The Gong

The mostly official blog of the Hodges Partnership.

Apple-Free: HodgePodge for Sept. 12

September 12, 2014 | by Tony Scida

Inbox gajillion

If any part of you making a living depends at all on interacting with journalists, this is required reading: I Read and Replied to Every Single PR Email I Received for a Week.

Dot dot dot

It’s not just you—those text message typing indicators cause all kinds of people all kinds of stress.

Sleep on it

Maybe your friendly neighborhood overachiever really is doing things in her sleep?

As seen on the web

Despite the infomercial-like headline, this advice seems quite useful: The ‘Feynman Technique’ Can Help You Learn Anything Faster.

How to succeed in business while really trying

As a music major who has gone on to gainful non-music-related employment, I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment from Forbes contributor Liz Ryan: Let the Kid Study Music, Already!

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0 commentsPosted in: HodgePodge

One of My Favorite Content Curation Tools – BuzzSumo

September 10, 2014 | by Laura Elizabeth Mann

Working with various clients — from banks to software companies to local RVA groups — keeps me on my toes. Admittedly, I didn’t know much about banking, software or the RVA startup scene before working at Hodges. But, having clients in these areas made me knowledgeable about their businesses, what’s going on in their spaces and what their audience’s needs are.

It’s important not only to know about the companies we work with, but also to stay on top of what’s going on in their industries. Knowing the latest news and topics helps me create interesting, sharable content, and stay in front of trends. Not long ago, Hodger Tony Scida – whom we deemed the office’s “Ombudsman of Life” – clued me into a (free) tool I now use every day: BuzzSumo.

According to their website, BuzzSumo was created out of a desire to see what type of content resonated with the social web.

Here’s why I use BuzzSumo:

What is everybody talking about?

Here’s how it works: Enter a topic in the search bar, like “big data” or “personal finance,” and BuzzSumo shows you the top trending (shared) articles about your topic. For example, in light of recent Virginia news, I searched “McDonnell” and BuzzSumo showed that a post on MSNBC was shared 21,000+ times (20,000 of those shares were on Facebook) and a Huffington Post article was shared 19,000+ times. It’s useful to know what content performed well (i.e. has been shared a lot) when curating content for my clients. If 20,000 people are talking about it on social media — and it’s relevant to my client’s audiences — it’s probably a topic worth blogging about or sharing.

Want just infographics? That’s an option, too.

People are drawn to visual content, and infographics are a great way to share something eye-catching. With BuzzSumo, you can filter searches by type. Sometimes I’m looking for an article, sometimes a video or infographic. With BuzzSumo, you can search for just articles, infographics, guest posts, giveaways, interviews, videos or all of the above.

Filter by date.

BuzzSumo lets users filter search topics by: 24 hours, past week, past month, past six months and past year. This is especially helpful in remaining relevant. When creating a content calendar for the month with topics and articles to share on social media, it’s not very relevant to share an article from 2010. I use BuzzSumo to make sure the topics I plan to share are really news. Also, for one client, I send a daily news roundup of what’s going on in their business space to my team. What about Google Alerts? Well, I use those too. But, using BuzzSumo in conjunction with Google Alerts lets me know what’s in the news and how popular the topic or article is.

Creating content that’s useful, timely and engages your audience can be challenging. Hodgers Emily and Caroline recently gave a presentation as part of our Hodges Starters series on “Demystifying Content.” (If you missed it, check out Jon’s wrap-up here.)  

BuzzSumo is one of my favorite tools to help with content curation and keeping up with news and trends. What are some of your favorite tools? Do tell.

0 commentsPosted in: Social Media

Back to School: HodgePodge for Aug. 29

August 29, 2014 | by Tony Scida

Caesus paratus

Actual researchers at an actual university (as far as I can tell) used actual science to determine what cheeses make the best, perfectly browned pizza topping.


You may have heard that Hello Kitty is apprently not a cat. Twitter freaked out about it a little bit.

Today in publicity stunts

Taco Bell is giving away a “lifetime” supply of free Taco Bell.

That’s a wrap

Tony Soprano is either dead or not dead.

It’s not very insta

Instagram’s new app, Hyperlapse, is pretty fun. Here’s the story behind it.

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Why PR practitioners should care about Facebook’s click bait change

August 27, 2014 | by Lindsay Grant

(You won’t believe how Facebook’s recent change will affect you…)

^See what we did there?

That sigh you heard on Monday was the sound of PR professionals everywhere rejoicing at Facebook’s new “click bait” changes. Finally, content will reach more people due to quality writing, and not because of teasing, deceptive headlines often ending in an ellipsis. Sure, this is another change to Facebook’s frequent algorithm changes, but this is one content creators can get behind because it will impact how brand content is distributed.

At Hodges, we talk a lot about PR being more than media relations. Over the years the profession has evolved and taken the lead in several areas that were once left to our marketing brothers and sisters, such as content creation, social media strategy and lead generation.

Before I go on, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page when it comes to click bait. In the simplest terms, click baiting can be defined as any content designed specifically to gain attention or encourage others to click on a link but usually does not give much information about what the content is beyond the link. It’s an approach some brands use to show a high number of clicks.

After watching behaviors, Facebook’s analytics indicated that people were likely not happy with what they found when they fell for click baiting. Facebook landed at this conclusion based on the time people spent away from Facebook after clicking on the link. If the time was greater, then it showed that the content was valuable. If the person quickly returned to Facebook, then, more than likely, the person was not satisfied with what they found.

So, why should you, a PR practitioner, be happy with these changes? Finally, those hours spent creating editorial calendars with compelling, honest content will now outrank the click-bait links that get a high frequency of clicks, but deliver little value to the person clicking.

And what should you be doing to maximize Facebook’s algorithm configuration? Approach Facebook from the user’s point of view. Your friends aren’t click-baiting you with their recent beach photos, are they? They’re not hiding links to articles they’re sharing. So, neither should you.

To provide value to your brand’s audience post relevant, educational and entertaining content that entices a user to want to click on your easy-to-find link. By doing this, your content will reach more eyes and make a greater impact.

Were you happy to hear about the click bait changes? Have you been waiting for Facebook to do something about this? Comment below.

(Image by: CNET)

1 commentPosted in: Social Marketing  |  Social Media

Jars, Bars and Startups: HodgePodge for Aug. 22

August 22, 2014 | by Tony Scida

Even his pivots have pivots

Stewart Butterfield really wants to make a particular kind of online game. He’s tried and failed twice now. The first failure spawned Flickr. The second attempt has now led to Slack, the hottest boring startup in all the land.

Jarring trends

If it seems like you’ve seen more things in Mason jars lately, it’s not your imagination. In what the New York Times labels a desire for authenticity, demand for the screw-top glass jars has surged in recent years.

Out of the woods

The truly fascinating story of a man who just decided one day to live in the woods in Maine. He survived on supplies pilfered from nearby towns for almost three decades before being caught in the act.

Drink responsibly

There’s still a lot we scientists don’t know about hangovers, but what they do know contradicts a lot of the advice you’ve heard.

Game theory

Textbooks are expensive and maybe don’t even work that well, so what’s the solution? KQED says the future may point to video games.

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Snark Week: HodgePodge for Aug. 15

August 15, 2014 | by Tony Scida

Modern problems

Vaudeville tries to save itself like print journalism is trying to save itself.

Candy crushed

Have you noticed fewer and fewer Candy Crush Saga invitations in your Facebook feed? That’s bad news for the game’s maker, King, who are struggling to come up with another hit. The Atlantic says you can, uh, thank Kim Kardashian for the fall of Candy Crush.

I’m waiting for the Kidz Bop version

The number one album in the country is a compilation of ’60s and ’70s hits that serves as the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy. The number two album is the latest Now That’s What I Call Music, a feat A.V. Club says “confirms that most CD sales are made by people who don’t know how to use iTunes.”

An original iPhone would’ve been funnier

Gizmodo took a late-oughts LCD TV to Antiques Roadshow and PBS played along.

Us darn kids

From Quartz: “I couldn’t stand millennials until I realized I was one.” Elsewhere on Quartz, they want to make sure you know that Twitter and Slack and all those cool new start-ups aren’t anything new.

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0 commentsPosted in: HodgePodge

4 tips to engage journalists on social media

August 12, 2014 | by Stacey Brucia

I admit it: I recently listened to a Bulldog Reporter webinar on engaging journalists on social media hoping that I’d find that one secret to unlock all doors: “If you do X on social media, 25 percent more journalists will say ‘yes’ to your story pitches.” Sigh. That didn’t turn out to be one of the slides. In dieting and in media pitching, there’s no magic pill.

However, the webinar did confirm a lot of our own practices at THP as far as dos and don’ts of engaging journalists on social media. In my case, Twitter is the platform I primarily use to track what journalists are writing and what they are interested in, both professionally and in their personal lives. I like to call it “Twitter spying,” and frankly, you’re missing out if you aren’t using that public information to help yourself stand out and further relationships in this online world.

Below are my takeaways from the Bulldog webinar led by Sandra Fathi, president of a NYC-based firm that focuses on tech media:

  • Tag journalists: Read a story you like or one that speaks to the industry that your client is in? Share it on Twitter or LinkedIn or whatever network you’re using to interact with journalists. As we’ve said before, journalists are people, too, and if you tag them by name, they will see that you are spreading their work around and engaging. (Note: More journalists are being judged on how widely their articles are being shared electronically as this New York Times piece explains the shifts going on at USA Today. We need to help out the folks who are such a key part of our livelihood, whether or not our client is in a story.)
  • Don’t tag journalists: Wait. Didn’t you just say to tag journalists? The flip side of this coin – as Sandra pointed out throughout her presentation– is that you need to approach social media interactions with sincerity. Nobody wants to be tagged for something that’s off topic for them, or it will be viewed as blatant spam. Most often, the goal is to use social media to begin a relationship with someone, and then you’ll end up taking that interaction to email once that initial contact has been made and you need to share more information. Just in the last few days, I was able to switch from Twitter to email exchanges with new contacts for me at The Virginian-Pilot and The Washington Post.
  • Keep platforms separate as far as business and personal: Here and there, some journalists do use Facebook to promote their work or request sources. In that case, if they invite you to be their FB friend, go ahead. As Sandra has experienced, you might see that they’re at a trade show you’re attending, too. Or you might be able to comment to be a potential source. In my experience, however, FB tends to be more personal. Most of my own FB status updates are of the non-professional variety – endless photos of kids and the parenting dilemma of the day. And purposely, I avoid sharing that kind of thing on Twitter so that I’m not annoying business associates and journalists.
  • Remember, it’s public: Duh, you say. However, Sandra told stories of well-meaning PR people outing a journalist’s upcoming story in a way that would tip their competitor outlet as well. And, you don’t want to be revealing client information that’s under embargo via a tweet either. Apparently that’s been done by PR folks themselves. Oops, indeed.

Here are a few examples of things I've learned about journalists from my Twitter feed:

A beat change in Charlotte means I need to find another reporter for our client

Gummy bears make for happy HLNTV producers; plus a new producer for me to follow

Who does Kathleen Hays from Bloomberg Radio have as her guest today?

The personal finance reporter at CNNMoney was away for the good part of July on her honeymoon, but now she’s back and writing again, breaking down how we’re paying for college

What are the “rules” of your most current social media interactions with journalists? What’s your best tip to begin and maintain solid media relationships in this online world? Please share. Heck, put it in 140 characters to @hodgestweets. We’ll be following and sharing. 

(Photo by Roger H. Goun on Flickr.)

0 commentsPosted in: Media Relations  |  Social Media

Hits and Misses: HodgePodge for Aug. 8

August 08, 2014 | by Tony Scida

November is for talking animals

In a work that surely signifies an apotheosis of data journalism, TIME goes beyond the summer blockbuster to catalog seasonal trends in movie topics.

Play time

According to this NPR story (which is part of a series), playing helps us learn. I have two words for you: Corporate Recess.


What happens when you enter the witness protection program?

Polka party

In the wake of Weird Al’s latest album debuting at number 1 (a first for him), The New Yorker’s Sasha Frere-Jones takes a look at what makes the parody musician better. (For bonus points, check out the video commentary linked at the bottom of the piece.)

That’s the ticket

A few weeks ago I shared a story about the history of the restaurant reservation. But some popular restaurants are doing away with reservations and moving to concert-like tickets.

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0 commentsPosted in: HodgePodge

Using social advertising to leverage offers with prospective customers

August 06, 2014 | by Emily Shane

In my last post, I discussed the 4 steps businesses should take in order to develop a social lead-generation campaign: develop the offer, build a landing page to explain it, promote it to existing social communities and track their engagement. While this is an important first step in converting social communities into customers—by giving them a compelling reason or incentive to share their email addresses and thus enter your sales funnel—it does not address reaching new audiences.

While virality and the concept of social sharing might have carried your message to new audiences (prospective customers) a few years ago, unfortunately, that’s no longer something you can build a strategy upon because:

  • The sheer amount of content that’s available socially—from businesses and individuals—makes it challenging for brands to appear organically.
  • Social platforms have an obligation to make money for their investors. Ad units are how social platforms make money, and so they prioritize paid content over organic content in users’ feeds.
  • While it is likely that friends have shared interests, friend networks are not targeted enough for niche messaging. If you’re running a lead-generation campaign, then you’ll want access to targeted audiences so you can reach customers who are the best match for your product or service, making the cost-per-lead as low as possible.

Social ads allow businesses to target their messaging to prospects and leverage the demographic information contained in each platform.

Before you begin developing ads, you’ll want to look at your website analytics to determine which social platforms are organically driving the most traffic or, if you’re an ecommerce site, the sites that are driving the most sales. Then, select the top 2-3 referring platforms (depending on your budget) and develop campaigns on those sites.

Each platform has its own take on ad units, and where those units appear on-platform, but Sponsored Content is a product offered by all of the major players. These ads look like a normal status update, except they are paid messages for targeted audiences. They appear alongside organic content, except with a label notifying users that the content is in fact not organic, but paid. Here’s an example of a sponsored post on Facebook from Sandler, one of our social lead-gen clients.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest offer this type of unit and we find it effective because:

  1. You’re reusing content that you’ve already deemed relevant for your community. If you’re sending it to people who look like your existing community, or people who have expressed interest in this subject matter through their profile, then they’re likely a good prospective customer. This validates Hodges’ own social mantra about the importance of creating useful content.
  2. This type of content looks so similar to organic content that in most cases, paid audiences think it’s the same.
  3. Most social platforms have built in lead-generation-specific functionality into their ad units, which helps explain the benefit clearly to consumers and improve conversion results.

Developing promoted posts also allows you to leverage the endless volume of demographic and behavioral data available on these platforms. In order to reach the right audience, look at all of your internal data sources and learn more about your target. You can do this by:

  • Pulling data on existing customers
  • Collecting the information from your sales team that they use to prospect customers
  • Checking out analytics for website visitor data
  • Visiting the audience insights tab from the social platforms where you maintain a profile

This information will help inform the targeting for your first campaign, so that you can find customers who look like your existing audiences, but are not yet a member of your community. On subsequent campaigns, you’ll have the ability to look back at responder demographics (people who clicked on your ad or downloaded your offer) and target future efforts based on those learnings.

If this is your first crack at social advertising, or social lead generation, we recommend supporting select messages—like your offer posts—so that you can begin collecting demographic information on your target audience and their preferences (in terms of copy, images and offer). We also recommend investing enough in each post so that your message is visible for at least half a business day, which will make your dataset representative. Testing on all of these fronts will help you set budgets and collect the necessary data for successful future campaigns.

If you’ve got platform specific questions on developing a sponsored content campaign, or would like to share some of your own best practices, please do so in the comments section of this post.

Image: The Facebook Like Stamp by Denis Dervisevic, on Flickr.

0 commentsPosted in: Marketing  |  Social Marketing  |  Social Media

It’s time we all got a lot smarter (or we’ll be out of a job)

August 04, 2014 | by Greg Surber

Editor. Industry analyst. Blogger.

These are people PR folks routinely identify as influencers – those who get the distinct honor of getting bombarded with our pitches, introductory call requests and emails with “quick question…” as the subject line in the hopes they’ll mention our organization in an article. The problem though is that reporters are an endangered species, and more organizations are bypassing the middleman and producing their own content.

But as content marketing continues to rise, and more studies like this highlight the disconnect between companies buying into the idea of content marketing and actually developing content people care about, public relations professionals will need to develop a much better understanding of the markets where their companies (or clients) reside – as an editor or industry analyst would.

Not just your pitching angles and key messages, but an objective, fully encompassing understanding of your market – what’s influencing it, who’s your audience and where’s it heading.

This shouldn’t be news to you. This has been at the heart of every how-to-pitch-a-reporter article you’ve ever read. But it’s worth repeating because before it was just reporters who saw bad PR pitches that demonstrated a complete lack of understanding and relevance. They’d roll their eyes, delete the message and that would be that. Now though, each sales-y social media update, blog post or white paper demonstrates more and more how out of touch you are with your customers’ needs – and sets up an opportunity for your competition.

Before you hit the books, here are some things to keep in mind:

Brace yourself for some frustrating internal conversations

Great content is objective and self-aware – and without agenda. However, many executives, sales and marketing professionals try to shoehorn in promotional copy into any and all content. Often they’re resistant to a content plan that does little to nothing to directly promote the company and will likely need some time and long conversations to understand the value of letting your company name take a back seat to your organization’s expertise.

Read. Read a lot.

This is more than glancing at the media-monitoring recap your account coordinator sends each morning. You need to routinely read trade magazines and articles from the top reporters covering your industry. What topics are being discussed at your industry’s major conferences? Is there any legislation that could affect your industry – or your adjacent markets? These are things that can help shape and add value to your content. And don’t do this just so you can write better pitches to reporters. Do this so you can develop content that a reporter would write.

Don’t try to replace your internal experts

At the end of the day, our job as PR practitioners is to help tell our organization or clients’ stories and share their expertise, which is always best told by them. I’m not advocating we start behaving contrary to that. But in order for us to extract their expertise on a subject, we can’t simply ask, “So, what’s going on?” Our bosses and clients are busy and don’t always have time to openly speculate on their field of expertise. A good reporter comes to an interview with research on a subject and questions to help guide the conversation. We should do the same.

If you’re at an agency with several clients, you might be starting to panic. Take a step away from the ledge. You don’t need to be all things to all of your clients. Assign one person on your team to be the account expert who can keep everyone else up to speed.

Don’t expect this to all come together overnight. It takes time to develop a firm grasp on an entire industry. Ultimately your bosses and clients undoubtedly will value your insight to their profession, and your customers will appreciate your organization’s content that speaks to their needs and not your own.

Image: "Lewis Hine, Boy studying, ca. 1924" by Lewis Hine - Lewis Hine: Boy studying, ca. 1924, based on file from the Library of Congress. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

0 commentsPosted in: Media Relations  |  Public Relations

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