Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What SPAM Means Today: From Email to RoboTweets

It’s interesting how the word “spam” has evolved in its usage over the last four or five years. It started out as a very literal definition and now is almost synonymous with the word “bugging”. Technologically speaking, it started referring to unwanted commercial email. Spam includes everything from Viagra emails, to robo-Tweets, to Facebook “Like” requests.

Today the word is being associated with any unsolicited message anywhere, although it’s mostly referring to digital communications. (You could say the people handing out postcards on the sidewalk in Las Vegas are “spamming” pedestrians.)

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s website: “In 2003, Congress enacted the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act to curb spam.” And from then on, all marketers wanting to comply had to include a street or mailing address and an unsubscribe link in their emails. By now, most email distributions are complying. 

Unfortunately, this same tactic of forcing unsolicited messaging onto users has found its way into almost every other digital space: text messages, Tweets, Facebook posts, and message boards. Thankfully, Twitter and Facebook have already provided mechanisms for blocking future assaults from the same sender, much the way most email providers have.

However, there’s a clear difference between unwanted messages coming from scams or autobots and an off-target message coming from a communications professional. 

Scott Wendling wrote: “I’ve heard people referred to as spammers in social media when they send out an endless stream of status updates on autopilot.” 

If it’s unsolicited or if the recipient thinks it’s off-topic, it’s spam – a four-letter word to any marketer. Tech writer, Hillel Fuld uses this example in a “rant” posting about a company asking him to “Like” their brand on his Facebook page: “You want me to take this network, which I spent years building and spam them by promoting a cause, which is in no way connected to the reason they so loyally follow or read my content?”

Despite the difference in where the message originated, the recipient is going to have the same emotion about the unwanted message either way. And that is why the word spam is growing in its inclusiveness (as fast as social media is growing in the number of its participants).

Anyone wishing to avoid “bugging” potential friends or customers can easily find best practices articles online before hitting Send (if you can recommend one, post a link below). Those who don’t communicate with caution risk the punishment of ending up on one of these writers’ blogs.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

3 Lead Sentence Rules from Journalism for your PR or marketing blog

I’ve had enough. I just read another company blog posting that violated a very common rule among journalism professionals. It inspired me to share these 3 tips for writing a lead sentence. Hopefully these will help you:

1. Never begin an article with a yes or no question – preferably, never begin with a question at all. Professors of journalism stand in front of classrooms across America and espouse this to their students. One day, Dr. Dean Nelson casually strolled into our classroom at Point Loma, picked up a newspaper that was lying on a desk and proceeded to read the first sentence out loud: “Would you like to know what’s causing your tax rates to go up?”

He looked at us and replied flippantly: “Um, no.” And tossed the paper into the wastebasket.

I’ve read several company blog articles recently (which I will refrain from naming) that violated this rule. Each time you start writing an article this way, you risk losing your reader. It’s such a universal rule that I emailed my co-worker who used to write for the Washington Post.

My subject line was “what’s the first rule of lead sentence writing in journalism?”

His reply: “Don’t start story with a question or a quote unless the quote is this: “I’m back,” Jesus said yesterday in Jerusalem.”

2. If your mother says she loves you, check it out (with at least two sources)

First coined at the City News Bureau of Chicago, this phrase became associated with a story that one cub reporter called into the wire service about the slaying of a infant. Doubting that the story was true, the seasoned editor replied back before running the story asking, “what color were the dead baby’s eyes?” (Sorry for the gruesome illustration, but such is the stuff of legacy news print.) He couldn’t answer the question because the story had been made up.

If you’re asked to write a story for a company blog, please make sure what you’re writing actually happened. After all, it’s your byline attached to that link. This is also a good rule when accusing clients and co-workers of failing to fact check. Are you sure what they wrote is false? Might want to check it out before you send an email to them about it.

3. Nobody cares what happened to you (unless you’re the President or Justin Bieber). What does it mean?

If I had a penny for every company blog post that started out “Today at our company, this thing happened.” I promise you, unless the President or Jesus showed up, we don’t care. Paper into wastebasket. Project the event that happened onto your readership. Rephrase it so that the first sentence explains why it’s important to them that “this thing at your company happened today.” If you don’t, it’s just going to read like a press release…and who reads those? 

If you want me to expand on any of these points, please ask. I’d be happy to! I’m also throwing in a link to this grammar article, just for kicks. http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/11085.aspx

Monday, February 20, 2012

Breaking a Twitter Addiction

According to British media researcher Ofcomm, 60 percent of teenagers describe themselves as "highly addicted" to their mobile device. Facebook and Twitter are among the most commonly visited places via mobile devices. At the Ragan Communications Conference this past week, speaker Chris Brogan said he wanted to buy the space on the floor between the restaurant's tables and bathrooms. Why? Because when we go in and come out, we are staring down at our phones/Blackberrys -- making the floor beneath your feet, more within your range of view than the pictures on the walls.

Some of my friends are addicted to their digital cameras the way these kids in the UK are addicted to their mobile devices. I was a wedding photographer for several years, and am an avid lover of professional photography. When I brought my camera to an event to photograph it, even when I was on my honeymoon traveling through a rainforest, I struggled with remembering to be in the moment - not just photograph it. As we walked past the tropic flowers, I never took my eye out of the viewfinder. I wanted to know what each angle would look like through my 55mm lens. I did the same thing at several weddings - even a gorgeous outdoor wedding that took place at a beachside golf course.

I got some excellent photographs from these events, but when I think back about them, I don't remember everything. I spent more time and concentration on looking through the viewfinder than I did on inhaling the moment in its entirety. I really failed to be "in the moment." I could have realistically done both: taken great photos and been fully in the moment. But the device constantly fights for my attention. I didn't want to miss a single thing during the these events and the irony is that I think I missed the big picture.

The truth is that my brain needed time to soak in my surroundings and use all five senses (well, six if you include my gut) to process what was going on around me. Giving myself a few moments to enjoy and analyze allows me to contribute more thought to my pictures. And now that I'm very active on Twitter, I'm trying to apply the same pause-first thinking there too (it's hard!). Rather than just pointing and shooting, I think first. I take a few moments to think about what I want in my frame and what I what to document for the long-term, which is the opposite of how most people treat Twitter. Its format is more conducive to capturing quick, type without thinking, posts.

I would argue that each Tweet builds or destroys a skill the same way each photograph strengthens or weakens my portfolio. This is why, during important events, you will not find me staring down at my iPhone. I know when to pay attention to the moment I am in and when to document it. Maybe these teenagers will eventually realize the importance of learning the difference.

Friday, January 27, 2012

I'm baaaack. Do you "like" me now?

Now I've got the baby out of the way, let's get back to content creation, shall we?

I've been inspired recently by a spat of emails from brands I have made purchases from asking me to "Like" them on Facebook. That's literally the subject line of the email: "Like us on Facebook!" The most recent came from BuyBuy Baby, I'm assuming because I was registered there.

I just wanted to let you know that if you choose to "Like" a brand on Facebook, you're basically giving marketers free information and you're endorsing them. If you know you're doing this it's fine. I'm not opposed to being a fan of a brand and displaying my affection for them publicly. In fact, I've chosen to "Like" OpenTable.com because their service has helped get me out of a bind on more than one occasion.

Back to Buy Buy Baby's email. This store, on the other hand, has not helped me. So, I'm not going to like them on Facebook. The last time I was in their store, I walked past a huge sign that said We Accept Competitor Coupons! When I arrived at check-out, I handed over a coupon of theirs I had actually remembered to save AND remembered to bring with me to the store (as a new, sleep deprived mom, they should appreciate what an accomplishment that was!). The cashier rejected my coupon telling me it had expired...by three days. They just lost my Like.

Have you recently liked a brand on Facebook? Which one?

Don't worry. This is not turning into a Mommy blog.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Q: I'm not interviewing for a specific position but I reached out to a few individuals, mostly to network and find out more about what they do specifically/more about their field. But I'm technically not supposed to ask them for a job so it's kind of tough.

A: Ahh, okay. So, I'm sure you'll ask questions like "what advice do you have for a college graduate in this field looking for a job right now" ? But you'll also want to ask them how they got their job or how they got started in their field. Nine times out of 10 their answer will start out: "well, I had this friend who worked there..."

Ask if the company they work for (or companies like it) only hire people who have interned there before. Ask if places will let you work on a freelance or temp basis to get your foot in the door. Ask if it's cool in that industry (or at that company) to send a resume and cover letter even if there isn't a job opening currently. Some companies will just throw incoming resumes in the trash if there are no current open positions or if they are in the middle of a hiring freeze.

And this is the most important question: Ask which associations people in that field belong to - ask if you can join as a student member for now. And honestly, this will be your best shot at hooking yourself up with a job.

Can you meet any of these people in their office at work? You might get lucky and they could introduce you to the HR person - that would be stellar. But not all industries are the same. Looking for a job in a chemistry lab is totally different from looking for a job in the art auction world.

In artist-related fields, it gets very um, intimate. For these jobs, you'll want to ask whose shoes you'll have to shine or car you'll have to wash. Ask if any of them need babysitters or dog walkers. This industry is more personal than professional. Find out where they get their hair done or have their coffee. Sheesh. Good luck! And ask if you can use their name as a reference in case you follow up on any of their contacts.

Also try to be courteous of their time. Have your cell phone on the table so you can discretely glance at the time every now and then. If you're not good at being discrete, just let them know you're trying to keep it short to respect their time (even if they say "take all the time you need". Don't). It's very nice of them to meet with you. Send them a follow up email thanking them a couple weeks later.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Q: I am used to seeing my boyfriend on a regular basis because we go to college together. Do you have any advice for after graduation when we live in different states and will be busy starting new lives/careers?

A: Yes, don’t listen to other people’s advice. Ha! I know that sounds hypocritical coming from an advice column but nobody can predict the future. If you both feel like there’s more road to travel in your relationship, than find a method of communication that works well for both of you. If he’s not a texter, don’t ask him to start. Face time is important so using something like Skype would be great. It also helps to have a set time each day or week to speak to each other, making adjustments as things come up (they will). If at all possible, share the burden of traveling to see one another. If he’s always driving or flying to see you, make the effort to visit him.

The biggest favor you can do each other is skip the whole paranoia / jealousy fever. If you don’t trust him 1,000 miles away, you can’t trust him 100 yards away. Make sure he can trust you too. Be honest with him and yourself if you’ve met somebody else. Respect him enough not to just be a crutch of familiarity as you stumble through your strange new life. Sometimes we have a hard time letting go of even inanimate things like blankets, posters, clothes, much less relationships that aren’t meant to be a part of our new phase of life. So, it’s understandable that this happens.

I don’t need to tell you that it’s not going to be easy. You’ll miss each other so much it will feel like you’re not 100% present in your current locations. Just find a way to make it work until it’s not working anymore, or until one of you decides to relocate – and that situation is a whole other column. Good luck!

Monday, March 7, 2011

I received an email from a college student asking for advice...

Q: In college, it is easy to casually meet up with someone you are interested in. However, I will be living at home after graduation and want advice on how to meet guys or what to expect about dating while working in the professional world.

A: This is more common that you think. Most graduating college students are entering the workplace single – as in, not even dating anyone. So you’ve got this big stamp on your forehead that says “Available” as soon as you begin your new life. While it does become more difficult to meet guys once you’re living off campus and possibly even living at home while looking for a job, there is one time-tested solution: friends. And friends of friends.

This might scare some of you introverts, but don’t worry. You don’t necessarily have to start making new friends from scratch. Thanks to Facebook and LinkedIn, you should be able to find out if any of your friends have other friends or relatives living or working near you. The hard part will be forcing yourself to join them when they invite you out to events and parties. Just don’t go there looking for a date immediately. These are the events where you’re going to meet the friends who might later introduce you to someone you might want to date.

When I first moved to D.C., I didn’t have any friends here. My friend from high school in Florida had a cousin here, who was kind enough to invite me to her friend’s party. I ended up dating one of the guys on her friend’s soccer team after meeting this group out several times. It ended badly, but hey, at least I tried.
Too often, college grads go for the immediate gratification – date me now! Give it some time. Let yourself attend a few of these events and make some friends or become better friends with existing circles. This is also beneficial to getting the background scoop on any guy you want to date. If you’ve been hanging out long enough, you’re more likely to find out which guy is worth dating.

Ask around and you’ll learn that many successful relationships began because a friend introduced some girl to some guy – and they took it from there! A couple of footnotes on the above advice: if you’re invited to an event you don’t feel comfortable attending, don’t go. This isn’t a free pass for shy people to not attend a dinner party. This means you’re not going to find the right fit for you if you constantly attend events you don’t enjoy. And you’re going to look miserable. No one wants to date that.

As for the second part of your question about dating while working in the professional world – if you meant dating at work when you’re the new college graduate, I’m going to put a flag on the play right now. There are more reasons not to do this, than to do this, but in case you’re a visual learner, here’s your list:


- The guy you start dating is also dating your boss. She finds out and fires you.

- You chose to date the guy who has the worst reputation in the office, but you don’t know it because you haven’t worked there long enough. Everyone loses respect for you and you’re no longer CC’ed on happy hour invites.

- You end up going for the same promotion as the guy you just started dating, only he’s worked there longer and manipulates you to get what he wants.

- Your boss thinks you’re paying more attention to your social life than your work life and you either get passed over for opportunities or worse, fired. (yes, this has happened)


- You have a date on Saturday night.
- You feel attractive.

Starting to get the picture? Trust me on this. I am speaking from personal experience. Maybe, and I mean maybe, after you’ve worked at the same office for almost a year, you can safely date a co-worker. But that’s only if your Human Resources department allows it. I’ve had friends (women) who started dating an intern and had to keep it on the major down-low. That became the appeal of the relationship and once he was hired as a regular employee, their relationship hit the rocks. Even if a co-worker friend recommends dating another one of your co-workers, think things through first: how will a break-up affect their working relationship? How will it affect your friendship with your co-worker?

Once you’re in the “real world” the ripple effect from dating one person becomes much bigger, since you’re now skipping stones in a bigger pond. If you plan to work in that industry for a long time, keep in mind that certain circles are small, even though the city seems huge.

To end on a fun note, there are some great movies (and terrible ones) that explore this topic. Check out “Working Girl” with Harrison Ford. Total 80’s movie with huge hair and shoulder pads that would make the NFL jealous. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096463/ . If you love the classics, check out “His Girl Friday.” There’s also Jason Bateman’s “Extract” from 2009: “In Good Company” stars Dennis Quaid (aka guy who used to be married to Meg Ryan). ... And, of course, “Boss’s Daughter,” is available for those who like cheesy flicks.