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August 11, 2015 / Stephanie Vermillion

How to Reach Gen Z through Online Video: A VidCon Recap

Oh. My. God. OHMIGOD. OHMIGAHHH {insert glass-cracking tweenage girl scream}.

That was me, at my finest, during those “tweenage” years, when my days were spent either worshipping the Spice Girls or writing the Hanson brothers to see if they’d escort me to my middle school dance. (Strange, I never heard back … thanks for losing my letters, USPS.)

Fast forward 15-some years, and that tweenage-girl scream reaction holds true, but not so much for the Baby Spices and JTs of the world.

Today, tweens go nuts over YouTubers. And I mean NUTS.

Vidcon 2015I attended VidCon a couple of weeks ago to investigate marketing opportunities for brands. Going into the conference, I understood (as most marketers do) that video is one of – if not the – best ways to reach people.

But until that week in Anaheim, I had no idea how much weight YouTubers actually pulled. Hence the screaming girls, who nearly fainted when YouTube legend Tyler Oakley and YouTube up-and-comer Lauren Elizabeth took the stage.

These YouTube, Vine, Instagram, and heck, even Periscope and Meerkat stars are without a doubt the best way to reach Gen Z. So today, still fresh off the VidCon frenzy, I have a few marketing takeaways for brands looking to develop quality, lasting relationships with today’s tweens and teens.

Find the perfect, niche personality.

It’s not enough to just have a YouTuber on your team. It needs to be the right YouTuber. And fortunately, it sounds like most of these stars will actually turn down any brands who don’t fit into their repertoire.

So how do you find the right one?

Well, I’m not trying to add more work to your plate, but in this case the leg work is a must: Watch their videos.

If you’re a pet brand, figure out which ones have pets they just LOVE. (H/t to Petco for a great partnership with Toby Turner and his dog Gryphon– a great example of how to work strategically with influencers).

If you develop beauty products, find those YouTube influencers in the makeup and beauty space. If you’re a granola brand, look for the healthy eating, vegan-loving YouTubers.

There’s a niche for just about everything, so dig in, find yours and make a lasting impact.

Use a consistent visual brand theme.

When I first encountered 16-year-old Amanda Steele, a lovely YouTube celeb with a knack for fashion, I quickly killed my data and jumped onto Instagram to get inspired by her styles.

In addition to her fun flair for fashion, one thing struck me over and over: Her photos look so … clean.

During her Q&A, she shared her secret:

She uses the same filter for every photo, and sticks to the same cool color scheme of blues and greys. If she takes a photo with a, say, orange backdrop, she foregoes posting that photo to Instagram because it misaligns with her brand.

The lesson? Find your brand filter and color scheme, and stick to it. While it’s fun to play around with filters, do that on your personal account. Staying consistent is a principal teaching in branding, and it’s one that’s helped Amanda Steele (better known as @MakeupbyMandy) build a base of 2.2 million followers.

Be true to yourself, er, your “brand’s self”

Echoed over and over again was this idea of “being true to yourself.” Now, at the time, the YouTube stars shared this advice with young, aspiring video creators (AKA, the avid screamers I came to know and love).

But the lesson goes for your brand, too.

Today’s tweens and teens are all about authenticity – that’s why they heart YouTubers who show their true colors. So, just like an up-and-coming influencer, as you’re developing branded video or live-streaming content, take a gut check.

Is this what your brand truly stands for? Is this the differentiator that keeps loyal customers coming back?

Know your brand’s niche, and don’t stray from it. If you’re authentically yourself (well, your “brand’s self”), the right audience will find you. If you’re creating content just to get clicks, views and maybe a few sales … the right audience will avoid you. At all costs.

While VidCon 2015 may be over, the online video obsession will only grow bigger, and the video-loving population wider. There’s no time like the present to evaluate your video options and adopt a strategy to reach your audience where they are – whether they’re screaming tweens or household decision makers.

This post originally appeared on Stephanie Vermillion’s blog, PR State of Mind.

May 31, 2015 / Stephanie Vermillion

How to turn off customers in six {sarcastic} steps

Moving has a lot of perks: excitement about a new city, jitters about a new job, and creativity (read: spending gobs of money) on decorating a new apartment.

How to turn off your customers in six sarcastic steps

The Jenga that is a Penske moving truck.

But moving also means canceling your cable and Internet, ending – and starting new – utilities, frantically searching for apartments, and, once you’ve found that apartment, lugging boxes from dusk to dawn.

Cable?

Utilities?

Realtors?

That sounds like a bad dream. (And I’m living proof that it is.)

From a marketer’s standpoint, though, it’s more than a bad dream: The poor customer service associated with moving, whether intentional or not, is a nightmare.

So today, I present a six-step checklist to help you turn off customers and market like it’s 1999. (Side note: sarcasm and I hang out on the reg.)

1. Having a website is important; the usability of that site is not.

After Mobilegeddon, website usability – particularly on mobile – is more important than ever before. But apparently this isn’t accepted across all industries, or within all companies.

During our stressful online apartment hunting (really your only option when searching 10 hours away), we came across a website with beautiful apartments. Considering my boyfriend and I are both pretty particular about living situations (i.e., no rats), we wanted to actually see – not just read about – the units before moving forward.

Now, this site had an entire gallery of photos, so we were in luck.  Until we clicked to view it.

Nothing.

Click click.

Still nothing.

Click ANGRY POUND click.

Nothing but the misleading call to action of “Please view our gallery!”

After abusing the left side of my laptop mouse for a good 20 minutes, we clicked away from that site, never to return again.

So, if you want to kill any chances of customers purchasing your products, make sure your website is as user-unfriendly as possible.

2. If the customer calls with a problem, provide 20 minutes of slow jazz before you answer.

Moving is the perfect time to buy a new mattress. You’re getting rid of a ton of stuff anyway, so why not throw an old mattress on top of it?

Or, per the city’s strict moving regulations, on the side of the curb on a specific day once you’ve called the city and made an appointment for its pickup. Apparently mattresses are only slightly less dangerous than explosives.

To schedule mattress pickup, I had to call the city and talk to a representative. Painless enough, I thought.

But I didn’t realize I’d be attending a smooth jazz concert.

The wait time to actually talk to a person was 20 minutes at best. So I got to listen to jazz – with some city advertising mixed in – for nearly half an hour. And considering they “forgot” to pickup my mattress on the scheduled day, I was lucky enough to call back for an encore before, again, talking to a rep to reschedule.

My takeaway? If your company’s phone wait times are longer than five minutes, look into either more employees or automated online options.

But, if you’re looking to keep customers away, then you jazz on, because that’s exactly what the busy customer wants.

3. Make sure the customer knows it’s their  mistake – not yours. (Silly customer!)

To me, utilities are the kind of thing you set once, select autopay, and forget about. But what’s silent can often be deadly. (And I’m not talking about, well, you know.)

Once I easily transferred my old utilities back to my landlord, I figured setting up utilities at my new apartment would be a breeze. Wrong again.

When I talked with the customer service rep, he asked for my name, like any normal rep would do.

“Stephanie Vermillion,” I said confidently.

Then we got to the point where he asked for my email address.

“Vermillion.steph… Last name dot first name at Gmail,” I told him.

“What?!” he exclaimed. “You told me your first name was Vermillion, last name Stephanie!” (Umm, you serious, Clark?)

Apparently he asked me for my last name first, and my first name second. And he was beyond mad that, because of me, he had to reenter my information.

I won’t go into the fact that later in the conversation he again, blamed me, for not telling him it was at gmail DOT com (not just at Gmail, nothing else). Le sigh.

Long story short: If you want to induce the worst experience possible for your customer, blame them for making a mistake. If you want to make sure they tell everyone how much they hate your company, blame them twice.

4. Use your preferred communication method, not the customer’s.

Most full-time employees work at their desks with limited time to take personal calls between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. But most moving companies require prospects to submit phone numbers for a quote so they can, conveniently, call between their working hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

See the conundrum?

The simple fix would, of course, be to let the prospect choose the method of communication that works best (read: please, can we do this by email?). But as we discovered, that’s asking too much.

5. Never give information away for free, especially if it could drive sales.

As I mentioned in number four, moving companies require a phone number before providing a quote. Now, as someone who is new to moving, I simply wanted to know if hiring a moving company was in my price range.

I wasn’t at the point of determining which company or actually talking to – and being pressured by – a sales rep.

If the company wanted to turn prospects into customers, they’d follow Marcus Sheridan’s advice and answer the customer’s question “How much do moving companies cost” without seeking anything in return.

Marcus’ pool company made a killing off of one simple blog post that answered the question, “How much does a fiberglass pool cost?” Moving companies could do this, too.

But, yes. Answering a customer’s question is a bit too helpful. If you want to really annoy your customer, or keep them away from the get-go, don’t freely give away answers that inform purchasing decisions.

6. The less multimedia, the better.

When making a major life decision, perhaps a new apartment, people want to read, watch and look at as many details as possible. That’s why multimedia is integral to turning prospects into customers.

So why do some realtors list apartment units with just one or two blurry pictures?

Because they want to turn off those customers, of course.

Now, if they did want to intrigue apartment rental prospects to the point of purchase, they could provide a video tour of the unit, accompanied by a photo gallery (that actually works when clicked) of each room, a floor plan and information about appliances, pets, etc.

It’s a sure way to further prospects down the sales funnel.

But, as my six-step process shows, who needs a sales funnel in a world where turning customers off is the key to success?

This post originally appeared on Stephanie Vermillion’s blog, PR State of Mind.

May 17, 2015 / Stephanie Vermillion

Use Twitter as a customer experience tool

Whether I’m leaving at 8 a.m., noon or midnight, I spend every single flight day with nerves in my stomach where Starbucks or my last-vacation-day lunch should be.

It’s not just the turbulence that gets me (although, the turbulence gets me – every time); it’s knowing the trip ahead is almost entirely out of my control.

If poor weather hits, the plane’s delayed, but “it’s not the airline’s fault.” (Right …)

If the airport has a power outage, you’re stuck on the tarmac with – yet again – a delayed flight.

And if the transportation you depended on to actually get you to the airport has a delay, well, expect some “sorry I’m not sorry” looks from across the ticket counter.

Use Twitter as a customer experience toolBut, doom and gloom aside, if the transportation system alerts you to a delay well ahead of time, you can adjust your plans and avoid those moments of last-minute terror. In the marketing world, we’d call that a (very) positive customer experience.

But how can a transportation system do that?

Twitter: the customer experience tool

When I was in London last week, my dad (yes, dad – so proud!) suggested we check the London Underground’s (the Tube’s) operating status via Twitter to make sure we caught our train on time.

As he went to Twitter, he realized they have a different account for each line, used to share service updates and answer customer questions.

I’ve yet to stop thinking about this smart, smart tactic.

The Tube system uses Twitter in a simple way to ensure customers have the best experience possible.

Are they alone? Oh, Lord no. Many brands are doing this well.

But the Tube, with its handful of accounts sharing much-needed information for each train line, uses Twitter brilliantly. Here’s a breakdown of its strategy, and how you can emulate it for your own brands.

Provide updates customers need in real time

Twitter parties are a lot of fun (especially those evening ones paired with a glass of red), but I’d argue the No. 1 most important use of Twitter is staying informed.

Customers want the information they need, when they need it. It’s that easy.

Sure, they’ll enjoy a photo of the old underground system for #TBT, but they’d rather know they should avoid the Picadilly line to get to work on time for a Thursday morning meeting.

Train and transportation lines aren’t the only ones who benefit from this strategy. No matter your industry, make tweeting important updates and news a social media priority.

Run social for a grocery store? Tweet about big sales, store hours, new items in stock, etc.

How about an athletic company? Share new product announcements, major discounts, new stores carrying your products, how to use your products, etc.

Respond to customers’ questions

All right, stifle those “duhs.” Of course you want to respond to customers who tweet questions at your brand, but surprisingly (or not) it’s not always common practice.

The Tube accounts respond to questions about service operations in the moment to, again, ensure happy customers.

With many large companies (which, with 1.23 billion annual passengers, the London Underground definitely is) Twitter is partially run by the legal team. That means employees responding to simple questions following their own intuition is a no-no.

But from a customer experience strategy, legal red tape that causes slow responses is simply no good.

If you’re in this situation, talk with (and listen to) your legal team. Build a trusting relationship and get to the bottom of how you and your employees can answer customer questions in the moment (before, say, a passenger misses her flight due to delayed trains).

This may take multiple meetings, but it’s without a doubt worth it.

And, before you brush this off as “nice to have, but we don’t have time,” consider this.

You don’t have to respond to every single question. Respond to those who need immediate help first (i.e., could miss a $1,000 flight), then answer others when there’s a lull.

Providing information customers need and answering important questions.

Isn’t that a no brainer?

Well, yes.

They’re two obvious tactics that, perhaps because they’re so obvious, are often overlooked.

So, if you can put on your Tube Twitter hat and use the social media site like it was intended, you’ll have yourself a handy, effective and free customer experience tool (and if you’re lucky, a dazzling British accent).

This post originally appeared on Stephanie Vermillion’s blog, PR State of Mind.

May 5, 2015 / Stephanie Vermillion

Spread your message with tips from “Contagious”

“I have the perfect idea to help us build awareness, drive sales and grow the company in less than one month.”

“Oh yeah? How’s that?”

“It’s simple: a viral video.”

Ahh, the viral video. The “simple” and quick fix for every business problem. (Side note: I’m a fan of sarcasm.)

But here’s the thing:

A viral video, campaign, message, infographic, etc., is not quick. It’s not a given. And it’s not always (read: rarely) the one-stop fix for every business problem.

Contagious by Jonah BergerAs a savvy marketer, you probably already know this. You’re probably the one whose heart stops when “let’s do a viral video!” is shared excitedly (then reaffirmed multiple times) in a brainstorm.

But did you know you can influence how viral your message is?

I didn’t, until I read Jonah Berger’sContagious.”

In his book, Berger highlights scientific research that can actually tell you:

  • What makes content go viral,
  • How to influence actions, and
  • How to make your message stick.

It’s definitely worth a full read (make sure you stock up on highlighters ahead of time), but here are the three primary takeaways I’ll bring with me to every brainstorm, client meeting and project moving forward.

Use triggers to make your brand memorable.

To help people remember your brand, pair it with a common (yet unique) trigger. Berger uses pop music as an example.

Rebecca Black’s “Friday” song was genius, not because the passionate, deep lyrics or incredible, soul-awakening vocals. No, “Friday” was a major hit with more longevity than most pop songs because it paired with, well, Friday.

Nothing gets people more excited than the idea of kicking back and enjoying the weekend. And, as you could expect, that excitement usually falls on a Friday, which is when most people search for and share Black’s song “Friday.”

The day of the week is a trigger for her song, and therefore reminds people it’s out there and entices them to share it.

Takeaway: Find something your brand can naturally pair with, particularly an everyday or every-week occurrence, and incorporate that into your marketing strategy.

For example, Dove could include “You’re beautiful” wall decal quotes in its product packages for women to place on their mirrors as a reminder when they get ready for work in the morning or a night out on the town. That daily time in front of the mirror is the trigger for remembering Dove’s “You’re beautiful” message (and, ultimately the Dove brand) every day.

Highlight what people should do to influence action.

We’ve all seen those PSAs telling you not to do this, or avoid doing that, in response to negative social trends.

But, according to Berger, this could actually make more people want to do that negative action.

Why?

Social norms.

People want to fit in and feel cool, which usually comes from following the norm and doing what everyone else is doing.

So, instead of telling people not to do something that’s popular, he suggests you debunk just how popular that trend is.

He shares another example, this time centering on alcohol.

Binge drinking on college campuses seems like a major issue, and in many cases it is. And, the fact that it’s so common is actually the reason a lot of students start drinking in the first place.

But, one faculty member discovered that far fewer students actually binge drink than expected; it just appears that more do because it’s talked about more than casual drinking.

To influence change, this woman started a campaign focusing on how few students actually binge drink, and shared that the social norm is really one or two drinks.

The result? Positive. Students want to be like other students, and once they realized most of their peers weren’t throwing up or making awful decisions from drinking every night, they realized they didn’t have to, either.

Takeaway: Don’t highlight the negative action you want people to avoid; share how many people are taking your desired action.

For example, if you want people to quit smoking, give out free T-shirts that say “Smoking is NOT sexy,” and collaborate with publicists to get those in the hands of the right, influential celebrities as well. (Note: This is by no means a new tactic, but it’s a good reminder.)

Make your message useful.

People inherently like to help others. It’s a great quality for humanity as a whole, and it can be particularly useful for marketers.

If you give consumers information that helps them increase efficiency or save money, they’ll want to share it with others. Think about the original video on how to shuck corn in the microwave (highlighted in Berger’s book). It went viral and got picked up widely because it’s just plain helpful.

Or, even personally, I’ve spread the word far and wide about Warby Parker glasses because they’re so much less expensive than regular frames, but they still have great quality. They’re money savers, and therefore, they’re contagious.

Takeaway: Incorporate unique, helpful information that relates to your brand into your content marketing strategies. Now, this can’t be something you Google then share, because it has to be groundbreaking (like the corn-in-microwave video). If you sell shampoo, is there a “perfect” way to wash your hair so it feels as perfect as it does after a salon visit? Video that – ASAP!

This may – and probably should – require talking with the engineers and innovators at your company, because they may have little-known tricks you (and your readers) have never heard of.

Now, this is only the start to my learnings from Berger’s “Contagious,” and as I’ve said, it’s definitely worth a read.

But, if you can’t get to it immediately, follow incorporate these tips into your strategies to help your messages spread, influence action and drive those important business results.

This post first appeared on Stephanie Vermillion’s blog, PR State of Mind.

April 26, 2015 / Stephanie Vermillion

The secret to influencer relations success

What’s persuasive, engaging, digitally savvy and highly followed, with the ability to further your business goals and help you reach new audiences?

The secret to influencer relations success“Why, an influencer!” you may say. But let’s get more granular; it’s not just any influencer.

It’s the right influencer.

In Douglas Karr’s podcast about influencer relations with Social Media Examiner, he says many companies fail because they don’t understand how to define “influence.”

  • Is it number of followers? It could be, but only if those followers are engaged.
  • Is it number of site visits? Well, maybe, if those visitors stay on the site and actually read the content.

What it comes down to is finding the right, niche influencer, and understanding how that influencer’s audience interacts with her content.

If the audience is engaged, and reads, comments and buys based on her recommendations, you have yourself a winner. But, if her posts rarely stimulate action among the audience, it’s time to move on.

That’s why, in my mind, the secret to influencer relations success is … wait for it …

Research.

Plain, old-fashioned research.

If your client pays for an influencer relations program, it’s your responsibility to vet each influencer. Without research, you’re taking a shot in the dark, which means the uber-awkward “Why did this campaign fail?” question falls on you.

So, let’s leave all things uber-awkward to Napoleon Dynamite, and start our influencer research.

Understand the influencer’s beat.

Like reporters, most influencers cover a specific beat. And, if you can find the influencer that covers your client’s beat and aligns with your client’s viewpoints, you’re off to a good start.

OK, OK. I hear you grumbling “DUH” out there. But sadly, marketers miss this step. A lot.

Just ask Gini Dietrich, who spent a big chunk of her spring sifting through spammy Tax Day pitches for her award-winning PR blog Spin Sucks.

As a regular Spin Sucks reader, I would be turned off by something completely unrelated like Tax Day. In fact, if I’m looking for social media tips and, instead, find “filing taxes 101,” it could actually lower my trust in Spin Sucks all together.

Gini knows what her readers want, and that’s why we keep coming back.

And, the influencer you want to work with knows what her readers want, too.

Read her content and uncover how she responds to and engages with commenters. This will reveal her viewpoints and unique stance within this niche, letting you:

  • Determine if she’s a good fit, and
  • Personalize your pitch to show why your client is a good fit if you do choose to reach out.

Study audience engagement.

Take a look at the influencer’s social media accounts, studying:

  • How does the influencer’s audience interact with her content?
  • Are they retweeting, sharing and commenting positively?
  • Have they mentioned trying the product or service in comments?

Then head over to her website, analyzing:

  • Do readers stay on the site instead of bouncing?
  • Do readers spend a decent amount of time on her site?
  • Do her posts and reviews have a high share rate?

Alexa Screen Shot of StephanieVermillion.comNote: The Alexa Chrome extension is a must-have for this website research. It shows this data, plus more, for any website. (Example of Alexa analyzing my site on the right.)

If you find the influencer’s readers are engaged, and take the time to read, share, comment and, ultimately, buy based on her opinions, then you have yourself a good candidate. If not, move on.

Look at current campaigns. 

To predict how this influencer will work with your client, look at how she’s currently interacting with brands. Sure, she may have 50,000 followers, but as I’ve said before, this isn’t enough. The relationship needs to be beneficial to your client.

So, while you’re looking through her social media and blog posts, ask yourself:

  • Are her brand messages authentic, or does it look like she’s copying and pasting what companies provide her? The more authentic, the better.
  • Is she properly disclosing a financial relationship, either for receiving free product or getting paid via partnership? If not, you may have an FTC issue in the future.
  • How does her audience respond to her sponsor posts? If they’re not receptive, and call her out for being too commercial, you may have a problem resonating.

You want an influencer who incorporates your brand into her strategy. If she’s just one-off posting a press release every now and again calling it a “partnership,” your chances for success are slim.

To take it one step further, Karr suggests requesting a chat with one of the influencer’s current sponsors so you can learn how she’s helping them reach business goals.

As you well know, I love my PR tools. But unfortunately, to find the best influencers, you need to do the research yourself. So, if you’re ready to launch an influencer relations campaign that wows, go grab a coffee and do your research now!

This post originally appeared on Stephanie Vermillion’s blog, PR State of Mind.

April 20, 2015 / Stephanie Vermillion

Why online placements are PR gold

Does anything beat flipping casually through the Sunday paper, only to see a positive client story you’ve spent three months coordinating finally published?

Why online placements are PR goldActually, yes. While print is still critical, and has its own advantages, online placements with strategic backlinks are PR gold in today’s digital age.

Now, before you balk at this statement, thinking “oh, you silly millennial,” hear me out.

Print placements are valuable.

They help you reach an entirely separate group of readers.

They provide executives with a tangible PR success that can be passed around board meetings.

And, in many cases, there’s still a large print circulation for most outlets.

But to really prove PR value, think beyond the one-and-done placement approach. Instead of just being known for securing big placements, be the PR pro known for securing placements that continuously reach target audiences while simultaneously furthering clients’ digital marketing goals.

And that’s where online placements come into play.

Online placements improve SEO.

When your clients have quality backlinks to their websites from trusted, high-traffic sites, they have a better chance of ranking on the first page of Google for important keywords.

In most cases, SEO firms work on developing backlinks for companies. But there’s one integral piece missing from many SEO professionals’ backlink strategies: effective media relations.

Pitching and placing stories, like we do every day, is the best way to get high-quality, “safe” links from major publications. No black-hat link buying necessary here.

Securing backlinks via media relations follows the traditional PR mindset (pitch the right story to the right journalist).

But, in this case, you’ll want to focus on stories related to keywords that are important for your brand.

For example, pretend you’re a running company and your unique selling proposition is shoes that prevent injury. You’ll want people searching on Google for running injury solutions to find your company because they’re prime prospects.

You’d want to rank for something along the lines of “running shoes to prevent injury.” But, to rank for that, you’d need a mix of on-site content, social media posts and media placements surrounding this topic.

That’s when a strategic online placement in Runner’s World, highlighting you as the expert on how to find the right shoes to prevent injury, will be a great SEO tool. It has you on a high-authority site linked with an article related to your specific keywords.

This strategy works across industries. To find your clients’ prime keywords, follow this step-by-step guide from Gini Dietrich.

Digital stories are more easily shared.

Media stories provide valuable third-party credibility for clients’ products. Couple that with readers sharing the story on social media, and your possibility for influence grows drastically.

Harris Interactive found that seven in 10 millennials are influenced by their friends’ social media posts.

And it extends well beyond millennials:

  • 38 million 13 to 18 year olds say social media influences their purchasing decisions, according to Knowledge Networks, and
  • 80 percent of consumers will try new things based on friends’ suggestions, reports Market Force.

So, back to our running example (Boston Marathon fever, anyone?), when a reader shares an article about your shoes as the solution to running injuries, there’s a good chance his running friends will be enticed to learn more or buy those magical shoes, too.

And the benefits extend beyond sales. Social shares help the journalist, too.

Since journalists are now evaluated on virality of stories (in addition to content quality), the more your client’s story is shared, the better you’ll make the journalist look. How’s that for relationship building?

As PR pros, we’re continuously fighting for a (well-deserved) seat at the table. But to get there, we have to go beyond one hit wonders and demonstrate why PR is part of the business equation. We:

  • Grow awareness.
  • Increase search results.
  • Engage with important constituents.
  • Build a positive, long-lasting digital footprint.
  • Further business objectives.

So, those online placements – while often downplayed as, “well it was only online” – can actually help us check off quite a few of these boxes.

And, if you do find yourself in one of those gleeful “it ran online and in print!” situations, then congratulations! You, my friend, have a PR win-win.

This post originally appeared on Stephanie Vermillion’s blog, PR State of Mind.

April 15, 2015 / Stephanie Vermillion

Three PR leadership lessons from Dale Carnegie

PR leadership lessons from Dale Carnegie In 1936, the world didn’t have computers. There were no tweets, pins or Facebook posts. Heck, the first chocolate chip cookie wasn’t even developed until 1938. (A world without Grandma’s cookies … dare I say, “I can’t even” …?)

As you well know, today’s live-stream-everything world sure has changed. But one thing does remain the same:

How to treat people.

In “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” published in 1936, Dale Carnegie shares tried-and-true lessons from his years of extremely successful leadership. But these lessons aren’t focused on stealing power or schmoozing prospects.

No, Carnegie found that to become more powerful and win at business, you have to treat people with – wait for it – kindness. Here’s how.

How to handle people: Think beyond yourself.

It’s easy to experience life from your point of view, perceiving situations and conflicts from your perspective alone. It’s what the majority of people do, and, as Carnegie notes, it’s the reason differing opinions can result in controversy.

Think about this: In Al Capone’s mind, his crimes were justified. Breaking the law was his way of making a living, and he had (again, in his mind) a justified reason to do so.

Now, you (hopefully) don’t deal with the likes of Al Capone, but Carnegie’s insights remain valuable in less drastic situations.

PR leadership lessons from Dale Carnegie If you and a colleague disagree on, say, excessive workplace talking, don’t automatically go on the defensive. Step into his shoes. Think about the issue from his perspective before pointing fingers. Maybe that’s the culture he’s used to in an old office. Or, perhaps he talks frequently because he’s extremely excited about the work he’s doing.

You don’t want to mute that enthusiasm. Now that you’ve discovered the impetus behind his actions, you can work more empathetically toward a solution.

You’ll find this makes you much more agreeable and pleasant, and an overall better leader.

How to make people like you: Be engaged and interested.

You know those people at networking events who only talk about themselves? Or the ones you can tell aren’t actually listening to what you say? Yeah. They’re not fun to talk to, and you probably don’t like them all that much.

To be likeable, Carnegie shares some earth-shattering recommendations:

  • Be genuinely interested in other people,
  • Remember others’ names,
  • Encourage others to talk about themselves, and
  • Listen intently.

OK, OK. So they’re not earth shattering. But these commonly suggested ways to treat people are often forgotten when it comes to business.

So whether it’s a networking event, staff meeting or even lunch with a new colleague, make sure to follow the golden rule and treat others as you want to be treated. Or, more plainly put, don’t be that guy at networking events.

How to be a leader: Empower and encourage.

We’ve all had that boss. The one who thinks calling you out immediately – sometimes loudly – for a mistake is the best way to right your wrong.

Remember how you felt after that scolding? I do, and it wasn’t good. In fact, the nerves I experienced caused slight nausea. And, if you’re like me, after that scolding you felt timid about taking a risk or making a future mistake. But that kind of trepidation is extremely detrimental to your team.

When your colleagues hold back their big ideas or avoid trusting their instincts, your clients – and you – will surely suffer.

Instead of harshly scolding, follow Carnegie’s advice and:

  • Start any criticism or critique with a compliment about the person’s work strengths. Example: You’re doing a really great job at turning assignments in on time, but…
  • Share your shortcomings to avoid making the person feel inferior or belittled. Example: I remember my first time doing X, I worked too quickly and sent my email to the wrong person…
  • Praise improvements as they happen, instead of critiquing then forgetting. These ongoing, well-deserved compliments will help the person gain confidence and further improve.

Also, when you’re leading the team day in, day out, let those below you make decisions (Click to Tweet!). If they come to you with a work or career question, ask them what they’d do first to stimulate their thinking.

This will help them grow, build confidence and become future account leaders.

While many things have changed in the past 80-some years, the way you treat people hasn’t. And, even in 10 years when we’re live streaming our space travels on Meerkat 26.0, Carnegie’s fundamental leadership traits will continue to ring true.

This post originally appeared on Stephanie Vermillion’s blog, PR State of Mind.

April 6, 2015 / Stephanie Vermillion

Six must-have tools for social media

You can create the best blog post of all time with all the SEO boxes checked, but if you don’t complement that work with social media, you’re missing out. Majorly.

Six must-have tools for social mediaNow, don’t get me wrong. I’m all about creating that content masterpiece, and I do think that should be a central focus.

But think back to why you wrote that post in the first place.

Were you writing a personal entry for your eyes only? I’d wager to bet no.

You’re writing for your target audience, and, first and foremost, you need that audience to know your content exists.

That’s where social media comes into play. It’s the link that connects your great content with your desired readers. But, with our cluttered online world, a simple Facebook post or LinkedIn status update won’t cut it. You need social media that stands out (Click to tweet!).

That’s why today, as I continue my “top tools” series, I’ll highlight my must-have free tools for unique, eye-catching, click-through-driving social media.

1. Facebook Tool: Power Editor

Instead of pasting a link into Facebook, adding a short description and calling it a day, try Facebook’s Power Editor. While designed primarily for advertisers, all page admins (whether spending ad dollars or not) can add call-to-action buttons to their posts – for free.

To start:

  • Set up an account on Facebook.com/advertising,
  • Log in,
  • Click “Power Editor” on the left side,
  • Choose your company page,
  • Click “create post,”
  • Choose the “This post will be published on the Page” option so you get that CTA button for free,
  • Fill in all the details, and
  • Select your call to action.

As an example, Power Editor adds the “learn more” button to content like this:

Facebook Power Editor Example

2. Twitter Tool: TwitShot

If you want to increase Twitter click-throughs, RTs or favorites, HubSpot suggests using images. And that’s why TwitShot is such a great resource.

Just add it to your Google Chrome browser and click the icon whenever you’re reading an article you’d like to share (this includes your own!). Twit Shot then extracts images from those links and adds them to your tweet.

3. Pinterest Tool: Viralwoot

From its inception, Pinterest’s visual platform has always been intriguing for brands (and, considering I spend hours on this thing, I’d vote it’s quite intriguing for consumers, too).

But here’s the conundrum: Brands typically pin during their 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday, and most consumers get their pin-binge on over the weekend.

Alas, Viralwoot to the rescue. This free tool lets you schedule pins to get your content in front of audiences when they’re most active. It’s like a Hootsuite for Pinterest, which is why Viralwoot has such a special place in my heart.

4. Instagram Tool: Hyperlapse

More brands are experimenting with eye-catching Instagram content like looping video or cinemagrams.

So, if you want to stand out, you need to ramp up your brand’s Instagram approach with tools like Hyperlapse. This app turns ordinary videos into time lapse masterpieces, which attracts more viewers – both current followers and new – to your content.

Where could you use it? Company outings (think fun initiatives to show happy employees). Client events (the fastest ribbon cutting of all time?).

Yes, it’s a bit outside the box, but with the chaos that is social media in 2015, you’ll rarely engage your audience with inside-the-box thinking.

5. LinkedIn Tool: LinkedIn Publisher

If you spend hours writing a blog post, expand that post’s reach through LinkedIn Publisher.

More often than not, your community on LinkedIn is different than the community that reads your blog. I mean, sure, there’s always overlap. But with LinkedIn Publisher you can reach the 75 percent who don’t read your blog, and, over time, turn them into avid readers.

Note: Before repurposing a post on LinkedIn, make sure you have approval from the publication (if it’s not a blog you own). When I publish my LinkedIn posts, I add the “This post originally appeared on stephanievermillion.com” bit so there’s no confusion.

6. Overall Social Media Tool: Buffer

I’ll admit, I was late to the Buffer game. I’ve always been a Hootsuite-er, but when I was introduced to Buffer through my work on PRSA New Pros, I was flabbergasted.

Basically, you tell Buffer what you want to post (your content, others’ posts, etc.) and it schedules it for you. I believe that’s the closest I’ve come to having my own personal robot.

You can use it to schedule Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn content. So, yeah. Your Buffer robot will have you covered across the big four – at no cost.

As I mentioned last week, there’s no way I covered everything. I have half a zillion bookmarks just for social media tools. But the six tools I mention here have actually made their way beyond the bookmarks folders and onto my Chrome browser bar … and that’s a pretty big honor.

Now it’s your turn. If you have a Chrome browser-bar worthy social media tool, please share!

This post originally appeared on Stephanie Vermillion’s blog, PR State of Mind.

March 29, 2015 / Stephanie Vermillion

Seven Free Blogging Tools to Attract New Readers

I have a confession: I’m a bookmark-aholic.

Seven Free Blogging Tools to Attract New ReadersI’m one of the thousands (note: completely unscientific research) suffering from FOMO on every “tools,” “tricks” and “tips” post, which leads to me starring then filing the content into one of my 123 folders.

Yes, you read that right. 123 folders. Jeesh.

But here’s the good news. When it comes to compiling PR tools for posts or agency seminars, that obsessive bookmarking pays off.

In an upcoming agency seminar, we’re featuring tools all PR pros should have on their radar. And a lot of these resources came straight from – you guessed it – my crazy Chrome filing system.

There are dozens upon dozens of them. So, for the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing the tools I use (along with takeaway tips for you) surrounding media relations, social media and, today’s topic:

Blogging tools

1. Google AdWords Keyword Planner

Keyword Planner helps you refine your blog topics based on search traffic. You enter the key phrase you’d like to write about, and it shares traffic for that term, plus other variations that may be more popular.

A few things to keep in mind with Keyword Planner:

  • Don’t choose a keyword based solely on traffic. Typically those high-traffic keywords are tough to rank for, and your topic should matter to your audience first and foremost. Use Keyword Planner as a backstop, not your sole editorial planning tool.
  • The “competition” in Keyword Planner isn’t actually competition for how you’ll rank in search engines. It’s competition for certain Google AdWords, which is entirely separate. To evaluate organic search engine competition, you need to evaluate domain authority, which is why you should start using …

2. MozBar

When I discovered MozBar, my first question was: “Where have you been all my life?” It’s a Chrome extension that lets you analyze a certain site’s domain and page authorities, on-page SEO elements, social shares and more. It analyzes your website to ensure you’ve covered all the SEO bases in terms of meta description, alt text, etc.

SEO Moz Domain Authority AnalyisisNow, for evaluating search engine competition, head over to Google, turn MozBar on and type in the keyword you’d like to rank for. It will display domain authority for sites ranking for your chosen keyword. (You can find your domain authority for comparison’s sake by turning MozBar on while you’re on your site.)

If you have a domain authority of, say, 30, but those ranking for your keyword have domain authorities in the 60s (see visual, DA = domain authority), you’ll have trouble getting on the first few pages of Google. If that’s the case, think of long-tail variations of that keyword that have less traffic (but also less competition) so you have a good shot at a high rank.

3. Ubersuggest

Ubersuggest keywordsIf you’re having trouble coming up with new, fresh blog topics, Ubersuggest will be your BFF. Enter a keyword, and Ubersuggest shares an A-Z list of all the words Google searchers have added onto the end of that phrase, which can help guide your direction for the post.

For example, if I type in “basketball,” Ubersuggest tells me that people searched “basketball shoes,” “basketball positions,” “basketball rules,” etc., etc.

And, if you click on the plus sign for a certain term (say “basketball hoop”), Ubersuggest lists out additional long-tail keywords people are looking for. How’s that for efficient blog-topic generation?

4. StumbleUpon

While I’m not a big StumbleUpon user myself, I do still see its value for content amplification. I have a StumbleUpon extension on Chrome, and after I’ve published a blog post, I upload it to the platform (without ever leaving my site). I do this with the Pinterest Chrome extension, too.

5. Hemingway App

This one is a godsend. For a final set of eyes before publishing, copy and paste your post into the Hemingway App. It analyzes your content to tell you:

  • Which sentences are hard to read,
  • Which sentences are very hard to read,
  • When you have too many adverbs,
  • When words or phrases can be simpler, and
  • When you’re using passive voice.

Since content written at an eighth-grade reading level attracts more visitors, the Hemingway App (and its suggestions) should be integral to your writing.

6. Topsy

It’s easy to interact with the readers who comment directly on your site, or tag you in their social shares, but what about those flying under the radar? Topsy compiles a list of everyone who shares your content – whether they tagged you or not.

It’s a true goldmine for building relationships with new readers. I check whenever I can to see which tweeters I need to thank for sharing my posts.

7. SlideShare

It takes hours to create quality content, so I’m all about repurposing. Every so often, I turn one of my blog posts into a SlideShare presentation (usually the list posts work best). Once uploaded, you can embed the SlideShare deck on LinkedIn, WordPress and other sites to further engage followers.

Also, SlideShare presentations appear in search results, so it’s yet another way to ensure your hard work is visible.

Here’s an example of a SlideShare presentation I created from my post, Six writing tips from “Everybody Writes”.

Is this list of blogging resource complete? Of course not. Even my crazy bookmarking can’t keep up with every industry tool. But, if you add these resources to your PR toolkit, you’ll be well on your way to a successful career in blogging.

This post originally appeared on Stephanie Vermillion’s blog, PR State of Mind.

 

 

March 22, 2015 / Stephanie Vermillion

Five ways to research journalists before pitching

Five ways to research journalists before pitchingIt’s a rushed day in the office. You make it in by 7 a.m., hoping to get ahead on emails while enjoying that delicious, warm morning java then boom: 20 new emails appear. Zero are relevant.

OK, OK. Thanks to the delete button, you can still clean up your inbox before your 9 a.m. staff meeting. Phew. But before you dive back in, it’s time for a coffee refill. From the looks of it, it’s going to be a long day.

As you settle back in, coffee in hand, you notice 30 new emails appeared in just the past 10 minutes. Five of those are relevant.

You’re frustrated. You’re stressed. And you’re definitely not looking at – let alone responding to – those irrelevant emails.

Journalists go through this painstaking process every single day. Just ask reporter Zach Schonfeld. He did a one-week test opening and responding to every PR pitch. It was agonizing, to say the least, and embarrassing for the PR industry as a whole.

But, if you want to be one of those five relevant (and, ultimately read – not deleted) emails from the scenario above, you need two things:

Time and research.

Many defer to a “spray-and-pray” method because they just don’t have time. But here’s an idea:

When planning out your media relations, don’t just map out the time to build a Cision list, write the pitch and send/ follow up. Add in quality, thorough research time – beyond building a database list.

Sure, this could mean your list of contacts goes from 20 to five, but I promise you, thorough research is worth it. Mass pitching 20 may (I repeat: may) lead to one, at most two, media placements.

But targeting individual pitches to one reporter at a time, even if it’s just five reporters, could lead to three or four high-quality placements.

And the bonus? You’ll be much more likely to build an ongoing relationship after the first story.

As you plan out your media relations, here are five strategies for reporter research I recommend.

1. Twitter lists

Whenever I start a new media relations campaign, I build a Twitter list for the reporters I’m hoping to work with. Then, I make the list one of my 10 streams in Hootsuite for daily monitoring. This helps me understand:

  • Who these reporters are,
  • What they’re interested in – both for stories and outside of work, and
  • What opportunities I have for interacting with them and getting noticed.

2. SMS notifications for tweets

If there’s one reporter I really think is great for a story, I’ll get his/her tweets sent straight to my phone as alerts. That way I don’t miss a single tweet, and I can reference something s/he is interested in during my pitch. (Here’s how to set Twitter phone alerts up.)

3. Alerts

I use Talkwalker Alerts and Google Alerts to stay updated on the reporter’s work and accomplishments.

For example, if the reporter wins a journalism industry award, I’ll say congrats in my pitch email. (Or, if I’ve already started to build that relationship, I can send a quick congrats email, asking for nothing in return.)

4. Coffee meetings

This is a great way to hear which story ideas resonate, straight from the source. With the increasingly busy media world, coffee meetings are tough to set up.

But, if you make it worth their while (and short), you can learn a lot. I’d suggest going into the meeting with three to four story ideas to show you’ve done the research and thinking already. Then, let the reporter share feedback as well as specific stories s/he is looking for.

5. Read

Hello “no brainer.” Of course you want to read your target reporters’ articles. But don’t just read and call it a day. Look for trends to help guide what type of content you pitch:

  • Do they prefer listicles? Pitch your story as a list.
  • Do they quote several people? Find one or two story sources, beyond just your spokesperson.
  • Do they include visuals? Pitch an accompanying graphic or photo with your content.

The more you dive in and learn from their stories – instead of pushing what you want – the more likely you are to land that story.

Like all things, media relations done well takes time. There’s no getting around it.

But a large percentage of PR pros do still take the spray-and-pray method (as Zach’s article illustrates). To stand out, do your research, read those articles, and put yourself in the reporter’s shoes by asking:

“Would I want to read this email?”

This post first appeared on Stephanie Vermillion’s blog, PR State of Mind.