SHIFT Agency PR Blog and PR News

01 Jul 2015

How to Build Rapport and Pitch Media Using Twitter

tweet tweet

Ah, Twitter: Land of snarky comments, pithy observations, celebrity smack downs, breaking news, and, if you’re a savvy enough public relations professional, pitching opportunities. Twitter is a social media platform that sometimes gets a bad reputation as confusing, overwhelming, and just another social network to manage – which, there is some truth to – but, if you learn how to use it properly and to your advantage, it’s a useful tool. That’s because thousands of journalists use Twitter every day to post breaking news stories, comment and share news items, ask for sources for their articles, praise colleagues’ work, or have conversations with each other.

As an account executive, or someone in any PR role, that’s where you can start to build relationships with reporters, sometimes more easily than emailing or calling them, because you’re meeting them where they are and working with their daily routine. If you’ve never pitched on Twitter before, you could be missing out. But, don’t go crazy right out of the gate, as there are some do and don’ts to consider, if you want to be successful. Here are some of my top tips:

First thing’s first: Look professional before you start trying to make professional connections.

Twitter isn’t LinkedIn, so you have a little more freedom to present yourself casually, but there is a fine line. Upload a recent profile picture that shows some personality – for example, you doing one of your favorite hobbies or a fun pose. However, make sure your face is clear and recognizable and the picture is welcoming. No one wants to interact with someone that they can’t see, is scowling, or worse, is sporting “duck face” – it will make you seem untrustworthy, especially to a reporter. Additionally, ensure that your description has the right balance of professionalism and flare by designating the industries you’re knowledgeable about (i.e., your clients’ industries) and including a personal touch.

Twitter profileI’ve included my Twitter profile as an example. I’m a huge Golden State Warriors fan, so I decided to use a picture in which I’m wearing a jersey and have the #GoDubs hashtag included in my bio. I’ve also listed work-related information and some other interests through more hashtags.

Do your research and build Twitter lists.

After you have your profile updated and looking good, you’ll need to do some research on which reporters you want to connect with on Twitter. There are a lot, and to make it less overwhelming, you’ll want to focus your outreach. Some reporters also aren’t on Twitter or don’t like to be pitched on Twitter, so you’ll want to find that out as well.

If you have a media leaderboard for your clients – that is, a list of reporters that are important to your clients and that you’ve designated write frequently about your clients’ industries – then you’re in good shape. If not, you’ll definitely want to create that first.

Next, you can use a service like Gorkana or Cision, if you have access to it, to find the Twitter handles of the reporters on your leaderboard. Many times you can also search for them on Twitter or on Google, as you’ll be able to tell if they are the right person by reading their bios.

Once you start following them, I recommend adding them to a general “media targets” list or, if you want to focus your outreach even more, you can create lists for each client. To create and manage lists, click on “Lists” on your profile page. Click on the cog icon on a reporter’s profile page next to the follow button to add him or her to a list. This allows you to keep them and all their updates in their own feed separate from your more general feed, which will help you see their statuses and interact with them more easily.

Build relationships early and maintain them through regular interaction.

Now that you have a rockin’ profile and a list of reporters you want to connect with, it’s time to start interacting, but don’t pitch right away! Ideally, every PR pro should strive to have established reporter relationships – it makes media relations much easier. Twitter is a great way for you to start building those relationships, especially if your clients don’t have amazing news to share or big product announcement, before you pitch them directly. Since so many reporters are active on Twitter on a daily basis, it makes it easy to interact with them by favoriting, replying to, and mentioning their work without interrupting their routine via email or a phone call.

Spend a half hour each day perusing your Twitter lists to see what reporters are up to. If they share an interesting article or update, then feel free to favorite it, retweet it, or reply with a comment. Keep it casual, yet professional and respectful. Overall, it’s probably best to keep negative comments to yourself and you most certainly don’t want to call a reporter out for a mistake in an article in a public forum.

The other trick here is to not overdo it. Don’t go through your list and start favoriting every update – that’s a little creepy. You will also want to provide insightful feedback or value. Oftentimes, I try to make a bold statement about something they wrote or shared in order to strike up a conversation. Extra points if you can add in some humor – they love that.

Once you start to build rapport with reporters, don’t stop there. Continue interacting with them on a regular basis so your name becomes familiar.

Go for it!

Reporters have started interacting with you and you’ve built up some good rapport – awesome! By now, since you’ve been keeping an eye on what they write and share, you should have a really good understanding of the types of things that interest them on a professional and personal level. Use that to your advantage by referencing that in your pitches.

If you’re going to pitch by phone or email, use the rapport you’ve established on Twitter to help them remember you. For example, “It was great chatting with you on Twitter about X. Based on our conversation, I’d like to see if you’re interested in learning more about X.” Don’t wait too long after you’ve had the conversation on Twitter to pitch them, though, or else you might lose the opportunity. Timeliness is imperative.

Sometimes, reporters will make it even easier for you by directly asking for sources for a story on Twitter (see an example below).

Twitter pitching

If your client has something interesting to say about the topic at hand, don’t be afraid to tweet at them or in this case email them directly. You could simply say, “Per your tweet about X, I’d like to offer you some commentary from X.” However, make sure that you or your client have something truly compelling to say that matches what they’re looking for. Otherwise, you could start to tarnish the relationship you’ve worked so hard to build.

If you’re going to pitch reporters directly on Twitter, there are a few other things to keep in mind. I usually would not include a client’s name in your tweet. Keep it vague, but related to topic, and ask them to either direct message (DM) or email you if they would like more info. Then, you can talk about the specific client.

It’s also important not to send out mass tweets to multiple reporters. Again, Twitter is public and reporters do not like to see someone pitching several of their colleagues with the same story.

Those are some of my tips for using Twitter for media relations. What have been some of your biggest successes or learnings from using Twitter? Share them in the comments below. You can also feel free to connect and tweet with me and ask questions at @tyachilles.

Ty Achilles
Account Executive

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30 Jun 2015

B2B Launch Checklist: Micro-Moments and the Buyer Experience

b2b-word-cloud-image

When we B2B PR folks sit down to put together the latest version of XYZ product launch, what comes to mind?

  • How many hits we can get? Make sure to get a mix of tech mastheads, bloggers and (hopefully) business/broadcast media.
  • Don’t forget to cross promote on social.
  • What’s the supporting content strategy? Blog series? Contributed articles? Social calendar for the next 30 days?
  • Is there a tradeshow we should incorporate/avoid?
  • Did we remember the channel pubs?  What about upcoming awards?

Feels comprehensive, right?  Notice anything that’s missing?

There’s actually a fair number of gaps, including:

  • Upfront research.  Who is your sales target?  Do we know what they interact with best regarding content?  What they read?  Where they actually engage/participate in social? This data is most times at your fingertips: upfront user behavioral reports in your Google Analytics systems, your CRM, analyzing social audiences of the market and competitors, keyword research, etc.  All of these can give you insights into what has (or has not) worked and signals of the market conversations you need to tap into.
  • Media amplification.  The Twitter stream washes even the best coverage away quickly.  How are we going to get the hard-earned message in our coverage to the front of buyer’s minds? Social advertising is still cost effective, and budgeting for Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook advertising (with images please!) should be part of every launch strategy.  The three message rules of marketing still apply, but the monoculture is gone. The good news is we can microtarget via online and social.  But you have to do the work and plan ahead to get the messages to rise back up to the audience.
  • Funnel impact.  Do we know who in the current client and/or prospect base should see this news directly from you?  Do we have any incentives to offer them?  This is a time to enhance or advance your relationship with someone who already knows you.  Email marketing is still effective!  Yet we forget to weave in coverage highlights or social sharing into these mechanisms.  We also forget to set up specific campaign and audience goals in Google Analytics.  Remember – you can’t go back, you can only track from when you insert a goal into Google Analytics.

Beyond being good data-driven practices, the above gap analysis is vital because the buyer experience with brands (yes even B2B brands) is never going back to days when a great media launch with some social baked into it gets the job done. Google has updated their view on the buyer’s journey recently, focusing on what they are terming “micro-moments.”  In essence, the data is showing that mobile has created a world-wide fundamental behavioral shift in how people find, consider and interact with brands. The buyer journey in this world is based on the user’s needs – not the brand’s value proposition.  You need to react to that need in a personalized and timely manner to establish and continue your relationship with that audience of one.

For B2B, the journey can be long; sales cycles can stretch for months or quarters.  How many opportunities do you have to reinforce or dissuade a buyer along that timeline?  Consider:

  • What if your prospect, after months of nurturing, needs a final tech spec hurdle overcome and can’t find the right specs page or white paper to convince their senior team?  Are you set up to engage them quickly with customized information?
  • What if customer service is a deal breaker and the prospect is using social to test your capabilities?  Is your team responsive and personalized in their approach enough to impress?
  • What if your channel partner gets a rush quote request, and instead of directly managing an existing customer they are sent to your portal. Will they be treated like a prospect with a 101 white paper offer instead of a customized piece of content?

In the B2B world, we are not immune to the mental shift that’s taken place in the public consciousness. We have tools to help us create individualized and customer experiences for our prospects and customers.  Given many times we have less volume opportunity than B2C companies, and longer sales cycles, making the most of every interaction is just as important in B2B.

Derek Lyons
Vice President

Photo Source: Kan & Company

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29 Jun 2015

Google News Lab for PR and Marketing Professionals [video]

Google announced a new experiment to assist journalism in stepping up its game, the News Lab. News Lab bundles Google’s most popular storytelling tools together and guides journalists through a short online course to help them make the most of the Google toolkit:

News Lab Content framework

Unsurprisingly, Google’s News Lab is incredibly useful to anyone creating content and telling stories. Marketers and PR professionals need the best tools available for making content perform.

In this short 10-minute video tour, learn what’s inside Google News Lab and how it applies to marketers and communicators. Find out what modules you should pay most attention to, and what other resources can complement your understanding. Take your storytelling to the next level:

Find some other great tools that should be in the toolkit? Let us know in the comments.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Work at SHIFT

26 Jun 2015

Tune Up: Building a Playlist for Productivity

productivity playlist

There’s no place like my coveted headphones and playlists. It’s a combination of many things that I find so captivating: energizing beats, the structure of instrumental sounds, passionate and spirited lyrics, unique and animated vocals, and the art of traveling on a melodious journey.

Music enthralls emotions allowing you to feel something. And that something can be anything from happiness, dancing, laughing or pure distraction. For me it’s my secret weapon for escaping and truly tuning into any project I am working on. With music, I am able to adopt the persona and energy I want to project with my end product. Confidence. Boldness. Creativity. There are hundreds of studies on the behavioral effects of listening to music. I won’t bore you with stats, but instead will focus on why it works for me for time management and maximizing my productivity.

Growing up my dad frequently woke us up on Saturday mornings to the sound of his bellowing voice harmonizing ragtime songs. And once up, he would continue his performance around the home while my brothers and I went through our morning routines. For some reason it never got old, and in fact, it always lifted our spirits. Secretly, his routine of five to six songs ingrained in me a very valuable lesson and bestowed me with a lifetime tool. As competitive kids (and me being the runt of three), we always scurried to be ready before dad started repeating songs. Trust me, one time was plenty for the “Mr. Zip Zip” song. I was always last: a.k.a. slow. So, I started counting rhythm, tempo and words while readying to get ahead of my brothers. After a while, it never mattered who was ready first, but it hooked me on music as the key to keeping time with each activity of the day.

I have certainly evolved my routine and musical taste beyond ragtime and campfire tunes, thanks to my dad’s vast collection of albums, tape swapping with friends, my spending allowance on shiny new CDs to now the number of streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, Songza, etc. My formula for building a playlist that inspires productivity and balances time is unique to me. But, here’s what I recommend to hustle through your day.

  • Precompiled Playlists vs. Your Own: Streaming services are convenient and easy to become loyal to (I am a fan). However, I like creating and listening to my own playlists especially for time management purposes. By creating your own list you have the freedom to time your day to tasks and tunes you will enjoy. Aiming for a 120-minute playlist max works best for me. I am able to prioritize my day into groups of times, and am a fan of splitting my day up into four quarters. It doesn’t always work out so nice and tidy, but by looking back at my playlists and how far I did or did not get down the list is an indicator of the type of day I had. It allows me to reflect on how spent my day and to plan ahead for the next.
  • Soundtracks & Full Albums: There are currently very few albums I can listen to all the way through (not to snub, but some eras of music are just better). However, I truly adore Prince (see what I did there?). But, for tasks deserving uninterrupted, absolute attention and focus, favorite albums and soundtracks are a good choice. Listening all the way through to a narrative can help with concentration on your greater task, and can also be very inspiring.
  • Burning the Midnight Oil & Casually Working to a Beat: House and electronic music gets me through sporadic days and later evenings. Working to a beat with simple lyrics and a good tempo can keep spirits high, take you on a drift and help you establish your work flow. Just don’t get too caught up in the beat that you lose focus. Funk is particularly great too, because it can have unusually long solo instrumental runs making it great for shielding out distractions. Hip-hop, old-school bossa nova, and rock are all great here as well.

Music is the lifeblood for my day-to-day. It helps me get the most out of my day by enjoying my work to sounds I love. It also helps me block out the constant noise that comes from living in the city, and working in an open office. Sometimes though, it is ideal to just have silence or allow your surroundings to be soundtrack. You learn from listening to others and it helps with mindfulness. But, everyone’s musical journey and preference is different. The above are just some suggestions. Most importantly, listen to what you love. After all, they are your ears.

Defausha Hampton
Senior Account Manager

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25 Jun 2015

Communications Preparations for the ACA

ACA

In the next few days, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is set to rule on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and whether subsidies are declared illegal and pulled from the millions of newly insured Americans, or if subsidies are preserved. As background, a healthcare subsidy lowers the amount of money spent on a monthly premium or reduces the out-of-pocket expenses, such as a copay or a deductible. Subsidies are subsidized by the federal government and are paid for through taxes.

Similar to the 2012 SCOTUS decision on the ACA, this impending 2015 decision will have a huge impact on all American lives. As we wait, let’s look back at what we as PR and marketing practitioners learned from the 2012 SCOTUS ruling on healthcare.

Messaging Matters: In 2012, there was much confusion on what the ACA actually meant. If passed, when would it be implemented, and what did the ruling actually mean for Americans? As a direct response to the initial communication confusion, the Obama administration coordinated with Enroll America, a targeted public education launch campaign to help uninsured Americans better understand their choices.

Be Prepared and Proactive: As communications professionals in any industry, we always have to be ahead of the curve. This means having all materials, messaging, spokespeople, lists and Twitter handles prepared, should any major announcement come earlier than expected. Rather than waiting for the announcement and reacting, it’s wise to be proactive and offer unbiased insight and analysis to targeted reporters beforehand. Then, once the announcement is made, you, your client and your media contacts are prepared with a high level overview and they know who to connect with for additional details.

Know Your Audience: Without a doubt, members of the media covering the story will have very little or maybe even no time to talk to your expert spokesperson, and most likely won’t even read your email the day of the announcement. Be cognizant of their time, be brief and don’t be pesky. Utilize Twitter and tweet at a handful of relevant reporters. If you’re able to obtain quotes and messaging from experts, utilize those quotes by targeting contacts and offering the exclusive advice. Having a few pre-drafted blogs or bylined articles will also help you stand out from others who are busy playing catch up and drafting in real time. Also, if your client does not have anything interesting, challenging or different to offer right from the beginning, hold off on sending that email pitch.

Earlier this week on Twitter, @Scotus announced that the Obamacare decision is set to be announced Friday. This allows us all a bit of wiggle room and a few more hours to prepare and get to those last minute to-do’s. Revisit and button-up that messaging, start or continue conversations with contacts, and finalize and obtain approvals for pre-drafted content. In the end, don’t forget that this is history in the making and not only is your client/expert involved, but you’re a part of it too. Have fun.

Theresa Masnik
Account Manager

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24 Jun 2015

Everything I Need to Know About PR I Learned at the Lilly Pulitzer Target Sale

A little over a month ago, I witnessed firsthand the madness of the much-publicized Lilly Pulitzer sale at my local Target store. The experience was a cookie-cutter lesson in the basics of PR. Let me explain.

Lesson 1: Remember the 3P’s of PR: plan, pray and pivot.
Full disclosure: I’m not even a real Lilly Pulitzer fan. I own one dress, bought on super-sale for a summer wedding years ago. Since then, it’s hung in my closet longing for attention.

But thanks to the power of PR, previews of the Lilly for Target look book saturated my Facebook news feed weeks in advance of the sale. For kicks, one day I clicked through. I liked what I saw. I mean, really liked. With my mind made up, the planning began.

Like a good PR practitioner who carefully does her research before pitching a reporter, I did mine. I scoured the collection online and built my “wish list” to help navigate the in-store experience. My sights were set (read: goals) on a yellow floral halter and kaftan beach cover-up.

lily pulitzer sale

Photo Credit: Target.com

Strategy and execution is where things got interesting. I planned to visit my local Target outpost at 8:00am the Sunday the collection debuted, thinking I’d get my pick of the litter at that hour. But as I naively made my approach, the line around the corner emerged. It turns out the real Lilly fans began queuing up as early as midnight. I maintained calm as any good PR pro does in a time of great adversity and crisis. As I casually strolled inside the store, I suddenly froze in disbelief.

It was 8:03am and the racks had been ravished. Many were overturned. Every last item had been swiped up by the droves that came in just three minutes before me. I stood frozen like a deer in the bright headlights of pinks, yellows and blues. Then, I took a long swig of coffee and decided a pivot was in order.

Lesson 2. It is possible to break through when you have nothing to offer.
Let’s be honest. I was pummeled by the competition. In the PR world, we’ve all been there. Another “me too” story in a sea of disappointed Lilly fans. The same can be said for clients looking to earn mindshare in a marketplace full of “Ubers for X.” What can PR practitioners do when we have nothing to offer media – no product news, no data, no “first, best or different” assets to tout? The key lies in being nimble and resourceful.

While it would have been easy to accept defeat that Sunday morning at Target, I wasn’t leaving empty handed.

As I strolled around, I was passed by a parade of overflowing shopping carts filled with Lilly towels, dresses, shoes and, yes – my coveted yellow floral halter. And then, I took one simple step. I started a conversation.

“Hi ladies, is there anything you aren’t taking today,” I smiled, concealing the desperation in my eyes. This earned me a few pity glances…and then a few pity shoes along the way. It was a start. I had made progress. I now had something to offer. #Score.

With items that were neither my size nor my style, I began trading up. I bartered a too large top for a dress that almost fit. That dress – wait for it – was then traded for my prized yellow halter. In fact, I netted out pretty well for a lady with nothing to offer just a short while ago. Here’s the proof:

lilypuliztersale

This got me thinking about what many of us PR pros face every day. There are many times your clients seem to have nothing to offer. When that day comes again, don’t be afraid to change your approach. Start a conversation with your client. Be nimble and ask questions like:

  • What is your future vision for the industry? (Lilly translation: Are you really going to wear those seven pairs of identical flip flops?)
  • What macro-trends can be leveraged to tell your story? (Lilly translation: I hear it’s going to be a rainy summer – trade you for your beach towel?)

Chances are, you’ll probably draw out something out that sticks and fills your shopping cart with an angle just strong to help your client break through.

Lesson 3. Personal connections still matter.
There’s much discussion around automated PR lately. But in the age of programmatic marketing and ad buying, why hasn’t PR become an automated process?

My experience bartering for Lilly Pulitzer at Target may hold part of the answer. The key to my success was quickly establishing personal relationships. The same is true about PR. At the end of the day, reporters, clients and everyone in between are people. Each has their own personal likes, moods, personalities and needs. That is why I believe PR will never truly be a science. It is still grounded in personal relationships. When you have nothing to give, personal relationships can help you break through. When things go awry, they may also mean crisis averted.

While that will likely be true forever, there are benefits to automating certain aspects of PR just like parts of my Lilly adventure. Those teams that queued up in line and strategically covered all parts of the store certainly perfected their automated formulas so to speak. But you know what? It wasn’t necessary to automate everything to be successful. My shopping results speak for themselves. And there’s no doubt I had more fun.

I chatted up groups of women and made friends. I bonded with fellow soloists over our mutual disbelief of the mayhem. We were kind and respectful to each other. We laughed as we crossed aisles and were loyal in end. “Here’s my last beach towel, you have it.”

The same goes for personal relationships with your clients and with members of the media. Those cultivated and nurtured over time create trust and loyalty. I’ll take that over an algorithm any day.

Lesson 4. Just roll with it.
To quote Robert Burns: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” True in life, shopping and PR. Despite my [albeit naïve] planning for Lilly’s arrival at Target, I entered into absolute chaos. Similarly, agency public relations brings constant change – from program pivots, to client comings and goings, to team changes, to unexpected crises on days that end in “y.”

It took me many years to be comfortable with the uncomfortable and to walk gracefully through it all. But finding a way to find peace in the face of change, challenge and disappointment is central to success in this industry.

The end result of my fateful shopping experience? A great story, some fabulous wins, a few new friends and a whole lot of fun. Sounds eerily similar to the makings of a great PR program now, doesn’t it?

Arika Beaudry
Account Director

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23 Jun 2015

Better Client Insights Begin With Why

why

Why?

This question is one of the single most powerful tools I use on a daily basis. “Why?” helps me develop knowledge and insight into each of my client’s businesses and programs. The basis for strategic decision-making and accompanying tactics comes from understanding why clients take the actions they do.

Last-minute requests have a reason behind them. A seemingly ill-conceived program may make more sense when we understand the purpose behind it. We can even look at our personal relationships in this respect; why would someone make a decision that we find offensive or hard to understand?

When we’re in the moment of trying to understand, “Why?” can be a powerful bridge that opens our minds to new possibilities. If we listen and offer recommendations based on our understanding of “Why?”, then our relationships with clients (and those with friends and family) become stronger.

Every request my team receives from clients is an opportunity to develop an understanding of what the needs may be behind a particular request. What goals are the client trying to achieve? What outcomes do they seek? I put a lot of thought into my own responses to make sure they adequately address what the client is asking or concerned about, which helps put them at ease.

It’s important to note that while asking “Why?” helps understand what the client needs, what the client needs may not always be what they want. We need to come to a mutual understanding and relationship built on trusting our experience. Our job in revealing client insights is to help them grow and prosper. Understanding “Why?” helps us explain to our clients the choices we make, especially when they run contrary to their expressed desires.

“Why?” is powerful question in client communications; it’s also a valuable tool for developing an understanding of data and how to make decisions based on that data. When looking at conclusions my team has developed, I’m constantly asking “Why?” to understand their conclusions. Digging into the answers together helps us all better understand when the next opportunity presents itself to use the knowledge we’ve learned to help other clients and colleagues.

Use “Why?” every day to question yourself and your work. It’s such a powerful little word. When used right, “Why?” can answer many other questions.

22 Jun 2015

Does social media sharing matter?

Share

On virtually every site you visit on the Internet, you’ll find social media sharing icons. Share! Pin! Tweet! Like!

Do these activities matter? Does all of that sharing create any kind of tangible benefit for the site? Instinct would say yes, but we cannot run a marketing department on instinct alone.

To answer this question, let’s put together a formal hypothesis: if sharing matters, there should be an association between the number of shares a page gets versus the number of page views that a page gets. While we cannot establish sequencing and causality, we can at least hypothesize that sharing a page should have a positive correlation to page views. Conversely, an unshared page should receive fewer page views.

It’s also important to note that we’re not examining clickthroughs on links or any other down-funnel metrics. We just want to prove or disprove a positive association between social media shares and page views.

Let’s first get our data. I’ll use data from my personal website so as to avoid revealing anything under NDA. I started by identifying the content to check. I’ll use my blog posts for the last 18 months:

Pages_-_Google_Analytics_-_CSP.jpg

From here I’ll load them into Excel, clean things up, and match them with the appropriate social shares using SHIFT’s proprietary social scanning software:

Screenshot_6_22_15__5_54_AM.jpg

Now we do a Pearson correlation, plotting the total number of social shares on the x-axis and the total number of page views on the y-axis, then fit a trend line to the plot:

Pageviews to total social shares.jpg

We do see a relationship, a reasonably strong one, between social shares and page views. The slope of the line is measured with a term named R-squared. R-squared is .61; if you take the square root of r-squared, you get an r-value, which in this case is .781. What does that value mean? The generally accepted meaning of r values is:

+.70 or higher Very strong positive relationship
+.40 to +.69 Strong positive relationship
+.20 to +.39 Moderate positive relationship
-.19 to +.19 No or weak relationship
-.20 to -.39 Moderate negative relationship
-.40 to -.69 Strong negative relationship
-.70 or lower Very strong negative relationship

Thus, we can say there’s a very strong positive relationship between social shares and page views. We cannot say which is the driver; does excellent content that garners page views in turn drive social media shares? Or do social media shares drive page views? The data cannot answer this question for us.

To dig a little deeper, which social network shows the greatest association between social shares and page views?

Pageviews to individual networks.jpg

We see that for this data set, LinkedIn matters the most (r of .71), followed by Facebook (r of .65), then by Twitter (r of .39, a moderate positive relationship), and finally Google+ (r of .32). Across the board, there is a relationship between social shares and page views.

Social media shares matter; they simply matter unevenly. The discrepancy above means that sharing might matter more on some networks than others, or that some content resonates better with certain social audiences than others. Given that my site is a B2B-focused website and blog, it would make logical sense for strong affinity between LinkedIn and the content.

What would you do with this information? Test, of course! The first logical test would be to see if distribution matters more than content. I’d turn off my social posting for a week and see if it’s my social sharing that’s driving page views. If page views drop like a rock, then I’ve begun to establish causality. If page views remain constant, then I know it’s not my social sharing that’s driving page views, and I must develop a new hypothesis.

Alternately, if not sharing isn’t an option, I could increase the amount of sharing I do. Instead of sharing a blog post once a day, I could schedule it to be shared 2, 3, or even 4 times a day. This would test causality as well – if I saw page views increase by a proportional amount, I’d know that sharing was driving the results.

To get even more advanced, I could choose to increase sharing on the underperforming networks while leaving sharing the same on the networks that are performing well. I’d be looking for those networks to have more shares, and if I’ve established causality with page views from a previous experiment, I’d look for page views to increase commensurately.

Do the same level of data-driven analysis on your own content. Identify what content gets shared the most, which networks it is shared on, and what causes what. You’ll develop a strong understanding of what’s really working as you build your audience, create engagement, and ultimately drive business results.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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19 Jun 2015

FTC Endorsement Guidelines: What Agencies Need to Know

In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) came out with guidelines regarding disclosure of endorsements that were significantly updated to take into account the ever-expanding domain of online advertising and social media. The underlying purpose was straight forward – that word-of-mouth advertising campaigns online should, in fairness to consumers, disclose when someone writing a review, talking about a product or otherwise promoting a product of business, was being paid or compensated for their services. Reading and then understanding said guidelines in the Federal Register caused many a migraine for marketers. In response, using my expertise as an attorney, I compiled a quick flowchart which summarizes the important points for bloggers and podcasters alike helping them to understand when disclosure was necessary.

Since that time in 2009, the world of social media and social media marketing has grown and changed dramatically. When each new digital and social channel comes along, they are often quickly followed by new, creative ways to use the channel for marketing. As a result, the FTC has had to play a constant game of catch-up to make sure that consumers have a fighting chance to sort out authentic comments from friends about the latest trend or product, from those that are posting and working as an “influencer” at the behest of marketing firms.

The FTC decided this week to give us all a little more guidance about what sort of posts require disclosure and what does not when talking about brands and products online. They issued another guide covering the common questions about disclosure of endorsements across social media and have even put out four videos to help explain where they stand on these issues.   The FTC states:

The Guides, at their core, reflect the basic truth-in-advertising principle that endorsements must be honest and not misleading. An endorsement must reflect the honest opinion of the endorser and can’t be used to make a claim that the product’s marketer couldn’t legally make.

In addition, the Guides say if there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer that consumers would not expect and it would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed. For example, if an ad features an endorser who’s a relative or employee of the marketer, the ad is misleading unless the connection is made clear. The same is usually true if the endorser has been paid or given something of value to tout the product. The reason is obvious: Knowing about the connection is important information for anyone evaluating the endorsement.

Ok, so what does this mean in practice?

First of all, the FTC has actually done a great job in the new guidelines (and in the shorter and sweeter FAQ) to cover social media promotions and endorsement scenarios, and anyone who is producing content or sharing posts about products, services, and brands online should give them a read. It’s not painful, I promise.

Long-Form Posts

In blog posts, Facebook updates and the like, where post length is not much of an issue, a writer should basically disclose whether they received a product for free or received payment for the post about a brand, product or service in the text. For agencies, this means disclosing posts that mention clients as clients is important, and making sure any influencers employed for promotional purposes know specifically what their disclosure obligations are, in order to stay within the rules. This is important because if the FTC takes issue with a campaign, everyone from the influencers to the marketing company to the Brand are subject to substantial fines for not following guidelines. Given the FTC’s recent enforcement actions, we suspect that this means everyone has been put on notice, so to speak, and we can only expect that fines will get larger and uglier in the future.

What about Short-Form platforms?

The questions about disclosure start to get trickier when we start talking about marketing campaigns on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, SnapChat and the like. With limited space, what constitutes adequate disclosure? Add in the emergence of mobile and mobile marketing, and it is a brave new world of advertising and required disclosure to avoid fines.

In recent decisions discussed in more detail below, the FTC has hinted that hashtags such as #ad, #sponsored or #client would be adequate. Some sort of disclosure has to take place, and it’s pretty clear that the disclosure needs to accompany the content, not be hidden in someplace more obscure, such as in a profile, or elsewhere on a website.

From Brand and Agency perspective, such disclosures seem to take away some of the word-of-mouth magic that we would all like to see when things are retweeted and propagated throughout social media. We all should be concerned about whether a person, influencer or not, would be as willing to share a tweet labeled #ad as they might otherwise be of typical content shared by a friend. However, that’s the FTC’s point- people should understand, clearly and distinctly, what’s marketing and what’s an authentic, spontaneous recommendation from a friend. Collected pictures on a Pinterest Board, in a Flickr feed, or on Instagram, should still have some sort of disclosure. Here’s a good real life example from Instagram:

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This post about a craft beer place in Atlanta from Foursquare looks ok, but the hashtags used are pretty generic. If Hop City is a paying client of Foursquare, then ideally, a disclosure such as #ad or #client or #partner should be used to make sure Foursquare is not doing this just out of the kindness of their heart, but because there is a financial relationship between the two. If there is no relationship between the two, other than people have tagged Hop City as a place on Swarm or Foursquare, no changes would need to be made.

If Foursquare is employing, either directly or through their marketing agency, specific photographers, influencers, or bloggers to go around a City and take pictures of places listed on Foursquare and post these photos to the Foursquare-owned Instagram account, what’s required? If the influencers are posting the pictures on their own personal feeds, to ideally drive traffic to the restaurant, and they are getting paid by Foursquare or its marketing agency to do so, a disclosure should be made. If they are posting to the Foursquare account, but instead of taking pictures of all the places in a neighborhood, are picking and choosing Foursquare paying customers, there’s a clear promotional purpose and exchange of value, and disclosure should be made. If these folks are not receiving anything in exchange, and are just taking pictures and letting Foursquare use them, well, that seems just fine- it’s all about the quid pro quo.

The PR or marketing agency involved, or Foursquare itself could be held responsible for the failure to disclose, even if the mistake was made by a blogger/poster/photographer.

Who’s Likely to Be Under Scrutiny?

The FTC hints that Agencies may be the first ones in the crosshairs when it comes to social media promotions. In a 2011 case involving gift certificates given to bloggers in a Hyundai Super Bowl related promotion, the FTC had this to say:

So what does this mean for companies looking for more guidance on complying with the FTC’s Endorsement Guides? M.M.M. OK, we just made up the mnemonic, but the principles are well-established:

  1. Mandate a disclosure policy that complies with the law;
  2. Make sure people who work for you or with you know what the rules are; and
  3. Monitor what they’re doing on your behalf.

Of course, the outcome in the Hyundai matter depended on specific facts, including non-public information submitted to the staff. And as the letter makes clear — or as clear as any sentence with four “nots” can be (Sorry, but we’re lawyers. We can’t help it.) — “Our decision not to pursue enforcement action is not to be construed as a determination that a violation may not have occurred, just as the pendency of an investigation should not be construed as a determination that a violation has occurred.”

Quadruple negatives aside, the take-away is clear: Mandate a policy that complies with the law. Make sure your people know about it. And monitor what they’re doing.

This is a clear message to all agencies that word-of-mouth promotions will require monitoring for adequate disclosure. We would highly recommend that there were written disclosure rules and distinct information about follow up distributed to employees of the agency and the selected influencers alike, and some sort or reporting/checkin schedule was set up to keep tabs on a campaign during its run.

Recent Enforcement Examples

It’s inherent in human nature to start looking for loopholes or ways around the rules in any given situation. While the FTC has said clearly that each case will be driven by its facts, the cases below start to flesh out where the FTC seems to be going regarding social marketing.

Cole Haan and #WanderingSole on Pinterest

The FTC investigated a promotion by Cole Haan where participants could enter a contest for a $1,000 sweepstakes prize for whoever had the most creative board on Pinterest about “Favorite places to wander.” The hashtag #WanderingSole was deemed insufficient disclosure to let people know the posts were being made for a commercial purpose- the contest and the prize were big enough to constitute a material connection. While Cole Haan eventually got a “closure letter” saying they would not be prosecuted, the FTC was clearly issuing a warning it was going to start cracking down on this sort of promotion, and fun hashtags alone were not likely to function as adequate disclosure.

ADT, the home security folks, also got into trouble with the FTC and had to make changes in an ad campaign where they were misrepresenting paid endorsements as independent reviews across different mediums, traditional and online.

In December 2014, the FTC entered into a settlement with Deutsch LA regarding a Sony campaign using the hashtag #GameChanger on Twitter in which inadequate disclosure of the advertising was a problem. The FTC was also clear to reiterate that disclosure rules applied to social media, and it could be expected to be more stringent with enforcement in the future. It did signal that hashtags #ad, #sponsored, or #client could be enough to make sure tweets were adequately transparent.

Clearly, the FTC is signaling that “When in doubt, disclose” is the name of the game. That likely means any visual promotions, contests or the like using consumer-produced media on any social channel, such as Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Periscope – you name it – will need to have more than a cute hashtag identifying a campaign. A disclosure hashtag like #ad or #sponsored will work, but that doesn’t mean an agency couldn’t craft an alternative disclosure such as “I’m such a big deal on Twitter that X Agency gave me this awesome widget for free!”

The rules can be summed up as:

  1. Disclosure should happen whenever there is an exchange of any value (or in the case of contests, potential value) made in exchange for online content.
  2. The disclosure must accompany the content, not hidden elsewhere, such as in profiles, or separate content, such as a second tweet.
  3. Agencies and Brands are more likely to be held responsible for deceptive content, and they are also liable for ensuring compliance from their employees/contractors/participating public, to the extent possible. A compliance/monitoring program should be part of the campaign’s rollout.

Consumer Privacy Is Also an Issue

Also important for agencies, Forbes also recently published an article discussing the FTC pursuing a tech company called Nomi, involved with using in store sensors (near-field communications) to track over 9 million cell phone numbers from people shopping in stores without providing an opt-out option, violating the privacy of consumers. This means before opting for a sensor-driven ad campaign, brands and agencies should be extra careful about the security of collected data, and to provide clear opt in/ opt out options for consumers.

And let’s not forget the FTC also entered into a settlement with Twitter itself in 2011 for misleading consumers about the extent to which it protects their information and privacy, resulting in monitoring for 20 years as well as face a potential fine of $16,000 per violation,( ie. per tweet) of the agreement.

The FTC is Serious, Folks.

Everyone should also be aware that the FTC is opening a new “Office of Technology Research” to try to stay on top of a rapidly changing world of online payments, advertising, the internet of things, and the like, in an effort to keep consumers safe.

The FTC has awoken from slumber, and it’s taking the job of monitoring online communication and business practices seriously. While many of the settlements and closure letters have been relatively minor, it shows they are getting serious about enforcement across the board.

This month, in fact, the FTC took a surprising step, when it entered into a settlement against a failed crowdfunding campaign. An individual took money from the campaign and used it for personal expenses in part, rather than fulfilling his obligations, and the FTC stepped in to negotiate a settlement to try to make donors whole. This means even when consumers willing give money to a campaign, they may have a little more protection if things go bad, when the FTC is willing to step in to help negotiate settlements in the event of fraud.

In sum, the Wild West of digital marketing has a new sheriff in town, and he’s serious about the law. Agencies need to be aware that they are putting themselves and the brands they work with in the crosshairs when working with influencers, but we must become more serious and proactive in crafting disclosures that are clear and unequivocal. While there will always be a few mistakes, the FTC has made it clear that the days of playing fast and loose with disclosure are coming to an end.

Whitney Hoffman
Hoffman Digital Media

To learn more about Whitney Hoffman, click here.

18 Jun 2015

Scoping out the Competition (While Avoiding Jail Time)

Brands large and small have competitors they’d like to out-sell, out-promote and out-perform. But as much as you’d like to poke around the competition and see what they’re up to, it’s not always ethical.

The St. Louis Cardinals are the latest (but certainly not the last) organization to get caught snooping around where they didn’t belong. Several employees of the MLB team are currently under investigation by the FBI and Justice Department for hacking into a rivals network to gather scouting reports, player analyses and other proprietary information about the team.

While confidential player reports may not be available to the general public, there are other aspects of your competitors that are ethical to check out, if you know where to look.

Social Media Snooping

If your competitor is on social media, take a look at what they’re posting, who they’re engaging with or who’s following them. If they’re creating content, see how you can create something better. If people are interacting with the brand and no one is responding, take that opportunity to reach out as your brand!

Most social networks also give you the ability to target advertising directly to fans/followers of your competitor. Use related keywords (even try the adding the competitor’s name and product names) to get your brand’s message in front of your competitor’s audience. This will require having budget to put behind your social media strategy, but as we all know, most social networks have moved almost entirely to pay-to-play for brands these days.

SEO Recon

There are several tools available to marketers that can show you what keywords (both organic and paid) that your competitor is ranking for. Some even tell you how your brand stacks up against the competitor for each keyword as well. If your competitor ranks higher than you, create meaningful content around those keywords to boost your ranking. Google’s algorithms change so frequently that rank-boosting tactics go in and out of favor all the time. Lucky for you, quality content that your audience finds valuable will also help.

Understanding your competitor’s paid media strategy and the overall industry landscape in paid media can also be very valuable. Maybe none of your competitors are investing in digital advertising. This could give you the chance to make a small investment and have the online inventory all to yourself.

Before you go hacking into emails or tapping the competition’s phone lines, take advantage of tools available to marketers to scope out the competition and stay #honorable.

Tori Sabourin
Marketing Analyst

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