Setting Up Your Website for Social Success

In the good old days of the Internet (we’re talking the 1990s here), clients grappled with the decision to jump on the newest marketing scheme – the website. Advertising and PR agencies, as well as marketing directors, had widely divergent opinions about several components that are now taken for granted.

The conversation has gone from, “Do we really need a website?” to “How can we make our website better?”

I was on a marketing team that received a MAME Award for Best Website. (The Major Achievements in Merchandising Excellence golden trophy is to the homebuilding industry what the Oscar is to Hollywood.)  My employer strolled into my office and said, “Did I mention you’re going to be the guest speaker on websites at today’s Homebuilder’s Association meeting?  We leave in 20 minutes.” After the shock wore off, I must have delivered an intelligent lecture because many of the builders asked me to evaluate their websites.

What surprises me today is that many of the same problems I saw with sites in 2003 still exist. Sure, with WordPress and new design trends, the hot features of today are hero images, video and animation. But in the race to beef up data capture and content marketing, simple, everyday details can easily be overlooked.  Vendors and publishers alike can up their game and make it easier for their audience to engage, sign up, download, interact and purchase.

Here are 6 key areas you should evaluate on your website to ensure maximum engagement:

Contact Information

You would think contact information would be a no-brainer. But when I’m wearing my research hat, nothing makes me yell “REALLY?!” faster than wasting time hunting down basic information. Your address and phone number should be easy to find. Your “Contact Us” link should be at the top or bottom of every page. If people can’t reach you when they have questions about your event or product, they will likely move on to the next vendor on their list.  Don’t be coy. Give ‘em your 411!

Company Directories

In this digital world, time zones abound and chances are someone out there is looking at your website when you are not open for business. There are pros and cons to both popular methods of people reaching you after hours: “Contact Us” forms and Company Directories.

A contact us form (which is what we have on our own company website) can be programmed one time and simply lives on your website. Visitors can, however, be frustrated if you create a pre-populated and mandatory dropdown-list. What if the reason for contacting you isn’t on that list?

My personal favorite is Company Directories such as the one at HIMSS. It’s easy to find their staff and there’s no question who does what. But, you must keep on top of it and update it often.

Monitoring

So, you’ve got an “info@” email address posted on your website. It’s better than nothing. But who reads your incoming message? More than one person? Do you respond to every inquiry?

Whether it’s someone asking a question or providing feedback, a simple follow-up lets your audience know you’re on the ball.

And please watch the automated replies. It’s great to receive a quick email referencing my trouble ticket number. But it doesn’t make a very good impression to acknowledge you received my email and will respond shortly, and then never get back to me.

Follow up. Every. Single. Time.

Tell me thank you, let me know you’ll consider my suggestion, or forward me to the person who can really help me. Don’t leave me in the dark.

Oh, and remember to redirect the routing of your website mail if you have a change in staff.

Testing

The team members monitoring your web mail – inquiries and data capture alike – will know the average number of contacts you receive per month. Any sudden drop in those numbers should be a red flag.

Minor updates in website programming, firewalls and email proxy servers can all wreak havoc on your incoming messages. Test your site from time to time. Send yourself an email from the website or fill out any forms to ensure everything is still running as it should.

Social Media Platforms

Are links to your social platforms elusive? Are they current?

I’ve taken over social media duties for many clients and I am dismayed when I discover they have a LinkedIn account but no way to reach it through their website.

If you have multiple channels, make sure website visitors can reach them. By the same token, if you haven’t tweeted since 2013, it might be best to remove the little blue bird until your account is more current.

Yes, websites can be expensive to program. But a laundry list of social media platforms adds an unnecessary degree of difficulty that makes it so much harder for visitors to engage. Our eyes are now trained to look for social graphics and a text list of Twitter and Facebook will be overlooked.

A much better example is to use the icons with which everyone is familiar. No questions here on how I can engage!

 

 

But let’s not get carried away. Mashable, gotta love you, but honestly, which Twitter handle do I use when I’m trying to share an article you published?

Social Media Sharing

Publications count on social media to increase readership of their articles. Even vendor websites add sharing buttons to the side of their blogs to encourage readers to engage. What surprises me is how often a pre-programmed post opens in my Twitter profile without basic information such as a Twitter handle.

When you set up your Share buttons, be sure the website plug-in of choice includes your Twitter handle. It’s a common mistake and simple to fix. Also, Twitter doesn’t include links in the character count, but it’s still nice to provide a bit.ly (or whatever service you use) so visitors can RT and comment.

Which is, after all, what engagement is all about. To wit, here are some great examples of engagement done right:

Forbes – This site could really improve by adding their Twitter handle and a shortened link, but they get kudos for adding several options of “Tweet This” above the article. Readers will be quick to click that button and get the message out.

Becker’s Hospital Review – Share any of their articles on Twitter and the post starts with “Reading @beckershr” followed by the article title and the link.

Health IT Outcomes – Push the Tweet Share button and the post is auto-populated with the title of the article, a shortened link, and “via @HITOutcomes.”

Politico’s Morning eHealth – Not only does the Share button have all the necessary bits, but the journalists’ Twitter handles are displayed for even further engagement.

Sometimes it’s the little things that matter. Not only are these suggestions relatively low-cost fixes, the attention to detail will elevate your website to social success.

What suggestions do you have for making websites more social? Please share them below.

5 Things Social Media Managers Never Do

Grab your Instagram-worthy coffee and make sure you are not guilty of these social media crimes.

Social media marketing is fast paced. Not only does your well thought-out and carefully sliced up 140-character tweet have a short shelf life, but each platform changes almost daily.  However, there are some nuances that remain the same. These are my top 5 mistakes to avoid in the ever-evolving social media game.

1. Use old, wrong or low-quality logos

Twitter’s logo is a bird, not a plane and not a weird version of tumblers “t”. The official logo became the bird with no text in 2012. No, I’m not paid by Twitter’s branding manager, but I am fired up about getting everyone on the same page about the logo misuse!

Whenever you need a social media platform’s logo, it is best to visit their branding guidelines or resources. Usually, you can download a free kit that has the logo in many colors and every type of file format.

Another important logo faux pas to watch out for is the dreaded, low-quality profile picture or thumbnail. Nothing screams “We don’t care about this” more than a bad photo as your profile picture. It’s the first impression your potential customers see and you want it to be a good one! Don’t forget to look at your entire digital presence to make sure you have at least one high-quality photo listed with your brand. Google search is a commonly missed opportunity. Don’t worry, it’s an easy fix! Google uses their very own social network information first to populate the search results side bar. Make sure you gave a great photo or high-quality logo and accurate information listed on your Google+ account.

 

2. Spam following attacks

Managers that do this are like the sign spinners of social media marketing.

I understand how this strategy developed as you can get short-term results from using this tactic. But these followers are hardly worth your efforts and are most likely either spam-bots or accounts that are not linked to your decision makers.

You should still keep your ratios clean (follow fewer accounts than you have followers) and follow industry leaders and influencers. The key is to focus your efforts when it makes sense for your strategy, not sporadically and aggressively. Twitter will actually step in when it becomes too much of a problem, but please, never get to that point.

3. Miss an engagement or sales opportunity

Uh, hello? It’s called SOCIAL media. Be social! Especially if you are a B2B organization, this type of engagement just isn’t as common as the B2C counterparts on social media. Capitalize on the opportunity as it arises! There is no shortage of free software available to help manage your engagement. Find brand champions that aren’t tagging your account, yet still praising your name, fix customer problems or complaints and develop new sales leads.

Make sure your engagement is timely and relevant. Search all hashtags used or links shared before posting or replying. Also, make sure the account you are engaging with is a real person not just a bot or an irrelevant twitter user.

4. Forget to sign out of the company account

Yikes! This is an ugly one. People get fired over this and it is not a great situation to be in. Personally, as a practicing social media manager, I steer clear of posting politics on my personal social accounts and I keep it PG. This choice decreases my risk of posting something truly terrible on a company account. Newton’s law of gravity doesn’t apply to the internet. What goes up, stays up on the internet.

There are too many examples like the twitter accident that happened to Chrysler.

Social media managers need to be sure they're not posting personal thoughts on company accounts

5. Assume you have learned everything

The beauty and challenge of social media marketing is that it’s always changing. It’s hard to be the ultimate expert in something that is always changing and moving! Stay in touch with reality and assume there is always something new to learn and observe. I find it to be the best way to approach social media.

Hashtag conversations and meanings can change hourly, platforms have repositioned based on users habits and algorithms change all the time! The Internet is a place where traditional marketing practices and new forms of communication can be used in collaboration to create meaningful engagements with your audience.

Here are a few methods I use to stay up-to-date on my social media marketing skills:
• Use social media platforms for personal use
• Read and subscribe to social media marketing blogs and news outlets
• Listen to podcasts on the digital strategy
• Attend webinars on social media marketing
• Look at competitors or other industries and figure out what is working for them

Make sure not to commit any of these social media mistakes and comment below with other social media rules that stand the test of time.

Are you a timid first-time speaker or a talented expert?

Public speaking tips for the timid and the talented

Whether you are a health IT professional, in the PR world or a practicing clinician, chances are you’ve spoken in a public forum at some point in your career. Perhaps you’ve delivered a presentation at a HIMSS conference that included a great health IT ROI story. Maybe your biggest presentation was in front of a hospital finance committee to expound the virtues of a particular software platform. Or, possibly the highlight of your public speaking career so far has been the delivery of a departmental update for other company leaders.

Regardless of the size of your audience or your level of expertise, you likely remember your first big public speaking opportunity. Mine was in my early 20s while working on my MBA.

All incoming MBA students were required to take a core introductory course that included the development of a business plan and culminated with an in-class presentation. I don’t recall all the specifics about my presentation, but I do remember having the highest average in the class prior to my big public speaking debut.

Here’s something else remember: I was scared to death at the thought of standing up before my professor and 20 or so peers to deliver my business plan. I am sure I was reasonably prepared and knew my content, but I was still terrified. I vividly recall three things about that presentation: 1) I was sweating profusely; 2) when I spoke, my voice was squeaky, breathy and about two octaves higher than normal; 3) I earned the lowest grade in the class for the delivery part of my presentation.

Public speaking comes easily to many people. Most of us, however, are at least a little nervous that our audience will somehow reject us and view us as uninformed, unintelligent, ill-prepared or boring (the worst reaction in my mind!). If you share these fears – and it is preventing you from stepping up in front of a crowd to expound your great wisdom, wit and/or work and life experiences – then consider a few public speaking tips that have worked for me over the years.

Preparation breeds confidence
I spent the first half of my career selling billing and EMR systems to physician offices, which required doing product demonstrations of the software to doctors and their staffs. Before I ever gave my first demo, I knew my stuff cold and had spent hours practicing what to say and how to say it. When I demonstrated the software in front of prospects for the first time, I nailed it – and I didn’t break out into a sweat, nor speak in a squeaky voice. And yes, I made the sale.

What I learned from that experience is that I was not one of those type of people who can “wing it” when giving a presentation. And truthfully, even those presenters who appear to be winging it have probably spent hours practicing so that the delivery appears effortless, authoritative and off-the-cuff. Practice breeds confidence.

Get help
Over the years, I have benefited from some excellent mentors who provided constructive feedback and helped me overcome my public speaking fears. I also had the incredible opportunity to work with a professional speaking coach who helped me with some speaking nuances, such as how to stand and how to project my voice. I’m still not the most dynamic and accomplished speaker out there, but over the years I’ve given hundreds of presentations and have even been paid to speak on various health IT-related topics.

Almost a year ago, one of my Amendola mentors encouraged me to join Toastmasters to further hone my speaking skills. While I was initially skeptical – would everyone be a nerd? or shy introverts with no personality? perhaps retirees with nothing better to do? – I have been pleasantly surprised by the mix of people in my club. It includes a variety of professionals in diverse careers, all of whom are fun and dedicated to self-improvement. Toastmasters has given me the opportunity to deliver prepared speeches once or twice a month, as well as speak extemporaneously on random subjects. It’s provided an excellent forum for practicing speech organization and delivery, and for receiving feedback that pushes me to strive for continuous improvement.

Content counts
One key to making sure you don’t bore your audience is to talk about something that is interesting to you. If you’re enthusiastic about the topic, your audience will feed off your energy, even if they previously never knew a thing about the subject.

If for some reason you must present on a topic that doesn’t inspire you, find a way to personalize your speech. No one wants to just hear facts and figures, so if you’re talking about the history of widgets, bring in some sort of human element to make the subject more compelling. Perhaps share your personal experience with widgets and throw in a little widget humor. Let your personality shine, regardless of the topic.

Finally, if you are discussing a topic that the audience knows well, don’t spend too much time repeating what they probably already know. Instead, introduce a fresh angle, whether it’s your unique insight or an analogy that connects the topic with a current news story. And humor never hurts!

Say it with style

Sometimes what makes for a great presentation is not so much what you say but how you say it. If I ever need inspiration for a Toastmasters speech, I will search Youtube and watch a few experts in action. Little things, like vocal variety, facial expressions and body movement can make a speech so much more captivating. I also believe that short sentences, vivid words and dramatic pauses are a great way to keep your audience engaged.

When you first try stylizing a presentation in this way you might feel like an imposter putting on a performance. But, the more you introduce these creative elements into your speech, the easier it gets. In time, you will find a style that feels comfortable – or at least like less of an imposter.

Finally, my best public speaking tip is to try to have fun. And, don’t be Robin!

Should You Bet It All on a Trade Show Launch?

When it comes to product launches, many companies hang their hat on making a big splash at the biggest trade show in their industry. And then they are disappointed.

For those targeting the healthcare IT market, that usually means HIMSS. For those targeting providers, the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) show is often cited as a great launching pad.

For payers, it’s the Association of Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) Institute & Expo. For a life science/pharma audience, eyeforpharma Barcelona is a perennial favorite due to the heavy pharma presence in Europe.

But as Caterina Lui of PR Newswire points out on the Beyond PR blog, launching during a big show is not always ideal. And in another Beyond PR post, she provides excellent insights on whether your solution is even truly ready to launch.

One of the biggest drawbacks to launching at such large industry trade shows and conferences is the sheer number of companies who are planning to do likewise. This becomes an even more pronounced challenge if your company is launching a minor upgrade to its platform or app, or if your company is a newcomer or relative unknown in the market.

In both cases, a launch as much as a month or even two months before a trade show can help build momentum going into the show, instead of being crowded out by all the PR noise generated during the show. It allows you a greater opportunity to secure quality time with reporters whose conference schedules (covering educational sessions, filing stories, doing social media posts, etc.) are pretty crammed during the conference. It also allows you to brief analysts at the top firms ahead of the launch.

Here are some other best practices for trade show launches from my Amendola colleagues:

Lisa Chernikoff, Account Director – In the best-case scenario for a product launch at a trade show, you can not only include results and ROI from a beta customer or pilot site in the press release, but also have that client available for an interview at the show (or before or after). Clients speaking about their experience with the product is much more beneficial than company execs talking about features and functionality.

Also, make sure that the new product info highlights not only what it is, but also why it really matters for the target audience. What are the larger implications for the market? How does it relate to industry trends and issues?

Chad Van Alstin, Content & Media Relations Manager – As a former editor, I always found it challenging to cover product launches at trade shows without some kind of prior knowledge. Simply telling me a company was going to announce a product pretty much melded together with all the other launches after a while.

There has to be some kind of teaser or hook – a spoiler that many companies are often hesitant to give away ahead of the show – that is released to the media a week or two in advance. Otherwise, it all just becomes noise after a while, especially with a huge show like HIMSS. I think too many companies rely on the fact that editors will simply want to cover whatever it is the company is doing – but in a market with so many new names added to a long list every year, that’s just never the case. You have to spoil things a little bit in order to drum up interest.

Amy Koehlmoos, Senior Account Director – Leverage the power of social media – create a Twitter campaign around the product launch and use the show’s #hashtag to reach attendees. As with any campaign, frequency is key, but be sure to follow best practices and include plenty of non-promotional tweets to maintain an optimal content mix.

Rich media (images, videos and graphics) will help your tweets stand out above the noise, and don’t be afraid to get creative. People are much more likely to share a clever meme than a picture of a widget.

Stephanie Janard, Senior Writer — If you’re launching a new software solution, there’s no hard and fast rule that says you have to actually demo it. In this era of value-based care, why not stage a demo that shows how life can be better as a result of using your newly launched software or app? Likewise, if you have a tangible, physical product to demo, make a real show of it – preferably with a real-life example. If you can get champion customers on the act, all the better.

So there you have it from the A-Team experts (and PR Newswire). Should you bet it all on a trade show launch or not? It may be a crapshoot, but make sure you evaluate all your options both at the show and in other timeframes before committing your entire marketing budget to the effort. And please share your thoughts below on what you have seen that works well for a product launch – either at, before or after a trade show.

Changes around daily newspapers are creating a chill for journalists

The Dog Eat Dog Days of PR in the Internet Age: Part One

Who watches the watchdogs?  It’s a phrase that conjures the creation of police commissions or intelligence oversight committees.  But if you’re a believer in the sanctity of the Fourth Estate (and God knows we need them now more than ever), then the watchdogs who need watching are journalists.  And no one watches – or analyzes, or critiques – journalists in greater depth and with sharper insight than the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University.

The purpose of the Nieman Lab is to figure out how journalism can adapt to the Internet Age while remaining relevant and profitable. Recently, in “Newsonomics: The 2016 Media Year by the Numbers and a look toward 2017,” the Nieman Lab’s Ken Doctor turned up some fascinating trends that will both bedevil and delight those of us in PR and business who strive daily, with more or less success, to earn the media’s adoration and praise.

Have Your Fake and Eat it Too

The bedeviling side of Nieman Lab’s look back at 2016 is the messy shift from print to digital, a transformation long underway that is weighing ever more heavily on the news media. The industry-rocking trend of 2016, of course, was the rise of “fake news” – or rather the rise in awareness of fake news, thanks to the Presidential Election.  Doctor takes some easy swipes at Mark Zuckerberg for his much-publicized claim that 99% of Facebook’s content isn’t fake. “Ever heard a publisher proudly proclaim, ‘We get it right 99 times out of a hundred?’” he asks.

But the fake news phenomenon isn’t going to have much impact on the field of technology PR.  More significant for the business of Media Relations is the sharp increase in the number of PR “targets” as the Internet continues to make it easier for small, independent content producers to compete with the mainstream media. This democratization of publishing and broadcasting offers both more opportunities and more diluted opportunities for getting the word out about a company, a product, or a thought leader.

The Young and the Restless

Here’s Nieman Lab’s take on one of the biggest online outposts, a not-so-new media that has finally come into its own after a decade of unrealized promise and that is quickly disrupting its Old Media birthplace, radio:

“Podcasting now reshuffles the deck, mixing and matching talent on scheduled airtime and on demand, with unpredictable consequences. The movement of younger talent within the emerging podcast economy poses both a great opportunity and threat for public radio as we know it, and is a boon for newer entrants like Gimlet Media, Panoply, This American Life/Serial, and Midroll Media.”

A related trend that accelerated in 2016 and into 2017 is the flight of ad revenue from mainstream publishing as advertisers spread their dollars online in search of eyeballs (and now ears, too).

“The Wall Street Journal lost more than a fifth of its overall advertising revenue in the third quarter of 2016,” Doctor writes. Other blue ribbon outlets suffered similar losses: The New York Times saw print ad revenue decline by 18 percent; McClatchy reported a 17 percent loss; Gannet lost 15 percent; and Tronc (the former Tribune Company) lost 11 percent.

To compensate for those huge loses, publishers are seeking revenue directly from readers in the form of digital subscriptions and add-ons. That requires high-quality content and attractive digital platforms – something that “only the national/global dailies have been able to achieve,” according to Doctor.  How will the rest of the nation’s dailies fare amid this historic transformation?  Judging by the number of journalists losing their jobs, not so well.  Nielsen Lab counted just 27,300 journalists working for U.S. dailies in 2016, 4,000 of whom work for the four national titles.  The size of the local press has declined by half, according to Doctor.

Heads Up to PR customers

What does that mean for PR? The math is pretty simple.  With an ever smaller number of traditional publications managing to keep the lights on, the competition for coverage among the dailies is becoming downright cutthroat. The days of guaranteeing that a successful company in a hot market will be covered by The New York Times or Wall Street Journal are over.

So what’s the answer?  How can companies in search of media coverage adjust to this fast-evolving environment?

You can read the answer in Part Two of this post.  In the meantime, a few hints: Traditional PR is dead.  The press release as many people think of it is a goner. Thought leadership will be a key PR budget priority. Content is (roll your eyes if you must) king.

But in the end, it’s still all about relationships.