Elephant dancing on a glockenspiel

Are You Yelling? What’s with the All Caps in Online Comments?

It would be so lovely is social media platforms provided for italics for people to emphasize words. Why not? After all, websites can use italics.

Instead, we gentle readers of comments on news stories or comments on friends’ political posts on Facebook are thrown back by a barrage of all caps. I will refrain from blasting you with all caps, even for demonstration purposes.

The beauty of italics is the letters lean over, as if they are whispering to a confident or in a conspiratorial fashion. The italics are letting the reader in on something. Pssst, I want you to know I am applying emphasis to this word to stress a particular point. That is so much more pleasant and effective than all caps.

Also, the excessive use of all caps makes the writer of such a comment look deranged, as if the person is screaming, I refuse to follow your rules of grammar, syntax and civility, you M.F.-ers! Excuse us? The point is lost. Who cares what they were trying to say? Do you really want to work through a wall of angry all caps?

Granted, all caps were used in telegrams. So was the word stop. There is no need to write out stop and there is no longer a need for all caps. The U.S. National Hurricane Center persists in using all caps in portions of its bulletins, especially the opening line of an advisory, which is warranted because it is warning people about potentially deadly storms. The U.S. Navy, in 2013, dropped the all caps in its messaging system, a tradition stemming from the teletype machine.

Reviving 18th Century Rules of Capitalization

As an aside, you may have noticed that the above subhead is in all caps. That is because it is a sub-headline and such breaks in copy (text) are easy to see when set off in caps. It’s not a form of emphasis. Now, as for the rules of capitalization, please read on.

Many professional writers in the United States, especially news writers, use AP Style. This style guide will remind users that proper nouns are capitalized, such as a name or city, but not all nouns. Oddly, I keep seeing people capitalizing some nouns but not all nouns, as if possessed by a spirit that wishes to confound and confuse the living with randomly capitalized words sprinkled throughout a Facebook or Twitter rant.

Remember, you are seeking to persuade people to see your point of view. You are not writing the Declaration of Independence. So, drop the caps on all the nouns you wish to emphasize.

Yes, Spelling Still Matters

Are you being mocked by elitists on Facebook who retort that your flagrant spelling errors in news story comments make you look uneducated? Perhaps you are using voice-to-text to comment and that is why your text is as intelligible as an elephant trying to send Morse code on a glockenspiel.

Please, use your fingers and opposable thumbs to type out your comments. You may even take a moment to read it before sending. In a moment of self-reflection, you might even edit it for clarity. Just leave out the all caps.

Katharine Fraser

Man with head in his hands

Twitter, Epithets and the End of Civil Discourse?

Ah, Roseanne, thank you for creating a national convulsion. I mean a delightful exercise in debate and an exhibition of the free marketplace of ideas in action, all on Twitter and Facebook. And, of course, we have cable news parroting social media commentaries on the subject while also trying to cover presidential politics.

And amazingly, all of these activities are intertwined with the president of the United States complaining about a TV network firing a star for making a racist comment about a former president’s adviser and another comedian apologizing for vile remarks about the president’s daughter. But wait, there’s more: yet another comedian getting into a Twitter spat with a CNN reporter.

This has got to be the worst reality show ever

As for the notion that Roseanne Barr’s dismissal from her eponymous show is some liberal media payback against conservatives, let’s start unpacking that by noting conservative does not equal racist. And, let’s recall how Kathy Griffin was tossed from CNN’s New Year’s Eve hosting gig for posing with an effigy of a decapitated President Trump. There are still lines people cannot cross without losing work.

If any employee of a good company walked into the office advocating presidential assassination or calling black people apes, they would be shown the door. And not because the employer wants to be politically correct. It’s because places of business maintain community standards and no one wants to be offended, scared or horrified while conducting business. Entertainers are in business too. If a media company doesn’t want them around, so be it. A business needs revenues and if advertisers balk or walk, revenues are lost.

Add to the lovely mix Samantha Bee’s comments about Ivanka Trump and the Trump administration strategy to dissuade illegal immigrants by separating them from their children upon crossing the border. Bee used a foul epithet for the female sex organ and suggested the president’s daughter flirt with her father to change his mind on policy matters. If, in response, Bee loses work because her show loses advertisers, so be it.

But, a distinction must be drawn. Griffin, who revolted many (including myself) by posing with a mockup of a bloody Trump head, piped up on Twitter today to argue with a CNN reporter that the White House press secretary should not have asserted, on behalf of the president, that Bee’s remarks are unfit for broadcast. I’ll give Griffin this: the government should not tell anyone what speech is allowed in this country. Granted, Sarah Sanders did not say Bee should be completely silenced or punished by the government. She just said the comments were unfit for broadcast. Oh, wait, Bee’s show is on cable, not broadcast over public airwaves! Nonetheless, I’ll agree with Griffin that Sanders’ remarks skirt a little too close to appearing as if the government seeks to shut down free speech. That doesn’t mean that Bee’s use of the c-word is not an affront to women or that Griffin’s assassination depiction is not insulting to our democracy (he was elected and no one should want to see a president of the United States killed).

Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech

The government cannot regulate speech in the U.S. But the marketplace can decide it doesn’t want to pay for speech it doesn’t like.

As for government’s duty to the citizens, I’m still waiting for Trump to apologize for bragging he likes to assault women by the p-word, for mocking McCain’s heroism, for a White House staffer mocking McCain’s terminal illness, for questioning a judge’s legal impartiality in a fraud case against Trump because of his Mexican heritage, for mocking a reporter’s disability, for encouraging rally attendees to menace the working press, for calling all Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, for falsely accusing Special Counsel Mueller of trying to meddle in the midterm elections while actually investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, for twisting a call for racial justice into unpatriotic actions, and for changing his positions like a weathervane in a hurricane. He also owes us all an apology for butchering the English language.

The tone is indeed set at the top and he is, in effect, forcing all citizens to watch his reality show, in which the president lurches from one policy position to an opposing one and back to the original one; calls himself pro-law and order despite disparaging our criminal justice system (while it investigates his campaign); arbitrarily threatens or imposes tariffs on trade partners, and, each day, scorches more earth (see presidential pardons), etc. Unfortunately, that list of incompetency and antipathy is growing too.

Next blog: Will government social media accounts be forced to retain dissenting posts or other negative comments?

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

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.

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.

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.

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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.