Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ground control's a major yawn.

"Perhaps if you used
active verbs."
If you’ve got bad news to report and you don’t want the story to get legs, put it out on a Friday afternoon.

But if your story absolutely, positively should never see the light of day, give it to NASA’s PR department. These communication dementors could suck the soul out of any tale–from the diapered-astronaut-attempted-murder caper to the Russian meteor brushback pitch.

NASA held a news conference this week to tell the world that the Rover found evidence that Mars could have supported life eons ago—that there is a very real possibility that life could have existed on freakin’ Mars!

Here’s how heralded this extraordinary news: “Wow! Ancient Mars Could Have Supported Primitive Life, NASA Says”

Here’s NASA’s headline: “NASA Rover Finds Conditions Once Suited for Ancient Life on Mars”

We’re not suggesting that NASA has to go full-Onion on us (though that would be pretty cool). But after flying through space for eight-and-a-half months and spending more than $2.5 billion of our Christmas Club savings on gas, snacks and trinkets that you don’t need and you’re just going to lose, we thought you might be a little more excited about finding what you went up there looking for.

Ah well. Once again, it’s time for us to profit from another flack’s mistake.

NASA’s PR department, thinking with their slide rules again, presented this Mars-shattering news without the slightest thought of their audience which, as we’ve learned by now, is a Bozo no-no. Your audience–and their individual and collective reactions–must color your story and how you tell it. Every word, every phrase, every gesture.

To paraphrase Bananarama, “It ain’t what you say it’s the way that you say it.”

That’s what gets results.

Monday, March 4, 2013

TV or not TV

"Of course your career took
off and mine tanked. You
look like Tim Curry's cute
sister and I'm decked out
like a premenopausal
Betty White."
Too afraid to drop your trade association into the deep end of the social media pool? I have a floaty for you. Think of your organization as a television show (the parallels are striking). If you know TV, you know social media.

TV shows are reliable.
When you plop down to watch your favorite TV show, you want safe, dependable conflict. Sure, our hero is going to get his willie in a vice, but we know he’ll be just fine before the credits roll. Certainly he won’t be killed in a car crash moments after kissing his newborn son. (WTF, Downton Abbey?)

Your online audience expects the same. They’ve got a lot of flavors to choose from. Take time to create the best story you can tell, and then don’t veer too far from the original recipe (until circumstances warrant, of course).

TV shows have interesting characters.
Sure he’s an annoying, acerbic, astringent addict, but when we download Elementary, we expect Sherlock Holmes to agitate us, as long as he can dazzle us with his deductive prowess. That’s why we keep coming back.

When telling your story online, you need to bring your characters to life, too. There’s a reason nobody outside the Beltway watches C-SPAN; those middle-aged white guys in suits may be characters, but interesting they are not.

TV shows cater to a specific targeted audience.
The nation isn’t sitting down on Sunday nights at 7:30 to watch The Wonderful World of Disney anymore. America’s TV-watching nuclear family has exploded into a hundred million little Neilsons all searching for stories that they rate worthy of watching. To keep their ratings (and their spirits) up, TV producers are doing what the most popular web sites do: they’re identifying the audiences that matter most to them, and they’re giving them anything their fickle little eyeballs want. You should, too.

TV shows tell new stories every week with the same established structure.
“Same characters? Check. Same set? A-yup. Same opening theme? Bam! Tee it up! Wait, is this a rerun?? Son of a …"

Familiarity is comforting. Repetition is not. A loyal TV audience keeps coming back because they want to know "what happens next." Same goes for your online followers. You need to keep the narrative flowing and make sure your stories are fresh. That doesn’t mean you can’t repurpose old material.

JEEZ-us!! Did I just say “repurpose”? OK, strike that. Strike the whole damn sentence.
TV show producers care a lot about ratings.

Ratings are relative. Tom Hanks would get extremely loud and incredibly close to losing it if his next movie bombs like that schmaltzy tearjerker did. But his bosom buddy Peter Scolari--the Brian Dunkleman of TV sitcoms--would be ecstatic to have that many people hate his work. (Don't know who Peter Scolari is? Exactly.)

It doesn't matter how you define success. You need to constantly monitor your site's data to see what works and what doesn't--and then adjust your content accordingly.

It ain't easy.
Launching and maintaining a successful online presence is not nearly as difficult as producing a television series. But it will take much more work, collaboration, and dedication than you think to succeed online. In the end, you'll find that it's worth it. And, frankly, what choice do you have? That's where your audience is.