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:

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.

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?

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.

Social Media is Not an Excuse for Bad Writing

Text Messaging ShorthandIn my last post, I discussed how social media has changed the way people are finding jobs, the criteria employers now follow and how many in the PR field are branding themselves and networking via social media sites. The videos mentioned noted some astonishing statistics, making it impossible to ignore the social media wave or pass it off as a fad. In this post, I want to talk about something important in every industry: Good writing skills.

Some might not view text messaging (or SMS) as a form of social media, but it is one communication tool that has fundamentally changed the way people communicate. Though abbreviations such as OMG and LMAO (along with a long list of other text messaging shorthand) may be cute and a much quicker way to get a point across, they really have no place in communicating a company message or in any attempt at branding yourself in an online world. If you’re like me and you mostly maintain a Twitter account and a blog to show potential employers what you are all about and some of the skills you have, you should basically never use shorthand.

It can be a challenge to fit a quick pitch and a link to the full article in 140 characters or less for Twitter, but our society’s attention span has grown increasingly short and relies on bite sized pieces of information to give them the knowledge they need. Maybe the first lesson I learned as a student of mass communications was to be concise in my writing. Give the important information up front and all the minor details in the body and towards the bottom (inverted pyramid style of writing).

That’s enough about Twitter. The point I really want to make is that good writing is important. I feel that I am a decent writer, but that’s because I work on it nearly everyday and have been since I started college. However, I can always work on clarity, creativity and brevity, among other areas. With that, please let me know if I have any typos or if you see areas I can work on to improve my writing style … I am open to all suggestions.

So this is my public service announcement to anyone who has a blog or posts short messages to Twitter, Facebook or any other social network that broadcasts to basically the entire world: Be a good writer.