Is Facebook Still Fun?

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I came across this post yesterday by a former Harvard student who looks back fondly on the days when “thefacebook” was thrilling and fun.

It’s hard to remember, now, but there was a time when Facebook was the most exciting thing on the Internet.

Implicit in this statement, of course, is the fact that it is no longer true. A fact that apparently resonated with the tech elite, since this post made it to the front page of Hacker News.

This all got me wondering: Is Facebook still fun?

Like so many things, it is evident that Facebook has become well trodden. For me, it’s moved past its utility as a personal social network and become a part of my business. After all, you can’t be in public relations today and not have Facebook play a role in your thinking.

Do I find interesting things to read on Facebook, clever images and attention-grabbing video? Yes. Do I enjoy keeping up with friends, colleagues and family on Facebook? Yes. Could I do these things as easily in another way? No.

So, clearly Facebook is still valuable. As a tool.

But is it fun?

Perhaps comparisons would shed some light.

  • My iPhone is fun. My landline is not.
  • Eating lunch out is fun. Eating a homemade sandwich is not.
  • Driving my Prius is fun. Driving a minivan is not.

No matter how many new features Facebook launches, it will never again be the new thing everyone is discovering. It’s been around long enough that it has also begun to lose the coolness it once had. For something to be cool it has to have some real or perceived exclusivity, and Facebook is used by such a massive number of people that such exclusivity is impossible.

Facebook has become the social networking equivalent of the old AT&T, before it was broken up. It’s a virtual monopoly of online interaction. Ubiquitous, yes.  Fun, maybe not so much.

Of course, this raises an interesting issue. If Facebook is no longer the “it” network, what is? I don’t think there’s a clear winner. Which makes the whole question perplexing. If there’s nothing in the wings waiting to knock off Facebook, then its time is clearly not past.

So, maybe Facebook is still cool and fun. Perhaps it’s just fun for those fairly new to it. Can it be that Facebook has become old hat only to those of us who have been using it for a long time, like the Harvard alum who wrote the post I saw on Hacker News?

Maybe, just maybe, the problem with Facebook … is me.

HuffPo, What’s With Your iPad App?

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I really like the Huffington Post. I like the stories. Like the blogs. It’s a quick read of the day’s news. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Except for the HuffPo iPad app. It’s the pits, and has been for quite awhile.

Today, I opened it up to find it filled with old news. Pre-election stories! The section for popular news is devoid of content. And this type of thing happens a lot.

This all raises a question: How can an undisputed leader in online news have such an overwhelmingly bad iPad app? It’s not like nobody’s told them. The app has bad reviews and bad ratings on iTunes. Is it possible that nobody at HuffPo uses the app? If they do, how could they fail to notice this?

If you come across this post, HuffPo, please, please fix the app. I don’t want to bash. I just want to enjoy your content, on my iPad…

6 Reasons to Love Your Public Relations Firm

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Your public relations firm is a lot more than just a clip machine. If you think about your PR firm simply as an organization that pitches news and wins coverage, you’re missing a lot of what it has to offer.

Your PR firm works hard to understand your business inside and out so it can be there when you need it most. It’s prepared for the expected and the unexpected. It’s ready to roll in good times and bad. Success and crisis. Addressing positive stories and negative. Training, advising and pitching your business.

There are lots of reasons why you should love your public relations firm. Here are six big ones I’ve come up with.

Why You Should Love Your Public Relations Firm

  1. They’re people you can trust. In any organization, individuals have agendas. But your public relations firm is an outside entity. Your PR firm’s staff members function as your spokespeople and your strategic advisors. Their only goal is to maximize your exposure and reputation. You can trust them, run ideas by them and ask them about things you might not know. No question is too elementary. No confidence will be broken. They’re people you can turn to in a pinch.
  2. They’ll tell it to you straight. One of the most important services a PR firm can offer is telling you when you’re got it wrong. Oftentimes, people in your own organization won’t want to point out errors. However, the staff members at your PR firm have been hired to tell it like it is. If you want to respond to a negative story with a press release setting the record straight, your PR firm will tell you why this may be a bad idea. They’ll risk a little confrontation to make sure you get it right.
  3. They’ve seen it all before. When you hire a public relations firm, you’re hiring experience. Your firm’s publicists and strategists have been there before. This has tremendous value. When your company is under attack in the media, it may feel overwhelming to you and you may want to lash out. Your PR firm will offer dispassionate counsel. This is critical. Public relations professionals deal with these situations all the time and know how they resolve and how much time it can take. This perspective can lead to much better decisions.
  4. They understand social. We all know that we’ve got to be part of Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and the other social networks out there. However, some organizations and their marketing/PR folks just don’t have enough experience to be effective in this arena. Your public relations firm does. It can give you the lay of the social landscape, help devise effective social media strategies and make sure your traditional PR efforts complement your social media efforts. Working with social media is just the newest type of media relations, which has been the sweet spot of PR firms forever.
  5. They’re writing professionals. The written word is a challenge for some, an absolute nightmare for others. But for your PR firm, it’s a walk in the park. Public relations firms are experts with the written word. It is their chosen medium. Many PR folks — like myself — are former reporters, so their first love is writing. This can come in handy as your PR firm’s staff can help you with written communications in many forms. Whether you need help blogging, writing white papers and ebooks, or simply crafting internal communications, your PR firm can do it. Just ask.
  6. They’ve got your back. One big job of PR firms is to guard your reputation. In short, they look out for you and respond when the vultures circle. It’s nice to have someone to stand up for you when times get tough, but when it comes to the media it’s essential. Please note, the way your firm responds may not be the way you would think to fire back yourself. But referring to No. 3 above, remember your PR pros have seen it before. However they choose to proceed, know that your PR firm’s staff members are looking out for you.

Certainly, there are other reasons to love your public relations firm. Please let me know if you have more I should add to the list.

My main point, however, is to urge you to think of your public relations firm in the broadest possible terms. It can provide you with a great deal of value in areas you may not have considered.

7 Tips for Great Audio Interviews

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When most people think of PR interviews, newspapers and TV jump to mind. Audio interviews, conducted by radio stations and podcasters, are often an afterthought.

However, these interviews can be valuable for two big reasons. First, radio remains quite popular, boasting large, engaged audiences. Podcasts, too, can have sizable followings in their subject areas. Second, audio interviews are often made available as MP3 downloads, which means you can place them on your website, share them on social media and blogs, and email links to your customers and prospects.

With such value to be had from audio interviews, it makes sense to do them right. Here are some tips for pulling off great audio interviews.

7 Tips for Great Audio Interviews

  • Maximize sound quality. I know this sounds like the station or podcaster’s job, but there are lots of things you can do to maximize the audio quality of your own interviews. Make sure you’re in a quiet room, windows and doors shut and mobile phone off. If you’re doing a telephone interview, use the corded handset to your phone, not a speakerphone and not a wireless handset. Do not use a mobile phone for your interview. If you are doing a Skype interview, shut down all unnecessary programs on your computer. The better the sound quality, the better you’ll come across.
  • Be prepared. Just because your interview is going to be a conversation doesn’t mean you can do it off the cuff. You should prepare for an audio interview as thoroughly as you would for a newspaper or TV interview. The good news is since it’s audio, you can have your notes right in front of you and nobody will know. So, create good talking points and practice a few times before the interview. You can even get on the phone and rehearse with a colleague or your publicist until you feel ready.
  • Don’t be too prepared. You may think I’m crazy but hear me out. Lots of people try to script out their audio interviews — and this usually fails badly. It’s hard to read from a script and make it sound like a conversation. And if the host throws in a question you’re not expecting, you can get flustered. It’s better to use talking points, at mentioned above, so you can just scan the bullet points to keep you on track. If you’re familiar with the material from your preparation, you should be able to stay on message just fine.
  • Keep it steady. This idea is terribly important. You want to keep a steady, fairly slow, relaxed vocal pace as you go through your interview. When people are nervous they tend to speak far too quickly. When listeners hear someone speaking too quickly, they assume the person is nervous, which is always a negative. This is something to work on when you practice. Keep your pace relaxed. Don’t rush to get done. Sound like you’re enjoying the interview and have all the time in the world. This will give your interview a confident feel that will help win over listeners.
  • Refer back to previous points. This speaks to a big difference between audio interviews and print. Audio is 100% linear. There’s no looking back at the prior paragraph if the listener loses his or her place. So, if you’re going to make a point that relates to something you said 5 minutes earlier, understand that the listener may not recall your reference. Better to refer back to the previous point explicitly. For example: “You’ll recall at the beginning of the interview I mentioned the sky is blue. Since our product evokes the sense of flight, we’ve chosen a blue color palette for our latest generation…”
  • Counting always helps. I’m sure you’ve heard this construction before. “There are three points I want to make about our newest product. One…” This approach is perfect for audio interviews. It helps listeners keep track of what you’re telling them and it gives them a sense for how long this part of the conversation will run. Remember, since audio is linear, anything that will help listeners follow along is of great value. Make sure, however, that if you say you’re going to make four points, you don’t stop at three without some explanation. Otherwise, you’ll create confusion and undo your good work.
  • Use examples. This is a good idea with any interview, but it is particularly useful with audio. When you use examples in describing a situation, product or service, you are bringing an idea to life, giving it flesh and blood. Audio is a very intimate media format to begin with — after all, you are hearing real voices and picking up real emotion — so examples are particularly powerful. For example: “Our new product is very popular with young adults. There’s a great story about one college student in Maryland who bought it for three of his friends and…”

Audio interviews are much easier than you think. As a podcaster, I’ve conducted many, many interviews and coached lots of folks through them. Everyone has the capacity to pull off a great audio interview. Just follow the tips above and you’ll be on your way to becoming an audio star.

Why Your PR Agency Gives You Talking Points

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Talking points are a staple of public relations. A bullet-point document that helps clients stay on message during interviews, every PR agency is adept at producing talking points for just about any situation.

In my experience, however, clients sometimes push back when they receive these documents.

There are various reasons for the push back. “I know what I want to say.” “I’ll make my own notes.” “I don’t like talking from bullets.” “This is just make-work designed to bump up billable hours.”

I want to challenge these objections and discuss the usefulness of talking points. They are of great value in many, many situations.

The Value of PR Agency Talking Points

  • Keep you on message. This, of course, is the primary reason talking points are created but it’s worth repeating here. During the span of an interview, it’s easy to get distracted, sidetracked and moved away from the points your organization wants to make. Talking points are useful for bringing you back on message. You can just glance down at the last point you made before the conversation moved off track and start up again with the next bullet. This is useful in any situation where your messaging is critical to your PR strategy.
  • Build consensus. Most clients don’t recognize this value right away, as it’s a by-product of the work of producing talking points. However, it is terribly important, particularly for large organizations. The process of writing talking points, sharing them with your team, editing and tweaking them to say exactly what you want, and ending up with broad buy-in assures that everyone is on the same page. It brings focus throughout the organization. This is an example of the journey itself having value.
  • Allow for multiple spokespeople. This comes up with large organizations and with political campaigns. You have to get a message out or respond to something a competitor has said. If you have talking points ready, you can send out multiple spokespeople to the media all at once. Here, talking points are absolutely necessary as you want to make sure all your spokespeople are completely synced up. This can also hold true for large companies that need to make the same points in multiple markets.
  • Maintain consistency over time. Talking points represent a written record of your messaging for a given campaign or interview. They also allow you to remain consistent in your messaging over time. That’s because when it comes time for the next campaign or series of interviews, you can go back to the prior talking points as a starting point for the next set. What you said in the past will drive what you say going forward, ensuring your organization’s messaging sounds cohesive and consistent. This will go a long way toward making it stick.
  • Let you practice. It’s hard to rehearse for an interview if you don’t know what you want to say. Talking points represent a script in bullet-point format. Once armed with your talking points, practice is possible. You may also want a Q&A document, which anticipates the difficult questions you could be asked and provides bullet-point answers, which your PR agency should also provide. A little rehearsal beforehand, particularly if the topic is sensitive, will give you additional confidence and polish as you move forward to your actual interviews.

There are certainly other reasons why your PR agency might provide you with talking points. But the idea I want to get across is this: Open your mind to the talking points process. Your agency is doing this for good reasons. If you believed in your agency enough to hire it in the first place, give their talking points a shot.

6 Tips for Pitching a Weak Story

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Every story you pitch can’t be a blockbuster.

Sometimes, your company or client wants you to put out a story that you know isn’t going to be Page 1 news. Not even close. It’s weak, but you really don’t have a choice.

So, how do you make the best of this bad situation? First, don’t delude yourself — or your client — into thinking this can be a big story. Acknowledge that it has limited news value and find a way to wring the best coverage you can out of it.

I’ve used a number of different approaches to pitching weak stories over the years. Here are six of my favorites.

Tips for Pitching a Weak Story

  • Narrowcast your news. Sometimes, weak stories have angles that make them interesting to particular audiences. For example, a mid-level executive hire probably won’t make the Wall Street Journal but it could be of interest to trade publications, local publications where the company is based, publications located where the executive lives, and even alumni publications where the executive was educated. Be creative in seeking out these angles. They can get you coverage where none seemed possible.
  • Tie it to a news event. Timing, in PR as in comedy, is everything. Your story may be weak but perhaps it’s possible to tie it to an event that makes it newsworthy. Let’s say your baking company is launching a new line of cupcakes. This is unlikely to be seen as big news in most markets. However, what if you time the launch for mid-May and tie it to Mother’s Day? Maybe create some kind of contest or giveaway for Mother’s Day around the launch? You’ve now created a timely story with real news value.
  • Grant access with the story. Reporters want to get to know top executives and newsmakers. That’s part of their job. If you have a weak story, you may be able to generate some coverage by having someone of real value do the interviews. For example, if you’re opening a new plant that’s not huge news, have your CEO there and give reporters some time with him or her. As long as you keep your executive on message, you may be able to generate a bit of coverage. Celebrity sells.
  • Think visually. Not everything has to shine through the written word. Your weak story may just have wonderful visuals. Use them to your advantage. Let’s say your manufacturing company just got a contract to produce a rather mundane component for an eye-catching sports car. Announce it in front of the car itself. Have your CEO drive up in the car and show reporters the component and just what it does. You may not get a long story. You may get a short item with a big, color picture, which is even better.
  • Distribute the story selectively. News publications love exclusives. If you’ve got a weak story, you may be able to mitigate some of the weakness by providing it exclusively to one or several publications ahead of the main announcement. Just make sure the news organizations know they are getting it before everyone else. They may bite if they think they can get a beat on the competition. You have to be a little careful with exclusives, though, as the folks who don’t get it may feel cheated.
  • Leverage social media. This seems like a no-brainer in the Facebook era, but lots of folks neglect this when it could win some attention for a weak story. First, make sure your story has a home online, like a blog post, YouTube video or online press release. Then, link it to your social networks and let your friends and followers start spreading the word. This won’t necessarily get reporters to cover your story, but it will get additional exposure for the item. Sometimes, your customers are the ones you really want to reach anyway, so social media can be a great way to bypass the press and go right to your key audience.

Follow these tips and you just may be able to garner some coverage for weak stories that otherwise would end up with a goose egg. Of course, remember to set the proper expectations with your organization or client so that nobody’s disappointed when you actually do pull the rabbit out of the hat.

Easy Interview Prep for Public Relations

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It’s all about the interview.

The secret to good PR, after coming up with a solid story idea and getting reporters interested, is executing the interview well. Interview preparation for public relations is a highly critical skill.

Unfortunately, it is also a highly neglected endeavor. For a variety of reasons, executives often find themselves in the midst of interviews for which they are poorly prepared. This can lead to a number of negative outcomes such as losing the story entirely and, even worse, having the story turn negative for your company.

These disasters can be avoided with some solid interview prep. Below is a step-by-step guide to making interview prep for public relations quick and easy.

Easy Interview Prep for Public Relations

  • Have your talking points ready. This can be as simple as jotting down a handful of bullet points, or, if you prefer, writing a detailed document with facts and figures. The key is to have your messaging — what you want to get across in the interview — at your fingertips. If you’re going live on TV or meeting in person with a reporter, you’ll, of course, need to memorize your talking points. They key is knowing your messaging before you sit down to be interviewed.
  • Research your reporter/outlet. You don’t want to be surprised by your reporter’s questions when your interview begins, so you should be aware of your reporter and news outlet’s background and approach before you begin. Your publicist should do this for you. But if not, you’ll need to conduct a little research. Is the reporter an investigative journalist or a feature writer? Does the reporter’s beat suggest a high level of subject knowledge or is he or she a generalist? What kind of story is the outlet looking for?
  • Practice your questions & answers. Publicists call this Q&A and it typically begins with a document that lists the toughest questions you expect and bullet points on how to answer them. Importantly, creating the document is only Part 1. It’s critical to practice with these questions — 15 or 20 minutes may do just fine — to develop a level of comfort in handling them. Your publicist can “play” the reporter and you can work back and forth in a mock interview.
  • Determine your ground rules. This creates the playing field and you should know how you want to proceed before you ever sit down to answer questions. For example, it can be very helpful to set a time limit, say 15 minutes, for the entire interview. This can help keep the reporter focused and let you know much time you need to spend on the hot seat. Also, determine in advance whether the whole interview is on the record or not. If not, make sure you and the reporter agree on what can and cannot be used.
  • Make sure you’re available on pitch day. It sounds obvious, I know, but once all the other prep is done, make sure you’re actually going to be available on pitch day. Available means being ready to take reporters’ calls and, if necessary, traveling to TV studios on short notice. If you’re got a 6 hour board meeting in the middle of announcement day, you’re not truly available. Likewise, if you’re not dressed appropriately for TV interviews, you’re not available. A successful pitch can be totally undermined if the interview subject is not ready to go.

Are there other things you can do to be ready for interviews? Sure. If you’ve never done press interviews before, you might consider some professional media training. We use video cameras so clients can not only practice, but see and hear how they conduct interviews.

You can also get involved in the initial development of your company’s story pitches so you know what’s coming and can make sure the messaging you’ll be called on to deliver is comfortable for you.

However, if time is short, just follow the steps above for easy interview prep for public relations. You’ll be well ahead of the game.

Devil’s in the Details When Working with the Media

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They got it wrong. Very, very wrong.

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the individual mandate in President Obama’s healthcare law is constitutional, a big win for the president. But that didn’t stop major media organizations CNN and Fox News from mistakenly reporting that it had been struck down.

Fox and CNN are two big news organizations with lots of resources. Getting it wrong was a huge embarrassment. Something that should never, ever happen. Yet, it did.

You might be tempted to write this off as an inside-baseball media story. But, it’s not. Everyone who does public relations for a living ought to pay close attention, because it can happen to you. In fact, if you’re in this business long enough, it will.

Make Sure the Media Get Your Story Right

The main point is that the media can and do get it wrong. Working with complicated stories under deadline pressure and with limited resources, mistakes happen. In a high-profile situation like an anticipated Supreme Court ruling, the situation is quickly remedied when other news organizations point out the error.

But what about a lower-profile story on your company? What if one news organization’s error gets picked up by another and the mistaken information snowballs? What if you can’t ever get the story back on track?

This can be an unmitigated disaster. It can take a positive story for your company and turn it negative. Or, it can exacerbate a crisis you’re trying to manage.

While we have limited control of stories once the media get them, there are some steps we can take to avoid major errors in making complicated announcements. Following these rules can help avoid mistakes and allow you to address them quickly when they occur.

9 Tips for Avoiding Media Errors

  1. Write your press releases simply and without jargon. It’s less important to be pithy than accurate.
  2. Don’t try to slip in details subtly. Reporters may miss them. If it’s important to the story, make it explicit.
  3. Do not put important facts exclusively in quotes. Make sure they reside elsewhere in the release.
  4. Use bullets to highlight key information. They can serve as a fact check within your releases.
  5. Consider embargoed releases to avoid deadline pressure. Time pressure was a big reason for CNN and Fox getting it wrong.
  6. If your strategy allows, consider letting a few key reporters who follow you closely break complex stories. They’re most likely to get them right.
  7. Follow up aggressively with reporters and offer them help understanding the news. They’ll appreciate this.
  8. Monitor coverage carefully. Read and watch every story. You need to know that it’s getting out correctly.
  9. Address inaccuracies immediately. Don’t let mistakes spread.

Even with a great deal of care, the media are going to get some of your stories wrong. They don’t like it. And you don’t like it. So, do the best you can to make your news clear and correct errors quickly. Everyone will be better off.

Don’t Do This with Your Blog Content

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Though it may be a bit circular to say on a blog, I love blogging.

It’s a great way to drive traffic, generate leads, demonstrate expertise and share information that is of interest to your customers. It does take some time and effort to do it right and we’ve posted about this quite a few times.

Today, I want to take the opposite angle. Rather than look at what to do, I want to look at what you should never do with your blog content.

7 Mistakes To Avoid In Your Blog Content

  • Don’t be a blogvertiser. This is a sure way to drive people away. Fundamentally, blog content needs to be informative rather thanpromotional. No one’s going to want to read your blog if it’s a nonstop stream of sales pitches. When you’re thinking up blog content, focus on posts that will be useful to your readers.
  • Don’t become a linkohaulic. Linking to other peoples’ content is very good every now and then, but the primary focus of your blog should be your own original content. Don’t get addicted to sharing other people’s posts. If you can add some context to an existing story or post, that’s OK. But try to be as original as possible.
  • Don’t be a photophobe. Graphics and images should absolutely be a part of your blog. Pictures make blog posts more inviting and also break up your text to keep it from becoming a wall of words. You can skimp on pictures if you’ve got a creative writing or literature blog. But for most businesses, think visually before hitting “publish.”
  • Don’t be stiff. Every successful blog shows some level of character and personality. Don’t write like you’re producing a textbook or a research article, even if it is a business blog (like this one). Never be afraid to insert some of your own personality. Blogs are expected to be a bit informal and should feel like a conversation.
  • Don’t be longwinded. Blog content should be generally short and to the point. Posts are read quickly and should be easily digestible. For a business blog, try to keep posts under 800 words and it’s better to stay in the 400-600 word range. If you’re exploring a topic that needs more space than that, consider breaking it up into a series of posts.
  • Don’t try to hit too many targets. You may have products that appeal to all people aged 10 to 100, but that doesn’t mean you should try to target them all in the same blog. If your audiences are so varied that what appeals to one group will turn off the other, you’ll need to break your content into separate blogs. Try to keep each blog tightly focused.
  • Don’t be inconsistent. A regular posting schedule is one of the marks of a professional blog. Decide early on how often you want to update your blog and stick to it. Don’t change that schedule without good reason, and never let yourself go for long periods without updating.

None of these seven mistakes is particularly hard to avoid. You’ve just got to be aware of them. Write interesting, original blog content that helps your audience, keep it visually appealing and easy to consume, and publish with focus and consistency. Oh, and remember to have some fun.

How to Put on Your Content Development Hat

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When it comes down to it, the only problem with content marketing is … coming up with all the content.

It’s easy for professional writers to sit back and talk about the wonders of creating and how many good things an active blog can accomplish. All those rewards, however, require you to come up with high quality content that makes people want to visit your site and respond to it. That’s the hard part.

Now, I can’t tell you exactly what to write on any given day. But, I can give you some suggestions for putting yourself in the right frame of mind to get those creative juices flowing and write.

5 Ways to Make Content Development Easier

  • Make time for it. If you’re going to sit down to write, especially if you’re not a writer by nature, you need to have some time to yourself. You can’t have phones ringing and assistants knocking on your door. Those sorts of distractions keep your logical brain turned on and your creative brain shut down. So, schedule your writing time as you would any other appointment.
  • Change your scenery. It can be difficult to do content development in the same environment where you do all your business work. There’s a reason you sometimes see writers working in the dark corners of coffee shops. Just having a different environment starts you thinking in a different way. If you can’t get away from the office, try sitting in a different chair or using a laptop instead of your normal desktop.
  • Keep an idea notebook. At any point in the day, an idea for a good blog, video or ebook might float through your head. Ideas usually come at a moment’s notice, inspired by random happenings. Whether it’s a paper notebook or a notes file on your smartphone, have something handy that you can immediately pull out to capture ideas when they come.
  • Write, then edit. If you get a good idea, sit down and run with it. See what happens. Don’t worry about cohesiveness. Just put words on a page to see what develops. Then, go back later, preferably the next day, reread what you’re created and edit it into something cohesive. You get both the brilliance of initial inspiration and the refinement that comes from reflection.
  • Seek out inspiration. Constantly seek inspiration in new places. Read your competitors’ blogs and see how they’re looking at problems. Consume articles from commentators you usually disagree with. Ask children what they think about an issue. A new, challenging point of view on a problem will often make your own brain kick into high gear. Give it a shot.

Good content development is work. No doubt about it. The fabled muse is as fickle with marketing writers as she is with novelists. The key to successful content development is putting yourself in the right mindset to create and then recognizing the inspiration when it comes.