What Not To Worry About

We are about six weeks into the new year and thought it was high time to check in. While most are sharing how they think the new year is shaping up, we’re taking a different tact.  Rather than rehash the same old public relations trends, we’re going to share the things you needn’t worry about, communications wise, in 2013.

1. How many people are in your social networks. Really. The question is, do you have the right people following you, posting on your channels, and engaging with you?

2. How many awards you are winning. Kudos are nice. But, do you have the clients you want? Do you have the kind of work you want? Are you being profitable?

3. How much volunteer work you are doing. We are all for pro bono work. We do much of it ourselves. But, are you ignoring your profitable work for affairs of the heart?

4. When you are working. Yes, you should be available when clents need you. But, when does your best work happen? Work then.

5. If Washington, Wall Street and Main Street will work it out. If you watch enough news you might want to throw in the towel (or other things). Ask yourself, am I doing the best I can today and are we making progress?

Punchy Infographics Made Easy

by guest blogger, Christine Hohlbaum

What is an Infographic? It is a story-telling image that conveys complex data at a glance. A good infographic tells a story using the visual medium. A bad one plunks down seemingly random data without an overarching narrative.

Essentially, there are four basic types of infographics:

1. The “state of” an industry/trend/idea: These infographics are great for celebrating a milestone or sounding a warning alarm. The best ones combine timelines with a vision of how fast the world is changing.

2. Viewer Resource: Great for building goodwill via “how to” resources, supplying a utilitarian bulletin-board “guide” to a topic, curating “sticky” experiences with interactivity or repurposing promotional items, these infographics can be posted on a wall and used as a guide.

3. Comparative Image: Comparative infographics can inject humor and levity into content with items that are clearly different, or can help extent a public debate, such as a Mac vs. PC infographic.

4. Evolution: Good for “food for thought” content, establishing authority, triggering deeper discussion or debate.

Before you can even put your fingers to the keyboard, you have to consider several steps first. Like a movie script, infographics require a certain level of brainstorming and sketching to plan out your storyboard before you get to the details.

Research. Decide what your subject is going to be and do some research. An infographic is not just a pretty picture: it says something. Avoid presenting stale, outdated information. Ask yourself, “What do I want people to know? What do I want it to say?” Hard data is essential. The more powerful statistics you have, the better. But don’t overload your infographic with random data as you might your plate at Thanksgiving dinner. The consequences are a jumbled image with too much information!

 Brainstorm. Once you have some hard data to work from, consider the layout and design. Infographics often work best when the graphics reflect the subject of the data, so let the data inform and drive the design. In this part of the design process, explore as many avenues as possible.

Develop Concepts. Once you have outlined your ideas into a storyboard format, identify several more coherent concepts. Get your business partner or friend to help bounce ideas around. Like a doctor’s visit, getting a second opinion can never hurt.

Pare it Down to One Idea. As you refine your idea, continue to draw the infographic. You can use index cards with each idea if you are a hands-on type of person to easily move the various parts back and forth. At this point, you should begin to see the finished product coming into form.

Finalize. Put on the finishing touches with any last-minute tweaking. With infographics this usually means adding highlights/textures to really make the graphics pop.

Best Practices 

  • Always include your sources, including your own Web site URL, somewhere on the image.
  • Use HTML for people to embed the image while linking back to your site (SEO-friendly solution).
  • Host the infographic on your Web site. Have people link to it. Some blog platforms (WordPress.com) allow you to post an image without having to upload it using the link itself.
  • Make it snappy. Snapshots are punchier than super-long images that require scrolling.
  • Add every image to your Pinterest.com account.

Christine Louise Hohlbaum is a long-time consultant at Four Leaf Public Relations. When she’s not tweeting or posting an update, she’s thinking about her next blog contribution. Her motto? I blog, therefore I am. http://powerofslow.org

More than A Pretty Face: Using Pinterest to Tell a Story

Pinterest is the (not so) little online bulletin board social channel that has everyone talking, er, pinning. As of January 2012, 11.7 million users were using Pinterest, making it the third most used social network (mostly by women). Suddenly Pinterest is the new “It” girl in town.

It is going to be fun to watch Pinterest grow, work its way through some sticky wickets (copyright, anyone?) and keep itself relevant as mobile devices continue their takeover of all communication devices. In the meantime, not only is Pinterest literally fun, but it has vast potential for telling organizational stories.

How so, you ask? How could “pinning” images found online to personal bulletin boards for everyone to see help an organization share its vision and engage and influence customers?

Well, for one, Pinterest is more than just a pretty face. First, companies and non-profits can create boards that anyone can pin to. And, the quick and easy “repin” function makes images go viral very easily. Pinterest automatically grabs source links from images that you pin from a website so the original creator is credited. Therefore, clicking on that image allows web sites to be easily found. And, with our ever increasing visual world, the ability to give graphic representation to your image, opinions and viewpoints, and products and services can move you into a whole new level of storytelling.

If I were to counsel a non-profit in the environmental arena I would tell them to create a board of the places or wildlife they are seeking to protect. Get people engaged in the story by letting people pin images that are indicative of why they think the place or wildlife should be protected. Ask them to comment under their photos as to why they support the protection and what makes that place, bird, animal or whatever, special to them. Let the users tell the story of how important the work is.

If I were to advise a company that provides training programs to sales people, I would tell them to create a board of images of people who are great salesmen of both products and ideas, such as great speakers, book authors and political leaders. Who is selected to post on that board says a lot about the organization’s influences. Then, ask people to pin their favorite “sales leaders” to a public board. Oh, and while they are at it, be sure to post videos and infographics on topics relevant to what the company does. Become a curator of the best sales advice ever.

If I were to give advice to a book author, I would tell them to host a board of favorite books or writing mentors. Or, start the teasing process early for their new book, by having a board that contains images that were inspiration during the writing process.

Or, if I were to guide a restaurant in using Pinterest I might suggest they post pictures of their dishes and people enjoying them. Post “in the kitchen” pictures, showing people how the dishes are made (barring giving away any secrets, of course). Show off the wine list on a “favorite” wine list. Ask people to “like” their favorite dishes or wines.

And, while they are doing all these things, they should note who is re-pinning and liking pins. Consider it one piece of the market research function.

Most people talk about weddings, interior designers and landscapers making great use of Pinterest, enticing people to make “wish” boards where people can post pictures of their dream wedding, dream home or dream landscape, or women’s clothing and shoe stores showing off their latest offerings. But, there are many more creative ways to use Pinterest.

Now ask yourself, what story are you trying to tell? And, how can Pinterest help you and engage your customers and clients?

Follow Me on Pinterest

The Business Case for Video Storytelling

It is an increasingly visual world. If video isn’t part of your storytelling strategy, it probably should be. Does video make sense for you? Below are some data points — gathered by writer and PR consultant Christine Hohlbaum. Christine is a master storyteller and uses video often in getting the word out on her blog, The Power of Slow, dedicated to encouraging all of us to slow down and focus. (But one area, where she encourages a little speed, is in the area of adopting video.)

Business case points:

1) Video nation: The average US Internet user watches around 186 videos a month; as of September 2011, 85.3% of online US adults have reported watching an online video, particularly on video-sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo. Sources: Pew Internet and Comscore.

2) Early B2B adoption: Forrester Research says business videos are not (yet) widespread, but check in to see if your competitors are seeing its value and joining the corporate “early adopters”.

3) Video trend: Aside from social media adoption, online video marketing is the fastest growing medium for marketers. According to a Forrester Research report released in November 2009 for the top 50 U.S. Internet Retail websites, the adoption of online video grew by almost 400 percent that year alone. Check out this ReelSEO post on the growth of video, as well.

4) Huge market: 39% of smartphone owners in the US watch video regularly on their device; 58% of iPhone users. As of July 2011, there were 82.2 million smartphone subscribers in the US alone (= 35% of all US adults). In the government sector, 81% of federal managers use a smartphone or tablet.

5) Time spent: according to Forrester principal analyst James L McQuivey, PhD, we spend more time watching video than any other activity except sleeping. TV viewing has decreased while online viewing has increased.

6) Power of pictures: Through its multimedia nature, video can stir buyers’ emotions in the way other media cannot, leading to an increase in sales. Visitors who view product videos are 85% more likely to buy than visitors who do not. (Internet Retailer, April 2010)

7) Google loves video: With proper optimization, video increases the chance of a front-page Google result by 53x. (Forrester, January 2010).

A list of concise best practices for creating corporate videos here. Go forth and record.

P.S. Yes, I understand this post probably should have been delivered via video. Check back soon for this blog’s inauguration video post.

Missed Our Webinar on Social Media for Finance? Never Fear…

In case you missed our early December webinar on Real World Social Media for the Equipment Finance Company, you may now download the presentation from slideshare.

Not involved in finance? This presentation includes many nuggets — including the most important questions to ask — when planning and executing social media and social networking campaigns regardless of industry.

Naturally, the world has changed beneath our feet. So expect (very slightly) outdated statistics. LinkedIn now has 85 million users, for instance. Wow. That’s a lot of networking.

Do You Trust Your Employees Online?

Unless you’ve been under a rock at the bottom of the sea, you have been witnessing a fundamental shift in how organizations are telling their story and by whom.

Thanks to social networks, corporate brands and customer interaction are becoming increasingly tied to the individuals who work for them.  Individual employees, once hidden behind a corporate veil, are now taking the reins, empowered through new technologies and media to communicate with and solve problems for customers, shape brands, and tout their expertise. They are the new forward face of business.

Today, the very brand of a company is being built from the bottom up. For instance if you conduct a quick search of LinkedIn for any major company name, dozens (if not hundreds) of individual profiles will come up. Type in “Caterpillar” and more than 4,600 profiles emerge of individuals who work (or worked) for the company. Those profiles give a LinkedIn visitor a sense of the company.  

And, this is why we believe we have hit a wall of fear among executives in corporate America over social media and social networking. We hear that an individual’s presence online, uncontrolled and not directed is, well, scary.

But, corporate America will need to prepare itself for the rise of the worker who is empowered over what is possible – versus what is permissible – with today’s new technology landscape.

Some people – the early adopters – are even tapping into social networks and adopting the corporate spokesman role without being told to or getting permission (which only rachets up the fear factor.) We have found this is usually not out of defiance, but rather, out of a sincere passion to engage with others and advance their careers, profession and employers.  So, for the first time ever, we may have reached a place in corporate America where saying we trust our employees will be finally proven or not.

As Charlene Li stated in her book, Open Leadership, “A key difference today is that a new generation of workers is coming of age that believes ‘sharingness’ is next to—or more important than – godliness.” Do you trust them to share? Who do you believe it doing a good job of trusting their employees as the forward face?

What Happens When Your Social Media Star Leaves?

Earlier this week I spoke at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association annual convention. More than 800 financial folks attended, and I had the pleasure to lead a panel on social networking for the equipment finance industry.

I spent the summer studying how social media and social networking can be incorporated into equipment financiers’ marketing plans. The research findings – including a survey of equipment finance professionals, three case studies, and a plethora of best practices — can be found in our report, Social Networking for the Equipment Finance Industry, from the Web site of the Equipment Leasing and Finance Foundation (a different organization from the association). The executive summary can be accessed at no charge.

But, I’m not here to sell you on the report (okay, well, maybe a little), but rather share what I heard at the convention. As we heard during our summer research, businesses are interested in social media. They just don’t always know what to do with it. Regardless of the thousands of articles, books and advice available today, it’s still hard to get one’s mental arms around some very important pieces — including calculating return on investment, metrics, and security and privacy concerns.

During the presentation, I received numerous good questions. But, the one that evoked much discussion was the fact that social media can make an individual a star. So, similar to your favorite sports figure, what happens when they switch teams? Do they take all your social media cache with them? Do all their followers (read: prospects) go with them?

Well, yes and no. 

Yes, individuals take themselves, their contacts, their enthusiasm, and social network know-how with them. They also take their positive online reputation (that you hope they built and you profited from) with them. People follow people on social networks, after all.

To avoid having a social media superstar’s departure mean the end of your online presence, a few precautions can be taken, including:

  • Ensure a mix of both corporate face and personal face is distributed. This means allowing the real person to have his or her voice online, but perhaps tweeting and posting under a corporate logo (the extreme) or making it known in their profile who they work for (the least they should do). If the person is responsible and accountable for social media for the company, then one should never eclipse the other. 
  • Make certain your social media star references your company frequently and isn’t just talking about themselves like they  – and they alone — are responsible for all the terrific resources and connections they offer. If the goods really are theirs, then they should say so. But, if the information is produced by a company, then it should be obvious to the reader who the author is.
  • Ensure a social media team is in place. This may seem obvious. But one very enthusiastic player can easily cause other employees to “lay back” a bit and not develop their online presence. Frequent rewards and support will ensure a team of tweeters, posters and bloggers maintain their desire to use social media. If a social media star departs then at least the organization has a set of individuals ready to go when the screen goes dark on the superstar’s computer (or smart phone).
  • Have a formal policy in place for a social media “hand-off.” If a superstar decides to leave, then you can rely on a procedure and system for organizational memory and social media knowledge to be transferred to the team (that we hope you developed by then).
  • Collect passwords of corporate-led social media channels and accounts. Be sure that your departing social media evangelist doesn’t walk out the door with the only keys to the castle(s). After all, institutional social media channels and blogs should be readily accessed by whoever is in charge of updating them — even someone who has to take over relatively quickly.

Yes, cultivate those social media celebrities, but remember what that fame is really for — advancing a mission.

Social Media for the Equipment Finance Industry: Divine or a Distraction?

We spent our summer not at the beach, but rather buried deep in journals, books, online conversations and talking to as many experts as possible about how to incorporate social media into marketing efforts for the equipment finance industry. Working under grant research from the Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation, we were unsure what we would find. After all this is a conversative (albeit entrepreneurial), regulated B2B industry.

But, after digging deep, we discovered there is a path to take that can yield marketing success. The 135 page white paper will be available in a few weeks for download from www.LeaseFoundation.org. But, in the meantime, one of our conclusion is this: Corporate America will need to prepare itself for the rise of the worker who is empowered by what is possible versus what is permissible with today’s technology. Help channel that empowerment by immersing employees and partners in your brand. Then, listen for where what you have to offer contributes to the online dialogues and needs. From there, you will be better prepared to act in the social media realm.

Search and Social Media

Search and social media. They go together like peas and carrots. If you have a social media strategy, search engine optimization (SEO) needs to be part of it.

But Scott “Social Media” Allen (The Virtual Handshake) talks about this on his blog better than I could. Check out his (generous) resources on the topic here.

Remember: If you are not searchable, discoverable or shareable, no one will find you, learn more about you or tell others.