We Are Communication Architects

Building brand awareness through content creation and community engagement.

January 19th, 2012

2011 Web Browser Winners and Losers

A lot of the pain fun of my job is providing consistent user experiences between the major browsers. The major browsers can be different for each client so we take user analytics and client preference as our guiding beacon. For this article we are not taking into account mobile browsing so the Big Three are Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome with Safari and Opera maintaining a presence.

Biggest Winner

Chrome (+10.8% -> 34.6%) – Chrome started the year at 23.8% and in just 12 months has jumped to 34.6%, only 3.1% short of overtaking Firefox. It was another solid year for Chrome, who gained 11.6% in 2010. The highlight of the year for Chrome had to be in April when it finally surpassed Internet Explorer for #2. What’s the key to success for Chrome? One could argue that its commitment to standards and quick adoption of emerging technologies like CSS3 make it a favorite among users and developers. Since it’s inception in late 2008, Chrome is up to it’s 17th version. Can you hear me back there IE9? Automatic updates keep users current for the most part, something IE is just now implementing.

Biggest Loser*

Internet Explorer (-6.4% -> 20.2%) – Internet Explorer was like that old dynasty team full of old players that are in so deep that their only options were sticking it out or gutting the entire team. They actually managed to do both. They hung on to IE6 for way too long, appeased some with IE7 and then made some strides with IE9. Finally they accepted that if they want to be a modern browser, they have to start acting like a modern browser. So they completely gutted their original engine, thank you, and started embracing standards. IE9 is a modern browser. It still lacks a few bells and whistles that Chrome and Firefox have but the foundation is there. IE10 is full of promise and CSS3 goodness that teases developers while they wait for IE legacy users to upgrade. The rise of Windows 7, which is required for IE9+, will fuel the ‘revolution.’ Windows 7 gained steam, up +15% in 2011 compared to -11% from other Windows versions. So while IE conceded quite a bit this year, they are poised to regain some of their prestige.

Still the One… For Now

Firefox (-5.1% -> 37.7%) – Firefox worked so hard to overtake IE in early 2009 and saw their best share at 47.7% in May of that year. At first Chrome seemed to be stealing share from just IE but then slowly Firefox’s share started to dwindle. It’s been a much slower decline for Firefox, who has been among the pioneers of standards and CSS3 adoption. 2011 ended with Firefox holding a slim 3.1% edge over Chrome, with the two heading in opposite directions. So what’s to blame? That’s not as easy to pick out as IE’s case. Memory leaks or a bloated browser turned some (me) off for a seemingly lighter Chrome browser. Maybe it just lacks the sexiness of a new(ish) browser like Chrome. It’s hard to pinpoint but at this rate they will be sitting at #2 in 2012.

Did we learn anything today? I hope so. For a more detailed breakdown of the stats, check out the w3schools.

About the Author
Pete Schiebel is the lead front-end developer for the Platforms team, described by some here as the "front end MacGyver" for how he works to make sure client projects look and function as advertised. Follow him on Twitter @sneakepete.

Filed in Uncategorized

January 18th, 2012

“The Social Media Strategist” by Voce Nation’s own Christopher Barger

The Voce Nation is proud today. We’re celebrating the release of Christopher Barger’s book, “The Social Media Strategist: Build a Successful Program from the Inside Out.

Christopher recounts the “in the trenches” experiences he had while building social media programs for IBM and General Motors and provides insights for others in similar situations. The book is consistent with Voce’s hands-on approach to social media, less talking, more doing.

You can listen to a review of “The Social Media Strategiest” from Bob LeDrew on the For Immediate Release podcast.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be giving away a few copies of the books via the Voce Nation twitter handle. You can give Christopher a virtual high-five over @cbarger.

About the Author
Josh Hallett leads up the Voce Connect Client Services team, managing the care and feeding of clients and developing social media strategies with the rest of the team. You can also read his personal Hyku blog and follow him on Twitter @hyku.

Filed in Voce Culture, Voce News, Voce People

January 17th, 2012

You Can’t Play Angry Birds on A Bound Briefing Book, And Other Reasons You Should Digitize Your Media Prep Material

When was the last time you pulled a volume from an encyclopedia off the shelf to look up a piece of information? 15 years ago? Maybe never for some of the recent grads? So why, in an age where all information is saved and obtained digitally, do PR people give printed and bound briefing material to clients? The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) reported that a record setting 153,000+ people attended CES 2012. With numbers like that it’s anyone’s guess as to how many briefing books were circulating the show floor over the past week. I’m not a betting man, but since CES takes place in Las Vegas, I’ll go with whatever the over is.

So aside from my point about Angry Birds, don’t you think it’s high time we remove bound briefing materials from the bags of our clients as they walk the floors of events or make their way through the airport? Aside from alleviating hours at the printer and in front of the binding machine, there’s a number of other reasons you’ll want to make all your media prep material digital. Here are a few that come to mind:

It’s Easy

Got an iPad, iPhone, smartphone, or tablet? Well, turn that 75 page briefing book into a PDF and open and save it on one (or all) of those devices. If you’re using iBooks on an Apple device, your briefing material will look something like this:

It’s Searchable

Leave dividers and tabs to your grandmother’s recipe book. Digital means easily searchable. Your time and especially your client’s time is valuable, so let’s save us all the hassle of flipping through pages looking for a meeting room location when we could easily search a PDF.

It’s More Secure

People care more about losing their iPads or tablets than they do a two-pound briefing book, so your competitive messaging, media backgrounders and tough to answer Q&As are a bit safer when they’re saved digitally.

It’s Green

Please consider the environment before printing hundreds of pages for your briefing materials. Less paper means more trees.

It’s Comfortable

Aside from security, this might be one of the most important points for going digital. I’ve got a phone in my pocket and iPad in my bag, why would I want to add a paperweight made of paper to that combo?

So now that we know the benefits and just how easy it is to go digital with your briefing materials, what’s stopping you from doing so? Oh yeah, you have a manager who’s been doing PR since you were playing Pogs and they decided that while it’s a good idea it’s just not practical. As Nick Bilton stated in his book, ‘I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works’, “…fearful and anxious reactions to innovation also keep us from seeing the bigger potential of new ideas. There’s an all too human tendency to believe that what we know and experience now is the way it will and always should be.”

Rattle off something like that. You’ll make a good case to go digital.

Filed in Uncategorized

January 13th, 2012

Photos from the Voce Media Dinner at CES 2012

Every year Voce hosts a very nice dinner for media and others during CES 2012. This year’s event was a fun, interesting night and so we thought we’d share some photos from the night here.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Voce Culture

January 9th, 2012

Custom WordPress Login – Part 2

In case you missed the first part of this unexpected series, check out Customize your WordPress Login page from a few months ago. Those instructions are still valid, the only thing we are doing different is adjusting the stylesheet.

The release of WordPress 3.3, like all WordPress updates, brought a lot of good new features. One unexpected product of the upgrade was a bunch of customized WP login screens I had developed looked broken. So what gives? We need to be more specific. Overall I try to be as generic with my style classes as I can, so I can more easily reuse code and also to keep the stylesheet as small as possible by not being overrun by selector overkill. It usually works out pretty well when you’re styling your own stuff but not as well on elements already being styled by another source like a plugin. Or in this case core styles.

When you need to tweak the styles of elements like these you want to leave the original styling alone. What’s the first rule of WordPress? Don’t hack core files. What’s the second rule of WordPress? Don’t hack core files. Plugins and themes you download should get the same treatment so when you upgrade any of them your files don’t get overwritten. What I like to do is append any of my styles to my main stylesheet. Usually I’m not doing big additions to the stylesheet so a separate stylesheet doesn’t seem worth an extra HTTP request. For this specific example a separate stylesheet does make sense because you don’t need to load your main stylesheet in the admin area. So what do we do when the element is getting styled after our main stylesheet loads? We get more specific. Using Chrome Inspector or FireBug we can find out the structure being used to style an element.

So let’s look at the old login styles I had in there and then the new styles that fixed the issue after upgrading.

.login {background: url(../images/bg-body.gif) repeat-x top center;}
form {border: 1px solid #ededed; background: #e60035 url(bg-form.jpg) no-repeat; width: 275px;}
#nav {padding-top: 8px;}
.login #nav a {font: bold 12px Adobe Garamond, Georgia, serif; text-decoration: none}
h1 a {width: 266px; height: 84px; background: url(../images/logo.gif); padding: 0; margin: 0 0 15px 27px}
label {color: #ededed;}
input {background: #fff;}
body.login {background: url(../images/bg-body.gif) repeat-x top center;}
.login form {border: 1px solid #ededed; background: #e60035 url(bg-form.jpg) no-repeat; width: 275px;}
.login #nav {padding-top: 8px;}
.login #nav a {font: bold 12px Adobe Garamond, Georgia, serif; text-decoration: none;}
.login h1 a {width: 266px; height: 84px; background: url(../images/logo.gif); padding: 0; margin: 0 0 15px 27px}
.login label {color: #ededed;}
.login input[type=text] {background: #fff;}

The styles I had in there before just weren’t specific enough. By adding the .login class before almost everything made them more specific than the core styles and restored my styles.

About the Author
Pete Schiebel is the lead front-end developer for the Platforms team, described by some here as the "front end MacGyver" for how he works to make sure client projects look and function as advertised. Follow him on Twitter @sneakepete.

Filed in CSS, Development, WordPress

January 6th, 2012

How Influencers Fit Into Publishing Programs

Over the course of the last week or so there was a lot of talk about Google+. Much of that revolved around a new ad campaign to promote the still young social network with TV spots starring The Muppets and more standard online placements that’s been designed to get more people on board.

(Of note is the fact that Google+ is, indeed, advertising to bring attention to the nascent platform. But if Twitter and Facebook were themselves responsible for even a fraction of the ads their logos appear in but which are run by other companies – something that’s questionable from a branding perspective, but let’s not dwell on that – Google+’s ads wouldn’t be a drop in a bucket.)

The appearance of those ads comes at an interesting time for Google+. After the initial rush to launch brand profiles immediately after they were available things seem to have slowed down a bit. Brand managers who weren’t part of that initial rush appear to be taking a breath and considering whether a profile there makes sense as part of their online publishing strategy.

Part of that, of course, entails an evaluation as to whether or not their target audience is actively participating there. Specifically, are the influencers they’re trying to reach among those whose attention can be captured by publishing there? And even if they are, is Google+ the best way to get that attention?

All that is a long way of setting up the real question that needs to be considered: What sort of material are you, as a communications professional, offering those you’ve identified as being influential either as part of your regular publishing program or as part of a specially targeted outreach program?

Going the “publishing program” route, reaching those among the audience who are more influential among others (be that with a broad audience or a more narrow, specialized one) is easier since they’re exposed to the same messages that everyone else is. But it’s still possible to gear the message in such a way that it will (hopefully) resonate a little more deeply with a select niche of the audience, though honestly that should be the goal of everything that’s published on owned platforms.

By taking a “targeted outreach” approach it’s a little easier to set aside some special material just to send to them, whether it’s an exclusive news item that they get to be the first to publish or some sort of other special access.

Theoretically Google+ allows brands to get the best of both these worlds, publishing some updates to everyone who’s following them there but then taking some material and only pushing it to select Circles. But, assuming such Circles have even been created, doing so has some notable potential downsides.

The one that sticks out most in my mind is the “why am I not in the exclusive Circle” problem. Everyone who follows you on Twitter or Facebook has the same access to what’s posted there, regardless of whether or not they actually see it. But if you’re fragmenting your Google+ publishing a class system is being created that, if found, can lead to some resentment among those who feel they’re worthy of velvet rope access but who aren’t getting it. Instead of a platform you’ve created risers, with some people told they’re sitting higher up than others with no good explanation why.

This all isn’t necessarily to denigrate Google+ as a part of the publishing mix. Client experience has shown it’s a valuable way to reach some members of the audience in a way that best suits them, which is exactly what corporate publishing programs should do.

Instead it’s meant to be an illustration of how reaching influencers isn’t something that happens in a bubble. It’s not, even when it’s part of a targeted outreach effort, completely separated from the rest of the communications program that’s in place. Far from it. Influencers communication is something that needs to be accounted for in all levels of a program and folded into the overall effort so it fits seamlessly, achieving goals in the same way, if not the same manner, as any other tactic that’s being executed.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Publishing Programs

January 5th, 2012

Curation, The Next Big Thing Since 1995

Reading over various prediction posts about what will be ‘big’ in social media in 2012 I can’t help but chuckle a bit when people talk about curation being the next ‘thing’. Curation on the web is not new, it’s just now more accessible and packaged much better.

Curation has been around since the start of the web. Before fancy browsers like Mosaic if you visited a little site called Yahoo on your Lynx browser this is what you saw.

Reading over the initial focus of Yahoo it was curating the web. Trying to find things of interest and grouping/classifying them together in a common thread.

In January 1994, Jerry Yang and David Filo were electrical engineering graduate students at Stanford University when they created a website named “David and Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web”.[9] David and Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web was a directory of other websites, organized in a hierarchy, as opposed to a searchable index of pages

Fast forward a number of years and the self-publishing revolution of blogs comes into play. Now anybody could curate (I mean publish) content. By anybody I mean the early adopters who harnessed the power of the blog. Sure they published opinions, rants and daily journals, but they also began to meta-edit and curate.

The next steps were sites like Del.icio.us and Ma.gnolia.com (remember that one?). Bookmarking, clipping, curating, whatever you wanted to call it became even easier. Tagging provided another layer of meta-data. An initial list could now be segmented and sorted in different ways. People began to pay attention to not only what people wrote, but what they bookmarked. However, there was always an extra step involved. Bookmarking services didn’t pull in content, you had to visit each site. The list of sites was in a single place, but the content was disjointed.

Blogging and other self-publishing platforms continued to evolve. They became easier to use and more casual users began to embrace them. One of Tumblr’s core elements if the re-blog, not just linking to another page but the ability to re-use content from another user. Now curated content could be viewed in a single thread.

The evolution continued with dedicated services like Storify and Paper.li. Brand’s ears perked up when institutions like the Washington Post began to use Storify to evolve their content models and engage with users.

Of course the ‘hot’ new service today is Pinterest. Users such as my nieces love the ability to create an on-going custom view of their interests and share with their friends. In some ways I reflect back on the explosion of MySpace and the ability for basic users to customize their profile as an extension of their personalities. As much of as web design nightmare as that was it drew in users.

With Pinterest and other services the ability to curate and view content is a smooth and somewhat elegant experience. Add in the social layer and the ability to Tweet, share on Facebook, etc and you have a potent mix. That all fuels tremendous growth and interest.

However the notion that this is something new is a fallacy.

Maybe we’re reaching a tipping point for mass-adoption or curation with Pinterest, but for those of us using Twitter back in 2006, we thought the next year, or the next year would be when it really took off.

Cross posted from Hyku

About the Author
Josh Hallett leads up the Voce Connect Client Services team, managing the care and feeding of clients and developing social media strategies with the rest of the team. You can also read his personal Hyku blog and follow him on Twitter @hyku.

Filed in Marketing

January 3rd, 2012

Finding Influencers and Collecting Data? Tools Help, But It’s Nothing Without Hard Work

Recently, I had a discussion with a local (Boston) technology professional about finding influencers via social media. Additionally, I constantly have discussions with clients, colleagues and peers about measurement. Why mention these two facts together? These two topics have a lot more in common than they might seem to on the surface, at least when it comes to the practical applications in social media programs.

Tractors & Shovel Truck

Photo by Martijn vdS on Flickr

First, both “influence” and measurement come with a variety of tools designed to help us find and analyze. These tools, whether they be KloutPeerIndex or Traackr on the influence side, or Radian6SysomosSpredfast and any number of tools on the monitoring/metrics/analytics side, all have their plusses. They all have their minuses too. Are they too unsophisticated or broad, too complicated to use, missing pieces, too expensive, lacking tech support? There’s always something.

Which tool a given program uses isn’t all that important, it turns out. However, let’s assume that having some tools to help you harvest information is necessary. The reality is that most social media professionals have to have at least some familiarity with a variety of the tools, as different clients, or even departments within a company (probably a separate discussion there), use different tools.

OK- we have established that we need tools, but we are limited. That sounds like a nightmare, no?

Well, yes and no. I believe it’s healthy to believe that the “magic bullet” tool that finds the best influencers for any specific program, or covers all your metrics needs, will never exist. It’s also healthy to believe that just about any tool, despite any public criticism, will help you in some way.

Great; so what?  

Even as these tools become simultaneously more sophisticated and easier to use (good luck with that) the need for what I like to call spade work does not go away. The spade work is divided into two categories:

  • Figuring out what to ignore: Good tools mine everything. That’s almost as bad as having nothing, as a large chunk of the work in analyzing info is figuring out what not to include. How do you sort for the things that only affect your goals? How do you find people who are not merely “influential,” but are specifically relevant to your program? How do you filter monitoring data only for the things you need to see- and how do you determine which metrics are the one you need to see? Great tools filter further. Klout does offer some categories of influence, for example, and most monitoring tools allow you to tweak and adjust search terms. However no matter how good or great the tool manual sorting is necessary; not just due to a lack of complete trust in tools (Klout categories, to keep using that example, can yield some head-scratching results, such as the marketing expert who was, hilariously, deemed to be influential about “sheep”), but because every program, every campaign- and every data source- is unique
  • Goals: Actually that should be first, but I’m being counter-intuitive. I was also tempted to write “Program goals” to distinguish from campaign oriented goals, but it is important to find influencers for and measure campaigns as well as the ongoing program. As hinted at in the previous paragraph, your goals determine which of the endless metrics and influencer types you need to focus on, to the exclusion of all else that lacks relevance, beyond the limited extent of any tools.
  • Analysis: The value any social media professional brings to a program is in the analysis- I don’t mean sifting and sorting data, as anyone can learn to do with the tools, but in figuring out what it all means. At the beginning, it’s applying thought to the types of influencers that matter and what criteria count most. In the end, it’s applying meaning to the program data. For example, what does that decline in Facebook Page comments mean? Why were there fewer clicks to the Website from Twitter vs Facebook? How did a surge in blog publishing frequency this month affect subscriber numbers- or even product sales?

Tools are necessary. But making them worthwhile is hard work. Anyone who thinks differently is not using them (or their social media team’s brainpower) to their full capabilities.

About the Author
Doug Haslam is a Supervisor on the Voce Connect Client Services team, managing client programs and developing strategy. In addition to Voce Nation, Doug writes his own personal blog and you can find him on Twitter as @dough.

Filed in Measurement

December 7th, 2011

The First Part of Live-Publishing is the Plan

This past weekend, while attending WordCamp Orlando, I was doing there what I’ve been doing quite a bit of lately: Covering the event live, posting updates to Twitter and to the event’s blog as the day went on and sessions progressed.The specifics of how these things play out are pretty well known at this point – live-tweeting isn’t anything new – but having done this more than a few times now I started to think about the lessons that have been learned and how I’m taking those lessons and applying them to what’s coming down the road. And for the sake of brevity I’m going to avoid anything like “Make sure you have some sort of wireless signal” since that’s both a no-brainer and likely an impossibility.
  • An editorial calendar is essential: While spontaneity is a great thing when it comes to bringing the happenings on the show floor to remote audiences, it can’t be overstated how important a planned editorial calendar is. As much as possible it helps to know when certain announcements are being made, when panels or speakers are taking the stage and more. Things can always be removed from that calendar but this helps whoever is covering the event know where they should be, what needs maximum distribution and more.
  • Be prepared for video: Even if it’s not planned for ahead of time have some means to shoot a quick video. At the last two events I’ve been to there’s been an opportunity to steal a minute of someone’s time to do a one-minute video interview. At WCO someone asked a question on Twitter about the font on the t-shirt so I went out, found Jeremy Harrington who designed the shirts and got the full background on the fonts and more. Yeah, it’s a little shaky but that can be adjusted for in the future.
  • Know who’s going to be there: As much as is possible find out what press will be in attendance so you can specifically track what they’re saying and engage with them on Twitter or other social platforms. Same goes for staff, talent or other folks who will be on panels or speaking. Mentioning not just their name but their Twitter handles increases the likelihood that they themselves will respond or amplify the core program messaging.
  • Monitor the conversation: This shouldn’t really need to be said but I’m going to go ahead and do so because it’s just that important. There are all sorts of tools that will allow you to not only publish but to see what’s being said. Not only that but then make the response to or amplification of what other people are saying an integral part of that publishing. Choose moments where, instead of tooting your own horn you amplify someone else’s excitement about an announcement.
  • Plan for the before and plan for the after: What’s being published before and after the event? How are you setting the audience up for what’s to come and how are you putting a ribbon on what’s been published? It’s not enough to plan for the day itself but also for what happens around that event and how you’re providing for regular, more substantive touchpoints inbetween the regular stream of activity updates.
These are just some of the things that allow for a fully-fleshed out publishing plan to be developed. And the better that plan is the more likelihood that not only will be plan be approved but that it will lead to a successful execution.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Publishing Programs

November 11th, 2011

Three Things to Consider With Google+ Publishing

As you’ve read about on roughly every website, blog, Twitter feed and other web-based communications platform, Google opened up Google+, their nascent social network, for use by brands, businesses and companies this past Monday. Instead of rehashing the “how to set up an account” tutorials or other common themes that have been done to death in the rest of that coverage I instead wanted to walk through some of the points that need to be considered when working a Google+ Page into a corporate publishing program.

1) What are you publishing there: I’ve seen Pages that have solely unique content and Pages that are more or less straight cross-posts from what’s being published to Facebook. But if you’re not providing a unique experience and signaling that Google+ is basically the same thing as Facebook then you’re not giving people any reason to choose one over the other. Which then means that people will choose one over the other and you’ll see either your Google+ reach slowed because there’s not anything they’re not already getting by following you on Facebook or your Facebook network growth slow as people opt for Google+.

2) Will you target content at specific audiences: Just like you can put the people who follow your personal profile into Circles and then decide which one of those Circles to share a particular update with, brand Pages let you do the same thing. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Creating Circles of your fans and then only sharing certain updates with certain Circles can create some tricky situations and there is, of course, the risk that some folks will be alienated because they weren’t in a group that’s getting certain updates.

3) How will your metrics and goal change: As I said above how you decide to approach the publishing question will impact what you’re counting. If you’re deciding to cross-post everything to Facebook as well as Google+ or if you’re throwing exclusive content there when it normally would have gone to Facebook then the goals that you set out months ago for where Facebook network reach would be at the end of 2011 may need to be revisited and revised down. That goes for comments, new fan affiliations and more.

Google+ is new, obviously, especially from a brand point of view and it remains to be seen what else needs to be taken into consideration when incorporating it into a corporate social publishing program or if some of the concerns I mention here are overblown or not. But whenever there’s a new channel being considered for such a publishing program it needs to be viewed not just as a shiny new thing to latch on to immediately. Experiment, yeah, and if you find a great “third way” to approach things that doesn’t impact the audience on your other established channels that’s great. In the meantime consider these and other points that are specific to the program you’re running before jumping in too fully.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Publishing Programs

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