Monday, October 22, 2012

Cutting Down on Acronyms and Jargon

Some of the most common edits a PR person needs to make when working with source material provided by others is the handling of acronyms and jargon.  Unfortunately, there are times when even the communicators themselves can fall into a rut of over-using certain acronyms and jargon.

Since the goal of all writing is to be understood by as many people as possible who might read the content, it’s never a good idea to include such short-hand without explanation.  Consider this excerpt from William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White’s “The Elements of Style:”

“Do not use initials for the names of organizations or movements unless you are certain the initials will be readily understood. Write things out…A good rule is to start your article by writing out names in full, and then, later, when the reader has got his bearings, to shorten them.

“Many shortcuts are self-defeating; they waste the reader’s time instead of conserving it.  There are all sorts of rhetorical stratagems and devices that attract writers who hope to be pithy, but most of them are simply bothersome.  The longest way round is usually the shortest way home, and the one truly reliable shortcut in writing is to choose words that are strong and sure-footed to carry the reader on his way.”  

It couldn’t be said any better.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What Exactly is a Picayune?

I can’t trace back to when this little disorder started for me, but it’s a safe bet it happened sometime in my early PR days after I put together a lengthy media list for a client.  But ever since, it’s almost impossible for me to hear the name of a city and not immediately conjure up the name for the big newspaper daily from that town.

Take New Orleans, for instance.  While others might immediately think of Bourbon Street and Dixieland jazz when they think of New Orleans, the first words that come to my mind are, “Times-Picayune.”  It just so happens to be one of my favorite newspaper names.

But it’s no longer a daily.  As of September 29th, just a couple of weeks ago, it published its last daily edition.  It now comes out only three days a week in print.

Here are some other newspaper names that for whatever reason come to mind when I think of great media monikers:

·         Sacramento Bee
·         Atlanta Journal-Constitution
·         Rocky Mountain News (Denver)
·         Boston Globe
·         Allentown Morning Call
·         Cleveland Plain Dealer
·         Baltimore Sun
·         Portland Oregonian
·         Wheeling Intelligencer
·         Philadelphia Inquirer (Not Enquirer)
·         Canton Repository
·         Somerset Daily American
·         San Jose Mercury News
·         St. Paul Pioneer Press
·         Nashville Tennessean
·         Norfolk Virginian-Pilot
·         Akron Beacon Journal
·         Toledo Blade
·         Harrisburg Patriot-News
·         Rochester Democrat
·         Springfield (Mass.) Republican

Many newspapers tag themselves with “Chronicle,” “Times,” “Tribune,” “Dispatch,” “Star,” “Journal,” or “Post,” so I didn’t mention any specific ones here.

With so many newspapers going out of business, I fear that the media landscape will not only lose all that goes with having these large newsroom staffs covering the events of the day in corners of the country from Toledo to Los Angeles, but we’ll also lose these colorful names that give our culture a little bit of added dimension.

By the way, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a picayune is a Spanish coin or “half dime;” or “something trivial.”  The Times-Picayune got its name back in 1837 when it was founded because the price of a newspaper then was one picayune.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Television is Still King of the Media: Print lags way behind online

Harris Interactive recently conducted a poll of over 2,000 participants that indicated that television is still the king when it comes to news consumption trends.

While social media and the Internet has come on strong over the past 15 years or so, television remains the preferred source of news and information for most Americans.

According to Harris, which conducted the poll in August of this year, 50 percent of participants said they prefer to receive their news via the television.  Online took second place with 36 percent of participants saying that’s where they like to get their news.  And print media took third place with only 10 percent saying that’s where they want to get their news.

Still, Harris reported that 69 percent of participants had a “moderate interest” in the news.  About 18 percent said following the news is something that doesn’t really interest them as something they do with their free time. While 13 percent described themselves as “news junkies.”  

Men are two times more likely than women to describe themselves as “news junkies.” 

For those of us who do call ourselves news junkies, here’s a rather bothersome sign for the future.  Harris said that younger adults are more likely to say they have a lack of interest in following the news at all.  About 31 percent of “echo boomers” or millennials said they’re not interested in following the news.  Gen Xers came in at 23 percent of those saying they don’t follow the news.  Baby boomers came in at 10 percent, which means 90 percent of boomers surveyed said they do care about the news. 

Whether you’re a news junkie or not, it seems online is fast becoming the preferred medium of choice. While TV edges out online media for those who are actively interested in the news, online news consumption habits among news junkies and those less interested is about even – 42 and 43 percent respectively.

Experts say that as we age, we become more interested in news and information, so according to that there is hope that today’s less interested millennials will someday become more plugged in to the news.  If that is the case, it’s good news for online.  Most millennials get their information online (55 percent from the Internet; 34 percent from TV).

Taking a page from print media, a catchy headline is still the main attraction to a story online.  54 percent of participants said a good headline is the top reason they’d read an online or print article in full.  The use of photos and data or research graphics also help.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Did Facebook Jump the Shark?

Back in May when Facebook went public, I posted here that the company would have life a little tougher as a public company.  You didn’t need a crystal ball to see that, particularly if you’ve ever worked for a public company on the investor relations side. 

It’s not enough for a publicly traded company to simply do a good job or even be the best at what it does.  No matter what, if it doesn’t make its quarterly earnings estimate, it fails.  And if it fails, it’s stock valuation goes down and shareholders (owners) lose money.  Since no one likes losing money, that puts management’s job security at risk, particularly if such performance doesn’t turn around.

Looking back, all of this came down hard on Facebook when immediately after the IPO, the stock started to drop and has never really recovered from that launch price.

The other thing I brought up just before the IPO was that Facebook would have to answer the question from investors: ‘What will you do with all that data on those millions of ‘free’ members?’

Actually, as an update, today Facebook announced the company now has over one billion members.  But as impressive as it sounds, shareholders want to see financial returns ASAP, and that's where that data comes in.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced some of its plans for the data.  The company has started to let marketers target ads to its members based on member email addresses and phone numbers, and based on their individual  web browsing habits to other sites.  Yes, other sites, not just on Facebook.

This means that if you are a member of Facebook, you can now be targeted based on your Internet habits and your phone number and email address will be used to identify you.  Now, the company has said it will “aggregate” the data, meaning that your data will fall within groups of targeted consumers, and that you, personally will not be singled out.

But given Facebook’s track record, including here, of never seeking member permission for how it wants to handle data, there are no guarantees as to how your personal identifying information will be used or sold in the future.

The company is also selling ads that will follow Facebook users beyond the boundaries of Facebook.  This idea isn’t totally new. Google does the same thing.  The big difference, however, is Google uses your IP address and doesn’t really know who you are.  That firm just knows the patterns of usage followed by anyone who uses your computer.

Facebook, on the other hand, knows your true identity.  And it knows who you are by your phone number and email address.  The company has instant access to all of the personal information you’ve decided to share on your individual Facebook page.  It has access to content you have deleted.  And it has access to data and information that’s been posted about you so long as you were “tagged.”

Now, multiply that by one billion.  And then consider some scenarios where someone is willing to pay Facebook to drill down, not just for marketing, but for any other purpose that you can imagine. That can be a scary thought.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center last week filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over this sort of thing.  Part of the group’s argument is that while Facebook users may have anticipated receiving marketing messages from Facebook or while on Facebook, they never agreed at the outset to give Facebook voyeuristic access into what they do off of Facebook in “the real world.”  David Jacobs, the group’s lawyer, told the Wall Street Journal, “’Now the rules have changed and this information is being matched or cross-referenced. There is an issue with changing the rules on people.’”

This is all academic now, but as a publicly traded firm, Facebook will be forced to find new and more creative ways to meet Wall Street’s expectations.  The company will continuously run into new ethical challenges.

At the very least, this can be a distraction.  At worse, it could cause competitive problems for Facebook. Sure, it has one billion members today, and its presence on the Internet is everywhere.

But MySpace has recently reinvented itself.  I wouldn’t be surprised if its strategy is to position itself as a viable alternative when millions of users decide they no longer want to put their privacy in the hands of Facebook.

Monday, October 1, 2012

To Tweet or Not to Tweet, Often There is No Question

I’ll never pretend to be an expert on social media, but those of us in the PR business can’t avoid learning a good bit about it if not through effort, maybe through a form of working osmosis.

It’s with that in mind that I do want to touch on a Twitter topic.  The social media site has made more than a few headlines for its role in everything from helping people involved in natural or man-made catastrophes, to being a platform that celebrities and others use to get themselves into trouble.

It seems the topic most people talk most about when it comes to Twitter is about the fiascos people can create for themselves.

I read a blog post recently about “Tweets that will incite a PR Firestorm.”  It was on Ragan’s PR Daily site, and it listed some “real-life” examples of these kinds of tweets.  I’ll list a couple from the blog post here:

“True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say ‘I would die if I had to live here.’”

That tweet was authored by a Ketchum staffer who was in Memphis for a meeting with Ketchum client FedEx.  According to the report, the client spotted the tweet and didn’t like it.  The agency had to apologize.

As an aside, during my time at Ketchum, I made that trip weekly for a period of time and really liked the people and the town.  Still, if you ever find yourself in town you don’t like, you have to expect you’ll offend your hosts if you tweet about it.

“I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f*** drive.”

The originator of that tweet was a social media manager from an agency that worked for Chrysler.  He actually tweeted that by mistake, not from his personal Twitter account, but rather from the official Chrysler Twitter page. 

Two lessons here.  If you manage more than one account, keep them straight.  And second, it’s just not a good idea to slam your host city where your client lives (once again).

This one is my favorite.  It’s from a Secret Service employee: “Had to monitor Fox for a story.  Cant’. Deal. With. The. Blathering.” 

First off, according to the blog post, Fox News “had a field day” with that.  The Secret Service had to apologize.  Not sure what happened to the no-longer-secret-Secret-Service-agent.

And that brings me to the master lesson of all these examples.  There are some people who should never tweet.  There are some things that should never be tweeted.  And there are some times when we should never tweet.

I read some of the comments after the blog and the one that stuck out for me was the one that asked why anyone with the word “Secret” in the name of his or her employer would even think of going public with his gripes on Twitter.

I’d take it a step further.  Think of all social media, including Twitter, as your own personal Super Bowl commercial.  Once you tweet the most innocent of things, it has access to millions of people.  Sure, most may not see it, but if it’s precisely stupid enough, it could rival a Super Bowl ad in terms of readership.

So, if you are in a job where it wouldn’t be a good idea to do a Super Bowl ad about it, you may want to avoid Twitter and other social media altogether.  If that’s too difficult, consider a career change. 

And if you feel it would be good to get the kind of visibility a Super Bowl ad would create, then put the same amount of care and caution into the content of your Tweet.  Think of the worst thing that can happen before you click on that blue “Tweet” button.  If you hesitate in any way, delete the tweet.  Chances are you made the right choice. 

Keep in mind, all attempts at humor are just that - attempts.  They often fail, sometimes to disastrous results.  Plus, you weren’t going to win a Pulitzer Prize for your opinion of the local dinner fare anyway.