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.

Starting an Internship: What I Learned in a Long Job Hunt

Kohnstamm Communications Welcomes Eric Wheeler.
A fine welcome indeed. I had never seen my name on a sign before!

Tuesday, Feb. 21, marks the first day of my internship at Kohnstamm Communications in St. Paul, Minn. Yes, the long job search is finally over–at least for a few months.

I learned a lot during my 9+ month job search. I did the typical resume blast using job search sites such as CareerBuilder and Monster, I applied to jobs I found on LinkedIn and Twitter and I did my best to promote myself in the online world. In the end though, it came down to who I know.

Though I landed many phone calls and on-site interviews through the strategy mentioned above–even having employers reach out to me because of my blog or online presence–it was a former teacher who got me the initial contact.

It is definitely nice to know a former teacher believes in me and wants to see me succeed. I had Lisa Heinrich as a professor in both Advanced PR and Media Ethics at St. Cloud State University as I was working on my masters degree in PR & Advertising. One of my favorite professors for her ability to weave in her own professional experiences in lively class discussions, Lisa continued to stay in touch with me after graduation. She would occasionally send me job postings she thought might be a good fit.

My opportunity came when she informed me another former student of hers was looking to hire someone with a little social media experience. I sent an email to Katie Heinze at Kohnstamm that same day and a couple months later I was in St. Paul for an interview.

Though I was not particularly looking for an internship in my job search I felt this was an opportunity worth pursuing for a couple reasons. The position being full time and paid was definitely nice, but I also want to work at a PR agency and this should be a nice foot in the door. I currently do not have any public relations experience in an agency setting so this will hopefully open up new opportunities.

I knew as soon as I walked through the door at Kohnstamm that it was the right place for me. After being greeted by Gail at the front desk, my eyes were drawn to the large sign welcoming me to the “2010 Boutique Agency of the Year.” I had never really seen my name featured on a sign before so I snapped a picture and tweeted about it later that night.

It’s been nearly two weeks since I accepted the position. It may be surprising I haven’t been tweeting about it and posting the news on Facebook, but wanted to make sure my family knew about my new adventure and to make sure I found a place to live in St. Paul. I have made the appropriate phone calls and have found a nice house with a couple roommates (thank you CraigsList) in Midway just a 10-minute drive from the downtown office.

Thank you to everyone for the encouragement and for thinking of me when coming across opportunities. Please continue to keep me in your thoughts. My four to six-month internship will be over before I know it and I will continue to be on the lookout for my next opportunity.

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.

10 Things I Learned as a PR & Advertising Grad Student

What I learned from grad schoolThis list is essentially a follow-up to my previous entry. Towards the end of that post, I mentioned how I really wanted the entry to be about what I learned in graduate school, but it ended up being the story of why I decided to pursue a Masters Degree in the first place. Now that I’ve had a couple weeks to reflect on my two years of post-graduate education at St. Cloud State University, I present a “Top Ten” list of things I learned. Some topics were learned in the classroom, some while writing papers and others came about in other ways as a student. Though I am not going to elaborate on any of the topics, I do challenge you to ask questions or argue some of the statements. A few might even be considered controversial. Here goes:

  1. There is nothing ‘new’ about new media
  2. Learn the basic theories of psychology, and become a better communicator
  3. Even when you think you have produced creative content, you should step away and try again
  4. Always know your audience and do the research to find out more
  5. Differentiate, segment and tailor the message for each medium
  6. Never stop learning; I will never be an ‘expert’ in anything because there is always more to learn
  7. Media convergence is impossible, but web convergence is possible
  8. If you want to be successful in any communications-related industry (journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, etc.), you must live and breathe social media
  9. Huge corporate media conglomerates are the demise of democracy–nearly every media outlet is conservative … even NPR
  10. News outlets can no longer afford to simply push out information … people expect to participate in a two-way conversation about everything
Have you attended graduate school for mass communications? What did you learn?

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.

Mass Comm Career Panel: Getting that First Job

John's First Job.In another event co-sponsored by the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) and the American Marketing Association (AMA) at St. Cloud State University, the annual Mass Communications Career Panel opened up helpful insights for students as we work towards beginning careers in our respective fields. The panel was led by Andy Ditlevson of SCSU Career Services and consisted of five speakers:

Tracy Carlson, Padilla Speer Beardsley
Bill Hatling,  HatlingFlint Marketing
Dan Schulzetenberg, General Mills
Ryan Meints, G.L. Berg
Lori Jacobson, Carlson Marketing

The first discussion included ways for college grads to get their foot in the door as they work towards finding the job that’s right for them. Among some of the advice dished out, the importance of holding an internship came up from each speaker. Several mentioned having multiple internships as they worked towards getting their first job out of college. One speaker even stressed an internship as being a “critical” stepping stone.

Other tips for getting that first job out of college included volunteering for non-profits, having a mentor and not being too ambitious in your job hunt–though most people don’t really want a sales job, it can be a perfect starting point for a career in marketing. Bill Hatling talked about social media as being a “game changer” and his company is always looking for new hires who understand the trend. The media landscape, as he put it, has changed dramatically in the past decade and it makes sense for students to have a good understanding of new media. This means doing some self-study and finding something about it that interests you. At the very least you should maintain a clean online reputation, but you could take it further by blogging for a non-profit organization or helping a small business with its social media efforts.

On resumes, having good keywords that showcase your skills is important. More importantly though, making sure the resume you submit is catered to the company and the job description. If you feel you can provide the company a fresh perspective in social media strategy, then incorporate that into your resume. However, as Ryan Meints pointed out, having a great resume isn’t everything–he has never even submitted a resume for any of the jobs he has landed. From his perspective, networking is key.

Ryan’s point led to the importance of personal branding. As important as it is to maintain a positive online reputation, having something as basic as a good voice mail greeting is just as important. If you’re applying for jobs, would you want an employer to listen to a greeting that is a simple “Hey, leave a message” in a dull voice or would you rather actually greet your potential employer? My voice mail is simple, yet friendly: “You have reached the voice mail of Eric Wheeler. Please leave a message and your number and I will be sure to get back with you. Thanks!”

Probably the most important piece of advice came from Dan Schulzetenberg: “Understand what your values are.” That simple idea can have a huge impact on your life–whether you’re looking for that breakthrough job or you’re a seasoned pro. Always have strong values and work ethic and life will reward you. What are your values?

Image credit: www.socialsecurity.gov

PR in Social Media: Owning up to Mistakes

Just like Homer Simpson, we all make mistakes sometimes.
Just like Homer Simpson, we all make mistakes sometimes.

In my last post, I talked bout the power of social media on a personal level as it relates to St. Cloud State University choosing to eliminate homecoming. I had a short anecdote I wanted to include, but omitted due to my goal of keeping posts at 500 words or less. The anecdote was about a typo I had on a Facebook post for KVSC on homecoming being eliminated at SCSU:

“Top story at kvsc.org today: St. Cloud State University to climate Homecoming.”

Not sure what “climate” homecoming is all about, but people started making fun of the typo almost as soon as it was posted. Although the headline was posted as KVSC, I was the one behind the typo (or auto correct more specifically). So once it was called to my attention, I had to make a choice: remove the original post (also removing user comments) or own up to my mistake with a personal remark.

Being a PR guy, I felt it was important to be transparent and admit the goof up. So I simply replied to the post (with my name and face next to the comment) and made a little joke out of it with a reference to damnyouautocorrect.com.

Many social media experts believe it is important to always put a face with a company status update. Personally, I feel it depends on the type of post. Posting an article that is “trending” on your site should not require a face behind the post. However, if there does happen to be a typo, whoever made the error should own up to the mistake.

Lastly, just as a reporter should never remove an article with a factual error, a company should never remove a post or tweet with a mistake. It is much more professional to admit fault. Plus, admitting your mistake can only create more impressions and build credibility as a reputable source of information.

Thankfully, this was merely a typo and not anything offensive. Some celebrities and journalists alike have made “jokes” on Facebook or Twitter that have turned out to be quite offensive and created backlash from their followers. Check this article out to learn of a larger-scale mistake and how Kim Wilson suggests handling a “Twitter Faux Pas.”

I should mention I had a mistake in my last post as well. When I omitted the part about my mistake, I left a sentence in that was completely out of context. It was up for a few hours before I noticed it. Can’t even remember what it was now. Did I just break my own rule of owning up to mistakes?