Social Media: Personal and Visual, Pt. 2 – The Power of Visuals

Infographics can be a great way to communicate complex statistics.
Infographics can be a great way to communicate complex statistics.

In my previous post, I discussed the importance of knowing your audience as I presented at a recent St. Cloud State University mass communications alumni event. Now is time for part two of that discussion: the importance of visuals in communication.

The idea that people are visually minded is nothing new, but I feel it is important to discuss as the concept directly transfers to the public relations industry. There’s been talk for a number of years about whether or not news releases are effective and if they are on the way out. The short answer is no, they are not on the way out. That’s my opinion maybe, but as long as there are journalists with tight deadlines and news organizations that continue to cut staff, news releases will be an easy go-to source for journalists.

Without getting into the particulars of  journalists expected to push out more content in a shorter amount of time and editors choosing to sensationalize soft stories instead of producing in-depth hard news, I’ll just say news releases are still important. What has changed over the past few years is how the news release is developed and disseminated.

Now in the PR world we’re seeing more interactive news releases. News releases optimized for search engines and the “social media news release” are commonplace. These are news releases rich in content—containing at least one visual element, keywords and links for more information. A media-rich news release is far more effective in reaching a target audience and should resonate with reporters much better.

Visuals are so effective now that many companies are using infographics in place of the news release. Infographics are great because they can take relatively complicated statistics and visualize them into easy-to-understand graphs. A news release with a bunch of stats crammed in the body will never be as effective as a well-designed infographic. They also are easy to share and can make their way around the Internet with little effort.

Further building off the importance of visuals in PR, let’s take a look at what has brought us to this point. Surly, communications specialists have recognized the importance of strong visuals long ago. Marketing and advertising is almost completely based off of visual cues. Even radio commercials contain a visual element—a good radio spot will paint a picture in the mind of the listener, which can be more effective than actually seeing something in print or video.

Social media and, more importantly Web 2.0, have made it much easier to share images and video across a variety of platforms. A few major news items have surfaced over the past few months that have really made this point be heard.

The first is Pinterest. Pinterest is a social networking site that allows users to pin images that link back to the original source onto “boards,” or a scrapbook-style collection of a user’s personality. Pinterest is significant because the website hit 10 million U.S. monthly unique visitors faster than any standalone site ever.

Another interesting phenomenon is Draw Something hitting 20 million active users in just seven weeks. Draw Something is a Pictionary-style mobile gaming application in which users draw something from a set of words and the other user watches the drawing unfold as he/she tries to guess the word.

A final piece of news is that of Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram for $1 billion–which was still a startup at the time with only 9 employees. Each of these news items should aid in understanding the the importance of using visuals in communication.

Lastly, please stop using comic sans and clip art:

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Social Media: Personal and Visual, Pt. 1 – Know Your Audience

The importance of knowing your audience.
Is your target audience a crowd of conservative men or does it have a greater variance to allow for more flexibility?

I recently spoke at a St. Cloud State Mass Communications alumni event regarding trends in social media–especially in the Public Relations industry. As an intern at Kohnstamm Communications and only a couple years as a social media manager at KVSC-FM under my belt, I’m hardly an expert on the subject, but I do feel I came out with some good points and generated an interesting discussion. I rarely write out word-for-word what I plan to say at these things, but for some reason that’s what happened. I ended up making an outline of speaking points for a more natural impromptu delivery and my original ‘script’ for my presentation “Social Media: Personal and Visual” is below.

I learned a lot as the Director of PR & Social Media at KVSC and a lot of what I learned along the way is directly transferable to the PR industry—whether the B2B clients I work with at Kohnstamm care about social media or not. I learned two main things while building KVSC’s social media presence: 1.) It is important to know your audience and 2.) People are very visually minded.

For the former, I learned early on that no one really cares about basic station updates that can easily be found at kvsc.org, people want to be entertained and involved in the conversation. In other words, people want to be reached at a personal level. I found that posting opinionated articles relating to the station’s music format or pop culture in general would garner a greater response than simply announcing what was coming up in the programming lineup.

It’s definitely important to know your audience and have a good understanding of what types of posts will get their attention without offending anyone too much. A great example of this is with a new recruitment firm I’ve been working with. At KVSC, it seemed I could get away with just about anything. Making fun of Nickelback, posting popular memes and silly YouTube videos are all commonplace on the KVSC Facebook wall. For example, one of the more popular posts on the KVSC wall consisted of a black and white photo of a little boy smoking a cigarette next to a chicken and the caption “Could someone please explain this picture?” (side note: the little boy happens to be a young István Ládai). With Grapevine – Targeted Sales Recruiting, I posted a picture of an Easter bunny portrait gone slightly wrong and wished everyone a happy Easter. It was all in good nature and was meant to be funny. However, someone didn’t like it and contacted the owner of the business and we took it down.

Lesson learned. Monitor and know your audience before you really test the waters. As with any good PR campaign, knowing your audience will help in crafting a news release, pitching a reporter or otherwise getting a client’s news out. Knowing your audience allows you to create much more targeted and personal messages. Maintaining personal messaging in any communication strategy allows for better conversation, but can only be achieved if you know what your audience is interested in talking about.

Further reading on the subject of knowing your audience:

Image via juicebag.blogspot.com.

Three Years on Twitter: I’ve Come a Long Way.

Twitter
Three years on Twitter and this is the best image I have in my archives. Lame.

According to Tweet Grader, I joined Twitter on Jan. 13, 2009 along with Ben & Jerry’s, Seth MacFarlane and the WNBA World Champion Minnesota Linx. I had heard of Twitter a few months prior to joining and was told  reporters were using it to “alert the news team when they arrived on scene and provide updates of news as it was happening.” Seeing as how I was working for my fraternity at the time that did not really interest me. In my eyes however, Twitter really started to take shape to its current state when 2009 rolled around. I started to notice more friends, news organizations and brands joining Twitter. So, on a slow day at Acacia HQ, I created my Twitter account and @eric_wheeler was hatched (pun intended).

I would love to see my first couple tweets, but I have apparently tweeted too many times and am unable to uncover them. I will be honest though, I think for the first few months or so I never really ‘got’ Twitter. I would occasionally log in and share an interesting article or interact with a few friends I was following, but I never really did much with it.

Things finally clicked for me when I was watching the OU vs. Texas football game in my first semester of grad school at St. Cloud State in Minnesota. Being away from my Oklahoma home and anyone who truly cared about the game I turned to Twitter to see what people were saying. Sure enough, there were several ‘trending topics’ regarding the game and I was able to weigh-in and be apart of an online community based around one of college football’s biggest rivalries.

I started checking Twitter more often to see what was trending. After a while, I realized most of the trending topics were worthless celebrity gossip and (somewhat) amusing hashtags. It was about this time though that I started to gain a personal interest in social media and the fascination behind bringing people from all around the world together through various topics or content. I started following some of the true social media rock stars such as Jeff Bullas, Brian Solis and Lee Odden. I began reading up on any credible articles I could find on social media and digital marketing.

Soon I was searching for articles on my own on sites like PR Daily, Mashable and HubSpot. I would find as many (and still do) articles as I could to share with my followers. My follower count started to rise and soon I had my own niche community of people interested in social media, PR or other creative disciplines. I started my own blog (thanks for reading) and started participating in discussions on other blogs or articles. Before long, I was totally immersed in social media.

Then one morning, I put my ‘slider’ phone through the wash and my life changed again:  I bought an iPhone 4. This allowed me to check updates at anytime. If I had a thought, I could share it. If someone mentioned me in a Tweet, I could reply instantly. I was now constantly connected to what’s happening on Twitter. I would occasionally participate in tweet chats to further educate myself. I began building meaningful relationships and used Twitter as a primary professional networking tool as I began seeking full time employment.

Three years is not really a long time, but I do feel it is with social media. Twitter helped me graduate from Facebook, MySpace and some of the other less professional social networking sites into a whole new world of meaningful online networking. After three years of self/formal education, using Twitter professionally and building a genuine  interest in ‘new’ media, I can now say Twitter has played a positive role in my life. Cheers to three years and another 6,753+ tweets!

How long have you been tweeting? Let me know below or send me a tweet! @eric_wheeler

Approaching Lawrence Hall at St. Cloud State University

Lawrence Hall at St. Cloud State University
Lawrence Hall at St. Cloud State University

I know I know, it’s not even fall yet and I’m posting a photo from the dead of winter. However, I saw a photo of Lawrence Hall on the St. Cloud State University Facebook page in the summertime and I wanted to share this photo I took in February of 2009. The photo at the Facebook page is a completely different angle and the trees are green instead of leafless and covered in snow. However, seeing the photo stirred all kinds of emotions and memories related to a building I walked by everyday, but never set foot inside.

For two years, I walked from the Acacia House, crossed campus and approached this beautiful building. One of my favorite moments each day was walking under the trees and looking up as the tree limbs revealed the white bell tower perched atop the oldest building on campus. Many may complain about the lack of architectural continuity on campus (myself included), but St. Cloud State definitely has a few buildings I appreciate for different reasons and I couldn’t be more lucky than to passby Lawrence Hall on my way to KVSC.

Do Something Profound: Attend Grad School

In full academic regalia...
In full Master of Science academic regalia...

This past weekend saw the close of yet another chapter in my life: I have completed graduate school. Yes, I am now the proud recipient of a Master of Science degree with emphasis in PR & Advertising from St. Cloud State University. It was not long ago when I walked across stage at Northwestern Oklahoma State University after completing a bachelor’s degree in the same field.

As an undergrad, I had little desire to pursue post-graduate education and only got the notion shortly before graduating in December 2007. However, I remember hearing inspiring words a few months prior from the (then) president of the Oklahoma Student Government Association that I just never shook out of my mind. While attending an OSGA conference, several of us were talking about our plans after graduation when John Stephen Bobb-Semple looked at me and said “Eric, why don’t you do something profound and attend graduate school?” I’m not sure how profound it is to attend graduate school, but his words did play a huge role in my decision to pursue a higher degree.

The story of how I got to Minnesota is a little longer and I have had many ask me how I got here and why I chose St. Cloud State University. Allow me to expand. During my final semester at NWOSU, I had a wonderful girlfriend and a job at a radio station that I thought would keep me in Northwest Oklahoma for a long time, and I was happy about that. However, once that relationship ended and I decided the radio station I was working at was not the best place for me, things changed.

St. Cloud State University logo
The great mass communications program and an assistantship made St. Cloud State hard to turn down.

As I was turning in my senior portfolio, I noticed a poster on the wall for a SCSU’s Master of Science in Mass Communications program. Triggering John’s words of wisdom, I became curious and tore off the reply card and mailed in my info. At this point I was already set to begin working for Acacia Fraternity headquarters in Indianapolis and thought it would be a great opportuinity to study for the Graduate Records Exam (GRE) and hopefully check out a few programs while traveling around North America as a leadership consultant. As it would turn out, I had the opportunity to visit St. Cloud State in the fall of 2008 and found the campus to be rather quaint and the mass communications department quite impressive. I applied.

I ended up applying to several other schools, but it all came down money. Though it would have been great to attend grad school in Hawaii, spending $50,000 a year to make it happen wasn’t really feasible. Indeed, it came down to SCSU, and a couple affordable schools in Kentucky and Oklahoma. Choosing SCSU, however, was contingent upon obtaining a graduate assistantship. After applying for several positions, I had no such luck. In May of 2009, I would embark on my lifetime dream of traveling through Europe by myself with no idea what the future had in store when I returned. I would most likely wind up at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Okla. as it was the most affordable, quality program I could find close to home.

KVSC 88.1FM St Cloud, MN
I learned a lot through my assistantship at KVSC.

I was stranded in Munich after losing my passport and rail pass when I finally secured a position at KVSC-FM, the campus radio station at SCSU. Apparently Loren Boone, director of university communications liked me enough during my interview for a position in his department that he thought of me when Station Manager Jo McMullen was still looking for someone at KVSC. In the end, it all worked out and my position as Director of PR & Social Media at KVSC has proved to be the most valuable experience I could possibly ask for.  I have learned so much at KVSC and in the classroom, I’m not even sure where to begin. That’s really what I wanted this blog to be about, but I couldn’t seem to sort through all the knowledge learned. I hope this story gives you inspiration as you look to further your education or your career. For me, it all comes down to one mantra: Do something profound.

“Use Your Digital Nativeness”

Children's Cancer Research FundThe headline to this article is a direct quote from Kris Huson, marketing and communications manager for Children’s Cancer Research Fund. I had the pleasure of listening to Kris speak at today’s St. Cloud State PRSSA weekly meeting. If you’re confused as to why I chose “Use your digital nativeness” as the title for this blog entry, don’t be. We’ll get to that in a bit. (Hint: Think about the importance of social media)

As a professional communicator Kris has a rewarding job, but with the usual stresses that come with fundraising and marketing for a non-profit organization. The first advice given on reaching a target audience is to keep the message personal, tangible and emotional. The most important aspect in regard to communicating a message for a non-profit organization is to make an emotional connection with the audience. Obviously an organization such as the Children’s Cancer Research Fund has plenty of emotional stories. The trick is to recognize those stories and relate them to the target audience.

Once emotional stories are discovered and the message is disseminated to defined audiences, that’s when engagement rises to importance. Social media can be a great tool to create engaging online conversations and to relate emotional stories to the stakeholders (potential donors). Of course, as any successful non-profit organization knows, once someone does make a sizable donation, the money needs to be well spent. If you can prove to the donor the money went to a truly worthy cause that may not have been possible without his/her contribution, then the donor will give again.

Kris admits they are still trying to figure out return on investment (ROI) for social media in the non-profit sector. However, she definitely agrees social media for non-profits is important. This is where the “Use your digital nativeness” came about. When giving advice to students starting a career in public relations (non-profit or other), she pointed out the importance of understanding technology in the new media landscape. Basically, there are three types of people: Digital natives (those who grew up on computers and technology), digital immigrants (those who have adopted technology as life progressed) and digital ignorant (self-explanatory).

As a student looking to get into public relations or a young professional looking to advance his/her career, being a digital native is an advantage if used properly. Just as Kris has to be able to take medical language and make it consumable to a wide audience, young PR pros need to use their ‘digital nativeness’ to their advantage. This means having a deep understanding of trends in social media and how to use it to leverage marketing for a company. Maybe more important, students and young professionals need to use online social networking  as the term suggests: To network. Kris believes Twitter is the best networking tool for business professionals and it is imperative to not only understand how it works, but to actively engage with other professionals in your industry. This all proves once again that social media changes everything.

What I’ve Learned from Using QR Codes

Intrigued? Scan this QR code with your mobile device to see where it takes you!
Intrigued? Scan this QR code with your mobile device to see where it takes you!

QR codes are the latest marketing craze. The QR, or Quick-Response, code was invented in 1994 by a Japanese company called DENSO Corp., a subsidy of Toyota and was initially used to track parts in vehicle manufacturing. Though QR codes have been commonplace in Japan for some time, they are only just now becoming popular in the United States. With over 73 million smartphone users in the US, marketers are embracing the technology in some very unique ways. In this post, I will give a few examples of how I have used QR codes at KVSC 88.1FM, at a personal level and what I have learned along the way.

My first venture with QR codes was in promoting “Superheroes of Trivia,” KVSC’s annual Trivia Weekend. The poster I was designing for the event was to resemble a retro comic book with a modern twist. After I had placed a traditional (non-scanable) bar code at the upper left of the poster to make it look more like a comic book, I got the idea to make it interactive by using a QR code.

Superheroes of Trivia Table Tent.
I used a QR code in a table tent for Trivia Weekend.

The idea was simple enough; I would place a QR code on the poster and have it link to an MP3 file that could be changed out with different audio files. This seemed like a great idea because this was for a radio station that was running a three-part promo on air and we could use the poster to bridge a connection to the series. However, it didn’t quite work out. The QR code worked fine, but the audio file would only play on Apple devices. When the audio file was opened on any other device, it would not play due to some type of Apple encryption with MP3 files. So I learned two things:

1. Always test your QR code on multiple devices/operating systems.

2. It’s better to link to an HTML document with an embedded audio file than to link directly to the source.

Also for Trivia Weekend, I placed a QR code on a table tent (shown above) encouraging students to volunteer for the event. The QR code simply linked to our volunteer resource page on the KVSC website. Though not as cool as opening an audio file to be entertained by a three-part trivia epic, the QR code on the table tent raised curiosity and drove traffic to kvsc.org.

QR Codes on Business Cards
On my business card, I used a QR code to link to my online portfolio.

At a personal level, I am in the midst of an aggressive job hunt and have placed a QR code on the back of my business card. Most people use QR codes on business cards to link to contact information. Personally, I have linked it to my online portfolio at eFolioMinnesota.com. I feel this is more appropriate for me since I am advertising myself as a job candidate and not myself as a business. Another tip to keep in mind when creating a QR code is to make sure the link is easy to use on a mobile phone. I initially wanted to link the QR code to my about.me page because it is much more visually appealing. However, it takes too long to download on a mobile device and is simply not sized correctly to be viewed on a 3.5 inch screen.

Another way to avoid compatibility issues with a URL or media file is to simply link to a text file. This can be used to direct the user to take further action or act as a coupon with instruction to the customer and cashier on how to redeem the offer. A good example involving text was with the concert venue First Avenue promoting an upcoming concert. A QR code was posted on its Facebook wall with the caption “We’re going hi-tech with today’s Etix ticket giveaway and it’s a doozy. Decode the QR for your chance to win.” When scanned, the QR code directed users to a text which simply read “Leave a comment with where First Avenue tickets will be available this Friday.” This is a great use of a QR code because it not only integrated social media, but also prompted users to learn about the venue’s new online ticket purchase option (eTix).

Here’s a list of ways I’ve heard of QR codes being used:

What are some ways you can think of to use QR codes? Do you think QR codes will be around for a long time or are they merely a fad? Please comment below, and remember: Sharing is fun!

**UPDATE: Read “What I’ve Learned from Using QR Codes Part II.”

University Axes Homecoming, Social Media Lights Up

SCSU 2010 Homecoming Logo
St. Cloud State University eliminates homecoming.

During a live interview at KVSC 88.1FM, News Director Chris Duffy spoke with St. Cloud State University Student Government President Amanda Bardonner where she revealed the university’s plans to eliminate homecoming. Duffy waited towards the end the interview and caught President Bardonner a little bit off guard. He knew the news was big. Before ending his day, he made sure it was up at kvsc.org.

The next day, I opened up TweetDeck and noticed a heavy amount of mentions for @KVSCnews and in my “KVSC” search results. The story generated over 30 mentions for KVSC on Twitter, which is far greater than the normal one or two tweets per day from the same few listeners. As the director of social media at KVSC, I found it necessary to post the news on the station’s Facebook page as a ‘trending’ story.

The story generated 30 some KVSC-related tweets and 2,000 impressions on the station’s Facebook page, but that’s not my reason for writing. Why I’m writing is because this is the first time I really saw the power of social media at a personal level. After posting the story on the KVSC Facebook page and throwing out a couple retweets for the station, I did the same for my personal accounts.

Being from Oklahoma where homecoming is very important to most schools–even to my small regional university of roughly 2,000 students–I found this news to be quite shocking. Even though I had heard talks of doing “spirit events” throughout the semester instead of homecoming, I really did not think that was a serious notion. So, like many students and alumni, I did my duty to broadcast the news to as many in my social network as possible.

My first action was just a retweet. I then headed over to Facebook to post a link to the KVSC story with my headline of “What can we do to save homecoming at St. Cloud State University?” The story was cross-linked to SCSU’s Facebook page and it got a little bit of attention on my wall and a few people voiced their opinions because of it. I then read an article by the Star Tribune and found a quote I felt summed up my opionion on the matter and headed back to Twitter to post that link:

“I’ve never heard of it [eliminating homecoming]… They must be doing something wrong…” http://j.mp/hzLYUX #scsu

This is where I started seeing the power of social media come to life. This is pretty much where my homecoming rants ended. I was going about this rather passively as I was working on my final comprehensive exam for graduate school. I then received a tweet from @Aeikens who was putting together a story for the St. Cloud Times. We got in touch and before I knew it, I was doing a phone interview with Dave Aeikens (reporter).

I ended up having several quotes in the paper the next day with a block quote on the front page of State & Local. I also ended up on KSTP with my name and picture from my posting on Facebook. Pretty cool. Maybe I’ll go after that sweet social media internship for Charlie Sheen.

Weber Shandwick Account Executive: Confidence. Initiative. Follow Through.

Account Executive John Poferl from Weber Shandwick spoke at a recent PRSSA/AMA meeting.
Account Executive John Poferl from Weber Shandwick spoke at a recent PRSSA/AMA meeting.

One of the main reasons I am in Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) is for the chance to visit PR agencies and to attend meetings with guest speakers. Today, PRSSA and American Marketing Association (AMA) at St. Cloud State University was fortunate enough to host Account Executive John Poferl from Weber Shandwick.

After AMA went through its weekly meeting of officer reports, we watched a short video about life at Weber Shandwick and after a quick introduction, John jumped right into questions and answers. Being a young professional (a 2007 SCSU graduate), John was quick to stress the importance of personal branding of both the online and in-the-flesh sense. He found this important because it seems that resumes now are all so good. Keeping up with trends in social media and showcasing that you have a good grasp of how to use online social networks and how to measure and monitor social media is important. However, John did point out that having a reputable social media presence is important, but if you’re not careful, it can bite you. One example he mentioned was someone who made it through a series of interviews and when it came time to take a writing test, the candidate was tweeting during the allowed time.

Most of the questions from students were geared on resume/interview tips and essentially how to land that first job with a public relations agency or marketing firm. John’s story was a testament to showing initiative and the importance of follow through. John was having a hard time finding an internship as an undergraduate and ended up approaching a business group in White Bear Lake, Minn. He essentially made up his own (non-paid) position as a public relations practitioner to help the group promote its services with a small budget. John later participated in Pro-Am Day at Weber Shandwick where he made a great connection and learned a lot by asking questions. He kept in communication during the following months and when an internship opened up near his graduation date, he was contacted. His internship turned into a full-time job and he’s been at Weber Shandwick ever since.

Some of the other main points gained from this guest speaker are to be confident in the job hunt, always have good questions to ask after an interview, content of a resume is more important than design and being a good writer is maybe the most important quality a public relations agency is looking for. I always love listening to someone share their life journey and always find something valuable from listening. What I got out of John Poferl: Be confident. Show initiative. Always follow through.

Tour of Target Field–Home of the Minnesota Twins

View from the press box at Target Field
View from the press box at Target Field.

I had the privilege of taking a guided tour of Target Field yesterday in Minneapolis. This was my second visit to the new home of the Minnesota Twins and I could not be any more impressed with everything the stadium and the Twins organization has to offer. The tour was organized by members of PRSSA-St. Cloud State Chapter and was given by Chris Isles, corporate communications manager for the Twins.

The tour was amazing. Chris showed us around the entire stadium — telling plenty of interesting team facts and notes on the construction of the stadium along the way. Seeing some of the suites and season ticket holder areas was definitely impressive. The highlight of the tour was walking through the team clubhouse and stepping outside to view the snow-covered stadium at field level. We even took a look at the dugout before heading to the media room to learn about Chris and his role with the Twins. Kevin Smith, executive director of public affairs for the Twins, also joined us to share his stories and career highlights.

As much as I enjoyed the tour of America’s greatest modern ballpark, the Q&A session with Chris and Kevin was the main feature of our trip to Target Field. As with most PR professionals, Kevin and Chris both had very interesting stories on how they ended up getting to where they are today. The amount of work put in while working for a Major League Baseball team is unsurmountable — Chris mentioned writing about 10 news releases a year while working in health care compared to writing over 100 with the Twins. Chris also manages all social media efforts for the Twins as well as the many other odds and ends communications pros are known to handle.

I am not really much of a sports buff, but I have always wanted to work for a Major League Baseball team. I’ve been to home games for eight teams in 10 different stadiums now and every time go I get excited about the thought of what it would be like to work in that type of atmosphere and actually being a part of a team. Kevin had several stories about the little things he does as a public affairs executive that really showcased why he loves his job.

One example of going above the call of duty was when he was alerted of a little girl in attendance at a game who had just lost her father to cancer a few days prior. Sitting there with her uncle and mother, the family was looking rather solemn. Without hesitation, Kevin got a gift bag and a ball signed by Michael Cuddyer and headed to their seats. He presented them with the gift bag and told the girl that Michael Cuddyer wanted her to have the ball and let them know they were in good hands. He could see their solemn faces turn to tears joy and he quickly got out of there before he broke down too. Listening to Kevin tell this story, I could really feel how much he cares about and enjoys his job. I can only hope to find a place in the world that will give me the opportunity to touch someone’s life as Kevin has.