Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Live from your living room, it's Monday night!

Last night marked a first for me, and very possibly also for an outside organization as well.

In an effort to find new, fun ways of promoting our upcoming Taste of Home Cooking Show, we decided to host a live chat with a TOH chef. It was the first time I'd done one (though other people here at The Record and at The Saratogian have hosted them) and from what I'm told it was the first time any chefs from Taste of Home have participated in one to promote a show.

I've been helping to promote our May 14 show for a while now, but it never really occurred to me that anything we'd be doing would be something completely new. Admittedly, it was kind of a cool feeling. Even cooler: Because the chef who will host our show next month - Michael Barna - mentioned it to his higher ups during a call, they're considering making live chats something used at sites throughout the country.

I ended up speaking to Marc Padron about the chat a few hours before it was going to take place. Now, in retrospect, I should have looked up who Marc was before I called him - but I didn't. It turns out he's the National Business Development Specialist for the cooking school program.

So now, you know, I just have to hope I didn't sound like a total bumbling crazy person while we were on the phone.

Regardless though, he was very receptive to the idea and loved the concept.

When we do live chats (and by we I mean The Record and The Saratogian), we use the website Cover It Live - a free tool that allows you to setup a chat, embed the code right on your site, and let people comment and ask questions without having to register anywhere. (As the host, however, you do have to create an account).

We've had good luck with live chats covering topics like high school sports, and last night we had what I consider a good turnout. Grain of salt moment: I had no real basis for what I would safely consider a good turnout prior to the actual event.

Chef Michael responded really well to the idea. Initially when I proposed it to him, he said the most he'd ever done was a 3-5 minute recording to air on radio or TV and that setting aside an hour was uncommon. Keep in mind that his schedule is insane; this morning he left home for 15 days to do shows. He didn't hesitate in saying yes though - and I get the feeling that he and Marc aren't alone in their enthusiasm for not only TOH, but also for new ways to get the word out about it.

At the end of our live chat, he wrote "This is the first time Smart Media has done a live chat like this and I loved it. My fingers are sore but it was great!" I'm sure he'll have some good feedback for Marc as well... once his fingers heal.

In all, 18 people participated and there were a total of 67 comments/questions over the course of the hour. You can see a transcript of the chat by visiting here.

I like CIL because you can't beat the cost, it's very user-friendly (if you click on the link above you'll see that we simply placed the chat window within an article promoting the show), the chat log can be viewed after the event is over and they give you stats at the end - albeit somewhat basic ones - to tell you how many participants and comments you had. It also gives you the option to download an excel spreadsheet with said comments. Generally I'm not quite sure how I would use this (although for this instance it will be sent to TOH folks as part of the information they've requested) but hey, it's a nice option. For users though, the better option - and the option that's clearly easier on the eyes - is simply to look at the chat log.

I'm hoping to make these chats a regular feature on our site - whether they be with staff members in news or sports, inviting those who specialize in a field, or just moderating a community discussion. I'd love to hear from people who have hosted live chats - through either Cover It Live or through another means - and what topics, times, etc. you've found to be particularly successful or, well, not.

Even more though, I'd love to hear from the community: What topics would you like to chat about? Should we focus on local or national headlines? Would chatting with a reporter or specialist on a topic (politics, health care, etc.) be something of interest?

I look forward to hearing from you!


Thursday, April 19, 2012

The land where perfect balance isn't a universal thing

Oh, social media. That thing into which we put so much time and effort. That illustrious indicator of all things positive in the world. Those metrics we all love to check. Catalyst for many insomnia-filled nights.

I love social media. The more I learn about it, the more intrigued I am. However, like many other things in life, the lessons we learn about Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest are relevant today, but might not be a week or month from now. Rules - generally speaking - don't seem to apply to social media.

That was made even more evident today when I attended a Social Media Breakfast Tech Valley event, titled "How to pick up, restart & re-commit to social media."

Panelists were Jen Van Iderstyne (Internet Marketing Ninjas); Aray Montalvan and Joey Hunziker (Proctors); Chris Chenes (Tri-City Valleycats) and; Maria Decker (The Jonesville Store) - and they were nothing if not impressive.

One comment that came from the discussion likely gave some relief and made others cringe: "There is no such thing as a social media expert."

Maybe so, but I think anyone who works with social media likes to think they have a leg up.

More important than that theoretical leg up however, is the responsibility we have to use social media to engage; as Hunziker said "People love when you respond to them because they feel like they're being listened to." 

There might be a tendency for those who are starting out in social media to focus solely on getting people to like their page, follow them, etc.; but what those who are in charge of or take part in (in short - pretty much anyone these days) social media in a professional context is that simply because your consumers or customers have taken that step doesn't mean they can't step back. 

Think of it this way: If you ask someone out and they say yes, you don't immediately stop responding or putting in effort. That's when the effort begins. 

Positive or negative - you have to respond. In fact, responding to the negative comments/posts could be more important. After all, anyone can respond positively to a "congrats, you did an amazing job on this!" - how you respond to a "hey, you sucked today; what the hell!?" will speak volumes more about your business/organization.

Of course, we never really get to find out what makes people follow or "like" us; or what makes them reverse the step. That's part of the challenge - and constant opportunity - of social media. You could safely argue that there is no perfect balance of what to post or how often to do so. 

In fact, that was the "agree to disagree" moment of today's SMBTV panel discussion. What works well for one organization - posting updates frequently throughout the day - won't necessarily work for another.

For us at The Record, breaking news frequently reigns supreme. However there are days when the top story can surprise you. This ebb and flow of our industry - like many others - can make figuring out social media tough. However, this ultimately provides for more opportunity than anything else. 

The thing that, ironically, I learned at today's event is that we will always be learning and evolving. Today sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Reddit are huge; a month or a year from now no one can be sure what will work and what will fizzle out.

The constantly evolving lesson is, I think, the best part about social media. What do you think? To what kind of initiatives have you had a great response? To which ones have you had a lackluster response? What did you learn from either or both?

Monday, April 2, 2012

For the love Freihofer's (the run and the cookies)

There’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of Freihofer’s. Whether it’s the cookies or the annual Run for Women, it’s a brand that’s very recognizable.

On March 20, The Record hosted an information session on a program that is relatively new to the run; a 10-week Training Challenge that follows the Couch to 5k platform to get women active, in shape, and prepared to run the 5k that’s coming up on June 2.

I imagine some people came for cookies.

The program, held in our Community Media Lab, consisted of a four-member panel: Two coaches, Kristen Hislop and Patrick Lynskey; injury prevention specialist Dr. Tim Maggs; a certified family and gastroenterolgy nurse practitioner Christine Cooley. Freihofer’s Run for Women Event Director George Regan hosted the program.

Also, they brought cookies. A lot of them.

It’s possible you’re thinking what I was thinking: Is it really a good idea to bring cookies to give away to the people who attend an event aimed at getting them to run?

And yes, yes it is. However, I also had veggies, water and olives available for people to snack on during the hour-long presentation.

It probably won’t shock you to know that more cookies were missing at the end of the night than healthy snacks.

To promote the event, we ran an ad in The Record, The Saratogian and the weekly community newspaper Greenbush Life. Additionally:
  • Pushed out link on The Record Twitter and Facebook pages; Record employees also pushed out info.
  • Info pushed out on Freihofer’s Run for Women Facebook and Twitter feeds;
  • Stand alone photo run in The Record with event info;
  • Article by Kathy Caggianelli ran on March 15;
  • Email sent out by George Regan, event director, to event email list;
  • Twitter reach by staff: Rebecca Eppelmann (@RebeccaTRecord) reach of 335; Lisa Lewis (@Record_editor) reach of 228; Katie Nowak (@knowak_record) reach of 121. (Information pulled from Tweet Reach)

I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a last minute idea, or if I said I wasn’t panic stricken at the thought of no one showing up. The idea for the program came about two weeks before the program itself which, in retrospect, wasn’t an entirely bad thing.

To help ensure we’d at least get some people to attend, I setup an Eventbrite site (http://bit.ly/FreihoferRun) so that people could register in advance - this helped us not only track how many people signed up, but also allowed us to set a limit on tickets “sold” (it was a free event); setting up the link through The Record’s bitly account also allowed us to track how many people visited the link (127 people total visited the link).

I set the number of tickets to 40, because while the room holds 50 I was allowing for the possibility that more people would show up than the number that signed up; we had 40 people register and in the end 27 showed up.

A few of the people who attended hadn’t registered, which ended up being fine because not everyone who registered actually showed up. I was thrilled with a turnout of 27 because it clearly meant that we had attendance - I’m horrible at math and even I figured that one out.

In the early days of the CML we hosted an event to which no one showed up, and although we learned a lot from that lesson, it’s still something that sticks with you.

I can’t say how many people signed up for the Training Challange because the event staff decided against having people sign up online at the program in the CML, however I can say that we effectively got the word out about what was effectively a last-minute program. At least a dozen people stayed after the presentation was over to talk to the panelists; as most people left they talked about how informative it was.

Event Director George Regan was very happy with how the presentation - which was recorded and can be viewed here - went and we’re hoping to team up each year going forward to let the community know about the Training Challenge and all of its benefits.

And, you know, to snack on cookies.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Linking in to LinkedIn

One of my favorite shows is 30 Rock – I quote it pretty much constantly – and one of my favorite quotes is when Alec Baldwin’s character references a character from previous seasons with “I found him on LinkedIn, he might as well be dead!”

That quote was looping through my head as I went into a LinkedIn training during a recent New York Press Association convention. I would never have been so bridge and tunnel about it, but the 30 Rock line resonated; isn’t LinkedIn antiquated in the days of social media like Twitter, Facebook and a plethora of sites that allow you to “check-in” no matter where you are? Isn’t LinkedIn, like MySpace, an easy target for such jokes?

To both questions, I can now answer no.

With slightly varying goals, Digital Specialist Tom Caprood and I headed into the training and when the first thing our presenter said was LinkedIn is the social media site to watch in 2011. Well, needless to say it was going to take some convincing for me to buy that. 

Some bullet points to the presentation made by Shannon Kinney  

  • LinkedIn has 70 million members in 200 countries worldwide
  • The homepage gets 560,000 visits every day
  • LinkedIn has 450 million page views a week
  • Over 50% of LinkedIn users are decision makers at their company
  • 41% of the LinkedIn users have generated business on the site
  • 70% of members use LinkedIn to find a job; 85% are using it for recruiting

If you’re anything like me, you created a profile at some point, occasionally update it when something major happens (new association membership, job change, etc) and otherwise – like that piece of exercise equipment that was a well-intentioned purchase – it just collects e-dust. 

Clearly that’s not the best use of any technology, but if you feel like you’re at the bottom of the mountain wondering how to get to the top – where the view is clearly much better – here are some tips to get you started. 

Unlike other forms of social media, LinkedIn is a professional site and, according to Kinney, it’s completely appropriate to be self-promotional. It’s no surprise that potential employers are not only interested in your resume; they are also increasingly concerned with your digital footprint. 

LinkedIn is unique for many in that this site doesn’t invite you to upload photo after photo and let everyone in your professional network know that you are going to the grocery store, or hitting up happy hour for the 300th night in a row; here, your professional feats should be shouted from the top of a mountain (another impetus to get started on the hike). 

Getting the most out of the site:

Update: The most basic thing you can do is update – or setup – your profile. Keeping in mind, again, that it’s not your personal Facebook or Twitter account.

Learn: Utilizing your network is key – but they aren’t the only people to whom you have reach. A new feature of LinkedIn is “learn.” Journalists, for example, can go here to get to an advanced people search for potential contacts for a story, add a contact, view answers about recent trending topics or gather background information; similar links are available for students, small businesses, attorneys and job seekers among others.

Today: Without a doubt there are a myriad of news sources out there; LinkedIn Today narrows down the news based on your profile and connections. In their words, Today: “delivers the day’s top news, tailored to you based on what your connections and industry peers are reading and sharing. If you only have five minutes to catch up on news, LinkedIn Today can help you cut through all the clutter, so you can discover the top headlines you need to read to be better informed everyday.”

Answers: None of us have all the answers all the time! Asking a question on LinkedIn is a great way to get help/advice from people you aren’t seeing or speaking to on a day to day basis. But that is a two-way road; if someone in your connection asks a question with which you can help, you should do it. If you belong to groups, you are likely getting emails with questions that have been asked; or, if not, you’re probably getting an email with updates. If you aren’t, I’d recommend changing the setting on your account. 

If you’re looking for some more information and tips on how to best utilize the site, the New York Capital Region chapter of the American Marketing Society will host a breakfast roundtable on May 26 at Professor Java’s on Wolf Road in Colonie from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Mark your calendars! 

In the coming weeks I’ll be working on my LinkedIn profile and encouraging our staff to do the same, and like so many others, I’m always looking for tips and tricks. Have any to share? Leave a comment here or connect with me on – you guessed it – LinkedIn.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The fine line of engaging vs. annoying

There is a fine line between engaging and annoying. We’ve all experienced this – and the effects of the difference are magnified with the advent of things like “liking” pages on Facebook and following feeds on Twitter. When used correctly by the business world, social media should first and foremost be informative; however it can quickly become another place for spam.

I recently began following a Twitter feed and within an hour of having done so there were 50 updates – none of which were of particular interest to me so I unfollowed the feed, and after momentarily being stricken by guilt, I moved on. The benefit of the internet is that things can be done and undone almost anonymously (with the exception of sites like http://who.unfollowed.me).

Point being, to engage the community you have to find out what the community wants. Things like Facebook, Twitter and SMS (short message service) are a perpetual litmus test. What I think is valuable information you might consider a waste of your time. The ebb and flow of people subscribing and unsubscribing, following and unfollowing, etc. is a battle that’s less meant to be won and more meant to be understood.

In a training I attended last week with some colleagues, we learned – warning: corporate lingo ahead – some best practices specifically for SMS.

A lot of people text. A LOT – and probably a lot more than you think. The average age of a person who texts is 36. I know very few people who talk on their phones more than the text. And now, more than another social device, texts are how people are getting breaking news – whether that’s local or national news, entertainment or sports updates.

As much as people don’t always like the news they’re getting, they like knowing it right away. I didn’t particularly care that Liz Taylor died, but knowing about it immediately meant something to me.

Within the next few weeks, those who follow The Record – whether it’s in print, online, on Facebook , on Twitter  or all of the above – will also have the opportunity to opt-in to receiving SMS messages for breaking news.

The opportunity with this lies in the fact that we – as distributors of information – have the power to disseminate news as it happens. Days of waiting for the 5 or 11 o’clock news or the morning paper are over. In the days of digital first – our parent company’s M.O. – we want to know everything. Now.

Just don’t give me too much now, because that will bother me. It’s a fine line we walk, and very quickly it can become a tangled web we weave.

As we here at The Record strive to engage our community in a meaningful, informative way, I hope you’ll follow along here for updates on what some of the most effective ways of accomplishing the task digital first while continually striving for high quality content.