Do you control technology or does it control you?

photo courtesy of: www.modernmami.com My name is Chris Baldwin and I suffer from smartphone anxiety and technology overload. As I watch my Google mail load, I’m often holding my breath. I have a to-do list every day but often get sidetracked from emails, texts and social media distractions that I can’t seem to push aside.

Do you feel like you’re always checking your smartphone? Or always sending a text or reading posts on Facebook? You’re not alone. On average, Americans interact with their smartphones 150 times a day. That’s a recipe for information overload.

According to author, scholar and consultant Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, I’m not alone. I heard Alex speak last week at the National Association of Independent Schools conference in Orlando. Alex is the brainchild behind Contemplative Computing or learning to use information technologies in ways that help you be more focused and mindful, and to protect you from being perpetually distracted.

I highly recommend turning off your technology to hear Alex speak and if not, read his book, The Distraction Addiction. As he points out, nothing great ever happens through distraction. The key is learning how to use technology to focus.

We’ve never lived without technology but just because you can sleep with your smartphone doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Reading a text or checking Facebook or LinkedIn is like a shot of dopamine for your brain. Social media companies have figured this out and know how to grab our attention… and never let it go.

Alex’s message is to use technology to “extend our minds rather than facture them.” He mentioned there is a big push to turn off or unplug from technology. Ad agency JWT notes this in its 2014 trends update. There are even apps to control the interruptions on our laptops such as Ommwriter, Mac Freedom, LeechBlock and Stayfocused.

I guess I’m ready to put my smartphone away for a weekend. My wife refers to my iPhone as wife 2.0 because it never leaves my side. Want to try to put down technology for a day or two? Your timing couldn’t be any better. March 7 and 8 are the National Day of Unplugging. I can’t wait to give it a try but am a little nervous about all of the email waiting for me on Monday.  

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Want to Stand Out in a High Tech Business World? Go Old School!

image (4)With the world moving faster and new toys and technologies making communication easier and less personal every day, how can you stand out in business today?  How can you let a client, associate or prospect know you are truly interested in them and not just sending them another impersonal email?

My advice: Don’t do what everyone else does. Don’t post another note on Facebook or send out a Tweet. Try something different that will stand out because it’s not fast, it’s not techy and it’s totally personal.  A handwritten note sent through the mail gets noticed because it takes time, effort and planning.

Note writing has become a lost art. Think about it. When was the last time you received a note in the mail when it wasn’t your birthday or a holiday? Or when was the last time you received a thank you note for a job well done. It has probably been a while. Just ask the U.S. Post Office.

When I was a child, I learned from my parents the power of a nicely written note to family and friends. Thank you notes were always done without delay. A note to simply let someone know I was thinking about them was always extra special.

This is still true today. A handwritten note says, “I appreciate you” in ways Facebook, Twitter or an email could never do. Try it. You’ll be surprised by the reaction you receive. An email is quickly forgotten and deleted out of your inbox. A note, is noticed.

 

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Conversations With a Hummingbird?

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You’re driving home from work, you have your smart phone in your hand and you don’t feel like cooking. What do you do? Do you take the time to pull over (because no one types while they drive, right?) and type a disjointed string of keywords like, “Chinese restaurants east suburbs Cleveland open Monday?” Or do you hit that handy little mic icon and say, “I want Chinese tonight. What’s nearby?”

Google’s betting you do the latter, and those question-based mobile searches are beginning to influence how you search on a desktop or tablet. They’re so sure, in fact, they rolled out an entirely new search algorithm – the first in 12 years – to turn search into more of a conversation and less of a guessing game.  Hummingbird, introduced sometime in August 2013, is designed to help Google understand and answer questions more like a person and less like, well, Google.

Take your hypothetical dinner search, for example. You didn’t include the word “restaurants” in that voice search, you didn’t specify a location and “tonight” wouldn’t mean much in a traditional keyword-based search.  Based just on the words you used, you might be more likely to get results for where to MEET someone Chinese than where to EAT Chinese food in the next two hours. That’s where Hummingbird comes in. Hummingbird combines the words in your query with the billions of facts it’s gathered about search semantics to fill in the blanks. That’s good news if you’re hungry, but what does it mean for SEO efforts?

Depending on your audience, Hummingbird can be problematic in the short term. Say your company provides professional house painting services and all of your site content focuses on your reputation, your expertise and a description of your services. If Google’s historical data tells its searchers who enter “house painting” means “house painting companies,” you’re in luck. But if Google determines searchers are actually looking for “house painting tips,” your site may not be the best match. If you’ve seen a loss in organic search traffic over the past few months, it may be time to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What questions do they typically ask before they make a purchase decision? Are they likely to ask HOW to tackle a project or problem before they ask WHO can tackle it? Companies may be hesitant to answer the first question and give away information, but doing so now could put you in a great position to answer that second question and gain a long-term customer in the future.

 

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Business as Usual at True Digital Communications? I don’t think so.

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A glimpse of True’s new space!

A few months ago, we hosted an Open House party at True’s new home to friends and family.  It was great to show off the new True Digital Communications’ office space and to hear everyone tell us it wasn’t like other offices they had been to before. How is it different? Let me tell you.

For the past three years, we’ve used an open office format allowing our associates to work at our clients’ offices or wherever they are most productive. While we all enjoyed working from Starbucks or our living rooms, we needed space to collaborate. Panera wants you to buy sandwiches, but they frown when you write on their walls.

When I started looking for an office, I wanted to find space that would allow our open office structure to flourish. For me, that meant no office cubes, no closed walls  or doors, except where you need them– like bathrooms. We needed lots of space for collaboration where you can write on the walls or even a table. Space for impromptu meetings or formal client idea sessions. Space to work from a beanbag chair or barstool and the ability to plug into technology anywhere. And lots of sunlight coming in from the windows and shining throughout. We found all of this in our new home.

True’s new space is all about letting our associates and our clients work together comfortably and productively. Let me take you on a tour.

  • Our True Blue Conference Room is perfect for formal client meetings or internal team huddles. It’s also one of my favorite places to sit and work during the day.
  • Ideas literally bounce off the walls in our Rock’Em-Sock’Em Conference Room. Share ideas everywhere – on the wall or on a table. Bounce around on our buoy chairs or snuggle into a beanbag chair. This is the space where strategy and ideas come alive.
  • Need space to put together a really big idea? Or a space for video production? Or how about meditation or a quick yoga session? The Studio is a big space for big ideas and for working out of your mind and body.
  • So where do we work when we’re not collaborating or brainstorming? Check out the Genius Bar as it is affectionately called by our team. Why is it called that? Because they work there, that’s why!

So are you inspired? We are. Everyday.  We would love to show you our space but more importantly how we think and how we do what we do. Stop by and see us. And in the meantime, check out our Facebook page for photos from our Open House!

 

 

 

 

 

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Pinterest or Instagram?

Us PR and marketing folks know visuals drive content and engagement. …We see, we process, we engage. It’s pretty simple and effective; however, are you using the appropriate channel(s)? More specifically, is Pinterest or Instagram the better photo-generated social media platform for your brand?

Buckle up as we analyze which outlet is right for you.

Pinterest, a.k.a. the idea generator

Question to self: How many times have you heard someone say they got their wedding, recipe, party, remodeling or craft ideas from Pinterest? Countless times, right? Though such mentions may sound repetitive like “The Song That Doesn’t End,” that’s Pinterest’s intention—it’s all about the domino effect of sharing ideas. (And yes, that was a Lamb Chop’s Play Along throwback reference.)

What also makes Pinterest such a popular and engaging outlet is its sharing (pin and repinning) capabilities and having the freedom to categorize your findings. This makes it easy for followers to find and share ideas and create boards of their own. Martha Stewart Living makes a slam dunk with its Pinterest account, creating and organizing boards based on specific topics like “Gift Wrap and Packaging” and “Summer Drink Ideas,” honing in on its followers’ interests and reinforcing its brand identity.

This also gives brands the opportunity to give consumer ideas and use eye-catching photography that can be shared with others.

And what about the average Pinterest user? According to the Pew Research Centre, women are five times as likely as men to use Pinterest, with the better part of its user base ranging from ages 18 to 49.

Take a look at this fabulous infographic for a more detailed look at the results.

Instagram, a.k.a. the photo diary

Point and click. That’s how easy it is to post and share a photo on Instagram, and that is why Instagram is so successful. I mean, there is the whole choosing the right filter for your photo crisis, but that’s a totally different discussion.

For brands, Instagram serves as the channel to share the experience and the personality of a brand. Often times, photos are shared from special events, sneak peeks of new products or announcements, and real-time happenings, reading much like a diary.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame and Glamour Magazine are both wonderful examples of this with their behind-the-scenes images, adding character and flavor to their brands.

Because of this, consumers receive a more personalized connection with the brand. Rather than searching for particular images, Instagram users usually stumble upon information as it appears in their feed.

And what about the average Instagram user? In the same Pew Research data referenced earlier in this post, results revealed the bulk of Instagram users fall within the younger demographic of ages 18 to 29. Research also showed females slightly use Instagram more than males.

So, is one platform hands-down better than the other? No. Is one better for your brand and messaging than the other? Most likely.

They both tell stories in different ways to different audiences. So before you latch on to Pinterest or Instagram, ask yourself: Who is my audience? What do I want to share? What is my goal? How am I going to tell my story?

Whatever the choice may be, it is our responsibility to guide our clients to tell their stories in the most effective way possible.

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Stop Hearing and Listen!

As a mother of a two year old I’m constantly trying to communicate with my son in a way that won’t tarnish our relationship down the road. You know what I mean – I’m careful to avoid negative connotations such as shy or klutzy so that he doesn’t grow up thinking that he really is shy or klutzy. Johann Wofgang von Goethe (a German writer) said it well, “If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain as he is. If you treat an individual as he could be, he will become the person he could be.”

I’m not sure when I started to really pay attention to my choice of words (perhaps while studying public relations at Kent State University?), but when I did, I found myself saying less and hearing more. And then I started to listen.

According to Seth Horowitz, an auditory neuroscientist at Brown University, “Hearing…is easy. …Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload” (The New York Times, Sunday Review, “The Science and Art of Listening). Just like any skill, listening requires a conscious effort.

Think about it… When is the last time you had a face-to-face meeting without people checking their phones for the latest text, email, or Facebook post? (We noticed ourselves doing this during our own True team meetings and quickly put the kibosh on it!)

Paul Axtell, a personal effectiveness trainer and author of “Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids” says, “listening without adding to or changing the conversation is what is important. Reassuring someone isn’t listening. Trying to solve the problem isn’t listening. Just listening is listening. And when people feel you are interested and paying attention, they actually speak about things that matter to them.”

I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to really respect and listen to my son. If I don’t do that for him he’ll certainly not do that for others and that’s not the person I want him to be. Fortunately, kids give you many opportunities to listen (and if you don’t they’ll call you on it), but clients might not.

Listening takes practice.

Are you hearing or are you listening?

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Pinterest is Doin’ it Right – Openly and Honestly

pinterest 2It’s no surprise that Pinterest has decided to add sponsored pins to our Pinterest accounts; I mean, how else are they going to make a profit? But what I did find surprising – and refreshing – was how Ben Silbermann, co-founder and CEO of Pinterest, sent us Pinterest users a nice letter (that he also shared as a blog post: Planning for the Future), sharing his personal pins to help demonstrate the changes that we’ll see coming.

What’s different here isn’t that Pinterest made this announcement, rather it’s how they made the announcement that’s different. It wasn’t a formal, official, corporate-like statement that appeared when you opened your account; it was a nice, open letter (delivered via a personalized email to those with a Pinterest account) that felt more like a conversation – even though it’s not like I actually conversed with Ben, but I did look at his Pinterest page and got to know him a little bit better as a person. Ben shared the pins he plans to share with his son – while he’s small and while he’s older – something that I (a mom) could relate to. Point being, Ben first and foremost identified a way to relate to me, and many people, as a user of Pinterest.

Ben was also very upfront and honest – an admirable quality. He makes it very clear in his letter that they – Pinterest – don’t yet know what this means, yet they chose to give us fair warning. Who does that these days?! He goes on to give us an idea and a few examples of what promotional pins might be like while still making it clear that this isn’t happening tomorrow, rather it will be an evolution.

Ben’s letter was kind, compassionate, and open. What’s more is that this isn’t the first time he’s done this – we Pinterest users have received other letters from Ben, i.e. the letter announcing the secret board capability (perfect if you’re pregnant, want to plan and not ready to share!). I realize that promotional pins beg a lot of questions but for now I can’t help but be excited for Pinterest – as a company and as a user. And I think they’re open, honest approach is one we can learn from.

If you’re interested in learning more about Pinterest, how to use it for your business or how they’re experimenting with promoting pins, you can fill out this form and they’ll share updates as their launch date approaches. Enjoy.

 

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How Writing Headlines is Like Shopping

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Headlines are much like the mannequin in a retail store’s window—it’s the first impression we have of “what’s inside” and helps us determine if we want to shop or not.

And guess what? Headlines are not just used for newspapers and magazines; they are used in the PR world on a daily basis.

Think about it…

Media pitches, e-newsletters, website content, and major social media channels like Facebook and Twitter all use headlines to engage the intended target audience. In a world where we know content is king, it’s hard to cut through the clutter and make information be seen and relevant to the intended audience.

If done correctly, these types of channels of communication use real-time headlines to inform us about announcements or news from our favorite brands.

It’s from engaging, effective headlines that we seek and learn more information about… let’s say skincare tips from Lauren Conrad or how Dunkin’ Donuts will have its own ‪#‎RoyalMunchkin coming to the U.S. soon in celebration of the royal baby. (Brilliant, right?)

That said, here are some tips to keep in mind when writing headlines:

  • Pull key words from the provided content into the headline—By doing so, this tells readers why the provided content is important to them. You want individuals to know you are giving them useful, valuable information.
  • Use headlines like bait—Headlines are often the deciding factor that determines if you will continue to read the provided content or not, so it is especially important to reel audiences in with a creative, straight-to-the-point headline to build interest. Tease them with quick tips, sneak peeks, special announcements, etc.
  • Keep it simple—Eliminate extra baggage words that you can do without in a headline while still getting your point across. We know individuals’ attention spans are shorter than ever, so the shorter and more concise you can be with headlines, the better.

When in doubt, ask yourself this: Is this headline going to turn my audience into shoppers or window shoppers?

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Tour de France Cycling Team Promotes Sport and Nation Through Social Media

 

astana 2Each July cycling fans from around the world watch the Tour de France, a three-week cycling competition featuring the sports very best riders. While many of the team names sound foreign to many U.S viewers, one in particular really stands out: the Astana Pro Team. The team is sponsored largely by the country of Kazakhstan and was set up to provide a home for professional cyclists and to advertise a positive international image of the country.

Chris Baldwin runs Astana’s social media and public relations efforts. (No, I’m not making this up. We really do share the same first and last name). Chris speaks Russian and a few other languages and got into cycling after working as a journalist at Reuters. I traded emails with Chris to learn more about cycling and the role social media plays in connecting the team with its fans. Chris shared with me that Astana is much more than a cycling team. It’s also about how the world views Kazakhstan and Astana, its capital city.

Chris puts it very bluntly, “When I say the name of the country, you will likely imagine Sacha Baron Cohen in a green bathing suit. Eventually we want you to see bike riders on the podium at a race and ultimately the capital of Kazakhstan and all of its modern skyscrapers and luxury automobiles.”

Chris utilizes social media to keep fans from around the world connected with the team and its riders. The social media goal is to make sure the cycling world knows where the Astana Pro Team is and what they are doing on any given day. He believes the most effective social media channels are Facebook and Twitter with YouTube being a close third. Chris does all of the social media for the team, but his message goes well beyond cycling.

“The team is aware that Tweeting and Facebook exist and they all have accounts,” Chris says, “But they are passive users at best. The people who are really behind our push are the sponsors. They love our social media program because they can send everything we have to clients with one button and know the message is being received.”

Chris works just as hard as his team on race days. He says, “On race days it’s a lot of photos for Facebook and Tweets that gently point out our participation. With television coverage, there is not much we can add to a live race Tweet session.  After a race, I try to get the pictures up and tagged as quickly as possible, and edit a short video on my iPad for YouTube that will accompany an official race report.”

Chris has many responsibilities but he never loses focus on the team’s goals to promote Kazakhstan while helping sponsors sell bikes and components. Just like his team, he is always trying to get ahead. “Good ideas for social media campaigns come from all kinds of different people not just the marketing or tech folks. I recommend that brands be committed to social media experimentation, but remember important business concepts like deadlines and chains of command.”

Chris knows what he is talking about. In May, Astana team rider Vincenzo Nibali won the Giro d’Italia, one of the sports’ premiere events. Chris described it as intense as the Super Bowl, except it goes on for three weeks. Regardless of how the team does in the Tour de France , Astana is grabbing news headlines, Facebook posts and Twitter followers every day.

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Celebrate Mark Zuckerberg’s 28th Birthday with these 5 Facebook Faves

happy-Birthday 2Who would have thought twenty-eight years ago a boy by the name of Mark Zuckerberg would change the world forever. You may be thinking, “Wow, Erin. Pump the breaks; I wouldn’t go that far.” But, if you think about it, Facebook has altered our lives someway, somehow.

For some, it’s a way to connect a brand with its consumers. For others, Facebook is simply a creeping tool. (You can stop with the deer-in-the-headlights look; we are all guilty of it.)

Bottom line, Facebook has recreated the way in which we interact. I mean, it has 845 million monthly active users and is to start selling stock to the public on the Nasdaq Stock Market this Friday. No big deal.

With that said, let’s give the father of the social network a “hip, hip, hooray” for his big 2-8 and celebrate with these 5 Facebook Faves that have changed the way we communicate:

  1. The ability to share content and news— With a click of a button, you can share statuses, photos and/or links, allowing brands and businesses to create buzz about a certain event, campaign or cause.
  2. You can connect virtually with just about anyone—No matter if you’re Plain Jane or Starbucks, you can target and connect with specific key audiences and markets. How many times do you see on TV or on in ad, “Like us on Facebook,” or hear from someone, “Are you on Facebook?” People love to interact, be in the know and share information—Facebook is the triple threat that gives individuals those options.
  3. Business and brands have a new way to engage— Consumers and “fans” no longer have to pick up the phone or send an email to share their thoughts; they can resort to a brand’s Facebook page to give feedback about a product, create conversation with other fans and post photos or links that highlight a given brand. If you think about it, Facebook is a lot like a diary—you document events right as they happen, giving individuals a feeling of belonging and ownership to a company or brand. By creating that sense of community, a business is not only creating a conversation but also a reputation.
  4. My grandma has Facebook—Need I say more?
  5. Facebook allows brands to think outside of the box—In my eyes, Facebook is a Mecca where awareness, interaction and engagement all come together to form a community of people with similar likes and interests. Not a day goes by where I don’t see a Fan Page post a contest or link to an article. Facebook is all about what’s next—What’s next for the company, what’s next for fans, what’s next for the industry? The sky is the limit for brands to explore new ways to get consumers and fans excited for that next big thing, whatever it may be.

Mark Zuckerberg (and company) has come a long way since its days of being accessible to select networks. Now, the worldwide phenomenon is the go-to social media platform that has given us the best gift of all: the gift of communication.  Now, that’s something worth celebrating. Happy big 2-8, Marky Z! Oh, and Mark, don’t forget to wear your party hat and eat a big piece of cake today. You deserve it.

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