Author Archives: Polina Opelbaum

The Q&A Team: The Benefits of Event Sponsorships for Businesses and Non-Profits

Events are a primary method for nonprofits to raise money for the causes that mean the most to their organizations while forming strong personal bonds with their donor base. However, event space, refreshments, tables, and equipment are pricey, so having a corporate sponsor helps nonprofits reduce their costs while allocating the maximum amount of funds raised towards their cause.

For businesses, event sponsorships are an opportunity to personally engage with customers and establish a long-lasting, positive brand impression. Therefore, non-profits and businesses can form mutually beneficial relationships by combining their respective strengths and hosting events.To help connect non-profits and businesses in search of event sponsorships with each other, Lemuel White and Mickey Lukens created an easy-to-use and resource-efficient platform called SponsorMatch. The pair loaned their expertise to the ProfNet Q&A team and offered sound advice on how businesses and non-profits can launch successful sponsored events.

How can a business decide what event sponsorship will work best for them?

Marketing managers must ask themselves if the prospective event aligns with their overall business goals. Think about whether it reinforces the right experience for their target customer and if it will produce the greatest return on investment.

Is there a limit to the number of events a business should sponsor?

Not at all! However, as with any advertising effort, businesses should assess if the long-term return on investment, such as new customer gains, is greater than the cost of sponsorship.

What channels should you use to promote an event sponsorship?

One of the most successful and cost-effective methods of promoting an event is through a well-planned social media strategy. But depending on the business, event being sponsored, and customer being reached, promotion through a diverse combination of mediums and digital platforms is best.

How should a business handle an event sponsorship that ends up being a conflict of interest?

A thorough investigation of the proposed sponsorship and background of the organization can prevent a conflict of interest before it occurs. However, if an issue arises that could not be mitigated, businesses should collaborate with the organization to minimize any aspect of the event associated with the conflict that might negatively impact the customer. In extreme cases, company leadership should be as transparent with customers as possible by acknowledging the issue and responding accordingly to keep from alienating trust.

What are the typical processes and challenges for nonprofit organizations in search of sponsorships for their event?

One of the greatest challenges for nonprofits is effectively communicating the right information to businesses that will lead to a partnership. With the exception of very large nonprofits, most small to medium nonprofits spend hours cold calling businesses in hopes of forming a partnership. The entire process is very informal and problematic for event organizers who must locate marketing decision makers, pitch their event and levels of sponsorship, and convince the business that their investment would benefit their target consumer. When reaching out to potential partners, nonprofits must come prepared with detailed information on who their members are such as where they are from, where they live, how much income they make, and other relevant demographics.

How can using SponsorMatch connect businesses with nonprofits?

SponsorMatch works by matching the needs of nonprofit events to the goals of businesses. Similar to online dating sites, nonprofits and businesses will be able to see exactly what each side is looking for and only reach out when those needs match. Nonprofits will be able to easily divide their event into levels of sponsorship. Businesses will be able to see all the details of any given event and select what level they are willing to support, at what cost, and what exposure they will receive. The platform will even notify both nonprofits and businesses automatically if it believes there’s a possible match. Overall, SponsorMatch saves valuable time and resources for both the nonprofit and business by holdng all of their partnership assets, communication, and details in one place

How do you see event sponsorships changing for nonprofits and businesses in the future?

Technology has created more channels for individuals to learn about the businesses they purchase from, and customers are placing a high value on the social contributions of those businesses. In the future, businesses will continue to incorporate more socially responsible partnerships to help their communities while elevating their own brands. Technology will also allow nonprofits to change not only the way sponsorships are conducted, but also how members are found, donors are retained, and visions are fulfilled on a worldwide scale.

polina opelbaumWritten by Polina Opelbaum, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Polina, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

13 Tips for Writing and Pitching Op-Ed Stories

New York Times writer, Jennifer Finney Boylan

Op-ed pieces are unique in their structure, length, voice in comparison to other non-fiction writing. Knowing how to merge your opinion with factual information is an important part of writing op-ed pieces and attracting readers to your story, is a skill that takes time and practice to finesse.  Jennifer Finney Boylan, author, speaker, and writer for New York Times Opinion joined our last #ConnectChat discussion, where she not only shared how she writes op-ed pieces and turn them into compelling stories, but also about how to pitch them to major publications. Here are 13 tips from Boylan all op-ed writers should remember:

Write a clear headline, but don’t expect it to make the final cut.
Writers almost never choose their own headlines. In fact, the editor won’t even consult you about the headline most of the time. This is an ancient writer/editor practice. Headlines are chosen based on space as much as anything else, and positioning. My recent piece in the NYT, “Home is Where the Horses Are” was originally titled “Why the Long Face.” Still, you need to have a headline on your piece when you submit it. That helps the editor know what you’re up to, especially if your piece is a “gimmick” piece.

Hook the reader in right away with an anecdote, humorous ones work best. Then try to “show” how the story connects to an issue in the news, or of note. Wrap up it up by circling back to the joke in a new way.

The ideal length for op-eds is 800 words; original pieces 1,200 words.The NYT prefers 800 words for a standard op-ed column, like the regulars: Brooks, Collins, Bruni, etc. If I’m pitching an original piece, I go as long as 1,200 words with a note to the editor saying, “This is long; I can cut.” Having a relationship with the editor is an advantage because I know she will read my work. Sunday columns are a bit longer as well because there is more space in the Sunday Review.

Tell a story that also advocates a “position” backed up by fact and research. Op-ed pieces differ from other nonfiction in that it really is about opinion -you can’t just tell the story and leave it at that. For example, acclaimed New York Times economist Paul Krugman discusses economic facts, but he makes those stats into a compelling, moving story. The story generally comes first, along with your own charming voice, then the research.

Be aware that your opinions become public, and will become associated with you. For instance, I’m the national co-chair of the board of directors of GLAAD, and I have to be careful. People will think that my opinions are GLAAD’s opinions if I write about LGBT issues. As a writer, I don’t draw lines — I want to write about everything! As a public figure, I have to be careful not to damage the brand of the organization. Bottom line is, I try to be very careful, and don’t write when I’ll jeopardize the organization.

Be true to your personal writing style. Each writer has his or her own style, of course. It might be cliché, but your best bet is to be yourself. People can tell if you’re faking it. I bet you could read a “typical” column by one of the Times’ dozen or so regulars and know within a graph who wrote it.

Target your pitch to the most relevant publications that will connect with that story. If your story has a strong connection to a place, go to the paper in that town. You can also build a portfolio of clips starting small and going more national. My first published column was for the Middletown Press, in Connecticut about graduating from that town’s Wesleyan University. If it’s your first story, it’s good way to establish your credentials.

Pitch stories tied to seasonal events a month ahead of time.
Timing is everything in pitching as is a hook. Editors aren’t interested in your random genius. So know that, the Monday before Father’s Day, editors will be flooded with pieces about daddies. So if you’re going to write a Father’s Day piece, write it in May and send it in early.

Prioritize breaking news stories. Finding a good hook is an art, but sometimes you have to wait for the news cycle to give you your lede as well. For example, I had a piece ready to go for the Times this spring when I heard the news about the new SAT on the radio. I sent a note to my editor saying, “Hold the other piece, I’m writing an SAT thing,” and sent it in next morning, which was published the day after. If I’d waited two days later, the editor would have been swamped in SAT pieces.

Take advantage of Summer writing opportunities. Regular NYT columnists take vacations in the summer, so they’re always looking for people to fill. That’s how I became a regular after the “postcard” series — I became a designated summer filler — columnist “substitute teacher.” For up and comers and freelancers, this is an ideal opportunity.

Format your email pitch appropriately. In addition to attaching your piece as an email to the editor, paste it in as text as well. That way the editor doesn’t have to open your word document to read the piece; It’s right there and your lede is already grabbing their attention. Also, seriously: use 18 point type in the email paste. Make it big. Editors are not in their 20s. Have pity. Also, even though this is very particular, use a serif font, palatino or, say, times. Never use sans-serif font.

Be considerate to your editor and continue to build upon your relationship. Be respectful. Don’t be too annoying. If they encourage you, keep conversing. Be pleasant on email, but brief; keep in mind that editors are usually overworked. If they say no, accept that no means no. But if they pass on your story in a nice way, send them something else, although not right away.

Don’t give up hope – opportunities arise when you least expect them. How I went from a one-shot column to a regular political “postcard” series in the New York Times is a good story. I’d had a really great lunch with the editor in NY. Later, I saw the Times building and thought it would be a good idea to stop in and say hello. Next thing I know, he and others were sitting around a table asking me, “What do you got?” Suddenly I realized they thought I was there to pitch.

Thinking quickly, I pitched a half-baked idea about two general stores in my hometown– one Republican, one Democratic. They sent me on my way, and I didn’t hear anything back. Three months later, I receive a call from the editor saying, “That thing about the general stores? Write it. Need it by tomorrow.” In my case, another columnist’s work wasn’t any good, so they needed a filler and remembered my story.  I scrambled and wrote it in a day and that’s how I landed the gig.  The moral of the story is: you never know when the publication of your dreams will need you, so don’t lose heart.

polina opelbaumAuthor  Polina Opelbaum is the editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Polina, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

 

How HuffPo Creates Value With Communities

HuffPost Code recently hosted an event featuring HuffPo’s Director of Community, Tim McDonald, and a discussion of how to develop and maintain communities, offering brands valuable insight into one of the web’s most enthusiastic communities.

The Meaning Behind Community

It is not about what is a community, but more about who is community. Community is about people and having relationships with these people.

McDonald wants his community to be a bunch of “little monsters” that are passionate about his brand and what he does. If he is going to spend his time engaging with this community, then he wants them talking to their friends and their community about his brand. McDonald goes on to say that community management is about being a magnet. You want to draw in your community members and have them be stuck, and you don’t want them to leave once they get there.

Community is very emotional, because people have an emotional connection to your brand. On the other hand, marketing is very transactional — it is a like, a click, a retweet. Those people are not fans, but they are the crowd. Don’t spend your time talking to the crowd, but spend your time talking to your community. Loyalty is about having an emotional bond to something. It is not about getting a discount or frequent flyer card, but it about being a firm supporter of a brand that you don’t work for. But you need to remember to give that supporter something — never forget that. You need to make it about them before you make it about you.

You also need to have a community that is exclusive, which can be as specific as providing an email address, or filling out a survey, or needing people to take the initiative of asking to be part of the community. The exclusivity will depend on the different levels of different objectives.

Case Study One: Exclusive Community

Murph, a Huffington Post member, who frequently comments on the site provides a lot of value because of the way he interacts with other commenters on the site. Murph was given the status of Community Pundit, which allows his comments to be longer and get text formatting. This member really likes it, because nobody else has it.

Murph is very valuable to McDonald, especially, when the change on Huffington Post occured to Facebook verified identies to comment. Before this change occurred, McDonald took the time to let Murph know. Even though Murph wasn’t happy about it, he understand why it was being done. Murph was then going on to other sites where people were bashing Huffington Post and would explain to people why they should give Huffington Post a chance. This isn’t something you can buy or do alone as a brand.

Case Study Two: Connecting With Community Members

When they started HuffPost Live, McDonald met a woman named Tash through customer feedback. In a polite way, Tash asked why they don’t have a search function on HuffPost Live, so she could be alerted to the shows that she wanted to watch instead of needing to tune in and not know when the episodes would show. This search capability exists now, but back then it didn’t, so McDonald emailed her back. He didn’t use the standard email, but he wrote an email thanking her, apologizing to her about her frustration and explaining to her that he doesn’t have a timeline on it but wants to try to make it happen. He ended by saying that if she has any other questions or if he can help her get involved in any other way, to please let me him know, and he provided his phone number and email.

Tash emailed McDonald back. They got in a Google+ Hangout and started talking about what she does and her passions. He was very helpful and interested in her, and at the end of the conversation she asked what she could do for McDonald. Since HuffPost Live just launched, they didn’t have a huge existing database of guests they could call on. Right after that Hangout, Tash introduced McDonald to two or three people, and then the next day she introduced him to more people, etc. Most of the people she introduced him to ended up being guests on HuffPost Live. Tash also gave McDonald the idea to start a small private Facebook group where he could invite some of these guests in and tell them when the shows would come up, and then they could suggest guests for them and McDonald could give these suggestions to the producers.

Experiment

McDonald suggests to always be experimental, because he has realized that if he isn’t failing then he isn’t trying hard enough. Most of us start thinking that we don’t have the finances, resources, or time to do something, but those are all just excuses. He explains that you don’t need to build a huge project where you get everyone to sign off to experiment. McDonald has three rules for testing things: 1) He doesn’t have to ask for anybody’s permission. 2) He doesn’t have to ask for any budget. 3) He won’t get fired for it. He also thinks it may be helpful to find one of the stakeholders that you might be helping and tell them what you’re doing, and make sure they think it is a good idea.

Final Thoughts

McDonald mentions that many people forgot about one amazing tool out there: the telephone. It has helped him connect with many community members in a deeper way than ever before by them hearing his tone, and by him being able respond to questions in an immediate manner. Of course, he says, you don’t need to get on the phone with every single person, but with the people that are valuable to your community — that small group of passionate, raving fans.

 Written by Polina Opelbaum, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Polina, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

The Effects of Hummingbird on Search and Social

We’ve had a few months to digest and absorb the changes Google wrought with the launch of the Hummingbird search algorithm, which significantly chanted how the search giant ranks content.  

So what effect has Hummingbird had on search and social?  Earlier this year, the Social Media Club NYC hosted an event that assessed the impact the new algorithm has had for internet users users and brands. The meeting was moderated by SMCNYC board memberDanielle Simon, and the three panelists included:

Landsman put together the following PowerPoint to introduce the topic of Hummingbird. You can download it here: db.tt/rFVSLL2W.

Key points Landsman made include:

  • Google Senior VP of Search Amit Singhal explained this new change by saying, “Hummingbird is focused more on ranking information based on a more intelligent understanding of search requests, unlike its predecessor, Caffeine, which was targeted at better indexing of websites.”
  • With this new change to Google Search, content is still the most important thing. You need to be able to share content with context.
  • The change brings to bear Semantic Web, as Google seeks to deliver the results of semantic search.
  • Google really wants to understand what your search query means.
  • Google keeps a database of all things that were searched and then they look at your personal search history when you sign into your Google account, as well as your context and the context of you and your content. They call this Personalized Search.
  • Human language is getting more play at Google, especially with Siri and Android hearing what you’re saying.
  • Hummingbird leverages Google’s vast Knowledge Graph, which contains information about 570 million concepts. It then uses this equation thought of by Landsman: Words + Context + Knowledge Graph = SERPS (aka “hits”)
  • Google tells you keywords are not provided unless you’re an advertiser. The explanation behind this is when SSL (Secure Sockets Layered) is employed, keywords are not provided.
  • Google moved to SSL for all Personalized Search. As a security measure, this would secure the user’s identity.
  • Here are some things you can do since Google is not telling you the keywords: start listening; look at your referrer logs; look at time spent per page; look at what else shows up in search; write great copy on all of your pages; and be sure to use all the meta data tools.
  • It is more important to drive traffic to your site that is interested in what you have to say versus getting tons of hits.

Here are some of the questions that were asked by Simon and attendees, and their responses:

As a searcher, what type of change would we have seen that reflects this algorithm change?

Batista: When searchers need to type to search for something, they don’t want to type a lot. However, when you need to speak to search, you will be more verbose. It is easier for us to speak than type. From Google’s perspective, they are looking at two perspectives. These are the challenges that Hummingbird is enabling Google to solve.

What are the practical things you can do as a business, and how can you serve your customers better by coming up in certain queries?

Batista: Google started an initiative in 2009 called rich snippets to encourage more webmasters to annotate their pages and identify whether the page is about a place, review, recipe, etc. In return, this helped Google enrich their knowledge graph, which makes your search more compelling. If I have client where we implement these rich snippets, they have at least a 30 percent increase in click-through rate.

Another free tool you can use is Webmaster Tools. It is an SEO tool that Google provides you, and you have full access to the phrases that people are searching. With the query data that is typed, you will not have conjunctions, but with spoken words you will have prepositions. This is how you will be able to filter the query list provided by Google. You can also filter by searching for the type of device that was used to search. Once you identify the type of search, you look to see whether your page is serving the need of the user, and users are looking for.

Are your search results different when you search on your phone versus on your desktop?

Landsman: The most likely difference will be geographic. When a search is mobile, they take into account location. For example, if you type in “Chinese restaurant” on your mobile phone versus your office desktop, it will tell you more about what’s nearby and it will come up a bit quicker.

How is social starting to influence search?

Bernard: If you’re a local business, you need to make sure your content is optimized for mobile. This can be social posts, tweets, thumbnail sizes on images, or your website. The second thing is Google+, which is connecting a lot of the pieces of the Web together, i.e., email addresses, authorship tags. From a social perspective, don’t forget about Google+, because somewhere down the line this may become even more important than people think. It isn’t just about the content being there, but it is also about the social signals from Google+. We have done certain experiments in AOL with social signals that are coming off of Google+ posts, and we have definitely seen these more with engaging posts.

How Can You Pull Images into Google Search?

Landsman: Google is fascinated by Pinterest. Pinterest is more important to Google than a lot of other stuff, such as Flickr. For one client, whenever they put a visual on their site I would pin it, and Google would then show it immediately. Pictures on Google+ aren’t as loved as on Pinterest, but it is still close.

What Are Something Things That Can Be Done to Help Search?

Bernard: Write better headlines. The impact of writing better headlines from a search and social perspective is enormous. You almost have to get into the minds of people searching for when you’re doing your headlines. Your headlines need to be more conversational.

Landsman: You need to use the language of the searcher and visitor. What are they interested in, and how are they going to react to you? You also need to understand user experience, and with search becoming more semantic, it is becoming arguably that much more important.

What is future of Hummingbird for users and marketers?

Batista: Google wants to build a computer where you can ask any type of question and it will be able to answer. Being able to give you whatever answer you can think of — that is where things are heading.

Landsman: And the real dream is that they want to be able to anticipate what you want.

Written by Polina Opelbaum, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Polina, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

The Future of Financial Services Communications

earlier this month,  I attended an event hosted by Business Development Institute and PR Newswire that focused on communications in the financial services industries, but included lessons most communicators can appreciate.

There were several short presentations with different speakers and topics that took place during the event. Here are some of the important topics and key points from topics each presentation:

Embracing Technology to Create Trust Among Small Businesses Presented by: Noah Breslow, chief executive officer of OnDeck

  • Technology is being disruptive to financial services.
  • Square is a form of classic disruption.
  • To gain trust with customers, you need to do the following: set the contrast; simplify your message; manage expectation closely; bring human to the online process; and engage your promoters.
  • Engage with your customers so they do not feel they are alone.
  • Use services like Yelp and build ratings to show customers they are not the first.

Big Data 101: What It Means for Business                                                  Presented by: David Ray, corporate vice president of corporate Internet at New York Life Insurance Company

  • “Big Data is data that is too large, complex, and dynamic for any conventional data tools to capture, store, manage and analyze.” (source: wipro.com)
  • Ninety percent of the data you have in your enterprise is unstructured.
  • If 90 percent is unstructured, at best, businesses are making decisions based on 10 percent of their data.
  • The present and future opportunity for big data may not be to process enormous amounts of data, but, rather, to tie together previously untied and/or isolated systems.
  • Lady Gaga uses big data. Her manager created a Gaga-centric social network by mining the singer’s Twitter and Facebook fans. This will effectively bypass other social media networks and allow them to keep 100 percent of future revenues.

Social Media and Compliance                                                                Presented by Joanna Belbey, social media and compliance specialist, and Victor Gaxiola, subject matter expert, at Actiance, Inc.

  • Social businesses can’t just use one collaborative technology to keep its      employees connected; they need to use them all.
  • Enterprises face the following challenges using social media: security, governance and enablement.
  • Successful financial advisors have been using social media all along, but now they have even more forms of electronic communications to further their reach.
  • Social media can be used to drive customer loyalty, leverage connections, and close new businesses.
  • The key is to come up with a communications policy in advance.
  • A salesperson emailed 200 LinkedIn connections and 158 got back to them. Perhaps social media will replace the cold call?

Finance: Community vs. Commodity                                                   Presented by: David Kelin, CEO and cofounder of CommonBond

  • You can’t buy a community; you have to build a community — and you need to build a community people want to belong to.
  • After someone applies for a loan with CommonBond, they will pick up the phone and call that person. It i a way of connecting on a human level.
  • Giving back is another important component to building a community.

Building Trust in a Content Rich World Presented by: Greg Matusky, president and founder of Gregory FCA

  • Consumers’ trust rate of financial services industry is at an all-time low.
  • Content bridges the digital divide between the business and consumer. It is the framework for building trust.
  • Eighty percent of consumers look for four sources of information before buying.
  • The five C’s of trusted content: compassion, credibility, creativity, contemporary, and compliance.

Allianz Global Investors Empowers Its Sales Force With Social Media Presented by: Erin Meijer, social media manager at Allianz Global Investors

  • Allianz uses social media to humanize their brand. Also, clients and prospects are on social media, so they need to be there too.
  • It is not social media — it is social business.
  • LinkedIn is the Google of the business world.
  • Your social media is your digital equity.
  • Here are some tips for social business: 1) Be visual (use charts/graphs, thumbnails with articles, infographics, etc.). 2) Create a content calendar for your social media. 3) Be authentic, and always add value. 4) Have a strong call to action. 5) Be social. 6) Use automation tools to minimize effort and maximize impact.

Optimizing for the Speed of Social                                                          Presented by: Sebastian Hempstead, executive vice president of North America at Brandwatch

  • Automation tools are absolutely crucial because you cannot manually deal with the amount of social data out there.
  • Some social media command centers are physical and some are virtual; some engage directly and some don’t; some are managed by social media teams and some are cross-functional.
  • Listening on social allows you to identify when there is a bigger problem going on, such as a system performance issue. When this issue happens, alerts are triggered among the different departments that this is going on.
  • To expand on social, engage with posts mentioning competitors, such as reviews and complaints.

Written by Polina Opelbaum, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Polina, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Driving Discovery of Your Organization’s Story

Late last month, PR Newswire hosted a free webinar: Driving Discovery of Your Organization’s Story. The webinar was led by Sarah Skerik (@sarahskerik), vice president of content marketing at PR Newswire.

Skerik discussion centered around these four topics: 1) evolution of media; 2) subsequent changes in audience behavior; 3) conversational search and the social media connection; and 4) tactics for earning attention and media.

Evolution of Media

It is well known that traditional media channels have lost ground to digital properties. Brands and individuals are publishing more content than ever, and this is creating an issue, because when people go online to get information they are getting swamped. An IDG study shows that 82 percent of IT decision makers are challenged to find trusted content during the IT purchase process.

Subsequent Changes in Audience Behavior

People are looking for really granular information. Each day, 20 percent of Google searches are unique and have never been seen by Google. People are also more acceptant of branded content. Native advertising (aka sponsored content) is commanding more views than original editorial content. Also, readers spend around the same amount of time on native advertising and original editorial content.

Why is Content Discovery Important?

In addition to the above IDG statistic, another statistic released by Sirius Decisions 2012 shows that B2B customers contact a sales rep only after 70 percent of the purchase decision has been made. The takeaway for organizations is that if you don’t have published supporting content for whatever you’re promoting then you’re eliminated from a consumer’s consideration right out of the gates.

Content discovery is also important because influence isn’t linear, but it is a continuous loop. Five or 10 years ago marketers and PR people would shoot out a message to their audience and get results. However, what is happening now is your audience is able operate on their own time frame. They are researching and buying according to their own needs. The key for communicators is keep their content up there, visible and credible as your audience begins its research and search process. Yet, the communications reality is that their competing for finite audience attention against an infinite ocean of content.

Conversational Search and the Social Media Connection

It is important to know that Google put in a whole new search algorithm called Hummingbird, and they are taking aim at all those new searches they get every day. Google is building more human behavior into their search algorithm by doing a conversational search. They are trying to build search results based on the true meaning of the phrase that a person enters. Seven of the top 10 Google search ranking factors are derived from social networks. Google is using social behavior as an indicator about what sort of content is relevant and important to the person searching. This is why when developing a marketing strategy or PR campaign, it is crucial that communicators drive relevant and committed social interaction with the content they distribute.

Media Outlets Are Retooling

New stories start out from a traditional outlet, such as a radio station, newspaper, magazine, etc., and are very often the catalyst for social conversations. Here are some examples of what media outlets are doing to drive social conversations.

1) Chicago Sun-Times eliminated their entire photography department and wanted to start sourcing photos from their reporters who were armed with iPhones. The reason for the change was because they need is lots of visual content and fast.

2) John Keefe, a radio guy at WNYC radio, has the title of senior editor of data news and journalism technology. He does not only present information but he also thinks about how to use information and how to make it interactive, writing apps and crunching data. This should make communicators think about whether the content they are pitching will resonate with him.

Tactics for Earning Attention and Media

Here are the tactics Skerik suggests:

1) Go look at the websites of news outlets that are important to your industry segment and then look at the stories that are most commented on, emailed and shared socially. It is important to not only look at the popular stories for the industry you are working on, but it is also important to see the ones which received the most comments. The most popular stories usually have a well-known brand name in the title, but when you look at the most commented stories they are usually ones that delve deeper into the industry. This will help you learn about what you audience is interested in and you can then fashion your brand’s content around those lines, as well as get some great story ideas.

2) Use the attention current events generate to grab some attention for your brand. FM Global, an insurance company, on the heels of a report issued by the government about Hurricane Sandy pulled together a press release with information they already had. This information wasn’t just for the general public but also for reporters and analysts covering this topic. And each link in the release was linked to a piece of content and was trackable.

3) Tie thought leadership to timely events. KCSA’s CEO published a new book and they also launched a new section on their blog called Diary of an IPO. To gain attention for the new section of the blog they wrote about the then impending Facebook IPO. They promoted the posts by sending them out as press releases. This resulted in significant increases in visitors, visits and views to their blog.

4) Use editorial calendars to guide your marketing team’s content calendar in terms of both topics and timing. You can do this by going to the websites that are important to your organization and looking for their media kit. In the media kit, you will find their editorial calendar which will show you the topics they will publish over the next year. You can then synch your content calendar with the topics that are being published in the industry.

5) There is a rise in the reporting of data, surveys and studies by news organizations. Media outlets are willing to use this type of information within their reporting. Even though organizations are aware of the importance of this information, there is still sometimes a lack of communication between PR and marketing after this material goes out. This is why it is essential for PR and marketing to align. Last year, Vibes did a study about mobile shopping behavior and issued an infographic, but then they did something different by pulling a news hook out of the study, hiring a PR company, and issuing a press release. They received a lot of media attention from the story and are still getting calls about it.

6) Market your marketing. You need to distribute the content that you publish. PR Newswire distributed a video they created explaining what MultiVu does, and prior to the content distribution they were six Facebook likes to the video. After distributing the video it received 196 Facebook likes the following day.

7) Remember to keep an eye on the results of your campaign well after it is over. If you do a good job of surfacing content in relevant ways, the tails will grow longer and longer.

Formatting Message Tips

1) Whether you’re sending out a press release, blog post, etc., keep your headline around the 100-character mark. This also works very well for tweets. Put all the important terminology within the first 65 characters. You can pick up more detail in the subhead.

2) Use some type of visual in your message. Instagram and Pinterest are leading visual-only networks, so if you don’t have a visual then you can’t play. Also, people are visual people who like looking at pictures.

3) Don’t lead with the boiler plate if you writing any type of written content or setting up a video. Save the “about company” information for the end of the document or video. Remember to build your reader’s interest with every element of the content you are producing.

4) Embed a call-to-action near the top of the page. When you are linking, think of it as a reader service and not just for SEO. You can link to profiles of key people quoted in the message.

Q&A

Q: How do links to existing content work regarding the new nofollow rule?

A: A few months ago Google said that certain types of content including press releases should have nofollow attributes in the link. Google wanted PR Newswire to change the link structure so content wouldn’t be counted toward search engine results. This meant you could no longer issue links in content you’re publishing online as a link building SEO tactic. However, this doesn’t have anything to do with the signals generated by social media. The takeaway is that if you’re publishing content that is valuable and people like and share it, then it will still be seen and will rank high in search engine.

Q: Where is the best place to post press release visuals? Also are there any fears visuals in press releases will trigger email spam filters?

A: You can post images on any social network with a link to the related press release or message you want to promote. You should also post visuals in blog posts and/or in the press releases on your website. It is less about where to post images, but more about posting them. If you are sending content out via email then you should include links to visuals and not include the actual video file or photo, because that will definitely trigger spam filters. You can also send out the email in HTML.

Q: What is an effective use of video in press releases?

A: You can embed a video in a press release that will play when people are viewing it on a website. The video stops the reader from reading and will take them to another place where they engage more fully with the brand and message. In addition, it makes the message more memorable for the reader.

Q: Is it OK to include a short phrase in the lead paragraph of a press release?

A: You need to think of your press release as a news story, because in so many cases your press releases will be seen by members of your audience in addition to bloggers and members of the media. You should really save the boilerplate for the boilerplate and write a real news lede in the press release that tells readers why it is an important announcement.

Q: What kind of PR news should a nonprofit foundation present?

A: Any organization needs to speak to their audience. What’s important to your audience? What can your organization offer that will make their lives better or spark their interest? It should be less about the organization and what they want to convey and more about what the audience wants to hear.

Written by Polina Opelbaum, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Polina, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Blogging Basics from Big Time Bloggers

The New York Women in Communications Foundation’s 2013 Student Communications Career Conference (#SCC13) was held earlier this month. The conference consisted of different breakout sessions relating to media and communications. One of the sessions I attended was about blogging. The panel was moderated by Lori Greene, digital content innovator/blogger. The panelists were:

Q: How do you know when your blog has hit and made a difference?

Morris: I knew it hit when it was being supported by the beauty industry. I specifically mean the brands that I write about, the publicists for the brands, and other writers in the industry. I also started getting real traffic to my blog.

Q: How do you get to those big traffic numbers on your blog?

Heitlinger: At some point I learned about Google Analytics and copied that code into my HTML. I spent a few hours every couple days digging in, learning and tracking things. I started seeing what time of day most people were reading; where in the country/world people were reading from; where they would click after coming to the homepage, etc. This information will really tell you a lot about your readers. And Google Analytics has improved a great deal since I started using it.

Dooling: When you’re first starting out, you need to really think about where you want to blog. If you want to have your own domain or be part of someone else’s that has a larger following. Also, you need to figure out who you want to work with.

Q: Elizabeth, how do you go about hiring bloggers? What do you find works? What’s the best way to pitch to be posted on a professional blog like Huffington Post?

Perle: For my section, anyone can blog. There are very few instances where we will say no to a writer (if it’s an offensive post). I actually think that our most effective posts aren’t the kids who are the best writers, but it’s about the strongest narratives. Readers can smell from a mile away if you’re being unauthentic. Also a lot of our best bloggers enjoy drawing infographics — there are many different ways to tell the narrative. Another important thing is being an active member of the blogger community.

Q: How do you make a living from blogging?

Morris: Making money changes by the month and even year. Sometimes I can find consistent work for three or six months at a time. The main way I make money now is through partnerships with brands, such as beauty, health and fitness brands — because that is what I really know. When you start a blog, you want to pick something you want to become an expert in and have a passion for.

Q: How do you keep your credibility to your followers when working with brands?

Morris: As an online blogger, I am always able to say when something is sponsored or when I am being compensated. I have picked everything I do that is sponsored very strategically. The power of no is bigger than the power of yes. I can’t tell you how many things, regardless of how much money it is, that I have turned down because it doesn’t represent me or my brand. The best advice I can give when starting a blog is to always put your audience first. It is not about you but it is about your audience.

Dooling: When I started blogging there were no guidelines about what you could and couldn’t say. Now the FTC does regulate what you do as a blogger. You need to have it listed on your post and About page if something is sponsored, and you need to list out any large partnerships that you have. There are many different ways to make money from a blog. I think freelance writing is probably what most bloggers do, because you’re already writing anyway. You can also do sponsored posts or banner ads for money. You can do this by putting on your About page that you are accepting banner ads. Another thing is to have your own following. There are many communities out there who are doing what you’re doing and you need to follow them.

Heitlinger: What I think is really important is having multiple streams of cash flow. For me, freelance writing did not work out, but being paid to come speak at places or hosting events is a great income. This is in addition to the sponsored content, banner ads, etc., on my blog. And the bigger your audience, the more you can ask for. You have a lot more power to say no to offers when you receive 30 requests a day for sponsored content and you’re only accepting 2-3 a month. You have that flexibility and freedom when you build that audience. However, when you start receiving income as a blogger, you should think about whether that is something you want to do full-time. You have to realize that you are taking your hobby and passion and associating a value with it, because once you start taking money it becomes a job. Knowing that you truly love what you’re doing and who you’re partnering with is much more important than the money at the end of the day.

Perle: If you’re going to blog for free, be strategic about it. Ask questions like, “Do I retain the rights to my own work?” Also, if you volunteer your time for free to write something for a publication, pick one that you want to work for.

Q: How often should you be blogging?

Heitlinger: I think it is a very personal decision, but I think they key is consistency. This doesn’t necessarily mean extremely high frequency, but it may mean that you write a killer blog post every Sunday night that goes up on your blog.

Dooling: Don’t put yourself in a position where you have to write something, because readers can smell that inauthenticity from a mile away. Figuring out when you have the time to put something up, goes very far.

Morris: Don’t make it into a chore, but always keep it as a passion. Your readers are coming to you because you are a source, so you have to be a source of credible information. You never want to post something to post it.

Q: If someone is starting their own blog, how much money should they be spending to start it?

Heitlinger: You should spend $0 starting your blog. Maybe buy the domain for $10, but if it is anything more than that, then find a new domain. The best thing you can do as a blogger is to spend as much time as possible building content, and then you can start to think about whether this is something you want to continue doing long term and if it will go somewhere. After all this, you can think about investing money.

Dooling: The best thing someone ever told me is that blogging is the great equalizer. Your dad doesn’t need to be a marketing executive to become a great blogger.

Q: How do you evolve your blog as something more professional?

Morris: You should crosslink with bigger blogs. You also need to really put yourself out there. So if your blog is fitness-related then a blog like Fitness.com might like something like that. Reach out to them by putting something on their Facebook page or tweeting them. Don’t be scared.

Q: If you want to publish original content and clips of content from another publication on your blog, do you need two separate blogs?

Dooling: I put my older clips on my personal blog. I differentiate them by adding an editor’s note at the top that says, “This was originally posted on [publication name] on [date of publication].” Or sometimes I will embed the image of the logo of where it was featured.

Written by Polina Opelbaum, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Polina, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.