Archive for August, 2008

CNW Group Unveils The CNW Social Media Release

CNW Group logoDisclosure: CNW Group is a client of my employer, Thornley Fallis. However, I have had no involvement with their account to-date and I have not been asked to write about this topic. These opinions are mine alone. If you’ve read this site for a while, you’ll know that my interest in social media releases goes back to way before I joined Thornley Fallis and I’ve written about them many times.

CNW Group has made some big strides forward in its online services recently. In its latest move, the company has released a new social media tool, the CNW Social Media Release.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of the social media release, it’s a new format for news releases that takes advantage of the linking, multimedia and social media capabilities of the web to make news accessible to reporters, bloggers and the general public. Social media releases combine text, video, audio, images, RSS, tagging, social media sharing tools and/or comments into one document.

As Brian Solis said in today’s announcement, “Social media releases can complement your outbound communications strategy by bridging your story with the people you’re trying to reach.”

CNW produced an excellent video to explain their new service:

Seven things I like about CNW’s service:

  • CNW recognizes that the social media release is just one tool — “an add-on to your traditional news release.” I’ve written about this before – social media tactics should be a considered addition to your product mix rather than a replacement. Parker Mason, Web Content Specialist at CNW Group, emphasized that tonight when I spoke to him about CNW’s service, saying “[…] you can’t ignore the traditional side.”
  • While the “newswire” still isn’t equipped to handle multimedia content, CNW will distribute an advisory to traditional media over the wire to alert them to the social media release. This is included in their standard social media release service.
  • The service permits two-way conversations via comments that are featured on the release itself rather than on a separate page. As Parker says, “If one person has a comment (negative or positive) about your organizations announcement, chances are others will as well.” CNW’s service lets you respond to those comments directly on the release. Critically for some people, you can also turn comments off if you want to.
  • The comments come complete with their own RSS feed and a comment policy (which I recommend for anyone who allows comments on their site – mine is here).
  • The standard price for the social media release includes one video, one audio clip and three images. Some other services charge to include these features.
  • The template is provided in both English and French – great for Canadian companies.
  • All of the multimedia features are embeddable.

CNW is the latest company to offer the social media release as it moves slowly from a niche market towards the mainstream (others include Marketwire, PR Web, PR Newswire and Business Wire). The company updated a chart produced by SHIFT Communications’ Todd Defren comparing social media release services to reflect their new release:

In case that’s not enough for you, CNW has also updated an excellent white paper produced by Ted Skinner and Michael Pranikoff of PR Newswire on the benefits of engaging traditional media and social media for a Canadian audience. The paper alone is worth a post here — it’s a great primer on online PR — and it’s available for free through CNW’s Social Media Release site. If you’re new to this topic, download it and read it.

Check out CNW’s announcement or find out more about the service.

From first impressions, I think CNW has done a great job with their social media release.

What do you think?

Starbucks: Good Move Or Poor Brand Management?

Update: Chris Clarke has written a response to this post pointing out that the store is being renovated at the moment and that Starbucks is providing the coffee gratis. While this post is about my reaction as a passerby to this scene and I think there are still lessons to learn, I say “bravo” to the person that came up with that idea if that’s the case.

In terms of lessons around this episode – if you plan to do something like this in advance, small details — like hanging a company banner from the table and hiding the garbage a bit more out of sight — can make a big difference. With those details fixed, this kind of customer service has the potential to generate great coverage instead of negative reactions.

Starbucks is a brand built upon luxury. The daunting menu options, the atmosphere… “the third place,” right?

Imagine my surprise when I saw this scene outside a Starbucks store on my way to work this morning:

Starbucks near Yonge & St. Clair at 8:30am on August 11, 2008

Coffee, cups, milk, etc. all on a temporary counter outside the store, complete with boxes of garbage (bottom right).

On one hand, this may be a good move that helps to stave-off the morning rush. However, in the long term, as a market leader in high-end speciality coffee, is this how you want people to perceive your brand?

What do you think?

The Rise and Fall of Twitter

A light-hearted moment amid the seriousness: this video, posted on TechCrunch, is a wonderful parody of Twitter’s reliability problems.

The clip is taken from the movie Downfall – a serious movie on a very serious topic. As the original post says, though, “Just remember, it’s not about Hitler. It’s about Twitter.” Still, turn your speakers off if there are any German-speakers in your office.

As Mathew Ingram noted, Hitler sure made some funny videos. Hilarious.

On a related note, it looks like Twitter may finally be getting over the issues that resulted in videos like this. At time of publishing, the site has enjoyed 99.95% uptime so far in August.

Citizen Journalists Break Toronto Explosion Story

I got home from my run today to see a Twitter message from Jeremiah Owyang about an explosion and subsequent large-scale evacuation in Toronto’s north end.

Yes, through the wonderful power of the web, the news traveled down to San Francisco and back up to me. A tremendous demonstration of the power of online communications, and of Twitter in general. However, it’s an equally powerful demonstration of the ability of citizen journalists to break news.

Rannie Turingan, aka photojunkie, captured the scene in both video and photo after the first explosion woke him at around 4am.

One of his photos made it on to the LA Times blog today. Owyang says Rannie had his coverage up before the press coverage started.

Skip to around 1:50 into this next video to see a spectacular explosion…

…and a close-up (language not safe for work):

The Toronto Star, National Post (which pretty much compiled this post completely through citizen journalists), Dose and other publications are all linking to amateur coverage of this event.

You can check out other photos on Flickr and other videos on Youtube.

(Photo credit:

10 Easy-To-Avoid Grammar Mistakes

I’m going to get all Grammar Girl on you here. Bear with me.

I’m not a grammar saint, but I’m nerdy enough to both laugh and nod my head at Eats, Shoots and Leaves. As a communications guy, it helps.

A few basic grammar mistakes have started to really bug me. I’ve see them more and more recently, especially on micro-blogging platforms like Twitter.

I know, I know, you’re perfect. Feel free to skip this post if that’s the case. For the record, I’m not perfect. I make mistakes too. There, I said it.

Still here? Ok, I’ll begin. Here are 10 easy-to-avoid errors that I keep seeing:

  • You Don’t Need To Capitalize Something Just Because You Think It’s Important.
  • You’re/your: “You’re” is a contraction of you are. “Your” is possessive (it belongs to you).
  • We’re/were: “We’re” is a contraction of we are. “Were” is the past tense of the word “be.”
  • Fewer/less: If you can count it, use “fewer.” If you can’t, use “less.”
  • It’s/its: “It’s” is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.” “Its” is possessive.
  • Accept/except: I’ll make it simple. The "x" in "except" excludes things. Make sense? Accept it.
  • "Action" is not a verb. Don’t tell me you’re going to "action" something.
  • You were not "plurking" or "identing" or "powncing." You were making up new words (yes, I’m guilty of this one too).
  • A lot/alot: "A lot" is English. "Alot" isn’t.
  • Hear/here: A hint: "hear" has "ear" in it.

Those are my current pet peeves. What are yours?

Update: I just found three more in one post on a very well-read blog. I won’t link to it because, well, I’m not an ass:

  • “…don’t have a strong platform to stand from.”
    • You stand on a platform, not from it.
  • “[xxx] is not in a web professional.”
    • He is neither a web professional nor in the web profession.
  • “Companies should already have a crises plan ready…”
    • Companies should already have a crisis plan for when crises occur. Singular/plural.

Proofreading, people!

Strategic Communications Planning – A Free eBook

Between May and August 2008 I published a series of posts on strategic communications planning based on my experience over the past few years. Due to popular demand (and prodding from the likes of Ed Lee, Ryan Anderson, Robert French and Karen Russell) I’ve compiled the thirteen posts into an eBook for your downloading pleasure.

The Strategic Communications Planning eBook is an introduction to effective strategic corporate communications planning. It features all of the posts from the original communications planning series of posts, edited to reflect feedback I’ve received and with some additional content added throughout.

The eBook is embedded below and you can download itas a PDF file via the embed, or from Scribd or docstoc SlideShare (the other sites began charging for downloads).

I hope you find this useful. If you do or if you have any suggestions for improvement, please let me know.

Valuable PR Advice From Chris Brogan

Chris Brogan has posted some excellent advice for PR pros working in the digital space entitled “What I Want PR and Marketing Professionals To Know.”

To summarize Chris’ key points:

  • Social media is different to the traditional media environment, but you have a lot to gain from exploring this space.
  • Get to know people before you pitch them.
  • Write well.
  • Personalize your approaches.
  • “Blogging isn’t the same as releasing marketing materials.”
  • Be human, not a corporate machine.
  • Learn how to monitor what people are saying online.
  • If you mess up, apologize quickly.

As I commented on Chris’ post, I would add an extra point to his list:

  • Remember that blogger relations is just one part of online PR and marketing. It’s very easy to forget about other online tactics.

Head on over to and check out his post. It’s well worth a read.

Four Lessons From Twitter’s Spam/Customer-Busting Episode

If you’re a Twitter user, you may have noticed a storm in a teacup erupting over the last few days.

On August 1st, Dave Delaney, a friend who I finally met in person at PodCamp Toronto this year, found his Twitter account suspended for no apparent reason.

Account deleted

As it turned out, seven people eight people, including Connie Crosby — another friend of mine — were caught-up in the Twitter crew’s latest attempt to reduce the growing amount of spam on Twitter. Their accounts were suspended with no warning and they were left confused and unable to access their followers, their past messages or any messages that people had sent to them.

To cut a long story short (you can check out Dave’s posts on it here), Dave and the others managed to get their account reinstated but the experience, especially in terms of communication with the Twitter team, left Dave in particular unsure of whether to continue on the service. As he said to me in an email to me earlier today:

“I truly felt abandoned. It makes me question whether I want to trust Twitter with a journal of my thoughts and communication anymore, not to mention the ability to hijack my 1,500+ followers. I have no way to export them, so how can we keep connected should this happen again?”

Connie Crosby had a similar take:

“For the record, I had no communication from Twitter that I was reinstated. No explanation, & especially no apology. Leaves me a little cold.”

I find it amusing but at the same time sad that Twitter, a service used by companies like Comcast, H&R Block and JetBlue for customer service, isn’t using its own service in the same way.

Why do I care about this? Firstly, because Dave (and Connie) is a friend, a genuinely good guy, and passionate about Twitter. Secondly, because companies can learn some lessons from this.

Lessons learned

Here are four lessons that companies can learn from Twitter’s latest customer-service episode:

Prepare for the worst

Mistakes will happen. There’s nothing we can do to stop that.

Surely someone must have considered the possibility that non-spammers would get caught-up in Twitter’s spam-control efforts. Given the number of people using Twitter it’s not surprising that they had a few false positives when doing this kind of work. In fact, I’m surprised it was only eight people. The problem was that they weren’t ready when it did happen.

Companies should prepare for events like this so that if the worst does happen they can catch it before it escalates.

Respond quickly

Twitter’s staff did respond, but it was a day after the initial complaint was posted on GetSatisfaction. The first time Twitter bigwigs Biz Stone, Ev Williams or Jack Dorsey mentioned the episode was around the same time.

At an event in December 2007, I remember Dell’s Richard Binhammer saying “If you don’t respond within 24 hours, forget responding.” Twitter has a status blog for just this purpose; a quick post on there early on may have solved this problem before it escalated.

Respond personally

After blogging and posting frequently about the problem, Dave Delaney received an email from a Twitter rep:

I saw the thread on Satisfaction and noticed your @replies regarding your account problems.  My apologies for the confusion; I’m looking into your account issues now, and I’ll be in touch with more information soon.

Andy Brudtkuhl — another affected user — received an identical email. Other people commented on the impersonal tone in the response they received. People don’t like being treated impersonally.

When you respond to upset customers, try to personalize your response. Prepared messaging is good, but copied and pasted emails leave a poor impression. At a minimum, try to put a personal touch on it. In this case, even the name of the customer would help.

Your customer service can drive your reputation

Happy customers will tell other people about you. So will unhappy customers. Your customer service can make the difference between people becoming one or the other.

Unfortunately, customer service people are often at the bottom of the corporate heap, isolated from much of the business and hence with little idea what’s going on in the big picture. Do yourself a favour and set your customer service people up to succeed — keep them involved and in the loop. You may find that they can give you some useful insights into what your customers are saying about you.

It’s a PRoblem

Notice a trend? All of the lessons above are PR-related.

A couple of months ago, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said this about Twitter’s PR efforts:

“Twitter is 16 employees made up of systems engineers and operators, product designers, and support specialists. We do not employ public relations professionals.”

I may be a little biased but I think it’s time that, if they haven’t already, Twitter re-evaluates that situation.

Could SEO Devalue News Releases Even More?

On a recent episode of Marketing Over Coffee, Christopher Penn and John Wall mentioned something that made me stop and think – the idea of people issuing news releases for the Google juice.

Too much jargon

Beware of jargon That idea worried me. To be more specific, the possibility of too much search engine optimization (SEO) in news releases further devaluing the tactic worried me.

The problem: I often hear that we should be inserting keywords into our news releases so that they rank highly in search engines for those keywords.

That sounds great in principle, right?

Right up front: I like the concept of the social media release. I’ve issued them, I worked on moving government news releases towards that format, and I’m a member of the Social Media Release Working Group (although that seems to have gone quiet recently… Bueller?).

SEO sheep

My problem with this, as with many SEO principles in general, is that people will take it to an extreme. They’ll follow the advice like sheep and will force inappropriate keywords (read: jargon) into their writing, and their products (and clients) will suffer.

Sure, these releases may rank highly for some words but so what? People arrive, see a poorly written release or page, fail to find what they want and leave. It’s a cheap tactic – one that’s no better than spamming people with emails. That’s why I heard a well-known marketing personality refer to a recent  SEO conference as “the underbelly of marketing.”

Just write well

Why not just make sure that your release is relevant, well-written and on-topic? A well written release will have plenty of the important words in there as a natural result. With a little extra attention you can optimize your release without compromising its quality.

I don’t want to read a news release front-loaded with every possible keyword under the sun. I want to read about the news.

The problem is bad enough for regular websites, but it’s doubly serious for news releases. News releases as a tactic already have a bad rap after years of abuse by poorly trained or lazy public relations practitioners. We don’t need yet another reason for people to hate them.

Too cynical?

Am I being overly cynical in thinking that people will jump on the extreme SEO bandwagon with news releases? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. Look at the trends:

I don’t see the trend changing. As online news releases take off (even more likely given the recent SEC decision), I expect to see even more releases full of jargon. I expect those of us working at more enlightened firms to watch in dismay as the trend continues.

Are SEO-optimized releases a bad thing? No. Of course not. You want people to find your announcements. That’s half of the benefit of online news releases. I appreciate the benefits of genuine, well implemented SEO.

My fear is that, as in the past, poorly trained or careless people will take a good idea way too far. We’ll see even more releases loaded-up with popular keywords and we’ll all get dragged through the muck as a result.

The only solution I see (apart from the trend reversing, of course) is for agencies and corporations to train their PR people well so they don’t think this is a good idea. Will that happen? Again, history shows mixed results.

What do you think?