02/23/2013 Communications Stories from Here & There

Below are five notable communications stories from the week ending February 22, 2013.

“Tech Predictions for 2013: It’s All about Mobile” by Claire Cain Miller, in The New York Times, February 18.

In this post, Miller discusses some of the findings from the recent ComScore report on Web and mobile usage in 2012 and expectations for this year. The report, she says, “shows that the effects of a movement toward mobile are everywhere, from shopping to media to search” and that “businesses will have to scramble to stay ahead of consumers’ changing behavior.”

She shares a few of the “interesting tidbits” from the 48-page report, beginning with the observation that “The mobile transition is happening astonishingly quickly.”

“The Dirty Secret about Online Content and Shrinking Attention Spans” by Eric Kokonas, on Ragan’s PR Daily, February 20.

In this thought-provoking post, Kokonas provides more details than are usually given to why our attention span is getting shorter and shorter as we become consumed with Twitter, Facebook, and other online media. And he turns on its head the argument that online content “sucks” (to use his word) because of the shortened attention span.

Kokonas says, for example, “The problem is that digital media is designed to be clicked, consumed, and spread as quickly as possible.” Then he adds, “The goal for digital content is not to produce well-written, thought-provoking articles and videos, but to create content that can be spread quickly and easily” because when someone takes the time to read, ad dollars are not generated.

He also points to evidence of a growing demand for better content and to examples of excellent long-form content being posted regularly on a number of websites.

“Fortune Journalist Cuts to the Core of Storytelling in Business,” a blog post by Lou Hoffman, on Ishmael’s Corner, February 21.

In this post, Hoffman, includes a short video in which Pattie Sellers, senior editor at large for Fortune magazine, discusses storytelling and its importance to entrepreneurs. He provides a graph explaining Sellers’ description of what she thinks the best stories must contain.

Key among these elements is failure. “If failure isn’t part of the story, I’m not that interested,” Sellers says in this informative video.

“Bookish Aims to Grow Book Market,” by Brittaney Kiefer, on PRWeek, February 21.

Kiefer discusses the newly launched Bookish, a book review and retail website, and its goal to connect readers with books and authors and to expand the book market.

Besides recommending books, the site provides author interviews and videos, as well as book reviews and reading lists. “We’ve tried to create more depth of content and information relating to books and authors than you might get in most places online, as well as bring in the independent expert point of view,” Keifer quotes Bookish’s CEO in this post.

“Images for Wine in Down-to-Earth Designs” by Julia Flynn Siler, in The Wall Street Journal, February 23.

Whether we work in PR, advertising, design or any other endeavor that helps our companies or clients better market their products, each of us must rely on his or her own creativity to execute the best work possible. And we each must address this creativity with an individual approach.

In this article about creativity, Siler discusses the way Susan Pate, a wine-label designer, gets ideas for her designs.

Pate starts, says Siler, by examining the “environment in which the wine is produced, including soil, topography and climate.” Her research helps her choose appropriate color palettes and often leads to images based on found objects, such as twigs or vines.

This approach has worked very well for her. For many years now, she has designed labels—as well as helped name wines and select the shape, type of class, and color for wine bottles—for estates and celebrity winemakers in the United States, Italy, and France.

She prefers to work with clients who are passionate about their wines, people who are not too literal-minded and will appreciate her evocative images.

02/16/13: Communications Stories from Here & There

Below are four notable communications stories from the week ending February 16, 2013.

“A Failure of Imagination: Why Bookish and Other Recommendation Engines Fall Short” by Hillary Kelly, on The New Republic magazine’s website, February 11.

In this entertaining and informative piece, Kelly takes a look at Bookish (the newly launched book-centric website) and other sites that use algorithms to attempt to correctly recommend books that readers might enjoy.

She believes these sites, including Amazon and Goodreads, have some value, saying, for example, “Online recommendation engines are not inherently useless. They are indeed fast and convenient, and some more than others provide a certain community.” But she often finds their recommendations to be of little value because they are based on information that is too limited (such as the books she bought only from one particular site or an inadequate understanding of her tastes and desires—even when given plenty of chances to get them right), and are based only on what she bought, not why she bought it.

“The Key to Writing Great Blog Posts,” a post by Shelly Kramer on the V3 Integrated Marketing website, February 12.

Great blogs and other Web content depend, of course, on good writing but also on “making your post readable, shareable and discoverable,” says Kramer. She then discusses the importance of having great headlines, delivering on the promise made in your headline, and using subheads, pictures and meta descriptions to make your post effective.

“The Government is Watching Social Media Policies” by Bob Feldman, on PR Week website, February 15.

In this column, Feldman, a cofounder and principal of the digital and management consulting firm PulsePoint Group, says that although companies are adopting social media policies “to limit the potential of damage and help save employees from the consequences of their own poor judgment,” the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) thinks some companies may be going “too far in restricting employee speech.”

The NLRB’s ruling could affect almost all private employers.

“Why the Word ‘Panties’ Is so Awful (and What to Do about It)” by Sarah Fentem, on the Atlantic magazine’s website,

Fentem, who says the word “panties” creeps her out, is, apparently, not the only person who hates this nickname for women’s underwear. She says many blog posts and message boards denounce the word, which is “simultaneously too-sexualized and too-babyish.”

The word is too babyish, she says, because its “ies” ending “puts it in the same category as ‘booties’ and ‘blankies’—words often associated with small children.” Why it’s a sexy word is not easily understood, she says. But she suggests a few reasons, one being because “it refers to something so exclusively feminine.”

02/09/13: Communications Stories from Here & There

Below are five noteworthy communications stories from the week ending February 9, 2013.

“Age, Gender Determine ‘Go-To’ Devices” on eMarketer website, February 4.

As this article explains, TV in 2013 is still the go-to source of news and entertainment for most Americans, according to a new study by Harris Interactive. But young adults—those between 18 and 34—are quickly turning away from TV and relying instead on their laptops and smartphones.

Charts in this article show the percentages of different age groups moving to new devices and those considering replacing their computers with tablets.

“Nine Writing Mistakes You’re Probably Making” by Ben Yogada on The Huffington Post, February 5.

Yogada, the author of How to Not Write Bad, says that for writing, it’s the best of times because so much writing is being done and it’s the worst of times because much of this writing is bad.

He lists nine writing mistakes and explains how to correct them.  The first mistake, for example, is being wordy. By “wordy,” though, he does not mean writing long sentences. He means using words that should be omitted.

“Pentagon gearing up to fight the PR war” by Walter Pincus, in The Washington Post, February 6.

In this informative article, Pincus says that although public relations (referred to as Inform and Influence Activities) is not new to the military, the U.S. Army is now embracing PR as a key element of its 21st-century military operations. He quotes the new Army field manual as stating PR is critical in “. . . leading operations toward attaining the desired end state,” and that “Victory depends on a commander’s ability to shape, sway, and alter foreign audience perceptions, and ultimately behavior, especially in the area of operations.”

These objectives would fit into almost any good PR campaign.

 “The Peculiar Twitter Tactics of Social Media Influencers” by Haydn Shaughnessy, on the Forbes website, February 7.

Shaughnessy, suggests in this post that Twitter has “become the channel for the new motivational micro-speech,” leading the trend in social media to provide readers with inspiration and motivation. He says there are “social media influencers whose tweets and interactions are regularly interspersed with homilies,” and he gives interesting examples.

“10 Tips From Boing Boing On Making Online Content Sing” by Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield in Fast Company, February 8.

Sweeney and Gosfield are the authors of The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well. In this article, they excerpt from their book ten tips for building an addictive, compelling website. Their tips come from Mark Frauenfelder, founder of the online magazine Boing Boing, which has been published since 1995 and has 2.5 unique visitors a month.

The tips provide good advice. For example, the second one—be original—says, “Make the blog that doesn’t exist yet, but that you’d want to read.”

Comments Affect Your Readers’ Perception

shutterstock_94785103Here’s a study finding that should concern online writers of all sorts: Comments made by early readers of your piece may significantly affect the way later readers perceive what you’ve written.

The Guardian, Scientific American, and others have come to this disturbing conclusion.

Scientific American, for example, recently studied the response of readers of an article on nanotechnology. The article was sent to two groups of readers. For the first group, it was accompanied by “polite, civil and constructive comments”; for the second, by “uncivil comments.”

In writing about the study in a January 28 post, Bora Zivkovic, the blog editor at the magazine, said:

The result is that readers of the second version quickly developed affinity for one side of the argument and strongly took that side, which affected the way they understood and trusted the original article (text of which was unaltered). The nasty comment thread polarized the opinion of readers, leading them to misunderstand the original article.

The finding is concern enough—at least for me, and I would assume for other writers and their readers. But added to this conclusion is this belief by many people who study the practice of commenting on blog posts and other online content: The quality of comments has deteriorated over the past few years.

Many of those who once took advantage of the comment section to share their thoughts about a post now put their comments on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media, or have stopped commenting all together—leaving only trolls to comment on the actual site of the content. (A troll, according to Wikipedia “is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, misconstrued, or off-topic messages in an online community.”)

So, it seems that even if you write about a topic that readers approach with no preconceived opinion, there’s a good chance that they will misinterpret what you write and will decide not to trust your content because they have been influenced by commentsScreen Shot 2013-02-07 at 3.17.29 PM made by trolls.

This potential for misinterpretation and distrust worries me, as I think it should anyone concerned about open dialogue and discourse. It’s not easy to write clear, concise content that gets across to the reader the exact message you hope to convey. It becomes almost impossible to deliver the desired message when someone is undermining your attempt to do so.

If, for example, you’re writing about the role PR can play in establishing your company’s brand within your community of stakeholders, you want your readers to know that both PR and a company’s brand are good things and can help the company grow its customer base, industry leadership, and profits. You don’t want someone who hates PR to comment incorrectly that PR is lies, untruths, and a snake-oil saleman’s fast-talk and that it develops a made-up “brand” as a gimmick to sell customers what they don’t need or want.

A thoughtful comment about the pros and cons of public relations by someone who knows what he or she is talking about might encourage your readers to think more thoroughly about what you’ve written. That result, in turn, could add to the conversation within your community of readers. It may also help you better think through your message the next time you write about PR and branding.

But “inflammatory, extraneous, misconstrued, or off-topic messages” help no one. And they may, in fact, make conscientious bloggers and other writers of online content think twice about whether they really should write their posts in the first place. If they decide not to write them, we all lose.

02/02/13: Communications Stories from Here & There

Below are five noteworthy communications stories published during the week ending February 2, 2013.

The New Republic Reimagines Its Future” by Christine Haughney, in The New York Times, Monday, January 28.

Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, bought The New Republic last March and has set out to reimagine this 98-year-old magazine for the future. He’s already hired a new editor, doubled the publication’s staff, and opened a new office.  On Monday, the publication introduced its redesigned print magazine, website, and app.

The magazine has new features and articles but also keeps much that has made it editorially strong over the decades. “We’re holding onto the heritage of the magazine while trying to make it more responsive to what people are interested in and how they read in 2013,” Mr. Hughes said.

Three Steps to Create a Compelling Business Story by Gini Dietrich, on her blog Spin Sucks, Tuesday, January 29.

Dietrich, whose blog is filled with useful information about PR and marketing, quotes Larry Brooks, a writer of fiction, on the difference between a story’s idea, theme, and concept— with concept being the most important aspect of good storytelling. She then gives her own example of how she uses this approach in determining the concept for her Spin Sucks Pro website.

Most of What You Think You Know About Grammar is Wrong by Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, in the February issue of Smithsonian Magazine.

Is there anything wrong with starting a sentence with a conjunction, ending a sentence with a preposition, or splitting an infinitive? O’Conner and Kellerman, bloggers at Grammarphobia.com, believe not. In this article, they discuss the myths about the “rules” governing these grammatical choices.

Why You Need to Treat Your Social Media Strategy Like Your Content Strategy,” a blog post by Jordan Kasteler on Search Engine Land, January 29.

In this informative post, Kasteler, the author of A to Z: Social Media Marketing,  writes, “Making your content more social and making your social posts more like content are a win for your entire business—both your content and your social strategies.” He lays out a number of suggestions for achieving these goals.

5 types of blog comments you should never write,” a blog post by Mickie Kennedy on Ragan’s PR Daily, January 29.

In this important post, Kennedy lays out a good guide for the kinds of comments readers should avoid. His second suggestion—not to make comments that are controversial for the sake of being controversial—is timely and should be noted by everyone who considers posting thoughts on a blog, especially in light of the negative news coverage some types of comments are generating.