SHIFT Agency PR Blog and PR News

24 Apr 2014

State of Social 1Q14: Facebook second-largest country in the world, 4 out of 5 users mobile

Facebook recently released its first quarter 2014 report detailing the state of the world’s largest social network.

How are things in the nation of Facebook? For one, Facebook has surpassed the country of India, making it now the second largest country in the world.


India is at 1.243 billion people, Facebook nudged ahead to 1.276 billion people. Let’s look at some of the raw numbers in our ongoing State of Facebook series.

  • 1.276 billion people use Facebook at least once a month
  • 802 million people use Facebook at least once a day
  • 1.008 billion people use Facebook at least once a month from a mobile device
  • 341 million people use Facebook only from a mobile device at least once a month – more people than the population of the United States of America
  • 609 million people use Facebook at least once a day from a mobile device

In terms of actual growth rates, Facebook’s rate of growth ticked up a tiny notch, close to 4% growth. That’s incredible, when you think about just how large their reach already is. According to the ITU, the number of human beings with Internet access of any kind reached 2.784 billion in 2014. That means that Facebook reaches 45.8% of the Internet-accessible human beings on the planet.


One of the most important parts for marketers is the penetration of mobile devices in the Facebook economy. 4 out of 5 of Facebook users access the service at least once from a mobile device per month, and 30% of users access Facebook exclusively from a mobile device, no desktop or laptop computer involved.


Think about all of the ads you’re probably running on Facebook, all the content you’re posting, all the lead generation efforts you’ve got going. If your conversion efforts are not mobile-friendly, you are effectively throwing away up to 30% of your Facebook marketing dollars completely, and making it unpleasant for up to 4 out of 5 potential customers. Think about the landing page people are arriving at from your Facebook posts and ads – is it mobile-friendly? If not, it’s well past time to build this point of view into your strategy and approach.

Speaking of advertising, let’s see the numbers there:

Facebook_Q1_2014_Earnings 2

Facebook’s been turning the screws on brand pages repeatedly, tightening up the algorithm by which brand posts appear in the News Feed and making brands pay to have their posts seen where previously they might be seen for free. In the last quarterly report, they’d seen a healthy jump in ad revenues (no doubt in part due to the holidays and B2C retail advertising), but this quarter, they showed a loss of growth. However, looking back historically, Facebook always takes an ad growth loss in Q1.


If this trend continues, expect to see Q2 revenue growth bounce back strongly, Q3 to soften, and Q4 to hit it out of the ballpark again. Look carefully! Q1 loss of growth is getting smaller and smaller; year over year, Facebook has tightened its losses in Q1 from -8% to -6% to -3%. Brands are paying more year-over-year, shrinking Facebook’s losses in growth rate. In Q1 2015, they may even go flat instead of negative growth in revenues.

Let’s turn our attention to regions. Facebook has been making crazy, multi-billion dollar acquisitions over the past year, and we can now see very clearly why. When it comes to user growth on Facebook, North America is basically flat. Europe is growing slowly after a drop in the beginning of last year. The growth story that matters, however, is the Asia/the Pacific region (APAC) and the Middle East/Africa (ME/A):


Once Facebook manages to gain solid ground in those regions, expect them to monetize better. Their revenue losses on the ad side were heavily in ME/A for Q1, whereas they seem to have mostly solved North American post-holiday revenue losses and even showed Q1 revenue growth in APAC:


Given that so many companies spend so aggressively in North America, Facebook must be pleased at mitigating the Q1 ad revenue weakness traditionally seen in the US and Canada. The repeated punitive News Feed changes to make brands pay more are working!

What does this mean for you, PR and marketing communications professionals?

Facebook’s financial growth numbers continue to support what the network is doing with its News Feed algorithms. Facebook is effectively now a pay-to-play medium for marketers and communicators. It’s paid media; treat it as such, budget for it as such. Use our free Facebook Page Cost Calculator to find out how much you’ll need to budget for the rest of 2014.

With these latest updates, we can safely offer this guidance universally to all marketers and PR professionals engaging in social media:

  • Should you have a Facebook content strategy? Yes, but don’t expect results unless you pay.
  • Should you have a paid Facebook strategy? Yes.
  • Should you have a mobile strategy? Yes, and you should be thinking about a mobile app that integrates with Facebook.
  • Should you be targeting different ads for mobile? Yes.

The bottom line: Facebook is paid media. If you want to reach 45.8% of the Internet-connected human race, you’d better have your credit card ready.

What’s next? Expect much more mobile focus from Facebook. Facebook has seen the writing on the wall, pushing its Messenger app, buying WhatsApp, pushing its Paper app, and continuing to grow Instagram. Expect more of the same, and be prepared to try out its new offerings. Facebook has offered more tools to app developers for integrating Facebook into games. In browsing the agenda for their upcoming conference, there’s a recurring theme of mobile and games.

Expect ads to get pricier as more and more brands evolve their Facebook strategy into a Facebook paid media strategy. Facebook and Twitter are both making aggressive plays into in-app advertising, as well as advertising on their own properties. If you don’t already have a Facebook paid media strategy, feel free to contact us and ask how we can help.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Download our new eBook, How Social Broke PR

23 Apr 2014

3 Tips for Becoming a Digitally Fluent PR Pro

Digital disruption has become a cliché. The realization that every industry must digitize in some way has sunk in, but now the question is: where do we stop? While some tools may be pertinent to your field as a digitally fluent PR pro, others can take more time than it’s worth to learn. For example, while a street-side necklace vendor may not need to know programming languages, it may work for them to use an Etsy account. For someone who knows their way around code, Etsy would be a simplistic choice.

Matthew Ebel - Devices

From social media platforms to technological concepts, the ability to discern which resources are imperative to your industry is an important skill to develop.

We can all learn something new from the internet every day, but it’s daunting to know where to start, it’s all about what you are looking to accomplish. Here are a handful of tips that may help you decide what areas of digital fluency you can and should improve upon.

1. Follow tech news

Reading articles on tech news is one of the most effective ways to enhance your digital vocabulary and become digitally fluent. Concepts like PPC, SERP, bounce rate, backlink, organic vs. paid search and others are now important to know if you work in the media industry.

TechCrunch, VentureBeat, The Next Web, GigaOm, and Re/code are a handful of the most popular tech news publications that you can read. Each of these publications often link to the source, which are smaller, more specific blogs that you should follow to learn more about the respective topics. (For example, every data analyst should subscribe and become of a fan of one of my favorite author/bloggers on analytics, Avinash Kaushik.)

2. Take some basic coding courses

“Programming is the new literacy” is quickly becoming the mantra for an entire generation. Learning a new coding language means the difference between barely comprehending the issues clients may face and understanding the technology on which you may have to pitch, write about and explain. Do you need to code to pitch tech? Not strictly but it’s an excellent skill to develop that could help you in any current or future job.

Some of the most user-friendly services for learning new programming skills are: Codecademy, Treehouse (disclaimer: client), CoderDojo, Scratch (kid-friendly coding), and CodeCombat (an actually *fun* game for learning JavaScript).

3. Customize your workspace

Small changes to your workflow can make a world of difference to your productivity. The reality of the digital age is that there is always a new tool to make you work more efficiently. Here are some great Chrome browser extensions that will help you with streamlining your workflow:

  • OneTab: close all open tabs at once and cache for later. In an agency, urgent tasks can arise and you often must table what you’re working on for later. This plugin is great for handling this, because it allows you to rename your closed session so you can remember exactly what you were working on.
  • StayFocused: set daily time limits on how long you can spend on certain websites (e.g. Facebook, BuzzFeed). As a millennial, I admit to having an unhealthy and sometimes compulsory Facebook addiction. This plugin is Facebook rehab.
  • Pocket: quickly save articles for later without tossing them into the nether of your bookmarks menu. Get the app on your phone, and digest those not-so-urgent articles on the commute home, rather than taking up time at work.
  • Evernote Web: an elephant never forgets—and now, neither will you.  Use Evernote to clip snippets of text, links, articles to read later. Fair warning though: organize everything early.

Not everybody has to be an HTML wizard or know all about tech to do a job well. Want to be one of the cool tech-savvy kids? If you work in media and want to stay current, these are just a few of the ways we think will help you get up to speed while helping you work better.

Lucas Stewart
Marketing Coordinator

Download our new eBook, How Social Broke PR

22 Apr 2014

3 PR Lessons from the Direct Response World

Direct response marketing and public relations traditionally work in different parts of the marketing funnel. Public relations is supposed to attract new audiences to your brand, while direct response marketing is supposed to convince your existing audience to respond to an offer and do business with you. That said, there are still behavioral lessons that public relations can take from direct response marketers to make your PR more effective.

There’s a simple framework first pioneered by direct marketing expert Bob Stone back in 1967 that explains three core ingredients needed in order to make a direct response campaign work. Without these three ingredients, a direct response campaign will elicit no responses at all.

The framework is elegantly simple: List, Offer, Creative. Buy the right list, create the right offer to send to that list, and make sure the offer looks appealing with an attractive creative piece.

bob stone framework.001

Bob Stone’s framework also brilliantly applies to public relations as well; without these three factors, a PR campaign will not generate the audience that direct response marketing needs to power its efforts.

Let’s tackle each of these areas briefly.


Do you have the right audience? In the direct response marketing world, this means having the right mailing list (for things like email and postal mail), but more broadly and strategically, do you have the right audience in general? If you’re pitching publications that are 55+ but your audience is 25-34, it doesn’t matter how good your PR is – you won’t attract the right people to your brand. If you’re working Facebook 16 hours a day but your audience is really on Twitter, you won’t get the results you want.

Make sure you know your audience first. Collect better or more information on intake forms. Use your CRM, use your marketing automation tools, use research, use your web analytics software, use every tool available at your disposal to find out who your audience is, and create your PR strategy from there. No amount of clever PR will resonate with the wrong audience in a way that will generate business results.


In direct marketing, the offer is key. If the audience doesn’t want what you’re selling, they won’t take action. If the offer isn’t good enough, they won’t bite. In public relations, the offer is what you’re pitching, the story that you’re sharing. If it’s uninteresting, if it’s not compelling to the audience, neither they nor the publications and media outlets they read will be interested in sharing it.

One of the cardinal sins of PR is sender-centric thinking, in which you share information and content that’s exciting to you but not to your audience, from press releases filled with corporate jargon to stories about corporate anniversaries. Your audience has limited time and attention, so anything that doesn’t serve them first and foremost will largely be ignored by the public and the media. Think about the problems that your audience has and whether what you’re pitching will help them solve those problems. Audience-centric content will always perform better, be more likely to be shared, and ultimately attract the right kind of audience to your brand.


In direct response marketing, the creative is the content, whether it’s a flyer, newsletter, ad, mailer, or email. Many direct marketers obsess over the creative, from font size to colors, in order to maximize response. Public relations is creative, but in a more abstract way. Do you have the right idea, the right angle, the right content presented in a way that people, media, and influencers would want to share? Sharing a spreadsheet isn’t likely to be as impactful as sharing a pretty infographic.


What’s most important about Bob Stone’s framework isn’t the individual areas, but the priorities in them. Stone emphasizes to direct marketers that you solve in the order presented – list first, then offer, and finally creative. The challenge is that many direct marketers expend energy in reverse. Direct marketers tend to obsess over the creative but invest very little time in audience targeting or making sure the offer is sound.

The same is true of PR – obsessing over how pretty a graphic looks must be secondary to ensuring that the pitch is audience-centric, and presented to the right audience. A story with the most beautiful writing behind it that doesn’t address an audience problem or is send to an audience that doesn’t have the problem will not generate results, but PR professionals tend to obsess most strongly about the details. This is understandable in some sense; it’s much easier to tune up the language in a pitch than it is to tell the product marketing manager that the product is awful, but ultimately, no amount of finessing can fix bigger problems with audience targeting or offer construction.

Apply the direct response marketing framework to your PR efforts and see if you can make impactful changes to what and how you pitch.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Download our new eBook, How Social Broke PR

18 Apr 2014

Selfies Are Here to Stay, So How Can Brands Leverage Them?

As much as some of us would hate to admit it, selfies are here to stay. Tens of millions of selfies were snapped in 2013 and use of the word itself has increased by 17,000% since 2012. While many of us Millennials are indeed selfie-obsessed – 55% have posted one on social media as of last month – more than a quarter of the American population itself has shared a selfie to date. In case you’re wondering, that’s nearly 80 million people.

The trend became all but official this past November when Oxford Dictionary named “selfie” as its 2013 Word of the Year. If you needed any further convincing, we have now seen the likes of Pope Francis and Colin Powell join the ranks of selfie mavens Miley and Rihanna.

Vatican Pope Youths

With selfies so engrained in popular culture, brands must now ask themselves how they can capitalize on a trend that transcends any one demographic. Many have entered the fray and achieved a great deal of success along the way. Here we explore various strategies that brands have implemented to leverage selfies on their social media platforms.

Celebrity Spokespersons

One of the more recent and widely known instances of a celebrity spokesperson snapping a selfie was when Boston Red Sox standout David Ortiz posted one with President Obama on his Twitter account during the team’s visit to the White House earlier this month. What many saw as an organic moment was quickly debunked when it was revealed that Samsung had hired “Big Papi” to be its official “MLB social media insider.” While the selfie incited a national debate about presidential appearances in selfies, it did garner thousands of likes and shares across social media.

Another effective (and far less controversial) use of celebrity spokesmen was Turkish Airlines hiring NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant and soccer superstar Lionel Messi to serve as the faces of a #SelfieShootout contest in which fans could upload selfies for a shot to win a free flight.


Turkish Airlines is also a prime example of a brand that leveraged selfies as part of an integrated social media campaign. While we are more accustomed to seeing selfies on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, the airline showed how the images could be effectively utilized through vehicles YouTube as well.

Axe Deodorant has demonstrated success when it comes to campaigns, too, teaming up with non-profit Peace One Day for an engaging Valentine’s Day contest in which its audience submitted #KissforPeace selfies in honor of the organization’s global mission of nonviolence. Axe shared its top picks on its social media platforms in addition to cross-promoting the campaign with traditional advertising forms like digital billboards. In its approach, Axe was able to effectively publicize its brand while also promoting an altruistic cause.

Product Presentation

With its cup prominently featured in each Fan of the Week submission, brands like Dunkin’ are smart to incorporate their actual products in selfie campaigns. The company’s “Fan of the Week” contest allows diehard drinkers to showcase their passion for the brand by snapping a selfie and submitting it on social media.

In true cross-platform fashion, not only does Dunkin’ leverage the usual social suspects like Facebook in its campaign – further promoting the contest with its  #mydunkin hashtag – but like Axe it also features its Fan of the Week on its digital billboard in Times Square.

dunkin cover photo

Another company leveraging its brand through selfies is GoPro, which does not even need to feature the product itself in the picture to achieve success in this regard. As can be seen in the photo below, Go Pro utilizes selfies to portray the types and quality of images that can be taken with the camera.


Selfies can also be a great source of self-promotion. Celebrities like Miley Cyrus can snap an impromptu selfie on stage to convey the atmosphere and entertainment value of attending one of their shows, while the Lauren Conrads of the world can take a quick pic of themselves that offers a glimpse into their lives while simultaneously plugging a product.

The average person can also benefit from the selfie, as has been the case with Dan Pearce, who has built his “Single Dad Laughing” blog into a self-sustaining empire. As part of the blog, his fans can upload selfies on his Facebook wall that he’ll then feature in his “This is Beautiful You” series every Sunday. Pearce exemplifies the notion that you need not be a celebrity or major company to profit from one of today’s biggest digital and cultural trends.

It is clear that selfies are no longer only for high schoolers and that brands big and small can capitalize on their use. There are a variety of strategies to try across a range of social media platforms and further leverage with various types of traditional and nontraditional tactics (e.g., blogs, billboards, etc.). With selfies being such a social norm nowadays, companies and individuals alike can seize this opportunity to enhance their brands in a way that is both engaging and relevant to the public at large.

As someone who’s taken one selfie in his life (seriously!), even I admit they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. So be thinking about how you can leverage them to benefit your brand.

Zach Burrus
Marketing Analyst

Download our new eBook, How Social Broke PR

17 Apr 2014

Public Relations and Media Relations: What’s the difference?


If you work in public relations, you’ve definitely been asked, as have we, “What exactly is PR?” (If you still don’t have an answer, check out our take on the question here) The next question is usually, “So is it the same as media relations?” Our answer? No, and here’s why.

The Public Relations Society of America defines public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” In this sense, “publics” could be defined as stakeholders of any kind – customers, prospects, competitors, community members, employees, etc. It encompasses anyone who interacts with or is impacted by the organization on any level.

PR pros are the “middle men/women” between companies and the media #MediaRelations@jenarossi
[Tweet This]

PR teams use creative storytelling to portray a company’s point of view to gain public exposure. This can be achieved through a number of tactics, including social media, special events, or tailoring messaging on the company’s website. Another way to accomplish PR goals? Media Relations.

Media relations is one of the key phalanges to the hand of #PR.@jordanhayley
[Tweet This] 

Media Relations is an aspect of public relations. The terms are not interchangeable as media relations focuses solely on the relationship between the company and the media. They use different media outlets and coverage to tell the company’s story, rather than directly engaging with the publics and key stakeholders.

In less than 140 characters, you can credibly catch the attention of reporters. #MediaRelations@sarahsalbu
[Tweet This]

The lines between media relations and public relations, however, have blurred with the evolution of the Internet and our ever-connected society. There were almost 7 million people blogging in the United States alone last year, and that’s not including those blogging on social networking sites, which makes that number jump to 12 million! Blogs have become competitors with mainstream media.

The key to success in a top-notch communications strategy is the combination of strong public relations with strong media relations. Earned media is just a piece of the puzzle that makes up a successful PR strategy. Find where your customers are watching, find what they’re reading, and engage with that reporter or blogger. You may be surprised when you find out exactly what (or who) is influencing them.

Tori Sabourin
Marketing Coordinator

Download our new eBook, How Social Broke PR

16 Apr 2014

PR 101: What is a media impression?

One of the most common metrics talked about in traditional public relations as well as advertising is the media impression. However, it’s not always clear what an impression is or why it matters, not to mention, some folks believe impressions don’t matter at all. Let’s dig into this metric and understand what it truly measures.

Impressions, broadly defined, are any interaction with a piece of content and an audience member. For example, when you read the front page of the New York Times, every article on that page counts your viewing as one impression. When you drive past a billboard on a highway, that counts as an impression. When you read Facebook, every ad that scrolls by in your News Feed is an impression. An impression is the broadest possible metric for any piece of earned, owned, or paid media’s performance.

With such a broad definition, do impressions count for anything? In the biggest possible picture, they do matter a little – after all, if you have a choice between having your media be seen by one person or one million people, the logical choice (all other factors being equal) is to choose the larger audience.

Think of impressions as a directional metric. If you’re out there working to get publicity about a story, product, idea, or service, and your impressions count is zero, then the rest of your PR and marketing metrics aren’t going to look great either. Impressions bridge the gap between the world and the total addressable audience that you have and the rest of your PR and marketing funnel.


The reason why impressions are given a bad rap is that many advertising and PR measurement efforts stop at impressions. Impressions are only the very top of the funnel – much more has to happen after an impression of an ad is served or a story is displayed. Just because someone has driven by a billboard doesn’t mean they will remember it. If you’re not hungry, chances are you aren’t going to pay attention to a fast food restaurant sign.

So what should you logically measure after the impression? Engagement. Did someone pay attention? In digital PR and advertising, this is more easily measured than offline. Metrics can range from simple behaviors like bounce rate and time on page to more complex metrics like branded organic search over time and social media engagement.

After engagement, we must measure conversion. Who did what we wanted them to do? From walking into a store and picking up an item to clicking through to the story or filling out a form. What tangible, measurable, impactful thing did the audience do next that advances the business?

It’s important to emphasize that impressions do matter; they’re the “once upon a time” of your earned media story. Impressions help us set the context for everything that comes after. Just as a child wouldn’t be satisfied with a bedtime story that ended after “once upon a time”, nor should we be satisfied with impressions being the only metric reported. However, a bedtime story that didn’t start with “once upon a time” would equally feel incomplete. Our measurement of earned, owned, and paid media feels just as incomplete without that big picture audience understanding.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Download our new eBook, How Social Broke PR

15 Apr 2014

Boston Stronger

We remember.

Here are the charities helping those affected and helping to make Boston stronger every day. If you have the ability to contribute and help, please do.


Photo credit: The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, To Boston With Love exhibit

14 Apr 2014

The next big social network does not exist

One of the questions we are asked the most about social media is “what’s the next big thing”? What’s the next big network? Where should companies be looking next? How can we get ahead of the curve and find the next Facebook, the next Instagram, etc.?

The answer may be a bit disappointing. Facebook seems likely to be the last of the mega-networks. It’s a rare and unique accomplishment to build a brand that talks to over a billion people on a regular basis, a rare and unique accomplishment to connect 44% of the Internet-enabled human race. What’s next isn’t likely to be another single major player at all. What’s next is more likely to be fragmentation. More and more companies see an opportunity to specialize in an aspect of social networking and excel at it, something that sets them apart from the monolithic Facebook/Twitter/Google+/LinkedIn oligarchy. After all, if a new market entrant offers no feature better than Facebook, chances are people will just stay with Facebook, since that’s where all your friends are already.


What kinds of features might compel someone to spend less time on Facebook? Here are three classes of social networks you should probably pay attention to. First are the chat apps. These apps are incredibly popular, especially in parts of the world where SMS text messaging is expensive and Internet access is cheap. Apps such as Tango (SHIFT client), WhatsApp (now a part of Facebook), Line, Kik, WeChat, Path, and others provide a friends circle without the “pollution” of commercial advertising that fills up Facebook news feeds. Serendipity and meeting new people is more difficult with these apps, but users make that tradeoff in exchange for being able to privately talk with their friends.

The second class of social networks are the rise of anonymous apps such as Whisper, Rumr, Secret, Confide, YikYak, etc. These apps are growing in popularity by leaps and bounds because they offer a promise of anonymity (though how anonymous they truly are remains to be seen), which in turn stimulates discussions that aren’t found in identified public social networks. It’s much easier to state something controversial when you believe that your identity is not at stake. In an era when your entire career can be ended by one tasteless tweet, anonymous apps have a great appeal.

The third class of social networks are the increasing dominance of media-first apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, Flickr, Minecraft, DeviantArt, etc. that have social aspects but are fundamentally about the creation of media. YouTube isn’t just a search engine, it’s also a social network (though technically part of Google+). Content creation online is nothing new, but in an era when everyone is struggling to find their voice, versatile content creation abilities is a defining factor.

These three classes of applications and social networks pose three very difficult problems for PR and marketing professionals. First, they’re incredibly difficult to monitor. The era of “full firehose” social media monitoring has numbered days as more and more conversations occur behind closed doors in private chat groups, or on platforms where identity is completely obscured. There will always be a place for public discussions and communities, but the trusted referrals and conversations will increasingly happen out of sight and out of monitoring tools’ reach. How much more powerful is a positive brand mention if no identity (and thus no social status) is tied to it?

Second, they’re incredibly difficult to participate in at scale. When consumers have conversations in invitation-only private spaces without brands, there’s no way to fight new fires or perform advance crisis communications. The first signs of a problem will be when larger groups of people begin taking public action together – long after a decision has been made behind closed doors. Brands will largely be excluded from participation at the lowest grassroots levels or intercepting problems before they brome crises.

Third and finally, these changes will demand much more of brands. Brands will need to become much more versatile at content creation just as a differentiator – the days of posting text status updates are growing shorter. Most importantly, with many of the trend-setting conversations happening behind closed doors, brands will need to focus much more on what their brand actually means and stands for, since the only people who will be able to defend the brand in a million private conversations will be its advocates and evangelists. Closed-door communities are largely immune to astroturfing and other popular (but dishonest) tricks.

None of these changes will happen overnight, or even in a couple of years. Facebook’s dominance isn’t likely to fade immediately, no matter how many times they change the newsfeed. These are large macro trends, not imminent changes, and brands will have a few years to make changes. That said, the top ways to future-proof your brand against these trends are to strengthen the brand with quality products, incredible service, and unique experiences that only your brand can deliver. Your brand’s future success hinges on your ability to get people talking about your brand without your participation. Build now for the day when your best fans and worst enemies will be largely invisible to you.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Download our new eBook, How Social Broke PR

11 Apr 2014

How the Red Sox Social Strategy Won Washington

It may have been April 1, but the Red Sox were no fools. With the reigning World Series champs in Washington, D.C. for a White House ceremony honoring their 2013 title, the club ultimately won international headlines across sports and news outlets alike on a day when the Affordable Care Act numbers were to be announced just hours after the ceremony.

Thanks to a consistent and integrated approach to their digital efforts over the course of the day – along with a little help from Big Papi’s now-notorious selfie – the Sox exemplified how sports teams and other organizations can make the most of positive PR opportunities. Given that a world championship and subsequent personal invitation to the White House are so rare (as a Cubs fan, I know this all too well), it is imperative that teams take advantage of such opportunities, especially when they transcend sports and can result in coverage across a wider range of news media.

As a political and sports junkie, events like the team’s trip to the White House are a perfect intersection of my two passions. After following the Sox’s efforts closely on April 1 and now reflecting back on them a week later, it is clear that the club had a great deal of success in utilizing its owned media to engage fans. Its internal efforts helped one of sports’ most popular franchises leverage the elevated stage on which the event took place and gain extensive coverage from international outlets ranging from ESPN to The Guardian.

The Sox used several key platforms to showcase the events of the day:


The Sox leveraged Twitter to offer their 754,000 followers an inside look at the team’s time in the nation’s capital. After teasing the trip with a tweet the night before, the Sox started tweeting early and often the following morning. To help preview the ceremony, the club tweeted plenty of pictures of the team en route to the White House (e.g., landmarks), posing beneath grandiose portraits upon arriving, the setup on the South Lawn and even a few photos of the players’ “unique” getups.

Calls to action were regularly interspersed throughout the morning to inform followers of the various ways they could tune into live coverage of the ceremony. Players’ Twitter handles were mentioned whenever possible, which led to retweets from them and further sharing by their followers.

During the ceremony itself, the Sox tweeted photos of the proceedings along with quotes from President Obama. The former was highlighted by a tweet capturing David Ortiz’s unprecedented selfie with the President, which has since become a source of national debate on social media.

Following the events on the South Lawn, the Sox tweeted coverage of the team’s visit to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center before closing the day with an In Case You Missed It (ICYMI) tweet linking to the most widely discussed moment of the day – Big Papi’s presidential selfie.

In more closely examining the Sox’s Twitter activity, the club engaged its followers throughout thanks to copious visuals and an informal, often humorous voice. It also consistently utilized two designated and relevant hashtags – #WorldChamps and #SoxAndStripes – in addition to capitalizing on the use of #selfie. Equally as important was the team’s consistency in providing updates leading up to and during the ceremony.


In comparison to Twitter, the Sox exercised a more limited approach to engaging their 4.4 million Facebook Fans. The team opened the morning by posting details about where its Fans could find coverage of the day’s events that included the widely recognized photo of catcher David Ross hoisting an exuberant Koji Uehara after clinching the 2013 title.

Given the extended reach often granted to users who post photos versus text-only Facebook statuses, the Sox continued leveraging visuals in posting Ortiz’s selfie and another final photo of Ortiz and the President with a link to a video showcasing how Big Papi won the Internet that day.

Taken as a whole, the Sox successfully used Facebook by including noteworthy photos with their posts and only several high-impact updates so as not to clutter its Timeline and users’ News Feeds.


The Sox used Instagram in much the same way as Facebook, selecting three photos to visually convey the team’s experiences to its nearly 300,000 followers over the course of the day. Similar to its Facebook strategy, this helped paint a picture of the day’s events while not cluttering followers’ feeds.


After previewing the ceremony with content about where to catch live coverage, the Sox posted an article on their official website recapping the various events of the day. The recap focused on highlights like Ortiz’s selfie, and included quotes from the President, Manager John Farrell, and several players. Also featured on the site were the text of President Obama’s full address and an article detailing the team’s afternoon visit with injured veterans at Walter Reed.

The club would post three video recaps on its Red Sox Video platform as well. Given sports fans’ ever-increasing demand for online video content, supplementing their written content with such was a must. Furthermore, with ardent fans like myself often visiting their teams’ official websites on a daily basis, the Sox were wise to offer their fans a timely recap that afternoon shortly following the ceremony itself.

Through these tactics, the Red Sox were able to make the most of a very positive and large-scale PR opportunity. Their efforts resulted in tens of thousands of retweets, shares, and likes that then helped bolster the earned media gained by the day’s events.

Teams and other groups can learn a lot from the Sox. In today’s digital-centric world, organizations must strive to take advantage of the many new media tools available to them and how to most effectively use these resources over the course of the days leading up to, during and after an event. It is also important to maintain consistency in your approach across platforms and to concentrate on timing and frequency with each respectively. From my own professional experience in sports communications, I would also recommend that everyone involved with your digital initiatives be on the same page about the strategies surrounding your events.

While most of us will not be visiting the White House anytime soon (my Cubs certainly included), be thinking about how you can help your organization knock an event big or small out of the park to achieve the positive PR you desire and that your group deserves.

Zach Burrus
Marketing Analyst

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10 Apr 2014

How to handle criticism from a PR perspective

One of the biggest perceived problems in the world of public relations is criticism. Since the advent of the social media era, handling criticism has been one of the top requests made of PR professionals and agencies by brands and companies. Criticism is perceived as a negative in the world of PR, especially by stakeholders who are looking for applause and positive reviews.

For clarity’s sake, let’s specify that we’re talking about legitimate, honest criticism and not “trolling”, or baseless criticism that’s without merit. Legitimate critics will complain about their experience in a way that has a discernible issue, such as long wait times, poor customer service, etc. Baseless criticism tends to just be non-specific sentiment (“XYZ brand sux!”) or criticism about things that are irrelevant to the experience your brand delivers, like a coffee shop customer being unhappy about the size of your logo on the cup.

The perception that criticism is the enemy of good public relations is incredibly incorrect. Let’s look at three reasons why changing our view of criticism is important.

Who cares?

One of the most valuable things that criticism tells you is that you have an audience that cares. The worst outcome in public relations isn’t criticism or anger. It is apathy. When no one cares about you, no one thinks about you, no one has even the slightest inspiration to talk to you. Criticism may be telling you that something’s wrong, but you have enough brand visibility and loyalty to warrant feedback. Some companies would love that.

What your friends won’t say

At this year’s Marketo Summit, one of the keynote speakers had an insightful piece of advice for the audience: “don’t take criticism personally, but do take it seriously. Your critics will often tell you painful truths that your friends, loved ones, colleagues, and allies might not be willing to tell you.

When we’re creating something we have a passion for, we’re often not able to see what’s wrong with it. Our friends and colleagues might not see the flaws, but our critics will. If we’re being honest and open to their feedback, we’ll acknowledge that there could well be something wrong we need to fix. We need criticism to pierce our illusions about our brand, products, and services.

Winning hearts and minds

Who are the most loyal customers, the most powerful brand advocates? They’re the former critics whose legitimate issues you’ve addressed and repaired who now love you for your dedication to them. If there’s a most-criticized product feature or service issue that you can and do fix, you’ll earn the respect and even appreciation of your critics. Do that enough times with the stuff that matters and your critics will become your most powerful fans. No endorsement, no earned media is more powerful or credible than someone saying, “I used to dislike this company but they won me over”.

How to handle criticism

Here’s a bit of linguistic trivia: the word critic and the word crisis (in the sense of crisis communications) both stem from the same Greek word, krinein, which means to judge or to decide:


If you handle critics and criticism well, you’ll prevent them from festering into a crisis. That means deploying crisis communications tactics early:

SHIFT Crisis Communications Strategy

The three broad strategies for handling critics and criticism are simple (but not easy). Take ownership of valid criticism by honestly acknowledging a critic’s complaints. If your service is slow, own up to it. If your product has a known defect, admit it.

Do it quickly – speed is the second principle of crisis communications. The sooner you can raise your hand and say, “Yes, that is a problem, and we thank you for pointing it out to us”, the better.

Finally, provide knowledge. Tell your critics what you’re doing to solve the problem if it’s legitimate criticism. Give them a sense of the timeline for a repair and what the outcome of said fix will be.

If you handle criticism as a series of tiny crises, chances are you’ll prevent them from growing into one giant crisis. Take your criticism seriously, handle it well, and you may enjoy more dedicated fans than ever.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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