Tag Archives: communicating

new to working in social media? 5 common mistakes to avoid.

It’s the time of year when many places have new people working in social media management, whether interns for colleges or other accounts or new hires ready to roll in this field. Which is exciting. And yet. I look at my Twitter ticker or Facebook feed and see so many people making simple mistakes that make me weep a little. So here are five common mistakes in social media you’ll want to avoid to make it all easier.

Watch your @. If you are replying to another Twitter account, an @ is entirely appropriate. If you’re trying to promote something and start with an @, you’re restricting your audience to only those following both accounts. If you want this message to reach your full audience, the answer is simple: Don’t start with an @! If you work in social media, you should be clever enough to know how to reword it.

Avoid the horse latitudesDifferent studies say different things about when is the best time to post in social media, but what generally matters most is the content. After all, our most popular Facebook post ever went up on a Friday evening, which many self-styled “social media gurus” would advise against. That said, you should examine when your target market is active and when it’s not. When I see accounts post things appealing to students at 4:30 a.m., that doesn’t seem very wise. Lazy Sunday afternoons are also not the ideal time to try to engage a wide conversation with a general (not necessarily inspiring) question. And if there’s a much-tweeted event (Super Bowl™, award shows, “Walking Dead” season finale, etc.), any tweets — especially off topic — will drown in the flood.

Don’t be a robot. A friend of mine who just assumed greater social media responsibility announced she was unhooking the auto-feed that blasted her school’s Facebook and Twitter accounts simultaneously. And there was much rejoicing. A tweet that is awkwardly cut off in the middle and sports a Facebook link is essentially saying: “I really don’t care about Twitter.” Twitter and Facebook are two distinctly different media with different strengths and different audiences. You don’t run a TV ad on the radio or vice versa. Your social media outlets — while they should be integrated — also should have their own lives. If you can’t find 15 seconds to post something separately in Twitter and Facebook, you really don’t care about your audience.

Have conversations. Social media is not a bullhorn; it’s a conversation. Or a series of conversations. If your Facebook account is just your news releases with hardly any comments or likes, or if your Twitter account is just your posts with no @s or RTs, then it’s not very social. Also, when you post, don’t throw out lame marketing taglines. Sound like a human (see above), as if you were having a conversation with friends. Because even if you’re working social media for a brand, you ARE having a conversation with friends.

Know which account you’re in. Yes, at some point or another, we’ve probably posted something from the wrong account in haste. This is usually harmless, like when I answered a question last week from @TimNekritz via Tweetdeck forgetting to switch over to @sunyoswego. But there’s always the famous “#gettngslizzerd” example where a Red Cross employee accidentally posted about drinking exploits under the official account. To their credit, the Red Cross responded magnificently so the story had a happy ending. In terms of mobile posting, I make sure my personal Twitter account and any professional accounts are on different apps so I don’t have to worry about signing in or out. Whatever method you use, check what you’re doing so you don’t become a social media case study.

All that said, if you’re new to the field of social media management: Congratulations! It’s not necessarily easy, but it’s very fulfilling to help others and make connections. And know that there’s a massive support group of others working in this area on Twitter and elsewhere always willing to help with advice and feedback. After all, social media is about humans being social and helpful, and it really is a great job and community.

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how we use pinterest: it’s about goals, users and gut.

If you work in social media, you couldn’t help but catch the buzz over Pinterest, which repeatedly smashed records for fastest social media community to [insert just about any number] members. We’ve started up a Pinterest page — but not because it’s the next shiny object. The SUNY Oswego Pinterest page came about because we saw another way to connect with key users, fulfill communication goals … and because of an intangible gut instinct.

When I brought the idea of Pinterest up to our student social media team, the three young women in the group were immediately excited about it. That doesn’t happen when I mention working in Twitter or Formspring or Foursquare, so my gut instantly realized that if part of our target market was this into the platform, it had real potential. Of course, that Pinterest mainly appeals to women is considered a punchline in some sectors … but it’s foolish to pooh-pooh such a huge market (around 55 percent of our students are female, for one thing).

One intern, Jenna, immediately thought of two potential boards — photos of items students should bring when moving in (one of the questions we hear the most in social media) and images of places of interest in the Oswego community (ditto). Thus our ongoing goal of better communicating with potential/incoming students gives one great peg for using Pinterest. As I always say: Goals first, then tools. Ideas for boards about various living options, activities on campus, sporting events and even winter preparation followed … all produced by students on the team.

I’ve also talked to key folks in alumni relations, who are also interested in photos and items of interest to alumni. One of the alumni magazine’s most popular stories involved images and stories of famous performers who played Oswego over the years, so historic photo galleries are in the planning stages. Thus we can offer content that spans the student lifecycle — from when they’re choosing a college to graduates recalling their glory days.

Say what you will about Pinterest, but if your institution has goals, motivated people (students!) working on it and a focus on content of interest to your audience, it’s well worth pursuing.


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social media may be sexy, but email is still important.

As a profession, we seem to spend so much time concentrating on monitoring and responding via social media that we forget for much of our audience — especially our institution’s alumni — email is still a medium of choice. And that sometimes the informative, upbeat response with a smile can mean a lot.

Consider the following email from an alum, sparked by our Sesquicentennial history activities, that seems to come with a side of snark:

Industrial arts has long been one of our signature programs, but the alum did not know it is now known as technology education. So his very real concern about a program near and dear to his heart deserves an answer in a positive tone. Thus:

Succinct, smiling and with a link for more information. How did the alum like the response? Very well!

From worrying about the direction of his alma mater back to a proud alum just like that. Not the hardest thing I had to do that day, but still pretty important — because every person who has a valued connection with our institution is important.

I also want to address this topic because I’ve seen companies and colleges that throw a lot of their resources into social media but do a poor job of responding to email — which may not be as “sexy” as Facebook or Twitter but is still a very vital medium. Whether it’s not acknowledging an email at all, not replying in a timely manner, giving an insufficient answer or firing back something terse as if our email is a bother, many entities have room for improvement in the email department. And that’s too bad, because there are no character limits and an opportunity to craft something thoughtful.


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branding is a battlefield: winning lessons from pat benatar.

Since in a high school English class, I once used Pat Benatar’s “Love Is A Battlefield” as an example of a metaphor, her music has been around a while (as have I). So when I was fortunate enough to pick up her Best Shots greatest hits disc *free* at a tweetup/swap meet/BBQ in Ithaca this weekend, I realized just what an amazing body of work Benatar produced — and what she can teach us about branding.

In addition to her many solid, catchy, memorable songs, Benatar the entertainer has a lasting image. An unmistakably tough yet tender persona that always seemed authentic. Sexy, but never slutty. A string of hits including “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Heartbreaker,” “Treat Me Right,” “Promises in the Dark,” “Fire and Ice,” “We Live for Love,” “We Belong” and many more. (Archeologists cite her song “Invincible” as the only proof the movie “The Legend of Billie Jean” ever existed.)

Pat Benatar in "Love Is A Battlefield"

Pat Benatar's "Love Is A Battlefield" video is considered groundbreaking in its insertion of dialogue into the narrative (image courtesy of Yahoo! Video).

But Benatar’s brand is substance with style. While so many acts from Samantha Fox to the Spice Girls sold sizzle but no steak, Benatar provided content. Quality content. Enduring content. “Love Is A Battlefield” pioneered inserting spoken dialogue into a video to help tell its story and provided a strong message of female empowerment. She scored a hit with “Hell Is For Children,” an unflinching look at the then-taboo subject of child abuse. Among her 10 gold/platinum/multiplatinum albums, some sold better than others, and she did make a (credible) foray into the blues, but she stayed true to herself and never did anything misguided or embarrassing (yes, Madonna, I’m looking at you).

If great branding is consistency, Benatar had it covered with good songs and her distinctive delivery and vocal style. With so many ’80s bands based on gimmick or image becoming one-hit wonders, Benatar focusing on music and messages provided her a long, influential time in the spotlight. Her popular albums, videos and nearly 20 top 40 singles led to Billboard declaring her the most successful female rock vocalist ever, so clearly her “brand” was successful. If not everyone is a Pat Benatar fan, I’ve never heard of anyone disliking her or not respecting her discography.

If you work in branding, think about Benatar in comparison to your brand. Is your marketing about gimmicks, or content and connections geared for the long haul? Are you authentic, or pretending to be something you’re not? Are you creating content that’s relevant for the next 30 days, or for the next 30 years? Is your message consistent enough to be recognizable, like hearing Benatar’s trademark vocals or the timeless opening riff of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”? If not, aren’t those nice targets? Branding, like love, is a battlefield — but I think Pat Benatar’s career provides us a bit of a field manual.

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super bowl™ ads, through the eyes of students.

The Super Bowl™ presents an excellent opportunity for people, like me, who teach advertising to tie it to key lessons. And, as often happens in classes, I learned almost as much from what students thought were effective ads.

For Broadcasting 328: Media Advertising, I’ve asked all my students to sign up for Twitter (the subject of a future blog post) and each session includes a less-than-140-character homework assignment. This one: Tweet about an ad you thought was effective and mark it with a #brc328 tag.

So while USA Today had its ever-popular AdMeter ratings, the Web was all a-twitter over various commercials and every pundit had their take, the students provided a different view (in a much-sought-after demographic, no less). I learned the three most important things to them were 1) humor, 2) great visuals, 3) a memorable idea. Most popular campaigns with them were:

1. Bud Light/Budweiser. Biggest buzz surrounded the Bud Light House. Clearly, it represents fantasy fulfillment, but it made people laugh, provided a concrete visual and was a clever execution. Moreover, the product was not only the hero, but dominated the screen. They also liked the Lost parody and the T-Pain/autotune spot — both using humor and playing on popular culture. What all ads had in common: They equated Bud Light with partying and fun. The Budweiser bridge spot also proved popular because of its visual impact. I continue to maintain that it’s unclear whether Budweiser gains market share for the outlay, but if college students are impressed and remember the product, that says something.

2. Doritos. One student explained the simple brilliance of the Playing Nice ad: When the child tells his mother’s suitor: Keep your hands off my momma. Keep your hands off my Doritos, it pretty clearly sets the priorities in his world. Hyperbole? Sure. But it makes its point succinctly. The snappy execution of Dog Collar and the (weird, imho) Tim’s Locker/Samurai spots also scored.

3. Denny’s. When’s the last time anyone even talked about Denny’s? Yet the screaming chicken ads, while potentially annoying, sure captured attention. One student shrewdly noted it highlighted special offers for Free Grand Slam Day and free Grand Slam on your birthday. Simple idea — everyone will want Denny’s breakfasts, so chickens have to work harder — that came across loud and clear.

Other thoughts:

Surprising revelation: Many pundits wrote off the Boost Mobile ad because they assumed using the 1985 Chicago Bears couldn’t sell to young adults. Big disconnect, right? Wrong. Every student in my class claims to know the Super Bowl™ Shuffle, perhaps because of how we recycle pop culture. Thus we know what happens when we assume …

Betty White scores: The Snickers ad earned the most positive buzz among people I follow on Twitter (and topped AdMeter ratings), plus the students loved it too. They may not have known who Abe Vigoda was, but they all knew Betty White from Golden Girls. And once you got past the shock of White being creamed in a backyard football game, you got the concept: Snickers picks you up.

Where’s the outrage?: The young women weren’t terribly offended by the Dodge Charger ad, even though it seemed the most excoriated spot on Twitter. Some saw the overstatement and shrugged it off; others didn’t find it any more offensive than the other messages that regularly bombard us.

My personal favorite?: The Google ad. Why Google would need to advertise (imho: to counter Bing) is a fair question, but in terms of simple storytelling and demonstrating the product’s effectiveness, I loved it. A tale of boy meets girl, with some cool music, the brand as hero and a bit of humor. It won’t affect my use of Google, but as standalone branding, I found it just about pitch-perfect.

So you have the opinions of a couple dozen college students and an older dude who works in communication. What did you think? And will you think of any of these observations next time you try to market to students?


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what’s the frequency, kenneth?: (over)use of social communication.

Let’s say you have two co-workers with similar responsibilities. Or two children of similar ages. C1 contacts you all the time. A few times an hour, 20 to 30 times per workday. C2 contacts you about once a day … usually related to the most important thing on their plate.

It’s a Friday afternoon and your office rings with two calls simultaneously: C1 and C2. Which one do you pick up?

If you say C2, then you realize the relationship between frequency of message and perceived importance. If you say C1, I really can’t help you.

It’s a simple concept, right? Then why do communication professionals looking to market a brand — a college, a program, a product — think we really want to receive dozens of tweets, Facebook page messages, e-mails, phone calls, faxes or telegrams from them on any given day? (Please note I’m not talking about personal Twitter or Facebook accounts or the like, because how you use your personal communication is your prerogative.)

The audio field uses a term called signal-to-noise ratio. It pertains to, in a specific device (or recording), the relationship of the signal — what you want the listener to hear — to the background noise, the hiss, the rattle and hum (updated example: the sound of a laptop playing a CD or DVD to the audio itself). If you’re in charge of communicating for your brand, you want a high signal-to-noise ratio, or for your audience to know whatever you’re transmitting is important.

As an editor for a daily paper, I knew the contact who sent one or two relevant news releases per week likely provided more news value than the organization that sent 15 to 20 releases per week of little importance. If you’re running your organization’s Twitter stream or Facebook fan page, the same rules apply. If your college or brand posts proprietary content 20 to 30 times per day — not counting replies, which are important —  you’ll soon become noise, or communication clutter. I’m less likely to notice your scientist winning an award, your student accomplishing something great, your $2 million donation because I’ve learned to scan past your avatar … if I’m still connected to you at all. If your brand only talks to me once or twice a day, your signal-to-noise ratio says that when you speak, you’re more likely saying something important.

What do you think? Whether you’re running or reading a college or brand’s Twitter stream or Facebook page, how much is too much?


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just because it’s there, should you use it?

The emergence of new forms of communication reminds me of the spread of desktop publishing in the 1990s. Back then, anyone who had a layout program suddenly thought they were a designer; today, does a YouTube channel make everybody a programming mogul? As always, whether technology means anyone and everyone should use these tools is a different question.

Without going into too much detail (because it involved people I like), a college entity sent a newsletter last week that linked to an outside YouTube video. That well-intended video’s linked related content (albeit not really related) could be seen as offensive, or that’s the way an alum found it when he sent an email to our college president, among others. One of our team members quickly took care of the issue (on a Saturday morning), but the usual questions over use of social media arose.

One of the simplest ways to prevent this is knowing YouTube and its embed settings that keep videos from showing related (or what YouTube thinks of as related) content … or posting it within an edu partner account. It’s not a very obvious setting, but it’s the kind of detail you need to attend. Such an incident, of course, leads into policy discussions about who should or shouldn’t post and disseminate official content on behalf of an institution, and what “official” means — a potentially serpentine process.

But more broadly and basically, the more important lesson ties to a key plank of communicating via social media: Get to know the medium, its capabilities and its community as well as you can. Sure, we all know the guy who hops straight on The Twitters, tweets about a new weight-loss pill, follows 4,000 people via keyword search and auto DMs any chump lazy enough to follow them is, clearly, doing it wrong. But plenty of hard-working, well-meaning individuals encounter mines while jumping into terra incognita.

I signed up for Facebook and Twitter and explored them for months before launching anything in these media representing the college. And just as you’ll find people using media poorly, you can find those using media really well who can serve as examples, perhaps even role models. And since these people use social media, they are easy to reach and — in my experience — very helpful with any questions. We all learn about so much of this stuff as we go along.

Another worthy consideration is: Just because it’s there, should you use it? In just a couple years, I’ve had to learn about communicating via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr, UStream, Watershed and other options I’ve already forgotten. And there’s always a new platform or community emerging that warrants consideration. But that doesn’t mean we should use all of these outlets for everything. You should get to know — emphasis on the word know — these media and then employ those that work well for what you’re trying to do and the audience you’re trying to reach. Missteps, in the realm of social media, are magnified in reach and immediacy … so it’s always important to learn how to watch your steps.


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why pros don’t just ‘do some pr.’

The field of public relations has come a long way since Ivy Lee virtually created the profession more than 100 years ago. Unfortunately, perception of public relations — and professional communication in general — remains, in large part, in the stone age.

To wit: I frequently field the following types of requests:

Q. Can you do some PR for our speaker?

Q. Can you help us advertise our event?

People asking those questions always want publicity, not PR or advertising. Some helpful definitions on each to differentiate:

Public relations: Planned and coordinated actions of an entity (corporation, organization, etc.) to promote goodwill between itself and various publics, including the community, employees and customers.

Publicity: Information about a person, group, product or event disseminated through various media to gain public attention.

Advertising: Calling public attention to a product, service or need via paid announcements in such media as newspapers, magazines, TV, billboards or the Internet.

Public relations involves actions, moreover the aggregation of actions, to solve a problem or achieve some planned goal. PR tends to include research and a campaign, determining audiences, tactics, media, messages and desired outcomes. It’s a process, not a five-minute task. You don’t just do some PR any more than I would wander into a lab and do some science.

Put another way, public relations can include publicity and advertising, but these are only tools or components of larger PR efforts. Public relations is a field, a skill requiring a certain amount of education/training and best executed with accrued experience. It’s not just cobbling together a news release. Everyone with Microsoft Word may think they can do some PR, but this is as far-fetched as anyone owning Photoshop thinking it automatically makes them an artist.

So with that primer on public relations and communication, here are the correct answers to our previous questions:

Q. Can you do some PR for our speaker?
A. What is he trying to achieve? Or did he run into the audience and bite a VIP and needs image rehabilitation?

Q. Can you help us advertise our event?
A. Sure! How much do you want to spend? And you realize I get 15 percent for handling the account.

Tune in next week when we discuss why The New York Times doesn’t want to run your news release on its front page.

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twitter 101, by popular demand.

Like Hootie and the Blowfish once upon a time, Twitter has suddenly become mainstream and inescapable, with the inevitable backlash and scorn following. Since I hear so many questions (and inappropriate adjectives) about Twitter, I wanted to take a step back and present a brief guide. (Some parts based on actual conversations.)

Q. So what is Twitter, exactly?
A. It’s people communicating, and forming connections, via public messages of less than 140 characters.

Q. Well, isn’t that stupid and pointless?
A. I thought that at first. But then friends introduced me to some really knowledgeable and neat people, and now I find it an excellent work resource, news tip service and entertainment.

Q. What are you talking about? I just see people talking about what they had for lunch and watching American Idol?
A. If you follow boring people, you’ll find Twitter boring. If you follow interesting people, you’ll find Twitter interesting.

Q. Where exactly do you find interesting people?

A. If you find a Twitterer (or Tweep, as some say) you like, see who that person follows and/or interacts with. Or ask Tweeps for recommendations of whom to follow (many also post suggested followers on #followfriday). You can also search on any topic and find who’s talking about it … then go that person’s page, read tweets and see if you’d like to follow them.

Q. What was that # thing you just used?
A. That’s a hashtag, used to organize information on a topic. For instance, The Syracuse Post-Standard collects and posts tweets using a #cny (Central New York) or #syracuse hashtag to show what people around the region are saying.

Q. I have no idea who some of these people are who are following me. Should I be concerned?
A. Not necessarily, unless you’re tweeting personal information you don’t want people to see. Many find you via searching on topics and follow those discussing a subject. Some are legitimate people looking to connect, some are salespeople or spam sites. For instance, on Sunday I mentioned Mensa and soon after @AmericanMensa was following me. (The @ is the reply address. In Twitter, my handle is @TimNekritz.)

Q. Do I have to follow back people who follow me?
A. Absolutely not. Only if you find them worth reading. If you follow someone who bores you, exhibits Twitterhea (diarrhea of the Twitter stream) or otherwise doesn’t add anything to your experience, you can just unfollow them. And just because you’re following someone doesn’t mean they’ll follow you back either, but don’t take it personally — especially if it’s someone with a large amount of follows/followers already.

Q. OK, so I found some seemingly worthy people with similar interests. Now what?
A. Start interacting. I know a lot of people in higher ed Web communications, and we frequently send back and forth questions related to our jobs. As well as general questions, pop-culture references and funny links. Like anything else, you get out of Twitter what you put into it.


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social media: it’s not a trip to the dentist.

Back in college, I visited our dentist over winter break and he lamented that he wouldn’t be able to fix one of my cavities until I was home for spring break.

I said no prob — it mainly hurt when I’d open my mouth in cold weather to say hello to people around campus.

Then don’t say hi to people, he replied.

In a way, this is analogous to businesses — colleges included — debating the use of social media. The potential pain seems an impediment to trying to communicate. People worry about the time involved, of having one more task to do. Others don’t see the payoff; there are no 20-page annotated graph-filled Best Practices Reports yet, no clear return-on-investment model. Managers worry about the lack of control, of the perceived perils of empowering people to create conversations on your behalf.

But here’s the thing: If you’re a college, business or person of any renown — a brand, essentially — people are talking about you. A lot. All over the Internet. You can go to Addictomatic and type in any institution name and find the current Internet buzz in terms of news, blogs, videos, pictures, Twitter and other media. Don’t you want to be part of your brand’s conversation? Moreover, don’t you want to lead your brand’s conversation?

When I poured time, brain cells and hustle into launching the SUNY Oswego Student Blogs, I was often asked why. Social media is not just an emerging form of communication, it’s THE form of communication for many of our prospective students. Sure, we have to pay attention to print, TV and other traditional media, but more and more students receive their info from the Web. Colleges design elaborate student-led admissions programs for incoming students because they know current students are great ambassadors. So why not allow students to become cyber-ambassadors, whether as bloggers or on Facebook or other social media platforms?

Which brings us back to the barrier of perceived pain, and the beginning of my story. Did I stop saying hello to friends and others while walking around campus? Of course not. A little bit of discomfort is a part of life, but it shouldn’t be enough to keep us from enjoying quality conversations.

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