Why every digital communications professional must understand internet culture

Keeping up to date with the news is standard practice for any PR practitioner. Without keeping up with key trends and events, changes in the news and communications channels, you stand a good chance of missing key opportunities and being caught unawares.

But for those in charge of any brand’s social media presence or online brand, keeping up to date with digital trends and internet culture is an absolute must.

Kit Kat recently announced the launch of their new Instagram account with a seemingly innocent image of a bear playing the drums with a Kit Kat Chunky in each hand. Now whilst this was obviously thought of to be a fun image with the potential to go viral in a good way, the internet soon picked up on the bear’s stark resemblance to the Paedo Bear, an internet meme originating from 4Chan in 2004, immortalised through numerous doctored images across the web.

KitKat Instagram Picture

Had anyone at Nestlé, their marketing team or hired agency been a little more up to date on their online culture, someone may have picked up on this. However, the team at Kit Kat had of course never heard of Paedo Bear, were forced to withtract the image and issue a public statement verifying as such.

Another recent social media faux pax comes courtesy of Celeb Botique with the following recent tweet. Shockingly, the individual in charge of running the Twitter account had failed to check the reason for the trend, missing the news of the horrific shooting at the Batman screening in Aurora, Colorado. Aurora issued a public apology, shamefully shifting the blame to their external PR department and failing to take any kind of responsibility for their actions.

What is disparaging is the sheer amount of times we see this happening over and over again.

Much like any seasoned PR practitioner should be able to immediately spot any potential negativity surrounding a news story, so too must any social media brand manager be fully aware of both news and internet culture, at the very least putting in the research to discover why something is trending.

Similar offline cases have appeared long before social media became a widely used communications channel, even before the internet. The difference now being that with things travelling so much faster, anyone representing a brand’s entire reputation on a social media channel stands the risk of destroying that reputation in the blink of an eye.

Having a strong grasp on news, current affairs, memes and internet culture is paramount to successful brand protection and communication online. You’ll find the best digital communications agencies are probably the ones sharing animated gifs, memes and stories before you find them appearing in your news feed on Facebook and they’re the ones you should probably consider when looking to hire a digital agency!

The PR/Blogger pitch process

I read an interesting article on Umpf’s blog earlier this morning, a summary of a PR/Blogger outreach event they attended earlier in the month. Hosted by Econsultancy’s Vicki Chowney and featuring a panel of three public relations professionals and three bloggers, a series of best practice discussions ensued on the topic of PR/Blogger relationships.

The panel highlighted the sad truth that there are a lot of PRs who don’t appear to understand basic human communication, evident in their contact with bloggers. Unfortunately, this is the sad truth within the PR industry as a whole. To be any good at PR does require the very highest level of communication skills, something I will write about in the near future.

In reference to some of the best practice tips the panel highlighted, I do have a few thoughts to add.

I agree with the need for bloggers to be open and honest with their traffic statistics, but only if the blogger is either being paid, or receiving something in exchange for writing. There are a number of great tools that can provide backlink information and traffic stats, such as Majestic SEO*.

I don’t believe that PRs need to get to know bloggers on a personal level, but they are right in that, much the same as if you were to target a journalist, you need to know the publication or blog, its content and its target audience before contacting them.

I agree again with the need to tailor the angle of the story, something that agencies should naturally be able to do when selling into any publication, always answering the question of why is it relevant to their audience. However, there is the argument that as writers, bloggers should be able to add their own angle to the story, as long as they are provided with as much information as possible.

The debate of to pay or not to pay stems down to finding that middle gap. Yes, there are some blogs that receive a much greater level of traffic, and if the prize is not of high enough value, a monetary value for posting the competition should be attached. Whether it be a blog or publication, as the readership increases, so too does the value of advertising within that publication. Likewise, not all blogs should be able to demand a placement fee outright.

In an ideal world, you would reach a point where the costs and benefits for both parties are equal. Upon analysis of the costs of the agency’s time spent on pitching, as well as the value of the prize and the quality of the placement their competition will get, accompanied with the blogger’s increase in traffic and thus the increase in net worth of their blog, a middle ground should be reached.

This is, of course, the ideal world scenario. Unfortunately, not all bloggers are experienced journalists or really understand agencies and what they need to achieve out of their work. Likewise, not all agencies are any good.

If there is one thing that needs be taken away from this, it is that people really do need to start focusing on basic human communication, recognising that it is in fact a human on the other end of the telephone or email that you are dealing with, reaching that middle ground where both parties are gaining from this relationship.

Cant we all just get along?

*disclosure – Majestic SEO are a partner with Receptional, and a client, but they do have the world’s largest commercially available backlink data index, so I’ve no problems with recommending them here!

The newspaper is dead. Long live the news

A little over two months ago, in response to Martin Veitch’s tweet, I stated that both the book, and the newspaper will never die. I’m preparing to eat some humble pie. This week saw the launch of the Guardian’s new iPhone app. I’ve been using it for a little over 48 hours now, and I’m starting to wonder… Do I ever need to buy the paper version again?

I’ve always liked The Guardian. Not for its editorial (I prefer The Times), its business pages (I prefer the FT), or its rugby reviews (The Telegraph wins here). It’s simply the nicest paper to read, visually.

When it comes to colour, design, layout, font, The Guardian has absolutely nailed it. It’s a great looking paper, a visual masterpiece. Whilst sitting in Nude Espresso (one of the best coffee houses in East London) as usual either before work or on a Saturday morning, it’s the paper of choice.

This morning I tried something different. Instead of reaching for the familiar blue masthead, I took my phone out of my pocket, and with a quick swipe and a tap, I had The Guardian.

iphone

The Guardian team has done an amazing job on this app. It’s no doubt the BEST news app available for the iPhone. It’s slick, and looks like Apple has designed it in-house. With a smooth interface, I found myself flipping through stories faster than a Japanese origami master could ever manage with the paper version.

Gone was my argument for the need for tactile feel of the pages. The iPhone already feels great. Plus there’s all the benefits of going digital. There’s slick animations, access to photo galleries, and better still, access to all The Guardian podcasts on the move!

But the real kicker with this app is ‘offline reading’. In short, it allows you to download huge chunks (or all) of the daily news to your phone to read offline. For most news apps on the iPhone, this is their Achilles’ heel. As soon as you’re out of signal, you lose all access to the content which is effectively being streamed over the 3G connection.

So not only is it smaller and lighter than the paper, gone are the days of wrestling for an extra few inches of reading space on the tube to prop your triple folded paper just in front of your face, to then have to wait until the next station before you’re able to change the page.

As Marketing Week reported earlier this month, newspaper circulation is continuing to fall. In the first 24 hours of the app being released, it was already the top paid-for app in the UK and the US. In the app world, this is the equivalent of getting a global Christmas number 1 hit in the charts. It gives you prime place in the app store, and sends your downloads through the roof.

As it stands, it’s not going to replace The Sunday Times for me. £2 for what seems like more editorial than a Dickens novel, cracking open the plastic to reveal more supplements than a pharmacy would stock, you can’t beat it.

But I do fear that from now on, it’s the only paper I’ll ever buy again…

Guardian

I still stand by my prediction that the Kindle won’t catch on, beyond the early adopter levels. It’s too low-tech. However I do believe that in the near future, Apple will no doubt soon release a tablet to beat all tablets (I’ll probably camp out overnight again like I did for my iPhone). The trick with these things, much like The Guardian has proved with its app, is that it’s all about the user interface.

For the reproduction of both books and newspapers on electronic devices, the key for designers is to not re-create the same interface that the reader has with paper. That is impossible. Paper feels too good. It’s too tactile, too romantic. Instead the only way to beat paper is to make the interface more fun, more interactive. Readers need to prefer digital to paper. Environmental concerns won’t cut it here.

So, I’m officially eating a big fat slice of humble pie. The death of the hardcopy newspaper is nigh, consider this its obituary. Books I believe will follow also, to be forever cast into the deepest depths of the country’s libraries museums.

The newspaper is dead. Long live digital news…