Saturday, June 11, 2016

Four tricks to help you build a loyal, engaged, and responsive Millennial audience. Sirius-ly.

"Look at me! Look. At. ME!"
At 11:02 a.m. on May 25, Millennial Ashley Parker, a New York Times reporter embedded with the Clinton campaign, tweeted: “Young embed (born in ’91!) next to me: What the hell is Whitewater?! [Begins Googling].”

Minutes later, Baby Boomer Karen Tumulty, the Washington Post’s national political correspondent, responded: “SMH. Seriously, youth is not an excuse. You are covering this candidate. READ A BOOK, PEOPLE.”

And so began the great generational tweet-off of 2016

But as entertaining as the dust-up was, the fact is there was no reason Jimmy Olsen, cub reporter and child of the digital age, should have heard of Whitewater. Just as there is no reason we relics of the Huntley-Brinkley era (google it) shouldn’t have.

We had no choice … and he had no need.

We old dogs got our news dolloped out to us on a strict schedule by a handful of “trusted” news hounds. When Whitewater was declared news, we wolfed down Whitewater stories every weekday night at 6:30/5:30 Central.

Our reporter pup and his millennial pack, on the other hand, are grazers who consume their news all day long from countless sources. They don’t have many cultural touch stones catalogued in their heads for two reasons. 1. With so many news outlets today, it takes a monumental story indeed to achieve “cultural touch stone” status. And 2., if they do need to learn about a historic news item, they know how to find everything they need.

So if you plan to communicate with Millennials, you need to understand that their way of consuming information is very different from ours. You can’t simply shout “news treat!” and expect them to come running. You’ve got to create content that interests them, and then put it where they can sniff it out themselves.

Here are four simple ways to do just that:                 

Discover your passionate audience. You need to identify who really cares about your issues. If your strategic communications plan calls for you to target “women 35 to 54,” you’re not really targeting anybody. To discover your passionate audience, you have to forget size and focus instead on common interest. I can guarantee you that there are plenty of people you’ve never even heard of who are passionate about some aspect of your organization’s quest. Your job is to discover who they are so they can discover who you are.

Learn where the Venn diagram of your story overlaps with their interests. Nobody cares about every aspect of your organization’s mission, except your CEO. And he may be jiving, too. To understand what your audience wants from you, you have to understand what aspects of your quest people care about enough to talk about. To do that, search Twitter using terms that reflect your quest and see who is tweeting (and re-tweeting) about them. Or visit the sites that cover issues directly and indirectly related to your quest and read the comments section see who has dropped by. 

Keep the relationship alive. When you have found your audience, connect with them on social platforms, subscribe to their blogs, react to their posts, react to their influencers’ posts, comment on articles that they are reacting to. (You’ll recognize the more fruitful avenues by the enormous number of “shares” and “likes.”) In short, develop a genuine relationship with your audience.

The power of the “share.” Nothing pleases a blogger more than someone sharing her post. If you find interesting content, share it. But don’t just put it on your website, because nobody goes there—not even you, if we’re being honest about it. Instead, scotch tape it to the Internet’s refrigerator—Facebook, LinkedIn and other social platforms.

It will take effort to build your audience. And your metrics will not be nearly as impressive as the proverbial “three billion impressions,” which as we all know is the teacup poodle of metrics: fascinating but absolutely useless. But this investment will result in a dependable, useful, and exponentially more engaged audience—a King Shepherd of an audience, if you will. And that will make all the difference.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Turks and Caicos!

Welcome aboard! You represent the 96th nation to visit this little shake shack! Come on in and meet all the folks!! There're are cold beers in the fridge and some M&Ms and pretzels on the coffee table. Mind the iguana. He tends to snap at strangers.

To reach your audience today, fire Ted Baxter and color outside the lines

"Oooo, part-time clerk
at Toys-R-Us! That sounds
fun, daddy!!"
I discovered the secret to effective online communication before Mark Zuckerberg lost all his milk teeth.

It was in the mid-1990s and my new boss, Rick Berman, was not pleased with my progress in generating media coverage of an economic study entitled, “Effects of Minimum Wages on Teenage Employment, Enrollment and Idleness.” I just couldn’t seem to craft a press release that made that topic interesting to reporters. Imagine that.

Following yet another of his increasingly menacing pep-threats, I locked myself in my office, thought back to my days as a reporter at The Red Bank Register, and tried to imagine what might make me pick up the phone and call the guy flacking this report. Then I drew my “press release.”

It was a mock-up of the faux resume of one “Les Likely,” an unremarkable teenager with a spotty work history and a very poor command of the English language. I added a coffee-cup ring stain in the corner and a red stenciled “REJECT” stamp in the middle of it and had the graphics department lay out and print 150 copies. Then I sent them to my media list with this short note attached: “Les Likely is about to lose his job again. Give me a call and I’ll tell you why.”

And they called. And I never wrote a traditional release again.

The lesson I learned then—which I use to this day—is this: before delivering any message, I must first determine exactly what it is about what I have to say that could possibly be of interest to my audience.

And as important as that lesson was in the 1990s, it is imperative today. You see, the days of making declarations in your best Ted Baxter voice and expecting the fish to bite are over. In fact, the more Ted Baxter-y you are the less likely you are to connect with your audiences.

Of course, there are inherent risks whenever you color outside the lines, but the benefits of creativity 
are worth the occasional ding, such as that time my laminated dollar-bill plan got us on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, above the fold. I’ll let them recount it, since they tell it best:

We were intrigued by The Employment Policies Institute's latest cost-saving endeavor. To protest President Clinton's proposed minimum wage increase of $1 an hour, the Washington, D.C., business-funded think tank mailed laminated $1 bills to 300 reporters at various news outlets. According to our calculations, the cost of that little stunt could've furnished a minimum-wage earner with more than two months of the boosted hourly rate.

It’s true that my heart stopped beating briefly when I read the Journal that morning. But that hit actually lit up the phones with calls from other reporters interested in the study, demonstrating once again that any press is good press.

Monday, March 21, 2016

How to win friends and influence people ... through creative conflict

"I did NOT shred my own shirts!"
The secret to successful conflict is knowing what you want to get out of the engagement before the opening bell.
Some time ago, my then local dry cleaner shredded the back panel of two of my dress shirts. I’m not talking about a slight tear. I mean this was full post-bear-mauling Leo DiCaprio. Obviously, something went very wrong in the back room of the Bradlee Dry Cleaners.
But when I brought them back for restitution—or at the very least a heartfelt apology—the proprietor said that I had dropped them off in that condition.
I went Hulk-O-Rama so fast and furiously that I popped the collar button off the shirt I was wearing.
Didn’t matter. He wasn’t budging. As I walked out in defeat (three shirts to the wind, as it were), I vowed never to step foot in that shop again! Nine years later, they went out of business, which I like to think I had some small hand in.
Fast forward to last week when, running late for a breakfast meeting, I saw that my freshly dry-cleaned shirt had a large grease stain running down the left sleeve from the elbow to the cuff. I grabbed a second shirt and it had a stain in the same pattern on the same arm.
Was I angry? You betcha. But this time I was ready. All I wanted from my dry cleaner was an acknowledgement that they stained my shirts. And in order to get that, I took the issue off the table.
“Hey, these two shirts both came back with these identical stains.”
“Now, I’m not sure how they got there, but I would imagine it happened during the dry cleaning process. It’s possible, of course, that I brought them in with these stains.”
“It doesn’t matter how it happened, really. I just wanted to bring it to your attention in case you had a mechanical problem that you should check on before this happens to someone else.”
                “I’ll refund the cost of cleaning these two shirts.”
Now, if I had centered the conflict on who actually wrecked my shirts, her natural reaction would have been to defend herself. And—once our respective perspectives were established—any forceful argument I made would be met by an equal and opposite forceful argument from her.
Call it Newton’s Third Law of Emotion.
But by setting aside the very point I needed to win—and even interjecting a smidgen of her perspective—I completely de-fanged her opposition. And then I sealed the deal by suggesting that I only brought the issue up out of concern for her other customers. Check and mate.
They may not have paid for the shirts they ruined, but they at least fessed up topossibly having had something to do with it. And that’s gold, Jerry. Gold!

Friday, March 4, 2016

A lesson in humanity--from a robot

"Well, so it's mechanical!"
Oh ... I get it now.
Machines have two primary functions: they perform the task they were built for or, failing that, they serve as emotionless objects through which we can vent our pent-up rage and frustration. 
Who among us hasn’t wanted to go all Office Space on the company printer? We slam our car doors, punch parking meters, and throw our remotes against the wall. (You guys do that, right?) And we take out our aggression without a hint of remorse because these are victimless drubbings. We’re thrashing machines, not people.
But what if that machine looked a lot like Dave from Shipping (or at least had Dave’s stumpy-legged gait) and you saw him being tormented by Rick the floor manager as he was trying to pick up a box? You’d feel some anxiety. Really, you would. See for yourself, starting at 1:22. 
You see what Rick is doing with that hockey stick? It’s inhuman. Watch as Rick pushes the poor bastard onto his “face” at 2:05 and tell me you don’t feel anything. You can almost hear what Dave is thinking as he slowly rises to his foot-pads.
Then, after he pauses to collect himself, you can see Dave consider and decide against extracting robotic revenge, instead walking slowly out the door--which he does not slam because, being a robot, he isn’t mad. We are. At Rick, for tormenting a machine.
It’s a natural response. Even Martin Shkreli would feel for that robot because it seems human. It’s just how we’re wired. According to research by University of Chicago psychologist Nicholas Epley, anthropomorphism “reflects a deep drive to form social connections, even with objects made of metal and wire.” And this drive, he found, increases as our sense of social isolation grows. 
And if research from Duke University and the University of Arizona is any indication, anthropomorphism is going to skyrocket as social media (ironically) makes us all feel more socially isolated. 
So keep that in mind as you try to connect with your audiences. Rather than speak of the sweeping societal benefit of your organization, product, or service, describe instead how your organization, product, or service helps Dave in shipping. 
As novelist Richard Price said, “The bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Remember that. You don't write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid's burnt socks lying on the road. You pick the smallest manageable part of the big thing, and you work off the resonance.” 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Seven Commandments of Social Media Marketing

"I don't want to alarm anyone, gentlemen,
but now might be a good time
to start praying."
Just hours after some drunk guy Kamikaze-ed a stolen Cessna 150 into the South Lawn of the White House, my boss came down to my office to personally express his disappointment that I hadn’t briefed him on the incident.

It was September 12, 1994 and the PR world was trying to re-calibrate itself into the perpetual “rapid-response mode” that was the hallmark of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, made famous in the documentary “The War Room” that had come out the year before.

Once that film hit the theaters, my boss put me in charge of gathering up the world’s news and reading the summaries to him every morning at 7:00 as Earl drove him to the office. If a plane crash landed at the White House in the middle of the night then, “Dammit, John, I need to know about it!”

Fair enough. But this was 1994 and the Internet—and my twin daughters—were still toddlers and no help whatsoever in gathering news. So I had to get up at 5:00 a.m., scan four newspapers, watch CNN and the local news programs, and listen to the radio news station all while feeding my kids breakfast—one Cheerio at a time. A War Room operation this was not.

I was reminded of this Cronkite-ian nightmare recently when a new movie, also called “The War Room,” broke the box office with its unconventional promotional strategy. Marketed solely through social media, the movie debuted at number two after “Straight Outta Compton,” raking in $11.4 million in its opening weekend—nearly four times what it cost to make. (As of yesterday, it had racked up $65 million in ticket sales.)

Much like the original “War Room,” this movie provides critical lessons about the changing rules of successful marketing and communication. Here are seven big ones:

Be religious in your audience targeting—“The War Room” was made by evangelicals for evangelicals. Period. “Our bull’s-eye audience are people of faith and the church,” said director Alex Kendrick. And because he wasn’t trying to entertain a mass audience, Kendrick’s film resonated with his religious audience.

Preach to the choir—According to Kendrick, they “intentionally showed the film to pastors and community leaders to get their support.” But the power of these co-conspiratorial relationships is magnified exponentially on social media. People listen to people they trust. And while you may not have a network of churches in your LinkedIn contacts, you do have a flock of Facebook friends who, in turn, have flocks of their own. And so on.

Don’t worship false matinee idols—Do you remember Johnny Depp’s blockbuster hit Mortdecai? Of course you don’t. It disappeared from the theaters faster than John Wilkes Booth. The fact is A-list star power doesn’t guarantee butts in movie-theater seats anymore. But if you cast an unknown, you might have a prayer. And if that rookie actress happens to be Priscilla Shirer—best-selling author and daughter of the Rev. Tony Evans, one of the most well-known pastors in America—well, buddy, your prayers are gonna be answered. 

In the beginning, move heaven and Earth—There’s a reason people dress like over-stuffed Oreos and dance at shopping malls. There is a power and excitement to launches that is only magnified by social media. To hype their opening weekend, the producers spent months reaching out to fellow pastors, Christian book stores owners, and community leaders, and implored them to “encourage the people that you’re leading and the people that you are influencing … to see ‘War Room.’”

Cast bread upon the waters—And this outreach paid off in ways they probably hadn’t anticipated. After seeing several Facebook posts about the movie, Danielle Wright—the host of an online radio show called “Power of Prayer”—arranged a private screening for more than 200 church leaders a day before the film was released. Guess what they preached about that weekend?

Judge not? Best ye be judged—If you want to secure that critical buy-in from influential community leaders, you’re going to have to invite critical comments from them first. In order to build strong bonds with the network of influential pastors who drove millions of parishioners to the movie, the filmmakers invited the pastors to view and criticize early versions of the film … five times. This was quite clever, really. Once the pastors had a hand in editing, the film’s ultimate box-office success was now their responsibility.

Remember the Good Book—Social media marketing is a multi-platform affair. To inspire communication about their movie, the producers wrote seven different online “War Room” bible study guides, including a “leader kit,” that can be yours for the low low price of $24.99—less than the price of a bag of buttered popcorn and a small diet Coke. Bless their hearts.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy of Social Media Myths

"I just want to talk to you for a minute
about your obsession with 20th century
communication tactics."
The last time I hitchhiked, I got picked up by a cop who ended up racing me back to my apartment at burglary-in-progress speed—with the sirens blasting and the lights a-flashing—because there really was a burglary in progress … in my apartment.
Earlier that night I had gone with some guys I knew from school to a genu-winehonky-tonk bar in Mesa, Arizona to ride the mechanical bull and drink Coors. This was a rare treat for a Jersey boy like me because Coors didn’t ship east of the Mississippi back then and the closest thing we had to a mechanical bull back home was the bumper-car ride at Asbury Park.
 Unfortunately, after we spent all our beer money the guys thought it would be a hoot to leave the “city boy” stranded at a cowboy bar miles from the bright lights of Arizona State University. So I had to hitch a ride home.
When this young cop pulled up and told me to get in, I figured I was going to spend the night in the drunk tank. But he was cool and offered to drive me back to Tempe. We were about a mile from home when a call came in about a “burglary in progress … La Crescenta Apartments … 1029 East Orange Street ...”
“Hey, that’s my apartment complex!”
“… large white male approximately six-foot four inches, 240 pounds has kicked open the door of apartment 209 …”
“Hey, that’s my apartment!”
“That’s really your apartment?”
“Heck yeah!”
“Some bitch. Well, hang on, boy. We’re gonna catch us a bad guy!”
True story.
As it turned out, the “large white male” who kicked open my apartment door wasn’t there to rob me. He came by to kill me. Apparently, he got it into his head that I was romantically involved with his best gal, who also happened to share the apartment with me and a couple other college kids. Why he thought we were having a fling I will never know because I sure as heck didn’t tell anybody.
I bring this up as a cautionary tale for those of you who have not yet fully embraced social media—especially my friends in the ideas industry, like trade associations, foundations and other nonprofits. You may think you’re getting along just fine with your 20th century ways, but Social Media is getting ready to bust through your organization’s front door and beat the crap out of your outdated communications, membership and fundraising programs.
Here’s a quick quiz to see what kind of danger you’re in. If you answered “yes” to even one of these myths, you’re at risk of getting your metaphoric doors kicked in.
Our target audience doesn’t use social media. You’re targeting dead people?
We don’t have the manpower to get involved in social media. Yes, you do. They’re sitting right there. See that guy working on that press release that no one will ever read? He’s a hilarious blogger with thousands of followers. And that woman next to him who has been laying out the quarterly newsletter for the past two days? She posts great things about your organization nearly every day. They’d both be delighted to stop creating products that no one reads and dive into online campaigns that will yield immediate results.
We don’t have enough content to be active online. Are you serious? You’re in the ideas industry. Everything you produce is content. Everything you’ve everproduced is content. Your biggest challenge will be digging through it all to pick out the best stuff.
There are too many platforms. We can’t be on all of them. Exactly. Nor should you be. But you do need to be on some of them, preferably the platforms that your key audiences frequent.
We already have an online presence. No, you really don’t. Bringing on an intern to tweet links to your press releases is not an online presence.
Social media is hard to learn. Riding a mechanical bull is hard to learn. Social media is easy-peasy … and a lot less painful. Remember when you had to call Dell tech support to ask them how to turn on your computer? Remember when you were afraid of email? Well, look at you now.
Social media is a fad. Yeah, Johannes Gutenberg got that a lot, too. The fact is we humans will always latch onto the latest technology that allows us to most effectively communicate with the people we need to connect with. And we will stick with that technology until something more effective comes along. We never go back.
So unless you know something about social media that Blockbuster, Tower Records, Newsweek, Kodak, and two million unemployed travel agents didn’t know, you’re going to have to stop canoodling with your 20th century tactics, open the front door and invite Social Media in for a beer. You guys are going to be working together for a long time.