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“Disney-fying” Your Story

18 December 2010 1 comment

Walt Disney World and Disneyland parks are often called “The Happiest Places on Earth,” however if you ask many of Disney’s detractors they’d say that Disney’s marketing just tells a good story. Regardless of how you view Disney (I personally am a huge fan), you should grab your Moleskein or netbook and take a trip to either park for a couple of days to take notes and learn how to “Disney-fy” how you tell stories.

When I talk about “Disney-fying” your story, I’m not talking about making a simple story, I mean think about how to create a more immersive story, using multiple media, online and offline, community development and more.

I was watching a special on Disney World when I started writing this piece. The show was describing the Disney Animal Kingdom’s Everest Ride, and how the “story” behind the ride started long before you arrived at the ride – it started as soon as you entered the “village” area for the ride, with posters about the yeti being shown on screen, and how the little shops, food areas, etc around the ride had elements about the yeti and the Nepalese mentality of “forbidden areas” around mountains that are believed to have yeti. These elements gave more of an “asian flavor” to the ride, giving it more background and depth than just another basic rollercoaster ride. (Think of your messages in this way, what can you do to provide more information or depth to your message – going beyond just having another message to tell.)

When you visit one of the Disney theme parks there are a myriad of stories being told beyond the obvious “Walt Disney” story. Far too often people are rushing around to really let the stories sink in with them, and if your communication efforts aren’t ready to meet the challenge of connecting people, they’ll rush away before your message resonates with them. (regardless of if it’s a sales message, a communication message, or a community building message)

This also goes to show you that you the importance of having people knowledgeable about storytelling and the elements of your organization, people who can’t fake this interest and knowledge, engaging with your audience in these multiple media. How do these elements work together, how do you play on their various strengths to tell your story?

Everything I know about social media I learned in Powerlifting

5 August 2010 3 comments

I want to share a secret with you – many years, and about 65 pounds ago, I had been a devotee of something with a much greater pull than even social media and its allure.

That’s right, I had been a quasi-athlete (not a great one, but just one), well I was a rugby player – define that as you will. As part of being an athlete, I really got into powerlifting, it was a better way to get into shape – not as monotonous as running or cycling. (I wasn’t great at powerlifting either, just ask my workout partners 😉 )

I had flirted with the idea of being a strength coach, because I enjoyed working out and studying exercise physiology, but as my instructor used to say, he couldn’t advise that we complete four years of college in order to earn $25,000 a year as a strength coach.  So I ended up in PR, where a four-year degree earned me just a little more per year. 😉

And recently, while two torn up knees and a bum ankle are keeping me off of the rugby pitch, I’ve been getting back into powerlifting more and more.  So as I’ve jumped back into powerlifting I’ve noticed a lot of parallels between this sport and social media. I quickly grabbed the laptop and started jotting down as many notes as I could keep trapped in my mind. I’ve included a list of this baker’s dozen below.

  1. Practice, practice, practice!
    1. It’s not only how you get to Carnegie Hall, or hit that new record bench press, it’s how you hone your social media chops – and learn what works for you (whether it’s video, audio, blogging, etc.)
  2. Form is important.
    1. As everyone who hits the weights knows, you have to perform each exercise correctly. If you don’t learn how to do each exercise correctly then you run the risk of injuring yourself later.
    2. In social media, you have to look at this as focusing on the narrative you want to tell, the stories about your organization that are important.
  3. You won’t hit every lift, it’s OK.
    1. Whether you are working out or at a powerlifting meet, you’re not going to perform every lift perfectly, sometimes you will fail to get the weight back up – it was called “bottoming out” when I lifted – and that’s OK.
    2. In social media, every post isn’t going to be perfect, or totally make sense to your target audience, or tell the story you want it to tell. No worries, you’ll get it next time. And maybe you can learn something from what you might consider a “failing post” that you can use in a few weeks.
  4. Build your posts to an “event”
    1. In strength training, there’s a philosophy called “periodization” – where you prepare a workout schedule that fluctuates from light workouts to hard workouts and back to medium – which turns into the new “light workout.” As you progress along this program, you will gain more strength, step by step. Usually you plan your workouts back from a scheduled event (the start of a sports season or a powerlifting meet).
    2. Why not do the same thing for social media? Plan on having a meetup/tweetup, or another social event or giveaway several months down the line and start creating a schedule of posts, videos, etc that you want to use to build up to this event.
  5. Start easy at first – don’t overstress yourself.
    1. Until you feel comfortable with your “social media workout,” don’t push yourself to do too much – too quickly. In powerlifting and social media it can lead to burnout and abandonment of your new plan. Remember, follow your schedule, and don’t frontload it with too much work until you are prepared for it.
  6. Mix up your “workout”
    1. Doing the same kind of workout, or creating the same kind of content, over and over starts to get stale.
    2. In strength training, this leads to boredom and your workout gains start to stall.
    3. In social media, this can lead to boring posts, losing readership, and eventually you might give up on creating new content.
    4. Just mix things up, don’t always do the same kinds of posts, or create the same content in your social media plan – some days do a podcast, or a quick video, or take a little time off (see below)
  7. More is not always better
    1. In strength training, as in social media, your first inclination might be to jump in with both feet and overdo everything.
    2. If you need to take a little time off, do it. While social media, and powerlifting, are very cool and a lot of fun, it can start to wear on you. But don’t take too much time off, or you might not return again – it’s the difference between a quick break and quitting for good. In strength training it means you’re going to get out of shape again, in social media it means giving up on your content, when you might be on the cusp of a breakthrough piece.
    3. If you’re at a company, see if you can find a couple of people to stand in for you for a while to continue building your audience.
  8. Don’t neglect your “core training”
    1. In strength training, you have to develop your foundation, your core muscles (the abdominals, lower back, upper back, shoulder girdle and legs) in order to get stronger.
    2. In business and social media communications training, you have to look at your organization’s core competencies and ask “what are our communications goals?”
    3. How are you going to achieve those goals? How will your narratives, the stories you share about your organization, help you reach your goals?
  9. Speaking of goals, set realistic goals.
    1. If you’re starting out in powerlifting, you’re probably not going to hit a 400 pound bench press overnight, or for quite a while. But you can add 20-30 pounds in a few months.
    2. If you’re creating social media content, blogging and videocasting, you’re not going to reach Bob Lutz, Geoff Livingston and Chris Brogan reader numbers overnight – and that’s OK. Keep your measurements realistic, if you impact a handful of people that’s still wonderful, in fact they might even get back to you and let you know about that impact.
  10. Everyone is unique – in strength training and content creation.
    1. Not everyone will feel comfortable sitting in front of a video camera, or audio podcasting. They might be better at connecting with people via social networking tools (which are different from social media).
    2. Go with what works for you – and include this in your social media “periodization plan”
  11. Have the right equipment for your needs.
    1. And know how to use it. In strength training, doing deadlifts wearing sandals might leave you injured – trust me I know.
    2. In social media, you need to have the proper equipment – it doesn’t have to be too expensive, but instead of getting a flip camera (which seems to be the rage among communicators) look at something that allows you to get decent audio (a much overlooked piece of the YouTube puzzle) as well as audio.
    3. Use this equipment in your practice sessions, knowing how to use your equipment ahead of time makes your life much easier, whether it’s in powerlifting or social media.
  12. Get a trainer
    1. When you start working out, it pays to invest a little bit of money in working with a personal trainer. They help start you down the path to a healthier life, or a stronger body. They give you the tools to move on, only needing to check in with them periodically when you need something new to add to your workout.
    2. It’s the same thing in social media. If you are new to this, you can start off by reading a few books and trying to get some “book learnin’” and try to piece this together. This isn’t a bad idea, but you can avoid some of the “bad form” you might learn from reading various tomes if you hire a social media communicator to help train you, to show you what might or might not work for you and then let you loose on the InterWebs to see how this works. Then you can bring them back from time to time to teach you something new or change your routine a little bit.
  13. Finally, and more importantly, at the end of the day you have to do this yourself.
    1. No one can work out for you. You can’t have someone from outside your body lift the weights for you. You have to sit down at the bench and start pressing the weights on your own.
    2. When you are creating content for your social media outlet, you can hire someone to come into your company and write for you, or you can have an employee do it on behalf of the company, but leaving this in the hands of an agency instead of learning how to do it yourself can be dangerous – because it leaves your communications goals vulnerable to an outside organization that only has your best interests at heart as long as the checks don’t bounce.
    3. You need to take the lessons learned from all of the above points, and what your social media trainer has taught you and either do it yourself or bring someone in to your organization who can “lift the weight” for your organization.

Will the smartphone finally replace the Flip camera?

(Update: Engadget is reporting that iPhone 4 will include Facebook Integration, and that includes direct video uploads to your Facebook account from your iPhone.)

This post started off as a Twitter conversation between me and my friend Ashley Gephart, the day that Apple announced their new iPhone 4. I had sent out a tweet asking what the impact of the iPhone would be on products like the Flip camera for PR types and non-profit communicators and she responded that most non-profits wouldn’t pay for something like this, and that a lot of non-profits still don’t get social media. While true, I think we were talking past each other, I was looking at how it would impact the Flip camera, while she was looking at the impact from non-profits, although I think more non-profits will get behind this when they hear about the benefits. (so point all of your non-profit peeps here for info and consulting 😉 )

The Flip camera has been the darling of many a PR person creating content for social media (especially if you read Ragan.com), and it’s a nice little basic video camera (which has, IMHO, been replaced by the Kodak Zi8 for better audio and the Sony Bloggie CM5’s superior optical zoom).

But with the introduction of the newest iPhone, Steve Jobs announced that the camera will be able to record 720p high definition video, in addition to taking pictures with the 5MP lens on the camera that you can upload to your company’s Web site, or Flickr account. In addition to this, the iPhone’s app store will finally carry an iPhone friendly version of iMovie – Apple’s grandma-ware version of video editing software.

Read more…

SEO is a “Window,” not a Destination

12 June 2010 2 comments

As ever in social media, there is an ongoing argument – this one about the importance, or non-importance, of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in your social media efforts.  Those on the “pro” side stating that without SEO you will never receive traffic to your Web site, and those on the “con” side countering that SEO does not allow you to be truly engaging in your communications and that it’s just “gaming Google” and selling products like ScribeSEO. I tend to look for a middle ground.  SEO can play a part in your social media planning, but without additional communications streams, be it blog posts or other engaging modes, SEO is worthless.  Gearing every post with special SEO rules and ignoring the fact that your readers are mostly regular people who are checking your site out. And SEO does help when you are working in tags, such as YouTube, or even tagging blog posts.

My take on this is simple, yet as complex as you wish to make it.

SEO gives your reader a glimpse through the window of your house.

Reader engagement (including social networking engagement) invitingly opens the door for them,

Compelling and storytelling content keeps them returning for more.

All need to be in balance, all need to be approached in different ways – depending on your needs. Providing your social media communications a level of harmony that people find irresistible.

BH

Play to Your Strengths

Some of the online discussion has recently asked who is the best to represent your organization in social media. Your PR or marketing agency? Or your in-house experts and communicators?

I’m going to go with your in house people. Having your social media team (which needs to be made up of people in your company from many disciplines – marketing, PR, sales, operations, development, programming, etc) spearheaded by your own employees allows your company to tap into a much deeper knowledge of the products, services, issues, etc. Much more in depth than your PR firm working 40 hours a month on your account.

This isn’t to denigrate the work that firms do for a client – it actually promotes a firewall separating the strengths of a firm and the company in question.  The primary social media content and creation needs should come from your company’s evangelists while your firm can bring the team important insights about your company or a new idea for social media tools (for example). Sometimes that outside viewpoint can give your firm the great ideas to move your organization into a new communications phase.

When you start a communications team/Firm partnership, you need to establish the ground rules for what each side of the equation will do. Be careful to not let the line blur too much, each team will work to their strengths, and the people on each team can hold the other team accountable to working to those strengths.

Why Am I Asking Why?

I know a lot of people write great posts explaining the top 5 or 10 ways to do something re: social media or PR. In case you haven’t noticed by now, I’m not a big fan of writing these. I’ll do it every so often, but I want you to delve deeper into what you need or want out of social media and why you need PR.

That’s not to say anything bad about those posts, they are quite useful and I’m hoping to do more of them in the future.

However, I ask so many questions because by asking you these questions, you will be able to provide yourself with better social media planning than I can from this side of the laptop screen.  It’s my hope that in providing you some of the foundational knowledge I have, I can help you to develop your own goals in using social media, public relations and communications strategy. It’s that old “teach a man to fish…” idea. I am happy to help and hope to plant the seeds for your own brilliance, and will help as much as I can to provide you with the ingredients for your own social media and communications menu (going back to the idea of Iron Chef Social Media), but the true brilliance for your needs will almost always come from you.

Praising, and not Burying, Foursquare

This isn’t a post designed to slavishly worship at the altar of Foursquare – the app that allows you to broadcast your location to everyone following you on Twitter, Facebook, and… oh yeah, your Foursquare account. And the jokes about telling people when they can break into your empty home have already been made, so I won’t make them here.

(And I’m sure this post has been written many times before by other smarter people than I, but bear with me, please. )

In fact, and this may surprise you (and to bastardize Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar), “I have come here today to praise Foursquare, not to bury it.” Foursquare could be one of the great saviors for many small businesses that always appear to be under threat.

By keeping an eye on who checks in at a business via Foursquare, savvy businesses are already able to offer special discounts, or menu items (in the case of a restaurant), etc. to people following their business.  But what about those people who are walking by a business?  Since most of these smartphones are (or will be) equipped with GPS (how else can you run Google Maps and Directions?) it should only be a short jump until these phones can signal that they are in the proximity of your business. Then you do the same thing, offer discounts, freebies, etc to swing by.

How will the person behind the counter know if the discount is legit? You might be able to send a picture of a QR Code or Bar Code for the specific item in question, in order to try and minimize people gaming the systems with bogus tweets/etc. At the end of the day though, let them work the system a little bit, the end result will still be sales.

The most important aspect to this will be creating a system where people can opt-in, instead of pushing your message to any phone capable of receiving a text message. Because at that point your message becomes nothing more than spam and will drive people away.

Monitoring Foursquare for check-ins, and Twitter for tweets, and responding appropriately will help you to attract more customers, and to handle customer service issues. Look no further than ComcastBonnie (@comcastbonnie on Twitter) for an example of those tech savvy peeps doing it right.