Archive - Influence RSS Feed

What is Public Relations, and Why It Matters in the Social Media Age

It’s been said that Public Relations has a “PR problem”; while the majority of people aren’t sure exactly what a PR does, almost all of them seem to have a negative impression of my profession. So when people ask about my career and I tell them I work in communications and marketing, their natural follow-up is usually “what does that mean?” Contrary to one popular misconception working in PR is not synonymous with the “Press Release”, which is just one tactic in the arsenal of a Public Relations professional. In fact working in PR has so many connotations that the PRSA led a rebranding effort in attempt to help redefine our work, or at least clarify what we do in the most transparent way.

Working at my desk with my tabletop robot

Most would call my work in Public Relations, although depending on who you ask, you might get a different answer; in grad school we called it Public Communications, which helps distinguish our responsibilities are not limited to working with the press. If only my colleagues knew that calling myself a PR rep was the best shorthand for all the work our profession does: everything from researching public opinion, to crafting marketing strategy and crisis communications plans, to writing press releases and blog posts, to media relations and publicity which our profession is best known for. (more…)

Marketing Movember: Promoting Men’s Health Through Social Marketing

Before and after for Matthew Hurst's Movember mustache in November 2010

Movember is about much more than growing a mustache, it’s also about putting a new face on men’s health issues.  When I first heard about No-shave November I didn’t know about the connection to men’s health, so I had no reservations about shaving my mustache for a job interview. But a year later when my new employer sponsored Movember participants I learned all about their fundraising for cancer research and raising awareness for health issues such as prostate and testicular cancer.  For a third year I’m participating in Movember, but the history of Movember actually goes back much further and serves as a great case study of using social marketing to promote men’s health.

When Movember started in 2003 it was just a fun idea between two friends in Australia, but it quickly grew into a global phenomenon. Within a couple years their small group of friends expanded to reach thousands in Austalia raising millions of dollars for prostate cancer research, incorporating into the Movember Foundation by 2006.  Gaining charity status in the US in 2009 helped the organization grow abroad, but also to attract partners to their cause alongside individual participants. Today Movember has nearly 1 million participants in 14 countries who raised over $100 million last year.

Key to Movember’s success is not just the great cause it supports, but also the global marketing campaign that promotes it.  Anyone who visits their website will be impressed by the creative media ; everything from videos starring famous mustachioed celebrities to personals flyers and smartphones apps, used by participants and for supporters of Movember.  But perhaps the most important promotional tactic is much more personal- their mustache growing participants:

Mo Bros effectively become walking, talking billboards for the 30 days of November. Through their actions and words they raise awareness by prompting private and public conversation around the often ignored issue of men’s health.

Another popular part of Movember is their own social network, MoSpace, which gives each participant their own page to raise funds and interact with supporters.  Mo Bros and Mo Sisters use the social network to make updates on their progress and also allows them to share their Movember campaigns on other social networks.  The site also serves means to personalize their Movember efforts within their social group, a proven tactic whether to raise funds or awareness within a social marketing campaign.

(more…)

Agenda Setting: How social media empowers opinion leaders and influences voters

The 44th President via Jumbotron

Comparing how the Presidential candidates are using new media this year, the 2008 race looks like the social media stone age. Back then Myspace was still the largest social network, Facebook was considered a mainstay for mostly students, and the most followed account on Twitter was then candidate Barack Obama. That campaign was noted for it’s pioneering use of new media, at a time when few politicians had social media profiles, but the benefits were immediately understood and adopted by nearly every campaign since 2008.

I was lucky to have a front row seat to the communications changes taking place that year, both as one of the early adopters of Twitter (when the site had only a million users) and as a graduate student in DC studying public communications.  That fall I was enrolled in Matthew Nisbet‘s course in Communication Theory, learning all about agenda setting by the newsmedia and the role of opinion leaders in swaying public opinion.  The 2008 elections proved a great working example to apply the theories I was learning. (more…)

Music by the numbers: Measuring my Listening Habits online

Music is a powerful means of self-expression and a deeply personal part of our lives, influencing individual attitudes and motivating our behavior on a daily basis. The pervasive influence of music in culture is well documented, and I’ve already written about it before on this blog. There are any number of ways we analyze the impact of these art forms, especially when media make their annual “Best of” and “top artist” lists each year. Since any kind of social change should be measured, I was curious: could I measure the impact of musical art on my own life much like I measure other influential media?

Fortunately I already have one data set to pull from: for the last 5 years I’ve been tracking my listening habits through Last.fm, a social network that tracks playback by music lovers so that we can compare music tastes. By keeping track of the songs I play through my computer (and more recently on my iPod), the network generates peer recommendations and Top 10 lists.

Last.fm graph visualizing music played by artists in 2010

Visualizing data my top artists in Last.fm during 2010


Over the last 5 years using Last.fm, here’s what I’ve learned through tracking my own listening habits: (more…)

Social contract: How social media increases civic engagement

Matthew Hurst sits on the Capitol Steps in Washington, DC
By now we know that the internet has changed political communication, offering new platforms for political candidates, citizen journalists, and advocates alike to share their ideas in this uniquely democratic forum.  Yet many others have noted this rhetoric has turned increasingly polarized, especially as partisans share news from self-selected sources like blogs which affirm their own ideas without seeking to represent both sides equally.  Even with increasing turnout the last few election cycles, the question remains: Is the internet good or harmful for democracy?

Last weekend I attended the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, DC, alongside thousands of other patriotic citizens who shared a disdain for divisive rhetoric that seems so pervasive in American newsmedia.  While at first it’s easy to assume that ideologically driven blogs only reinforce this divisiveness, many I spoke with said they were encouraged to attend the relatively apolitical rally because of  what they read on the internet.  The event built up anticipation and interaction through countless platforms: using Facebook events, Twitter accounts, photo contests, event microsites, an iPhone app, and of course their TV shows’ website to promote the rally.  It seemed as if the rally was everywhere, effectively turning every channel of communication online and off into another soapbox its advocates could recruit their friends, myself included.

Even among those who would ordinarily be silenced by divisive rhetoric common to political blogs, this rally established the value of using the internet to spark civic participation among many who would ordinarily have become disengaged.  In the past organizations like Rock the Vote successfully engaged young voters, but it seems social media has increased civic participation exhibited the last few election cycles.  It got me thinking of all the tools at our disposal this election: (more…)

This Blog’s for You: How Beer indicates a Changing Marketplace.

When Anheuser-Busch’s sale to InBev was announced, years of branding began to unravel for the King of Beers. The maker of the Great American Lager (their slogan) was a family-owned business based in the American Midwest which had spent decades creating their brand based around nationalism and tradition; they were being purchased by a foreign corporate conglomerate. Almost immediately columnists were writing about how the sale was indicative not of globalization but of the American economic recession.

In spite of how the stories were framed, A-B products Budweiser and Bud Light continue to be the best selling beers in the United States (if not the world). The sale is only the latest consolidation between the world’s largest brewers; in the years prior rivals like Miller and Coors had combined into SABMiller, not to mention A-B’s own acquisitions before their own sale.  The beer business is as complex as any other industry, but major brewers like Anheuser-Busch have relied on a wide national market empowered by mass market advertising to drive up demand for their product.

The rising popularity of Craft Beer parallels the changing media landscape of the past decade; as audiences become fragmented, their consumption choices are changing.  Once mass market advertising for brewers would create print and broadcast ads designed to appeal to the widest audiences where they converged in a limited media market.  Brand loyalty was thought to begin when young adults learned about their products, and like their beers these branding techniques were meant to reach the largest audiences.  However this same target audience no longer converges in the same mass media sources, often turning online to learn about new products across a ever wider range of new media; about the only place this market would still see their ads might be watching the Superbowl, during which only the largest brewers can afford to advertise.

Consumers today have more choices in where they get their media from, especially online, which have opened up opportunities to build niche audiences like those in the craft beer market.  Along with a growing audience of beer lovers, craft breweries have taken to blogs and social media to promote their products.  This audience is passionate about their interest in craft beer, inspiring brand loyalty among those who are reached out to directly by brewers who share their values, not unlike the nationalism appealed to in Budweiser’s branding.  Most importantly this passionate audience of craft beer advocates likes to tell others about the beers they love, usually acting as opinion leaders within their network of friends and thusly growing the market for tasty craft beer every year.

Of course mass marketing still works in many markets; many consumers of Blue Moon (a SAB Miller/Coors product) believe it is a craft beer, and niche beers like A-B’s Michelob brand enjoy limited popularity. But the mass media advertising techinques do not work as well online, as demonstrated by the expensive failure of Bud.tv and other websites.  It has been suggested that beer in America’s national beverage, and as America changes so will it’s tastes.

You can learn more about Beer marketing and the craft beer movement by reading my blog The Brew Noob (on Twitter @BrewNoob).

Why The Twitter Backlash Proves Its Influence

The backlash to Twitter was inevitable.  As recent attacks on the social network/microblog have made clear people depend on Twitter to communicate, although users of this site continue to be stigmatized. In the same week the AP published its new restrictive guidelines for online media, another AP story employed such recycled clichés as “tweeting about lunch plans, the weather or the fact that Twitter is down.”

Full disclosure: I’ve been addicted to Twitter since I started using it in September of 2007. Since then I have witnessed its explosive growth as a daily user of this social network, growing from thousands of daily users to millions now.  These attacks are evidence of Twitter’s importance, and like Facebook before it this social network is grown large enough to be experiencing a backlash.

Unlike many social networks before it, Twitter has become an agenda-setting media.  This might seem obvious because broadcast and print newsmedia about Twitter have been nonstop, frequently breaking news stories or framing an issue through its social media context. As a social network (although many of its users of Twitter do not think of it as such) Twitter facilitates interpersonal communication in which opinion leaders, or at least some with a large number of followers, introduce new ideas to their network which help set the public’s agenda.

Because Twitter serves an audience that is constantly engaged in the discussion of new ideas, frequently accompanied by hyperlinks, Twitter has succeeded at become agenda setting media like none before it.  To be sure Facebook, itself a much larger social network, only recently overtook email as the primary means for most individuals share news stories and links to websites.  But rarely have these social media, including social bookmarking websites like Digg and Delicious, taken part in constructing the news agenda with the wider public much less offline as Twitter does.

The explosive growth of Twitter is not necessarily because of any special function the site offers (there have been other microblogs before) but because of it’s core of users, who themselves have set the tone of what Twitter should be used for.  This isn’t to say there is a right way or wrong way to use media, just that some practices seem to work better. The critical difference in using a social medium comes from those who are using it; in this case the core users who serve as a social model are opinion leaders in diverse subjects such as communications, celebrities, and politics.  And it’s easy to see the appeal; opinion leaders are provided a platform to introduce ideas about culture (and even about themselves), while the accessibility of the platform allows individuals to interact within their network of connections which make even celebrities (who continue to lead the way onto Twitter) seem approachable by any fan.

Perhaps this model of influence offers a clue to one recent trend on Twitter, in which power-users remove all of the users they follow in order to reconstruct a list which better reflects a tightly-knit social network.  While some organizations scramble to create a list of followers on Twitter which seems to be the largest, these users illustrate the power of influence over a small agenda-setting audience they want to stay tuned into.  Because in social media influence is not measured as the number of followers who might read the monolougue you’re broadcasting to them, but by the relationship between individuals which is built through a dialog.

Never before has there been such a media tool to listen to the audience’s ideas, and to engage them in conversations about them.  The backlash may have been inevitable, but it has almost always come from those unwilling to participate in a dialog; it would seem from what I’m hearing that Twitter is here to stay.

Have You Heard? Music is getting Social

Think of the last album you bought, and compare it to the your first record. If you’re like me the first album you bought was a favorite from the radio (The Simpsons Sing The Blues), whereas the last album I bought (Bitte Orca by The Dirty Projectors) was a recommendation from a friend. It’s not just the music formats that have changed, but what we listen to and the experience with music that is transforming.

In the past the music industry has relied on taste makers such as DJs, critics, and marketers to help introduce new music to would be record buyers (or downloaders).  However over the last decade opinion leaders, those most influential individuals in your social network, have played the most important role; think of these people as your friend who is usually the first to introduce you to a band that you go on to love.

Online these opinion leaders have started popular music blogs, their influence measured by their expertise within genres and their appeal within their blogging audience.  Offline these taste-makers usually have the largest music collection among your friends, and they make frequent recommendations that are catered to your own tastes.  Opinion leaders are the arbiters of new music in a marketplace no longer limited by the label-centered distribution, and serve agenda-setting roles with their personalized recommendations which mirrors the shift from mass-media driven popular music (radio, Rolling Stone, MTV) to online distribution meant for niche fans and private listening (iPods and YouTube).

(more…)

People to People

Before I turn 24 years old on March 15th, I have been asking my friends to donate $24 to a favorite non-profit of mine, People to People International.  So imagine my surprise when friends from Facebook, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, donated the suggested amount without having ever heard of this charity before.

Using the Causes application of Facebook can be a great source of new donations for a non-profit like People to People, a Student Ambassador program I took part in for six years (age 13-18).  I was prompted by the Causes application to create a Birthday Wish for one of my favorite causes I had joined as a group member.  After selecting PTP I was provided with tools to promote my birthday wish automatically, including: pre-written status updates, posts to the wall, and private messages to send to friends asking them to give to your Birthday Wish.

Although I was impressed with the ability to utilize the power of my social network on Facebook to gain support behind this cause, I remained skeptical that anyone would give such a large donation for my birthday.  On my Birthday Wish page, I decided to put my money where my mouth was by donating $24 of my own money towards the $240 goal ($24 x 10 donors) I had set.  So naturally I was surprise when one of my Facebook friends from high school has donated the next morning.

Facebook Birthday Wish

So far I have raised at least $96 from 3 people for People to People, who took notice of the new donations almost immediately.  They like me had become excited about the new possibilities for small donors that the Causes application had enabled with the Birthday Wish function.  I was happy to discuss some of the social media tools they had at their disposal.  They also gave me a short interview that promoted others to try using these tools on Facebook.

Although many people are quick to dismiss social media as merely a trend that is difficult to measure actual results, I think this small effort by an individual shows its potential when this communication tool is used appropriately.  In this case the Birthday Wish was more effective than merely randomly asking my friends for donations; it used an effective appeal rather than posting just another link to ignore.  For non-profit organizations, social media like the Causes function in Facebook offers exciting possibilities by connecting the power individual networks with an audience of small donors that were previously much more difficult to reach.  The power of interpersonal communications is meeting the reach of public communications over the internet.

Follow me on Facebook, or learn more about People to People International.