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How To Be A Human 101

clip_image002I read a lot, well no I take that back, I scan a lot…a lot of industry and food newsletters, RSS feeds and blogs, some of which I do actually read! Recently I was asked what social media platforms have we launched on behalf of our food clients and I was pleased to be able to answer “all” – including mobile web sites, micro sites, blogs, YouTube channels, digital apps and of course Facebook and Twitter. I’ve no doubt there are a couple of abandoned MySpace pages out there too! These tools are implicit components of our communications tool kit and we usclip_image004e them in a variety of ways to create strategic 360 degree campaigns. Even when our teams are not responsible for actual social media postings, we still provide the content so all campaign elements are fully integrated. What makes it all so interesting is that no two brands/products are alike and what can work for one may not work for another, thankfully, social media is flexible. While it’s not exactly ol’ hat, social media has certainly lost some of its glossy new shine. Therefore, why is it that I still see lots of  articles about the need to adopt social media and tips on how to get started. Seriously? Today’s challenge is not how to get on board but how to maximize and leverage the popularity of these platforms without getting distracted or drowning in the chatter.  The key to social media is being ‘social’ which means engaging in conversations and not just standing on the side lines shouting out your branded messages. Interaction is key. If every Facebook post or tweet is about your brand, you will sound like a self-absorbed teenager and people will get bored quickly. They may not un-like or stop following you, but they will simply ignore you. You will be irrelevant. Adam Singer put it very well, “Conversations are a currency of the web…those who continuously start conversations in a niche become referential for the rest of that niche.” clip_image006 While you want to be a conversation starter, you also need to listen, people like good listeners both on- and off-line. There is nothing wrong with sharing ideas and responding to other conversation threads, but the trick is to add to the conversation, not just repeat it. Comments and honest feedback prompt engagement and that in turn attracts more to your conversations. That’s why I read (and scan) through so many blogs and articles. I want to identify the current culinary influencers who useCFA Level 1 study materials, understand their opinions and know their passions. I want to know their numbers as well, along with their level and type of engagement with their audiences, that’s the business side, but more importantly I want to learn and be a good friend. The whole “the web is a conversation” thing is nothing new.  It’s all about building relationships – a virtual ‘How to be a Human 101’ exercise! We are social animals after all!

Make a Facebook Fix…in Five Minutes

hospital facebook A recent study suggests that perhaps hospitals aren’t using social media to its full advantage.  Of 120 hospitals on Facebook, less than 40 percent posted daily.  In addition, less than half used Facebook’s event calendar, and 58 percent had fewer than 1,000 fans. Perhaps most importantly, a staggering 80 percent did not use Facebook’s discussion board, an important feature for connecting with real people.  Facebook provides hospitals an opportunity to refocus on building relationships, and when it comes to making friends, it’s the little things that count. Starting with a simple five-minute fix, hospitals can turn the tide.  Here are three suggestions for boosting activity in a flash: Say Hi Social media is only as effective as the activity of the user. Orlando Health does a great job not only posting daily, but integrating multiple forums for visitors to become more involved with the organization. Take five minutes to open your discussion board and invite some conversation.Hi Post Photos For the first time, people can be recognized as individuals rather than a demographic group. Hospitals have the opportunity to build a community where people share and connect as individuals.  Start your effort by sharing photos of real people.  Scour your newsletter, annual report and website to post your existing photos to Facebook.  Connecting with people is what Facebook is all about, and your page should reflect that. Give It Grounding While Facebook has many interesting functions, it cannot stand alone. As with all marketing tools, hospitals need to take an integrated approach to using social media.  Add a link your hospital’s Facebook page from your homepage, or include the Facebook stamp in an ad. When you’re backed by a solid strategy, the difference between a good social media campaign and a great one is five minute activities like these. Social media can make a huge difference for hospitals if they employ the tools to their potential.

Poor Harvest for Content Farms: Will Google’s new Algorithm Change the Online Playing Field?

THE BOOZE BIN not-content-farmsTo the delight of Googlers everywhere, the leading search engine Googleannounced a shiny new algorithm last Friday, which promised “to reduce rankings for low-quality” content farm sites, and “provide better rankings for high-quality…sites with original content and information.” Using SEO to their advantage, content farms not only hire droves of writers to increase their reader page views, but also aggregate and republish an endless flow of original content from other sites (without permission). This strategy lands them on page one of a Google search, whereas the original author/website is sequestered to page two or three. Google’s announcement spoke of reducing low-quality site rankings and maintaining a “healthy web ecosystem” with a greater emphasis on original content. Their definition of low quality, “sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful,” beckons the question: how does the algorithm decide what is and isn’t useful? When I Google terms like “wine” and “social media,” would the search engine rank the Wikipedia definition as the most useful, or Wine Enthusiast magazine’s most recent article on the subject? ZDNet tech blogger, Larry Dignan fears “there’s a slippery slope here where Google acts as the Web’s judge and jury.” Content ScraperWhile bloggers and online writers are likely ecstatic about this news, big business content aggregators, such as the ever-popular Huffington Postand Demand Media are not exactly breaking open the bubbly. Bottom line, content farming is big business, with high ranking and page views increasing sites’ advertising revenues. According to The Washington Post, “Demand Media fetched$1.9 billion in its initial public offering, and the Huffington Post’s aptitude for SEO-driven programming–much more so than its stable of A-list bloggers or its original reporting–explains why AOL is paying $315 million for the site.” Stirrings about Google’s official announcement have reached as far as the wine industry, and the new algorithm will possibly effect one of the most popular and highly ranked wine review site, Snooth. One of the most popular wine blogs, Dr. Vino, reported yesterday on Google’s announcement, wondering “what would happened to, the wine web site that seems to be a champion of SEO, ranking high in the organic search results yet providing so little useful information that they were found to be scraping content since 2007 to populate some pages.” While Dr. Vino reports Snooth’s page views have declined somewhat, they still appear at the top of the Google charts for wine searches. It seems some sites were more affected than others, so perhaps not all sites are created equal when it comes to how Google now defines high and low-quality sites. To find out how this affects your site, here’s a good article and way to track the changes.   Photos courtesy of Smackdown, and Hudson Horizons.

New Research: Search Marketing Vs. Social Media or Search + Social Media?

Consumers Increasingly Use Search + Social to Make Buying Decisions seearch-sociallA new report from GroupM and comScore indicates that search engine marketing and social media combined has a huge impact on consumers’ purchasing decision online. It’s worth reading the entire report to understand how SEO and social are interdependent in driving conversion rates. GroupM and comScore looked at consumer behavior associated with purchase decisions in the electronics/telecommunications and consumer packaged goods categories. While a whopping 86 percent of consumers say search engines are very important in their buying process, social media plays an equally critical role in influencing their decision. Some key findings from the report that you might want to consider include:
  • Forty percent of consumers who use search in their path to purchase are motivated to use social media to further their decision making process.
  • More than a quarter of those surveyed (28 percent) said sites such asYouTube, Facebook, and Twitter help them learn about new brands and products.
  • Thirty percent said they used social media to eliminate brands from contention.
  • Two most important influentials in social media affecting purchases are user reviews and category blogs, rather than Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Picture-41-500x305Observations on search vs. social and the combination of the two:
  • Fifty one percent of consumers use search alone in their buying process
  • Forty eight percent combine search and social in the buying process
  • Only one percent of conversions are made purely through social media without search. This suggests that social media is not yet a stand-alone conduit for consumer’s decision-making process.
  • Another key observation is that only 24 percent started their buying with a brand site.
Likelihood of consumers to follow brands via social media
  • 64 percent of consumers are likely to follow a brand after a purchase.
  • Furthermore, 74 percent of consumers use a Facebook brand page as the desired format for following a brand for future engagement.
  • Consumers prefer to stay engaged with content in the form of videos and tweets about and from the brand.
  • Earned social media (user reviews, blog comments) plays an important role in the effort for brands to foster consumer loyalty.
The study validates the complimentary relationship between search and social in affecting buying behavior and it’s important to note that while consumers use  Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to FIND information, they rely heavily on earned media, user reviews to BUY. Here’s a really good post from ClickZ on “Search Marketing and Social Media the Perfect Couple,” that offers practical tips on how to inetgrate social media efforts with SEO. Tell us about how you are combining search and social in your marketing efforts. [Image courtesy: Top Rank Blog and GroupM.]

Food Communications Legend, Anita Fial, Turns the Page

For decades there has been a distinctive voice in food communications. That will be changing next week, as my boss and mentor, Anita Fial, retires and begins the next chapter in her life. Her legacy will continue through all of the people she has inspired to work hard, follow through on your commitments and never stop learning. Anita and Avanelle in the Test KitchenAnita’s career began in the test kitchens at Lewis & Neale, where she put her home economist degree to good use working for clients such as the American Spice Trade Association and American Mushroom Institute among other food industries. Her interest always went beyond the test kitchen, and so did her career. She eagerly became the “runner” making food press deliveries to editors throughout New York where she developed relationships and built trust. This led to travel around the country, meeting with newspaper editors and making television appearances for clients. She has always been a people person, and relished opportunities to get out of the kitchen. She worked for Avanelle Day at the time, but it was really Nancy Webb who helped mentor her, as Anita looked to what’s next. As she puts it, “I wanted to drive my own buggy” and that meant account work. She excelled at that, and worked her way up through the ranks to eventually become president and sole owner of Lewis & Neale, opting to keep the name she helped build into a leader in food marketing. Anita‘s drive for perfection,, unrelenting dedication, passion and integrity have been admired and appreciated by colleagues, clients and journalists alike.. She will be thought of every time we fire up the test kitchen, learn about a new productProsecco Event- 2005 Cipriani, 23rd and 5th 016 or meet with a long-time client to discuss what’s next. Her passion for servicing the client first is evident when you look at those that we have had the pleasure to work with for over 10 years. Always operating with the utmost integrity, she is disturbed by the unethical behavior that can occur in our industry. Anita has always preached “you must believe in what you are promoting” to the point where she has walked away from clients who wanted her to sacrifice her integrity. It is no wonder she is beloved and respected in the industry. A pioneer for the professional mother, Anita continues to be an inspiration and mentor for young mothers in our office who find a balance between work and family. Raising two children while rising to the top of the corporate world is not unusual today, though still not as common as Anita would like to see, but it was unheard of then. Of course Anita has never been one to shy away from something just because it is difficult. Her advice for young people in the industry: “Get out to conferences, conventions, meetings, anywhere that you get a chance to interact with others in the industry. What you learn and the relationships you build there cannot be done sitting behind a desk.” Anita at 3 years oldIt was 1954 when Anita joined Lewis & Neale as a test kitchen assistant. She may tell you she was 3 at the time. In fact it was then Bernard L. Lewis, Inc., formerly Publicity Associates, founded byAmy Vanderbilt. In 1956, Marshall Neale became a partner and the name changed. Fifty-five years later, Lewis & Neale continues to focus on food communications, education and promotion as the food/nutrition practice of CRT/tanaka. When Lewis & Neale began, it was not typical for an agency to have home economists on staff and a test kitchen in the office. Today, we continue to distinguish ourselves with a newly built testing and demonstration kitchen and our staff RD and senior vice president, Ruth Lowenberg, who will take the reins of the Lewis & Neale food division. It was nearly 12 years ago that I began my career in food marketing, hired by Anita who saw potential in a newly graduated politics major who used to cook for his dinners in college. Much like Anita’s career at Lewis & Neale, I began at the entry level. She has always honored her beginnings by mentoring numerous young people who worked for her as well as chefs, writers and personalities who she believed in long before the country knew them. Those of us who have had the privilege to know her can all honor her impactful and memorable career by always nurturing and encouraging those around us to bigger and better things. At CRT/tanaka, we call that WhatCanBe, and in that spirit, the agency is establishing a scholarship in Anita’s honor to support continuing education and professional development. It will be administered through the International Foodservice Editorial Council (IFEC), an organization Anita has been involved with her entire career. If you are interested in finding out more about it, or how to contribute, please email me at Best wishes Anita as you see the world and find time to do all those things you put off over the years to serve your clients and the industry. We look forward to your ongoing guidance and mentorship as you continue to provide good counsel. You didn’t think she’d completely retire, did you? Please share your favorite Anita story in the comments.

Is your social media policy leaving employees out in the cold?

Join us on Facebook…  unless you work here. Companies are instituting social media policies to create an open environment, but with a few parameters.  Hospitals, on the other hand, are afraid to allow access to social networks from within the hospital.  The message is loud and clear: Employees can’t be trusted. To be fair, there’s more at risk for hospitals. Patient privacy and malpractice suits are chief concerns related to social media access. But health care has its own system of checks and balances to improve the situation.  Lee Aase describes the trifecta of people who can stop or delay social media in health care: IT, Legal and Marketing. These three can create an open and trusting environment or keep social media stuck in a Bermuda Triangle of policy.  Here are the steps marketing professionals can take to bridge the gap: Speak Foreign Languages Search for common ground with the legal department and work together to create an open, but iron-clad social media policy. We know HIPAA violations aren’t exactly running rampant, and social media isn’t always the culprit.  The Department of Health and Human Services recently levied Cignet Health with a $4.3M penalty for denying patient access to medical records goes to show that hospitals should err on the side of access. Conversely, to get IT’s attention, you may have to wax poetic about bandwidth. Elevate the Issue Social media creates an environment where issues and interests bubble up from a small, but passionate group of people.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for social media policy and access.  It’s a top-down decision, and CEOs can break down roadblocks to access. If the executive team doesn’t “get it,” it’s up to PR to educate them.  Only then will it be a priority. Align with Human Resources There is concern that social media access will result in decreased productivityamong hospital staff.  But it’s time to trust employees.  With specific guidelines for use established, HR can address any abuse. Legal and IT can set up roadblocks, but ultimately, marketing owns social media. What’s your next move?
THE BOOZE BIN 9_843-apple-macintoshIf you follow the idiom “fish where the fish are,” it might be tempting to focus all your marketing eggs in the Facebook basket with over 600 million users and growing. But the question that naturally follows is: with pools of fish (read: customers) swimming in the Facebook virtual hot tub, why am I still wading in the kiddie pool (translation: has my website become as obsolete as my Apple 2GS)? If a new client or brand is starting out on a limited budget, do they still need a website or can they just skip ahead with a tricked-out Facebook fan page? Spoiler alert: you probably still need both, but here are the pros and cons for each, and if your marketing budget is limited, some good news. FACEBOOK FANS · All the Cool Kids are Doing It: According to a Reuters article, “more than 80 percent of 109 grape growers, distributors, retailers and other wine experts in the California who were questioned in a survey by the Wine Industry Financial Symposium Group and the University of California-Davis Graduate School of Management said they were using Facebook in their business, up from 46 percent in 2009.” If usage nearly doubled in a year’s time among a marketing savvy group, it’s probably no longer a fad. facebook superman· Engaged Audience and Customer Feedback: Websites can be a one-way street, offering brands a great way to put out their message, but receive nothing in return from customers. Facebook, and social media in general, are exactly the opposite, opening the flood gates to feedback (positive and negative) and engagement. According, 8 million users become fans of pages each day. While only a percentage of these will find and fan your page, engagement in this platform is overwhelmingly simpler (and cheaper!) than the advertising, SEO and promotion involved in getting a few thousand people to visit your website every month. · Consolidate and Customize: Not only can you incorporate all of your social media activities onto your Facebook fan page, but you can create fan-only pages or tabs (depending on what version you have), opening up the possibility of traceable promotions, incentives, coupon codes, etc. Here’s another piece of good news for the budget conscious. With various other integrated social mediums as part of your marketing mix, your website doesn’t have to be as elaborate with a million built-in features. Instead, it should now serve more as a well-designed and easy navigable home base for key information. WINNING WEBSITES · Brand Legitimacy: As described above, social media is key to engaging your customer, and much of your online presence can be consolidated onto your Facebook page. A well-designed and simple to navigate website, however, is still necessary to show you are a trustworthy and legitimate brand. While websites are an investment, it still serves as your home base to demonstrate to customers that you mean business. Literally. · Ownership: While it offers amazing bells and whistles, allowing branding, customization and engagement, Facebook owns Facebook (I’m blowing your mind right now, I know). There will always be limitations on how you communicate your message, particularly as a beverage alcohol brand, winery, brewery, etc. You have to play by their rules and can’t control how and when they change the platform design and functionality. Your website may be an investment, but at the end of the day, it’s yours. google-v-facebook-21· SEO, SEO, SEO: One cannot discount Google in this debate. They are the #1 way customers will find your brand and Facebook alone would be a challenge to get you to the top of the page. Social media is a great way to engage existing customers, but when potential customers search for your offering, website SEO is a priority. A well-optimized website with keyword rich content and structure combined with a solid link building strategy are reliable ways to help build stronger page rank. Photos courtesy of Business Week, Salty Waffle and Big Search Blog.

Budget Fight Bodes Ill for Energy

imagesCA6Z9KM2 President Obama unveiled his proposed budget last Monday calling for $1.1 trillion in budget cuts over the next 10 years. But, it also included a 12 percent increase in funding for the Department of Energy forresearch and deployment of renewable energy, electric cars, biofuel, energy efficiency and nuclear technologies. But it’s not likely to happen. Republicans want to see $61 billion in cuts now and both sides are playing out the melodrama of a potential federal shutdown a week from Friday in order to get their way. This game of chicken is not likely to shut the government down, but it is likely to further retard the development of new energy technologies that will boost the U.S. economy and provide environmental benefits while reducing reliance upon federal subsidies to make renewable energy affordable. The proposed Obama budget includes $550 million to fund early-stage clean energy projects; $3.2 billion for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs; $300 million in credit subsidies to provide to back up to $4 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects; and the authority to provide $36 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear power projects.  These budget items address long-tern Administration energy goals like cutting the cost of solar electricity by about 75 percent to roughly $0.06 per kilowatt-hour, or $1 per watt. At $0.06 per kilowatt-hour, this would make solar electricity cost competitive with traditional fossil fuel sources without the need for government subsidies. The Administration wants to promote nuclear power in a big way, and the DOE wants to be able to offer $36 billion in loan guarantees which, combined with its existing ability to provide $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear, would fund six to eight nuclear power projects. The DOE is also $64 million for offshore wind, $50 million for geothermal, and $97 million for small nuclear reactors. To help fund these initiatives, cuts were proposed in other areas.  The federal hydrogen program would see a 41 percent budget cut, or a nearly $70 million reduction. The fossil energy program would see its budget slashed by 45 percent, or $418 million. The DOE would also shutter parts of certain national labs and cut administrative costs by nearly 13 percent, or close to $48 million, across the board. Outside of DOE cuts, Obama also wants to cut tax subsidies for oil, coal and gas industries. As I have noted in earlier posts, while multiple subsidies for fossil fuels have been written as permanent provisions in the tax code, subsidies for renewable energy are time-limited.  This means renewal energy policy must be constantly re-ratified by a fickle Congress, which adds such a high level of uncertainty that it inhibits private investment in renewable energy technology development. Some estimates indicate that between 2002 and 2008, tax breaks and funding to aid fossil fuel companies has totaled over $70.2 billion. Meanwhile, during the past decade, the five biggest oil companies – BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell – have enjoyed profits of almost one trillion dollars. It is time for our government funding to focus on an energy policy that stimulates new and emerging technology development that will drive our economy while creating affordable, cleaner energy.  But, that would require politics to take a back seat to practicality and vision.

Communication Advice from Press Secretaries: President’s Trusted Mouthpiece

White+House+Press+Secretary+Robert+Gibbs+Discusses+2_f_Y66V8C4lAs we celebrate Presidents Day today, I thought of dedicating this post to the nation’s Chief Communication Officer who serves a dual role in providing information to the media, the nation as well as acting as the President’s mouthpiece. Ari Fleischer, former White House Press Secretary to George W. Bush (2001-2003) in his book, ‘Taking the Heat: The President, the Press and My Years in the White House, says,“Serving as the White House press secretary was the most rewarding, engaging, exciting, enjoyable job I could ever imagine holding. It also was the toughest, hardest, most grinding and grueling job I could ever imagine holding. By definition the job was paradoxical. To this day, I don’t know how I could love so much something that seemed so hard to do.” In my last seven or more years in communications and PR, the greatest joy to this day is to see a PR representative in the boardroom providing sound counsel to key decision-makers. PR is NOT just about writing releases, attending community events and scheduling media interviews. The true zenith for a PR pro is when he/she is perceived as the voice of the public and the face of the organization acting like a bridge between the two. But this takes certain leadership and communication traits and here are some tips we could try to imbibe from our former press secretaries: 1. Communicate clearly and effectively: Sounds very basic right? Now picture a crisis situation when the chances are you the PR pro has been invited for the very first time to draft messaging for the President of your company. This is no time for training on the go. The ability to first of all rally your management to see through the customers’ eyes or in a crisis situation, the victims’ eyes and then draft official responses that doesn’t compromise your company’s reputation but at the same time offer a transparent report of the situation demands a high level of clear and effective communication. Every successful leader by default has to be an effective communicator which stems from clear thinking. Now if you want to be in boardroom or the Oval room, trying to provide counsel to your leadership, just multiply the level of your communication effficiency by ten. Former Clinton press secretary, Dee Dee Myers elaborates on this during a speech to Elon University. 2. Learn how to collaborate: The second most important C-letter word after “communication” in order to be considered a trusted counsel for your organization is “Collaboration.” You cannot operate in a vaccum or practice a cowboy management style that doesn’t require a group approach to making decisions. Sometimes a good leader also does a great job of shepherding the team to arrive at the best decision. From a press secretary’s perspective, a collaborative style both within and with the media is what the job demands. Pay careful attention to the choice of words used by William Daley, Chief of Staff in his email announcing the appointment of Jay Carney as President Obama’s new press secretary: “He will bring greater clarity to our structure and roles and will enhance coordination and collaboration among us.” 3. Stay ahead of the 24/7 news cycle: Dana Perino, former press secretary for President George W. Bush makes a good point Scott Mcduring her talk at the George Washington University which was covered by New York Times in a story titled,“Secrets of the White House PressSecretaries. She said, “The worst thing that could happen was to be surprised at the podium.” Thanks to the 24/7 news cycle and social networks like Facebook and Twitter becoming the birthplace of people’s movements (recently witnessed in Egypt), communications officers are now required to stay ahead of the ever changing news cycles and constantly prepare for unexpected twists and turns the media might take on a given topic or situation that has possible implications to your company’s image. 4.  Walk the line between lying and withholding information: Time and again on a daily basis, the press secretary’s number one responsibility is to provide the right information to the media but in matters pertaining to national security or other serious issues, the press secretary is also forced to withhold information. Is this borderline lying? Are you fulfilling your role as the Chief Communication Officer if you withhold information from your key constituents? This is probably a haunting question that every  press secretary deals with especially in crisis situations. Good advice on this dilema comes from Michael McCurry who was Bill Clinton’s press secretary who reflects on his tenure and says, ” it was acceptable at times to “tell the truth slowly,” and that there were times when disclosure “might put someone’s life in jeopardy” or violate “political or diplomatic protocols, but you can never lie,” because doing so would destroy the press secretary’s credibility.” I like how Michael McCurry sums up the role of the nation’s spokesperson which is applicable to pretty much any communications officer’s role in the boardroom, “I’m generally in favor of lowering the temperature in the [briefing] room, you don’t have to win every argument. It’s a place where you have to get your information across and develop long-term relationships… But it’s also so different than it was 15 years ago when I was doing it. It’s much less about substance and so much more about the daily battle on TV.”

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