Six Reasons I Find Blogger Outreach Refreshing

A colleague recently suggested outreaching to media and bloggers has become one and the same, but I disagree. After years in the world of media relations, I’ve found blogger outreach opens new doors, creates opportunities and brings pleasant surprises. As I increasingly apply blogger outreach as a tactic, here’s what I’ve learned about the bloggers I’ve encountered:

  1. Bloggers command a personal approach and return the favor. Word is out that starting an email with Dear Blogger (instead of their name) is one of the best ways to burn a relationship at the get go. Similarly, a blogger wants a personalized pitch tailored to their interest, needs and format. In return, they don’t call you a “handler” and may even name you in their post. Being mentioned is not something I want but I met one blogger who did this as a part of her editorial style and I had to work with it. (Ideally you should pitch personalized opportunities to a traditional reporter but many tolerated generic titles and news releases for years.) 
  2. Bloggers don’t always take the liner path. You may pitch via email but bloggers respond on Twitter, LinkedIn or another social channel  but often not email. For this reason and to build a relationship before making the “ask,” I try to connect with bloggers and other influencers when I start work in their niche, by following them on Twitter, posting meaningful comments on their blogs or connecting on LinkedIn. 
  3. Bloggers are positive and passionate about their topic. Not that I haven’t met pumped traditional journalists but let’s face it, most reporters are assigned a beat or role but bloggers usually create their niche and embrace it.
  4. Bloggers are objective but many are also notably humane and striving for a greater ideal. They seek content with substance but rarely at someone’s expense. In reviewing products, some bloggers will hold the review rather than trash an item that proves disappointing.  This shouldn’t discredit covered products but rather raise a red flag on those omitted. In pitching a story on workplace tragedies, I found some print reporters wanted access to next of kin within days of losing loved ones; bloggers were content to profile older accidents with fresh insights on lessons learned that could prevent future tragedies. (I’m not suggesting all reporters are out for blood but we tell clients “nothing is off the record” for a good reason.)
  5. Bloggers like fun and rise to the occasion when given the opportunity to engage with a new curve. In pitching a book, I offered one copy to the blogger and one as a giveaway to their readers by whatever route they chose.  One launched a contest to draw a winner from readers who tweeted the book’s hashtag. When offered a sample of a pet food not yet available in her state, a pet blogger offered to spark interest by running a contest instead. Traditional reporters can be fun but their creativity is often restricted by the medium, as well as their publisher and other watchdogs.
  6. Bloggers do recurring coverage within a short time span. After reviewing a pet food, one blogger referenced the food in later posts on travels with her dog. Bloggers embraced my book pitch by running preview posts or contest follow-ups with additional excerpts and references.

On the flip side, as bloggers own their time and often blog as a sideline. They may feel less pressure to quickly turnaround a post, if at all. Although reporters do drop stories,  you generally sense an article will run once a reporter has clocked significant time and seems content with the way it’s evolving.

I still have a high regard and good rapport with traditional journalists but find these subtleties inviting.

I’m still learning about social media and how to best work with bloggers and other influencers but this is what I’ve found so far.  Are my experiences unique or “one offs”? Did I miss any other key differences? Please tell me.

Efficiency Links for a Desert Island with Wi-Fi

Truth be told, working as an independent consultant is sometimes like being on a desert island. Fortunately, there are plenty of online tools to make business and personal life more efficient.

Here are my top picks (in Letterman order) and most are free (unless cited):

10. You Send It – When everyone has access to an FTP site except your client (or employer) and you need to send a massive video, conference call recording (done that), presentation or the like — it’s indispensable and free for files up to 100 MB or 1 GB per month.

9. Mapquest – I’m chronically direction-challenged and even some well meaning GPSs can throw me off. So getting step-by-step directions in advance can make my day.  Even with a high navigation IQ, you may still find value.

8. Jacquie Lawson ($12 CDN or US per year) – Personal niceties are good and near the top of the list is remembering a birthday. Sending an eCard is wonderful but your intentions may backfire if you hit them with a ton of ads. This site offers an array of watercolour animations set to classical and original music. Great if you’re a pet lover or even if you’re not.

7. SurveyMonkey – Dependable online survey development tool for external questionnaires to internal peer evaluations. There is a free version but to stop the ‘hard sell’ to your users, the $20 (US) monthly fee is worth it. [As an aside, I’ve just discovered Fanappz for somewhat hassle-free Facebook quizzes.]

6. morgue File – Sounds morbid but this is my site for a good range of free, downloadable stock photos you can legally copy, distribute, transmit or adapt. (You just can’t use them as standalones to profit by.) Ideal for small iconic photos for blogs and Facebook pages (e.g. events) and I’ve yet to see a corpse pop up. And you can make a donation to help sustain this site for the long-term.

5. Twellow – Good tool for identifying Tweeter users (tweeps) that cite a specific topic in their profile and you can use it to narrow to a specific geographic region [e.g. Search: Toronto, Within: Dogs (selected from available topics)]. Wefollow and Listorious are also helpful. None is perfect but you need to start somewhere.

4. Klout – Once you’ve found them, Klout measures the size and strength of a person’s sphere of influence on Twitter in terms of: True Reach (real people followers & friends not robots)Amplification (likelihood their messages will be re-tweeted or spark dialogue); and Network (if their engaged followers are influential). Would I bet money on its accuracy? Definitely not, as it has me pegged as a Montreal Canadiens fan, for one thing. (As a Toronto native, I’ll always hold a candle for the Leafs.) But it does offer some insights.

3. Bit.ly – Even before Twitter, URLs were like octopuses always getting tangled and truncated at the worst times but with the 140 cutoff, something had to give. Drop your URL in the gigantic blue field, release mouse and a short URL appears. What’s more, it can track clicks to this URL and even create a Quick Response (QR) code. (Click Info Page+)

2. Alexa The Web Information Company – Comprehensive tool for navigating the web to find relevant blogs and discover their DNA (inbound links, origin, Alexa ranking, traffic ranking within various countries, etc.). You can even set it as a widget on your toolbar to assess sites on the fly.

1. Snag-it ($49.95 US one-time purchase) – More an application than an online tool — but I keep it open 24/7, so it might as well be. It captures small sections of a screen that you can then “copy” and “paste” or save in almost any file type. (Guess how I made the collage on this post?) Invaluable for copying sections of a reference document or website that refuses to print the regular way.

That’s my list. What’s yours? And what have I missed?

Tweet

Making Lemonade with Life’s Lemons

A year ago, my position was eliminated after a corporate sale. Déjà vu to many.

Sometimes you can’t jump back to full-time immediately for fiscal or other reasons. Given the options of resting, hitting the pavement for an elusive senior role in a recession or a hybrid of working and growth, I chose the latter. Here’s what I aimed for and did. Hopefully one or two options suit you.

  1. Pursue a short-term contract (even if it’s slightly below your ideal title or compensation) – While the fallout from an involuntary exit varies, I don’t think anyone escapes a jab to their self-esteem. Bouncing back’s important but you may need to regain balance first. I contracted to a former manager who wanted my skills for a short-term crunch.
  2. Catch up on giving LinkedIn accolades & pursuing some yourself – It’s an ideal time to recognize people who’ve made a huge impression or been a major asset. As networking starts with giving, I didn’t position it as quid pro but separately pursued references from established contacts, with one from my last employer as a top priority.
  3. Boost your social media knowledge & online library – Set-up a feed reader, subscribe and devour social media blogs. Adopt a bookmarking tool to catalogue relevant articles. I set-up iGoogle but readers have grown since. I fell for Delicious to bookmark but latterly switched to trunk.ly.
  4. Strengthen  personal use of social media & grow your online brand – Update your online profiles, claim new ones (check your name’s availability) and take ownership of those morphed with your name (begin with zoominfo.com). Participate in conversations. Post thoughtful comments & answer forum questions. (Even one favoured answer to a LinkedIn query earns you a profile highlight.) For me, it’s a work in progress.
  5. Develop content creation or curating skills in low-risk settings – Learn WordPress.com and develop blogging acumen if possible. If not, focus on curating. (I fail at blogging but took rudimentary steps with a sustainable living wiki using Wikia and managing facebook pages, starting with one for my church.) Curating is on the rise with even more opportunities to explore, such as Paper.Li, the time’s ripe to embrace it.
  6. Volunteer during core hours (as well as night-time) to enhance skills & learn new disciplines – Daytime hours open new insights and sometimes you can negotiate a work-in-kind donation. One day a week, I re-vamped a national, not-for-profit’s website. And don’t forget IABC’s wealth of volunteer roles.
  7. Polish your presentation skills with diverse audiences – Present to professional and IABC forums but also stretch your audience agility by addressing PR college classes or career day at your child’s school.
  8. Teach a post-secondary class part-time – Teaching doesn’t have to be full-time but taking on one class forces you to identify the steps behind core PR skills, keeps you current and gives you firsthand knowledge of gen next thinking.
  9. Take in-class or online courses – They don’t have to be expensive. IABC offers select free webinars  and other organizations offer IABC member breaks.
  10. Reconnect with family & friends for intangible value but sometimes this too uncovers opportunities.

Other ideas?  Please share.

Education Boosted By Integrated Campaign

I hope the 2011 Effie Worldwide Awards, which close this week, honor a campaign that matches or exceeds last year’s Grand Effie winner: the Detroit Public Schools’ (DPS), which epitomizes what I think of as integrity2impact.

When you work in communications, which not everyone ‘gets,’ it’s gratifying to hear of a program that exceeds objectives and links to cost savings or profits. Even better, if it shifts perceptions to the positive, like this school board’s “I’m In” campaign did.

This initiative was prompted by a $305 million deficit and school closures, driven by declining enrollment due to lack of public confidence. Years ago, I served as a communications officer for a large Canadian school board that faced similar issues. We offered a wealth of positives but I suspect like many school boards had to counter the fallacy that government-run or public sector programs are inferior to privately run initiatives.

Like the board I worked for, DPS honestly had many successes, but they were likely eclipsed by urban school crises, from virus outbreaks to fatal fights on school turf.

Leo Burnett and the board countered this with an integrated paid and earned media campaign that used appreciative inquiry, guerrilla-like tactics and the classic bandwagon principle. They created 172 blue doors to represent its 172 schools and the great opportunities behind them and placed them at community events and a downtown plaza. Each door showcased a school’s benefit to local neighbourhoods. Teachers, students, parents and celebrities used each door as a platform to showcase a school’s benefit to local neighbourhoods. Residents were encouraged to show their commitment with “I’m In” yard signs among other tactics. The impact? Enrolment rose by 6,500 and $49 million in funding was raised. [To read about this in more detail, see HBR’s article on it.]

With the explosion of social media tools and steady growth of cause marketing, I think other public sector organizations could potentially adapt this approach and take it even further.

Take-aways from Helping Manage an IABC Chapter

After eight years on communication association boards (the last six for IABC/Toronto), I’ve done my last ‘ritual’ as immediate past president. This means time to shift to new priorities, including bringing this blog back to life.

During these years, I’ve been asked why I immersed myself in IABC and what I learned. As an extrovert, part of the attraction was the opportunity to work with smart and inquisitive people. The other reason was to give back and sometimes push the envelope towards change, which may be slightly easier from the inside.

Beyond broad personal development and growth, here are some specific things l learned through my tenure:

  1. Concerns cross continents…while we sleep. I once woke to an email from IABC Chair Barb Gibson asking about a controversial blog post on a Toronto event’s promotion. (Thanks to a pre-planned visit, I was able to alleviate the issue that day in person with the student blogger and online with the chair.)

  2. Sometimes a budget in the red is positive. When a not-for-profit, like IABC, earns a surplus in one year, a loss may be incurred in the following year to spend it. Although accurate and prudent, it’s an awkward message to deliver. (We’re still ‘wordsmithing’ the best way to say it.)

  3. Social media fosters a crowd mentality, which veers toward the positive. It can also bring defenders from the most unlikely places. I was once jarred by two volatile tweets from a member questioning IABC’s value. I invited offline discussion, while several tweets extolled the association’s benefits, including the detractor’s boss (not usually an overt supporter).

  4. Responsiveness counts more than ever, particularly online. Following the incident above, a member sent kudos for the quick response.

  5. For a great volunteer outcome: Start with a passionate volunteer. Provide a base, remove roadblocks and step back. To establish a mentoring program (which was a personal goal), we found a strong director with firsthand appreciation of a great mentor.  We held a ThinkTank to gather primary research, developed an outline and moved mentoring from a heavy portfolio with minimal cycles to a lighter one, with room for support. Our volunteer ran with it, doubling engagement and boosting feedback within two years.

  6. Leverage the expertise of varied generations, particularly when change is involved. We made the leap to social media through demos from Gen X and Y members on how it worked, combined with Boomer and Gen X insights on policies and guidelines to mitigate risks.

  7. Tap into IABC’s Worldwide network to access award-winning solutions for personal and chapter benefits. After grappling with website options, we found the answer in IABC Maritime’s revered site. By emulating it, we cut some corners but upheld quality.

  8. IABC members are welcoming and inclusive worldwide. (Once, when rooms were in short supply at Leadership Institute, I shared with a member and her beloved Labrador Retriever.)

  9. In terms of ‘Be heard,’ less is definitely more, when it comes to IABC.

  10. Setting SMART objectives for a chapter’s strategic plan is a best practice. It also means extensive follow-up to validate metrics and write CMA submissions….with sometimes a glistening award or two at the end.

For me, it was a great experience and one that I would highly recommend. I imagine leaders in other chapters have similar, as well as varied insights.  If you were on an IABC board for a couple of years or more, what did you learn?

(For more about IABC/Toronto, see IABC/Toronto 2008/2009 Annual Report.)

TransitCamp for Social Change Fuelled by Communications & Web 2.0

Burdened by frustrated riders, cash shortages, a dysfunctional website and a declining reputation, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), heeded an innovative idea from the city’s local bloggers in early 2007: leverage the community’s network of transit and IT geeks as a vehicle for innovative ideas.

The result was TransitCamp, a day long out-of-the-tunnel thinking “think tank-like initiative” on how to improve the TTC – or more specifically its website, shelters, subway cars and the way it communicates with its riders.

The event was modeled on the California-born “BarCamp” format, which is an open-ended gathering where participants think creatively, across disciplines and about a specific theme or area of concern. In this forum, which can become a sleepover of several days duration, leadership emerges from the group but all participants are equal and all sessions are meant to be complaint-free crucibles of ideas that belong to the collective, not individuals. It sounds like a throwback to a 60 commune but appears to have merit in addressing today’s issues.

TransitCamp was held on February 4, 2007 and attended by 120 ‘campers’ comprised of IT geeks, communicators, artists/designers, web developers and university students – all united by a passion for transit. They used a range of Web 2.0 collaboration tools to engage with each other live and in person. Some of the ideas to emerge from the session included: setting up designated quiet cars and an ESL car; a design competition for metro passes; and distinct maps for each street car line showing its intersection points.

A more telling result was following the session, a previously issued RFP for a new website was canceled and a new one developed based on the needs and principles identified by the community of interest that collaborated at TransitCamp.

Buoyed by technology and social media tools, this communication initiative fostered cooperative problem solving between two potentially antagonist groups, and comes close to the ideal of 2-way symmetrical communication.

Was it 100% successful in terms of achieving flawless-transit? No, but it initiated constructive dialogue with riders about which trade-offs are most feasible – and set the stage for positive social and community change.

Interestingly enough, the TTC is currently in tense contract negotiations – but word is they are open to less disruptive alternatives if resolution can’t be reached by a strike deadline. And the second TransitCamp is set for this Saturday, April 5. The only sad note for communicators is searches of the TTC website could not uncover any mention of past or future Transit Camps – while blogs are full of them.

About this Blog

This blog was designed to counter negative stereotypes of communicators and PR practitioners by citing case studies that go beyond “spinning” for profit or to save a reputation — to actually have a beneficial or triple-bottom line impact. The intent was to uncover basic “block & tackle” strategies that change attitudes, raise awareness or promote actions that do good. In other words, find and blog about “reverse spin.”

The reality is this focus may have been so narrow, it froze the screen and process. To make it work, I’m tweaking the positioning. Essentially, the premise I try to live by is to start with an ethical goal and deliver impactful results without compromising integrity. And while honest profits are ethical, it’s that much better when the results go further. So I’ll try to cover a more holistic view of this and what works to make it a reality.