Journalism: Profession or State of Mind

During a recent Journchat, Chris Anderson and I had a bit of a back and forth about the idea that journalism is a state of mind as much as it is a profession. “It is a profession. Sorry. 100%” he Tweeted. Yes, he agreed that everyone has the power to communicate, but, he believes, journalism shouldn’t be the goal. “Everyone is empowered now. Zero barrier. But you don't want to be a journalist -- it's an unholy priesthood,” he continued. “It is essential not to paint yourself into a corner. America has rejected your sort of "objective" journalism for dead.”

Fox news and MSNBC have proven that bias can attract an audience, but by the same token, the New York Times continues to act as a standard base. What’s more, Wikipedia keeps making adjustments and changes meant to eliminate the bias from it stories, focusing entirely on the facts and grows stronger because of it.

No, journalism isn’t dead.

But the original question Chris and I were debating centered on whether content creators (bloggers, tweeters, Facebookers, you name it) are journalists. I believe it really depends on the mindset of the person creating the content. Some will consider themselves journalists, and they and their readers will hold them to journalistic standards, while others will not care about those standards, wanting just to tell the story of their day. The trick for us, as readers, is to separate the two.

This is an issue Sree Sreenivasan and I touched on during our podcast conversation. He looks at it from another direction: turning people with other skills into journalists. Sree pointed to the trend of the “programmer journalist” someone who has skills as a coder as well as a journalist. “I would hire and consider somebody a journalist if they make iphone apps with a journalistic mindset,” he told me about 10 minutes into the podcast. That mindset includes finding the truth, maintaining ethics, getting the story right and being able to get it out on deadline.

As for whether journalism is a mindset or a career, that depends on the person. “It can be both. It can be one for some, the other for others and both for many,” Sree says.

Part of our job as PR people concerns understanding this landscape so we can better guide our clients. We need to understand what gives a individual influence so we can better keep them updated with information.

Back at my previous job a member of my PR team messed up big time. Long story short, she made an edit that she thought was innocuous, got a story placed and later found out that her edit changed the very nature of the story itself. After hearing from the client’s customer and the editor of the publication, we cleaned things up, but during the issue the team member tried to put things aside by saying “it’s not like someone died.”

No, no one died. But I told her in no uncertain terms that the error got in the way of the editor’s credibility, and that’s all he and his publication have to sell.

Our job is to understand and respect that, whether we’re creating content for our clients or pitching stories. We can’t feed them false information and expect to be taken seriously.


New Workshop: Socialize Your Newsletter

[FRESH GROUND NEWS] Chuck and I are pleased to announce the first of a series of new workshops and training offerings for businesses and organizations looking to become more social: "Socialize Your Newsletter":

Your newsletter does a great job of feeding good content to your target audience, but does your newsletter work for all your audiences? Is your newsletter ready for the current realities and future developments of social media? The fact is email is just one channel among many. We can help you take the great content you’re already developing and put it to work feeding the social media channels that will drive future growth.

Through a one-day session the Fresh Ground team will help turn your existing content into the seeds that will help grow your community through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even your own site-specific blog.

Designed for small businesses, the one day, $1,000 program will help in the following areas:

  • Set-up: We will set up a blog for you that is linked to your Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter pages. The goal is for you to post once and distribute many. When we leave, one blog post will automatically feed your various social media channels without you having to worry about it. Training about how to setup a simple audio or video podcast is also available.
  • Instruction: The basics of learning the tools to run your social media campaign is half the battle. It won’t take us long to teach you the basics and help you overcome the “fear factor” that many face when first stepping into the social media universe. Let Fresh Ground act as your Sherpa, helping make you comfortable with the tools to help grow your business.
  • Measurement: No tool can be truly useful unless you know how to measure. We will get you started with some basic measurement tools, such as Sitemeter, Google Analytics or even Facebook’s own internal measurement tools. We will also train you on what to look for and how to understand the metrics so you can tweak your program over time.

For more information, and to sign up for the program, visit the workshop page.


Funnel Vision: Finding Value in your PR Spend

Too often PR gets lost in its own process, taking little stock of where the articles and content it creates fit in with the rest of the sales funnel. Hence the "thud factor" that most agencies use to justify their budgets.

For the uninitiated, the "thud factor" refers to the sound a thick book of clips makes when it lands on the CEO's desk. Usually it's put there by a smiling VP of Marketing who received it as a "gift" from the expensive PR firm they hired a few months back.

But what did all those clips do for the company?

While at the very well done Highland Capital Partners Sales 2.0 event*, one former CEO (whose company is now a part of a much larger group) responded to my question of how you measure PR by saying "you don't, you just allocate a percent."

Mike McDerment, CEO of FreshBooks

Mike McDerment, CEO of FreshBooks

Well, he's close. After listening to Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact and Mike McDerment, CEO of FreshBooks talk about cost per acquisition it became apparent that, to a degree, the PR budget is actually set by attrition. That is, if you know what a customer should cost and you know the cost of all your various acquisition channels (Google, advertising, partnerships, email programs, contests, etc.) then what's left goes, at least in part, to PR.

All of the presenters gave a great view of their sales funnels, the most substantial coming from Goodman, but the bottom line is this: if you aren't sharing this kind of information with the folks managing your PR process, you can't get the most out of your program.

Goodman showed a wonderful graphic of the Constant Contact sales funnel and there at the top are a number of marketing functions that drive prospects. Among the various arrows is PR, though it quickly became apparent that it's the most difficult of the bunch to measure.

Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact

Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact

To put it in the blunt terms of the presenters: who cares how many hits you get to the site or how many leads you get, the only thing that matters is how many customers ultimately sign. From them you can learn what programs work and what don't.

One great case study came from Constant Contact, which is constantly testing, measuring, listening to customers and tweaking marketing programs to determine what works. Of course, the other side of this is experimentation. As an example, to get a good read about how radio advertising drives customers, Goodman and her team invested in ads in a number of cities while also maintaining a series of control groups. They then ran those ads for a number of months, measured the results, compared them with the control groups to ultimately understand the true effectiveness of the campaigns. The goal was not only to measure how the previous ad buys did, but to figure out how to better target future marketing programs.

I'm not sure how many smaller companies have the stomach, time and budget for this, but it is certainly a lesson in doing things right.

Coming back to the executive above who just allocates some toward PR, his flip answer has a little more science behind it. Assuming that 10 percent of his budget goes to marketing (his estimation) he takes that budget, runs through some rough calculations regarding customer acquisition, personnel, etc. and came to a final figure for PR.

Then the big question is: what are you getting for your money? Sure, you know you need PR, but what kind of PR?

Capping the event was Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot who talked mostly about content but also talked a bit about his "PR is dead" meme. While he says that, I'm not sure even he entirely believes it, as he changed his phrase over the next few sentences to point out that PR needs to change. Or, as so many have said on his blog, media relations is on life support, but PR itself still has value.

The thing is, I agree with Brian. Traditional media relations is dead, and if you're paying just for that then you need to rethink. Frankly, if you're working with a big agency they probably told you they do more, but all you see are media clips. Why? Because it's what they do. They do it well. There's a place for media placement, but it must fit into a much larger PR program that includes content creation and community relations.

Otherwise, your sales funnel may slow to a drip.

*I'll post more thoughts from this event over the next few days.


The Social Media Culture

I've been pondering a lot recently about the cultural changes that need to be put in place inside organizations to effectively implement Web 2.0 and social media across the enterprise. This recent research from SNCR 's Don Bulmer and Vanessa DiMauro shows the reach beyond marketing very clearly. I highly recommend you read this.

The research shows that social media is having a tremendous impact beyond the realm of just marketing: it's impacting professional decision making. Here are the highlights of the research (directly from Don's post):

1.  Professional decision-making is becoming more social - enter the era of Social Media Peer Groups (SMPG)

  • Traditional influence cycles are being disrupted by Social Media as decision makers utilize social networks to inform and validate decisions
  • Professionals want to be collaborative in the decision-cycle but not be marketed or sold to online; however online marketing is a preferred activity by companies.

2.  The big three have emerged as leading professional networks: LinkedIn, Facebook & Twitter

  • The average professional belongs to 3-5 online networks for business use, and LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are among the top used.
  • The convergence of Internet, mobile, and social media has taken significant shape as professionals rely on anywhere access to information, relationships and networks

3.  Professional networks are emerging as decision-support tools

  • Decision-makers are broadening reach to gather information especially among active users

4.  Professionals trust online information almost as much as information gotten from in-person

  • Information obtained from offline networks still have highest levels of trust with slight advantage over online (offline: 92% - combined strongly/somewhat trust; online: 83% combined strongly/somewhat trust)

5.  Reliance on web-based professional networks and online communities has increased significantly over the past 3 years

  • Three quarters of respondents rely on professional networks to support business decisions
  • Reliance has increased for essentially all respondents over the past three years

6.  Social Media use patterns are not pre-determined by age or organizational affiliation

  • Younger (20-35) and older professionals (55+) are more active users of social tools than middle aged professionals.
  • There are more people collaborating outside their company wall than within their organizational intranet

5 Things I Love About Twitter

So now that you know what I hate about Twitter, let me share what makes me swoon. Yes, I love Twitter. I love how it nestles into my pocket on my iPhone, how it winks at me from my desktop and how it offers me a place to share my most recent thought with the world  before I’ve even thought it through.

  1. Feed me! – I’m an information junkie. Don’t spoon-feed me information, pour it on; fill my brain with facts, figures, links and ideas. Maybe this is how I’m wired or maybe it comes from years working on a TV newsroom, where TVs are always blaring, keyboards constantly clicking and producers yell curses at the top of their lungs. Whatever the reason Twitter satisfies my craving. Wake up in the middle of the night and need a quick fix? Twitter is there. Want to know what people are talking about at any given moment? Check out the trends. Need some suggested reading? A new link is just a moment away. It’s like having the whole Internet pumped directly into my brain.
  2. Give Me a Great Big Glass of Google Juice – We all bow down before Google. The great and powerful one sends us people who want to buy what we’re selling. Twitter, with its real time updates and every present “buzz,” not to mention its search deals, provides both Google and it’s smaller but powerful friend Bing, with updates that help power your SEO rankings. In many cases companies report that Twitter now drives more traffic directly than Google searches. So as a traffic driving strategy, Twitter is da’bomb.
  3. Reach out and touch someone – You remember that old AT&T refrain, right? "Reach out and just say 'hi.'” I’ve always felt that you can reach just about anyone on the planet by dialing the right digits into the phone. But Twitter makes that process so much easier. In fact, you can find out interesting things about people you didn’t even know where that interesting. I follow Jay Feely, as he’s a kicker for the Jets (I follow most of the players on Twitter). Yesterday he landed himself into a fascinating discussion about religion and I learned about his political and religious leanings. Not that it changes my thoughts about him or the Jets, but it gives me a much richer, more nuanced and personal view of someone who I watch on TV each week. It’s not just that I can touch celebrities, but I can also meet people like Jeff Cutler and Joselin Mane, first online and then in person. These are people with whom I share something in common and who I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Taken one step further, Twitter lets me put out a Tweet about my location and have an instant party. Then there are the tradeshows I can’t travel for, but can attend vicariously by searching on the hashtag.
  4. Get that stuff out fast! – Twitter Lists are great, aren’t they? A way to organize the people you follow into groups of like-types and make your full list of followers into something more manageable. Then you can share those with others, like a list of attendees at a show or a list of clients. Because the folks at Twitter get stuff out before they’re fully baked (see yesterday) they can get that stuff into the hands of the users and see what happens. The crowd tells Twitter what it wants, and Twitter delivers. Since they don’t need to worry so much about the business model for every little thing, there aren’t delays while board members discuss “monetization strategies.” Plus, as users, we’re not nickel-and-dimed to death in order to get the features we really want.
  5. Retweets – Oh yes, retweets. I know what you’re saying, “Chuck, you hated those yesterday,” and part of me does. But then there is the echo effect. Putting a link or thought on Twitter is kind of like sending off a message in a bottle. The currents are going to take it, people are going to retweet it and send it off to their readers, then maybe those readers will send it to their readers and it’ll land on the shore of some distant land where you’ll receive the most insightful comment you’ve ever heard.
  6. BONUS! Tweet Chats – The idea of an online chat has been around since the earliest days of the Internet. I remember talking with my friends on my school’s Unix systems via the talk function or using IRC. Back in the days of CompuServ we called it the “CB.” But Twitter takes this to a new level because people already have the tool. What’s more, you can just search on a hashtag like #journchat or #solopr and see the whole chat at a later time.

So what do you love about Twitter? Come on, don’t be shy. Show how you HEART Twitter.


Who Owns Social Media (Take 2)

Society for New Communications Research Fellows were asked yesterday to review the year's biggest trends, and predict what's coming down the pipeline over the next year or two. You'll catch them all in an upcoming blog post from SNCR, but one topic that came up was the imminent re-emergence of the "who owns social media" debate, fueled by the growing realization of the impact that social media and Web 2.0 can have outside of the marketing department.

Not to continue harping on customer service, but here are a few examples of the impact improved customer service programs can impact the top line (courtesy of social commerce vendor Bazaarvoice):

  • Reviews led to a 20% decrease in PETCO’s return rates.
  • Customer Q&A decreased product returns 23% for automotive retailer JC Whitney.
  • Canadian Tire decreased customer service costs by 81% with Bazaarvoice Ask & Answer.

And that's just customer service -- social media can impact HR, finance, engineering and many other departments. So, this begs the question: who owns social media? This question was beaten to death back in 2008, and yet the answers were not consistent. Are we ready to finally settle on the answer? Everybody owns social media, and therefore the CEO owns social media. Any questions?


Stop, Look and Listen: Your Customers are Everywhere

"My customers aren't on Twitter."

I hear that a lot. And not just about Twitter, but replace "Twitter" with just about any social networking tool and you get the idea. However, these assumptions are pretty dangerous.

A jeans and workboots guy at a job site in Boston

Taking a break from working on the job.

Let's look at general contractors and construction workers who build skyscrapers and state-of-the-art hospitals. You're probably thinking that these folks aren’t checking their twitterfeed or reading blogs online, participating in webinars, let alone viewing video blogs on their iPhones.

Well, you're wrong. Vico Software, which makes software for the construction industry, gets 17 percent of its Website  traffic from work it does on LinkedIn. That's nearly as much as it gets from Google. This is, of course, thanks to the work of the marketing team who works hard to keep the Vico User Group vibrant and updated, but they also reach out to the 27,000 general contractors they communicate with regularly on LinkedIn.

The executive team and product managers blog regularly about current industry news items, trends, and best practices.  These blogs are shared on LinkedIn and new discussions start every day, leading to new connections. According to Holly Allison, VP of Marketing at Vico Software, “The LinkedIn Community is ripe with networking, opinions, and sharing what works.  Our target audience utilizes LinkedIn and other social media outlets on a daily basis in order to stay one step ahead of the competition.  And in this rough economy, every advantage counts.”

Vico also hosts a bi-weekly educational webinar called Fridays with Vico. Over the last 5 quarters more than 7000 people have viewed one of those webinars, either live or recorded, with 25 percent of those being new prospects, all generated from social media outreach such as LinkedIn, Twitter or a forum in which Vico participates. As far as leads go, those 7000 people turned into an average of 90 leads a month to each US sales representative.

All this outreach has  the industry talking, with partners telling Vico executives that they see Vico Software everywhere.

Let's move on from construction workers to teachers.

Credit: Chicago 2016 Photos via Flickr

Credit: Chicago 2016 Photos via Flickr

Picture a public school teacher in your head. She is on her own in the classroom, maybe with an assistant, but facing a roomful of children. What if she has a question? What if she needs help, on the fly, with a lesson? What if a student asks a sensitive question and she just doesn't know where to go with it?

Twitter to the rescue!

Thanks to Karen Miller of, I learned how teachers are reaching out to each other through Twitter. So if a teacher has a question or needs help, he simply picks up his mobile phone, sends out a Tweet and in minutes has an answer from a community of teachers around the country.

So, what if you're a company, like, that has a business model focused on attracting teachers? Then you get involved in those teaching discussions, and that's just what Miller and her team do. That work has led to a boost in traffic for the young company and increased use among students.

So before you dismiss any social media tool as being "irrelevant"  to your audience, take a listen. You may be surprised at what you find.


Presentation to the Women's Bar

I did a presentation to the Women's Bar Association of Greater Boston over lunch today where I met a lot of interesting people who are practicing law in a number of different areas. Below is the "Social Media for Lawyers 101" presentation that I created for the event.

For the women who may be coming here for the links, there were two I mentioned.

First was the list of law blogs from Ernie the Attorney. The other is the list of lawyers on Twitter. Keep in mind that both of these are starting points so it would be wonderful if you can share other people you may find interesting here in the comments.

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