Author Archives | sradick

About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

Content Marketing That Wins: Making Brands, Readers AND Google Happy

Social Media Week Chicago Scott SmithNick Papagiannis and I had the opportunity to kick off Social Media Week Chicago with a presentation titled “Content Marketing That Wins: Making Brands, Readers, AND Google Happy” to a packed house at Morningstar in Chicago. If you missed it, we’ve created a Storify for the event hashtag and embedded the livestream and presentation below. Thank you to everyone who made it out and/or participated virtually – I’m really looking forward to continuing this conversation because content marketing has a lot of potential…if we don’t screw it up first.

Seemingly everywhere you look, there’s content marketing tips, tricks, and hacks. During Social Media Week Chicago alone, there are at least 16 sessions on the topic. But remember when content marketing consisted of publishing a blog post a week? Now, with consumers constantly bombarded with news and content via an ever-expanding array of media and social platforms, brands have been pressed into a “content arms race” that has them posting to blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. every single day. They’re even using automated content creation and curation platforms to feed the beast and stay at the top of search rankings. But how much of this activity actually serves a brand’s business goals? Or truly engages consumers?

Just like the hammer in search of a nail, marketers are spending more and more of their time and energy reducing every conversation, article, and photo to a piece of data, all in an effort to maximize their ROI and deliver the most eyeballs at the lowest price. Instead of a world where brands are creating content that solves problems, adds value, or creates deeper relationships with customers, we are perilously close to a world where more simply equals better.

Here’s the thing though – we don’t have to do things this way. We have the data and the tools to scale actual conversations and relationships. We have the tools to talk with people directly now. We have the ability to precisely target only those customers who will care about the content. Content marketing gives us the opportunity to rethink marketing – let’s stop trying to game the system and optimize every piece of content and instead think about how to best optimize our relationships with our customers.

The big takeaway from our presentation is that content should be beneficial to your customer, reflective of your brand, and optimized for Google, in that order.

If you don’t want to watch the whole recording, you can check out the slides here.

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Four Ways Brands Can #Unplug

Digital Detox camp

Image courtesy of Flickr user davitydave

This post originally appeared in Ragan’s PR Daily. 

One of the world’s most connected men, Baratunde Thurston, recently took a month-long digital detox, chronicled in the July/August issue of Fast Company.

Thurston had grown increasingly exhausted with trying to keep up with all the Tweets, photos, status updates, check-ins, chats, and texts. He realized his always-connected lifestyle just wasn’t sustainable. Technology allowed him to create thousands of virtual relationships and conversations, but instead of adding value, they were actually stressing him out. He was spread a mile wide and an inch deep, connecting with everyone yet not really connecting with anyone.

Chances are, you’ve felt the same way. What once began as an easy way to connect with friends and family, meet new people, and share interesting stories and links has become an overwhelming source of stress. We struggle to keep up with the constant notifications and alerts. We have an irrational fear of missing out (or “FOMO”) on that party, that funny video, that witty comment. We want to be everywhere, but in doing so, we aren’t ever really anywhere.

The good news is the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way. People are now actively avoiding their digital lives in favor of reconnecting offline:

Paradoxically, as people are realizing this always-on, always-connected lifestyle isn’t sustainable, companies and brands seem to be going in the opposite direction. I remember when publishing one blog post a week was considered a best practice for brands. Now brands are expected to post 15 times or more every month, and be present and active on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Soundcloud and Vine. There are even tools that will automate the whole process for you, enabling brands to do away with all those pesky human tasks like researching, thinking and writing.

Content marketing is becoming a numbers game that most brands aren’t going to be able to compete in, much less win.

Rather than trying to keep up with the Joneses and be everywhere (while simultaneously not being anywhere), brands should consider going on a form of digital detox of their own. Quitting everything for a month isn’t really an option, but there are several lessons brands can learn from the trend to help simplify things:

  1. Stop micro-measuring. Instead of focusing on the ROI of every piece of content, spend some time doing things that don’t have an immediate ROI. Ask your customers questions because you’re generally interested in their feedback, not because it will increase your engagement figures. Share something interesting that another brand created. Write a blog post about an employee who did something interesting.
  2. Prune your presence. You probably can’t just up and leave Twitter, but will anyone notice if you shut down your Pinterest page? Close your Vine account? Stop the weekly meeting to discuss your Tumblr editorial calendar? Is every single one of your online properties helping you achieve your business goals? Or is it there because you heard it was the next big thing?
  3. Learn the value of silence. Just because a royal baby was born doesn’t mean you have to offer your congratulations. If there’s a terrible tragedy, don’t feel the need to offer your condolences. Believe it or not, most of your customers aren’t going to get into an uproar because you went a day without a post. If you’re not going to do anything tangible to help, show some respect and be quiet.
  4. Take it offline. Brands should realize their communities live offline as well. Take some of your social media budget and instead of applying it to more content generation, syndication, or promotion, consider sinking it into some good, old-fashioned offline activities. Go to a store and talk with people about your products or your commercials or your ads. Take some of the products you’ve reserved for influencer outreach and give them away to people in the community. Really effective social media goes beyond content and builds real relationships with real people.

Just as a person may have to unplug once in a while to build deeper, more meaningful connections, brands have an opportunity to start doing the same. You may just realize that those clicks, impressions, and likes you’ve spent so much time measuring are actual people who want to talk with you about your brand.

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A Partial Reading List for PR Students

Students in class

Image courtesy of Flickr user vasta

College students across the country are in the midst of moving back to college for the fall semester. In between partying, traveling, club activities, sports, Greek commitments, and jobs, some will also be attending classes. Those lucky enough to be taking a PR class should be looking forward to discussions about an industry that’s being turned upside down by technology. You’ll learn from brands who have made mistakes. You’ll learn from brands who have succeeded. You’ll learn about laws governing social media. You’ll learn how to use social media for yourself. You’ll learn how social media is being integrated into areas beyond just marketing and PR. And you’ll also probably learn plenty of tips, tricks, hacks, and shortcuts, all in the name of efficiency, scalability, or optimization.

Do me a favor this semester. If your PR professor starts sounding like a Buzzfeed article sharing all kinds of tips and tricks advocating how to get the most fans, followers, retweets, likes, or views, tell them that you want to stop taking the easy way out.

If the books and blogs you’re reading for your PR or marketing class start to sound too much like late night infomercials extolling get-rich quick schemes, here’s are some resources I’d recommend sharing with your professor and classmates this semester.

  • The Cluetrain Manifesto  – I’ve talked about this book a lot for a reason. It’s one of the first books I read when I first started in social media back in 2006. It’s as relevant now and it was then, and is a great foundation for any PR or marketing professional.
  • Humanize – Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter provide a fantastic how-to on making organizations not just seem more human, but actually function in a more human way. It tackles the hard people side of change that most organizations seem to think is taken care of with a memo or a training class.
  • Marketing in the Round – Marketing and PR are no longer the only organizational touchpoints with the public. Customer service, marketing, PR, operations, executive leadership – the public doesn’t care about your org chart. Successful marketing is integrated marketing.
  • Social Media Strategist – There’s a difference between being the millenial who is handed the keys to an organization’s social media accounts and being a business leader who uses social media to change an organization. FYI – the latter is who you want to be. Read this book and learn how to do that.
  • Spin Sucks – One of my favorite blogs for years – Gini and her team are whip-smart PR practitioners who understand there’s no technology replacement for good PR.
  • The BrandBuilder Blog – You’ll hear people whine and complain about the difficulty in measuring the ROI of social media ROI. Don’t be one of those people. Read Olivier’s blog and book.
  • Shel Holtz – I’ve been a fan for more than five years. Shel’s one of the smartest PR practitioners you’ll ever meet.
  • Shelly Kramer – I’ve just started reading Shelly’s blog over the last year or so, but I love her matter-of-fact approach to marketing and conversational tone.
  • Doug Haslam – I love Doug’s sense of humor and willingness to call BS on marketing “best practices” that have pervaded this industry.
  • Rick Rice – Rick and I share very similar views and frustrations with the PR industry – the PR practitioner as consultant and adviser, not as publicity hound.
  • Geoff Livingston – I’ve known for a long time too and have always admired his commitment to his beliefs and his broad knowledge of everything from marketing to branding to PR to social media.
  • Jeremiah Owyang – one of the smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in this industry. His blog, presentations, and dozens of research studies have been immensely helpful to my career.

There are a lot of other great resources out there (please share them in the comments), but sadly, even more that will lead you down a path full of shortcuts and hacks.

This semester, avoid taking the easy way out and remember that establishing and maintaining relationships are supposed to be hard. As any college student will tell you, creating and maintaining any relationship isn’t easy. It’s not easy in our personal lives, and it’s certainly not easy in our professional lives. It takes time and commitment. There’s small talk, awkward silences, disagreements, reconciliations, and long conversations. This is the case whether it’s girlfriends, boyfriends, roommates, customers, reporters, or employees.

Through all the tips, tricks, hacks, and shortcuts, remember that at the end of the day, successful PR really comes down to basic interpersonal communications. Listen more than you talk. Empathize with the other person. Add more value than you take. Say please and thank you. Be honest. Apologize when you’re wrong. Keep the basics as your foundation and you’ll do just fine this year and into the future.

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Using Social Media to Reach the Hard-Working Class

How are you engaging with the new "hard-working class?"

How are you engaging with the new “hard-working class?”

They’re not part of the 99% or the 1% or the 47%. They’re not part of the East Coast Elite or the Bible Belt or the Sun Belt or the Rust Belt. They’re nurses, office administrators, housekeepers, entrepreneurs, waitresses and stay-at-home moms. They’re told they’re part of the middle class, but they sure don’t feel like they are. They’re part of a growing class of people in this country making between $30K and $50K a year, aren’t eligible for government assistance (and wouldn’t take it even if they were), are married with kids, and are working their butts off to make things work any way they can.

According to new research released today by Cramer-Krasselt (disclaimer: I work there), more than 75% of lower-middle income moms are more likely to identify themselves as part of a new group called the “Hard-Working-Class. These are people, specifically working moms, who don’t identify with the any of existing consumer segments. They’re technically middle-class, but middle-class doesn’t reflect their reality.

“I’m technically middle class, but I don’t feel that way. If you’re middle class, you should be able to have a home, be able to save for college. I’m barely able to make ends meet. Every day is just a struggle.”

The study found that these moms are re-defining themselves into a new social class and social mindset. For marketers, these moms don’t represent just a new, sizable consumer segment, they wield a lot of influence within their families and with their friends. And while they are price sensitive, they also have many smart strategies for making ends meet.

  • They use coupons…a lot
  • They like/follow/subscribe to brands in social media…if there’s a deal involved
  • They get together with friends…to share and trade clothes, food, and coupons
  • They use coupons to save money…but also to get that feeling of “getting a deal”
  • They buy generic brands…but will spend more for “tried-and-true” brand names

Marketers have to not only better understand this new segment of consumer, they have to find out how to help them. It’s not just about getting these “masters of making it work” to buy your products, it’s about identifying ways to help them out. They’re looking for brands to do more than just offer them a deal or a coupon. They’re looking for acknowledgement, recognition, and most importantly, support.

For members of this hard-working class, they use online communities, forums, Facebook, and Pinterest to create these communities and support systems and conduct the research that allows them to make their dollar work as hard as possible for them. For brands, social media allows them to connect with these moms…if they can stop the hard sell and be helpful and supportive.

  1. Go where they are. Hard-working class moms realize they can’t do it all by themselves. That’s why they’re constantly scouring message boards, forums, and other social media for tips, tricks, and deals. Rather than creating your own branded online communities, consider first actively participating in existing unbranded communities by answering questions, solving problems, and offering discounts to those who need it. Why do you think Best Buy employees frequent online electronics forums or car brands actively participate on top auto blogs? Not to drive customers to a branded site, but to solve problems and answer questions where they already are.
  2. Instead of begging for likes, ask for feedback. Stop using social media to grovel for likes and instead use it to ask what your brand can do to help these moms. Is it making smaller, less expensive SKUs? Is it offering payment plans? These moms have been misunderstood by brands for years. Use your social media channels to ask them for their thoughts and really understand their situation. The trick then, of course, is that you have to actually do something with this feedback once you get it. 
  3. Help her use what she already has. Take a page from Patagonia, who explicitly told their customers that they didn’t have to buy a new jacket just because it was the holiday season. They realized that by helping their customers understand how to do more with what they had, they actually increased loyalty and sales.
  4. Demonstrate the versatility of your products. Campbell’s has realized these moms are always thinking of ways to stretch their budget so they are helping customers understand new ways to use their products. Their Chunky Dinner Creator allows moms to stretch that one can of soup into a whole dinner for her family. Brands should use social media to demonstrate unique uses of their products and encourage their customers to share their discoveries too.
  5. Evolve the coupon. Brands have used coupons to instill customer loyalty by offering a discount. But these women aren’t looking for handouts – they’re looking for hand-ups. They’re looking for more value, not just lower prices. What if brands flipped the coupon and instead of lowering prices, they offered more value at the same price? What if brands took all that big data everyone’s talking about to identify and reward their loyal customers with insider access, limited edition products, or sneak peeks into new plans?
  6. Show how your products work in conjunction with others. Are you a fashion brand? Use Pinterest to show these moms how your shirts, pants, or accessories can be matched up with other clothing items they may already own. A food brand? Help them craft entire meals for their family. A car brand? Instead of talking about horsepower and torque, show how your cars can fit a soccer team’s equipment in the trunk or how kids can stow their toys in the backseat.

What do you think? Has the term “middle-class” become an anachronism? Is it too broad to actually mean anything to anyone? Do you know anyone who identifies more with the hard-working class? Do you?

For more on the study, check out the articles below:
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