2016 or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Twitter

If there’s anything this class has taught me, it’s that social media is an ever-changing, ever-growing magical beast that no matter how much it’s studied, it will never be fully tamed. But for those with the gumption and the resolve to tackle it and respect its power, it can be used to do so much good for an individual, and organization, and even the world.

2016 was a ridiculous year for social media, and as we enter squarely into the beginning of December, we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of what I like to call “rewind season.” This is the time of year when listicles and countdowns abound, looking back on the best and worst of the past year in preparation for the new one. And boy, oh boy, did this particular revolution around the sun give them something to talk about.

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2016 was a beautiful dumpster fire. Image from Imgur.

Social media in 2016 saw conflict and change, both good and bad. The top ten most popular trending topics were diverse, ranging from the obvious (the Super Bowl, the Olympics), the fun and ridiculous (what ever did happen to Pokemon Go, y’all?), the political (Brexit, Rodrigo Duterte and the Philippines, Black Lives Matter) and the downright crazy (2016 presidential election) and the sad (Muhammad Ali, David Bowie).

In all of these events and so many more, social media played a pivotal role in changing the way our culture communicates and how we as individuals perceive the world around us. When the fake news epidemic shook up public discourse this year, I believe it marked a turning point in the way journalists, social media professionals, and marketers will approach this medium in the coming years.

Ragan’s PR Daily published an article on the top skills needed for success as a marketer. In addition to writing, data analysis, and decisiveness, it highlighted the importance of social media savvy, saying that social media is “an integral part of overall marketing strategy.”

This isn’t just funny cat videos and quirky text posts anymore; understanding social media has become a valuable marketing skill, and taking this class has shown me just how much more there is to learn.

Podcasts in PR

On a recent solo five hour drive across the flat, dry expanse that is West Texas, the only way I maintained my sanity was through my arsenal of podcasts I have saved up on my phone. There always comes a point where music gets to be too much, and the sound of humans talking about something interesting is the only way I can focus without veering off the road.

I embarked upon an internet quest to see how others felt about this choose-your-own-adventure radio, and I was not surprised to see that I was not alone. An article from Vanity Fair described it as “essentially radio on the installment plan, a return to the intimacy, wombed shadows, and pregnant implications of words, sounds, and silences in the theater of the mind.” Though my feelings about podcasts are not nearly as poetic, I do find that the lack of interruptive commercials and the frequent focus on longform storytelling to be refreshing.

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Image from Forbes

 

It occurred to me that podcasts have the potential to be useful tools in public relations. I stumbled upon this interesting article from PR News Online that expounded upon the advantages of podcasts in public relations, which include branding and marketing, thought leadership, and relationship building. They can be relatively cheap to produce and adapted to whomever professionals want to reach. The article describes how the amount of freedom a podcast offers to an organization in terms of content creation makes it a great tool for distributing information in a well-developed, creative way.

The emergence of new technology and the growth in popularity of tools like podcasts makes this an amazing time to be entering into the public relations profession, or for that matter, any profession related to digital communications or marketing. Podcasts give us an opportunity to bring our words to life in a whole new way, and offer consumers a more interactive, holistic experience. As for me, I continue to listen to Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight until I get the chance to use this in my own career.

The Red Scare: Part II

To say the past week has been exhausting is an understatement. Our nation is more divided than ever, and social media provides us all with a front-row seat to the mayhem. So, this blog will have absolutely nothing to do with politics. There will be none of that here. No, this is going to be about two things that are near and dear to the hearts of most Americans – nay, most human beings: coffee and Christmas.

So, take off your “Make America Great Again” caps and your “I’m With Her” buttons and sit down, shut up, and grab a cup of your favorite hot beverage.

This past week, Starbucks announced its new cups for the 2016 holiday season. They are red and decorated with unique designs created by Starbucks customers from around the world. The popular coffee chain is also keeping their plain red cup, which caused quite the kerfuffle this same time last year when customers took to social media to decry the cups’ lack of adequate festivity (shhh…nobody tell them about Festivus).

starbucks-cups
Image from Starbucks website

Upon further investigation, I discovered an article from inc.com that made the bold claim that not all negative PR is necessarily bad. In journalism school, a prevalent theme in most classes is that you always want to pursue a positive perception of your brand over a negative one. This article, however, argues that not only can negative PR still be completely ethical, but it can actually help a brand that has reached the top of its market stay relevant in the mind of the consumer.

Starbucks never intended to offend or hurt anyone with their original 2015 plain red cup. The controversy grew through the uncontrolled media of social networking, teeming with people angry that the lack of an outright acknowledgment of Christmas meant that Starbucks was denying the spirit of the holiday and people who were angry at those people for being angry in the first place. The fact that they would bring it back for a second round this year seemed crazy, until you consider how much the coffee chain had to gain in terms of public relations brownie points.

Starbucks harnessed the negative energy generated last year and turned it into a feel-good, inclusive campaign that celebrates not only its drinks, but showcases its consumers as well. The new cups were designed by real customers, and there’s no denying that they are festive enough for even the most persnickety of critics.

The ultimate signifier of Starbucks’ success in 2016 is that this year’s campaign was able to generate a new wave of media attention could have easily just stopped in 2015. By taking that momentum and redirecting it into fresh ideas, Starbucks made lemonade out of lemons, and as a result the War on Christmas! has been postponed until further notice.

Trump Hotels: Scion Trumps Trump

As this year’s presidential election morphs into a glorious dumpster fire in its final weeks, one of its hardest-hit casualties has been the thing that spurred it on from the beginning: the Trump name, and, by extension, the Trump brand.

Since Donald J. Trump made his way to the forefront of the GOP, several news sources have reported his brand’s decline in business. The popular mobile app FourSquare found that although foot traffic by Trump brand hotels had been fairly consistent for years, it has been in decline in many of its locations across the nation since 2015. The double-digit drop in traffic, according to the FourSquare report, has been most prevalent among the app’s female users.

From FourSquare, as well as a Fortune article  which centers on the Trump brand’s decline in popularity among its more affluent consumers, it comes as no surprise that the company would move in a new direction for their new line of hotels.

Earlier this week, the Trump Hotels issued a press release in which they announced a rebranding of its new hotel chain, which will be known as “Scion.” The name is meant to be a “multi-faceted lifestyle brand developed in response to the boom in social clubs and the “we” economy,” the press release stated.

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Image from Hotel Business

In my opinion, this shows that the head honchos over at the Trump Corporation are looking ahead past the election, and that the best decision they can make is to distance themselves from the political melee that has ensued over the past year and a half. Even though they stand by Donald Trump, it makes sense that they would be gearing up to turn a new leaf come November 9.

What all of this shows is the impact that social media can have on issues much larger than any individual’s cat post or Facebook rant. Who would have thought twenty years ago that an app like FourSquare, which exists for the purpose of allowing people to see where their friends are, would contribute to the national commentary of one of the most – if not the – most controversial American presidential election of all time?

The main takeaway is that we are entering into uncharted territory as a nation. The internet is ubiquitously influencing everything we do, and it’s up to us to determine which influences to allow. In the case of Scion, how long will it be before people who once denounced Trump’s misogynistic rhetoric book a room? When will the moral lines in the sand that people draw now going to move as we move past this election cycle? What effects will this election have on businesses, politics, and the way their publics interact with them? Only time (and social media) will tell.

The Power of Snapchat

Anyone who has been on Snapchat in the past week could probably tell you of the epic romantic saga of Brown Girl and Harvard Guy, two Ivy-league students who, exclusively through the use of Snapchat, found each other and went on a blind date that was dubbed “The Boston Tea Party.” The whole story could be found on the main Snapchat page and people filmed their own reactions to this harrowing tale as it unfolded in real time.

I don’t know exactly whatever became of Brown Girl and Harvard Guy in the aftermath of their whirlwind encounter, but what I can clearly see is what is becoming of Snapchat. Once simply a mechanism for sending temporary pictures and grotesque selfies, the company has evolved into a useful public relations tool, and more companies are starting to take notice.

This article from Crenshaw Communications talks about how companies have started to use Snapchat in a variety of ways, from partnering with celebrities to utilizing it for tutorials and promotion, all in an effort to reach everyone’s favorite age demographic: Millennials.

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Image by Ian Thomas-Jannsen Lonnquist for the New York Times.

So, how are companies reaching Millennials in addition to other key groups? The answer for some may lie in the use of geofilters. Ragan’s PR Daily wrote about how using geofilters can help companies target consumers based on their location, a move that has been shown to expand their reach and promote engagement.

The companies that use Snapchat are not the only ones that are noticing. Business Insider reported that the company is set to go public as soon as March at an estimated worth of $25 billion dollars, and other websites like Instagram are copying its most popular feature, the “story” and incorporating it into their own platforms.

But beyond just its financial success, I see Snapchat’s influence in the way my peers and I interact with companies and with each other. While many companies use Snapchat for their shameless promotion in the form of filters that range from mildly adorable to horrifyingly distorting, I’ve found that the ultimate appeal of Snapchat is in that it’s just fun.

That’s right, I contend that the reason Snapchat is growing as a PR tool is because it’s fun. Yes, it gives companies a direct line to consumers and personalizes the user experience, but when I’m actually using the app, it’s fundamentally because it feels good to morph my face with my dog’s and send it to my friends. And when I see people like Michelle Obama and brands like Taco Bell using this app in their own ways, it feels like it puts us on the same level. Traditional media, and even apps like Instagram, elevate famous figures and companies beyond our reach, whereas Snapchat humanizes them and brings the brand to us instead of the other way around.

This feeling that I’ve had when using Snapchat is the same thing I observe in people around me, and when factoring in the clear success the app has had financially, there is a recipe here for incredible success in relationship building. I believe that if Snapchat continues on its positive trajectory, public relations practitioners would be wise to truly learn how it works and understand how its users really think beyond just the numbers.

The Shimmy Heard ‘Round the World

Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Clinton smiles during first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead
Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles during the first presidential debate with Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, U.S., September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder – RTSPKOT

The first presidential debate of the 2016 election season took the world by storm this past Monday, Sept. 26, and boy, was it a sight to behold. Aside from the spectacle of the candidates themselves, what intrigued me was the media coverage, especially in the social networking universe and even from traditional media sources, best illustrated by CNN’s declaration that it was the most tweeted debate of all time.

As the debate went on, spectators from all around the world commented in real time, using websites such as Twitter and Facebook to voice their agreements and, more often than not, their grievances. But the thing that truly made waves Monday night was not the issues, and it was not either candidate’s qualifications to be president.

It was the shimmy.

Yes, I’m talking about that shimmy. The brief few seconds in the debate when Hillary Clinton, fueled by her opponent’s claims that she does not have the right temperament to be president, mentally put on her boxing gloves and stepped into the ring. It made headlines and appeared in memes, and for a while it featured heavily in the news media’s coverage of the debate.

Now, the media’s brief obsession with this move is not the whole story here. Rather, it is emblematic of a wider shift in media attention that, while developing for a while, has especially exploded in recent years. Politics and politicians have turned into entertainment for the masses, and instead of being a platform for expressing viewpoints, events such as the presidential debate have apparently become vehicles for ratings and shock value.

Neither Trump nor Clinton said anything particularly different this past Monday from what they’ve been saying for this past year. There were the same sentiments, the same hand gestures, the same insults, and the same comments from Twitter and the rest: Trump is racist, Clinton is a liar, and the world is coming to an end.

The point here is, the Clinton shimmy is another in a long line of small things that the media latches on to instead of focusing on the real issues being discussed. There will continue to be a version of the shimmy in every debate to come. The question is, will a day come when we no longer care what the candidates say, and all we can do is focus on the meme-able things they do?

To some, it might seem that that day has already come.

Stephen Colbert and America’s Great “Tea-cision”

By Evgenia Sinopidou

As the presidential election rages on, America is faced with quite a few tough decisions. Trump or Hillary? Democrat or Republican? And now: Blue Fruit Tea or Red Fruit Tea?

While the first couple of questions will be definitively answered in November, Snapple customers can already make their decision on the last one. On September 16, a YouTube video featured The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert doing a bit in which he poked fun at the presidential election and its candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Halfway through the short video, he pulls out two bottles of Snapple tea, one red and the other blue. He revealed in a cheeky way that Snapple is sponsoring this segment, and essentially commented on the propensity politicians (and late night talk show hosts) have to be bought.

As it turns out, the *not-at-all-product-placement* on Colbert’s show was not the first sighting of Snapple’s efforts to make the most of this presidential election. The Dr Pepper-Snapple Group sent this press release out on June 10, 2016 to announce their “integrated consumer campaign” that would span the summer and early autumn, based on the concept of “giving voters a break”. They use a variety of different tactics that range from giving consumers the chance to design their own campaign ad on the Snapple website to creating two new flavors of Snapple tea to reflect Republican red and Democrat blue.

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The Snapple homepage gives users the option to choose their favorite Election Day-themed flavor.

Overall I think this is a clever and engaging campaign for Snapple to enact during a time when America is arguably at its most polarized and exhausted from the endless stream of pundits and opinions coming from the news media. Snapple’s goal here isn’t to take one side or the other; rather, it’s to increase Snapple sales and improve Snapple’s image by truly giving customers a comedic break.

I believe that the way that they implemented this campaign, through the flavors plus the online interaction and cleverly executed celebrity endorsement, will be effective toward building a positive perception of Snapple by the public. They’re making a political statement, but they’re doing so in a way that leaves everybody happy and ties into their reputation as being a fun, laid-back brand.