Sh*t on Samra’s Desk

First, I should warn you that this blog contains profanity, specifically a certain four-letter “s” word. I have a hard rule against cursing in a professional blog and I’m even a little uncomfortable with it in personal blogs. It’s not that I don’t curse in real life – I can make a sailor blush if I’m in the mood. It’s just that I’m uncomfortable putting it in writing and then publishing it on the Internet for all the world to see and Google to index with my name. I’m sure you understand. But this is one of those rare moments when there is no getting around it.

Last year, I served as the teaching assistant for Samra Bufkins, APR, a lecturer on public relations and social media strategy at the University of North Texas’ Mayborn School of Journalism. I was a full-time grad student and a new mom so she was kind enough to give me a key to her office so I could privately take care of my duties as a walking dairy farm. As I sat there in her office during these sessions, I had a lot of time to look around and realized that she is a hoarder of weirdness. Her office is like a physical manifestation of attention-deficit-disorder.

In her social media class, I threatened to create a Tumblr blog called Sh*t on Samra’s Desk and post pictures of all the weird things I found. I started to do it but then I realized that out of context, sh*t sounded like an action to be taken on her desk rather than a description of the artifacts found there. Naturally she loved the idea and it seemed to compliment the hashtag of the semester #ShitSamraSays, so this blog post is the next best thing.

Screen shot 2013-12-17 at 11.02.27 AM

One day I finally started documenting all of the strange things she collects. Here are five of the most notable (in my opinion) and odd relics from her office.   

Bacon sh*t – What could be more sanitary on an open wound than a strip of bacon? And bacon mints? I actually tried the mints once and then spit it out. I love the taste of bacon but I have yet to figure out why anyone would want to taste bacon without actually eating bacon.

Bacon Strips BandaidsBacon Mints

Masks and sh*t – I’m sure this is somehow related to the time she spent living in Mexico, but all I can think of when I see this luchador mask is Jack Black from Nacho Libre. As for the gas mask, I can’t think of any reason to own one unless you are auditioning for a spot on Doomsday Preppers.

luchador maskgas mask

Excuses and sh*t – I love this magic eight ball of excuses for something didn’t get done. Just give it a good shake for a selection of totally believable reasons why that deadline was missed.

Magic 8 Ballmagic 8 ball

Story Book sh*t – Somehow she managed to visit not one, but TWO mystical lands and come out with the two most important artifacts – Aladdin’s magic lamp and the Queen of Hearts’ chalice. I wonder what her three wishes were and how she managed to escape Wonderland with her head in tact.

aladdin's lamp

Random cluttered sh*t – A dirty fork, a bottle of cold medicine, scotch tape, a name tag, an oil diffuser that hasn’t seen oil in three years and a creepy beetle paperweight – that’s all normal, right? Seriously, that bug paperweight has bothered me since the first time I laid eyes on it. I keep expecting the beetle to come alive and eat me like the scarab beetles in The Mummy.

random crap

Now don’t think this is all. I took lots of pictures and there is more to come. Like I said, her office is full of random, weird, funny and odd sh*t each with its own story. Just ask her – she is a great storyteller with enough stories to fill two lifetimes.

Black Friday Fever

BlackFridayFeverBlack Friday fever – the excitement of the crowds, the anticipation of the sale, the rush of adrenaline as you grab the last of that coveted half-priced item – what’s not to love? For some, this is an annual rite of passage and a way to knock out all of your holiday shopping in one night. For others, it is a perversion of a much loved family holiday.

Regardless how you feel about it, Black Friday doesn’t seem like it will be slowing down anytime soon. With retailers opening earlier and earlier (and some who never even closed), the public has made it clear that they will set aside whatever misgivings they may have if the price is right. And luckily for marketers, they can see evidence of this in real time on social media. This ocean of tweets, posts, and videos creates a flood of data allowing executives to measure what items generate the most excitement as well as examine overall sentiment about their brand.

According to an infographic from Mashable, iPads, HDTVs and cameras received the most mentions on Twitter. The top mentioned brands were Amazon, Walmart and LG. This year, nearly 2.5 million tweets worldwide mentioned Black Friday with the following raking in the most tweets:

@elizabethwnews with 1204 tweets

@Walmart with 823 tweets

@i4unews with 530 tweets

@blackfriday with 525 tweet

@20blackfriday13 with 379 tweets

California, New York, Texas, Florida and Illinois were the top five states for Black Friday Twitter activity.

The most popular hashtag of the night though wasn’t so positive. @YourAnonNews, which is linked to Anonymous, encouraged Twitter users to record Black Friday fights using the hashtag #WalmartFights. Around midnight CST, the hashtag began trending nationally as shoppers recorded and posted fights on Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Facebook and YouTube.

#WalmartStrikes, designed to help promote the fight for living wages by Walmart workers nationwide, received some notice but failed to trend nationwide.

But it’s not just about Twitter. Websites like BlackFriday.com released sales circulars early while other sites like CouponFollow.com saw a huge “influx in the number of online retailers that participated in pre-Black Friday coupon promotions on social media,” according to founder Marc Mezzacca.

Walmart and other big box retailers have taken increased precautions every year since a Walmart worker died during a Black Friday stampede in 2008 at a Long Island store and two died that same year in a shooting at a Southern California Toys ‘R’ Us, but that hasn’t stopped the violence.  In fact, according to a website called blackfridaydeathcount.com, seven people have died since 2006 and 90 people have been seriously injured (three of those deaths were the result of post-shopping car accidents).

Despite all that, it seems that people still felt more excitement and were overall positive according to an analysis of Twitter sentiment by Crimson Hexagon. Their research shows that 45% of Black Friday tweets in the week before Thanksgiving were positive, up from 38% last year. Nearly 25% of the 674,000 tweets analyzed expressed excitement while 19% mentioned specific sales and bargains. Approximately 36% of tweets were negative and nearly half of those were from workers complaining about having to work the Black Friday sales. Surprisingly, only about 5% of Black Friday tweets mentioned boycotting the day.

Whether you were in the middle of the mayhem tweeting tips and fight videos, protesting outside of your workplace, sitting at home searching for the best online deals, or analyzing your brand’s holiday social media strategy, one thing is for sure. Social media offers something for everyone afflicted with Black Friday Fever.

More PR Lessons from Yoda

PR Lessons from YodaAs you can tell from my last blog, I was inspired by the teachings of Master Yoda and how those lessons can be applied to the practice of public relations. As I sorted through dozens of quotes, my inner geek girl giggled with glee (alliteration also thrills the former English teacher within). I wanted to include more quotes but I also didn’t want to write the world’s longest blog post. So here, for your nerdy pleasure, is part two of PR lessons from Yoda and friends.

“Reckless is he. Now, matters are worse.” 

This is pretty much the worse thing anyone at work, especially your clients, can say about you. It’s one thing to be seen as an innovative risk taker. It’s another thing to be seen as reckless, and that can get you fired or worse. Your boss, your colleagues and your clients need to know they can trust you to make sound decisions – not become a liability.

 “If you choose the quick and easy path …you will become an agent of evil.”

Because our industry is generally un-regulated (other than a voluntary adherence to a code of conduct), public relations has a long history of questionable practices. It is no wonder then that only about 40 percent of the U.S. public trusts the media, according to Edelman’s 2012 Trust Barometer. PR practitioners have a choice – to take the ethical high road or risk destruction of the galaxy for personal gain.

“Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” 

The Jedi live by a code ethics much like most reputable PR professionals. By following this code from the beginning, the PR Jedi can hone their skills and follow a more righteous and respectable path, thus lending credibility to the practice as a whole. Those who don’t adhere to ethical standards are doomed to end up on the wrong side of the force and media headlines.

In short, all of Yoda’s teachings refer back to the Jedi Code:

  • Jedi are the guardians of peace in the galaxy.
  • Jedi use their powers to defend and to protect.
  • Jedi respect all life, in any form.
  • Jedi serve others rather than ruling over them, for the good of the galaxy.
  • Jedi seek to improve themselves through knowledge and training.

Similarly, we exist to ensure peace and positive press, to defend and protect our reputations and that of our clients, to respect diversity, to serve the client and the public for the greater good, and to improve ourselves through life-long learning. So the lesson is this: we have an awesome role and an awesome responsibility. Use the force within you to make a difference and don’t be seduced by the power of the dark side.

PR Lessons from Yoda

PR Lessons from YodaIt’s been 33 years since Yoda first appeared to Luke Skywalker in the swamps of Dagobah, but his sage advice has lived on ever since.  His words of wisdom have been applied to business, love and politics, but there is a reason why this tiny figure’s following has grown through the years – he speaks the truth.

One of the first lessons in public relations I learned was to be truthful, sincere and honorable in your work, so it’s no wonder that I have always had a penchant for the judicious Jedi master.  His words of wisdom, part spirituality and part personal development, are applicable to so many areas of life but none more so than my professional life in public relations. So here are five of my favorite nuggets as they apply to public relations:

“Adventure, heh! Excitement, heh! A Jedi craves not these things.”

And neither does a PR professional. Anyone who has been in the business for awhile knows that we rarely get any attention because we are buried behind the scenes. Most PR practitioners are perpetually chained to their desk writing, researching, pitching, and strategizing while their clients are the ones in the limelight.  If you got into PR to be famous and travel the world, you are here for the wrong reasons.

“Impossible to see, the future is.”

No matter how much we plan, things frequently don’t turn out the way we expected. That may be a good or a bad thing, but the important lesson is to not stress yourself out over it. All we can do is plan for the future and hope for the best.

“Judge me by my size, do you?  Well, do not.”

Sometimes our preconceived notions about people, companies or events can cloud our judgment and cause us to either make mistakes or pass on a great opportunity. Keep an open mind. You never know what surprising benefits someone may have to offer.

“No more training do you require. Already know you that which you need.”

I love this one for the PR graduate. You’ve earned your degree. You’ve completed multiple internships. Now it’s time to go out there and get that job, yet you are paralyzed with feelings of fear and inadequacy. Have a little faith in yourself! You are stronger and more qualified than you realize so don’t sell yourself short (nor should you fudge about your skills). Put all that practice to work and trust that you are finally ready.

“Do or do not… there is no try.”

The most enduring quote of all from Master Yoda is this – get off your butt and quit making excuses. How many times have you heard someone in the next cubicle complain that they “tried to call this reporter” or “tried to message this blogger” or “tried to talk to so-and-so” but they just couldn’t do it? Excuses are for the weak and feeble-minded. A true Jedi gets it done and doesn’t whine about it. If you want to make it in this industry, you’ve got to make the commitment and go for it!

Don’t Feed the Trolls

 

Don't Feed the Trolls

Don’t be fooled – they are evil!

In Norse mythology, a troll is a humanoid being that dwells in isolated mountains, caves or under rocks. In the Middle Ages, the definition expanded to include giants, witches, ghosts or really ugly people. In Scandinavian mythology, trolls are old and strong but also slow, dim-witted man-eaters who turn to stone in the sunlight. J.R.R. Tolkien borrowed heavily from this for his epic tale of The Hobbit. Children’s stories like the Three Billy Goats Gruff show them as hideous, camouflaged tricksters that live under bridges. When I was a kid, a troll was a smiling, bug-eyed, naked figurine with neon colored hair. But despite centuries of myth and folklore, we knew that trolls weren’t real – until now.

There is one type of troll in existence today that is more fearsome and more loathsome than any literature. The Internet troll is a disgusting parasite that feeds on anger and frustration. Rather than hiding under bridges like their mythical ancestors, these trolls lurk in the comments section of any forum on the Internet like newspapers, blogs and even Facebook. They lie in wait for a topic worthy of their inflammatory, offensive and discordant comments and then attack. Internet trolls thrive on contention and take great joy in creating a hostile discussion. They wreak havoc wherever they go and they are multiplying at an astronomical rate. Something has to be done before it is too late.

Recently Dr. Tracy Everbach, an associate professor of journalism at the University of North Texas, argued that the comments for all journalism sites should just be abolished altogether. “You are just giving space to bigots and nuts,” she said in a discussion on her Facebook page. Several solutions were proposed including moderated comments, doing away with anonymous comments but each of those had their problems. Moderated comments take an incredible amount of time and effort to manage. The argument for disallowing anonymous comments didn’t fare much better as it is easy enough to use a fake name or create a fake social media profile to login with.

The Hunt Begins

I decided to test the waters myself and see if logic, reason and sound facts could thwart the trolls. I went to the Dallas Observer’s Unfair Park blog and logged in (their site allows users to create their own alias for anonymity). After reading through the first few comments, I quickly identified the baited comments from two potential trolls.

They were easy enough to identify since the topic was rape and their comments were demeaning and fairly low-brow. I replied with my rebuttal and the trolls were drawn in like flies to honey. They used every logical fallacy technique in the book including false analogies, half truths, non sequiturs, generalizations, post hoc arguments and more. When that failed, they relied on name calling and (my absolute favorite) the emotional woman with clouded judgment argument. I stood firm with facts, statistics, real-world scenarios, source links, and sound logic as I dismantled their arguments.

Conclusion

Alas, I discovered that resistance is indeed futile. Nothing worked and my attempts only made me more angry and frustrated adding fuel to their fire. Eventually, I realized that they would never bend because they weren’t interested in spirited debate or developing a deeper understanding of the world around them – they were only interested in pissing me off (along with every other woman reading the comments).

The lessons I learned in dealing with Internet trolls is this:

  1. Trolls usually travel alone but are quick to band together against a common enemy. In some situations, they can get very nasty and have even been known to wage a social media war on those who provoke them enough. Watch your back, don’t take on too many at once, and know when to just walk away.
  2. The only purpose served by posting in the comments is to state the facts and make a case for others to consider. It is not to win the argument or change the mind of a troll – that is impossible because they are only there to cause trouble.
  3. If you are going to have a comments section on your site, you will have to live with the reality of trolls. As the moderator, you can delete comments if they get too bad or shut down the discussion but that will not stop a true troll (see number 1).
  4. A comments section is not a necessary function and may be more headache than it’s worth. If you start seeing recurring, disrupting troll activity on your site, it might be time to shut down the comments feature completely. Ask yourself – is it really worth it?

 

Hashtag Mania

hashtag maniaIn case you missed it, hashtag mania is upon us. This once innocuous symbol for trending topics on Twitter has now exploded into mainstream culture and it seems that there is no escaping it – even if you don’t understand it.

It wasn’t that long ago that hashtags were just innocent little pound signs on a telephone. Then came Twitter and the hashtag became a way of identifying topics of discussion and that quickly evolved into a way to express snarky thoughts. It didn’t take long for those snarky expressions to make their way onto other platforms like Facebook, driving non-tweeters insane.

All of this seemed pretty confusing, especially to Baby Boomers who STILL don’t quite know what to make of the trend. In fact in a recent survey, 25 percent of Boomers believe that hashtags and other social media symbols should be taught in schools.

Social media platforms such as Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Gawker and others all use hashtags, but the trend has spread from the Web to wider world of communications. They are in the bottom corner of your favorite television shows, in commercials, in magazines and newspapers and on billboards. But sometimes, it can go too far. In this campaign from Honda, the hashtags aren’t an actual topic of conversation as much as they are part of the actual conversation.

This is quite possibly one of the most annoying commercials I’ve ever seen and to make matters worse, it’s also on the radio. Yes, that’s right. Hashtags are on the radio, which means that we now have the pleasure of hearing people SAY the phrase “Hashtag:InsertSnarkyCommentHere.” This is more annoying than when people first started saying text lingo like OMG and LOL out loud. Why would you say LOL when you can just laugh out loud?

Not everyone understand hashtags. Most of us have that one uncle who rants on Facebook about it because he still doesn’t get it. Then there is your mom who thinks she understands the hashtag but uses it all wrong. As popular as they are though, some people still just don’t get it and feel that they are just annoying and pointless misuses of the pound sign. The question my own relatives ask is this: “Why would you use a hashtag for sarcasm when you can use real sarcasm?” Simply put, it’s easier. But like anything, trends like this have a tendency to go to far. As Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake demonstrate, hashtags spoken out loud sound just as stupid as text lingo.

So what is the right way to use of hashtags then? It’s simple, really.

  1. Use hashtags to create or contribute to a specific topic of conversation or event.
  2. Use hashtags on appropriate forms of media.
  3. Don’t #overuse #the #hashtag #in #your #message #or #you #will #turn #people #off.
  4. Make sure you know that your hashtag is unique, easy to understand, and not used by another campaign.

Following these simple steps is good hashtag form and will ensure that your hashtag usage never ends up on the #FAIL list.

11 Ways to Destroy Your Social Media Campaign

Facebooktumbsdown-300x256Social media as we know it now has come a long way in the last few years. What started out as the shiny new object for communicators has evolved into a fully respected form of digital media with a set of rules all its own. Yet even now, too many professionals just see it as free advertising and don’t take it seriously. If you are one of these people, a budding community manager or even an executive who doesn’t understand “that Twitter thing,” here are 11 sure fire ways to ruin your social media strategy.

  1. Skip the planning:  Who needs a plan? I’ll tell you like I tell the students I speak to – unless you’ve ever used Facebook (or any social media) for a business then you don’t know jack about it. No matter what platform you are using, you need to take the time to learn how it functions on the business side and then create a strategy that is tailored to the wants and needs of your audience.
  2. Overplan:  Part of the draw of social media is that is supposed to feel authentic and spontaneous. What better way to convey those feelings then to write and schedule your posts weeks, or even months, in advance? Don’t get me wrong. Planning is good and you should definitely have a social media calendar in place. It also can’t hurt to be prepared a few weeks ahead. However, trying to write every single post months ahead of time without ever creating spontaneous posts ensures that your strategy will fail to resonate with your audience.
  3. The more the merrier:  Go ahead, get as many people involved as possible – especially lawyers because they are always fun! You’ve already got the interns researching and writing the initial drafts, but then you have to pass it on to your boss who critiques it before sending to her boss who makes more changes before sending it to his boss before sending it to the legal department who then scratches half the posts and images and comes back with a laundry lists of all the ways they think we might get sued. That’s just the first round. Try doing that every month or every week and add in the dozens of “reply all” emails and pretty soon you’ll be pulling your hair out by the fistful or jabbing a pencil in your eye. If possible, keep the circle small and filled with competent people who understand social media.
  4. Talk only about your business or product:   We’ve all had that friend who gets involved in a new business venture and never wants to talk about anything else. Annoying isn’t it? Some brands are the same way. They use social media as if it’s free advertising rather than a way to humanize their brand and connect with audience. Just like your friends, if you want people to stay engaged and interested, you have to stop hard selling your brand and talk about other things that may interest people.
  5. Spam the hell out of everyone:  Since you are always making the hard sell, go ahead and take it up a notch by posting the same crap over and over. You wouldn’t want anyone to miss your sales pitch, right? It’s even better if you post the exact same message across platforms, regardless of formatting.
  6. Newsjacking is awesome:  Said no one, ever. Whether it’s using a story in the news to get more likes or using the wrong hashtag, newsjacking is generally a horrible idea. Just look to Kenneth Cole’s repeated use of international tragedies to promote his brand, or Celeb Boutique who failed to pay attention to trending hashtags during the Aurora shooting, or Urban Outfitters and American Apparel for using super storm Sandy as a promotion, and many others. Some were stupid while others were just outright distasteful. This is not the way to get noticed.
  7. Don’t respond to anyone’s comments or questions:  Instead of being pushy, some managers are just plain neglectful. Failing to respond to questions or comments is a sure fire way to piss off and push away your audience. The best-case scenario is that they will just ignore you, but the worst case is that they may blow up your news feed.
  8. Delete everything negative: Or argue back with them! Don’t forget to take everything personally while you are at it. Do you really think that insulting people online will win you any love? Some people get nasty with the Internet trolls while others think they can just delete everything and nobody will notice. Neither one is a good course of action. Just ask the owners of Amy’s Baking Company.
  9. Hire people to post positive comments:  Or better yet, do it all yourself under fake names! That worked out really well for Mike Snyder. It isn’t worth the effort. Once your audience finds out that you had to fake your own positive reviews, your credibility is shot.
  10. Don’t measure anything:  But I majored in PR to get away from math! Well, it might just be time to dust off that old statistics book because guessing what works just doesn’t work. Most major platforms now offer built-in metric systems, so there is no excuse for not looking at the data to see what strategies work or don’t work.
  11. Don’t spend a dime:  Social media is free, right? This is the most common misconception of all. While it is true that you don’t have to pay to use Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest, none of them are really free. Preparing and implementing a successful social media strategy takes time – a LOT more than most people realize. Time means manpower and that means money. On top of that, most of the major platforms now offer a host of advertising and promotional options guaranteed to get more traction for your brand. Paying for the occasional promoted tweet, pin or ad is usually worth it to boost your presence and ensure that your brand gets noticed. Budget carefully to make sure your dollars are well spent.

Social media isn’t rocket science, but don’t take it for granted either. It requires planning, research, data analysis, time, energy, heart and a little money to make it work.

What other ways have you seen brands, or brand managers, ruin a social media strategy?