When #Hashtags Go Wrong

hashtag 2Hashtags are funny things. It’s easy to get so caught up in coming up with a few perfect words to sum up a new campaign that you completely overlook potential problems. Even breaking news stories and big brands fall prey to hashtag fails:

  • #nowthatcherisdead was intended for mentions of Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher following her death. However, US audiences frequently misread it as NowThatCherIsDead, leading to false reports that the singer had passed away.
  • When The Hobbit movie was released tweets promoting the movie in Switzerland included the movie title and the country code for Switzerland (CH), leading to…#hobbitch.

Even perfectly appropriate hashtags can fail due to bad timing.  Local Kalahari Resort is located in Sandusky, Ohio and used the #sandusky hashtag to promote Father’s Day events in 2012. Probably not a good idea at a time when “Sandusky” was in the news for other (definitely not family-friendly) reasons.

With those warnings in mind, a few quick tips before you slap a hashtag on your next campaign:

  • Google it – Is the term you’re considering already associated with something? Can it be connected to current events?
  • Translate it – Does the term mean something negative in another language?
  • Drop the capital letters – If you run the term together with no capitals, can it be misread? (For an epic fail on this one, just Google “susan album party.” Susan Boyle’s PR team wasn’t having their best day…)
  • Research it some more – Run the term through tagdef.com to see if it’s already in use, and check UrbanDictionary.com for alternate meanings.

A little research now could save you from appearing in the next edition of  “How Not to Twitter.”

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.  

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.


How Writing Headlines is Like Shopping

shopping 2

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?

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.

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.

A Brief (visual) Guide to Facebook Insights

A lot of marketers disagree on which Facebook Insights are important.  But isn’t it important to understand what the numbers mean before deciding how to evaluate a campaign? Different campaigns require different metrics. Even an extremely broad metric like impressions can have relevance for paid ad campaigns.


The infographic below shows the relationship between each of the social network’s primary metrics. Each one can be broken down further into organic, viral and paid. They can also be sliced by day, week and month (most recent 28 days).This  infographic also shows how each smaller metric is a part of a larger one. Since every Facebook page is different, it’s impossible to make a perfect scale model. Instead, circles sizes show a general relationship in number recorded by each metric for the average page.

*To see the infographic in its entirety, click on the image.

Facebook Insights infographic



If March Madness was a Social Media Tournament…

I’m sure the following question has crossed your mind a thousand times this basketball season: if March Madness was a social media competition, who would win? OK, maybe that isn’t the first question that comes to mind (maybe the second), but just take a minute and think about it.


How often do your resort to Twitter to get an update on a game? How many times do you catch yourself trash-talking with frenemies via Facebook because, for a split second, you think you are channeling the one and only Dick Vitale?  And, how many times do you see hashtags take center stage at the bottom of TV screens and across sponsors’ banners—thank you, Gatorade and ESPN—to motivate fans from the farmlands of the Hoosier State to the stars of the Hollywood Hills to discuss, interact and share?


The answer is a lot, which is why Schwartz Communications, a PR technology and healthcare agency, took the liberty of analyzing the growth and power of social media surrounding March Madness with a formula I think is pretty baller. To determine each school’s Social Media Power Ranking (SMPR), the Schwartz MSL Research Group  took the number of Facebook fans for each NCAA basketball team and added the number of Twitter followers for each team’s basketball Twitter handle and then divided that number by the total number of students attending a given university (as reported by Wikipedia.)


It’s OK; math was never my strong suit either.


From there, Schwartz MSL Research Group determined the social media powerhouse that knows how to make a slam dunk in the digital realm. Drum roll, please… the 2012 March Madness SMPR champion is The University of Kansas. Hey, at least you walk away with something, Jayhawks.


The point of this pep talk is this: with the growth and power of social media, one can’t help but take notice and advantage of our All-American communicators—Twitter and Facebook. These two social media platforms give brands, institutions and fans a chance to take their words to the Big Dance and create a little madness while they’re at it.

March Madness 2012


The super-secret, guaranteed effective guide to building engagement in social media

It’s unfortunate, really. I didn’t even want to write this post. But after endless conversations about the secret to building engagement, I realized it needed to be said.  So here it is. Are you ready? Read carefully, the super-secret, guaranteed effective guide to building engagement in social media:

The super-secret, guaranteed effective guide to building engagement in social media.

  1. Provide value to your audience


Oh, I’m sorry. Were you waiting for more? That’s it. That’s all you have to do. A lot of marketers will talk to you about social media engagement strategy like it’s a secret recipe for Sunday sauce handed down from their great grandmother. They’ll say you need one part education, two parts consumer spotlight, a dash of sales-oriented content and with a little love you suddenly have three-million comments, Likes and retweets.

Sure, there may be a certain mix of content that works for your brand, but only because you’re selling a particular product to a particular audience with a particular interest. That’s what they like.

You might think this is a bland recipe, but let it simmer. Think about it. There are two operative words: value and audience.



The folks in your online community are already customers, right? So you should know who they are and what they want (If you don’t know them, you have bigger problems than social media). Now, all you have to do is talk to them. Post things they want to see. If you were talking face-to-face with a customer, how would they respond to your latest update? Would they say “Wow, neat!” or would it be more like “Oh, I see.” Users were gracious enough to click that Like or follow button. Now give them something in return.

All too often, management wants to highlight moments that make management proud and make the organization look good. That’s fine – if you can honestly say your audience would find it valuable. Photos from your company picnic probably won’t do the trick.

The people in your online community are there because you share some common value.  Don’t ruin that relationship by telling them to think, feel or believe something different.



Value isn’t just education. It can come in a lot of forms and it’s completely dependent on your audience. For example, there is a little newspaper is my hometown (I’m convinced their number of Facebook Likes is higher than their circulation). Every day, they post a poll question. Polls vary from local to state to national issues. You can always count on huge numbers of people posting paragraph-long responses. So how is this tiny daily providing value? It gives local politiphiles a place to voice their opinions. If you’ve gone to the trouble of Liking your local newspaper on Facebook, it’s safe to say you like to discuss current events. And hey, why not do it with a bunch of strangers on Facebook where you’re less likely to offend any friends or coworkers.


Skittles is another great example of providing value to your audience. With all current events aside, Skittles knows its audience on social media. I chuckle every time I read an update from skittles. See the below image if you need an example. You might say humor isn’t valuable from a marketing standpoint. But at the end of the day, what is Skittles as a brand?  Sure it’s food. But it’s not healthy. It’s not innovative. It’s fun – just plain old fun. Skittles are bright, colorful and easy to share with friends, just like their musings on Facebook.

So, next time you write a Tweet or click the “post” button, just ask yourself: Am I providing value to my audience? If the answer is yes, engagement shouldn’t be a problem.


3 Reasons why Pinning is #Winning

“Pin it” seems to be the catchphrase of the social media world as a result from the latest online craze, aka Pinterest. And, guess what? The picture/video-sharing site is sticking with users just as well as Ellen’s singing sensations Sophia Grace and Rosie (you have to check out their latest performance).

Pinterest Logo

Pinterest logo, courtesy of Google Images.

There are tons of articles floating around the cyber world that break down all you ever wanted to know about Pinterest, but we’ve boiled it down to the top three reasons why “Pinning is Winning.”

  1. Sight: There is a reason why people say “A picture is worth a thousand words.” And when it comes to Pinterest, that is a lot of words. The pictures on Pinterest are appealing and serve as a form of expression that can be interpreted in different ways and can represent various things we see on a day-to-day basis. Look at it this way: are you more willing to try a new recipe if you read about it or if you see a picture of it?
  2. Categories: It does not take long to notice the countless types of boards and categories Pinterest covers. I mean, the name Pinterest speaks for itself—the root word being interest if you have not caught on by now. From recipes to technology, Pinterest allows users to focus on their own interests, explore and share with others. It has become the go-to hub for sharing ideas, and it serves as a brands’ Mecca for monitoring and keying in on audiences’ interests. Who would have thought, right?
  3. Links: Pinterest gives credit where credit is due. Instead of seeing a picture or video and scrambling through webpage after webpage to find it, Pinterest serves as your personal tour guide and takes you to the exact page it came from. This is where the whole “what’s in it for me” comes into play. It is a great way for companies to direct new visitors or loyal consumers directly to its website or blog because they are clearly looking for something. Linking individuals back to a brand’s website is also an excellent way to create engagement and give users a reason to return.

Bottom line: Do not doubt the power of Pinterest. It has taken the world by storm and is raising the bar every day of how we share and explore online. I will just let this infographic speak for itself. http://mashable.com/2012/02/25/pinterest-user-demographics/