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.