Author Archives: Grace Lavigne

Dear Gracie: Getting the Press to Cover Your Conference

Each week, Dear Gracie answers questions from ProfNet Connect readers with advice from our network of more than 44,000 ProfNet experts. Has there been a question burning in your mind lately, something you’ve been wondering that none of your friends can answer? Please send it to grace.lavigne@prnewswire.com

Dear Gracie,

I’ve been tasked with wrangling up press to cover and attend an upcoming conference. Although the organizers have some great content, the conference is a newbie on the circuit and it’s been difficult to get this on press radars. I’m looking for a Conference Confucius to offer up some advice.

Conference Conundrum

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Dear Conference Conundrum,

Five ProfNet experts offer some advice on how to get the press to cover your conference:

Newsworthiness

If you’re trying to get reporters to cover your event, the first step is to try and get them to come, says Vince McMorrow, associate vice president of Fahlgren Mortine. Many reporters nowadays have gotten the green light from bosses to travel to events. “What gets them there is good content,” he says.

“News is news — you can’t make it up,” says Lisa Layne, principal of Lettuce PR. News outlets will never come to your conferences again if you say there is news to announce, but then just treat it as a messaging outlet. If you spin a conference that isn’t newsworthy, you can damage your PR career.

How do you know if your conference is newsworthy? McMorrow suggests asking these questions:

  • Do you have speakers that are well-known in the industry?
  • Will there be sessions/tutorials on topics/trends critical to the industry?
  • Can you leak some of the information to the media before the conference to entice them to attend or cover?

“Big subjects sell themselves,” explains John Brooks, director of media relations and news at North Park University in Chicago. For example, when Brooks was director of news for a mainline church denomination, they’d get coverage for anything controversial happening at the national assembly. Matters relating to sexuality and the church, as well as a church-to-church agreement that some members of both churches opposed, drew the press in particular.

“Unfortunately, controversy seems to work, but it can open the door for coverage of other conference happenings too,” says Brooks.

Furthermore, in these days of tighter budgets, a reporter might not be able to travel to your event, so in that case, provide them with a phone number they can call to talk to someone, or provide them with the necessary info to watch it live (like if there’s a webcast of the conference), says Brooks.

And if there is a webcast, tell the reporters when to watch for key subjects, Brooks continues.

If online attendance is an option for a national conference, then make a concerted effort to get press from all over the country to attend from their desks, suggests Elizabeth Arritt, director of marketing at Omega Performance Corporation. Send out personal messages to different reporters in different cities, and highlight speakers from their area. This generates local coverage all over the country, she says. (She used MEDIAtlas to find these reporters.)

“Survey attendees and then offer the results to the media,” suggests McMorrow. “Ask for media input in the initial stages of creating the survey, so that you can get their buy-in. Provide it to them after the event to continue getting coverage.”

Work the Reporters

“Get to the right reporter,” says Brooks. The reporters who cover your beat will be the most interested in your conferences.

If reporters do decide to attend your event, make sure they have press passes that will give them access to all areas, says McMorrow.

Before a conference, Brooks travels to the city where the conference is being held and visits with industry reporters and assignment editors to tell them about the event.

When Brooks worked for an agricultural organization, the reporters most interested in their events were farm reporters and broadcasters. “They’d come and talk to several agricultural experts, and use those comments for several days. What worked there was providing solid content to beat reporters interested in the subjects we were communicating,” he says.

Being transparent and inviting reporters ahead of time helps secure coverage later when the conference is being held, explains Brooks.

Also, make your CEO visible, Brooks continues. When the presiding bishop of the church Brooks represents travels to another city for a speaking engagement, Brooks contacts local religion writers and tells them about where the bishop is going, so that the reporters can schedule a meeting and interview with the bishop.

It’s even better if the local host of the speaking engagement contacts local media directly, adds Brooks. But either way, find a reporter who covers your beat, and tell them about your CEO too.

Kill two birds with one stone by hosting a news conference or conference call to kick off your event, Brooks continues. Have your CEO speak to the media about key issues to be discussed at the conference.

“Invite reporters to participate in your conference,” says Brooks. “If you’ve got a communication theme, invite reporters as event speakers, or invite a well-known reporter in the conference city to speak as a keynoter,” he suggests. “Audiences like reporters because they can tell stories relevant to everyone — and reporters sometimes cover reporters.”

High-Profile Names

“The key to press conferences is understanding what type of high-profile names you get there,” says Layne. Try to get industry officials, celebrities, authors, etc.

“Encourage planners to get recognizable names,” agrees Brooks. “The toughest thing to do is get coverage for a great speaker that few have heard of.”

Celebrity endorsements are a highly important factor for conference campaigning, continues Layne. Even if the brand is a yoga mat, a tourism bureau, a new tech gadget — backing your event with a name is crucial.

“Consumers and media want to care about your conference for a reason,” says Layne. If they can associate a household name that they trust, then they trust the brand too.

But she notes that it can be difficult to get celebrities to your conference unless they are already a spokesperson for the event.

To get high-profile names to attend your conference, look for relevant charities, Layne suggests. Do some research. For example, Jennie McCarthy has an autistic child, so if your event revolves around that, pitch her publicist.

If the celebrity bites, send a town car to pick them up, says Layne. “Make it easy for them, and hand hold. It’s like babysitting — but researching the kid’s hobbies first.”

Local Community

“Don’t overlook the little things your organization might be doing for the conference’s host city, particularly if there’s a societal benefit or if it has a positive impact on those who are less fortunate,” suggests George Deutsch, senior media relations coordinator at the International Facility Management Association.

For example, at an expo show in Orlando, Fla., a few years ago, Deutsh was trying to promote the conference and its educational sessions, new products and services, and its sustainability. While he was talking to one of the reporters in attendance, he mentioned as an aside that the company would be donating the excess food and beverages from the show to the needy in the local community.

That brief remark is what the reporter picked up on. “The story ended up being the best coverage we got from the show,” says Deutsch. “It taught me to remember to promote the little things.”

Any information you can provide about how people from the community in which the conference is being held will interest reporters, says Brooks. “They want local people in their stories who are relevant to their readers.”

So for national events, Brooks always tries to include a local-story angle if possible, because that’s the kind of information that gets covered.

Local news organizations are also typically interested in the financial effects of a conference to be held in their town, says Brooks. “It invites coverage of the conference in a different way, which can lead to coverage of the conference itself.” The Convention and Visitors Bureaus could be helpful with this, he adds.

Arritt got great coverage from a local news station where she was holding a conference once with a money-grab exhibit booth. The idea was that a participant would climb inside the booth, and then get 30 seconds to grab as much flying money as they could.

She contacted the local news director and invited their weatherman to do the noon weather report from the booth. As a bonus, they agreed to match whatever the weatherman grabbed and donate it all to Habitat for Humanity (with a guarantee for a minimum donation if he grabbed less than expected).

“It was a great spot,” says Arritt. “They re-ran it for the evening news, and we had copies to use for ourselves as well. It provided us, the station and Habitat with some good PR.”

Gracie

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Dear Gracie is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Grammar Hammer: Julia Child’s Recipe for Parallel Structure

Everything has its place in Julia’s kitchen, and in the sentences you write. You wouldn’t put the toaster in the fridge.

When I was little and had to stay home sick from school, I’d always watch a TV cooking show with my mom, featuring a tall lady with a peculiar warbly voice making really delicious-looking food with lots of butter. I didn’t realize until many years later — when the movie “Julie & Julia” came out — that my mom and I had been watching reruns of Julia Child.

Watching those reruns was my first introduction to the legendary chef, author and TV personality. I’m sure many of you have your own versions of how you were introduced to Child, whether you’re a longtime fan, like my mom, who owns a weathered copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking; or a newer fan, like me, who was captivated by her charm in reruns and modern adaptations like “Julie & Julia.”

Child penned 18 cookbooks during her 91 years of life, so she surely was aware of grammar rules like parallel structure. In honor of what would have been her 100th birthday last week, we’ll review this principle:

Main Rule: Similar material within a sentence, list or passage should be presented in a consistent manner to ensure grammatical purpose, structure and rhythm.

Within a sentence:

  • Julia Child was magnetic, hilarious and wholehearted. [all adjectives]
  • Julia Child was charming, a chef and funny. [incorrect]
  • Julia Child loved salade nicoise, chicken waterzooi soup and pizza. [all recipes]
  • Julia Child loved coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon and baking. [incorrect]

Within a List:

  • To cook the duck:
    • Debone the bird.
    • Discard fat.
    • Add the stuffing.
    • Heat the oil.
    • Brown the duck.
  • [Each bullet point starts with a verb.]
  • To make pastry:
    • Mix flour, salt, sugar and butter.
    • Add water.
    • Dough into a ball.
    • Sprinkle with flour.
    • Knead repeatedly.
  • [This list is incorrect because "dough" is not a verb.]

Within a passage:

  • Chefs who create delicious food don’t always get television shows, but one always has the advantage of eating well. [incorrect; switches from plural to singular subject]
  • Chefs who create delicious food don’t always get television shows, but they always have the advantage of eating well. [correct]

Bon appetit!

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Grammar Hammer is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user EvanFuchs.

Dear Gracie: Tips for How to Appear on Camera

Dear Gracie,

I’m doing my first TV appearance as an expert on a news show, and I’m a bit nervous. Any tips, advice?

Panicked Presenter

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Dear Panicked Presenter,

Here is the advice from six communication experts found within the ProfNet Connect community:

Preparation

“Practice, practice, practice, and then practice again,” says Rachel Weingarten, personal brand and style expert, and author of “Career and Corporate Cool” and “Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America, ’40s-’60s.”

Try practicing out loud, in advance, says Karen Friedman, a former TV news reporter who now heads Karen Friedman Enterprises, which teaches people how to become powerful communicators. “Saying your words out loud will help you internalize your message and practice delivery. It will also help you recall key words and thoughts when you’re actually on.”

“Make up a list of your best stories, anecdotes and selling points ahead of time,” continues Weingarten. “Don’t try to offer up a completed list to your interviewer, but rather be comfortable enough with the details so that you don’t fumble on the presentation.”

Also, do your homework, says Weingarten. Study up on the show you’ll be appearing on. Consider questions like: What colors are the set? Will the video shooting occur indoors or outdoors? How much time will be given to speak? How close or far is the camera? Considering questions like these will give you a better idea of how you’ll look on film, says Weingarten.

Appearance

It’s important to wear the right clothing, says Robb Leer, founder and president of Leer Communications, a media and communication consulting company. “Wear something comfortable and well-fitting, and dress conservative — not crazy.”

“The most important thing is to hold onto your own personal style,” says Weingarten. If you dress for the hosts or the camera exclusively, you will likely be uncomfortable the entire time and end up so focused on your clothes that you will lose track of what’s being asked of you, she says.

Keep it simple and professional looking, echoes Susan Tellem, partner in Tellem Worldwide; a public relations, social media and marketing communications firm. “Don’t wear white or black, more than one pattern, small checks, large print, herringbone, stripes polka dots or loud colors. Instead, wear safe colors like dark blues, grays, earth tones or pastels, or wear colors that look good on you and blend well with the set.”

“Dark colors absorb light, so they tend to look better on camera,” explains fashion designer and personal stylist Kesi Case.

Tellem also recommends avoiding low-cut dresses or shirts, too much jewelry and seasonal clothing. She also advises that if you normally wear glasses, you should wear them for the interview. And bring an extra shirt or blouse, she adds, in case of spills or sweat.

“If you wear makeup, wear more than usual and have the makeup department at the studio do a touchup. Even if you don’t normally wear makeup, visit the makeup department anyway, as you will always look better on TV with it on,” Tellem says. “And men should get their bald heads or sweaty foreheads powdered,” she adds.

Also, do a complete run-through of your entire look, from head to toe, ahead of time, says Weingarten. “Make sure your hair doesn’t look like a helmet, your makeup doesn’t run, and your clothing fits you well and comfortably.”

Posture

“Keep an open body posture,” says Robin H-C, behavior specialist and life coach, and author of “Thinking Your Way to Happy!” “There is a natural propensity to cross the arms and legs and protect the torso when nervous or under stress.”

If your movements are open, then you’ll appear approachable, says Friedman. “Using hand movements and gestures when you speak makes you more animated and interested to look at,” she says. “But on TV, keep your hands out of the box — meaning, keep them away from your shoulders up.”

If you’re sitting, then sit up straight, advises Leer. Don’t slump at the shoulders, leaning slightly forward. “Sit on the front edge of a straight-back chair, not a chair that swivels,” he instructs.

“Body language conveys you’re in control of the conversation, so relax,” adds Leer. “Or at least try.”

Eye Contact

If there is no interviewer: “Keep steady eye contact, as if the person you are speaking to is standing right in front of you,” says Friedman. “Think of the camera or your audience as one person and speak to that one person, not to the masses,” she continues. “If there is a loud noise and you glance off to the side, people at home in front of their TV sets don’t know something happened in the studio. All they see is someone who looks distracted or unfocused.”

If there is an interviewer: “You’re never wrong to look at the interviewer and not the camera,” says Leer.

Delivery

“Pretend that the person in the back of the room or on the other side of the camera can’t hear you very well,” says Friedman. A microphone doesn’t substitute energy, she says. “When you speak just a tad louder, you will sound more engaging.”

But keep your tone and delivery conversational, says Leer. Use clarity and sincerity to convey conviction, he says. Don’t get louder and louder.

Mentality

“The camera picks up your nerves, so the more confident you are, the better you will come across,” says Case.

“Get out of your head!” says H-C. “Focus on the conversation with the host and do your best to silence the internal voice that is evaluating your appearance. Saying, ‘I hope I don’t mess this up’ is setting your brain up to do exactly that. Try an affirmation: ‘I am relaxed, informative and articulate during all media interviews,'” says H-C.

Also, remember to breathe, H-C continues. “When you’re nervous and adrenaline kicks in, it can shut down the frontal lobe of the brain, our problem-solving area. Trust me — you do not want to be interviewed without access to the frontal lobe.”

Extra Tips:

“The camera is always on, so don’t pick your teeth or comb your hair. Those images could later haunt you,” says Leer.

If all else fails, says Weingarten, self-deprecation works. “People don’t expect you to be as polished as the cast or crew of the show, so if you feel as though the interview or appearance has gotten away from you, stop stammering and feel free to make a joke about the fact that you’re not Angelina Jolie, but need a minute or two to collect your thoughts.”

“Though you want to look great and sound brilliant, at the end of the day, you are on TV to share a message,” continues Weingarten. “Remind yourself of this prior to all interviews. It’s not about you, rather, you are the medium for an important message.”

And most importantly, have fun! “Don’t take it too seriously and congratulate yourself for being brave. Many people would not even consider doing a live appearance,” says H-C.

Good luck!

Gracie

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Dear Gracie is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Dear Gracie: How to Land Speaking Gigs

Dear Gracie,

I’m a seasoned industry expert, but do not have any significant experience as a speaker. How do I get my name on the radar of conferences, trade shows, workshops, etc.? Is this a good way to supplement income? What can I expect?

Seeking Speeches

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Dear Seeking Speeches:

Five ProfNet experts share some advice:

Dan Collins, senior director of media relations at Mercy Medical Center, suggests four ways to break into speaking:

1) Have a Notable Political, Religious or Athletic Career.

  • Political: Federal workers at the White House level, or former Secretaries of State are always in demand.
  • Religious: a la Billy Graham
  • Athletic: Always a slam dunk!

2) Write a Book.Preferably published by a well-known company like Random House or HarperCollins.

3) Be Very Funny. Take notes from Bill Crosby.

4) Appear on a Top-Rated Reality Show. This might be a tough one — but remember the uproar last year when Rutgers University paid Snooki from “Jersey Shore” $32,000 to speak? Compare that to the $30,000 they paid Nobel Prize-winning author and feminist Toni Morrison to speak at their commencement ceremony.

General tips on landing speaking gigs:

1) Be Visible. The expert’s personal or company website needs to show that they are available to speak, explains Lorrie Thomas Ross, CEO of Web Marketing Therapy who is also a speaking trainer and paid speaker herself. People who want to speak have to let organizations know they are available to talk and can add value to events.

2) Network. Experts should attend the events they’d like to speak at, and let friends and colleagues know they’re available too, says Lauren Fleming, publishing specialist at Emerson Consulting Group and author of Business Review USA’s article “Want to Let People Know You’re an Expert? Start Speaking!”

3) Team Up. If someone in the field is already an experienced speaker, you could offer to open for them, says Fleming. That experienced speaker already has a fan base which can be used to build credibility by association.

4) Create a Demo. Invite colleagues and friends to a private room and tape a speech, suggests Alan Weiss, president of Summit Consulting Group, author of “Million Dollar Speaking” and member of the Speaking Hall of Fame. There should be two cameras: one on the speaker and one on the audience. Or consider making a YouTube video, adds Fleming.

5) Offer Free Speeches. It pays to give free speeches — for the practice, testimonials and video clips, says Thomas Ross.

6) Start Small. Check out the local Chamber of Commerce, industry networking groups, Rotary Clubs, etc., says Fleming. Any meeting with about five to 20 people in attendance who will show up to the meeting regardless of the speaker.

7) Pitch Trade Associations. Form a distinct portfolio of expertise — whether that’s through books, articles, teleconferences, interviews, etc. — to pitch trade executives, says Weiss.

8) ProfNet Speaker Service. If you’re a ProfNet member, you can monitor query feeds for Speaker Service opportunities.

What to know about fees for speaking engagements, according to Weiss:

  • Typical Rates. The top non-celebrity speakers earn $25,000 or so for a keynote (typically 60-90 minutes), but most excellent speakers earn $10,000, and most speakers earn only about $3,500 per speech or even less.
  • Reimbursements. Because speaking engagements are labor intensive, expenses are generally reimbursed. Speakers can request first-class airfare, for example.

To pitch a speaker, create a “sales package with sizzle,” says Susan Tellem, partner at Tellem Grody Public Relations. This should include six key components:

1) Introduction. Provide a brief description of the speaker and what makes him or her so dynamic.

2) List of Topics. Briefly summarize the subjects the speaker can discuss. Topics should cater to different audiences: consumers and the public, executives and administrators, industry professionals, etc.

3) Press Kit. A full electronic press kit.

4) Speaker Sheet. Condense the bio information, fees and suggested topics onto a single page.

5) Testimonials. If the speaker has previous experience, provide audience or group testimonials.

6) Media Clips. Provide prior press coverage of the speaker with links or PDFs, including any broadcast appearances.

Now break a leg!

Gracie

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Dear Gracie is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

#ConnectChat Recap: How to Increase Brand Influence on Social Media

Earlier this year,  #ConnectChat  featured social media expert Shelly Lucas (@Hoovers54) who discussed “How to Increase Brand Influence on Social Media,” with advice for social media and branding professionals on measuring and controlling influence, generating interest in target markets, creating brand personas, expanding brands into new social media territory, and more.

Shelly is a senior marketing manager and social media strategist at Hoover’s, a B2B business, and a division of Dun & Bradstreet (D&B). She’s responsible for listening to and engaging with customers and influencers online, including content strategy, online monitoring, new media campaigns and metrics. Shelly and her team increased Hoover’s Klout score from 29 to 61 (celeb status!) and doubled LinkedIn followers in one year.

ProfNet56: Thanks for joining us Shelly!

Hoovers54: Hi, everyone! Honored to be here!

ProfNet: Please feel free to jump in with questions and comments. And remember to include the #ConnectChat hashtag so we can all see your input.

ProfNet: Now let’s do this!

ProfNet: Shelly, what are some benefits that social media provides for branding that other channels cannot?

Hoovers: 1) Ability to scale: one to one, one to many, many to many. 2) High in virality: Beyonce’s pregnancy can generate 8,868 tweets in one second! 3) “Bottom-up” credibility: the influence of friend-to-friend referrals. 4) Real-time interaction: the potential for humanness or bringing a brand to life. 5) Real-time competitive (and market) intelligence — even if anecdotal, still valuable.

Hoovers: It’s important to remember that social media is a channel — not a strategy — and it’s one channel in a multichannel approach.

Hoovers: Social media can also create a brand experience. It’s not just a 30-second spot or print ad. Folks actually talk with the brand.

@skinnytwinkie15: Any secrets to getting something to go viral?

Hoovers: Important to going viral: know your audience. Cisco didn’t — that’s why its Old Spice parody didn’t work. Here’s a link to Cisco’s Old Spice parody: ow.ly/8N75X Compare to Brigham Young University’s (which works): ow.ly/8N78r

lisakanda38: Who manages @Hoovers social media — a team, one person? How do you do it? Social media calendar? Research and metrics? Third-party help?

Hoovers: A team manages social media, activated by expertise. We follow news cycles, company news and weekly themes, e.g., [fill-in-the-blank] Friday. At Hoover’s, social media falls under marketing, but we’re moving to a decentralized model (Altimeter’s “Dandelion”).

First_Retail11:What are some “best in class” companies/brands that use social media effectively and what do they do differently than most?

Hoovers: @Dell64 definitely does social media right! They have 6,000 employees certified to represent the brand and they have a command center.

ProfNet: What are some of the restrictions or limitations that brands face online?

Hoovers: A restriction that social media has is that the we’re not in control of the brand. We always knew that, but with social it’s clear.

KileyG: What is your opinion about responding to social media issues during “off” hours (nights and weekends)?

Hoovers: Depends on what the issue is. If it’s a crisis (and your biz should define this), social media needs to respond immediately. But how feasible is it to respond immediately to crises via social? We already sleep with our iPhones on.

Hoovers: f you don’t have 24-hour customer support — or a PR response team — responding via social media may be limited in its effectiveness.

KileyG: I think generally people are forgiving for some time to elapse if the event happens during strange hours. #vagueanswer

ProfNet: Shelly, you said a brand isn’t truly in control of its own influence. So how can a brand enhance its influence then?

Hoovers: Influencers are in control of the brand. And influencers don’t have to have a Klout score of 75 to be influential.

Hoovers: A group of influencers can aggregate behind a cause. Example: Beautiful Bald Barbie’s Facebook petition to Mattel. Power in social media.

First_Retail: Speaking of being in control (or not), how do brands avoid hashtag hijacking (example: McDonald’s) or is it just a risk with social media?

pcolpitts1127 It only takes one sour voice. Negative comments will always draw more attention.

Hoovers: It’s important to enhance the brand via social — for trust. Seventy percent of consumers actively avoid a product because they don’t like the parent company.

KileyG: @Hoovers I think that is why transparency is so important for brands.

Hoovers: Exactly! RT @KileyG I think that is why transparency is so important for brands.

Hoovers: Hashtag hijacking is an inherent risk. To be cautious, try to troubleshoot the hashtag for unsavory responses. #McDstories is open-ended — kind of like inviting the KFC deep-fried rat urban legend. Are #LittleThings better for McDonald’s?

KileyG: Brands have to be honest with themselves about how they are perceived (positive and negative). #McDstories

ProfNet: How should a brand’s social influence be measured? How important are metrics?

Hoovers: A definition of social influence is important to the question of brand influence via social media. I think of social influence as changing mindsets and actions via social — a form of persuasion.

Hoovers: Social influence does not necessarily = popularity. Dare I introduce the dreaded ROI word? ROI is difficult to measure, as social influence is transitive; it can reach across multiple industries, can fade and recur.

rjmcAssey29 @Hoovers Its true. In today’s business model, companies are unlikely to stick with a simple “social promotion.” ROI is the key.

Hoovers: @rjmcAssey: Yep. They love social but hate advertising.

KileyG: ROI can stretch across several areas — from actual money-related conversions, to increases in customer-service quality, etc.

Hoovers: A few ROI metrics I’ve seen: 1) @jasonfalls66 via @smexaminer50 suggests click per follower (measured against peer group). 2) @Crowdtap14 measures brand influence via a points system, awarded per social action. #gamification 3) You can also measure indirect revenue impact. @pgreenbe49 has discussed customer referral value via @Irregulars20.

ProfNet:How do you generate interest in Hoover’s target market?

Hoovers: We concentrate on creating a brand experience via social media. We try to make our social communities inviting, and hope folks attend. We go where our markets are and talk about what they care about. We target specific social influencers based on vertical and/or sphere of expertise via social media metrics and other tools.

Hoovers: LinkedIn is a very important venue for us (in B2B). We ask and answer questions, and post Hoover’s company updates. We’re trying something a bit different for LinkedIn company updates; we post mini-thought-leadership gems vs. recycled material.

KileyG: After you target them, how do you reach out to the specific influencers?

Hoovers: @KileyG We show targeted influencers social love at first — adding comments, not just RTs, which opens up a conversation.

ProfNet: How is promoting a brand different from promoting an individual?

Hoovers: I think the line between brand vs. personal promotion is blurring; social brand differentiation relies on same elements. People want to talk to other people, not to companies — and not to a flavorless brand. But as more social ninjas are activated in companies, I would say that brands are becoming groups of individuals on social.

TankaBar_Linda32: Brands have always been groups of individuals. It’s just that social media makes the nature of those individuals more transparent.

Hoovers: “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” – Mother Theresa. People identify with the “mass” of brand advocates (employees), all expressing the flavor of a brand, which leads to action. The challenge is to trace the action (source of social influence) or ROI.

What is the role of personalization as a brand? Is it smart to humanize brands?

Hoovers: I think it’s a good idea to humanize your brand. Who doesn’t like the Travelocity gnome (a great photo share on Facebook)? Others argue that people don’t want a relationship with brands; they want companies to solve problems, give info or give a discount.

JeniceJohnson18 Humanizing a brand is necessary to be relatable to potential clients. Otherwise it’s just another company.

TankaBar_Linda32 People in a company — customer service, sales, etc. — have always humanized brands. That, plus the quality of products/services.

Hoovers: William Shatner gets axed as Priceline’s spokesperson because of strategy change. An example of the downside of humanizing brands? @TheNegotiator16 become synonymous with “name your price” — when a brand changes direction, so does the mascot/spokesperson?

KileyG: @Hoovers I don’t think it’s a downside of humanized brands, but I *am* curious if/how Priceline will wrap this all together.

Hoovers: @KileyG Looks like @TheNegotiator character is nixed; Shatner remains under contract, says AllThingsD.com: ow.ly/8Nf6F

Hoovers: Maybe I’m big on humanization because B2B companies sometimes struggle with the pitfall of “deadly seriousness.”

KileyG: @Hoovers I talk to a lot of social media managers in the B2B sphere who struggle with this humanizing piece.

ProfNet:What trends are you seeing with social media’s impact on purchasing behavior?

Hoovers: Unleash the stats! The number of U.S. folks whose purchase decisions are influenced by social media went up 14 percent in 6 months (Knowledge Networks).

Hoovers: But 66 percent of small-business owners say their Facebook ads didn’t attract new customers (MerchantCircle study).

Hoovers: Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2012 shows that consumers are trusting social media more (14 percent, up from 8 percent last year).

Hoovers: And people say “regular folks” are more trustworthy! Only 38 percent say CEOs are trustworthy (a decline).

KileyG: Could be tracking error? RT @Hoovers: But 66 percent of small-business owners say their Facebook ads didn’t attract new customers (MerchantCircle study).

KileyG: Lots of questions about that 66 percent stat. Did they run just one ad in an otherwise inactive social effort? How did they track? Etc.

eltiare46 @KileyG No, it’s a marketing error. Probably multiple.

KileyG: @eltiare I agree. Execution/strategy errors need to be considered.

Hoovers: @KileyG: We agree! There are definitely many questions regarding Facebook ads. We found the MerchantCircle study via @OPENForum30: ow.ly/8NcOR

ProfNet: Are there any new or just overlooked social media channels that you’d recommend to branders?

Hoovers: You know I’m going to say something about Pinterest! “Pinterest is pure catnip for mature women.” – Tero Kuittimen. Pinterest drives more referral traffic than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn combined (via @shareaholic48). Great for storytelling!

Hoovers: @chrisbrogan69 tweeted this morning about Gentlemint — “like Pinterest for dudes.”

Hoovers: I also think social bookmarking (Delicious.com, StumbleUpon.com, Digg) is often overlooked. What’s on someone’s bookshelf says a lot.

Hoovers: Tumblr is also impressive, with multichannel capability. It’s the fastest-growing social network in the world.

ProfNet: Does anyone have any final questions or comments?

MichelleCvCM55: These are the most informative sessions! Thank you for hosting them!

KileyG: Thanks for letting me participate. Enjoyed the conversation!

TankaBar_Linda: Thank you for hosting #ConnectChat. Great discussion.

TankaBar_Linda: @Hoovers Thank you for the nod during #ConnectChat. And thank you for your insight, as well.

ProfNet: That’s a wrap! Thank you so much to everyone who took part in #ConnectChat. Hope you found it informative! Our next chat is on Feb. 14.

ProfNet56: Thank you @Hoovers! It’s been a really interesting #ConnectChat. Hope you enjoyed it.

Hoovers54 Thanks, everyone! Stellar chat! You can also find me via @DnBUS51 and my personal handle @pisarose51.

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on the free social networking site ProfNet Connect.

Grammar Hammer: Since vs. Because

Because August has no official holidays, today’s post is about the bizarre and wacky unofficial holidays this month!

Did you know that August is Family Fun Month, National Catfish Month, National Eye Exam Month, National Golf Month, Peach Month, Romance Awareness Month, Water Quality Month, National Picnic Month — or my favorite — Admit You’re Happy Month? (Just admit it already!) These themes are the perfect excuses to do some fun/wacky/healthy things for the next few weeks.

Since the beginning of August, I’ve been meaning to cover the rules of when to use since vs. because.

Purists will tell you that there’s a right and wrong answer about when to use since vs. because – but the explanation is confusing and not clearly definable. My answer? Go with your gut. It is, however, helpful to understand the types of sentences where each is most likely to appear, in order to avoid sounding awkward.

Main Rule: Since generally references time and/or causation, while because generally only references causation.

Therefore, it’s more likely you’ll use because awkardly; since can be used appropriately in most sentences that require this type of word.

Here are examples of when the words are interchangeable:

  • Because/since it’s National Catfish Month, catch a big one! [correct]
  • Give your girlfriend a big kiss because/since it’s Romance Awareness Month. [correct]

Here is an example of when because sounds awkward, due to time reference:

  • Since we went peach picking, I’ve been craving peaches. [correct]
  • Because we went peach picking, I’ve been craving peaches. [incorrect]

In this instance, try inserting the phrase the time after after since to test for grammaticality.

  • Since [the time that] we went peach picking, I’ve been craving peaches. [correct]

Also, there’s the obvious case where because just won’t sound right:

  • Since Friday, I’ve been thinking a lot about golf. [correct]
  • Because Friday, I’ve been thinking a lot about golf. [incorrect]

Conclusion: If you can’t decide whether since or because sounds better, probably just go with since, since it will likely sound less awkward!

Happy August!

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Grammar Hammer is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Dear Gracie: Hashtags 101

Each week, Dear Gracie answers questions from ProfNet Connect readers with advice from our network of nearly 50,000 ProfNet experts. Has there been a question burning in your mind lately, something you’ve been wondering that none of your colleagues can answer? Please send it to grace.lavigne@prnewswire.com

Dear Gracie,

I’m an amateur Twitter user, and it’s not clear to me how and why I should use #hashtags. Since I can search for keywords on Twitter, I don’t understand what the difference is. What purpose do they serve? And is there a wrong way to use them? Sometimes I see really long hashtags — what’s the point?

Hung Up on Hashtags

*************

Dear Hung Up on Hashtags,

Five social media experts from the ProfNet Connect database “hash” it out for you:

How and When to Use Hashtags

“Hashtags arose out of the tag craze in the blogosphere, where sites like Technorati would allow you to search on blog posts with specific tags or keywords,” says Todd Van Hoosear, principal at Fresh Ground, a social media and public relations PR firm specializing in technology, startup and entrepreneurial companies.

“The characteristic feature of a hashtag is that it’s clickable on Twitter and leads to a platform-wide search for anyone including it in their tweets,” says Patrick Schwerdtfeger, author of “Webify Your Business Marketing Secrets for the Self-Employed” (2009) and international speaker on issues like online branding and the social media revolution.

Think of hashtags as discussion topics, says Dan Grody, partner at Tellem Worldwide, a PR agency that specializes in social media (among other things); and head of youth marketing, entertainment and digital projects. “They are beneficial to users because hashtag topics are easily searched on Twitter and collected and presented to you in one stream.”

“A hashtag is very much like a keyword,” explains Van Hoosear, “though generally they are used more selectively and specifically than keywords.” Different hashtags can be created for the same event, group or conversation, so they compete for attention and usage, he says.

“In some cases, hashtags reference specialties, characteristics or expertise,” adds Grody.

“Hashtags compensate for two shortcomings in Twitter,” says Van Hoosear. “First, they make up for its lack of threaded conversations, so you can easily follow posts and questions and their responses. By searching for a specific hashtag, you can see all of the conversations around a particular topic.”

“And second, hashtags make community or group creation a little easier,” he says.

If you have an obvious keyword in your tweet, put a hashtag in front of it, advises Jim Lakely, director of communications at The Heartland Institute.

“Whenever possible, we use a hashtag as part of a phrase that we’re using anyway,” says Michael Saffran, associate director and manager of new media at Rochester Insitute of Technology (RIT) University News Service, and communications professor for RIT’s College of Liberal Arts. “Other times, they’re included at the end of the tweet.”

“As for which ones to use, it all depends on your tweet topic and who you potentially want to see it,” he adds.

The trick is to identify a few hashtags that your target market might be searching for (and that are simultaneously relevant to your own tweets), and then including them to position your tweets in front of that market, says Schwerdtfeger.

Trending vs. Unique Hashtags

“If you want to start a conversation about public relations on Twitter, you could use the hashtag #PR to reach a larger audience who may be searching for that hashtag,” says Van Hoosear.

By choosing a larger, trending topic to hashtag, Twitter users ensure their tweets will appear in search results across multiple topics, says Saffran.

But if you want to have a conversation targeted at a specific audience, then create or use a unique and exclusive hashtag, says Van Hoosear. For example, the creators of PR 2.0 Chat (@PRtini51 and @JGoldsborough48) created the hashtag #pr20chat, instead of using #PR, so that they could loosely “own” the conversation.

It’s easier to isolate conversations and do comparative analysis using unique hashtags, says Van Hoosear. But it’s easier to get the big picture and run long-term analytics trends using general hashtags.

So it is worth it to start your own hashtag if you are a busy Twitter user/broadcaster or want to start a new discussion, says Grody. “If you are promoting a particular event to your audience, for example, and you have other tweets not related to that event, you could end each tweet about the event with the related hashtag, like #tweetfest2011,” he explains.

To join a discussion, search out hashtags and chime in using the hashtag at the end of your tweet, says Grody. “Remember, you are broadcasting to your followers,” he says. “They don’t know what you are talking about if you just tweet ‘Can’t wait for this weekend!’ But if you say ‘Can’t wait for this weekend! #vacation,’ everyone will understand.”

Hashtags vs. Keywords or Handles

Keyword searches are OK if you use the Twitter website and not a client, like TweetDeck or HootSuite, says Lakely. “But if you want to monitor several conversational threads at once, hashtags are the way to go.”

RIT University staff frequently use #RIT in tweets, says Saffran. “Those searching #RIT will almost always find results specifically related to the university,” he says (although there are occasionally exceptions, like when #RIT was used for Madonna’s “ReInvention Tour”). However, using just “RIT” in a keyword search, without the pound (#) sign, yields results of any use of “rit,” often shorthand for the word “right” and many other references not related to the university, says Saffran.

Grody provides another example: If a guitarist has a tech question about his/her amplifier, they might tweet, “Does anyone else have a problem with their Marshall amp? #guitar”  This is a better approach than just randomly asking without the hashtag, says Grody. “There are exponentially more posts randomly mentioning ‘guitar,’ and your tweet is likely to get overlooked or lost. Use the hashtag to focus on your discussion,” he explains.

On the other hand, for unique words, like the proper noun “ProfNet,” using the hashtag #ProfNet likely won’t yield results much different than those from using just “ProfNet” as a keyword, adds Saffran.

Van Hoosear also explains when to include hashtags versus handles: “Generally speaking, use the hashtag if you want to include everyone on your comment or question, but use the Twitter handle if you want to make sure that the organizers see your comments but don’t care if others don’t see your comments.”

Things to Avoid and Extra Tips

“Be careful not to use too many hashtags in one tweet,” says Lakely. He defines “too many” as more than three hashtags in a tweet.

“Don’t use irrelevant hashtags that no one would be searching for in the first place,” adds Saffran.

For example, some people think it’s cute or funny to use a long sentence as a hashtag, says Grody. But it’s hard to read and takes up valuable character space in your tweet, he says. #Sodontusehashtagsthatarereallylonglikethis

“Avoid including symbols in your hashtag,” advises Grody. “If you type #hi-there, all that will show up as a linkable discussion is #hi” he says.

Don’t include a trending-topic hashtag just to gain additional exposure, continues Grody. “It’s amateur, and smart users will see right through your tactics. Don’t embarrass your brand that way.”

“Additionally, hashtags in Twitter bios are hyperlinked now, so it’s a good idea to include certain hashtags in your bio,” he says.

You could also contact Twitter and advertise through a sponsored hashtag. “But if you’re like me,” says Grody, “That is the last hashtag you will click on because it is indeed ‘sponsored,’ which defeats the purpose of Twitter.”

Gracie

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Dear Gracie is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.