Quick hits: Pinterest, Twitter and what is Carnival thinking???

Some quick hitters for a Tuesday:

We (Britt Farrah @saidlikefarrah) and I started our second semester teaching social media at VCU yesterday some interesting observations from questions we asked our predominantly PR majors…

  • Most of them preferred Twitter over Facebook and other social media platforms.  In the couple of years that I’ve been asking college students this question, this is the first time ever that they selected Twitter.  In fact, this is the first time that most of the class even was “on” Twitter.  Maybe this is because the class is made up of PR majors but maybe this is a change in social media course.  We shall see….
  • I asked if they ever heard of Pinterest (my new social media obsession) and not a surprise but most of the women raised their hands.  The “pinning” platform is all the rage of the female set.  What was surprising is how some of the women expressed an almost obsessive relationship with the platform, spending hours pinning.  I for one am waiting for my Gentlemint invite to come in the email.

Finally, not related to the class but to PR in general, is Carnival Cruise lines smoking crack or what?

All I got on a Tuesday….you?

Is Facebook getting way to complicated?

Great time yesterday presenting for our client, Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, at two marketing/communications seminars about the current state of social media.  These sessions, which the FCEDA provides to anyone, are a great way for businesses and organizations large and small to learn the latest about advertising, PR, social media, etc.

Because of the wide range of businesses and groups represented it’s hard to cover all the bases on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogging, etc. but our main focus for this group was Facebook.  Mainly because of the sheer numbers of Facebook members and the fact that’s where most marketers start to develop their social media communities.

As usual we got lots of questions based on the changes Facebook has made in the last year: Timeline, Ticker, EdgeRank, changes to advertising and privacy.  Frankly after each of the two-hour sessions it was amazing that we didn’t see more heads literally spinning out of the room.

And then last night Facebook launched Facebook Actions, which will add more action verbs to the Facebook experience, making “like” look tame in comparison.

It all got me thinking this morning, is Facebook becoming too complicated for its own good?

I know the end game is about monetizing the platform but by focusing on ways to make money off the big brands will Facebook make it too difficult for the little guy to market to his or her customers?  In addition will all these new walls, tickers, apps and buttons make it too difficult for the core Facebook user, use Facebook period?

One on side, we seem to complain about Facebook changes, get used to them after a while, and then six months later wonder why we even complained in the first place.  But one the other side, when does too much really become too much?

I’d love for you to answer that question in the comment section below.  I’m going to be watching this one pretty carefully in the coming months.

When staying on message makes you look like a schmuck

Okay, crisis communications 101, or really even media relations 101, the first rules we teach students or clients is….create your key messages and whatever you do stay on message.

Unless of course, the act of staying on message makes you look like a schmuck.

Case in point, New York congressman Rep. Anthony Weiner, who for two days now has taken the art of staying on message and is riding it into his own political grave.  The background story is someone tweeted a picture of a man in his underwear from Weiner’s Twitter account to a female college student in Seattle.  Weiner denies he sent it and claims it was likely a Twitter hack.  But here is how it handled an Capitol Hill news briefing to address the “scandal.”


“If I was giving a speech in front of 45,000 people….and someone threw a pie….”  Please.

So in seven minutes plus, he tried to tell that story three times, more than antagonized the media that covers him daily, and still didn’t answer the question.

The punchline is because of those seven minutes, Weiner had to spend the whole day the following day doing one-on-one interviews with the media to do damage control.

Sometimes as PR folks we need to learn that standing behind the written word, in this case, the Congressman’s office had first put out statements, is all you can do until you are able to fully answer a question.  Stay you’re doing an investigation, do it, release the results, if he’s clean you’re done, if he’s not you’ve got a bigger problem.

By trotting him out with the “pie throwing story” and telling him to stay on message, you extended the story by three days and made him look awful.

Throwing Weiner to the wolves with an analogy and a prayer didn’t do him or his political career any good.

Would love to hear your thoughts on how they are handing this “crisis.”


The Final Four. Send someone and follow @cammuncations

We will forever blame George Mason.  It’s their fault.

You see GMU is Steve Cummings alma mater and GMU basketball is the only organized sport he follows.

It was clear to us that as his employers of a business named after a sports icon we were left with one choice.  Send him to Indianapolis.

So we did and it was an experience that he will never forget.

Imagine our dilemma this year with three UR grads and four VCU alums.  Not that we were rooting for Kansas on Friday but that lightened our load a little bit.  But this morning we told our four VCU grads that we would buy one travel package and that one of them could go to the games.

Imagine our horror when initially all of them said they couldn’t go.  It was a combination of work-related and personal issues that forced that resounding no.  After some consultation with their co-workers, Cameron McPherson emerged as the lucky Ram who will board the charter jet on Friday.


Cam will live tweet @cammunications



Cam will send us pictures and live tweet his experiences.  We will live vicariously through him.

We urge other Richmond-area employers to consider this as well.  Based on our past experience this is a great time not only for the person who goes but for those back at home who can experience these games through their friend.

So Richmond, send someone to Houston.  And “Go, Rams, Go!!!”

Twitter. Dead.

More than one person has come back to me/Sonali after our PRSA Richmond presentation concerned and surprised about our remarks about the future of Twitter.

The interesting thing they told us is after those remarks they spoke to others who agreed with us.

For those who weren’t there, we pretty much said that Twitter was dead.

I know, pretty dangerous blanket statement, huh?

So here’s what we meant (and by we in this case, I mean me because Sonali isn’t looking over my shoulder right now):

  • Twitter has become difficult:  There was a time where you could meet new people, have insightful comments and linked retweeted, engage in conversation.  That has become more and more difficult on Twitter likely because of its growth.  There is too much broadcasting and not enough conversing.  There is too much clutter and spam.  There was a time where a valuable tweet with a link to a cool article was met with conversation and re-tweet.  Now?  Bupkis.
  • Twitter has become siloed:   Which is not necessarily a bad thing, btw.  I am more likely to be talking to my Rutgers friends, or my #nightlybaconchat buddies on Twitter because hashtags make that easy.  Those silos make continuing long-standing conversations easy, it makes starting new conversations hard.
  • Facebook is easy:  And it now incorporates Twitter.  Our colleague Caroline Platt says Facebook has become “the mall of social media” where everything is available and within walking distance.  People will gravitate to where everything and everybody is and by extension stay away from where there are too many detours or boarded up storefronts.
  • Twitter is too constant:  The stream never dies and even with searches and filters it can be too hard to maintain and keep up with.

These are just some of my off-the-top-of-my-head reasons.

For those not willing to buy into my argument, here are some reasons that there still may be some hope:

  • It is still a great way to find specific people in specific areas:  You can track down journalists and others in specific categories using third-party tools like Listorious.com and Twellow.com.  The challenge then is to engage those folks in a meaningful conversation.  My argument is that given the breadth of Twitter, that is now much harder than it was two years ago.
  • Twitter is still a great place to share an event:  the Super Bowl, the Grammys, the Oscars, the overthrow of a middle eastern country, Twitter is great for breaking news and reaction.
  • People that want to break news on their own.  See: professional athletes and celebrities.

What I haven’t really addressed so far is brands.  I’m just not seeing it.  Maybe for monitoring for reputation management purposes?  But for branding, engagement, conversation and eventually social commerce,  I’m just not seeing it.

Sorry, Twitter.  After two years as a pretty active user I will continue to tweet every night on my iPad to my friends, neighbors, TweetChat friends and colleagues.  But call me back when I can once again through a quality tweet out into the vast wilderness and get a valuable replay that starts a beautiful friendship.

Okay Twitter lovers, I’m braced for your comments.  Tweet away.  Maybe I will hear you.



Our #PRSARVA presentation

Thanks again from both me and Sonali Shetty for our warm welcome at PRSA Richmond.

We had a great time presenting our thoughts on the social media and digital landscape.

For those who missed it, here’s our Hodges Digital Strategies slide presentation…

The highlights of our POV include:

  • PR is “winning” the social media battle (pandering to the audience, I know) because PR is used to be the leaders in content creation.
  • The days of just creating a Facebook page and seeing people flock to it is over.  You need custom landing pages and ways to engage with your audience.  You also need to cross promote using a combination of traditional advertising, PR, online, email, direct and Facebook marketing/advertising.  This is what drives community growth and engagement.
  • You need to be everywhere since everyone is somewhere.  We call this mulitchanneling.  You need to provide consistently branded messaging across the platform spectrum ranging from media relations across to mobile apps.
  • Mobile is growing so think about mobile-optimized websites and apps.  Also don’t try to be all things to all people as you create your apps.  Thing of the “must haves” and add-on only a few bells and whistles at least at the beginning.
  • Video creation and conferencing will explode with the anticipated arrival of iPad 2 and companies like Cisco creating home versions of video conference hardware.
  • This year will be “tipping point” years for platforms like Twitter and FourSquare especially for business and brand applications, while “deals” and coupon platforms will be the ones to watch.
  • There are a number of “flavors of the month,” like Quora that bear watching.
  • New growing trends include Visual Search and E and F-Commerce that will become more available online and on mobile devices.
  • Think about the difference of B2B and B2C and how you should prioritize your social media presence depending on which you represent.

A lot of stuff to cover, I know so thanks again for all you came, asked questions and participated.

Feel free you use and share the slides, which are available here and on slideshare.net.


2011: The year of the Tablet

So we gave my in-laws an iPad for Christmas.

I love my in-laws, but when my wife first suggested that we and her uncle go dutch on the iPad for my in-laws I gave her one of those looks.

You know the look.

My in-laws are wonderful but they’re the folks in the family who needed me or my brother-in-law to come over to fix the blinking clock on the VCR.

But my wife consulted her uncle who swore that each of her parents played with his iPad when they visited him.  So we bought the iPad.

And then an interesting thing happened, a week later we talked her my sister-in-law who said that each of her parents spent the whole week on the iPad checking the internet and playing games we had loaded for them.

And that is why 2011 will be the “Year of the Tablet.”

Of course, that’s not the only reason.  This week at the Consumer Electronics Show, more tablets will be introduced to entice the masses.  Some will be smaller than the iPad and other will run on the Android operating system.  But they will offer similar alternatives that Droid phones have offered to iPhones.  Experts expect tablet sales to quadruple in 2011.  They have already eaten into the Netbook market.

And of course, that’s all before the iPad2 launches later this year.

What does that mean for us in marketing and PR?

  • We need to understand how people use their tablets.  They are a great tool to check emails and for internet use.  But it is through Apps that they really come to life.  If your brand does not have an App you will be missing on the great tablet opportunity.
  • If not an App make sure your website is optimized for mobile use.  You may also want to consider how extensive you want to go down the “Flash” road, as flash-heavy websites are still no good for use on Apple products.  This may be mitigated by the growing Android tablet market.
  • If they are better “web-access” tools, they are also better social media platform tools, right?  For the most part.  It depends on how people access their social media platform of choice, through the web or through an App.  For example, Facebook has a much richer tablet (and mobile) experience on the web than through Apps.  On the web you can access custom landing pages, on Apps not so much.  The bottom line is if you think of a tablet as a larger smartphone (more on that coming), and people use their smartphones to check in or update status, then the tablet provides a bigger screen and better experience to Facebook, Tweet, Foursquare, whatever…on.
  • If you believe that the iPad2 will include two cameras, we are then just a short step away from your tablet becoming your videophone, with a much bigger screen.  The new Skype App just released for iPhone is a step in that direction.
  • The bottom line is there are two ways to look at how we communicate to folks online.  First is which platform they use, websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Second is which devices they use to access them, desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets.  Brands need to “be” on all these places and they need to offer what consumers and fans want, interactivity, information, offers, etc.

So if you agree that 2010 was the Year of Mobile, 2011 is the Year of the Tablet, or Year of Mobile2, the sequel.  The tablet enables mobile but in a larger-screen way.  For communicators who want to extend their brands, understanding how people use these devices is critical since people not only take them from meeting to meeting but from room to room.

If you haven’t figured out a way for your brand to have a “tablet home” now is the time.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

The birth of Hodges Digital Strategies

This is a blog post that is more than two years in the making.

Past posts have alluded to growth at The Hodges Partnership, mainly focusing on the new two-story addition to the back of our Shockoe Bottom home.  But I have hinted at something more, and here it is.

Today I’d like to announce the creation of a second business under the Hodges umbrella, Hodges Digital Strategies.

HDS is the product of a two-year journey we’re taken with a number of folks including our new business partner in the venture, Sonali Shetty and a number of clients who have jumped into this new digital and social world with us with both feet.  Some of those clients include AMF Bowling, SnagAJob.com, Carpenter, Virginia Farm Bureau Insurance, ChildFund International and CarMax, all of whom at varying levels are exploring way to reach audiences online, create community and broaden their communications strategies to include digital, social and mobile platforms and everything in between.

As I have written before, I am a big believer that PR firms are well positioned to guide clients through this newer world because we have a great history of content creation for communications programs. Some PR firms have struggled because while they know what should be done to communication on platforms as diverse as Facebook, Twitter, websites, and iPhones, they lack the design and technological development capabilities to handle the entire assignment for clients.  This is where we hope to succeed with HDS by marrying the power of public relations and technology and providing seamless strategies under one umbrella.

Through our communications, design and development capabilities we can create “digital outposts” for a brand with strategies born out of our public relations experience, delivered across all online and digital platforms.

Specifically HDS will:

  • Build custom websites and web applications
  • Build custom experiences on social media platforms, like branded custom landing pages on Facebook and use contests, games, etc. to leverage its viral nature.  Among our team is one of the first third-party Facebook developers so we have the experience needed to deliver.
  • Build iPhone, iPad and Droid apps for smartphones.  We’re in the beginning stages of building an iPhone/iPad app for Rutgers University athletics.
  • Provide analytics to see how successful your program is.
  • Counsel on social media strategy including everything from initial listening programs, to ongoing monitoring for reputation management issues, to providing advice on how to grow and interact with communities and consumers including social commerce and geo-location programs with Foursquare, etc.
  • Provide strategy and counsel on online video projects.

The combination of all these specialties will help a client leverage their potential audience and engage and interact with them wherever they are.

This coupled with The Hodges Partnership (no the traditional PR side is not going away by a long shot), will allow clients to reach consumers through traditional media (media relations/communications), online (through media relations/communications, social media platforms and web development) and on their mobile devices (through media relations, social media platforms and mobile sites and apps).

All under one Hodges umbrella, which provides one consistent communications strategy and of course, lower overhead and costs.

Speaking of which, we are also offering a small business/non-profit product for Facebook based on feedback we’ve received from a number of folks as well.

So there’s the news.  I know it was a little “salesy” but we’ve been holding this in for so long we wanted to make sure we told our story effectively because as we tell our clients, “you only have one time to launch, so you better communicate effectively.”

We’re very excited about this and we’re happy to answer any questions or provide initial consultation.

Again, we think that PR is perfectly positioned to lead in the digital world, and we’re putting our money where our opinion is.

Thanks for all your support these past eight years and we hope the Hodges brand of companies is around for a whole lot more.

Three things to brag about…

The most difficult thing about creating a “personal” brand is deciding when to cash in on the equity you have built with it for business purposes.  For that reason I have been careful over the life of this blog not to be overly promotional about the work we do at The Hodges Partnership.

It’s not because I’m not incredibly proud of the work we do, but because I didn’t want this blog to just be a promotional tool for the agency.

The same goes for my personal account on Twitter.  That’s been a big mix of PR, social media and personal conversations with a lot of Mets, Jets and Springsteen mixed it.

It’s because of that and also the desire of the other folks at THP for share their thoughts that we have launched the official THP Twitter account @hodgestweets.  Many Hodgers including myself will be the collective voice behind the avatar and we hope to develop our own company personality in the coming days and months.

In order to get the ball rolling, we’re giving away and iPad 3G to those who follow us and retweet the contest promo that can be easily found on Twitter.

We also plan to launch a Hodges blog that will give everyone a “peek behind the gong” and introduce other talented people and voices and the work they do to make me and Josh look good every day.

In that spirit there are two other things I want to crow about. There’s a great story in today’s Times-Dispatch on Commonwealth ChalleNGe, a tremendous “last chance” program for Virginia’s troubled teens.  ChalleNGe is a long-time THP client and this series of columns by Bill Lohmann and Alexa Edlund is due primarily to Sean Ryan’s hand work on the account.  Congrats to Sean.

Also, in the last two years as we have learned and worked on various social media projects perhaps nothing has made me more proud than the creation of #steakchatrva, the social media events we work on for Morton’s. (Shout out to Jason and Ann Marie)

The premise is simple, get a half a dozen people together talking about an important topic they know about over a steak dinner and let the whole world eavesdrop online.  Past “steakchats” have included talks about sports, the arts, economic development.  But perhaps none of these conversations is as important as the one coming up on June 22, when the topic is “The Future of Richmond’s Past.”

The group at the table is some of the key thought leaders and drivers of the conversation of Richmond’s past, present and future as we mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation.  We expect the conversation to be enlightening.  You have the ability to listen and partake through the live blogs and live chats provided by folks like John Sarvay and our partners at Richmond.com.

We hope to expand such events for clients in the future through the use of online and mobile technology.

We’re going to have some exciting announcements in the near future about THP’s expansion into this area, but that’s for another blog post….isn’t it??? 🙂

Thanks to everyone.

The PR social media crystal ball

First off, thanks again to the PRSA for asking me to present to their Thursday breakfast meeting.  It was a great group of familiar and new faces and hopefully what I talked about was helpful.

For those who couldn’t attend, I thought I’d recap here.  I will also share my presentation though Slideshare, just click here and you can view and download although you may need to become a Slidshare member to do it.

For the presentation I was asked to share my thoughts on “what’s next” for social media.  Anyone who truly knows the answer that question is much smarter than me and likely lying but I took a shot and here’s what I came up with.

  1. Conversing and not broadcasting:  Now that you have gathered friends and followers (and want to increase those numbers) you need to truly engage them, not just throw things at them — in short you need to provide value.  Share good information, teach them.  On Facebook use custom landing pages–here’s the one THP and Compleo did for National Harbor (now that Facebook will once again let you do that), offer games and contests with cool prizes (here’s our current contest for SnagAJob.com), do ticket giveaways on your wall.  Have fun.  But most importantly…START A BLOG.  The blog is the best way to engage, share your                       expertise and opinion and begin a conversation.
  2. Geolocation: Foursquare, Yelp, Gowalla, if you are not familiar with them you should be.  On those platforms, people tell other people where they are and what they are doing.  And in some weird social media peer pressure twist of fate through check-in, badges and reviews people are driven to the places and businesses frequented by their friends.  Retailers and businesses are offering real world rewards to encourage more traffic and check-ins as a way to drive more traffic and PRESTO, a new social phenomenon is born.
  3. Privacy: What the head of Facebook publicly states he doesn’t believe in privacy, we’re all in trouble.  For companies and organizations the blur between personal and professional on social media means new rules for them and their employees.  In the social media world we are all ambassadors of all organizations we represent, we don’t have the luxuries that we used to have to say the things online that we’d like to.
  4. Online vs. Mobile: In this day of limited marketing budgets and an increasing number of online devices, where should companies spend their money?  The answer is where their customers or member are the most.  In the new world that may not be on the computer but on their tablet or on their phone.  This may force companies and organizations to make choices between their websites and their mobile APPs.  If you could only afford one, which one would you choose?  And oh, don’t forget about QR codes.
  5. Measurement: Apologies to my friends at social media measurement companies but I still think you have a way to go.  There is no simple solution in this space.  There is no industry standard.  We still have to rely on the old standards of “what is my goal?” and “how can I use social media to reach that goal?”  You also must create your own cadre of online tools to review and manage your organization’s reputation.  The companies are making strides here, but are not there quite yet.
  6. Live “U”casting: We have live blogged, live tweeted, and podcasted but have we really taken advantage of services like Ustream or Justin.tv.  What I can broadcast live video directly from my Droid online for all the world to see as I can now, the PR implications are frightening.
  7. It’s not social media, it’s just marketing: Just like direct and online before it, social media is not an add-on anymore, it is official a key part of the marketing mix, the sooner we treat it that way, the better for all of us and our clients.

Okay, so that’s my best shot.  If you disagree please comment, if you think I’m missing something I’d love to hear it.

The only certainty is the second we feel comfortable Facebook or someone else will pull the rug out from us so be flexible and be ready for the next big thing.  It is likely right around the corner.

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