How NOT to do media relations: Fake-friendly pitches

Just because someone posts something personal online doesn’t mean it’s OK to use that to manufacture a faux-personal connection in order to persuade them to do you a favor.

Case in point: Yesterday a clueless media relations professional whom I do not know sent me an e-mail with the subject line: “I sent a poem to a wannabee crotchety old bitch.” He was alluding to my recent birthday post, in which I reflected on aging.

The comment this person attempted to append to that post — which I did not approve — was the poem When I am an old woman I shall wear purple. That was in itself a mistake, though not a fatal one. If ever there was an overused, reflexive cliche response to any woman who mentions aging in a positive light, that poem would be it.

So this PR guy e-mailed me to let me know he’d tried to post that comment. Here’s the start of his message, and where he really screwed up…

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Local, mobile, paywalls, Google, more: My latest KDMC news for digital journalists posts

Over the last month I’ve fallen behind on noting here what I’ve been writing at the News for Digital Journalists blog on the web site of the Knight Digital Media Center. Here’s a quick roundup of what I’ve covered there since late February…

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Why limiting employees’ online presence is a big mistake in journalism and elsewhere

Recently Forrester Research decided on an unfortunate, shortsighted policy. Forrester analysts can no longer can their own personally branded research blogs. They’re allowed to run their own blogs about their personal life or topics unrelated to their work at Forrester. But all their blogging on work-related topics must be done in blogs that are owned by Forrester.

Forrester’s rationale for this, according to VP Josh Bernoff, is that “Forrester is an intellectual property company, and the opinions of our analysts are our product.”

Which IMHO is the equivalent of saying “If you work for us, we reserve the right to own your brain and your social/professional network and reputation.”

Here’s why that’s a bad idea all the way around — not just for research, consulting, and IP companies, but for news organizations and journalists, too… Continue reading

It’s 2010: Where are you writing and reading?

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed my personal patterns of writing and reading have changed significantly. Some of this has been in response to the changing technology of communication — the rise of social media, in particular. But some of it has also been about where I am in my life and my work.

Here’s a quick rundown of my own changes, and contributing reasons for them. I’d be curious to hear about other people’s personal media evolutions, too. Please share your own experiences in the comments below…

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Integrate your brochure site into your blog (updated advice)

Recently I offered some advice for how small businesses and independent professionals who aren’t very tech-savvy could expand their existing simple brochure sites into sites that will actively help build their business.

…Because the way the internet works today, a static brochure site is like a car up on blocks: You can sit in it, you can show it to people — but it ain’t going far.

After discussing some issues in the comments to that post with my friend maiki interi (a talented and thoughtful Web developer), I’ve decided to correct an important piece of advice.

Originally I advised: “You can create a blog using a free service like WordPress.com and integrate that into any site.” Maiki correctly observed:

“Seems to me to be [that may be] massaging the truth, on a technical level. Of course it depends on what you mean by integration.”

I was thinking over what it would really take to integrate a blog into a static site. It can be done, but yeah, it’s a lot of hoops to jump through. Plus, there are many ways this integration could be done badly. Also, it’s not reasonable to expect a non-technical business person to know what to request from a web developer on this front.

So here’s what I’m going to recommend instead: Integrate your brochure site into a blog, not the other way around.

This does NOT means starting over from scratch. You can still use most or all of what your web designer originally built for you. However, you’ll be strapping it to an engine that will play nice with the internet and actually get your business moving.

This also does not mean your site has to look like a conventional blog. It can still mainly look like a brochure, if that’s what you want.

So here’s what the nontechnical people can do to reconfigure their brochure sites…

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Expanding a business brochure site into something that will really help your business

To illustrate advertising and informational pa...
These days, brochures aren’t enough to make your business findable. (Image via Wikipedia)

If you’re a semi-retired professional who wants to build a consulting business, and you’re not an internet whiz, what kind of web site will really help clients find you? And how can you easily build and maintain a useful professional network?

My dad, Jack Gahran, is a semi-retired management consultant who knows many other semi-retired professionals. Today he asked me to look over the brand-new web site of a colleague of his, to offer some advice as to how it might be improved in ways that will build this person’s business.

The site is a pretty standard brochure site — a few static pages of basic information. It had a nice but simple design, and the content seemed to use keywords appropriately — both of which help search engines like Google index the site well. However, Google generally isn’t very interested in small brochure sites that are infrequently updated and don’t attract many inbound links.

I offered my dad’s colleague four basic tips for improving his site in ways that will make it much more visible in search engines, and thus more likely to attract inbound links from other sites (another thing Google rewards).

I get asked for this kind of advice a lot, so I figured I’d make a blog post out of it, so everyone can benefit.

Here’s what I told him…
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Social Media for Executives: Live coverage today

Today I’ll be liveblogging and tweeting a Las Vegas event by Metzger Associates: Social Media for Executives. It’s a small event for a select group of executives representing several types of companies.

The event is billed as a “strategic overview of how to evaluate key areas of your company — including customer service, marketing communications and human resources — and determine why and how they might benefit from social media participation.

Here’s the liveblog:

I’ll also be tweeting event coverage and observations at my own Twitter account (agahran), with cross-posting to the Metzger Associates Twitter account (MetzgerAssoc). You can also follow the hashtag #execsocmed. And I’ll be tagging some tweets with the popular hashtag #socmed (for “social media”), to encourage broader discussion and participation.

This event is NOT part of BlogWorld Expo, which is also in Vegas this week, and which I’m not attending (several folks have asked).

I’m doing this particular bit of coverage as test for a new professional service I’d like to start offering more systematically: Good event coverage for hire. More about that in my next post

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Blogging doesn’t have to be extra work

Recently I was conversing with some journalism colleagues about getting started with blogging. One of the most basic questions inevitably arose: How can you make time for blogging, on top of the stories you’re already writing or other work you’re doing or just having a life?

In my experience, blogging can be an easy way to get more mileage out of things you’re already doing. It’s a matter of shifting your process, not just adding new tasks. If something you think, encounter, or learn is interesting or entertaining and there’s nothing to lose by sharing it, then blog it.

For instance…
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Typepad: Often the best choice for serious but non-geeky bloggers

TypePad
If you want to start a serious blog and you’re not a geek, you’d probably want to use Typepad rather than WordPress. (Image via Wikipedia)

Right now, a lot of my colleagues (especially journalists) want to start building an independent online brand for the first time. Thus, they want to launch their first serious blog or site.

My universal advice in this case is: Don’t start from scratch (i.e., build a static site in Dreamweaver, FrontPage, or GoDaddy’s Website Tonight or SmartSpace). Instead, build your project with a popular professional-level blogging platform, even if you don’t want to blog at first.

Good blogging tools allow you to create static pages (which can comprise your whole site, if you like) and implement nearly any design strategy — while also playing nice with search engines, making your content easily linkable, and leaving your options open for more interactive approaches without having to totally rebuild the site.

Also, get a good domain for your site and use it. Over time, this provides far more search visibility and brand recognition (which benefit your career) — as well as options for easily switching platforms without losing those benefits — than a site bearing, say, a blogspot.com or WordPress.com domain.

Another reason to avoid free blogging platforms like Blogger for serious sites is that these tools are very limited. Once you get into blogging, you’ll quickly outgrow these tools — and moving a site is always a hassle.

After this, my colleagues typically want to know which tools to use to build their blog or site.

Personally, I’m a big fan of WordPress, the free open-source content management system. (It only started as a blogging tool; it’s grown.) I’ve used it for Contentious.com for many years. It’s flexible and offers just about any design theme or plug-in option I could possibly want — which encourages me to learn and experiment.

But let’s face it: I’m rather geeky. I actually enjoy spending time playing with new online tools and seeing what I can make them do. That’s not true of everyone — especially many journalists.

So to someone who’s not inherently techno-geeky and who wants start a serious blog or site for the first time (and who may want to start multiple blogs or sites), I actually recommend a different tool: Typepad, the inexpensive hosted blogging service from SixApart.

Here’s why… Continue reading

MediaCloud: Tracking How Stories Spread

Last week, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society launched Media Cloud, an intriguing tool that could help researches and others understand how stories spread through mainstream media and blogs.

According to Nieman Lab, “Media Cloud is a massive data set of news — compiled from newspapers, other established news organizations, and blogs — and a set of tools for analyzing those data.

Here’s what Berkman’s Ethan Zuckerman had to say about Media Cloud:


Ethan Zuckerman on Media Cloud from Nieman Journalism Lab on Vimeo.

Some of the kinds of questions Media Cloud could eventually help answer:

  • How do specific stories evolve over time? What path do they take when they travel among blogs, newspapers, cable TV, or other sources?
  • What specific story topics won’t you hear about in [News Source X], at least compared to its competitors?
  • When [News Source Y] writes about Sarah Palin [or Pakistan, or school vouchers], what’s the context of their discussion? What are the words and phrases they surround that topic with?”

The obvious use of this project is to compare coverage by different types of media. But I think a deeper purpose may be served here: By tracking patterns of words used in news stories and blog posts, Media Cloud may illuminate how context and influence shape public understanding — in other words, how media and news affect people and communities.

This is important, because news and media do not exist for their own sake. It seems to me that the more we learn about how people are affected by — and affect — media, the better we’ll be able to craft effective media for the future.

(NOTE: I originally published this article in Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.)

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