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 shrill versus the truth

Triumph of the Shrill – Does the Truth Matter Anymore?

A classic example of war propaganda is Triumph of the Will, a lengthy film documenting the 1934 Nazi rally in Nuremberg, Germany. You may recall how filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl shot and edited the footage to glorify Hitler as a great unifier, bringing order and greatness to a country that had suffered after WWI. It can also be seen as a rallying cry to prepare for more war — war against enemies abroad and internally. Ultimately, that regime created its enemies and then killed them under the guise of some fabricated truth.

Well, we know where that led. Still, of late, it has become fashionable for some Americans and others to deny the Holocaust. This sort of talk used to be decried. Instead, candidates for office pushing “counter-Semitism” might be met with relatively mild comments by established politicos supposedly distancing themselves.

Current affairs in the United States have devolved from culture wars to a Triumph of the Shrill. What used to be fringe ideas snowballed on social media into widely-held notions that even motivate voting and/or vigilantism (see #PizzaGate gunman). In our post-truth reality, a constantly equivocating president decried the press who report his contradictions – as well as unflattering truths – as the enemy of the people.

How did we get this far? In the early 1990s, as a cub reporter, I first encountered people who grumbled about the media. They struck me then as uneducated. Remember the candidate who said he loved the uneducated? Well, there you go.

In the post-truth world, education is elitist. Educated people have supposedly been indoctrinated by a liberal academia. What, though, is liberal? The shrill voices want you to believe the elitist liberals are going to take away other Americans’ rights. This falls into the category of projection: fascists will have you believe that if you don’t go along with them, you are doomed. The politics of fear is not new. But the willingness of more people to go along unquestioningly appears to be getting worse.

In a liberal arts education, students are not told what to think by professors. They are instructed to go figure it out, after researching facts and thorough consideration. And if you don’t fully support your argument, you are going to get a bad grade. Analogously, I came up in a Christian tradition where “discernment” is virtuous. You need to determine your faith, no one can spoon-feed it to you. By extension, Biblical inerrantists will tell you everything in the Bible is fact. Moreover, their translation and interpretation is correct. Period, no ifs, ands or buts. You do not need to be a linguist well-versed in concordances to realize that cannot be possible 100% of the time.

The Reign of Confusion

Bullying people into subscribing to your stated point of view is one tactic. Another mechanism is sowing confusion and disarray into a discourse. Better yet, contradict yourself and then go back again, creating subsets of audiences who hear what they wanted to hear, all the while thinking some other side is wrong.

Fake news falls into this category. It is spun together taking strands of truth and twisting them with outlandish lies. To bolster this dangerous bullsh!t, falsity peddlers will reintroduce old boogeymen, such as the Rothschilds, and marry them to some current event. (I saw a fake news story today on Facebook, ahem, reviving PizzaGate while tying the Clintons to the Rothschilds.

Are you too still seeing actual fake news on Facebook or elsewhere. You betcha you are. In yet another masterstroke of projection, real news is decried as fake news. Screaming fake news has proven more expedient and effective than actually attempting to disprove any real news. Truth is the best defense for libel. Logically, if you cannot defeat the truth, you will not sue for libel. Instead, just shout “fake news” and poof, the story should go away.

Last week, I attended my 25th college reunion at a private, liberal arts university. A professor gave a lecture providing a somewhat sociological explanation for Trump’s win. While attending the school, which has always had a student body that is conservative, I could not have possibly foreseen the possibility of such a presidency. Alumni audience members did not sound like fans of the president in their questions, although one offered up an explanation: he drew his support from people who feel ignored and disrespected.

I raised my hand and shared that I tried to tell some friends during the election that this candidate was regarded in New York as a con artist with dubious ties and big financial woes, and yet they would insist “he’s a great businessman” and “he tells it like it is.” In this opposite world, I had a question for the professor:

“Does the truth matter?” He concurred he is concerned about whether it does. So, I ask now, what will it take for the truth to matter again?

–Katharine Fraser

Image of stop button for disinformation.

Gatekeepers Matter More Than Ever in a Flood of Digital Disinformation

Remember the gatekeepers? The discerning people with ethics, intelligence and diligence who provided valuable information in a democracy? Do you know who they are? Read on.

The controversy engulfing Facebook and other social media comes down to the basic premise, or false supposition, that people believed in thinking if they set their privacy settings to lock down their profiles, then Facebook would protect their identities. Not so. Facebook is not a gatekeeper. On the contrary.

By joining a social network housed on the Internet, users became a commodity. Advertisers can target defined audiences by selecting interests. In my experience, there is nothing nefarious about wanting to target people – on an aggregated basis – who live in X city, who like Y product, etc. and position your ad for that type of product in front of them.

Of course, the problem is when Facebook users have been targeted with fake news, based on their psychological profile as gleaned from Facebook data. Now, it is crystal clear why certain friends and family were so inclined to share outrageously false stories masquerading as news.

As for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I agree, as a matter of fact, with some of what Steve Bannon said at an FT tech conference: data mining and targeted marketing is nothing new. The issue, though, is whether individual Facebook users had authority to give an app full access to their friends’ data and then the issue of how that data all was extracted for commercial purposes. Raise your hand and admit you clicked OK for that. So, you would think, OK, fine, so if me and my friends like cycling, we will probably see ads on Facebook for bikes, cycling clothes and accessories, etc. OK, maybe you realized that the data would go into a database and be categorized on an aggregated basis as percentages of people who like cycling, etc.

When it comes to politics, however, people’s hackles get raised when anyone tells them personally how to vote. After all, the United States has secret balloting. And, it’s kinda creepy to think that a further step was taken: if you fit certain personality styles, you received ads from fake news pages and the like. That’s where the manipulation comes in.

From a marketing perspective, it’s great to know you can target people demographically for particular products. A health nut is not going to be interested in the cupcakes recipe, presumably. So, you can direct your baking recipes at a bunch of sweet-tooths. But, the key consideration remains with the content, whether in an ad or not: are you authentic, and moreover, truthful?

The other issue is disclosure. In political advertising on TV, radio and print, we are used to the candidate stating they approved the message. But when a pro-Trump/anti-Clinton fake news story came out of Macedonia or wherever, there was no disclosure of who paid for it. Same with all those Russian bots.

The problem isn’t the data sharing. The problem is what kind of messaging was used to target certain people to manipulate them and, “sow discord,” as the Mueller indictment against 13 Russians put it. That’s why it’s so ridiculous that Bannon could try waving all of this off by suggesting it’s exactly what Obama did. Do you remember any Russian propaganda on Facebook in 2008 and/or 2012 trashing John McCain or Mitt Romney? No, we needed to wait until 2016 to watch Trump do that himself. Which brings me back to gatekeepers.

You cannot rely on the social media platforms to self-regulate the content that is shared. They really do not want to be in the publishing business, which would make them accountable for every errant story or disinformation posted. Instead, you can take ownership of your feeds. For starters, follow real news organizations.

While many traditional news organizations have decimated their reporting staffs (have you noticed how your local TV news shares viral videos in lieu of reporting on city council actions?), those that remain in the news business do have protocols for vetting stories. Reporters separate fact from fiction and editors guide the process of ensuring stories are accurately told.

The emphasis on balancing viewpoints is waning by necessity because that construct was gamed. People with outrageous and misleading points could count on getting a word in for the sake of balanced news. Not anymore. The gatekeepers are pushing back, so when a falsity is stated (even by the president of the United States), the real news people note, for the record, that a comment is incorrect.

If you support an idea and hear an anchor or reporter contradicting it, try not to get defensive of the idea and person who said it. Think more deeply about whether it’s true and why they would want you to believe a lie. It’s not just the Russian trolls who spread falsity and actual fake news.

By Katharine Fraser, katharine@adroitnarratives.com

Facebook user settings for advertiser preferences.

Delete Facebook or Take Back Your Facebook?

Unless you have gone off the grid due to internet privacy concerns and moved into a Unabomber-styled cabin in the deep woods, you are aware that Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, is getting grilled today on Capitol Hill.

Many Facebook users feel torn over whether to stay on the platform if their data was used in ways they had not considered, i.e. be used to attack a U.S. presidential candidate and support another, from a foreign entity no less. Still, users now may recall the Facebook app quiz disclosures that your profile was being used, and maybe even apps that said it would look at your list of friends.

One message Zuckerberg gave in his testimony is that Facebook is working to give users more control over how ads are served to them. Remember, you are getting use of the platform for free in exchange for receiving ads in your feed. If you are OK with that, then maybe you want better ads. Or, as the CEO himself put it: “People don’t like ads, but people really don’t like ads that are irrelevant.”

The platform is going to make improvements to make clear who the ad sponsors are and also put long-overdue controls on political and issue ads.

When I first reviewed my ad profile, it seemed Facebook’s algorithm thinks I am an African-American soccer mom. Well, close, I am none of the above. I also X-ed out these two categories from applying to me: soccer and “housemate-based households.” (I have lived with my boyfriend for several years and we have never considered ourselves housemates.)

But, now, you can define yourself to Facebook with more accuracy than whoever it thinks you are based on your likes and other activity on the platform and beyond. You can also instruct Facebook not to incorporate information about other websites you visit. Some of the ad interests for me I recognize as topics I have researched on the web. Others I haven’t the faintest idea why Facebook thinks apply to me.

Facebook Advertiser Preferences Includes Some Oddities

To start informing Facebook who you really are, go to settings and then click on Ads for Ad Preferences. You will then see Your Interests, Advertisers You’ve Interacted with, Your Information and Ad Settings. For instance, for the latter, I toggled to “No” this: Ads based on your use of websites and apps.

Here is what I removed from “Interests”:

  • Sacramento Police Department
  • Amateur Astronomy
  • Homemaking
  • Education
  • Chief Operating Officer
  • Fire Protection
  • Comedian
  • Non-profit
  • Masonry
  • Biology
  • Confederate States of America
  • The Academy Awards
  • Perfection
  • Tassel
  • Wide Receiver
  • Victory
  • Seawater
  • North (yes, the compass direction)
  • Regions of France
  • People’s Liberation Army Navy
  • Burkina Faso

As for Advertisers I have supposedly interacted with, I only am a customer of three and only recognized a couple of others. The preponderance were entities I have no recollection of interacting with or never even heard of. Of the first dozen I viewed, I only retained Cirque de Soleil.

Facebook advertiser preferences screenshot.

Could someone please explain why “Congress” has the Dunkin’ Donuts logo in the listing of Facebook advertisers in my account preferences?

Several clicks later, I kept Mopar because we have Jeeps. I also recognized Compare TX-2 Candidates and a couple of politicians in my state I actually follow. Similarly, there was Filters Fast, from which I ordered once and they have since followed me around the internet, so much so, that I don’t want to buy from them again. I X-ed them out.

Moreover, I’ve never heard of Hungry Howie’s Pizza or some of these other characters. The following examples are advertisers I don’t care about and deselected:

  • Americans for Prosperity (several state chapters but not my state)
  • Likewise, a bunch of politicians in other locations
  • Protect Jersey Jobs
  • Otter for Idaho
  • El Chapo (the TV show, not the actual guy)
  • Disney Baby
  • Hot Women & Hot Cars
  • Senate Leadership Fund
  • Several local NYC televisions stations

The Advertisers list went on and on and took about 10-15 minutes to go through. Amazingly, there were only three entities from which I have actually made purchases: Texas Hill Country Olive Company, Divers Alert Network and the New York Times.

Now that I have gone through this exercise, I look forward to seeing more relevant ads. I also plan to visit the Ad Preferences area again to ensure it stays somewhat accurate.

 

Cartoon of unhappy and happy customers thinking about reviews.

Dear Consumer: Do a Small Business a Favor and Write Reviews

Social media is all about personal connections, recommendations and reviews. Whether someone is urging you to agree with them on a political point or raving about their new favorite restaurant in the neighborhood, you will care more the closer you are to them.

This extends to reviews as well. If you are searching for a business on Google, Yelp or wherever, you are likely to not only read the reviews, but be swayed by them. This may be especially true on NextDoor or other apps that are neighborhood-centric.

Unfortunately, just like there is fake news, there are fake reviews. Judging by a long thread on the Facebook help desk, this is a widespread and longstanding problem. But, there are also true reviews that can be devastating for reputation management. All it takes is one person with a suboptimal experience to make someone else think twice.

In addition, there seems to be a cadre of self-appointed food critics out there who really go out of their way to heap on the snark with ample sides of hypercriticism.

What can a small business do? It’s simple: get good reviews from happy customers. Serve them well. Ask for reviews at the point of sale or in emailed invoices. Also, make sure you encourage customers to provide feedback, including constructive criticism, directly through a customer service channel, thus giving you an opportunity to make amends and diminishing the chances of a review rant appearing.

What Comes Around Goes Around

Ask yourself when was the last time you gave a business a review? Given I am engaged in social media marketing, I always feel obligated, if I enjoy an experience, to write a great review. Some recent examples:

For my dentist (Edge Dental) on Google: “Came back for my cleaning today and Dr. Lai answered all my questions. He also scrutinized an area of concern we will check again if it doesn’t improve in a couple of weeks. Great office staff and perfect location on Memorial Drive. I know I am in good hands.”

For my favorite Thai restaurant (Thai Chefs) on Yelp: “The last time I had Thai food this good, I was at an upscale restaurant in Bangkok. This place is a cut above. The food is outstanding. The service is attentive and warm. My first time here and I can’t wait to come back!”

For my favorite auto shop (AAMCO Bellaire) on Google: “I had a check engine light another mechanic couldn’t figure out and then found out if I wanted the dealer to look at it, I would need to drop off the vehicle for at least 48 hours. Beal’s shop ran the codes and asked about the idle speed (like the previous mechanic) and then came up with the correct solution: buy some premium fuel and run it down the highway. That worked! This is my place now for oil changes. Also, I have thought about lifting my Jeep and Beal cautioned me about possible complications. He then spoke to the lift-kit shop and reported back to me that those guys would indeed do it properly. That’s above and beyond service!”

Call it good karma. Put positive vibes out into the universe by giving good online reviews and good reviews may come back to you. Again, though, the best way to generate good reviews is to ask happy customers to write them. It just takes a moment for a beautiful review to blossom.

For more information on social media marketing, contact consultant Katharine Fraser.

 

 

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.