Coca-Cola is one of the world’s biggest and most well-recognized brands. It makes me wonder how many billions – or perhaps even trillions – of dollars the company has spent to get there. That’s why it was particularly refreshing to read a recent story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the way the company reacted to the success of a Coca-Cola Facebook page that the company did not create.
The page was actually created last year by a pair of 29-year-old Coke fiends in Los Angeles. Dusty Sorg and Michael Jedrzejewski created the page for no other reason than they were passionate about the beverage. It turned out to be a very popular page. Within a few weeks of its inception, it had hit 75,000 fans. After the first million fans, the Facebook administrators contacted Coca-Cola to see if it wanted to take over management of the page.
Fortunately, Coke’s director of worldwide interactive marketing declined. His thinking was that if the company took the page over, it would be seen as an intrusion and it would lose some of its grass-roots appeal and credibility.
Instead, the company rolled out the red carpet for the page’s creators and invited them to headquarters for a sit-down. Ultimately, the decision was made to take a collaborative approach to managing the page between Sorg, Jedrzejewski and a small group of Coca-Cola employees. Today the site has 3,365,220 fans and is the second most popular page on Facebook page right behind Barrack Obama’s.
Coca-Cola superfans given the red carpet treatment
In today’s world, a company cannot maintain complete control over its brand no matter how hard it tries or how much money it spends. Brands are being discussed, debated and mutated all across the Internet. And, while companies can’t control their brands, there is still a lot that can be done to influence the discussion. At the end of the day, the key is to for a company to become a legitimate part of the community having the discussion. Relinquishing complete control of your brand can do wonders for your company’s image.
Some smart executives at Coca-Cola were well aware of this fact when they addressed this particular situation. This type of thinking may well help Coke become the choice of a new generation.
The first step in getting someone to read your corporate blog is helping them find it
If a tree falls down in the forest and no one is around to hear it, did it make a sound? Some say yes, some say no and people with better things to do couldn’t care less. But what if we replace the tree with your company’s blog and the forest with the Internet? Now you’ve got a brain teaser worth considering. Your business can have the best, most compelling blog in the world, but if nobody ever reads it you aren’t making any noise. And if this is the case, what’s the point?
Before someone can read your blog they have to find it. And the best way to make sure people find any kind of online content is to make sure it is search engine optimized. This month I had the privilege of attending Searchfest09 to hear what some of the industry’s leading SEO experts had to say about their industry (which is a LOT more interesting than you might think). SEO is part art, part science and part magic. It is something few will ever completely understand.
Fortunately, you don’t have to become an expert to add some significant SEO punch to your corporate blog. There are a lot of great tools and techniques available that are easy to understand and implement.
Getting Started with SEO for Blogs
Use WordPress — WordPress is the Microsoft (and Apple) of blog platforms. It is easy to use and there are a lot of SEO functions built right in. In addition, because WordPress is built on an open platform, there are literally thousands of people developing cool plug-ins that you can add to make your blog do all sorts of wonderful things. And there are LOTS of great SEO plug-ins available. If it is a corporate blog, consider making it a part of your company Website (like www.koifishcommunicaitons.com and www.koifishcommunications.com). This way, every time you add a new post, it helps your Website’s search ranking as well. Even if your blog is already established somewhere else, moving to the WordPress platform is probably a smart investment. Be forewarned, however, it is a very good idea to identify a few WordPress experts and resources before you embark on your journey.
Understand the basics — Do a little reading about things like title tags, description tags and keyword tags. Learn how to develop an overall keyphrase selection strategy. If your company Website is search engine optimized, learn the keyphrases used there as well and integrate them appropriately. The better you understand these these basic principles, the better your blog SEO will be.
Install good SEO plug-ins — The All In One SEO Pack is a plug-in that will allow you to customize the title, description and meta tags for each post. There are several other tools that will do the same thing as well, but this one seems to be one of the most popular. Also, investigate tools that will allow you to customize the URL of each post to include your chosen key words.
Keep SEO in mind when writing copy — When writing for the Web, you are writing for two audiences — readers and the search engines. Your readers must always be your primary focus. They must find your content compelling and valuable. That said, there are a lot of simple things that can be done including:
Use Keyphrases repeatedly (at least three times) in your post
Use titles and subheads to reinforce keyphrases and make your copy more readable
Make title tags interesting and compelling
Make sure the copy in your title tag and description tag appears in your body copy
Invite readers to comment
The topic of SEO copywriting can’t be effectively tackled in a single blog post. It is a subject worthy of ongoing study. The best book I’ve found on the subject is “Successful Search Engine Copywriting” by Heather Lloyd-Martin. She also provides a lot of good information on her blog.
Use Web analytics — WordPress has a great blog stats plug-in that provides you with a wealth of information about your blog and your readers. It includes a report on the actual search terms that were used to get to a particular post. This is a great way to see if your keyword strategy is working and to consistently fine-tune your process. In addition to the WordPress plug-in, it is fairly easy to add Google analytics to your blog as well. Google offers this same capability and it is always nice to compare and contrast multiple analytics tools, as none of these tools seem to be perfect.
SEO is a Journey
In reality, SEO for blogs is much like SEO for Websites. In fact, from a search engine perspective, it is exactly the same. The only difference is that you don’t have to be a programmer to implement the fundamental components into your posts. And a blog post written using sound SEO practices can sometimes jump straight to a #1 Google ranking for a particular keyphrase in a matter of hours.
SEO for blogs does require a significant amount of extra time and effort but the payoff is huge. While it may seem daunting at first, it really isn’t that hard once you get the swing of things. Keep in mind that complete mastery of SEO is not attainable — even by the most experienced professionals. It is a continuously moving target. SEO is a journey, not a destination.
And, of course, you can always outsource the creation, management or even writing of your corporate blog. If you choose to go in that direction, make sure that the person or agency you hire has a full understanding of the SEO aspect of blogging. If you’d like more information on this important topic, feel free to drop us a line.
Respect for old-school journalists is just one reason to retire the “Press Release”
Once upon a time PR was all about working with the media. Back then, we didn’t need to qualify the word media with a word like “traditional.” There was no such thing as “new” media or “emerging” media or “social” media. These were simpler times.
Back then — as it is today — the term “press release” was used interchangeably with the term “news release.” But even back then, there was some debate about which was better. For the most part, the PR community was indifferent as was the majority of the editorial community. But there were some editors — mostly old-school journalists — that did express a preference. They preferred the news release. They would argue that a news release was the vehicle a company should use to issue news; and if it wasn’t news, it shouldn’t be released. To these reporters, calling it a “press release” made it seem disingenuous — as if the company was subtly admitting the intent of the communique was to manipulate them rather than to provide them with the facts. Journalists back then cared about facts. Some still do.
In those days, it seemed that we were always fighting with clients NOT to send out meaningless drivel via news release — even if their competition insisted on doing so. It tended to piss editors off to have to wade through a mountain of crap just to get to something meaningful. But things have changed.
Today, there are plenty of practitioners who argue that companies should be a lot more liberal with news releases and they are correct to do so. Releases aren’t just for the media any longer — they are used to directly communicate to a whole array of audiences who read them online. News releases can — and should — also be used to help out with search engine optimization and as part of a social media strategy.
Strangely, many of those practitioners who most actively evangelize non-media uses of releases still insist on referring to them as press releases. I say the time has come to purge the term “press release” completely from our vocabulary. The term is no longer technically correct. What say you?
Ghostwriting is ghostwriting, no matter what the medium
There has been a lot of debate about the topic of ghostwriting as it pertains to various forms of social media. This is an important debate to have since the underlying issue is credibility, which is something we must all strive to maintain. In this context, terms like full-disclosure and transparency come up early and often. And, while both of these terms are extremely valuable to this discussion it would be a mistake to consider them absolute.
Dave Fleet is one of the many industry insiders who has recently taken on the issue of ghostwriting for blogs and social media. His position is that it’s OK to ghostwrite a blog on behalf of a corporate CEO as long as you provide a disclaimer that the blog is actually written by someone else. I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that. If you make that disclaimer, by definition, it ceases to be ghostwriting.
My take is that ghostwriting is ghostwriting and it can be done effectively and ethically no matter what the medium. So long as the attributed author takes full ownership and responsibility for the material, message, language and ideas being presented, there is no foul. The way I see it, it is up to the individual to choose how they wish to represent themselves publicly. If they wish to enlist a professional writer to help them express their ideas as eloquently and coherently as possible, that is their right.
Though still controversial, Ghostwriting for individual executives on company blogs is becoming commonplace. Blogging has come a long way since “the good old days” of a few years ago when blogs served more as online journals written by a singe person expressing their own thoughts. Today, it is hard to distinguish a great blog from an online magazine, which has lead some old timers to declare that blogging has died. This is wrong. Blogs have not died, they have just evolved. Today, they provide an excellent platform for many types of companies to provide information, interact with customers and build its brand. However, expectations regarding the quality of content have risen. Frankly, I prefer reading things that are well-written and have been proofed and edited. And I’m not alone.
As with any type of communication, there are always multiple variables to consider. Blogs and social media have quite a few. We encourage most of our clients interested in blogging to go with a multi-author format. This allows us to write as ourselves as part of the client’s team when it makes sense (which is most of the time). However, there are some posts that are most appropriate coming from a member of the company’s senior management. In those cases we are always willing to edit or ghostwrite these posts.
When ghostwriting a blog post on behalf of a client, we follow some very rigid guidelines. First and foremost, we make sure that the attributed author reads, edits and approves everything before it is published. This is critical. It is equally important to make sure that the attributed author is involved with responses to all comments made to that particular post.
As you delve into various forms of social media, the waters get a little more murky. While I believe that you still could ethically ghostwrite for someone on Twitter or Facebook, I can’t think of many instances where you should. Practically speaking, if an individual client is involved with social media in a professional capacity, it is something they should do themselves.
We do maintain Twitter accounts for a number of clients. In these cases, we normally Tweet on behalf of the company as a whole. We field questions, weigh in on relevant issues, share interesting articles or promote new items on the blog. Followers rarely are concerned with the actual identity of the person of people manning the Twitter account. If asked, we gladly reveal our identity.
Typically, when agencies or companies run in to trouble is when they intentionally misrepresent their identity and motives online. And when they get caught, they deserve every bit of grief they get. It is great that the marketing community, for the most part, is vigilant about maintaining ethical standards as we plunge into this ever-changing world, but going after ghostwriting seems to me to be a mistake.
Former Financial Times reporter Tom Foremski wrote on his blog about a conversation he had with a PR veteran who believed she was qualified to advise clients about social media even though she doesn’t actually participate in any social media communities herself.
His view is that you cannot know enough about social media by reading about it to provide adequate counsel to a paying client — it is something you really have to experience to fully understand. I couldn’t agree with him more. There is but one way to understand social media and that is to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.
Today most PR and marketing agencies claim to have expertise in this arena — and many of them actually do. Fortunately, this experience is easy to verify — it’s all just a few mouse clicks away. If you are looking to hire an agency to help you with your social media strategy, you owe it to yourself to do a little digging. Check up on the members of the team your potential agency is proposing. It doesn’t take long to figure out who is an active member of the community and who’s a poser, wannabe or tourist. If they are on Twitter, do they actually Tweet? If they have a blog, how often do they post? How’s the content? If they are on Facebook, do they have a lot of friends? When is the last time they posted something? Even if it is just pictures of their cat or a link to some funny video it shows that they understand the medium and how the community works — and that is important.
One way to avoid the whole size discussion -- while reducing your impact on the planet -- is to take your own mug
I freely admit that I am no fan of Starbucks. It isn’t because I think Starbucks is a big, evil corporation. It isn’t because they have mediocre coffee or that I am opposed to paying $4 for a non-alcoholic beverage. It isn’t because they have automated espresso machines that eliminate the artistry of the Barista and it isn’t that I have a phobia of the stereotypical MacBook-toting customers that infest the place. The reason I dislike Starbucks is the lingo they want me to use. At Starbucks, they want me to call a small a “Tall,” a medium a “Grande” and a large a “Venti.” And I refuse to play along.
This is harder than you might think. Every time I go in there (which isn’t very often) I ask for the same thing — a mocha with 4 shots in the smallest cup they offer, hold the whipped cream. Without fail, this brazen act of defiance ignites the same battle of semantics with the person who pushes the button that activates the automated espresso machine (a.k.a the artist formerly known as Barista).
“You mean a Tall?” they say, while holding up a small – but not the smallest – cup for me and the rest of the store to inspect.
“No, I mean a small,” I say pointing to the stack of the small cups I know damn well they refer to as “Short.”
At this point, they grab the small cup and announce to anyone within earshot that I’ll be enjoying a short quad no whip mocha. Never — and I mean not once — have they just said OK and made my drink. It is as if their training demands that they correct me before they commence with the button pushing.
I’d be content with this little game — and I’d probably even play along — if Starbucks was cool and hip and counterculture enough to refuse to conform to a cup size nomenclature thrust upon them by “the man.” But Starbucks is the opposite of cool. In many ways, Starbucks is “the man.” Everything about Starbucks says safe, milktoast, corporate and vapid. That’s why mainstream America embraces it.
I’m sure some see this as a branding coup for Starbucks. I see it as an annoyance.
Update: It appears I’m not the only one who sees it as an annoyance. A reader sent me the link to this video …
KoiFish, the world’s second best PR blog, just made the move to WordPress. Now that I’ve had a few days to settle in, I’m very happy with my new home.
My initial decision to go with GoDaddy’s blog platform was mostly fear-based. The thinking was that, if I ran in to a technical issue, there would be someone I could call. Unfortunately, I’ve since found out that GoDaddy’s customer service is next to useless (unless you complain about it on Twitter).
My decision to make the move was based on the fact that GoDaddy does not provide the ability to tag individual posts, which means search engine optimization is limited. SEO is part of the reason I blog, so I had to move on.
The first step was easy. WordPress has a function that lets you import most of the stuff from your old blog into your new one. IF your old blog posts aren’t full of legacy formatting codes you’ll be set.
Unfortunately, most of my posts were originally authored in Word and then pasted into my blog. When you do that, you end up adding a bunch of HTML gunk — including unwanted formatting code — at the same time. That code caused me trouble then and caused me more trouble when I moved. The good news is that WordPress has a function that lets you paste word copy into a special place where all that gunk is stripped out. I ended up cutting out all the copy from my old blog, pasting it into Word, then pasting it in to WordPress using this feature. It worked like a charm. Now I can make format changes in the template and they are applied to every post.
Images also moved right over. However, my images were actually housed on my old blog. When I imported my old posts, the images themselves weren’t actually moved. Instead, links to the place where the images are stored were created. No big deal except for the fact that they are stored on the old blog and that blog is going bye-bye very soon. I ended up moving each image, one at a time, to my new blog. This took a while, but at least WordPress gives you the option of changing image names, creating captions and making alt tags for each image. This is all good for SEO.
Comments didn’t transfer. I ended up cutting and pasting. This was tedious, particularly since I went in and tweaked the dates to reflect when they were originally posted on my old blog (rather than when I posted them to the new blog).
After having a few days to play around with WordPress, here’s what I’ve concluded:
There is a lot of SEO functionality built in
The dashboard is very easy to use
There are thousands of templates to choose from, so you don’t have to design your own page if you don’t want to
You can cut and paste copy authored in Word without having to deal with formatting problems. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it actually kinda is
Images are easy to manipulate and tag
There are thousands of “plugins” to choose from. These let you easily add some very slick funcitons to your blog. If you can think of it, chances are someone has already designed it. Stuff like additional SEO functions, Twitter streamig, Google, etc., etc., etc. is all there for the uploading. And uploading most of these plugins is simple
Most hardcore blogers use WordPress. If you have a question or run into a problem, there is a large community of people you can ask for advice
Because templates and plugins are created by the community, some work well and some don’t. Trial and error is required
Templates are coded in PHP instead of HTML. If you want to create your own (or tweak an existing one) you need to know PHP — or know someone who does
The template can be somewhat restrictive in how you lay out each individual post. For example, the template I use mashes the body copy of a post directly under the list of tags under the headline. I like a little more breathing room for the copy, so I need to insert a space at the beginning of each post. Inserting this space in older posts can be tricky — I can only do it when I make edits using Explorer. I have no idea why that is
Speaking of Explorer, you need to check the appearance of your blog in Explorer and Firefox. It will not look the same in both. This is really an Explorer/Firefox issue as far as I understand it, but it is still a hassle. It was less of a concern using GoDaddy software
I’m still looking for a great way to make sure links to old blog posts will be properly forwarded to their new home. Until I get that sorted out, my blog will currently reside in two places. I’m pretty sure this is a negative thing for SEO.
Many thanks to my pal, David Naylor from Truth Entertainment for all his help in customizing the template to make sure it has the same great look and feel to the KoiFish Communications Website.
Update: I guess the joke’s on me. I just put a quick note up on the GoDaddy version of the blog to tell people to come to this version instead. Damned if they didn’t just add the ability to tag each post. This was my main complaint and it has been fixed. I still like WordPress better, but find this to be more than a little humorous.
Phelps’ Sugar Smack dealing sponsor didn’t want to associate itself with such unhealthy behavior. Hypocracy? Absolutely.
When the story emerged that a photo of Olympic hero, Michael Phelps pulling tubes was making its way around the Internet, I wasn’t shocked to hear that some of his sponsors chose to drop him. This is understandable and sponsors should have every right to maintain control of their brand image in any way they see fit. And let’s face it, some segments of our society are ridiculously uptight and Puritanical.
But in an age when you can admit to having experimented with illegal drugs and still become President of the United States, it is good to see that not all of Phelps’ sponsorships are going up in smoke. In fact, Omega came right out and said that they don’t care and will continue to support him. I say good for Omega.
It is worth pointing out that Michael is actually wearing a “totally dope” Omega in the picture. That’s right ladies and gentlemen; he actually uses the product he endorses.
This particular factoid was the subject of a recent CNBC blog post. The author of the story gave Phelps a lot of credit for being a genuine brand advocate. There was a poll associated with the story looking for reader opinions on whether or not the photo was a positive or a negative thing for the Omega brand. I have to admit I was a little surprised that fewer than 9% of the respondents thought it was a problem. The majority, 62%, thought it was a good thing and the rest were undecided.
It is hard to say if Kellogs really made a mistake in dropping him or not. Frankly, I’m inclined to think it was a reasonable decision. The Kellogg’s brand genuinely does need to appeal to a very wide audience and uptight people buy groceries too. On the other hand, the company cannot be completely unaware that “reefer madness” is unquestioningly responsible for a measureable percentage of Pop-Tart, Famous Amos, Keebler and Cocoa Krispies sales.
Until you can wrap a dead fish in a Website, I won't be able to declare the Oregonian completely useless
The cover story in the current issue of Time Magazine is about what can be done to save the newspaper industry, which currently teeters on the brink of financial ruin as it struggles to find successful ways to monetize its online content. In that same issue, Managing Editor Richard Stengel talks about the importance of the press and its role in maintaining a healthy democracy as he tries to make the case for micropayment for online news coverage.
Indeed, an educated and informed electorate is vital to our system of government. The importance of the media cannot and must not be overlooked. It is clear to me that the mainstream media should be highly compensated for giving “we the people” all the information we need to make sound decisions and choices. What is not so clear to me is if the mainstream media, as it exists today, is still living up to its end of the bargain. More and more often, it seems the answer is no.
The recent Presidential election provides a stunning example. The number of journalists who seemed fine with being openly and unashamedly active in helping build one of the most successful brands in the world – Brand Obama – was astounding. It seemed as if they were more interested in being part of a historical movement than investigative journalism. Ultimately, it appeared as though the final, triumphant headline they so badly wanted to be able to write had a very strong influence upon what they decided to cover (and opted not to cover) along the way. Obviously Team Obama wasn’t the only team to enjoy biased coverage. Not all members of the press shirked their responsibilities to the American people, but the number of those who did was far too high.
Of course, media bias isn’t limited to national politics. My local newspaper, The Oregonian, routinely disguises editorials as news. I wrote about one horrific example of this on my Rolling Thunder Communications blog last year. This example was a four part series on the dangers of ATVs. Each article appeared on the front page (above the fold). Each was filled with heart-wrenching stories designed to blame an industry for the irresponsible behavior of a few unfortunate individuals. Alas, it does not look like this problem is unique to The Oregonian.
The Move to Online News
Today, many newspapers have more online readers than they do print subscribers. This is due to a number of factors, not the least of which is that most newspapers make content available for free on the Internet. Rarely does the mainstream media recognize that another major factor in driving people online is often its own shortcomings. One of the reasons web-based “citizen journalism” has been so successful is that it can and does fill the growing informational void created by the mainstream press.
Citizen journalists are not bound by editorial policy or professional standards. This means that you have to take coverage with a pretty major grain of salt. On the other hand, a lot of the people who are publishing stories do so because they are passionate or feel a sense of duty to report about important topics that the mainstream media overlooks (sometimes, they believe, intentionally). The best citizen journalists hold themselves to self-imposed standards that can be every bit as high as traditional press.
Regardless, readers who are willing to wade through enough biased online muck can regularly come across nuggets of important information that they can’t get anywhere else. The more of these nuggets they find, the less value they are likely to see in traditional journalism and the less likely they are to begin paying for it. More importantly, as the quality of mainstream journalism continues to decay, the more likely we are to base political decisions on the wrong factors and, in the end, we will all pay for that.
The Internet has forever changed the face of PR and marketing. Today the importance of Websites, blogs, bulletin boards (forums) and e-newsletters are well understood. However, when it comes to social media, things get a little sticky. Plenty of savvy marketers have found ways to effectively leverage virtual communities such as Second Life, Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed and Twitter for the purposes of building brands or influencing opinions. But for many, social media marketing is still confusing and its value questionable.
For me, Twitter was the most difficult to grasp. I knew several members of the media used it, as did most of the PR 2.0 thought leaders. But the first few times I visited the site, I could see very little value. All I saw were messages about what people are having for lunch, what they did at the gym or reports about their personal bathroom habits. The only conclusion I could draw from my initial experiences with it was that Twitter was absurd.
Just to be safe, I discussed my experience with several colleagues to see if they had any additional thoughts or insight. Ultimately, we concluded that twitter was something worth monitoring, but it wasn’t very valuable as a public relations tool. We were dead wrong.
A few months later I read about some of the various third-party Twitter tools designed to help users manage the flow of information and filter out the garbage. A few hours after that, once I installed a few of those tools, I fully understood the value and kicked myself for not figuring it out sooner. Today I use Twitter on behalf of clients, to promote my business, to promote my blog, to follow competitors, to keep up on trends and to monitor breaking news. I’m still not a Twitter junkie, but I now understand why some people are.
At the end of the day, the only way to truly understand a social media site is to become an ACTIVE member of the community rather than just a tourist or guest. Taking the time to truly get to know why a particular social networking community finds the site valuable is a worthwhile exercise. From a marketing standpoint, it is also absolutely necessity. The reason communities like these are so effective at influencing opinion is that people tend to trust information from people they know (even if they don’t know them in person). If you are seen as a legitimate member of the community – even if you are there openly representing a particular company – you will still be seen as trustworthy to some extent. If you are an obvious outsider there only to promote a single agenda, you will have no credibility and you are likely to be run out of town on a virtual rail (along with your client’s reputation).
Yes, it takes a lot of time and effort to establish yourself, but in the end, it is worth it.