Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Diary of a Bull$hit Explainer

By Gina F. Rubel

How often do you have to explain something to a client, family member, colleague or friend that you know is bullshit? Please forgive the language, but there really is no other term for it. It is what it is, as they say!

Today, I actually thought to add “bullshit explainer” to my bio. It disgusts me that there are so many marketing scams and schemes out there, run by people and companies who are just trolling for victims. In fact, Snopes.com has dedicated a whole section of its website to Marketing 101 urban legends.

As a result, I’ve decided to keep a diary this week of bullshit that we come across regularly, that otherwise would victimize the unsuspecting.

Those “fake” Yellow Page listings: Every few months, we receive a letter in the mail that says it’s time to renew our Yellow Page listings. If you get one of these, be suspicious.

The big dogs in Yellow Page advertising, both print and online, have thousands of well-trained sales representatives who call on their clients annually for renewal. Sales reps often are compensated based on new or increased sales and renewals, so they don’t simply rely on snail mail. If you get one of those letters, question it. Don’t just put it in your bookkeeper’s “to pay” file. That is exactly what bullshit companies are hoping you’ll do.

Google’s latest unsolicited analytics, “Your personalized Analytics report”: This week, we received an unsolicited email from “Google” which provided us with analytics for our blog, ThePRLawyer.com. The analytics were so nebulous that we couldn’t help but deduct that they are being distributed simply to increase ad word sales.

There is no time frame for the analytics. They use terms like “bounce rate” in bold as a scare tactic. In fact, when you read the fine print, “bounce rate” means “how many people leave your site without visiting any other pages on your site.” For a blog, that’s not necessarily bad. If you are driving traffic to a particular story that interests the reader and they read it and move on, you have accomplished your goal.

Here, bounce rate is not synonymous with the “bounce rate” of electronic newsletters. Couldn’t they come up with a better descriptive phrase? They came up with the name “Google,” didn’t they?

Bogus online listing about to expire: Almost weekly, our clients get emails stating that their “listing is about to expire.” When you investigate further, there was never any listing to begin with.

The most recent notice received by one of our clients was from a low-quality website where our client had not been listed in the first place. Scamming companies such as these hope that people, such as our clients, will click on those listings which will, in turn, boost the flow of internet traffic to their website. If the visitor then creates an actual listing for her company on that website, the scammer has benefitted in two ways.

Feel free to add your bullshit marketing stories here, too. I’m sure there’s more where these came from.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Facebook is Changing Everything AGAIN - And You’ll Never Believe How

By Sarah Larson

See what I did there? I crafted a clicky headline that (hopefully) piqued your interest enough to get you to click on the link and open this post.

It’s called “click-bait” and it has spammed all corners of the online universe, but Facebook – arguably the birthplace of click-bait – is taking a stand.

The behemoth social network announced recently that it is changing the way its News Feed works. “We’re making two updates, the first to reduce click-baiting headlines, and the second to help people see links shared on Facebook in the best format,” Facebook said in its announcement.

Even if you don’t know what the term click-bait means, if you’ve spent any time online in the past two years, you instinctively know what it is. Click-bait is a post carefully designed to appeal to human curiosity in order to get you to click on the link. Think Buzzfeed, Business Insider, or pretty much anything posted from Upworthy.

Link-clicking is oxygen for online companies. It helps them build their audience, an audience against which they can sell advertising. It is how they survive.

After spending three years in the ultra-competitive, lightning-paced world of online news, I can tell you two things. No. 1, click-bait is annoying. Everyone claims that they hate it. But, much like negative political advertising, it continues to flourish because (point No. 2):

It works.

It works because we really want to know what that kitten did, and how many Basset Hounds fit into the “clown car” of the doggie house.

And when the content itself reinforces our own world view – “Take a look at these kids and parents and then tell me why the hell we’re sending them back ‘home’”; “People say this world is going to hell in a handbasket, but they’re wrong. Here’s why.” – well, then, that is Internet gold.

Racking up huge numbers of eyeballs on digital content does not just happen. The algorithms that control the content delivered to a Facebook news feed or a Google search results page have enormous power to shape who sees what and when. Changes to those algorithms can blow up a site’s traffic or slash it to zero overnight. This piece from The Atlantic offers an interesting look at the history of the rise of click-bait headlines and how it was driven by the ongoing battle for supremacy between Facebook and Twitter.

Crafting headlines is not easy. There is a reason why, in most traditional news organizations, reporters did not write headlines. Copy editors did, and it takes an extremely under-appreciated talent to write good ones.

Crafting great online headlines is even harder (and many of the best practices for newspaper headlines do not work online). It is a fine line to walk, this idea of giving a reader enough information to decide whether to click, without giving it all away and negating the need to click at all.

As to the specific changes Facebook is implementing, you can take steps to ensure that your content still has good chances of being seen on the world’s most important social network.

First, make sure that if your headline promises glory, the post itself can back it up. Facebook's new algorithm will take into account how long people stay on a post after they've clicked on it. A quick return back to the Facebook feed will be seen as an indication of shallow content.

Second, Facebook makes it pretty clear that the actual way people share links matters. Follow Facebook’s advice and post a link as a link, not in the caption of a photo:
“We’ve found that people often prefer to click on links that are displayed in the link format (which appears when you paste a link while drafting a post), rather than links that are buried in photo captions. The link format shows some additional information associated with the link, such as the beginning of the article, which makes it easier for someone to decide if they want to click through. This format also makes it easier for someone to click through on mobile devices, which have a smaller screen.”
Both those best practices go back to the core truth of content marketing: poor content won’t market anything effectively, no matter how you got the reader to look at it. Focus your efforts on capturing the full attention of your future customer, not on tricking them into clicking.

Bait, after all, is for traps.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Hackers Abound – 6 Tips to Protect Your Business

By Rose Strong

Computer hacking, data breaches, information leaks, security breaches, hacktivism, cyber espionage. Whatever you may call them, cyber attack attempts are targeting businesses and entities around the globe, with cyber crimes the No. 1 kind of attack, as these statistics by Paolo Passeri for Hackmageddon.com show.

In one of the latest incidents, hackers broke into the network of Community Health Systems and stole more than 4.5 million records. The attack, which originated in China, affected 206 hospitals in 29 states, giving hackers access to patients’ names, birth dates and social security numbers, the exact information they would need to commit identity fraud and wreak havoc on people’s lives.

You’d hope your local hospital would consult with a cyber-security company long before something were to happen to its highly sensitive data. However, the local UPS Store where you ship packages and make copies seems to be in just as much danger of a security break that would allow customers names, addresses, email addresses and payment card information to fall into the wrong hands.

Several years ago, I had a small online antiques and collectibles business. I was using PayPal for customers to pay me safely. PayPal sent an email asking me to update information about my account. There was a link to their website in the email. I logged in, followed the steps by filling in some info and that was it. I went about my business, never thinking twice about it. Then, just days before Christmas, my debit/credit card, which was tied to my personal checking account, was hacked. 

I’m fortunate to have a small-town bank with big-city technology and protection. Visa noticed unusual activity on the card, stopped the transactions, and notified my bank, which reimbursed my account. This past January, the bank again noticed unusual activity on my account, stopped the transactions, and reimbursed my account. Would you be so lucky in a cyber attack on your business?

Here are some tips to keep hackers out of your business:

•    Assess your company’s risk – Identifying the risk of potential attack and knowing who should have access to certain information is the start of a best practices program for your organization’s IT security. StaySafeOnline.org, part of the National Cyber Security Alliance, shares suggestions to conduct a cyber risk assessment.

•    Reconsider your passwords – Using your dog’s name or 123LookAtMe? Cute and “clever” passwords are easy to break through, so making them longer and more randomized can help keep hackers at bay. This article by Caroline McMillan Portillo for BizJournals.com is spot on for protecting your information systems.

•    Think encryption – For a small business, the impact from a cyber crime can shut the doors. Large companies like Target or other big box stores may be able to survive, but when data is breached at a small company, customers lose trust and go elsewhere. This article by John Patrick Pullen for Entrepreneur.com discusses how encrypting your data will help keep it safe.

•    Don’t carry out business on a public network – Don’t use the local library’s Wi-Fi or coffeeshop hotspot when dealing with sensitive information such as bank accounts. Regardless of whether you’re using a public computer, your own laptop or even a smartphone, it’s still risky. This Huffington Post article by Jason Alderman, vice president of Visa, gives some clever tips on how to protect yourself out in the open if you must do business there.

•    Know where to find answers – Take some time and do research. We are all busy, but this is time well-spent for a small business without access to an IT specialist. If you can afford an IT company on a retainer basis, they should be up-to-date on the latest security issues and hoaxes and have the ability to fix something for you. If they don’t or can’t, find someone who can. If you are unable to afford that type of service, take time to do some reading on reputable websites. The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team has information for all size companies as well as individuals. It’s a good place to start.

•    Be aware – The ways of cyber criminals are numerous and varied and becoming even more intricate. That PayPal site I mentioned earlier was an exact replica of the real thing. Nothing would have tipped me off that it wasn’t the real PayPal site. Today, the company sends out emails warning of fraud and scams to its users. And so does my bank, for that matter. Does yours?

Have you or your company ever been involved in a security breach? How did you handle it? What did you learn from it? We’d like to hear your experiences.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Easy Steps to Increase Your Corporate Social Media Presence

By Kim Tarasiewicz

Many companies these days are eager to launch a social media program, but once you have your system set up and your employees trained, how do you keep your people engaged with corporate social media? To be successful, any social media endeavor must be sustained over time. It isn’t enough to post a few things to Facebook and call it a day.

A monthly reminder email is a perfect way to keep social media top of mind for your employees. Send them a note asking them to connect with your company’s social media sites. This will boost your social media presence and expand your opportunities for potential clients to learn about your company.

Explain to your employees the importance of supporting your marketing and public relations efforts. Show how sharing corporate social media pages will increase business and benefit everyone. Prompt employees with the following in a monthly email or perhaps an internal newsletter:

Ask your employees to keep in mind these questions and provide material to your social media manager when available:
  1. Have you seen any significant industry trends or news about which you would like to write an article, blog post, etc.?
  2. Do you have any industry-related experience that we could use to promote you as a resource for the company?
  3. Is anyone in the company scheduled to speak at a business function within the next 60 days? Or have you spoken anywhere in the last 60 days?
  4. Have you hired any new staff members that should be highlighted?
  5. Has anyone in your department been nominated for an award or received any awards or recognitions?
  6. Has anyone in your department been nominated or elected to any boards, committees or other positions? Even if it does not pertain to your industry, it can still help increase your SEO.
Remind employees to make corporate social media part of their weekly routine. Ask them:
  1. Have you shared the company’s most recent blog post through your own social media sites? If not, please do (And provide them the link).
  2. Have you reviewed the company website and, most importantly, your own bio lately? If not, please take a look and let IT know if anything needs to be updated.
  3. Have you updated your LinkedIn profile with company contact information? Have you endorsed anyone for business skills? Invite at least two people to connect each month. This is a great way to create business leads and get the corporate name out there.
  4. Have you visited a competitor’s social media pages? It’s always good to compare notes and make sure nothing negative is out there about your company, too.
Everyone needs a reminder once in a while. Whether a senior manager or an intern, when employees understand the importance of corporate social media and how it fits into your marketing plan, they are more likely to be engaged in it, thus helping your business reach its full potential.

How engaged are your employees with your company's social media presence? We would love to hear from you.

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