How to Tell Your Business Story with a Blog

katharine fraser

My business blog about digital communications showcases my guiding principles for how to improve communications in daily practice, whether in your own blogs or newsletters, on the About Us page of your business website, and in other venues for the written word and speech.

My blogs provide free tips and insights as well as further samples of my writing style. Here you will find #DigitalDo advice as well as #DigitalDon’ts.

The consistent theme is that your should integrate all of your digital marketing so there is a cohesive brand throughout newsletters, blogs, websites and social media. Moreover, these must connect to each other to maximize your opportunities and exposure with customers/clients and prospects.

Not finding what you want? Reach out directly through the Contact Us page to schedule a consultation. Adroit Narratives offers content creation for a variety of formats, such as speech writing, presentations, white papers, blogs, advertorials and news-style stories.

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The thinker with social media icons.

Facebook’s New Year’s Resolution and What It Means for Branded Content

You may have heard that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s New Year’s Resolution is to fix Facebook. After a barrage of criticism about the platform’s easy manipulation by fake news purveyors and other propagandists, as well as questions about nefarious Russian influence via social media on the U.S. presidential election, Zuckerberg finally acknowledged the platform has problems.

So, what’s his solution? Ironically, his vision seems to suggest suppressing real news. When his grand plan (without details of how the algorithm works exactly) was announced, news publishers and brands with Facebook pages appeared to be the losers. Facebook explained, in a video, that interactions between people would be favored over content from brands and publishers.

And investors were not thrilled either that the platform’s leadership even suggested they want people to use Facebook less. The stock’s value dropped 4.5% in reaction to the announced shift. Has anything changed in practice yet? We’ll need at least a month’s data, if not more, to compare the engagement analytics for Facebook business pages’ organic posts and see if there is a big hit to reach. The cynics see this as a ploy for Facebook to force businesses to buy more ads. Well, that’s not necessarily a bad idea, even before the changes.

For example, I particularly like how Sierra Club created a new line of communication with a Facebook ad. I have not liked their page or posts before that I recall. Suddenly, a cheerful ad asked if I wanted a positive daily message from the Sierra Club, accompanied by a nature photo. Why, of course, I would, especially with the constant barrage of bad news! Now, every day I get a warm, cuddling feeling from the Sierra Club.

The key is crafting content, either for organic posts or ads, that speak to a specific need or desire of the consumer. That’s always been the case (think of the old ring-around-the-collar TV ads). Now, you’ll want to consider messages that go beyond, but don’t stray, from your product or service.

This is an outstanding example by a company I never heard of until a friend shared their video on Facebook. They are in the travel booking business and created a shareable video about the pains of airline travel to which most humans can relate, especially those of us who typically fly coach.

What is compelling about the video is not the actual content. Yes, it’s humorous. But, most importantly, it’s shareable. Again, I did not see it in an ad. It came into my feed as it was posted by a friend (a real-life friend) who often shares viral comedic content spritzed in among her posts about her daily life. She is the ideal user, by Facebook’s criteria, because she is sharing positive content among friends. And, Facebook says that “person to person [interaction} will be more valuable than person to page.”

Granted, Facebook’s mission is to provide “deeper, more meaningful interactions with people you care about.” What exactly does this mean? I doubt it means Facebook will start placing greater weight on debates among friends about existential philosophy or exegesis examinations of religious texts.

Here’s what Facebook says the changes will reflect: “Connections to people in your network will get the biggest boost because interacting with people you are close to is more meaningful. We’re also going to prioritize exchanges that reflect more time and care.” They want to emphasize discussions that are “associated with a greater sense of well-being.” Hmmm, that would seem to indicate that discussions about real news and politics may receive less emphasis. After all, Facebook said, “over time, we believe people will see more posts from people they’re connected to and less content from publishers.” But, I can tell you, that my Facebook feed continues to regular stream to me posts by Axios, the Washington Post, The Hill, the New York Times, Texas Tribune and other news brand pages on which I regularly comment or to which I react, often with the wow emoticon.

“Facebook was built to connect you to the stories and people that matter most, so we’re going to keep listening to you and working hard to make sure that’s what you see everyday,” the company says. Personally, I hope that means I still see plenty of posts by news pages because that matters most to me. Professionally, my new year’s resolution is to tell more stories on clients’ pages about what matters most to their audiences. And, we’ll be sharing that content on other platforms as well.

Katharine Fraser is a writer, editor and content coordinator.

Depiction of cultural divide between liberal media and Southern stereotypes.

True Narratives: What Does Point of View Have to Do with It?

We’ve all heard the derisive term “liberal media” enough to easily conjure up the caricature: a bespectacled navel-gazer looking up from their sheltered environ to cast aspersion on flyover country.

Who exactly is the liberal media? When a certain Alaskan was running for national office and spoke condescendingly of the media elite, I wondered if she was talking about me. I grew up in suburban New Jersey in a town with a view of “the city,” a.k.a. Manhattan. I was raised on a daily diet of morning news from The New York Times and The Star-Ledger, and snacked before dinner on tabloid copy from The New York Post and The Daily News. I graduated from an elite private college and worked as a journalist in East Coast cities, including New York and Washington, D.C.

Is the negative stereotype fair? I was forced to ponder this again after reading a recent Politico opinion piece on the East Coast media being stuck in the Acela corridor and not knowing why the rest of the country hates them. I can relate to this premise in that when I was working for the Baltimore Business Journal, my colleague Sonny made fun of the Washington Post for coming to nearby Baltimore anytime they needed to do a story on the hinterland instead of going anywhere else in the country, say the Midwest or Deep South, etc. Later, when I was working for American Banker in New York and was transferring to the Washington bureau, my editor Debra joked that I was emigrating back to the United States from Manhattan. Granted, I was going inside the Beltway.

But I did notice at my first job in Baltimore that I would meet people when I was doing a story or socializing that had an animus toward “the media” and I thought that was so bizarre. Of course, I was very much a part of that Acela corridor culture.

Later, I moved to Texas and I’ve had other experiences apart from the East Coast, and maybe my perceptions have changed. For instance, I don’t assume every gun owner is a murderer. My friends from home in New Jersey say that I have developed a twang, although they noted when I was in college in the South I was already saying y’all in lieu of you all or you guys.

And there is what I like to call a reverse provincialism for people in the New York metropolitan area who look down on people from other parts of the country, especially the South. When I went to a very Southern school, many of my friends were going to school in New England or elsewhere in the Northeast, per usual for New York suburban people, and they remarked, why are you going down there, they’re still fighting the Civil War, and Southerners are stupid. I recognized really quickly that the Northerners were definitely wrong on the latter assertion, especially when freshman year I was sitting in a 200-level British Literature course and the person with the most astute observations was sitting there in a CAT Diesel trucker hat and speaking with an incredibly thick Southern accent, but he was very eloquent and intellectually incisive.

This brings me back to agree in part with the Politico piece in those veins, but I also think there is a flipside groupthink in which people who condemn the media refuse to recognize that the media is often, if not nearly always, reporting the truth.

The media is a punching bag for all comers. To wit, I keep seeing Facebook posts from friends who are flaming liberals and die-hard right-wingers grousing that events which shake them are being omitted from coverage by mainstream media. Posts with oddly similar phrasing to fill in the blank, such as “anyone notice a lack of coverage of this shooting by a guy who doesn’t fit the lone wolf narrative?” or “anyone notice a lack of coverage of the Keystone oil spill?” A quick Google News search query will result in real news stories on the supposedly skipped stories.

Rather than blame the messenger, these critics are falsely accusing media of not providing the message at all. That’s a lot easier than dissecting the message. It’s also intellectually dishonest. It’s a cop-out to claim that a story was never reported just because you perceive it lacked reach or made the point you wanted it to hit home.

As for substantive critiques of news coverage, it’s also easy to blame the liberal media every time a set of known facts makes your side look bad. I learned this ad nauseam in, of all places, a weight-lifting class in college. The coach made us listen to Rush Limbaugh, who mocked mainstream media for its liberal leanings, according to this poll or the other. Yes, there are liberals in news media and there are also conservatives, the latter of whom in my observation tend to be less animated in their political views, which is a good thing in a newsroom setting.

How ironic is it that as we have more and more information available, we become more entrenched in old perceptions? Well, for starters, the volume of reliable, factual information might be shrinking on a proportional basis as traditional news outlets have shrunk their news staffs. Some people, ever so disbelieving of liberal media, glommed onto what they perceived to be alternative news that is actually fake news. Some information consumers seem more comfortable with fabrications from abroad than factual stories from the East Coast.

What is the solution? I agree the so-called liberal East Coast media should spend more time out and about in the rest of the country. They should also examine whether they are telling such stories as if they are foreign correspondents. Having lived in Texas for 11 years, I hear a certain tone in news reports that betrays a certain degree of ignorance about Southern states’ demographics, cultures and subcultures, and political viewpoints.

Embedding within a domain gives the narrator an opportunity to be more authentic in telling more than just the facts. Being close to a subject to truly see its three dimensions not only provides authority, but a veracity for all of a story’s audiences.

This may be where the liberal media stereotype arises: the writer is writing for their home audience, specifically their editor, rather than a broader audience. The point of view is not just that of the teller, but of the receiver. To achieve a better narrative, tell the story to a more intentional audience. Go beyond the audience you already know and strive to reach new target audiences. Maybe then, they will hear you.

Katharine Fraser is a writer, editor and content coordinator.

Words are often misused as depicted by Inigo Montoya's response to inconceivable in The Princess Bride

10 Words I Don’t Think You Know What They Really Mean

When I was a teenager, I fell prey to the awful habit of calling anything “awesome” when they were merely good things. Remember, (1) awesome means awe-inspiring. The Second Coming will be awesome. By contrast, a great pizza is not actually awesome, even if it’s truly outstanding.

Similarly, in college, the word (2) heinous came into vogue to characterize anything dreadful. A party, a class, highway traffic, bad food – all “heinous.” During visits home, my misuse of this word drove my Dad nuts. The term heinous crime is reserved for the very worst and those apparently driven by evil, such as murder. So, no matter how much you hated a particular course, the professor was not really heinous.

(3) Epic. Did you read Beowulf? That is truly epic. Because it is an epic poem. Do you know what that means? It takes a long time. A World Series commentator referred to Game 1 between the Dodgers and Astros as “epic.” On the contrary, the duration of just under two-and-a-half hours was the shortest World Series game since 1992. It could be argued that the 11-inning Game 2 was epic, but that’s still a misuse of the word.

(4) Iconic. During a high school field hockey practice, a group of alumnae showed up to visit the coach. They had been on her state championship team. We started flubbing the practice drill. The coach joked that the “icons of field hockey” made us nervous. Yes, this is a playful and correct use of the word. Icon originally meant a devotional depiction of a religious figure. This usage devolved to mean symbol, such as a computer icon or something quintessentially representative. Perhaps the Empire State Building is an icon of Art Deco architecture. But, if you watch travel shows, certain TV news and other mindlessly written broadcast content, you will be awe-inspired by how many things are epic and iconic. There is a lot of iconic food, destinations and other non-representative things mischaracterized as iconic. It’s ironic.

(5) Speaking of ironic, why on Earth do people use this word when they mean the opposite and I am not being ironic here? A lot of people seem to be intending to use the word iconic, as in representative or typical, but misspeak by using ironic. Ironic means the last thing you would expect. An example of its misuse would be a news article headline stating, “Global pollution: The ironic man-made crisis that ‘threatens the continuing survival of human societies’.” How is this ironic? If you are climate science denier, then I suppose you might find it ironic if you finally came to realize the cause and effect at play. Golly gee willikers, I suppose data does support that finding – how ironic! Um, no. Also, some people use the word ironic when they might mean sarcastic. The word ironic has morphed to indicate a form of humor or other statement, especially in appearance, such as wearing clothing or a haircut that is retro or representative of another demographic. I once spotted an African-American man wearing a motorcycle jacket with a huge Confederate flag emblazoned across the back. I did not ask him if he was intentionally being ironic to make a greater statement or if the jacket-wearing act was simply ironic on its face.

(6) Verbiage. Sigh, the misuse of this word is often compounded by mispronunciation as some users lob off a syllable to say “verb-ige.” People often use this to refer to marketing copy or contract language. But, please note it is used by wordsmiths to criticize frothy, meaningless wording. Check out the primary definition by Merriam-Webster: “a profusion of words usually of little or obscure content.” Ouch. Other than that, the dictionary’s secondary meaning is “manner of expressing oneself in words: diction.” But the example given for that use is not exactly complimentary – “sportswriters guarded their verbiage so jealously” —R. A. Sokolov – which seems to suggest they used words that are inside baseball and not useful to a larger audience.

(7) Gifted. This is not even a word. To proper past tense of the verb to give is gave. A person can be gifted (adjective) when they possess special talents. Advertisers use gifted to refer to the act of giving or receiving promotional items and gifts. It is not a verb. Just stop.

(8) Revert. The act of replying to an email is not to revert. When Cinderella’s stagecoach turned into a pumpkin at midnight, it reverted to its prior state. Perhaps you meant you would relay some information in your email, but you didn’t revert it.

(9) Task is not a verb. Some users of corporate-speak will state that they are tasking someone else with a responsibility. Task is a noun. It is close in meaning to chore. A task is something that is required, but not a lot of fun to undertake. Also, ever notice when the writer of such an email announces in a reply-all that they are tasking someone else to get something done, it suggests this act of delegation makes them very important. So, if you write that you task people, consider you sound like a condescending jerk to boot. Again, it’s not a verb.

(10) Curate. I did not curate this list. People think it’s fashionable and grand to speak of curating content or luxury goods to present them to others in a compendium or collection. Whew, that is a stretch. A museum curator is charged with specially selecting works of art in a collection. Coming up with story ideas or culling news from the web does not make one a news curator. A curate is a church figure who assists the rector. The original meaning has to do with the stewardship of souls. If you are compiling a list of hot new restaurants, and write that you curated it, then consider yourself pompous. If you’re not sure what I mean by that, look it up.

Katharine Fraser is a writer, editor and content coordinator.

Words are often misused as depicted by Inigo Montoya's response to inconceivable in The Princess Bride

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” — Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Cave painting analogy to social media

How Social Media Isn’t Different from Traditional Media

Social media is credited with communications breakthroughs, bringing seemingly instant fame to the previously voiceless and helping brands reach their best customers with targeted messaging. But it is really anything new?

Early man painted stories on cave walls. These large graphics told of their triumphs and dreams. Kind of like Pinterest boards.

After man learned to utilize and control fire, humans sent smoke signals across the horizon to alert each other of their goings on. Just like Twitter.

Can you hear me now?

In more recent centuries, we had the town crier, whose job it was to call out every hour if all was well or if something required attention. Now, we all have that friend on Facebook who updates every little thing as well as the big issues of our days.Colonial men for town crier to social media analogy.

The printing presses of American Colonial days brought us pamphleteers. These narratives are now told on websites, blogs, or in your crazy uncle’s diatribe on Facebook.

During President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration, the nation paused to listen to his fireside chats on the radio. Now, we have Trump tweets to alert us to the pulse of the White House. The nation definitely hears him, right?

Of course, we can’t forget the old soap box, upon which people could stand in a town square to make their voices heard. Now, we have video raps by Eminen and some random people you never heard of ranting into their phone cameras in cars.

flaw: current lack of accountability in social media

So, what’s wrong with social media? Currently, there is a gaping void when it comes to accountability. Traditional media, such as newspapers and TV, continue to face accountability. If something is libel or slander, they face lawsuits. The defense against libel and slander is truth. That’s if you end up in court, of course.Old-time radio to refer to fireside chats are akin to Trump tweets.

Propagandists from abroad leveraged the power of Facebook as a far-reaching medium to publish fake news, such as Pizzagate, and there hasn’t been anyone held accountable for that falsity.

As for businesses on social media, they can face harsh backlashes for poorly executed messages, such as the Dove soap ad with a black woman morphing into a white woman. In that case, the company deserved criticism.

Other times, however, social media can fail businesses, such as allowing negative reviews by people who are not verified customers. Before social media, a person could stand on the sidewalk ranting negative things about your business, but it would not have too much effect. Now, a disgruntled ex-employee, crazy customer or unscrupulous competitor can damage a brand.

This is where social media gets a bad rap, and deservedly so.

The false rumors problem can scare people away from social media, for fear their message won’t be believed if conveyed on these platforms. For example, in a recent blog, I related how a water utility was not keeping residents updated during a flooding crisis because it’s leadership considered social media to be a misleading grapevine. In response, its customers suggested at a public meeting that it provide daily and intraday updates during a crisis on its website and then link to those updates with social media.

be part of a better social media landscape

Your customers and prospects are looking for you on social media. Your message can be delivered directly to them, and in large numbers, with targeted social media advertising and content.

Businesses cannot ignore social media. It’s not going away. You’ve got to be in to win it. You don’t need to saturate your social media outlets, but you should consistently and programmatically get your messages out.

What kind of messages? Tell stories about good customer experiences. Paint a picture of how your product or services make life better for your buyers.Cave painting analogy to social media

Pick which social channels to be on. Select the most appropriate handful. Do not try to do it all. Decide which mix of media showcase your stuff best, e.g., blogs, videos, graphics, etc.

Plan your social media content calendar around events, sales campaigns and seasonal specials. Be a part of a larger discussion and share relevant stories by others with your audience with your own thoughts.

Define yourself first, before others try to do it for you. No one can do that better than yourself.

For more information, contact communications consultant Katharine Fraser.

 

Onset of a crisis with floodwaters in a residential neighborhood after Harvey.

Simple DOs and DON’Ts of Crisis Communications – Get Your *#%^+&! Together

The most basic requirement of crisis communications is to actually communicate, even if you are letting people know the status quo. Silence in a crisis is always deadly.

Your silence, in the form of a static website and/or unreturned voicemails or emails, will be taken to mean you are fiddling as Rome burns. You must continually practice outreach and use multiple platforms simultaneously: website updates, and links to those via social media and email lists.

Also consider the power of live video, such as Facebook Live, to transmit information from officials to concerned parties who may not be able to physically access a public meeting.

The Harvey Flood and Sewage Crisis

Let’s take a recent real-life example: Hurricane Harvey, which affected millions of people in multiple counties. Our Houston-area subdivision (outside of any incorporated municipality) was submerged. The neighborhood homeowners association (HOA) quickly set up a closed Facebook group for neighbors only to communication the emergency conditions and response. After the Coast Guard and volunteer boaters left, many evacuees wanted to hear from those holding down the fort in a handful of dry homes what was happening. How much has the water receded, when can we come back, are there looters?, etc.

This Facebook group continues to serve the neighbors as their HOA board gives them updates and they provide each other with useful links and information.

Now, for a case study in how to improve communications, especially if you are providing essential services, such as sewer service, water utilities and garbage collection, which here is the responsibility of a private company: a municipal utility district. Because I don’t want anyone to construe this blog as shaming, I am not naming the individual MUD. Instead, this is more of a constructive criticism, showing what they did right and what more they can do to improve communications.

In an industrialized nation, water and sewer service tend to be utilities people take for granted. But, when there is a problem, such as 50 inches of rain inundating a region and submerging wastewater treatment plants, residents suddenly take notice. A gurgling toilet can be a canary in the coalmine that there is great potential for a horrible disaster; when the wastewater pumps stop working and there is nowhere for all the sewage to go anyway due to immense flooding, at any moment toilets could start backflowing raw sewage – and lots of it – into homes and businesses.

Now, you have people’s attention! They will go to your website, call your office, call their local politicians. This is where updating and organizing updates are imperative.

case study: refinery fire updates

In a past career, I covered oil industry news and from time to time, that involved covering fatal and near-fatal explosions at a few refineries. The best-case example was a refining company that experienced a massive fire that severely burned employees responding to an explosion. The fire was visible from outside the refinery gates and in the first instance, a company spokesman immediately called reporters back to describe the fire’s location and emergency response, and started issuing statements via email.

That was within the first hour or so. Soon enough, the public relations team sent an update to their listserv for reporters and simultaneously provided the same information in a press release posted to the news section of the website. Each subsequent update was numbered, dated and timestamped.

When you implement this approach, it makes it easy for the party disseminating the information and for its audience to keep track of what information is being given and when. Each statement should contain any old information that remains true and add the new developments in a fluid situation at the top. I recommend bolding the new information and providing the background information again in regular font.

give people what they want: valid information

At the water utility meeting, residents asked why the website was not updated each day during the crisis and a manager responded because there was no new information. A well intentioned, but incorrect answer. In the midst of a crisis, always create new posts to the website, even if you can only state the status quo.

I repeat, reiterate the status quo with the new date and time. Something along the lines of, “we are continuing to repair the X, leaving Y without service. We do not yet have a precise ETA for normal operations.” This way, people know you are doing something and that this is indeed still the latest information.

When I called after two days of silence, the person answering the phone gave three inconsistent answers: your subdivision has no service because it is still flooded, your subdivision was never affected, and something else confusing. Whoever answers the phone must have current and correct information. Period. Don’t leave an employee in the lurch this way. It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to the callers, who are paying customers.

Outreach is golden

Write your updates to address multiple stakeholders, such as users of your service, any local officials who are also fielding questions about you and your regulatory authorities.

Find partners within your stakeholders who themselves can share your updates via social media. For instance, during the sewer service crisis, each subdivision had individuals serving as communications liaisons for their own neighborhoods’ private social media groups. It is better to give them the information than let neighborhood social media groups discuss you with speculation.

Fill the gap. Give them updates. They could become your advocates. Your silence might spur antagonism. Instead, let social media be your helper.

In addition, make sure all the contact info on your website is current. Which phone numbers are listed? Do they still go to the correct department? Is the email listed dormant or active?

To be proactive, run an internal drill. Have employees play the role of information seekers and see how they rate the basics of your website. Test the phone numbers and emails. Have the real response teams answer questions and see how comfortable they are in crisis communications, as opposed to regular customer service.

Appoint a point-person to coordinate internally on information gathering with key personnel. Make sure you have a back-up person for each role. Use a spreadsheet to lay out these roles and responsibilities.

Once you implement these steps, you should feel prepared for the next crisis.

For more information, contact communications consultant Katharine Fraser.

Reach friends with digital media and blogs

Leverage Your Real Social Network for Content Marketing

“Tell me again what it is you do.”

Ever heard that upon meeting someone for the first or second time? Or maybe after being acquaintances or neighbors for years?

How can a blog help you reach your target market through people you already know?

A client decided their company should start doing regular blogs and while it requires extra effort among the staff who contribute, the website manager has seen an uptick in traffic from the blogs.

And how did we get those blogs out to people? Social media. One of the authors related that after he shared his company blog to his hundreds of Facebook friends (by sharing the company’s Facebook page link to the blog), a high school buddy reached out to say I didn’t realize your company does such-and-such and I need that service.

Voila: new customer. You see where I am going with this?

We often think of content marketing as sending pings out to the universe with blogs and social media, but your signals can reach people you already know who don’t know what you do. Or they forgot. Or they will relate your information to someone else who can use it.

picking blog topics

OK, so now what do you write? Think about problems you solve for your customers. Frame your services in terms of what value it provides.

Write a list of things your company does. What is unique? What is a commodity? Start crafting that story. Work from your elevator pitch. Oh wait, does your elevator pitch need some work too?

Good. This is where you need to exert some discipline. Look at your current revenue streams. Decide which to emphasize. Look at what current laggard you may want to highlight.

Now, from your list of priorities, winnow down four categories. There you go: your first four weeks of blogs. Assign them or do them yourself.

To organize your thoughts before writing, opt for about three points to make and structure your blog accordingly. After you think it is done, put it aside to return to it later. Then, perform a dramatic reading. You should find yourself making revisions. Get other people to edit it!

Which social media?

Some people in your audience use Twitter as a news feed and look at it repeatedly during the day. Other people respond well to email marketing. Pick about three venues, but no more than five to reach out with content marketing. Anything more and you’ll spread yourself thin.

What is the most important thing you can do? Start blogging.

Banner for brands being free to take sides.

Should Brands Take Sides in Political Battles?

We’ve reached a new political realm in which a shoe company and a spice peddler are pitting their brands against the President of the United States. How did this happen?

Brands have always sought to persuade consumers that a particular product or service will solve their problems. Think of the “wring around the collar” commercials, brought to you by Wisk detergent.

In the social media age, brands seek to find their tribes and market directly to this seemingly self-selecting target market. Still, the members of this tribe may not have known to subscribe to a point of view or product until it was brought to their attention. The brand spoke to them, in their language, and voila, they are on board, liking, following and captured.

The language of social media advertising is conversational and casual, and that tenor and tone has proven so effective, the style has spread into conventional television ads.

Now, brands are taking direct stances. Take for example, Penzeys Spices, which is calling out Trump for xenophobic comments. “Last Thursday we called out the President’s racism—it turned into our biggest day ever,” Penzeys wrote in a post to its Facebook business page. The company said one-third of its email subscribers opted out of its list after it took a position against the president, but 2.5 times as many signed up after hearing about it. Moreover, it boasted, sales soared: “…last Thursday, in just one day, more orders were placed than in the first 17 days of July last year combined.”

This all was brought to my attention by the Facebook algorithm machine, which let me know a Facebook friend had like the post. Upon reading the post, which had more than 18,000 shares and 6,300 comments, I could see that the “top” comment was written by another Facebook friend. Facebook’s self-reinforcing echo chamber was in full swing, quickly pointing out what my friends are reacting to on a page I don’t follow for a brand I never heard of.

While reading news on Facebook, I found that Reebok, the tennis shoe company, was mocking President Trump for remarking that French President Emmanuel Macron’s wife appears to be in “such good shape.” Reebok, a fitness brand for sure, created an instructional chart on when it is appropriate to make such a remark. In the gym? No. In a diplomatic session, no. If you want to know when it is a OK, check out the sneaker company’s graphic.

MARKETING BRAND AS POLITICAL BRAND

Again, how did this happen? For starters, Trump is a brand, first and foremost. That changes everything. We are not talking about a political brand, such as Bush or Clinton, but a commercial brand. Trump himself equated his brand’s value with his net worth, even including some vast, ethereal unrealized value, whatever that is.

His brand is aspirational and hints of luxury, such as the Trump casinos. This is somewhat reminiscent of the luxury brand of Ralph Lauren, which masterfully co-opted preppy attire to evoke the aura of the landed gentry of America. Anyone could fancy themselves WASP-y, if they wore the right clothes.

The Ralph Lauren ads often portrayed beautiful people in nautical settings or posed in elegant gardens, as if they lived in Newport or the Hamptons. Remember, Ralph himself was not of that world, but certainly arrived there after crafting a powerful brand with staying power around it. That is to be applauded.

Trump’s brand is the gilded counterpart. Rather than capture the aesthetic of noblesse oblige, the Trump brand is glitz and panache. Taking a side-by-side comparison in Caddyshack terms, Trump is Rodney Dangerfield’s character crashing the party at Lauren’s Bushwood.

And while I don’t know anyone offended by the Lauren brand, the Trump brand certainly has drawn a lot of scoffs over the decades. Nonetheless, the brand was leveraged through reality TV and converted for political purposes. Whatever your politics, that is something to marvel over and analyze.

While the Clinton brand has always been polarizing and the Bush 43 brand caused havoc in the wake of the Iraq invasion, the Trump political brand’s polarization is different. It brought into hyper relief a bifurcation within the Republican Party. The Never Trump people emerged and then seemingly slunk into the woodwork.

Anyone who speaks critically of the Trump White House is marked as a Democrat or liberal snowflake. This brand is not big on policy particulars in the political discourse.

This lack of comity seems to have ripped open the policy positions of commercial brands, such as Reebok’s or Penzeys.

If you own a business and contemplate whether to take out a pro or anti-Trump position, first ask yourself if it is necessary. Is it necessary for your business or for you personally? Will it advance your business objectives? Can it wait?

A prospect once asked me what to do about negative feedback online and I joked not to respond like Trump does to his critics via Twitter. Practically speaking, most people and brands cannot be that brash and harsh. Always be true to your brand and your customers.

If you are going to take a social activism position, then stick with it. Same goes with any marketing initiative: ensure it meets and aligns with your regular business objectives.

P.S. If you have examples of retail brands going after a president in administrations past, please share by emailing me at katharine@adroitnarratives.com.

Hands working a craft.

The Craft of Writing Content and Copy

 

When you visualize someone honing a craft, images of woodworkers or potters might come to mind. Writing too is a craft.

Old school news writers refer to their craft because good writing is a product that comes from forethought and practice. Writers learn their craft from more experienced writers, much like old time apprentices.

When it comes to social media marketing and digital content writing, I’m taking this analogy a step further and comparing these services to craft beer. Microbrewing harkens back to the old days when neighborhood bars sold locally produced beer. Of late, big corporate, multi-national brewing companies have rolled out brands that emulate local craft beers. They have cute labels and names, and their recipes differ from the flagship brand. In addition, some craft beer companies have been acquired by big brewers.

But craft beer purists will content this is beer blasphemy. It comes down, though, to consumer choice. Some people love basic big brewery beer and the price. Craft beer aficionados, by contrast, are willing to pay a bit more for a higher quality product with unique recipes and flavors. What does this have to do with social media?

Perhaps you’ve heard of white label social media. This is like buying beer brewed according to a single recipe that tastes the same in every outlet. It’s uniform. It may not be what you like. It might be perfectly serviceable, but perhaps not specific to your needs or desires.

Or, you could go to the local craft brewery and find they make, in small batches, highly specialized and sophisticated beers aimed at the palates and tastes of discerning customers. Likewise, hiring a local digital marketing company means the writer will craft your business storytelling to suit your local target audience. Something generic that works in another market or for a similar business will not meet your specific needs.

To learn more about the craft honed by Adroit Narratives, check out Katharine Fraser’s bio.

 

Bullseye on notepad denoting strategy meeting.

Preparing Your Social Media Strategy

If the definition of luck is preparation meeting opportunity, give yourself the ability to succeed in social media marketing by organizing your strategy and messaging.

There are two things that must be done for digital marketing: prepare a plan at the outset and then periodically review how the plan is working (or not) in practice. Adjust and add elements when necessary.

Strategic Planning

Start with your brand’s voice. What is the culture of your company and to whom are you seeking to convey that. Here’s a useful exercise: think about what adjectives you would like your customers or clients to use for you? Reliable, quirky, funky, conservative, resourceful, creative, etc.? What are you bringing to the marketplace? Decide how to define yourself and that will inform what tone the content writing should take.

Next, let’s fill out a content calendar. What objectives do you have this quarter and the next? What seasonal offerings require advanced planning for marketing? What message and offers need to be delivered and what is their schedule?

Critical Response Plan

A question I frequently here is what do we do about bad reviews? This is certainly the ugly side of social media and platforms such as Yelp and Facebook are notorious for making it very difficult to get rid of a fake review by a disgruntled former employee or a crazy customer. If you really want to be scared, read this thread with Facebook business page owners complaining – to no avail – about horrific fake reviews by people overseas who have never purchased anything from their stores.

What to do? You need a answer at the ready in your back pocket, so the moment some social media crank comes after you, lay out the prepared remarks. For Critical Response Planning, pre-detemine who needs to be notified of a problem and the decision-making hierarchy. If the No. 1 person isn’t immediately available, who is the backstop for approving how to handle it. Your social media manager will need to be in touch with these principals. At the very least, the social media manager should work with you to craft pre-approved messaging they can issue in an immediate response.

Traffic Management

The term Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is bandied about and you should review which are most appropriate in measuring how well your social media and website marketing are performing. How many people do you reach? How many respond or engage with you. Are you tracking in your client management or customer acquisition system how many were referred by the content marketing or social media advertising? Are you reviewing the Google Analytics data for your business website to see where the website traffic is coming from? Did you know it specifies which social media channels are bringing you website visitors? Are you reviewing Google Adwords metrics and weighing that against the efficacy of other digital marketing spends?

Overall, to optimize your social media and content management, prepare your strategy, be ready to respond to critics and gauge your digital traffic.

For more information about Adroit Narratives, check out the services menu.

Crates representing the concept of content.

A Plea Against Content

Please don’t call it content. It’s a story, a narrative, a digest of valuable information. Content just sounds like some stuff you shoved into a space without much consideration that the stuff should be interesting or helpful.

The word content did not spring from the mind of a writer. Similarly, the word blog is short for web log. A log is usually a register of data in chronological order, such as the captain’s log on a ship. Those logs do contain valuable information, and in some cases, compelling narratives.

A few years back, I was working as an editor (not a content reviewer, mind you) and a company that historically was in the publishing business. It evolved into an information provider. A colleague was walking guests across the floor (used to be called a newsroom) and swept his hand in our direction, pointing out we were the content creators. I cannot help but note that the website of this company still touts its news, data and analysis. See? News, data and analysis are specifics, while content is a bland blob of something.

What exactly is content?

A lot of people don’t know what content is. I once encountered a guy who asserted that social media and content marketing are different things. Note: he is in a different business. I’m still scratching my head if he thinks social media posts go out without any content in them. People are confused because the word content is unclear to them.

For content marketing, it is essentially marketing copy. You are telling your customers what you do, why you do it, why you do it better than the competition and how what you do is valuable. This can come in the form of a special offer, a personal story, an educational article about a product or current event or even beautiful images related to your product or service.

I agree wholeheartedly with the story told here by the Content Marketing Institute about content marketing failures. This entity even claims to be the first to call it “content marketing.” Because some people have heard of that, I will use the term myself, but I really don’t like it. For one client, I recommended we call the blog section of their website “Stories & Videos.” It is specific and it far more inviting for a click than “Pile of Content Here.”

Yes, I call my blog just that, but when you land on the page, I talk about tips and insights. I am sharing perspective, advice and experiences. Will I continue to use the word content? Sure, but begrudgingly so.

Words have jobs to do and they should serve very specific roles.  A word like content is just terribly vague. When I was a kid, my family hosted an exchange student from Spain. One day we walked into CVS and the store was having some kind of inventory blowout. There were stacks of products and big sale signs. My sister remarked, “wow, look at all this stuff.” Our guest was not fluent in English and asked for a definition of stuff. My sister was stumped. Stuff, you know, stuff. It’s stuff you have and put somewhere. It’s stuff. Sounds like content to me.