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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…)

Hitchhiker’s Guide: Mapping the Consumer Media Universe

Mapping the Media Universe as a solar system of devices

(click to enlarge the Media Universe infographic)

The media universe is constantly expanding, so as consumers adopt more devices and gadgets their usage of how they watch, shop, and connect continues to evolve; today the media universe revolves around the consumer.  As the media landscape changes, PRs, Advertisers, and Marketers must navigate this new media universe, understanding not just all the gadgets consumers own, but also how they use media across devices to form their own behaviors.

Working with Nielsen’s data to provide insights into cross-platform media usage, I helped design the 2012 Consumer Usage Report from concept through completion, including the above inforgraphic meant to help navigate the media universe just in time for CES in January 2013.  Using the common marketing metaphor of the “universe”, meaning all people in the target audience, this visualization provides a snapshot overview of the US media market.  Visualizing the media universe as a solar system of planets (devices) which revolve around the sun (consumers), this infographic maps consumer ownership of digital devices (computers, mobile, tablets, etc) and devices connected to the TV (cable/satellite, game consoles, etc).  Pulling these devices together is gravity, illustrated by how are consumers spending their media time, and some may be surprised that the overwhelming majority of time spent (150+ hours per month) is watching traditional and time-shifted TV.

At the same time consumers’ media habits are rapidly changing, and the media universe continues to expand to incorporare new devices akin to a technological big bang.  During 2012 smartphones became the majority of mobile users in the US for the first time, and nearly 1 in 5 households now owns a tablet computer.  Social media usage continues to grow, and while many more consumers are using it on the go most still connect to social networks using their home computers.  And for cord-cutters like me who get much of their viewing through online stream sites, it may be surprising to learn only 4% of households own IPTV sets, but with 56% of homes using video game consoles it seems likely at least a few are watching video on Netflix and Hulu on their TVs as well.


To learn more about the how consumers use tech and media in their daily lives, please download the full report from Nielsen’s website.  And to see more examples of infographics and data visualizations I’ve worked on, check out my portfolio on this site.

Re-launching MattHurst.com

About a year and a half ago I created MattHurst.com as a social networking hub, which I hoped would help make a more personal connection to a new audience while uniting my social media profiles on a single site.  Initially the site drew some interest from my friends, even earning me a few kudos from other social media pros, and shot to the top of search results for my own name.  But over time the micro-site did not sustain interest, or at least did not attract many visitors to the site.

It’s hard to know exactly why the site didn’t receive much traffic, but one trend I noted was that most visitors to the site came directly, rather than through search or referral links.  Using Google Analytics I conducted an audit of the site’s performance, and found the site not only had fewer visitors than expected, but that visitors to the page didn’t spend much time – often less than 1 minute.  Since the site didn’t host any original content but rather aggregated my social media streams, it seems that the site didn’t offer visitors any compelling reason to stay on the site once they arrived.  In short, the site failed to achieve my goal to connect with a new audience.

While it’s disappointing that the site didn’t attract as much interest as I’d hoped, like any good online marketer I knew I needed to change the strategy based on my measurements of how people used the site.  So last week I relaunched MattHurst.com, using my Tubmlr site as a new means to connect with would-be visitors. Starting with over 1000 posts I’ve published over the last 3.5 years updating this Tumblr blog, the new site offers original, compelling content I hope will interest readers/viewers.

My new site also gives me an outlet to connect with people in a different way than my professional blog at MatthewHurst.com, by serving as an outlet for my interests in infographics, internet memes, and cultural commentary that might not reflect my professional brand as much as my personal tastes.  And as before, I’ll be keeping a close eye on my site’s performance, and making any adjustments necessary to meet my goals

How to use Facebook to promote your personal brand

With the recent update on Facebook to both personal profiles and pages using the Timeline interface, many brands are reevaluating their marketing strategy on the social network. Likewise individuals promoting their personal brand should consider updating their Facebook presence to take advantage of these new opportunities.

Recently I’ve written about how timelines can be used for visual storytelling, and likewise Facebook’s new design lends itself well to creating social narratives out of photos and status updates, especially by highlighting key events in our lives. Timeline’s changes to personal profiles gives individuals greater control not only of what information is shared publicly vs privately, but to highlight their own accomplishments and personal stories with friends both new and old. And because we know most employers look for Facebook profiles of job candidates during their evaluation, it’s critical to make sure your timeline reflects your personal brand.

Timeline also changes the Facebook pages for brands, and earlier this year I converted my Facebook Open Graph application (for this website) to a full-fledged page. Facebook pages can be built for personal brands to share career accomplishments and insights with like-minded professionals, which might otherwise come across as spammy to your friends; one of the top reasons people are unfriended is for sharing too much work-related information. Many brands have used applications to customize their pages in the past, but now Timeline will become the public face of these pages, allowing them to create more engaging stories which reflect their history. So far I’ve added my work history and career accomplishments to my Timeline, showcasing my professional development for all to see, with the most recent stories highlighed at the top of my timeline (a bit like a blog).

For example, here’s how I use my own Facebook page: (more…)

Nielsen’s Social Media Report

Data visualization of demographics on social media sites from Nielsen's Social Media Report
Last month Nielsen (my employer) released a new State of the Media report focused on social media use in the US and around the world. This report offers a unique snapshot overview of the social media landscape, using measurements of consumers’ behavior in their browsers rather than survey data. It reveals not only the significant growth among the population visiting social networks and blogs, but also who makes up the audience on these sites and how they use social media.  Here’s a few highlights of its key findings and takeaways:

  • More than 4 in 5 American who are active online visited Social Media websites within the last month
  • About a quarter of all time spent online is using Social Networks & Blog sites, more than twice as much as the next nearest category of websites.
  • Facebook is by far the most popular social networking website globally, and in the U.S. Tumblr is among the fastest growing
  • Growth in social media users comes from people of all ages and increasingly among those aged 55+, making social media more representative of the online population overall

As a member of Nielsen’s global communications team (full disclosure), I helped research and write this report, working together with our thoughts leaders/experts and designers to create compelling data visualizations that help convey Nielsen’s insights into consumer behavior.  The response to the report has been overwhelmingly positive, with coverage by key news media and thousands of links shared across social networks. Of course all ideas/opinions expressed on this site and in social media are my own (and are not necessarily shared by my employer), so hopefully you find the analysis and insight in this report as helpful as I do.

Visit the Nielsen’s website to read the Social Media Report and download a copy of your own.

Why Brands shouldn’t have Interns Manage Social Media

Perhaps no one better embodies the pitfalls of taking your brand into social media without a strategy better than Charlie Sheen. Last week the celebrity made headlines by joining Twitter and broadcasting his own professional (and personal) meltdown in this public forum, much to the delight of internet denizens and entertainment media. After attracting this considerable attention, Mr. Sheen must have realized he might need more resources and time to create a sustainable Twitter presence, so he did what many brands before him have tried: he asked for an intern to help out with social media.

What Mr. Sheen hasn’t learned through his own use of social media is true for many other organizations who want to promote their brand and protect their reputation using social media: you’ve got to have a communications strategy.  And no, “going viral” is not a strategy, it’s only a goal (which can sometimes backfire).  To that end Charlie Sheen captured the attention of the online world, but without a strategic approach his haphazard embrace of social media seemingly hurt, rather than helped his reputation.  In contrast with individuals who have developed their personal brands, Sheen lacks personal experience to cultivate the tremendous interest in his brand in the best direction, which seems justify his search for a third-party who can give his Twitter account a positive spin.  Yet instead of looking for an intern, he should take a page from the many established brands who’ve successfully managed their social media presence, either though hiring online marketing and PR agencies or developing internal resources to plan their communications strategy.

Of course many brands didn’t always feel this way; when I started this blog in 2009 I wrote about my own experience using Twitter as a tool to find internship opportunities. At the same time agencies turned to my generation of recent grads and millennials to help them understand social media, so many were receptive to the idea of an interns helping out with a niche website like Twitter or Facebook. Especially because many businesses still considered social media a new fad (and not an important emerging platform) many were willing to let interns manage accounts for their brands; after all many simply assumed it was only kids using new media.

What seemed true in 2009 should not be assumed in 2011; social media have emerged as core platforms not only for promoting brands but for building businesses. With 600 million members on Facebook, and an established user base on Twitter that averages over 30 years in age, no brand would risk putting their reputation in the hands of an inexperienced graduate, much less an intern.  Instead organizations who want to build their brand through social media should hire professionals who’ve developed their strategic approach through experience, especially those who have tactical experience using blogs and social media to promote another organization.  Brands should look for professionals who’ve learned about social media through broad online experience, not necessarily specific skill-sets related to individual platforms like Twitter, because it demonstrates their ability to adapt and learn as new platforms emerge.

For prospective interns and job candidates, Twitter continues to stand out as a great tool to network and find job opportunities like my own Twitter internship. It’s also an excellent platform to share ideas and build your online reputation as a knowledgeable professional, particularly for social media marketers like myself, in a forum that’s highly visible in search results for those screening applicants. Likewise for job recruiters, social media offers a unique opportunity to screen potential employees and get a fuller picture of the people outside of their resume.

While it’s yet to be seen what the outcome of Mr. Sheen’s search for an intern may be, it seems likely that the same lack of direction that stifled his own social media efforts will sabotage any intern’s efforts.  At the end of the day a brand is only as strong as it’s own commitment to their unique offering, and that comes only through the knowledge and experience all members of an organization share.  To be sure, Charlie Sheen has earned America’s collective attention fixed on his social media presence, so what he is able to achieve depends not only on what he says but also who he chooses to manage his brand’s voice online.

Update: (more…)

Happy Holidays to you, from Matthew

Seasons Greetings! I wanted to take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy holidays, however you choose to celebrate the season. This year I’m home for the holidays, travelling from New York to St. Louis to celebrate xmas with my family and friends, and I hope you’re able to do the same.

To thank my readers for their support over the last year, I’m sharing my 5th annual Very Indie Christmas mixtape.  I make this mix each year to share new Holiday songs besides those played repeatdly on commercial radio and in the shopping malls, so you might consider this my gift to you.

You can find more of my mixtapes and listening habits over the holidays on my Playlist page.

If you’re looking for a good last-minute gift for anyone, feel free to borrow ideas from my list of charities and philanthropic causes I support. Helping those in need is just part of the holiday spirit, so I hope the best for you and yours in the new year!

Thanks for the Memories

Happy Thanksgiving from Matthew Hurst and familyIn addition to accomplishments in my professional career, I have been fortunate for many blessings in my personal life I am thankful for this year.

  • Tofurkey and craft beers; including a handful I can only find back home in St. Louis, Missouri.
  • Good friends and a social network to keep in touch with them
  • Clothes on my back and a roof over my shoulders, in a home with my best friend
  • The return of Conan to late-night TV, and cord-cutting options for Television and film
  • A family who provides each other with love and support all year round (see above).

Thanks to all of my friends and fellow recent graduates for sharing our ideas and professional stories, and I hope all those who read this blog have a Happy Thanksgiving filled with memories of their own.

Introducing MattHurst.com

MattHurst.com websiteI’d like to introduce MattHurst.com, a social media hub to bring together my social media profiles.  Alongside a feed from this website’s blog, this micro-site features my Twitter feed, Flickr photos, LinkedIn Profile, and Tumblr blog.

In addition to MatthewHurst.com, this new site supports my original goal to build my professional reputation, beginning first by securing my personal brand.  Instead of replacing this site as my expertise in online marketing, public communication, and of course social media, MattHurst.com seeks to better connect me with my peers who might not want to connect professionally, while still introducing them to my personal interests using online communication.

So far I’ve successfully created MatthewHurst.com into a online resource highlighting my professional insights and knowledge, but to most of those I meet online and in person I’m simply Matt – that guy who is really excited about social media. With this new site I hope this will continue to build my personal brand, not to mention helping out with search queries for “Matt Hurst”.

What do you think of MattHurst.com?  Please leave a comment, and I’ll try to incorporate your feedback into future redesigns of this blog as well!

Update: (more…)

Why I joined Myspace (again), and why you should too

Everyday I tell my clients they need join the social media conversation, securing their business’ brand names even when they’re not sure of best practices (much less how to leverage them).  As a social media evangelist I usually mention the benefits of using these tools to build their brand.  So last month I decided to put my money where my mouth was and did something I never though I’d do again: I signed up for Myspace, years after quitting the social network.
How I quit myspace, the first time around
Of course I didn’t always feel that way: over 4 years ago I wrote a guide of how to quit Myspace. At the time I had grown enamored with the emerging social networks and what was being called Web 2.0, so I created a one of a kind blog post explaining why I wanted to leave Myspace and detailing how I deleted my account. Since then I’ve joined hundreds more social media websites, become an online marketing professional, and embraced building my personal brand through public conversations rather than using private accounts.  Indeed these days you’re more likely to hear about someone quitting Facebook over privacy concerns than signing up for Myspace.

Since then Myspace has changed.  After signing-up I found some important changes, such as integrating Twitter to update my status.  I’ve noticed significantly less spam in my message inbox, something which MySpace was notoriously annoying for during its heyday, possibly from all of their new spam controls.  Myspace remains increasingly driven by content (musicians mostly), which makes it unique among the social networks.
Along with these changes in how the community functions have come some behavior changes among this audience: (more…)

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