Why You Should Wait to Post To Your Social Media Channels

Graphic showing clock We get really excited when we have timely content for our social media channels.  So excited that we often shoot ourselves in the foot by trying to get it all out there at once.  As communicators, we are as trained to follow the news cycle as Pavlov’s dogs were trained to respond to the sound of the bell.  The problem is-there’s more than one bell.  The news cycle is less defined than it was ten years ago and is no longer confined to set appointment times.

We used to try to capitalize on the morning paper, the evening news, the late news and then the monthly magazine.  Now we have 24 hours and we should take advantage of that extended time to spread out our social media messaging in our channels.

So why are we trying to time the press release, the in-person event and the social media posts all at the same time? Out of sheer habit?

With a little planning, your social media channels can have more frequent messages to cover that 24-hour cycle, only in smaller chunks. This way they can carry your news in different ways over a prolonged period of time.

What are the advantages of this approach?  You have multiple opportunities to engage with your community and the repetition of the messages – or at least the repetition of the theme of the messages – will likely translate into higher engagement. You might also realize better retention by your fans and followers and your message has higher potential rise above the clutter in those channels.

There is a downside to this and it’s focused on the social media channel manager.  This forces social media managers to plan content frequency and channel choice, so if you’re not a good planner, it won’t work for you.

Let’s say you have an event coming up. Here’s how you might extend the life of your content by waiting to post elements of the event.

 

Date Channel

What To Post

Day Before Event

FB or TW

We’re getting ready for X. Will we see you there?

Day of Event

FB TW or IG

Photo of getting ready for the event; expression of excitement for festivities.

During Event

FB TW or IG

Event coverage; frequency depends on size of event and fan base.

Later that Day OR Next Day

FB TW

More scenes from event and/or photo collection

Next 2-3 days

FB TW

Share media coverage of event; share what fans are saying/showing about event. Share what partners did during event

One Week Later

FB TW

Share video produced from event? Positive community action that happened due to your event.

Another advantage to this approach is that you will fight the time decay on your channels and most likely reach a larger cross section of your fans and followers.  If your stories are spaced right and have a conversational tone, then the repetition will not be recognized as such and it will appear that you are telling the diverse elements of a bigger story.

This approach could become increasingly valuable for company page managers as Facebook continues to tweak its newsfeed toward personal pages and away from company updates. Twitter already favors repeating message themes.

So next time you have big news to share in your social channels, why not spread it out and see how it enhances engagement with your audience?

How to Find Content for Social Media

A graphic wheel showing an annual report and the types of content you can extract from it. Finding content is a struggle for many of my clients. Even with a well-developed brand and strong marketing campaigns, many organizations have a tough time filling the spaces of their social media networks with content. Content is right under our noses if we know how to look for it.

“I just don’t know what to say,” is a phrase I hear repeatedly. That’s a sign that you’re overthinking the concept of content. It’s not like writing a brochure or a press release, although both are great sources of content for social networks. If it’s important enough to include in your organization’s brochure, you can bet some — or all of it — should find its way into your digital profiles too.

If the brochure provides the big picture, or the macro view of your company, then content is the micro view, or the small, up-close nuggets that bring the big picture to life.

There’s nothing more traditional and all-encompassing than the annual report. A good annual report gives a complete picture of a year in the life of an organization. It might be mailed, or shared online or both. It’s the macro view. And it’s the perfect place to start mining for those content nuggets for social media, or the micro view.

Here’s a brief example using elements from the annual report from ChildSafe, a Child Advocacy nonprofit in San Antonio, Texas. What could you pull from this annual report? Here’s a list:

  •  Statistics about children assisted by the organization
  • Information about this community issue
  • Event photos
  • Volunteer recognition
  • Call for new volunteers
  • Donor recognition
  • Call for new donors
  • Ways for donors to give
  • Highlight programs funded by donors
  • Information about education and training
  • Efforts of community partners
  • Key staff and their roles
  • Board Members and their roles
  • Fundraising opportunities

 

Content is right under our noses if we know how to look for it. Just like the expression “can’t see the forest for the trees.” Lots of individual trees make up the forest, just like lots of pieces of content make up the story of an organization.

Dog Days of Social Media: How to Survive a Summer Slump

A dog laying on his side Summer is in full swing and chances are, your fans and followers are not as engaged as they were a month or so ago. What’s a social media manager to do? In the midst of the dog days of summer, keep your channels humming by trying these 4 ideas.

Lighten Up

Change up the types of stories you are sharing in your channels. Think of it like you’re giving your content a mental vacation too. Link the season to your content and hold off on things like research or weightier stories until it’s time for “back to school.”

Time-Shift

Think about how YOUR summer schedule changes and now envision how it might change for your social network. Maybe it’s time to experiment with frequency and timing of your posts and stories. For one of my pages, all posts are scheduled in the evenings this time of year. For another, we consciously schedule timely posts on weekend mornings, when people are waking up, drinking coffee and planning their activities.

Try Something New

Since fewer fans are on your channels in the summer, now might be the time to experiment with something new or test a new approach that you can spend more time developing in the fall.

Plan Ahead

If you’re not already using an editorial calendar, now is a great time to start. Think ahead to September and start planning and entire 3 months’ worth of stories and posts now.

Trying at least one of these approaches will keep your social channels from a summer slump and ease you right into a productive September. Got any ideas on what you can try on your channels? Share them in the comments.

Do Facebook Ads Work for Microbrands?

Part 2 of the $100 Facebook Ad Experiment

Last week I wrote about how Facebook is pushing Brand Pages into advertising in order to preserve their reach to fans.  And I gave an example of the first ad I tested for a client.

The post I tested for my client, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, was really successful because they have an enthusiastic fan base and always offer compelling images of their animals. It’s not uncommon for 30 percent (or more) of their fans to see and interact with a cute animal post.

Since not every page has such high engagement, I decided to test the ad platform further on two pages which are relatively new and have much smaller numbers. And my budget was $100. Here’s what I found.

Solar Texas

Screen capture of Solar Texas Facebook Ad testThis small business in San Antonio is relatively new to Facebook and experimenting with reaching customers there. The owner has a good sense of who purchases his products, so was able to target that demographic when boosting posts. Over two weeks, we boosted 3 posts for $15 each. Before we started the experiment, he had 60 fans on his FB page and his posts were seen by 15-25 people per post. The advertised posts had thousands of views, dozens of clicks on the photos and some shares, too. He gained 12 new page likes – a 16 percent increase — in two weeks.

Why did it work?  Solar Texas has a reasonable idea about its customers. This will help target any type of advertising in the future, whether on Facebook or another platform. Also, the images were very aspirational, which probably enhanced their reach. But the results are small, so further testing on this platform might be a better indication of future success.

St. Francis Renaissance Faire

Screen capture of results of Renaissance Faire adThis is a one-day special event run by a local church.  Their Facebook page was less than a month old and it was a month until the actual event. The event organizers have a vague idea of their audience, and are hoping to grow the size of the event each year. Over two weeks’ time, we boosted three posts totaling $35 showing different features of the one-day event. Prior to our test, this page had 60 fans and a typical post was seen by 20-30. The advertising had huge reach — as high as 2300 on one ad. With each boosted post, additional clicks on the image were seen. But only one new page like came from the advertising.

Why didn’t it work? This event was so new that they were not well established on Facebook and in spite of changing the ad targets for each post, it didn’t enhance page growth or engagement. The images shown were from past fairs, which may have had an impact. By adjusting the demographics for each post, we were able to increase photo click-throughs. With further testing, we might have found the audience “sweet spot” before the event.

Was Our Test Successful?

Over the course of a month, with a budget of $100, we boosted posts for three different brand pages. The first, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch’s Giraffe Bomb photo, had widespread appeal and delivered high engagement and new fans to the page. The second, a series of three posts for Solar Texas, also had widespread appeal and delivered some new fans to the page. The third, for the St. Francis Renaissance Faire, got wide views but had little page impact.

While this is a small test, it shows that a well-established brand page like Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch can benefit from adding Facebook advertising into its overall strategy. What is less clear is if that same opportunity exists for smaller brands. The Solar Texas page had more growth than the Renaissance Faire page, but there may be other factors which need to be resolved for these pages to increase their success. Targeting the right audience, having great photos and the timing and frequency of page posts all contribute to the success of brand pages on Facebook.

Have you been testing ads on Facebook for really small brands? What have you found to be successful?

The $100 Facebook Ad Experiment

The stage has been set in the last 6 months for brand pages on Facebook to change radically. I’ve been watching this trend on behalf of my clients and it’s hard to resist the “Sky is Falling” nature of the discussion.  An Ad Age article that appeared in December uncovered what a lot of practitioners had suspected for months:  Facebook is deliberately suppressing organic reach of posts in order to create an ad-rich environment to enhance its profitability.

The main reason to acquire fans isn’t to build a free distribution channel for content; it’s to make future Facebook ads work better.–Ad Age.

If you’ve been using Facebook for any length of time and have tried to keep up with the latest trends, this is completely the opposite of what many PR practitioners have adopted: create good content, target your audience, and your Facebook page will grow through fan engagement.

A Forbes article last month quoted a new study by Ogilvy looking at brand pages which are averaging 6% organic reach and predicts that those same pages will soon have zero reach.  Yes, zero.

“Brands are going to have to be more strategic in their use of Facebook, and think carefully about the content they are creating, when they post, and how they promote that post across Facebook’s network.” said Evan Spence, in the Forbes article.

This was an “aha” moment for me. It’s time to start testing Facebook ads to see what will work for my clients.  But a PR person buying ads? WHAT? No way!Giraffe photo bombing at Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch

I got a shot of confidence from Arik Hanson, who presented at the Annual Solo PR Summit in February. Arik is a PR practitioner in Minnesota who widely adopted a blend of organic and paid content for clients on Facebook last year.  You can read his post and see his slide deck here.

There were two things I took away from his presentation.  With a Facebook ad, you can amplify something that already resonates with your fans, and you have an opportunity to give fans what they want. During his presentation, I conducted my first test with the post you see here.

This photo post of a giraffe “photo bombing” the camera was taken by my client, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch on a day when we were experiencing a rarity in south Texas – snow! It had already been seen by 50,000 people and been shared more than 700 times when I decided to spend $25 to boost it. Once I did, the photo was seen by an additional 22,000, was shared 120 more times and got numerous comments and likes. The big payoff?  172 new fans that week.

Why did it work?  First, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch has a very enthusiastic fan base. Second, the photo was amazing and unusual. Third, people love giraffes (more than I ever realized).

Bolstered by this success, I next tested ads for two completely different pages, one for a brand-new page that promoted a once-per-year event and another for a small business in San Antonio.  On Tuesday, I will post the results of those two tests.

Are you testing any advertising options on Facebook? Seen any results?

Mobilizing My Community to Fight Child Abuse

two-foot high cut out of a child FACT: In 2013, there were 5,846 victims of child abuse in MY COMMUNITY. 10 children died at the hands of their abuser.

FICTION: There’s nothing I can do about this.

When you think of your social media channels, do you ever think of how you can use the networks you’ve built to help your community?  This is an often-overlooked area when it comes to bringing attention to community causes.  This month, I’m using my networks on behalf of ChildSafe. 

ChildSafe and the Burden of Child Abuse

Earlier this year, when I was asked to be a volunteer with ChildSafe and help them advance their cause using a more strategic approach to social media, I had no idea where it would lead. Child Safe provides a range of services for child survivors of abuse and neglect and their protective family members, including forensic interviews, crisis intervention, case management, individual, group and family therapy and even adventure therapy to aid in healing child victims. They work with dozens of organizations in San Antonio but there’s more work to do. Only 1 in 10 cases of abuse is reported, so we need to create an environment to bring the problem to light.

Introducing Cardboard Kids

Cardboard Kids is a new program of ChildSafe, which should bring attention to the problem. 5,846 two-foot-high cardboard cutouts decorated in every way imaginable, will appear around San Antonio on April 3, which is the official start of Child Abuse Awareness Month in our city.  One Cardboard Kid for every case reported last year.

How I am Using My Online  Community

Bloggers from the Coffee Hour Holding their Cardboard KidsFirst, we invited bloggers who participate in a chat group on Facebook to meet the ChildSafe team and hear about Cardboard Kids. We asked them to participate, and dozens have already contributed. We created sample messages on a Google Drive document to make it easy for them to share messages and included important links and hashtags for easy retrieval.

Next, we scheduled a Thunderclap, a tool which combines the power of many voices in a simultaneous message delivery on a designated date and time.  Here’s a picture from our Thunderclap page.  You can add your voice to the “thunder” for our April 3 “clap.”

As our message begins to build momentum, we are seeing traction in many channels, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  But it’s hard to be everywhere at once, so we’re going to set up some keyword monitoring and we’ve created a Tagboard to collect everything in one place. We have so much more we can do between now and April 3, when we expect people who see these cardboard cutouts all over town will start posting pictures and questions.  We are encouraging citizens to take a picture, tag it #cardboardkidssa and reading about what ChildSafe does.  We have no idea how many tagged photos we expect to see next week, but it should be thousands.

thunderclap march 27There are lots of different ways we could mobilize our community, but this is how it evolved for us. Have you ever used your community for a special cause? Share your ideas in the comments. I’ll be back to share how we did in a couple of weeks.

More ‘Pages To Watch’ Functionality on Facebook

Late last year, I shared my experience using the new Pages To Watch Function on Facebook, which was being rolled out to brand pages.

Some of its functionality has been enhanced in the last couple of weeks, so I thought it was time for an update.

New Location for Pages to Watch

The original location was above the page’s cover photo.  You can still find it there, but if you go to your Insights page, then click on Overview and scroll down, you will see a larger version of the graph, with some additional features.

There are three new functions which have been added. They are useful if you are benchmarking your Facebook page against competitors or against similar organizations who aren’t direct competitors.

  1. You can see increase in growth of fans on the pages you are watching through the Total Page Likes Column and the New Page Likes Column, which is expressed as a percentage. Green is up; red is down.
  2. A new feature I like is the column which shows number of posts. For some of the smaller brands for which I track competition, I used to visit each of their pages individually and count how many posts they were doing per week, and then average it. This saves me a lot of time.
  3. A new column to track Engagement  gives you an idea of how you are engaging with the fans on your page against your competition. You definitely want to be Brand #1 on this graph and NOT Brand #2.
Sample Graphic for a Brand Page Using Pages To Watch

Sample Graphic for a Brand Page Using Pages To Watch

There’s no doubt that Facebook will be trying to monetize this or work the data in some way to inspire you to purchase ads. So it’s anyone’s guess whether this feature evolves to be more or less useful.

BUT, if you are working with a client who is watching their competition in other facets of their marketing campaign, this graph does give you a snapshot of what’s happening. It is not in-depth by any means and it doesn’t give you any trends, but it can certainly spark discussions around your engagement level, your content strategy and channel integration.

Have you used this new chart? If so, I’d like to hear whether it’s useful to you and what features are most helpful.

Three Biggest Style Mistakes in PR Writing

I’ve written and edited hundreds of press releases, blog posts and other media materials throughout my career. And I’ve coached writing students on the basics of newswriting. There are three errors in applying Associated Press style that I see the most in writing.

Using Commas in a Series

If the series is simple, then lose the comma before the last element. More complex series which include phrases have a whole different approach. My favorite example to illustrate this point:

The flag is red, white and blue.

Titles

Titles can get tricky, especially when you must describe military, courtesy and legislative titles. That’s when you keep the Associated Press Stylebook on your desk. But, for the simple act of identifying someone for a piece of journalistic writing, it’s clear. A Title used BEFORE a name in a sentence is capitalized. AFTER a name, lowercase.  Here’s the simplest example ever.

President Obama signed the bill into law.

Barack Obama, president of the United States, signed the bill into law.

Months of the Year

Little months are always written out in press material. If there are 5 or less letters in its name, the month is never abbreviated. It helps that it’s most of the spring and summer months.

This means: March, April, May, June and July are written out, while the remainder of the months are presented this way:  Jan., Feb., Aug., and etc.

Next time you are working on a piece for a client, take a moment to proofread one more time with these three mistakes in mind. Bet you’ll find at least one!

Read More About Style Here

What Style Are You Using in Your Public Relations Writing?

Picture of writing stylebooks

For public relations practitioners, writing style can be boring and dry. But style is important in good writing. It sets standards and formats that give uniformity to writing. Surprisingly, many in the profession are unaware of style types and how they can bolster your writing efforts.

Applying a style to your writing puts an end to questions like “when should I capitalize that?’ and “where does this comma go?” and enables individual pieces of writing to look like they belong together.   For large projects, like web site rewrites, press kits or backgrounders, style can unify the voice of many writers.

But not all style guides are the same.

First, let’s eliminate the style types you will NOT use in public relations writing. These are the academic styles of writing you used in school.  Chances are you used one of these in college:

APA –American Psychological Association, the nations’ largest scientific and professional organization representing the field of psychology. Their style has been adopted by numerous professions.

MLA- Modern Language Association Members are comprised mainly of English and foreign language teachers. The style they’ve adopted is usually the first one you learn in high school and is often used in language and literature writing.

Chicago-This style method, developed by the University of Chicago Press is among the oldest and began to be used in the early 1900s.  Today it’s largely used in historical and legal writing.

Forget them! What you really need is a style which encompasses the types of writing you do every day.  If you are writing press releases, blog posts, brochures, web copy or any other type of writing that doesn’t need the academic touch, then you need to look to two types of stylebooks: traditional and digital.

Traditional Stylebooks Still Rock

The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual

This is my go-to guide. It was developed to create unity in early newspaper reporting and is updated annually. It is always on my desk (or on the floor next to my desk) but I recently fell in love with their iPhone app. It’s easier to carry around and it’s updated frequently. This stylebook focuses on elements of writing, but has important sections on style specifics for sports, financial and web writing.

Washington Post Deskbook on Style

The post developed their own stylebook over the years, but recently added online digital publishing guidelines which cover issues like citing sources, social media and use of third party information – all important issues to public relations pros.

The New York Times

I do not use their Style and Use Guide. But, I have recently discovered a NY Times Blog called After Deadline which is run by Philip B. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards—the guy in charge of The Times’s style manual. What I like about this blog is that Corbett uses real examples from the paper.  It’s reassuring to know that even journalists are responsible for the occasional dangling modifier.

Digital Stylebooks: A New Genre

A handful of digital stylebooks have appeared in recent years, with a broader focus than the examples above. These style guides are embracing topics like information architecture, usability guidelines and page design.  While many PR Pros may not THINK they need a guide like this, they are easy to access and use online and force you to think about how the information you are presenting will LOOK in its finished state. Here are several  I’ve recently discovered:

Yahoo

I bought the printed version of the Yahoo Style Guide a few years ago and used it occasionally. Now that it is indexed and searchable online, I use it far more often. I especially like its section on presenting numbers.

Web Style Guide

I came across this site by accident. I particularly like their section on usability and designing for usability.  As communicators, we need to make sure that we are thinking universally about how people will use what we write. The credentials of its authors are pretty impressive.

Media-Specific Guidelines

Many news organizations are developing their own guidelines and standards.  Two which are of interest are the BBC News Guidelines http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/ and CNN’s iReport Toolkit.

These resources should help you and your organization adopt a style based on your particular writing needs. You might even be inspired to develop your own house style. I am sure there are many more. Do you have favorite style resources?

You can browse all these resources by going to my writing style resources list on Diigo.

It’s About Great Writing

While the decline of the publishing industry over the last decade is no secret, there is one emerging trend that new professionals should be watching. – the role of brands as publishers.  At last week’s  South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, this topic was covered heavily. One panel had a razor-sharp view on the subject.

Brave New World: Debating Brands Role as Publishers examined the intersection between the decline in traditional journalism and the opportunity for brands to use storytelling  to talk directly to consumers using great content.

One member of the panel said all brands should think and act like publishers.  Another talked about how different content channels can be used by brands to talk about different things. Yet another believed we should be eliminating the middle men – journalists – altogether.  One panelist was concerned about how we would police brands when they lie.

What does this mean for the new public relations professional?  It means that public relations pros in organizations of all sizes have more opportunities to tell their story directly to the consumer – through blogs, wikis and other online places.  And organizations also have an obligation to tell stories honestly, in a timely manner, and using the most basic tool of all – great writing.

Lately great writing has a lot of new buzz words in the online community – dynamic content, content creation, content strategy.  All of these titles are jargon for writing with purpose, or writing with the audience and market in mind.

The labels may be new, but the principal behind them is not.  William Zinsser is the quintessential journalist and nonfiction writer whose landmark work On Writing Well has been the reference against which all others are measured.

At the heart of Zinsser’s beliefs about writing is that it’s a transaction between writer and reader. When done well, two qualities will emerge:  humanity and warmth.

“Good writing has an aliveness that keeps the reader reading from one paragraph to the next, and it’s not a question of gimmicks to ‘personalize’ the author. It’s a question of using the English language in a way that will achieve the greatest clarity and strength,” Zinsser says in the first chapter.

This advice rings true for all forms of nonfiction writing – magazine, newspaper, web site, blog and any others you could imagine creating as a public relations professional.  As PRSA members telling the stories of a brand, cause or an organization, we are also obligated to tell it honestly and ethically.

New professionals can be confounded by the actual process of writing – it may or may not have been part of a degree program. So where should you look if you want to improve your writing skills?

Here are four ideas to improve your writing immediately:

  1. Read “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser
  2. Start a daily journal in which you write about something that interests you in a journalistic style.
  3. Find a writing buddy and exchange and critique each others’ work.
  4. Set aside time each day for writing, even if it’s only 30 minutes.

There are many more steps you can take to improve your writing, but these are a great way to get started. So when your boss starts to talk about the new content strategy, or creating dynamic content, you’ll know that all he or she is looking for is great writing with a purpose and an audience.  And you will be ready to deliver it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post originally appeared in the PRSA National Newsletter for New Professionals in May, 2011.