Archive for the ‘Online Marketing’ Category

Why the SOPA Blackout Worked

January 2012

Photo courtesy of acf_windy on Flickr

When we first posted about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) blackout protest scheduled for January 23, we had no idea that Wikipedia and Reddit (which had planned a January 18 blackout protest) would persuade other sites to join their effort yesterday. According to the Los Angeles Times, more than 10,000 sites participated in the SOPA protest by either making their sites inaccessible, or “blacked out”, on Wednesday or posting messages to encourage visitors to contact Congress about SOPA.

It appears their bold effort worked.

By the end of Wednesday, at least three lawmakers withdrew their support for the legislation – Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) withdrew as a co-sponsor of the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and Reps. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) withdrew from SOPA, which is the House version of the bill. A few more may be added to that list this morning.

Google reports that at least 4.5 million people signed their online anti-SOPA petition during the protest. Even the White House received nearly 104,000 signatures on a We the People petition calling for President Obama to block passage of bills like SOPA and PIPA.

It is still too early for SOPA protesters to get excited, as support remains for PIPA and SOPA in the Senate and House, respectively. However, the success of the SOPA blackout protest thus far demonstrates how understanding your audience and using what they value to make them take action can spur policy change.

Internet users are constituents, and removing their access to content or interrupting their Web routines with SOPA and PIPA protest notices compelled them to get involved in the protest in their own way. It just goes to show that reaching your audiences where they are is an effective way for communicators to raise awareness and encourage action on an issue. Plus, it doesn’t hurt your cause if you get support from an opinion leader like Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

While time will tell if signatures to online petitions and increased calls and emails to Capitol Hill on Wednesday changed the outcome of the January 24 vote in favor of SOPA and PIPA protesters, it is already evident that the reach and response to yesterday’s Internet blackout will definitely impact it.

Beware: Monday, January 23 the Internet May Go Dark

January 2012


Flickr photo courtesy of Redjar

While I may not be able to foresee  the future, my media savvy crystal ball is suggesting that Monday, January 23, 2012 will be a very bad day for communicators. If you haven’t heard the troubling news already, Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Paypal and other major Internet websites will be staging an “Internet blackout” on January 23 to protest proposed federal legislation that will make them liable for lawsuits for content posted on their websites.

Congress is considering a new bill – called the Protect IP Act or Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) – which would allow companies to sue websites for posting protected content without permission, forcing the entire site to be shutdown. For example, if I posted a video on YouTube of my friend dancing at a party with our favorite Adele song playing in the background, if SOPA passes, the record company would be allowed to sue YouTube and force them to close their whole website. There will be a hearing on Tuesday, January 24, hence the reason for the scheduling of this online protest the day before.

It’s not clear how long these websites will keep their content and services offline on January 23; it could be a few hours to an entire day. For communicators, the uncertainty of the  Internet blackout means we need to find and plan for alternative ways to do our online-heavy tasks on January 23. It is rare for a public relations activity to not have at least Internet-related tactic that needs to be executed, so avoid scheduling events or releases for January 23; it will be a day that our normally big world will be smaller just to make us – and Congress – understand how dependent we are on the World Wide Web and social media.

A Timely Communications Litmus Test…Courtesy of Google

November 2011

Google recently announced changes to their search algorithm that could have dramatic effects on search results. The changes mostly have to do with improving the timeliness of results, giving “brand new” items, such as recently published articles, web pages and press releases greater weight in search results. So, what does this mean for professional communicators? It’s probably a really good thing, actually, if timely communications are already top of mind for you.

I remember my first encounter with a major Google algorithm change. It was my first job out of college, working on a small e-commerce site that was largely dependent upon static landing pages with high Google search rankings to draw in customers. When Google flipped the switch, sales ground to a halt. My boss went as far as emailing Sergey Brin directly (how he got Sergey’s real email address is another story) and pleading for mercy. Sergey actually replied, apologized and made a few recommendations for improvements to our website…none of which helped. A few weeks later, amid torrents of similar complaints, Google threw up their hands, issued a public apology to the world, and reset everything to the old “correct” algorithm.

Thankfully, we are past the era when such a change could make your organization effectively invisible overnight. In fact, I would venture to say that if you do your job as a communicator correctly, this recent algorithm change will actually improve your visibility.

Pieces such as well-timed press releases, frequently updated web pages, freshly uploaded YouTube videos and timely blog posts now have a greater chance of pushing to the head of the pack in search results. If your organization effectively produces and maintains these types of materials, your search standings will most likely improve. On the other hand, if your organization could use improvement with communicating in a timely manner, by the end of November, it will likely be clearly evident in your monthly web traffic report.

Does the AP Get It? New Twitter Rules Are Too Limiting

November 2011

When the Associated Press updated its social media guidelines yesterday, it became very apparent to me and many other Twitter users that the AP fails to fully comprehend this important communications platform. Let’s take a look at the new Twitter guidelines for AP staffers:


Retweets, like tweets, should not be written in a way that looks like you’re expressing a personal opinion on the issues of the day. A retweet with no comment of your own can easily be seen as a sign of approval of what you’re relaying. For instance:

RT @jonescampaign smith’s policies would destroy our schools

RT @dailyeuropean at last, a euro plan that works

These kinds of unadorned retweets must be avoided.

However, we can judiciously retweet opinionated material if we make clear we’re simply reporting it, much as we would quote it in a story. Colons and quotation marks help make the distinction:

RT Jones campaign now denouncing smith on education: @jonescampaign smith’s policies would destroy our schools

RT big European paper praises euro plan: @dailyeuropean “at last, a euro plan that works”

These cautions apply even if you say on your Twitter profile that retweets do not constitute endorsements.

Spend a few hours on Twitter and you’ll notice a phrase that appears on nearly every journalist’s Twitter bio: “RTs do not = endorsements.” Translation: “Hey! I only have 140 characters to work with here, so just because I share someone else’s thoughts doesn’t mean I agree with them.”

Still, AP writers are now required to insert a headline before each retweet. That’s not merely hard, it’s simply impossible for tweets more than 100 characters. Twitter users know the limitations inherent in the platform and are familiar with the “retweet rule.” So why does the AP need to make it explicit? It’s certainly not clear to me.

Sharing and resharing content is what drives all social media, and retweets are one of the main conversation-drivers on Twitter. Without a doubt journalists should be judicious in what they are sharing (see Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber rumors), but the AP is severely handicapping its writers. Changing the way we use Twitter is a losing battle. Don’t waste your time, AP.

Quick! Grab Me!

June 2011

Last night, I decided to go shoe-shopping from the comfort of my sofa, so I whipped out my iPad and went to a popular shoe site. A screen popped up saying that the site had an app for shoe-shopping. Heaven! Three pairs of shoes later, my idle desire to go shoe-shopping had turned into a “need” for shoes. Why? Because the site grabbed me by making it so darn easy!

Photo courtesy of Steve Rhodes on Flickr

I thought of this as I read that mobile devices, such as my iPad, have outpaced PCs in using wi-fi bandwidth. Just as the shoe site reached out and grabbed me on my sofa, smart communicators are taking advantage of this format evolution to make sure their audiences receive their messages.

Studies show that our brains change when we spend more time browsing the Internet than reading books — our brains become “trained” to be flexible and grasp ideas quickly. So, it stands to reason that people who are using mobile devices to get their information need quick bursts of information and not the “War and Peace” of press releases.

Mobile isn’t just for youngsters anymore. Communicators wanting to reach adults can forgo in-depth prose, because the latest stats show that adults are using wireless more. The trend is even more striking among African-Americans and English-speaking Latinos, who not only outpace whites in cell phone ownership, but also in the use of the phones’ features.

So, the question for communicators:

Hw fst cn u commnic8?

Web-Literate Abramson Offers NY Times More Than A Broken Glass Ceiling

June 2011

Many stories about Jill Abramson’s historic appointment as the executive editor of the New York Times have focused on her gender. However, Abramson has another quality that may prove to be even more important and critical to the success of the Times: Web savvy.

Photo courtesy of on Flickr

Now that the Times has launched its paywall and rejected the increasingly popular belief that news should be free, it is no surprise that a changing of the guard was in order. By demanding that regular online readers pay for its content, the Times was drawing a clear line between its storytelling and the rest of the online news clatter. Will Abramson be able to navigate these uncharted online waters while ensuring that the Times remains the standard bearer for investigative reporting and non-fiction story-telling? Her writers think so.

Hours after the announcement, there was an outpouring of support from Times writers on Twitter. Jennifer Preston, the first social media editor in Times history, tweeted, “For all of you wondering about Jill Abramson and the Web? Jill gets it. And she’s fearless. We’re lucky.”

Back in 2010, Abramson temporarily stepped aside from her managing editor role to focus on digital operations and strategy. Bill Keller, then executive editor, said that they both thought that “one of us should really master the whole complicated machinery of an integrated newsroom,” and “Jill came up with the idea that one of us — i.e., her — should do a full immersion.”

Keller, often criticized  for being resistant to the digital revolution, elaborated:

“We really want this to be one newsroom, and it is part of the way there, not all of the way there. There is still a digital rhythm and a print rhythm, and they don’t feel synchronized.”

If Abramson’s goal is synchronization, she’s taking the right steps. Shortly after the announcement, the current Times social media editor tweeted that she had made a “Twitter date” with Abramson. With the inevitable decline of the newspaper industry looming, Abramson has her hands full, and a simple Twitter handle won’t save the Times.  However, I have faith that Abramson has the vision, experience and online training to throw the Gray Lady a lifeline.

As Preston said, “What’s most important is a commitment to devote resources and talent to innovation. That’s there.”

It Gets Better: The Video Heard 'Round the World and in the White House

June 2011

Is it possible for one video to launch a social change revolution? Can one YouTube video inspire others to take action and become activists?

President Obama proclaimed June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month and launched a new section on the White House website dedicated to the policies and issues impacting the LGBT community. Both are landmark civil rights statements never before made by a sitting President. One of the sections of this White House microsite worth noting is called “It Gets Better.” Sound familiar? It should. The section name is a tip of the hat to the successful It Gets Better Project launched to reach out to LGBT teens contemplating suicide due to bullying and prejudice.

The message discusses the happiness, potential and positivity that awaits youth after the difficult teen years. This project — started with a single YouTube video by columnist Dan Savage and his partner Terry in September 2010 — turned into an international movement, inspiring more than 10,000 user-created videos by world leaders, celebrities, activists and others. It has been viewed more than 35 million times and has inspired people around the globe. Watch Google Chrome’s recent tribute to Dan, Terry and their video:

What can we learn from the success of the It Gets Better Project for launching a social change revolution?

  1. Be honest. Both Dan and Terry shared their personal stories regarding difficult teenage years. It was their personal accounts that made the video so engaging and inspired others to share stories.
  2. Keep it simple. The majority of It Gets Better tribute videos have something in common — creators used a simple web or video camera to record testimony or a pledge of support. Most didn’t use fancy editing or production. The personal nature of this  format eliminated those distractions, allowing users to just focus on the messenger and the message.
  3. Use your connections. Dan Savage is a well-known journalist with a syndicated column, a weekly podcast and a spot on “This American Life.” To say that Dan is well-connected is an understatement, and he shared his video with as many people as possible, spreading his message far and wide. Like Dan, we all have family, friends, neighbors, co-workers or like-minded people in our lives who would be willing to share our message and call to action. Reach out via e-mail and social media to get your message to the right people.
  4. Don’t overthink it — just act. Dan and Terry recorded their video in response to a wave of LGBT teen suicides headlining the front pages of newspapers around the country. To be responsive to the growing issue, they quickly acted by recording their video and posting it to YouTube. They were able to capitalize on a news cycle still covering this topic and received more exposure than if they had waited and posted the video a few weeks later. As my mom would say, “You have to strike when the iron is hot.”
  5. Believe the sky is the limit. Did Dan and Terry know that a few months after posting their video, President Obama, Pixar employees or the World Series champion San Francisco Giants would make videos of their own? Probably not. They may have only intended their video to let LGBT teens in crisis know they aren’t alone, but by placing no limits on their efforts, their video led to a movement of love and support and a new non-profit organization focused on sharing that message of inclusion with others in need. Change is always possible with commitment, passion and a willingness to do whatever it takes to accomplish your social change goals.

Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said: “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” In the case of June’s LGBT Pride Month Presidential Proclamation and It Gets Better Project, a moving campaign to help youth live for a brighter future can begin with a single YouTube video.

Live Blog: What's Next DC Conference Afternoon Session

January 2011

Good afternoon! Today, we’re live blogging the What’s Next – Your Marketing Communications Roadmap event at George Washington University in DC. The morning session was jammed packed with great speakers and information on issues impacting the future of how we communicate social change.  (more…)

Live Blog: What's Next DC Conference Morning Session

January 2011

Good morning! Today, we’re live blogging the What’s Next – Your Marketing Communications Roadmap event at George Washington University in DC. It’s an all day event, so we will be capturing the day’s insights in two posts — one during the morning presentations and one covering the presentations this afternoon. The day will be filled with great speakers discussing issues impacting the future of how we communicate social change. (more…)

Top Five Most Engaged Brands in Social Media Prove Interaction is a Key to Success

November 2010

A recent article listed the top five most engaged brands in social media and provided information about what these companies are doing to drive their success. The top five brands (in order) are: Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Oreo, Skittles and Red Bull.

While all of the brands in the top five are large, successful and well-known companies, a look at their success in the social media world reveals one of the most important elements of their success is something that a company of any size can do with the right resources in place. They are interacting with their customers, meaning that all of these brands are talking with their audience and not at them.

Take a look at Starbucks’ Twitter page to see why they are ranked number one. Starbucks spends an extraordinary amount of time interacting with their followers — whether responding to customer concerns, promoting their latest deal or thanking people for tweeting about their love of Starbucks, it appears that they respond to almost every tweet that comes their way. While it may not always be possible to respond to every message, be sure that you are monitoring all of your social media accounts to identify opportunities for interaction with your audience.

Starbucks Coffee by rudolf_schuba, on Flickr

While Starbucks has the most success with its Twitter efforts, the other companies in the top five list are utilizing their Facebook and YouTube pages more. Coca-Cola allows fans to upload pictures and videos to its Facebook page. The company also uses its Facebook page to promote social good initiatives, like its recent “Live Positively” initiative,  that allowed Facebook fans to vote for a park to win $100,000 in investment. Oreo fans can visit its Facebook page to view recipes, share pictures of themselves enjoying their favorite cookie, and play games. Skittles allows fans to upload videos of themselves enjoying Skittles and view videos of other fans on its Share Skittles website, used exclusively for displaying these YouTube videos.  Energy drink company Red Bull created a “Procrastination Station” on its Facebook games page that features “high quality, engaging and interactive options for procrastinators, including a soapbox car racing game, a rock, paper, scissors game, and ‘Drunkish Dials’ recordings — recordings of Red Bull drinkers who called the company’s toll free number, leaving ‘drunkish’ messages.”

To interact effectively with your audience you must know who they are, where they are and what they want. According to the Mashable article, every aspect of a brand needs to be an “extension of the brand’s core product”  and compliment the “consumer’s lifestyle along the way.” All of these top five brands are using social media to interact with their audience in thoughtful and effective ways that make sense for their brand. Each brand knows where its customer is spending time and is focusing its time and energy on meeting their audience there and providing tools, games and apps that further engage their audience in their brand rather than having them simply “like” their Facebook fan page or follow them on Twitter. The more opportunities that you provide your audience to interact and engage with your bramd, the more loyal they are going to be.

Think about the social media tools that your audience uses and how they are already using those tools. Meet your audience where they already are to start interacting with and further engaging them in your brand by responding to their tweets, setting up a customized and interactive Facebook page with apps that fit within your brand, or setting up a YouTube channel for your audience to share videos. Keep in mind that these efforts will only be worth your time and energy if you have done your audience research. A cool, interactive Facebook page with lots of apps and games won’t be effective if your audience is only using Twitter.