Category Archives: Corporate Blogs

How to Lose a Blogger in One Pitch

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Investor Relations Go Social

In a rather unusual but certainly interesting move, one of the world’s largest companies put its toes in the social media waters as a way to reach investors and financial analysts (as well as customers, employees and anyone else in the world with a computer and access to the Internet).

Walmart Chief Financial Officer Charles M. Holley posted a message to the financial news aggregator site Seeking Alpha last month explaining how the Fortune 1 company plans to maintain its position in the global marketplace.

While most corporate attorneys become apoplectic at the utterance of “corporate officer” and “social media” in the same sentence, it appears the investor relations professionals at Walmart (likely with help/prodding from the company’s marketing and PR team) helped calm any legal nerves.  In reality, Mr. Holley’s post is likely taken from the same song sheet the company uses when addressing analysts and investors in Reg FD formats as well as one-on-one conversations.  Transcripts of those discussions are often available online and excerpted on blogs and media outlets, so sharing executive perspectives is certainly not pioneering uncharted territory.

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The “new” element to Mr. Holley’s contribution on Seeking Alpha is the close connection between his post and the dialogue that it spawned.  In the first 10 days after the post was made, 36 comments were shared on the site – most of which seem thoughtful and productive to professional discourse (even if not all are flattering to Walmart or optimistic about its stock’s potential).  But online (and offline) conversations about NYSE:WMT occur among analysts and investors every day.

So if we consider the potential risks of the message and the medium to be fairly neutral, I find some significant upside to Mr. Holley’s decision to go social:

  1. He was not edited. Just like the traditional opinion piece in a hard copy paper (which can be very hard to secure), the blog post gave Mr. Holley the opportunity to share complete thoughts in his own voice.  He did not have to rely upon (or worry about) the whims of an editor’s analysis.  Nothing was deleted, nothing was paraphrased, nothing was subject to interpretation by anyone other than the end user/reader.
  2. He was complete. The Walmart IR and legal teams surely worked overtime on this piece.  In fewer than 900 words, Holley painted his company’s “big picture” through two-dozen or so brush-stroked illustrations.  He referenced company history, relationships with merchants, increased efficiencies, enhanced physical plants and reduced capital costs.  And in a nod to reality, he acknowledged high fuel costs, food inflation and job insecurity among customers globally.  An interview with a financial reporter from a news or business daily will typically translate into just few sound bites from the interviewee – and they will rarely offer a complete reflection of the conversation.
  3. He was a cheerleader. Holley wove in Walmart’s corporate slogan and referenced the company’s impressive five and 10-year CAGR.  To ensure he ended on a high note (something rarely achievable in the traditional interview/article process) he closed with optimism: “During a challenging time in the world, we are excited about the future and what a stronger Walmart will mean for our customers and our shareholders.”

In this analysis, Mr. Holley’s dip into the Web 2.0 pool seems like swim worth taking – and 10 days out, his stock did not appear to have suffered (nor does it seem to have gained).  Walmart IR folks have indicated they aren’t sure they’ll  repeat the effort – but I have to think this trail has now been blazed and will be followed.  What do you think? Should other companies take this leaders’ lead?

 

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Struggling with blogger’s block? Seven ways to get inspired.

We’ve all been there…staring at a blank page trying to decide on a blog topic for the day, preferably something that shows you actually do have a uniquely valuable perspective.   Here are a few tips and tricks that help me attack my blogger’s block:

Set up Google alerts on topics of interest to you and your readers. This is an effortless way to continuously monitor the web for up-to-the-minute content that matters to you.

Subscribe to likeminded blogs and competitors’ blogs and RSS feeds. This will help you stay on top of the hot topics among your competitors and peers and, hopefully, find a way to offer a fresh point of view.

Poll your social network on what they want to read about in your blog. This is a great way to engage your audience, attract new readers and gain further inspiration.

Review comments from past blog posts. Has a reader asked you to further expand on a topic?  This is the perfect opportunity.

Look back at old blog posts for outdated information. You’ll likely find opportunities to update a post from days gone by.

A little self promotion never hurt anybody. Are you speaking at a conference or hosting a webinar in the near future?  If so, share the details and let your readers know how to get involved.

Interview an expert. Not that your readers don’t value your opinion; sometimes it’s just nice to get a new viewpoint.

Where do you get inspiration for blog posts?

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Endorsing Your Clients Without Disclosure Is Risky Business

Both PR firms and ad agencies have to be especially careful to fully disclose any association they have with a client when it comes to endorsing or even speaking favorably about the client or its products.

It’s quite simple, really. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Don’t act like an unbiased consumer when you are speaking favorably about a client’s product or service; because you are not. If you are getting paid in any form, new regulations require that you clearly and prominently state your relationship to the client.

The regulation put into effect last year by the FTC prompted our firm to have several educational sessions, starting with me attending an excellent (albeit scary) presentation by an attorney who specializes in ad agencies.  His stories made my hair stand on end…and I promptly shared them with our staff.

Then yesterday I read Michael Lasky’s PR Week article about a small PR firm recently busted by the FTC, with which it had to sign a consent decree agreeing to refrain from making any endorsements of their clients without acknowledging their relationship.

What is particularly interesting to me is that the PR firm had made the endorsements prior to December 2009 when the FTC issued their Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials.

For a variety of reasons, we are abundantly careful to make all necessary disclosures in our blogs, tweets and other consumer-generated media – most notably, because it is the right thing to do. However, the FTC action reminds me that we all may need periodic refresher courses on this subject.

Let us know of any great (or horrifying) case studies you may come across.

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How to Drive Traffic to Your Company Blog

A recent HubSpot study of 1,531 small and medium sized businesses reports that companies with a blog have 55% more website visitors than their counterparts. Of note, company blogs also drive factors that influence search engine optimization (SEO). For example, of the surveyed businesses, those that blog generate 97% more inbound links from related websites and 434% more indexed pages than businesses that choose not to blog.

With statistics like these, the question is, ‘To blog or not to blog?’ But your answer may depend on the tactics you are ready to employ. Perhaps the operative question is, ‘How do you drive traffic and keep readers coming back once you have created a blog?’  There is no single answer but here are few tactics emerging as best practices:

Blog often and provide great content. This is the key to building an audience. It’s also great for SEO. Content is indexed with each posting and, thus, information about your company moves up in search engine prioritization.

Use numerical or ‘How To’ headlines. These cues tell readers that a posting will be a quick and informative read.

Link to your blog in your email signature. Every email you send will increase the opportunities for visits to your blog.

Link to the blog in your eNewsletter. Refer to past blog postings when the newsletter includes related content.

Send personal emails about postings you think will be of interest to particular people. Your contacts are more likely to read the posting when you personally reach out and highlight the relevance of a particular posting.

Invite well-known personalities to guest blog. Offset your workload by bringing in a ringer. While you are at it, ask the guest blogger to link to their posting on their own blog and social media platforms. This will increase the credibility of your blog and bring your content to the attention of new readers.

Partake in a blogroll exchange. Reach out to likeminded bloggers and suggest that they include your link in their blogroll. According to blog etiquette and best practices you should also return the favor.

Respond to all comments. It is important to let readers know that you appreciate their feedback.

Be a little bit controversial. You set your blog apart from the crowd when you express a different point of view on a hot industry topic and also demonstrate that you have unique expertise. As an added bonus, personality tends to attract more readers and more frequent visits to your site.

Leave comments on other industry blogs. Offer intelligent feedback and kudos in the comments section of likeminded blogs and be sure to include a link to your own.

Incorporate a survey or poll. Readers will want to come back to see the results.

Link to blog posts on your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. This will make posts easily accessible to your followers, colleagues and friends, as well as continuously keep your company top-of-mind.

What are your tips for driving traffic to a company blog?

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FTC Guidelines Include Affiliate Links

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In October, Robin highlighted the key points of the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines for disclosure for bloggers. The new guidelines went into effect December 1. As an avid blogger and blog reader, I have seen bloggers in blog posts when they are financially compensated and/or given free product for reviews, saying things like: This is a compensated review by BlogHer and HP. I have also seen a shift in disclosure policies- bloggers adding more details about affiliate links, financially compensated reviews, free products, etc.

The one thing that I haven’t seen is disclosure in blog posts when affiliate links are used. Affiliate marketing rewards people who are associated with a product, service or company for leads or clicks that they generate. The reward can be cash or product. Yes, most bloggers do have a statement in their disclosure policies that says their blog uses affiliate links. However, I have never seen a specific blog post say “compensated affiliate ” or something to that effect.

Since we have a client who is considering launching an affiliate program, we wanted to be sure we were clear on the law, so we did a little investigating. Our understanding of the law was that the disclosure was necessary, but since we didn’t see anyone doing it. Were we missing something?

After a bit of research, we found a webinar with Jim Edwards and Rich Cleland, Assistant Deputy at the FTC talking specifically about affiliates and the law. In the webinar Mr. Edwards asks, if a blogger uses the phrase: Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate on every post with affiliates, is the blogger in compliance with the law? Here was Mr. Cleland’s answer, which he emailed to Mr. Edwards: “The disclosure must be sufficient to alert the consumer that of the connection between the endorser. In this case it is an affiliate marketer. Your disclosure would appear to meet this requirement. The most important aspect of this kind of disclosure will be whether it is clear and conspicuous. Consumers must be able to see the disclosure when they are viewing the endorsement and at the point of the link to the seller’s website.” (Emphasis mine.)

This statement makes it clear that a blogger stating that they use affiliate links in their disclosure page is not enough. According to the FTC, a blogger must disclose within the post when they are endorsing something.

To gain further clarification, I called Mr. Cleland and asked him about affiliate links and when disclosure is necessary. He was kind enough to spend a few minutes talking with me about the matter. He said that a disclosure must be made when a blogger is recommending something and using an affiliate link. He went on to say that “the recommendation triggers the disclosure requirement.” He added that some affiliate marketing is clearly advertising and in that case a disclosure statement is not necessary. It is, however, necessary when the post includes an implied or overt recommendation.

It will be interesting to see how bloggers continue to apply these new guidelines to their blogs. What do you think about the guidelines as they apply to affiliate marketing?

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The Makings of a Successful Blog

The-Makings-of-a-Successful-BlogUnfortunately, there is no magic bullet for creating a popular blog. As someone who blogs professionally and personally, as well as counsels many clients on the process, here are a few tactics that are effective in helping build a successful blog.

Select a Theme: Lovell Links topics are all marketing and public relations based. What is the theme or “brand” of your blog? If you don’t know, sit down and create a mission statement for your blog. This will help create focus.

Engage Your Readers and Join in the Conversation: I usually do this by asking a question at the end of a post. It is a great way to encourage comments.

It is also important to be present in the comments. Some blogs have threaded comments where readers and the writers can respond directly to comments made.

Leverage Other Social Media Tools: Having a presence on Facebook, Twitter, etc. will help drive traffic to your site.

Include an Image: Blog posts with images are more likely to be read. If you don’t have an image of your own, use a stock photo.

Use a Clean Design: Blogs that are filled with many ads, blinkies, etc. are a turn-off for many people who come to the site. Be sure you blog design is clean and represents your brand well.

Proof Your Work: Sloppy writing and editing is not acceptable. Just because it is not printed does not lessen its value. You are promoting yourself and/or your company with each post you write.  Check out Ashley’s great post of common writing errors.

Invest Time: Starting and maintaining a blog takes a large time commitment. If you are not ready to commit to blogging several times a week, you should not blog.

Read Other Blogs: One of the best ways to learn how to become a better blogger is to read a lot of blogs. Read blogs that have a similar topic to what you write about – as well as those that are popular. The combination will teach you a lot. (A great way to manage reading a lot of blogs is by using a reader like Netvibes or Google Reader.)

Track Your Traffic and Understand Your Audience: Where are your readers coming from? How long are they staying on your blog? How frequently do they visit? By understanding your readers habits, you can help build loyal followers.

What other tips do you have for growing a personal or professional blog?

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New FTC Regulations: Are You Following the Rules?

New FTC Regulations Are You Following The RuleWhether you work for a public relations firm or handle the marketing for your own business, it’s wise to keep up with the latest regulations regarding advertising. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently released new guidelines regarding endorsements and testimonials that everyone in our business needs to be aware of. The new regulations focus primarily on bloggers and testimonial advertising.

Blogging is a highly effective marketing tool and if you follow our blog, you know I recently wrote an entry about the effectiveness of testimonials. So, when these new FTC guidelines were released my ears perked up.

You probably don’t have time to read all 81 pages of the guide; fortunately the Public Relations Society of American (PRSA) summed it up in the following key points:

• Bloggers who receive cash or in-kind payment (including free products or services for review) are deemed endorsers and so must disclose material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.

• Any firm that engages bloggers by paying them outright to create or influence editorial content or by supplying goods or services to them at no cost may be liable if the blogger does not disclose the relationship.

• Advertisements or promotions that feature a consumer who conveys his or her experience with a product or service as “typical” should clearly disclose what results consumers can generally expect or specify how the results were unique to the individual circumstances. (This is an important part of the new regs; in essence, you have to convey what the typical outcome or result of using the product or service would be.)

• If research is cited in an advertisement or promotion, any sponsorship of the research by the client or the marketer should be clearly disclosed.

• Celebrities who make endorsements outside the context of traditional ads, such as on talk shows or in social media, should disclose any relationship with the advertiser or marketer.

Over the past few weeks there have been several great articles that discuss the new regulations from a legal as well as a business perspective. Personally, while it might be a challenge to artfully craft messages and testimonials that are going to attract attention, I think these rules make a good attempt at protecting consumers. As professional communicators we must remember to be honest, ethical and true to our message.

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Blogs Are as Convenient as Email Thanks to Really Simple Syndication (RSS).

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) Button

Note from Nick: I love blogs in part because RSS makes them so easy to use.  However, not everyone understands why they’re so great. Posts like this really helped me when I began blogging.  Let me know if this type of content is helpful to you!

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Email is an incredibly convenient medium. Your messages flow smoothly into your inbox and wait patiently until you want to read them.

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) makes reading blogs just as convenient as reading email. You can do it whenever, however and wherever you want.

In the past, if you wanted to keep up with 10 different websites (for example: local and national news outlets, industry trade outlets, a sports website, a blog about gardening, etc.) you had to visit all 10 to check for new information.  That was slow, and if a website hadn’t been updated, it was a waste of time.

Now, rather than visiting the same websites over and over again, you can ask those websites – at least the ones that have implemented this increasingly common RSS technology – to notify you when new content has appeared.

Here’s how:

1. Establish Your Blog “Reader”
The equivalent of an inbox for your email, your blog reader will become the virtual repository for all of the blog posts you receive.

All you need to do is open a free account on one of the many easy-to-use online blog readers.  Examples include Google Reader, NetVibes and Bloglines.  Each one offers a user-friendly setup process that takes less than 10 minutes.

The amount of time your reader will save you is immeasurable!  I assure you, it’s worth it.

2. Subscribe to Blogs or Websites with an RSS Feed
Any website that displays the RSS image (shown above) offers an RSS feed.  There are two easy ways to subscribe:

Either…

Click the RSS button – In many cases, once you click the button, the website will ask you to select your reader from a list.  Simply click the icon of whichever reader you are using (Google Reader, NetVibes, Bloglines, or other), and you’re all set.

Or…

Copy/paste the site’s web address into your blog reader – In some cases, clicking the RSS button will take you to a page of meaningless text (Note: Although it looks wacky to you, this is exactly the “feed” text that your blog reader will interpret for you).  Once you arrive on the page of text, simply copy the web address from the top bar of the window (For example: http://www.lovell.com/blog/?feed=rss2) and paste it into your blog reader wherever it says Add Subscription, Add Content or Add Feed.

3. Visit Your Reader for Fresh Web Content
Once you’ve successfully subscribed to several RSS feeds, the new content posted to each website will automatically flow directly into your new blog reader forever (or, until you ask it to stop by clicking “unsubscribe” in your reader).

Want to Skip it All and Subscribe via Email?
Of course, I’ll admit that establishing a blog reader requires a little time.  Fortunately, many blogs will allow you to subscribe via email.  Just look for the little email icon and enter your email address.  Then, you’ll receive all new blog posts via email.

Not yet subscribed to Lovell Links?  Just hover your mouse over the +Subscribe button above and you’ll be able to subscribe to our blog via RSS or email.

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Who Reads Blogs, Anyway?

The explosive popularity of blogs and the myriad other online outlets has secured this new but influential medium a seat at a table it has never before graced – the boardroom table. Every executive’s first question? “Who reads blogs, anyway?”

What they’re usually wondering is, “Can these new online media really influence my target audience?” This question does not have a simple answer, but it has a very important one, especially if the executive plans to be in business five years from now.

“Can it influence your audience today? Probably. Tomorrow? Absolutely.”

As we speak, blog readership is rapidly growing among American adults. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 33% of Internet users read blogs. In 2003, Pew reported that only 13% of Internet users had ever visited a blog. Growth at this rate for the next five years would essentially mean all Internet users will be reading blogs. So, why wouldn’t an executive use this medium to communicate?

For a visual snapshot of the growing popularity of online media, we can turn to Google Trends, a service that graphs the popularity of various search terms. The following graphic compares the number of Google users who searched for “blog,” “newspaper,” and “twitter” during the past five years.

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Here, we can see that Google searches for “blog” outpaced searches for “newspaper” in early 2005 and never looked back. Even more telling, searches for “Twitter,” an even newer online medium, are growing at an astounding rate.

To further illustrate the point, we can add “Facebook” to the graph. Because Facebook.com began as a resource for college students, its user base can offer a clear picture of how tomorrow’s business leaders are using the Internet today.

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The growth is impressive to say the least.

Business executives who ignore this trend do so at their own peril, because even though today’s top prospects may not currently read blogs on a daily basis, they will soon. And, tomorrow’s top prospects already are.

If you’re wondering how to prepare yourself (or your boss) for the coming wave of blog-reading business leaders, stay tuned. That will be the topic of an upcoming post. To make sure you don’t miss it, subscribe to our RSS feed by clicking the “+Subscribe” button at the top right corner of this page.

Or, if you want to talk right away about how to beef up your online media strategy, give us a call or send us an email. We’d love to hear from you.

Also, I’m curious, have you PR and marketing pros out there seen an increased interest from top management regarding blogs, Twitter and other new media? Let me know in the comment box below.

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