc.

But just because you have my attention does not mean that you will retain it. These sparks of controversy draw people in, but what makes them stay (and come back) is a point of view grounded in thoughtfulness – and of course relevance.

For PR and social media professionals, this is an important difference. The hunger for content has been a boon for many corporate thought leaders who are able to draw large audiences for their blogs, videos, infographics, etc. The trick is creating content that is compelling enough to attract visitors and thoughtful enough to engage them.

Although I am loath to advocate sensational journalism, it certainly has the corner on the interest (and eyeballs) market. We only have to look as far as Snooki and Tiger Woods to fully appreciate this principle. It will be interesting to see where this all goes. One thing is for certain – until we have better tools for filtering news, the battle for eyeballs will wage on – and controversy almost always wins.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Check out the Great PR Blogs at Alltop

We're very excited to have been accepted to Alltop. Check out the great PR content there at http://pr.alltop.com/, where you will also find a feed of InkLings@InkHouse.