Innovation strikes once again

•March 11, 2009 • 1 Comment

Never one to lag behind, Apple has done it again with the release of another product to be the self-proclaimed “first of its kind.” Apple’s new iPod shuffle is about the size of a house key and allows its user to store approximately 1000 songs (4 GB).  The super duper exciting part? It talks to its listener.  Yes, that’s right, an MP3 player that actually tells the listener what song is being played and who it is performed by.

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This is all fine and dandy, but what really sets Apple apart from competitors, as many of you know, is the advertisement and press efforts to reach consumers.

In just one day news about the release sprang up on Blogs around the world, including those from news outlets including CNN and Wired, and blogs targeting tech-savvy crowds like TheAppleBlog.  Apple has posted a 360 view of the new gadget and an instructional video tutorial on its site, though the notrorriously anti-blog company has failed to respond to backlash from ipod fans against the product updates.

The new iPod shuffle ads are effective, with snappy phrases like ‘fashion tech-cessory’ and eye-catching size comparisons, but will Apple’s latest technology flop?  Maybe?  Are its new print ads engaging? Yes.

Only time will reveal the level of success to be had by this innovative product, but from a communications standpoint it seems that while Apple is on the track towards innovation perhaps the company should consider getting on the social media bandwagon, a blog at the very least.

Check out this little video clip for a unbiased overview of the product from the Rochester News.

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Recession?

•March 10, 2009 • 1 Comment

Yes, it is true, the consensus is that we are in a recession.  But what experts haven’t said is precisely what this means, or rather, how will the current economy affect the individual.  As Michael Allison noted many journalists use loaded terms and metaphors to describe the current economic state, though much of this discussion is difficult for the untrained eye to decipher.  In fact, negativity seems to be the only message that is consistent across all media outlets.

Never fear, consumers are here!  In fact, some brands have taken to the current economic climate with ease.  It is the brands that provide a value beyond the tangible products sold that will continue to thrive.

picture-12 For instance, last Friday as I was cruising along the I5 corridor a sign for the Coach outlet caught my attention and I pulled off.  I had NO idea what was I was in store for.  The outlet had opened for the first time that morning and the checkout line was over an hour long.  As I stood in the door with my mom I couldn’t help but wonder how such purchasing power was possible in a ‘recession’.   We left the Coach store to wander around and found that every other store in the outlet mall complex was nearly empty.  Then I realized, it wasn’t the opening or the store itself, but the prestiege associated with Coach goods that drew in consumers like fireflies to a lamp at night. They came in swams and hovered for hours.

So, what does this teach us from a public relations standpoint?  Brand identity, the perceived level of quality and above all the customer opinion of a product, organization or company is increasingly important in a recession.  As consumers’ ability to buy decreases, it becomes increasingly important ot provide value beyond the initial purchase. As Marna, an elderly Spanish woman with snappy red shoes who stood behind me in line said, “I took off work becuase I knew that today was going to be a special day.”

Consumers are looking toward the future, searching for value.  So, from a public relations standpoint,  it is our job as PR students and practitioners to learn to create value, to create a level of prestige that stems beyond the initial purchase and into the future, to make people want to stand in a line with screaming babies and angry old ladies for over an hour to chase the thrill of the purchase.  Whether we are encouraging a busload of foreign travelers to spend $4000 each on handbags or recruiting volunteers for a non-profit we must be able to answer the “what’s in it for me” question not only for the client but for the consumer.  As my teacher Kelli Matthews always says, its the evaluation part of a plan that really matters.  The values that seem most obvious to brand identity creators may evade consumers entirely. picture-3

Twitetiquitte: Etiquette For the Rest of Us

•March 3, 2009 • 1 Comment

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Ahhh, yet another twitter-nated word from the Twictionary of internet mini-webloging nerds: Twitetiquitte.

Twittetiquitte, per my definition, is the generally accepted standards of use for ‘tweeples’ across the world.  The number of Twitter fiascos I have followed over the past couple of months, including a notable incident that I followed as it transpired online between a reporter and a PR pro in which the reporter threw a bit of a twitter-hissy fit, profanity and all, forced me to ask, “Why?”  Why do individuals break social standards for acceptable behavior in the ‘real’ world with abandon online?  What is it about Twitter that makes people drop their guard and speak without censor?

Watching the twitter failures of others over the past few months, not to mention a few ‘huh, stupid’ moments of my own forced me to stop and think about my twitetiquette.  This introspection was also promped in large part by the etiquette advice of Eugene, Oregon based etiquette coach Mindy Lockard at an Allen Hall Public Relations firm meeting.  The one piece of advice that seems to reign supreme: online is not so different from offline.

Here are my five top tips to avoid a Twitter faux pas (as described by a fantastic and funny post from Joe Loong)

1. Avoid personal information: A friend of mine made the error of posting her phone number on twitter for people to contact her if they were in the area.  Hmm…an obvious breach of personal security, yes.  Well, apparently not.  I have seen numerous individuals post their personal locations as they travel (not just cities, but addresses, hotels, restaurants) Transparency: great, stalkers: not so much.  Consider the number of individuals who can view your information on Twitter and that while the majority have innocent motives, it only takes on bag egg to spoil the bunch.

2. Proper Picture: Does your picture accurately represent ‘you’?  A lecture from Kelli Matthews regarding pictorial appropriateness provided one simple rule for twitter: se your head, literally. A simple head shot that actually looks like you is ideal.  Avoid the sorority pose, the cut-out-friend picture or any pic that features you looking semi-naked (unless of course that is the look you are going for, though as Mindy says “flaunting what your mama gave you is neither professional nor chic!”)

3. Say it only if you mean it: Think before you type, just as you would think before you speak.  Hit each key with intentionality.  Consider the multiple audiences and polysematic nature of your message.  Avoid ambiguous language because chances are your tweeples will interpret each message differently.

4. Look before you link: I am so very guilty of this Twitter failure.  Linking to fantastic content online is one of the many benefits of Twitter, though before you link look at the peripheral content on the page.  I recently linked to a Jim Beam commercial I found particularly amusing, needless to say there was a strange video of a strange woman doing something even stranger with a balloon and a body part in the ‘related videos’ bar.  Not exactly what I was going for.

5. Be humble: During her speech Lockard repeatedly reminded us to be humble, to be gracious and to say thank you.  Though Twitter input is often informal, a little thank you goes a long ways.  If you pose a question and recieve an answer, be sure that you say thank you.  Direct message, tweet, @reply, whatever your style is, give thanks.

Knowledge is Power

•March 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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Knowledge is power. We’ve been taught to believe this age old adage by our parents from day one, but when do we actually come to realize that they aren’t all just a bunch of kooks, that they might actually be telling the truth. When does learning begin?  When does it end, or rather why does it end?

I gained some much needed insight into this question last Thursday as I volunteered to help a group of my PR peers strive for greatness with their PRSSA sponsored Bateman Case Study.  The group organized a college fair, tour and ‘future mapping’ activity for nearly 200 eighth graders.  Holy crap. The yelling, the whining, the all-around-eighth-graderness.

As I led my group’s ‘future mapping’ exercise I found that most of the eighth graders had no idea what they wanted to be, though the majority knew what they didn’t want to do: learn.  Nearly all of the kids in my 60-person group just wanted to be done with school.  So where does this pessimistic and eagerness to ‘be done’ come from?

It stems from structured learning, from mandatory benchmarks and from an educational system that quite often values grades over knowledge.  So when one very adorable girl asked why I went to college I told her the truth, because my parents told me I had to.  But, then came the reason why I continued: because I found that learning made me grow as an individual, as a writer and as a young woman.  Knowledge has fueled my passions, curbed my skepticism and leveled my erratic opinions.

Though I was supposed to be instructing a group of 8th graders, they ended up teaching me a valuable lesson.  I was reminded that learning should be fun, exciting and voluntary.  I was reminded that although my formal education might soon be over, at least for a while, I will never cease to seek information.

As follows are my top 5 ways to learn: picture-21

1. Blogs: Free, fabulous and friendly (time-friendly that is).  Blogs are available on every topic, from career specific (PR in my case) to health care, news, politics, environmental issues, fashion and celebrity gossip – it’s all out there.  The two-way communication of blogs fosters a dialogue that is unmatched by any other.  Pose questions, get answers and join the conversation.

2. Books: Read books for fun: read them because you want to, not because you have to. Books are portable, inexpensive (free at a library) and full of invaluable information (and neato pictures).  READ! Books on tape do not count, though they are admittedly great entertainment.

3. Questions: My parents, professors and friends can attest to my need to ask questions, constantly.  It’s not pestering, its learning.  Ask questions to clarify, to quantify and to educate.  Find the answers to the whos, whats, whens and whys of life.  Seek your answers from mentors, friends, books, blogs and libraries.  We are surrounded by resources: use them.

4. Mentors: Yup, I’m a youngster.  I look up to those with more expereince, expertise and education in my field: you should too. Seek advice from those around you.  Welcome criticism, comments and thoughts.  Look for guidance and assistance throughout your career.  There will always be someone better, more expereinced and more educated to look to. (No, your dog does not count).

5. Write: Writing fosters thought.  Thought fuels writing.  The two are mutually inclusive.  Writing encourages mental growth, increases vocabulary and in turn one’s ability to communicate. Write.  Write blogs, stories, journals, blurbs. Notes to grandma, whatever, just write.

Thanks to Seth Godin for reminding me that we are always learning, all the time.

Building Up

•February 24, 2009 • Leave a Comment

My fortune cookie last night told me to “build on [my] experience to find success,” I attended a contest at The Science Factory Children’s Museum and Planetarium (where I am a PR intern extraordinaire) that centered around children building structures from Lego-like blocks, went to Build-A-Bear (no, your never to old to build-a-bear) and came home to build my portfolio…hm, I sense an overarching theme.  So in honor of the building theme, I thought it only appropriate to continue on this track after reading a fantastic post from Chris Brogan’s blog “Build Blog Posts Like Building Blocks.”  picture-2-18-28-25

Topic, or rather flow from one entry to another seems to be an issue for many of the ‘newbie’ bloggers I’ve chatted with. Without a bevy rabid followers it is a bit difficult to determine what gets readers involved beyond the initial reading phase. Brogan’s post touched on this problem of continual growth with a piece of invaluable advice: every post should be considered a “building block to something larger, instead of just loose pages of thought.”

Consistency is key, and the hardest part of blogging is creating a voice that is authentic and resonates well with users.  So what do I do, I type it like I say it.  Literally.  I have found that if something just isn’t making its way from by brain through my fingers and to the keys that the best thing to do is say it out loud.  Do I feel strange talking to my computer, um…yes, but it is totally worth it when an interviewer tells me they like my voice on my blog (yes, this has happened a few times now).

As applied to blogging newbies, like myself, the advice to “Make your posts a gathering place for others’ ideas, and then share those ideas in their own way” struck a chord.  The goal of blogging, at least in most cases, is not to gain readership but to gain involvement and to create a forum for the discussion of ideas, experience and technique – because above all we newbies want to continue our education past college.

So, message of the day, blogs are like free lectures from your favorite online professors.  If you apply their teachings, as I hope to do with this material of Brogan’s, to whatever field you are in, I can say with certainty that you will gain an invaluable education that does not require the god-forsaken $500 matriculation fee (whatever that is).

Oscars: Fantastic Opportunity for ‘Transparency’ via Social Media

•February 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Yes, it’s true, I have a guilty addiction to celebrity tabloids and gossip.  It all began as an innocent interest, something to pass the time as I sweat away on the elliptical each day, then I found myself buying one, two, three magazines a week, watching E news every night and visiting Perezhilton.com more than necessary.  However, this addiction has provided me with an incredible ability to analyze and interpret public perceptions of celebrity and how these individuals strategically mold their images. 

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Tonight’s Oscars were a blazing example of an opportunity for stars to give their fans a glimpse at the ‘real’ person behind the gossip.  Notably, Jennifer Aniston stepped out with Beau John Mayer.  The couple has been the object of much talk amongst the tabloids and gossip bloggers for John’s alleged infidelity and Jen’s desire to have kids immediately: a bunch of crap? Probably, but we really don’t know. In fact, all we know is what the mainstream media and bloggers let us know, much of which is only confirmed by ‘confidential sources.’

However, tonight, celebrities were provided with an opportunity to step in front of the camera and present themselves as they saw fit (or as their publicists had instructed them to do so.)  

So, who’s to know real from fake in the land of glitz and glamor?  I certainly have no idea, but it seems that influentials in social media certainly had their say tonight.  On Twitter, groups following a dialogue were abundant, from #oscars, #Love_the_Oscars to #Academy Awards.  By googles blog listings for ‘oscars’ I found more than 200 entries just an hour into the show. Perezhilton.com: Hilarious, quirky and biased as always with pics, video and commentary.  Celebuzz provided interesting up-to-the-second commentary, photos and dialogue on its message board (as seen below). 

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The Oscars proved a fantastic opportunity for fans and followers to discuss their perceptions of celebrities on an individual basis and as a collective.  I was unable to watch the awards tonight, though via Twitter I gleaned the basics: who won, who wore what and who gave a fantastic speech.  I had to replace conventional television with social media, but the experience was entirely satisfying.  I saw a new side of the Oscars, one that was analyzed, scrutinized and dramatized by individuals from all over the world, not just a couple of entertainment news reporters – ultimately providing a higher level of transparency. 

Main message: the rapid-fire nature of social media provides a new discussion-based aspect to publicly viewed events.

Learning to Fly

•February 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I think Tom Petty summed up my twitter experience best, “Learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings; Coming down is the hardestpicture-23   thing.”  Twitter, like many other social media 2.0 tools, is a ‘learn as you go and take your lumps’ tool.  My initial perception of Twitter was that it was limiting with its measly 140 characters, and excessive with the amount of updates it took to stay on the social radar.  Hmmm…I was wrong.  I wanted Twitter to be like many of its social media network and blogging predecessors, though I now realize the thing that makes Twitter so fantastic is that it filled an untapped micro-blogging niche. 

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As Matthew Ingram put it, Twitter stripped away all the excess and distractions on many other social networks and left its user with the essential component of communication – words.  140 characters to be more specific.  It is Ingram’s concept of the Tweet as the smallest atom of the social media macrocosm that I found particularly interesting. 

The Tweet is the stepping stone for PR ‘tweeples,’ newbies and veterans alike.  Twitter provides an the tools for strategically developing your digital footprint through sharing.  Twitter begs just one question: What are you doing?  It is the constant and informal nature of the Twitter update that seems to have created a viral information-sharing effect.  

Are my tweets always enthralling bits of just-breaking news? Not even close, but when they are valuable they are retweeted multiple times, with the potential to be shared with thousands of tweeters.  So, moral of the story, Twitter is superb, stupendous and amazing.  It lets me see what is going on in the lives of those I know, those I want to know, and those that I simply admire from afar.  It is the networking tool that requires little effort beyond 140 characters and a bit  of know-how and a message worth sharing. 

Tweet On!