Category Archives: Journalism


Robbyn’s Nest is evolving, not saying ‘goodbye’

The countdown has begun.

I graduate with my Master of Strategic Communication degree in five days. I am a journalist by trade, but the crises we examined, techniques we delved into and discussions we had during this yearlong process has made me a strategic communicator.

If you read back through the entries here at Robbyn’s Nest, you’ll find thoughts about advertising techniques, social media responses, technology that helps us communicate in ways we once only dreamed about and ideas that help us all analyze what we hear, see, read and relay. We’ve also taken a close look at what happens to companies, organizations and even people who have fallen behind the social media times to the detriment of a financial and reputational bottom line.

Because my classes are coming to an end, so is the weekly requirement for this blog. That said, it’s been fun to pass along ways we can all do our jobs better, and essentially be better communicators in our everyday lives. Communication helps us on all levels of relationships, from work, to the way we interact at home.

blogfutureThis blog began as a way to further explore ideas being discussed in my graduate strategic communications classes, but will continue as a journal of thoughts, technology and advancements that allow professional communicators to do their jobs well – and with success.

The history of communication and its evolution, so far, is an interesting road. I can only imagine what the future will bring. I remember 20 years ago when I never would have thought I could make a phone call, email, Facetime, edit newspaper copy, video and update websites from one device. I am excited to continue studying strategic communication outside of school work and analyze new products and platforms on the horizon that can help professional communicators better relay messages and branding. Updates may not come as regularly as they do now, but I do hope you will stick around for the conversation to still be had.



Companies must jump on the social networking bandwagon, now

Tomorrow is too late when it comes to crisis management. A text book we used early on during the grad school program I am in suggested that 24 to 48 hours was a suitable time to respond to an issue or crisis. Most public relations professionals worth their salt today would laugh at that number. If you aren’t involved in a conversation about a crisis within 30 minutes of it happening, you’re playing catch-up through the whole ordeal and company branding and trust is likely to be damaged.

Think back to the Chick-fil-A blunder, BP’s big mistake and the Domino’s disaster.

socialmediaWe live in a 24-hour news cycle world. People log on to Facebook in the morning to talk about what they ate for breakfast, hipsters instagram photos of bricks and sidewalks or ironic signs like they’ve never seen them before and more than two million active Twitter users tweet and retweet as fast as they can type 140 characters. Companies simply don’t have the luxury of taking a step back to decide a method of response these days. Plans should be thought out in advance and must be carried out in a multi-front way.

“The savvy journalists are not waiting by their fax machine for an official press release, but are ready to quote live accounts of passengers and bystanders being shared online,” wrote Shashank Nigam on in response to the July 2013 Asiana Airlines 214 crash in California. Nigam noted that Asiana Airlines was the major voice not present in the world-watched aftermath of the crash. It’s important to the success of modern companies, such as those in the airline industry, to be present where conversations are being had. Anyone with a smartphone can upload information or photos of breaking news and company displeasure. And with LTE service and WiFi increasingly available, spreading news via social media can happen with ease. That means, industry professionals must monitor Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and any other social media outlet that takes off. Ideas of controlling information go out the window considering social media. Issues must be addressed on all fronts. Tales of angry customers taking to Twitter and Facebook to bash brands happens so often that companies must understand the time to shift the way they respond to both digital and traditional methods is now.

asianaNigam noted that while the voice of Asiana Airlines wasn’t heard, a clear and loud (but calm) voice echoed over social media. David Eun, former president of AOL Media and Studios, tweeted, “I just crash landed at SFO. Tail ripped off. Most everyone seems fine. I’m ok. Surreal…” Eun was a passenger on the July 6, 2013 Asiana airplane crash. His tweet, coupled with a photo, was retweeted 32,700 times and his 2,000 person Twitter following increased about 10 times just hours following the crash. Simpliflying reported that the first tweet about the crash happened just 30 seconds after the crash and that tweet was quoted more than 4,000 times by media outlets in a period of 24 hours. “The lesson learnt is that social media needs to be an integral part of any crisis management plan for an airline or an airport today. There is no longer the luxury to respond in two hours, or even 20 minutes,” Nigam posted on the website.

Need more proof digital is the way to go?

Morrison Foerster’s hosts a Socially Aware blog that discusses the Internet and social media boom and how that relates to consumers and businesses. The blog released findings in November 2012 regarding how many people use different social media outlets, and how much time they spend on which outlets. The blog reported that, in 2011, the average American spent 6.9 hours each month using social media. That’s nearly a full work day minus a lunch break. That number was up from social media users spending 2.7 hours each month tweeting and “liking” in 2006. Three hours each month was spent on YouTube in 2011, according to Socially Aware. Another interesting shift in interactive time reported by the blog is that email and instant messaging fell 22 percent and 42 percent, respectively, while social media use rose 24 percent between July 2010 and October 2011 when it comes to 15 to 24 year olds. Other age groups reflected that shift, too. The fastest growing social networking user segments are males and people older than 55, Socially Aware reported. Although numbers are likely to have increased in the year following the blog’s findings, in 2012, 56 percent of Americans had a social networking profile and 22 percent of people in the United States use social media several times each day. Social media accounted for 18 percent of all time spent on line in 2012, the numbers showed. My guess is that number has grown by now.

Still not convinced digital is the way to go? Here are some quick numbers that show the shift is valid.

A 2012 Neilsen survey found that 18- to 24-year-olds, of whom half make less than $15,000, said they own a smartphone. The device was a luxury the young adults said they weren’t willing to do without. The Pew Internet Project found that, in 2011, 35 percent of those the group called for a survey said they owned a smartphone. Nine out of 10 smartphone owners surveyed used their phones for Internet access with about 78 percent doing so every day. Cisco Visual Networking predicted that by the end of 2012 there would be more smartphones than people on the planet and that by 2016, there would be 1.4 smartphones per person on Earth. With the growth of smartphone ownership and the ever-developing world of social media applications for phones and tablets, future crisis and issues management researchers should keep an eye on any developments that could make it even easier for consumers to make their voices heard.

Social media, for better or worse, is a fast way for news to travel. Companies should be pro-actively looking for ways to get in on the conversation, both before and after a crisis.


Search ads and digital advertising continues to grow

Companies fork out billions upon billions of advertising dollars each year to make sure business stays on the upward climb. And to do that, there’s been a shift to digital advertising. That is a shift that’s only natural, considering that people spend more and more time on their computers and smartphones and less and less time in front of a printed newspaper or listening to the radio.

blogemarketerAccording to an eMarketer article from 2012, Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Facebook and AOL were expected to take in just under $24 billion in advertising revenue that year. By 2014, Google’s growth was expected to see marketers spending more than $20 billion with $3 billion more going to other digital efforts. It’s also been reported that in 2012, Google made more in the first six months of the year (almost $21 billion) than all U.S. print media industry combined (just more than $19 billion).

Leading the pack in what companies are paying Google for are search ads. Those are the ads that look a whole lot like regular links that pop up after a Google search. They are highlighted in a very light pink color, so to the Internet unsavvy, it’s hard to distinguish those ads from news and organization links that aren’t paid for. The way it works is, companies pay to have their links come in in searches for words. For instance, if you search for the keyterm “pools,” pool companies that pay Google will come up above all other listings. Seems like a great way to market a product, right? It’s a sure fire way to always make sure your name comes up on top. The downside is, those search ads can be used to deceive the public too.

blogBPIn 2010, BP paid to have its website rank higher on search results to bolster the company’s image. They bought into search terms such as “oil spill,” “volunteer,” and “claims.” BP wouldn’t say how much they paid for the service, but they spent more than $50 million on television ads to make themselves look better. Google doesn’t permit news sites and blogs to promote with search ads, so if a person was looking for unbiased reporting on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, they would first have to make it beyond the BP controlled ads that linked to the company’s “Gulf of Mexico Response” page filled with videos and articles explaining how BP was resolving the issue. The use of the search ads was highly publicized and consumers admitted they felt tricked by BP. BP could have probably better used those millions of dollars to pay claims and perform actual clean-up to get back in the good graces of the country instead.

But hold on, Google, you may be raking in the money now, but someone is looking to take your place. Bing just keeps plugging away at an effort to make the company as popular as Google. Recently, Microsoft has paid for Bing to appear in the movie Source Code and the television show The Vampire Diaries. The company even ran an ad during the popular AMC show The Walking Dead after efforts to have Bing inserted in the show failed. The biggest call out Bing received for product placement, however, was with its use in The Amazing Spiderman when Peter Parker uses Bing as a search engine. Nerds united saying that a nerd like Peter Parker would never use Bing. However, the company’s efforts might be paying off. Bing has garnered about 30 percent of the search market when taking into consideration that Yahoo! is Bing powered.

In addition to search ads, companies can place digital advertisements on news websites, social media sites, blogs and other online locations and applications. But where those ads are placed and what they look like bakes a big difference as to whether or not the message is seen by consumers. The Poynter Institute’s Eye Tracking Study is a good read for marketers looking to get the most bang for their buck online. Pointer found out that Net surfers spend a lot of time looking at the top left of pages and in the upper section as a whole before moving down and to the right. That’s because normal initial eye movement focuses around the upper left part of the screen. The Poynter study indicated that ads work better in the left hand column instead of the right hand column because the right side of the page is an “after thought.” Also, text ads were viewed the most closely of all the ones Poynter looked at. They are less distracting and camouflage well with other page content. Bigger ads have a better chance of being seen and the bigger an image, the more time people take to survey it.

bloggodsmustDigressing a little bit from digital advertising (because this is my blog and I can if I want to) to the importance of viewing repetition and it’s importance to branding, when I was looking at Bing’s efforts with product placement, I began to think about companies who use it well. My husband and I were just at a movie last night and there’s no doubt that Coca-Cola has the market on movie product placement. The company believes that repetition and and brand association goes a long way in the minds of consumers, and judging by how much they spend at the movies, they must be right. Over the last 80 years, Coke products have been in iconic films such as It’s a Wonderful Life, King Kong, The Exorcist, E.T., Jaws, Batman, Independence Day, The Gods Must Be Crazy and many others. AnyClip used tagging technology to try and pinpoint how much time Coke products received on camera over the years. (There’s a pretty nifty infographic at the link.) AnyClip found that there was a relationship between a film’s budget and the amount of time Coke products appeared on screen in a movie. Of all the time spent on screen Coke products appeared 32 percent in cans, 20 percent on signs, 18 percent in bottles, 12 percent in glasses, 7 percent in cups and 11 percent “other.” Coke’s brand influence in movies is 9.7, Apple is at 9.1 and Toyota comes in at 7.5.


Businesses need leaders, not just managers

It’s easy to think of people who were considered great leaders for one reason or another. John F. Kennedy united a generation, Ghandi taught compassion, Rosa Parks held her ground during the Civil Rights Movement. They are all remembered for different things, but all three shared something in common – vision.

Vision is what separates leaders from managers. That’s not to say that one person can’t be both. However, the functions of leaders and managers is vastly different at the core when it comes to their goals and jobs within an organization.

blogleadershipWarren Bennis shared his thoughts on what differentiates leaders and managers in his book On Becoming a Leader. Bennis said that a leader’s purpose is innovation while a manager is an administrator. It’s the leaders job to push a company forward with new ideas, strategies and tactics. It’s also a leader’s job to always be looking ahead at ways for companies to implement new technologies. Bennis also wrote that leaders inspire people and a manager’s responsibility is to maintain control over certain areas of the company. The third idea Bennis brings forward is that leaders ask “what” and “why,” while managers focus on “how” and when.”

Larger organizations have the luxury of hiring both managers and leaders. Leaders are the “think tank” of the group while managers are paid to make sure a leader’s plan is followed through. One personal example of an organization I’ve worked with that maximized use of both leaders and managers is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. I know everyone has mixed feelings on the group, and I ask you as a strategic communicator to put those biases aside and focus on what has been wildly successful for a company that is located on several continents and boasts two million members.

blogpetaThe clear leader of PETA is Ingrid Newkirk, who is also the co-founder of the organization. She is engaging and inspiring, both charismatic traits of successful leaders. But beyond that, she’s build the organization on the thought that people can be trusted with delegated ideas. Newkirk is a large part of the “think tank” for PETA. She is hands on and hosts a companywide morning meeting with all offices via an Internet roundtable. Newkirk sparks thoughts and ideas about new campaigns and then trusts managers in different divisions – such as Laboratory Investigations, Communications and Campaigns – to bring back plans to implement those ideas. It’s a well-oilded machine that is impressive, no matter what your view on the company’s policy is.

On the opposite end of the manager/leader spectrum are small companies that can’t afford to employ both managers and leaders. Traits of both are required for positions of management, and if that fails to happen, companies can also fail. According to a management-leadership article by the Wall Street Journal, “…in the new economy…management and leadership are not easily separated. People look to their managers, not just to assign them a task, but to define them for a purpose. And managers must organize workers, not just to maximize efficiency, but to nurture skills, develop talent and inspire results.”

Since this is a communications blog, let’s focus on the declining newspaper industry. I’ve been in the newspaper field for about seven years out of my 12 years in the communications field and it saddens me, just as it does many other print journalists, to recognize that if the industry doesn’t shift it will die. When I went to work for a daily newspaper in Florida in 2005, there were more than three hundred employees there. When I left that paper in 2009, there were less than about 50. The Chicago Sun-Times let go its entire photography staff recently with the thought that reporters could provide photos and video themselves. Let’s leave out the idea that the documentation of emotion will likely suffer and just focus on the shift to the idea of “one-man-bands.” Television stations shifted to that idea years ago, which just shows that newspapers are still catching up when it comes to innovative ideas.

To be in the newspaper industry these days, and be successful, and have the company remain successful, employees have to wear multiple hats. That especially goes for people in management positions. Managers at small community newspapers are tasked with writing, editing, planning the daily product, taking photos, editing photos, laying out pages, public relations and customer service, but above all, managers must focus on vision and leadership. In the middle of all the managerial work to be done, if editors don’t also understand the importance of propelling a news organization forward with technology and communication, messages can be lost and products become irrelevant.

blognewspapersIn 2006, Time Magazine asked if newspapers had a future and The Economist predicted print media would dissolve by 2043, posing thoughts as to who was responsible for the industry’s decline. While those answers may not have been clear seven years ago, I have very strong feelings on the issue today. Will newspapers survive? Yes. But not without re-invention. Will they be printed on newsprint and delivered on front door steps by 2043? Probably not unless a company finds a way to market nostalgia. Who is killing newspapers? Managers who lack vision.

Newspaper managers and editors must move forward to communicate with readers where communication is happening. Right now, conversations are being had via Twitter and Facebook. Some years ago it was MySpace. Even before that, information was passed along via email links and forwards. Figuring out a way to keep a news product relavant by becoming a multi-media agency versus a traditional newspaper is key to the industry’s reinvention and survival.

blogsocialmediaIn small communities where I live, it’s a struggle to maintain a balance still because the county is rural and many subscribers to the print product don’t have access to the Internet. Some community members read about our online poll in the print edition and call the office to ask if we can enter a vote for them (which we do). Moving forward without leaving paying subscribers behind is an issue we face daily.

However, metro areas such as Washington, D.C., are succeeding in seeing newspapers become a digital 24-hour news source. That’s thanks, at least in part, to the vision of leaders at metro papers.

I’d love to hear how you all get your news? Do you find some nostalgia in picking up a printed newspaper and sipping a cup of coffee, or do you prefer the convenience of reading news on a tablet or smartphone?


Don’t forget about employees when it comes to the communication process

When professionals talk about communication, its common to focus on branding an image in public or sparking conversation with clients and customers. However, one of the most important groups of people organizations should consider during communication plans is employees.

blogdisgruntledEmployees are often times the first representatives of a company or organization that the public comes in contact with. Family members become familiar with a company because a loved one works there. The same goes for friends and acquantances. Employees can act as wonderful spokespeople, or in some cases where they don’t feel their opinions and skills are valuable to a company, employee opinions can be damaging to a company’s image.

Building loyalty on the inside translates to a positive message being spread along an external grapevine. Employees are looked at as credible representations of a business.

blogemployeeDavid Brown writes for The Business Review and suggests, “Without a dedicated, effective internal communications program, an organization allows others to determine what information (or disinformation is communicated to employees about their organization.”

So how should companies go about fostering open and successful communication with employees? The Globe and Mail has these suggestions.

  • Create a common company language. Every type of business has lingo they use. It’s important for all employees to understand the language so that messages can be clearly deciphered and understood. When I worked as a public relations professional for a non-profit in Washington, D.C., I was thrown in the mix without knowing what a NRRF (news release request form), MC (media calendar), and EOD (end of day) were. Don’t just assume people know what you are talking about. Teach them.
  • Understand your company culture. If communication isn’t considered important in your company, change that. Make the business open and promote two-way conversations. Just because you don’t have a policy of transparancy now, doesn’t mean you can’t make a shift.
  • Create internal social networks. (We’ll come back to this a little later in this post.) Understand that both formal and informal communication is important. Tasks and serious communication should be done formally through email and memos, but social communication fosters understanding and relationshps between the company’s subordinates and higher ups. Getting to know people on a personal level is important to the environment of a business or organization.
  • Understand information sharing. While the non-profit I mentioned above didn’t do so well when it came to personally sharing what abbreviations and acronyms meant, they did have a solid plan in place for cross-training and helping employees understand step-by-step procedures. There was a whole databank of SOPs (standard operating procedures) that listed detailed directions for doing most tasks, from submitting requests, to reading up on how other departments worked. Consider creating a forum or space on your network to set employees up for success by providing information.
  • Encourage employee participation. Speaking up is hard. It can be difficult whether you are a veteran or a rookie at a company. The key is for management to make it clear opinions are wanted, and needed, for the companies success. Help employees understand there is nothing wrong with speaking their mind. That technique ensures a full communication of both good and bad things without fear of repurcusion.
  • Have a solid social media policy. A summer intern who worked with my newspaper last year made a big mistake, dispite having “listened” to instructions about inappropriate ways to represent a company. During a recreation league baseball game he was assigned to cover, he tweeted something like, “Shoot me. Having to cover little kid baseball for the newspaper.” Later he followed it up with a, “These kids can’t even score a run. F*** you, Troy.” Obviously, that is not a great representation of the employees who work hard on a daily basis to cover the community. Make sure there is a social media policy in place and instruct employees about the proper ways to talk about the company, if at all, online. Social media policy is also a disccusion when it comes to appropriate ways for employees to communicate with each other and with their bosses. Lines need to be drawn to protect both the company and employees.

Now, back to the internal social network bulletpoint listed above. Of course companies use email, but now that’s a forum best used for more formal communication or one-on-one communication. Some organizations have created forums with different topics for different discussions. Still, other businesses promote the use of LinkedIn as a way to get to know and communicate with other employees. But then there are groups who have jumped on the social media train with Twitter-like communication efforts, such as BizTweet, a corporate Twitter decisioning software.

blogbiztweetBizTweet has worked externally for companies such as Delta, but internally for businesses like LG CNS Co. who use the product to communicate between employees. At first, the company admitted it was worried the process would become to much like a social media water cooler, but employees usually stuck to work-related topics – including setting up lunch meetings with collegues. Let’s face it, most employees don’t have push notifications for emails on their phones, but most Twitter users have smartphones set to show new tweets come across from selected accounts. It’s an easy and timely way to get information to employees and for them to communicate back. There’s even a BizTweet Daily newsletter to get even more ideas about how to use the platform to promote companies both internally and externally. While it doesn’t look as if BizTweet has taken off with the success of Twitter, the original product may be even a better platform for organizations to use, afterall, many employees already have a Twitter account. Companies can simply set up a private Twitter account that is only open to employees. Easy breezy!

Last, but not least, to remember if you are a management employee communicating to the masses. Forget the leadership and manager jargon. Talk to employees as people, not as subordinates. Use inclusive terms such as we and our instead of me and I. Helping employees feel part of a team goes a long way down the road to communication success!


Companies need social media presence, but don’t always play fair

We’ve all seen what happens when companies fail to respond to a crisis where people are talking about it. BP took a hit, Chick-fil-A took a big hit – all because they failed to respond in a timely matter to discussion that was happening where they weren’t present. In the case of BP, the company allowed someone else to set the tone of their response to the Gulf oil spill. They weren’t talking and didn’t really have an established social media presence, so someone else created a presence and did the talking. And that someone else was callous and funny, contributing not only to the thought that BP was hiding from consumers, but also adding negative thoughts about the company to people’s mindsets. In Chick-fil-A’s case, the company already had an established social media presence, especially on Facebook, but they didn’t use it. It took about two days for the company to respond to allegations that Chick-fil-A was anti-gay. That’s way too long in terms of crisis response.

From watching national companies tank at their responses, and also pull themselves out of a crisis with social media, we’ve learned that it’s best to have a positive social media interaction with consumers before a crisis happens. Already having an open line of communication is key, along with establishing a responsible and creative image for a company.

blogyoutubeMany companies are realizing the benefits to being proactive when it comes to creating content and reaching the maximum number of viewers by making their messages and videos go viral. Advertising Age releases a list each Thursday of the top 10 viral ad videos each week. Check them out. Some of them have also appeared on television, like this week’s highlighted American Express “This is What Membership is” commercial with more than 1.5 million views on YouTube. Others are primarily online campaigns or foreign efforts such as the Melbourne Metro Trains release “Dumb Ways to Die” with nearly 1.9 million views. It has a catchy little tune and although it’s on the longer side (an advertising no-no these days), I can see why people would watch every second of it.

Viral videos, whether instructional or just entertainment, can establish a positive image for a company and reach a larger audience than regular customers. Take a look at the Pepsi “Harlem Shake” video featuring Jeff Gordon. There is absolutely no point to the effort other than to make the company relevant considering pop culture. Point or not, the video has garnered almost 7 million views just on Pepsi’s original upload. That doesn’t include all users who re-uploaded the video to their own YouTube channels.

blogviralSo what’s the trick to creating a viral video and getting it seen by millions? According to The Commotion Group, many companies don’t leave going viral to chance. They pay big bucks to make it happen. Here are some tips from Dan Ackerman Greenberg, co-founder of the group and lead TA for the Stanford Facebook Class. Greenberg said he and his coworkers run a “clandestine” effort to make videos go viral for companies – including movie studios, record labels and other businesses.

  • Keep it on the short side: A 15-30 second video is the best plan to keep people watching.
  • Think in terms of remixing: Create a product that others can remix and pass along. (Dramatic hamster.)
  • Don’t think you can just create an ad: Viewers won’t share videos unless they find them interesting and unique. Don’t make it feel like just another advertisement. (Sony Bravia)
  • Don’t underestimate shock value: Create a reason for viewers to investigate the video further. (UFOs in Mexico)
  • Fake it: Fudge and use headlines that are sensational (Stolen Nascar).
  • If all else fails, remember sex sells: Put attractive people in videos. That’s simple. Remember Yoga 4 Dudes from a while back? Or any of PETA’s Superbowl commercials?

    Photo by Robbyn Brooks

    Photo by Robbyn Brooks

Once you have a video, it’s important to market it in the right places. It’s estimated that tens of thousands of videos are uploaded to YouTube everyday and about 80 million videos get seen. The key to becoming noticed on YouTube is getting on the “most watched” page, Greenberg said. To do that, you need at least 50,000 views. That means you have to get people to watch the video before you can make it go viral. In an earlier blog, we discussed opinion leaders and the importance of marketing items to them and not just the masses. Making a viral video is no different. Reach out to established bloggers who would find the content relevant, start threads and embed videos on forums, share to the max on Facebook and Twitter and don’t forget about friends. Everyone that you and your mother and your brother know should also know that you’ve created a cool video. Be shameless when it matters.

Other tricks that Greenberg shared are just that, a little tricky. So you may have to battle some ideas about ethics in advertising to get beyond them. One of those ideas is to “optimize” video titles. That means making it misleading to start with and then changing the title to be relevant to a brand after a few days. Another thought is to choose the most outrageous image to be the thumbnail displayed for the video. And another is to create multiple user accounts to have conversations about the video – with yourself.

While some of those tips might give the most ethical communications professional some heartburn, Greenberg said his methods work – citing that his company doesn’t get paid unless a video achieves at least 100,0000 views. Even so, Business Insider has some other ideas about how to create viral videos. Those are a little more tame and a little less “iffy.”

Even if you don’t agree with the idea of businesses tricking consumers into helping their videos go viral (it kind of takes some of the “warm and fuzzy” feeling out of the process), it’s interesting, also, as a consumer to see ways that we are tricked into helping spread a brand’s message.

What are some of your favorite viral videos? Here are three of my favorites, although they aren’t branding videos: Surprise Kitty, Charlie Bit My Finger, Scary Maze.


Look how far we’ve come

I recently watched at TED Talk video that was a little hard to wrap my brain around. The Internet, as used today, is about 7,000 days old.

A little more than 10 years ago, I needed a phone book to look up numbers, a foldable map or atlas to find my way, books to study, a landline phone line to access the Web… Wow! Now, all of those things are available on my smartphone. And not only are they available, they are better. A phone number search can also tell me a person’s address and who their family members and neighbors are. A map app on my phone can give me turn-by-turn directions until I arrive at my destination. And, I can search the Internet…from my phone?

That, and everything else the Internet and digital technology brings us happened in about 7,000 days. So what’s next?

At the recent World Economic Forum in Switzerland, there was much talk about connectivity. CISCO Systems reported that there were about 200 million “things” online in 2000. Now, that number has jumped to 10 BILLION things.

CISCO CEO John Chambers said he thinks just about everything will be connected to the Internet by way of the cloud and mobile computing. One example he gave was how a city’s water system, in the future, can possibly detect a leak, reroute water, and dispatch a repair crew. That’s pretty, for lack of a better word, cool.

It’s even predicted that patients will be able to wear electronic-infused clothing that will zap their vitals back to a hosptial so they can be monitored as outpatients.

And while the possibilities seem to be endless when it comes to what we will be able to do through digital technology and the World Wide Web, some of what has become the most basic in broadcasting and Web use is still fascinating, especially considering where we’ve come from.

Have you seen this guy? Hosting a sing-a-long from outerspace with school kids?


Just an editor’s note. This blog will be on hiatus for a couple of weeks. It’s vacation time.


Crowdsourcing has become a valuable tool

While the term crowdsourcing may sound new, the concept is not. It’s been common for centuries for governments and companies to ask the masses for help, either by force, by contest, or by appealing to the volunteer spirit.

chronometer Way back in 1714, the British government knew the necessity for the country to participate in sailing the globe for exploration, invention and trade. However, sailing can be a dangerous business. So, the government offered up a contest asking the public for a solution. That’s how the marine chronometer came about. John Harrison invented a way for sailors to navigate using the stars.

Fast forward to 1858 when the Oxford English Dictionary was created. When a group of scholars was crafting the dictionary, they needed help with the thousands of entries and relied on volunteers to create entries based on their areas of expertise.

The idea of reaching out to the public to help solve problems isn’t a new one, but it wasn’t until the Internet became widely used that companies began using the concept so much there needed to be a term for it. “Crowdsourcing” was born.

There are more than 7 billion people in the world and Nielsen Online reports that 2.5 billion of those people have access to the Internet. While large companies may have 150,000 people working for them and small companies could have as few as five, there is a large margin of untapped talent that could provide services to companies who find value in using crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing doesn’t sound as big and scary as the term might suggest. It can be as simple as sending out a Twitter question or creating a Facebook post asking for feedback on a product. Police crowdsource when they ask for “anyone who may have seen something to come forward.” News outlets even use crowdsourcing when they ask readers or viewers to share information, breaking news video and even pet photos. (Check out this new app the Guardian in the UK is using to crowdsource.) In a more advanced sense, companies can use crowdsourcing websites to solicit innovative ideas for products, logos and other things a company might want to think outside the box on.

Companies such as Amazon, Netflix, and DuPont have embraced the idea of tapping into talent outside the company’s workforce. According to, companies have paid between $1-2 billion for ideas and products generated from crowdsource solicitations.

netflix2What does Netflix need with crowdsourcing? Something they were willing to pay $1 million for. Netflix offered the prize to anyone who could write an algorithm that could outperform the one the company uses to make recommendations to consumers. In September 2009, the company paid out the prize. Team “BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos” beat out more than 41,000 teams from 186 countries.

And while the Netflix prize is on the high end of payouts for a request that could only be complete by people with a highly-specialized skill set, there are many contests and contributions that can be made by amateurs. Crowdsourcing can certainly provide an avenue for up-and-coming innovators and creative minds that might not be able to make a connection with a company due to location or other circumstance.

ThreadlessThreadless may be one of the most popular businesses in the crowdsourcing world. Freelance designers submit T-shirt designs and customers vote on the artwork. The most popular submissions result in a cash payment and the T-shirt being manufactured by the company. While it’s not a mega pay out, it’s money made from the comfort of wherever designers happen to be. The Threadless website reports that the company has paid more than $7 million to about 1,500 artists for a total of about 274,000 T-shirt designs. It’s win-win for the company who doesn’t have to hire designers, pays a minimal amount for artwork and also makes money off of the sale of T-shirts.

There are many benefits to crowdsourcing. It affords an opportunity for companies to hear from their consumers, or potential consumers. Crowdsourcing can keep company overhead low. Also, since many products, such as T-shirts produced by Threadless, are voted on or commented on prior to production the idea is already tested.

But while there are many positives to crowdsourcing, there are also downsides. Because ideas are thrown to the masses, there is no guarantee that the right person with the needed qualifications will see the call for help. Many times crowdsourcing opportunities don’t pay much, companies may not see repeat submitters who are qualified. There’s also been some push back from skilled professionals. While photographers have previously charged $100 and up per stock photo, companies such as enable companies to find photographs for less than $5. That’s great for a company’s budget, but bad for the professionals who have made their living off of a particular skill. Crowdsource responders are also working on their own time, so companies who have rush projects might not find the method valuable in that sense.

Finding a balance between using qualified company employees and utilizing crowdsourcing requires planning and balance.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAOne example of a company has been able to integrate crowdsourcing into their business plan successfully is Proctor & Gamble. According to the company, 50 percent of company product ideas were coming from outside the company by 2010. P&G reports there are now 1.5 million people in the company’s extended network. P&G calls their crowdsourcing program “Connect & Develop.” Through the program, P&G has created 137 products, including Olay Regenerist, Swiffer Dusters, and Crest Spinner Brush. Through Connect & Develop, the company was even able to find a way to print text on potato chips. A bakery in Italy was already using the technology and P&G licensed it from them by way of the company’s crowdsourcing program. The product was on store shelves within a year.

Crowdsourcing will no doubt continue to change and shift due to emerging technologies and innovative ideas on how companies, governments and other organizations can put to use the collaborative efforts of the public. Are there ways companies could be utilizing crowdsourcing that they aren’t? Please share your thoughts. (See what I did there? I just attempted crowdsourcing, myself.)


Pressure from social media causes news organizations to slip

Social media and blogging have opened the doors offering almost instantaneous access to world news and events in real time.

socialmediaThe average Joe on the street can now upload videos to YouTube directly from a phone, Tweet photos and post firsthand accounts on Facebook faster than most reputable news sources can make it to the scene of an event. All of that evidence and all of those accounts were once utilized by news agencies to tell a story, painting a picture provided by both witnesses and authorities. However, now, everyday people can send their own stories to the masses without the aid of media outlets.

The Osama bin Laden raid and his death broke on Twitter, along with Whitney Houston’s death, the announcement of the royal wedding and the Hudson River plane crash. pulled information from news sources and research outlets to find that about 50 percent of people hear about breaking news from social media, not news outlets.

While people, including myself, were fiercely searching Twitter hashtags and YouTube videos for information about the bombings on April 15, news organizations were struggling to keep up with the amount of information that was free flowing with reckless abandon from the public.

That sometimes pushes news organizations to be sloppy in their efforts to be first and fastest.

Take for instance CNN, thought of as one of the more credible 24-hour news sources available in broadcast, online and social media avenues.

At 1:40 p.m. CT on April 15, in the aftermath of the bombing at the Boston Marathon, CNN exclusively (if there is such a thing anymore) reported that police had a suspect in mind. A mere six minutes later, CNN reported authorities had arrested a suspect in connection with the crime. Fox News and the Associated Press were shortly behind CNN in the announcement.

Wow! That’s great! I didn’t see THAT on a blog or tweet anywhere prior to the announcement.

The problem? As we all know now, the Boston Marathon bombing suspects were on the run until Thursday night and Friday night when one suspect died after a shootout and being run over by his brother, and the other being taken alive after a homeowner found bloody evidence the suspect was hiding in a boat in the backyard.

On April 15, even with the CNN announcement, CBS and NBC hung back, insisting that their sources said no arrest had been made.

An hour after CNN’s rush to let the world know the bad guy had been caught, they retracted the statement, noting that they believed the information to be true based on both state and federal sources. The FBI issued a statement that “contrary to widespread reporting, no arrest has been made,” noting that the past few days has seen “a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate.”

And this isn’t the first time in recent events that, in an effort to be first, the media outlets got it wrong. The New York Post reported 12 people were dead in Boston after the bombings, even though authorities were reporting two, at that time. Think back to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut when the shooter’s brother was first identified as the suspect police were looking for. And CNN and Fox both reported (CNN later offered apologies) that the Supreme Court had struck down President Barack Obama’s healthcare mandate, although the court had actual upheld it.

Is this just what we can expect from a world where consumers demand immediate information during a 24-hour news cycle?

Paul Levinson is a journalism professor at Fordham University and said he believes errors are a result of the demand for continuous news. “The public wants to be informed, and the price of being continually informed is that wrong information comes out,” Levinson said.

While that might not be a cause for concern for people craving the latest news, it is a cause for concern when it comes to credibility of trusted news sources. What makes news outlets different from blogs and social media is that the journalists who work there remember their ethical and legal obligations, as well as their training to check and double check facts and accounts.

downarrowPublic Policy Polling rates the credibility of news sources each year and it’s no surprise that 24-hour network ratings are declining. Fox News took the biggest hit at a nine percent drop. CBS, ABC, MSNBC and CNN saw percentage decreases. (Interestingly, but not necessarily relevant to this discussion, Fox News was also recognized as both the most trusted and least trusted news source by the 800 people who took part in the telephone survey.)

Why the drop? People have found other ways to get news. That means A) they are not as accepting or trusting of big outlets and B) outlets are struggling to keep up with information disseminated in non-traditional ways.

About 31 percent of adults now have a tablet and 45 percent of adults are smartphone owners. That’s a large percentage of the population who craves immediate open-source news. Accessing news is one of the most popular uses for those products, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. A little more than 60 percent of tablet owners say they get their news on devices on a weekly basis and close to 40 percent say they do so on a daily basis.

iphonecartoonAlso on smartphones and tablets are social media applications, used more by consumers than news apps. Seventy percent of a Facebook users newsfeed is dominated by friends and family. That number is 36 percent on Twitter. The odds are against news organizations when it comes to news consumption and the pressure is on to stay relevant.

“In the Twitter age, the pressure is worse than ever to be fast — it’s become more difficult,” said Greg Brock, senior editor for New York Times standards. “Some of the pressure is coming from readers. If they see a headline on a Web site, they start looking for a complete and fully reported story from us, and they protest if they don’t find it.”

It’s important for credentialed journalists to remember what sets them aside from citizen journalists – that’s reputation and credibility. While anyone can pass along information, it is up to media outlets to vet that information, supplement it with facts and make sure to present the news in a fair way. Perhaps in this new age of technology, journalists need to slow down and remember that while gossip and unconfirmed information can fly around swiftly, it is a media outlet’s job to take a step back and make sure journalists work with integrity. It is then that news outlets will stay relevant – not by beating social media users in a time game, but with facts and credibility, providing a service that other sources cannot. It’s time to embrace accuracy over speed.


Social media presence is a must for communicators

I’ll admit it. I was slow to jump on the Twitter ship bound for the island of social media bliss. I couldn’t understand what I would say in 140 characters on Twitter that I wasn’t saying already on Facebook? And why did I need one more social media site to check?  No embedded art, no embedded photos, no fun.

These days, I’m not only on the ship, I’m rowing with three oars. I have a Twitter account for work, one for my personal life (if there is such a thing on social media), and one that I help manage for the newspaper where I work.

When it comes to news applications, I think of Twitter as the equivilent to the CNN Headline News scrolling news bar. There is just enough information to let readers know what happened. The difference is, with Twitter, news tweets are immediately accessible and and twitterfeeds are highly customizable. If consumers only care about local news, they only have to follow local news outlets.

pew researchPew Research released data back in 2011 regarding how news oulets use Twitter. 2011 is a long time ago considering technology updates and increased user familiarity with the product, but researchers take a scientific approach which seems to leave data lagging a couple of years behind. Pew used 13 major U.S. news sources for the study. Researchers took a look at 3,600 tweets over a week and found that the outlets studied tweeted links back to their own website 93 percent of the time. Six percent of the time, tweets contained no links and the remaining two percent was split between tweets that linked to other news sites and tweets that linked to non-news sites.

How the outlets organized tweets was also interesting. Companies such as The Washington Post had 98 different Twitter accounts associated with the business while The Daily Caller, a news and opinnion website based in Washington, D.C., only used one Twitter account in 2011. While organizations were sending out one to 100 tweets a day, those messages were mainly to disseminate information. Outlets and reporters rarely used tweeting as an interactive way to gather information to report.

For a small community newspaper, like the one I work for, Twitter is an important tool we use to stay relevant and not forfeit readership. We have a main newspaper account and each editorial staff member has their own Twitter account. We post breaking news, calendar information, community photos and also offer a way for readers to interact with us by asking for input for stories via tweets. Also, at a time when newspapers are reinventing themselves, it’s important to keep up with the immediacy of broadcast and online media. By covering a story in print, posting supplemental coverage to Facebook, posting online videos and tweeting breaking news and enterprise content, we keep up.

Last week an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s was reported missing in a rural area that our newspaper covers. Before an online presence and social media, it would have been impossible for our readers to have depended solely on us for updates. When I got to the scene where first responders and volunteers were mounting a search, I was able to tweet a description of the woman, a photo of the briefing given by a local sheriff and provide updates on the search. Instead of being the last to get the information out, newspapers can now compete in terms of breaking news by way of outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. While the television crews left to find a signal to broadcast, or went back to a bureau to edit video, we were on the scene and sent out the first report that the woman was found, safely, at 9:01 p.m.

For public relations professionals, Twitter has become equally important. From following journalists and making informal connections using social media, to using hashtags  to get in on trending discussions and crisis management, social media matters in terms of public relations and marketing.

While positive public relations efforts are important, using Twitter for crisis communication is an important part of any crisis communication plan. Prevention is prefered, but there must be a plan in place to reach consumers and community members in real time in ways they will see the fastest. No longer can public relations professionals wait for the next television broadcast, or the next print edition of a newspaper to address a toxic spill, product recall, or other emergency. Consumers will be talking about it as soon as it affects them, or as soon as they become concerned about it. Company’s must have a social media presence.

BPThe time to create a Twitter account to represent a company is before a crisis. And it’s important to look around and see who may be using a similar name. As if BP didn’t have enough to deal with during the Gulf oil spill, their delay in social media presence and an account falsely representing the company added to the pressure the company was under. Within a week, the account @BPGlobalPR had accumulated 42,000 followers whle BP’s actual account @BP_America only had 5,700. The fake account holder was also clever enough to create the hashtag #bpcares. The fake account for the company tweeted statements such as, “Catastrophe is a strong word, let’s just call it a whoopsie daisy.”

Chick-fil-A is also a company who didn’t spring to the social media front during a storm of criticism after the company’s founder made statements that he was against gay lifestyles and marriage. Bad move. Silence is not golden when it comes to crisis management.

Think that you can’t reach a significant number of people on a social networking site such as Twitter? Think again. Twitter was estimated to have about 500 million total users and 250 million active users at the end of 2012. A lot of guesswork is involved in those numbers and officially the company lists more than 100 million active users. In addition to Twitter audiences, more than 14 percent of the world’s population has a Facebook account – that’s about a billion active users ready for either the message of a company, or the misinformation distributed by a company’s opposition.

So, now you’re convinced that Twitter is a valid tool for communicators in fields of both journalism and public relations. Let’s talk some strategy. Bitly has done a little research and discovered that more Twitter users check their feeds between 1 and 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday than any other day. Facebook posts should be made between 1 and 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Got Friday news that can wait until Monday? Hold it. Tweets and posts after 3 p.m. on Friday won’t reach much of an audience.tweet

 What are you waiting for? Get to tweeting! You can follow my work account @messenger_rb. Some of my favorite follows are @apstylebook, @CNNbrk, @washingtonpost, @alyankovic, @aliciasilverstone, @jimmyfalon and @janemarielynch.