Category Archives: Technology

A “Spark” for social content

New ideas get me excited. It doesn’t matter if the idea is mine or that it comes from someone else. New ideas should excite everyone because it is a chance to see what the future could be like. NewsSpark, a new social content hub, is one of those ideas that I’m excited about.

I’ve known NewsSpark founder Chris Ehrlich for over five years now, mostly over social media. However, when I started JRM Comm, Chris chatted with me via phone and gave some incredibly encouraging and kind words that stay with me to this day.

Because of this, Chris has been kind enough to open the private beta of its digital PR and marketing channel to readers of my blog.

Original content

NewsSpark is a digital hub where creators publish original content through their favorite mediums. Creators can publish original news, blogs, updates, photos, videos and audio (soon) on every topic — or Sparks. The hub also features catalogs of content creators, brands and groups. The freemium model NewsSpark is planning to implement paid features, such as branded Content Galleries.

Chris Ehrlich

Chris Ehrlich

“Looking at the marketplace, we believe we’re the first digital channel dedicated to publishing and consuming original content,” said Chris, whose content career has included stops at LEWIS PR and the San Francisco Chronicle. “Some may argue the claim, but the hub’s makeup and utility are clearly distinct when compared to other digital channels.”

NewsSpark plans to exit its private beta and launch in June. The hub is made in East Grand Rapids, Mich. and metro Los Angeles.

Initial partners

After testing the hub with family and friends, NewsSpark has set up member benefit and/or content partnerships with several organizations during its private beta: the West Michigan Public Relations Society of America, or WMPRSA; stock video production company Uberstock; early stage venture capital fund Start Garden; urban business incubator GR Current; and Michigan State University Spartan Innovations, the university’s startup innovation division.

User-rated content

Sparks can be published by “anyone with great original content,” Chris said. Creators increase or decrease a Spark’s stoke count — and hub-wide rank — when they “stoke it,” “douse it” or mark it as a “firestarter.” The hub of user-ranked content is organized by a set of filters and designed to be “a meritocracy and front-line source for anyone who consumes digital content.”

“Right now, the community is in its infancy,” he added. “It will naturally grow as we grow.”

Private beta access

Here’s where you can get in on the fun. Chris is now opening up NewsSpark’s private beta to me, “a long-time tweep,” and readers of One Guy’s Journey. Readers can access the private beta hub and “stake claims to their industry categories” via my referral link, keeping  “JasMollica” in the referer field. Readers can also use the hub’s invite-a-friend feature to invite others into the private beta.

Content marketing problems

NewsSpark is designed to be an open and organized hub where creators can complete their content marketing cycles. “The hub lets their content burn and work for them in ways it can’t at other digital channels,” Chris said. He explained thatNewsSpark logo almost immediately after it’s posted, original content functionally disappears from other digital channels, where he said content is an ad unit, fleeting, disorganized, unfindable, isolated or in a closed network.

“There’s all this great content being created that gets lost online — as a fleeting mention, one-time broadcast or on a virtual island,” Chris said. “We wanted to create a hub where original content can be planted, judged on its merit and work as an ongoing catalyst for creators — in real-time and long-term.” The hub is also a platform for creators to package, consolidate and digitally present their complete range of content to their audiences in a professional-grade user interface, such as a plug-and-play social Content Gallery, newsroom or web presence.

“A brand’s content is diluted when it’s only fragmented across channels — and never unified in a single user experience for ongoing discovery,” Chris said.

Sparks flying

The hub is designed to potentially increase multiple near- and long-term content marketing metrics: brand awareness, SEO and social search, audience, engagement, web traffic, coverage by bloggers and media outlets, inbound leads and sales. “We’re simply engineered from the onset to deliver returns to creators who market their content,” Chris said. The hub is also designed to deliver cost and staff savings on managing and sharing digital content. “Trying to manage and use de-centralized content is hugely inefficient for teams,” Ehrlich said. “And when they turn to platforms to package and centralize the content, they often run into technical or pricing obstacles.”

Bigger picture

I’m a big believer in paying it forward and NewsSpark is doing just that, in a huge way. The company will donate 5% of its income to The NewsSpark R. D.  Ehrlich Communications Scholarship at colleges across the country, beginning with UCLA and Denison University.

Check it out and tell me what you think of NewsSpark!

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Don’t Play the Social Media Blame Game

Do a Google search on blaming social media and you’ll find over 5.6 million results. They range from social media being blamed for your bad mood to the 2011 London Riots being blamed on social nets. Social media is an easy punching bag because it’s still relatively “new” in society.

Social networks have taken the world by storm. First, it was a fad, then it was emergent and, finally, mainstream. Many people and organizations are on board with using social. While social is widely hailed as helping to transform the way we communicate, it’s become somewhat of a target or crutch when someone needs to place blame.

The latest “blame social media” incident was during the July 16 MLB All-Star Game in Minnesota. St. Louis Cardinals’ pitcher Adam Wainwright clearly grooved a fastball to retiring New York Yankees All-Star shortstop Derek Jeter in the first inning. Wainwright admitted it in a separate interview and was flamed on Twitter. He then backtracked in a dugout interview with Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews.

“Don’t you love social media…,” Andrews was saying tongue in cheek to Wainwright. He replied, “No, I don’t love social media.”

While this isn’t the most egregious violation of blaming social media, it is an example of the lengths people will go to place blame on social media for their own mistakes. Wainwright blaming social for his own error is akin to me blaming my kids You-cant-handle-the-truthfor not making dinner when I said I would in the first place.

Social media has become the punching bag for those that don’t really understand how powerful social is today. In this day and age, you need to fully grasp that your words and actions are magnified by social. Something that use to be a benign comment can be overblown very quickly. It’s not all social media’s fault; be responsible for what YOU do and say. Here’s how.

  • Don’t use social as a crutch- “I didn’t mean to post that,” “If I didn’t have a Twitter account, I wouldn’t do things like this,” or “Social media didn’t get my sarcasm,” are crutches that you need to throw away. They are excuses. You and you alone have the power to control your actions and virtual words. Period.
  • Understand what social can do for you- Social media is responsible for something of the biggest news events becoming bigger. Remember U.S. Airways Flight 1549? What about the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound that netted the Al Qaeda leader? These are examples of how social has changed news reporting, gathering and dissemination. It’s also become the place where brands make major announcements. With great power, comes great responsibility. Social media is a great responsibility.
  • Know your role- The more you understand how social works, the better off you will be when using it. If I post something and someone takes it the wrong way, that’s on me. I didn’t explain it well enough in 140 characters, or clearly in a Facebook post. Just because you don’t have a blue stamped check mark next to your name on Twitter or have a million followers on Facebook and Instagram, does not mean you aren’t being listened to closely. Your role in social media is a big one, whether you believe it or not. Appreciate what social is and what it has become.

Facebook is ten years old, Twitter is only eight years old. That’s still very young. However, social media has come a long way in that time. You need to understand that before you go placing blame on a social network for your words. Be better with social and you’ll appreciate the benefits.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Path: Gaining Traction or Social Clutter?

One of the things I enjoy about my job is researching new ways to help clients in marketing their businesses and brands. So, I tried Path at the recommendation of colleague. Launched in 2010, Path is a more personal social network than Facebook and Twitter. On iTunes, it says that Path is, “the best way to share life and stay connected with family and friends.”

PathI’ve been using Path for almost a year and there are many things to like about it. Path is a tad more personal than Facebook, but still (like Facebook), allows you to comment on friends’ posts. You can also add emoticons to a friend’s Path (without leaving a comment), much akin to the “like” on Facebook. A few of the other items that are a plus is how it allows you to add photos (like Facebook), tag where you are (like Foursquare), and let people know what music you are listening to at the current moment.

I’m never one to totally close the door on any social network, but as I’ve used Path I’ve come to these questions more than once: “Why am I using it” and “How is it really different?” I’m not sure I see how Path fits for a brand, business or even for personal use. Sure, the “more personal” side may be great for some, however, just what value will it bring me or even a client?

Of course, not every social network is made to be used by businesses. In the case of my personal use of it, I’ll admit that I haven’t embraced it totally, although I do post and react to friends’ posts.

I asked this question on Twitter on Tuesday: “Working on a post on Path. Why do you use it? What do you like/dislike?” Here are some reactions…

Path Twitter post 1

Path Twitter 2

Path Twitter 3

While this is only three people, it gives you a good idea what some feel about Path. Heather’s point is very well taken. I do see some different emotions there than on Facebook. Harrison’s point, though, is how I tend to feel. It doesn’t pull me away to say, “I have to post on Path right now.”

At the end of the day, a social network needs to be appealing and have something that other ones don’t already.  Ask yourself these questions: “Is it worth my time?” and “Will it enhance my social experience?” If your answer is no to one or both, don’t use it.

What say you on Path? Let me know in the comments!

There’s No Such Thing as a Social Media Killer!

“This is the end, beautiful friend. This is the end, my only friend, the end.”- The Doors

Remember when Google+ was supposed to kill off Facebook? How about that time Twitter was going to die? Both statements never came true. Why? Because there’s no such thing as one social platform killing another. Watch…

Let me know your thoughts? Am I wrong or right?

Journey chat: Ralph Vacchiano

How news and sports are reported has changed by leaps and bounds. I’m old enough to remember when I relied on the newspaper to get updates on my favorite teams. ESPN and CNN changed the way sports and news were covered, respectively.

Fast forward to 2012 and if you want to get scores, highlights, stats, or breaking news, you can get in on your phone. Ralph Vacchiano knows all about the evolution of sports reporting. He’s living it.

Vacchiano is the New York Giants beat writer for the New York Daily News. He’s also the author of the book, “Eli Manning: The Making of a Quarterback,” which is available at Amazon. It’s also available at Barnes & Noble, with an update for the Giants Super Bowl run.

Here’s my interview with Ralph, where we discuss sports journalism, covering a Super Bowl champion, and social media.

What I learned from Tony Stark

Jarvis… sometimes you gotta run before you can walk.“- Tony Stark

I am, at heart, a dreamer. My mind is always racing with new ideas and opportunities. I love to push the boundaries. However, I’m also someone who had to change who he was to survive in this new PR 2.0 world.

The other night, I watched “Iron Man,” the wildly successful 2008 movie based on the comic book character. Tony Stark is not only the man under the armor, he’s also a brilliant engineer. If you don’t know the story, I’ll recap: Stark suffers a severe chest injury during a kidnapping in which his captors attempt to force him to build a weapon of mass destruction. He instead creates a powered suit of armor to save his life and escape captivity. He later uses the suit to protect the world as Iron Man (got that?).

Now, my life is nowhere close to Tony Stark’s. Yes, I know what you’re saying, “Iron Man and Stark aren’t real.” You are right, they aren’t. However, in the number of times I’ve watched the movie, I’ve come away with a few thoughts that have helped me in my business and how I can deal with clients.

1. Dress for success- This is something I will believe until the day I die. I recently discussed this point in a post at Ragan.com. How you look goes a very long way to making a good first impression. I also think it helps your confidence when you rock a great suit.

2. Evolve constantly- Stark realized when he returned from captivity that he needed to change the direction of his company. As business people and public relations/marketing pros, we need to constantly be on our toes. By staying on the cutting edge and listening to what is being said, either online or in trades, we are able to stay relevant. It also helps to understand what your clients may want as well.

3. Your “armor” won’t always protect you- Iron Man is pretty strong, but without that armor, he’s only human. The same goes for public relations. We may have a strong crisis plan or even a solid campaign rollout plan, but   you can only plan for so much. When your “armor” fails, you’ll need to be as prepared as possible for what may come at you.

4. Always have someone you can trust with your ideas- For Stark, it was his assistant Pepper Potts. I have one person that I bounce ideas off of, just to get a perspective. Don’t have someone you can trust? What about  a family member. You may think they don’t understand, but you may be surprised. Trust your gut, but it won’t hurt to get your idea or plan backed up.

5. Embrace the past, grasp the future- As much as we think we can leave the past behind, we can’t. Sure, we move on, but past events have helped shape us and make us who we are. While you may want to forget about a mistake that you made in PR, don’t! It will make your future much better and stronger.

Remember… we all have a power inside of us to be great. It’s a matter of believing in yourself and knowing that you can do it. Others can tell you what you want to hear, but do you truly believe that you have the power? BELIEVE IT!

Don’t like new things? Then prepare to be disappointed.

It’s our nature in this day and age to immediately be critical of new forms of communication. Heck, I’ve been part of that group. I criticized Foursquare; I didn’t see the immediate value of Google+; and I’m still not sure about Paper.li.

One of the things I’m starting the realize more and more each day is that the more we criticize the more negative we become. I say this now because I’ve seen a number of posts that have whined about Pinterest. People are even critical of Justin Timberlake and his investment in MySpace. I have no problem with taking an in-depth look into what each network brings to the table. But do we really need to blast a platform before it is really established?

It’s not worth your time to shoot down every new shiny thing that hits the market.

For months, Pinterest was out there. My friend Mikinzie Stuart even did a great job blogging about how Pinterest could be better used. I’ve used it prior to it blowing up. But now that it’s really taken off in the eyes of experts and PR/Social media analysts, the knives are out. Why? Brands have found a use for it and I’ve even had inquiries from clients about how they could use it.

The same goes for Google+. I’ve said I don’t see the value, obviously many others have. The New York Giants used Google+ during Super Bowl week to hold an extremely successful hangout. These examples have caused me to take a better, more refined look at how I can use it for my clients and future clients.

If you find yourself thinking negatively off the bat about new, shiny social media networks, keep these two things in mind:

How can I gain an advantage with my clients by truly understanding it? 

What is the downside by learning something new?

Keep your mind open and your eyes sharpened. You never know when you’ll find something that a client will thank you for guiding them to current and future success.

Don’t be afraid of PR, embrace it.

The title of this post may seem odd to you. Why, as a public relations pro, would we be afraid of the career we are in? Do we fear the news release? Developing a social media plan?

On Tuesday, the wonderful Sarah Evans spoke to our PRSA chapter (Buffalo-Niagara) on a variety of topics, including best practices on Facebook and blogging, as well as her business. Aside from getting a chance to finally meet Sarah in person, she had so many great insights to offer the group. One of the points she made was this:

Those words in her presentation got me thinking. Are we afraid to try new things for clients and ourselves? If so, why? There is always a small sense doubt when we recommend something, but part of what clients pay us for are our ideas. If we are afraid to bring ideas to the table, our clients will go elsewhere for people that aren’t. That’s a simple fact.

I took that knowledge from Sarah and spoke to a public relations class at Niagara University on Tuesday night. My talk was centered on social media and what it means to our industry and future PR pros.

One of the many things I stressed were understanding your audience and do not limit your boundaries in PR and social media. I told the students that when it comes to your audience, having an idea of what they want and who they are is very important. The more research you do, the better your campaign and your engagement with them will be.

The last point refers back to what Sarah talked about in her talk. If you limit your boundaries, you are boxing yourself in. Think of it like a silo. Do you want your plans to be separated, or do you want them to flow together into one, consistent package? I think you’d want the later.

There is a risk involved in every plan we put together, but the more research we do to limit that risk eliminates the fear of producing a top-notch campaign or event. Remember, don’t fear PR. Embrace what you know and put your campaign on the way to success!

What do you fear in PR? Let me know in the comments section.

“Tout”ing your business email

Fact: We’ve all wanted to make sending emails for our businesses simple and easy. On the other hand, we as public relations pros would like to receive an email pitch email that doesn’t seem like it was done by a robot.

Last week, I took ToutApp for a test drive when they launched ToutApp 4.0. Simple to use? You bet. It allows you to introduce templates into the e-mails you send to promote your business. You can then analyze how effective the templates are with website-type analytics, highlighting the performance from top to bottom.

What I really like about it is that it integrates nicely with Gmail.

ToutApp

Email made easier? That's what ToutApp is hoping for.

As a person who recently launched their own business, I’m always looking for an edge in getting information and/or pitches out correctly and promptly. With Tout, I can take the time I would crank out mails, to tweak my strategies.

Another bonus is Tout University. This teaches you how to be more productive and communicate better over email, through guides, tutorials and example email templates. Speaking of tutorials, check out this video that explains Tout even further.

I would recommend this easy-to-use tool for small or medium sized businesses, especially from the analytics side of things. Being able to break down views and clickthroughs is important. If I can see when an email recipient has opened it and is planning a response, that puts me in good shape.

If you want more information, click here.

Thank you, Steve…

Steve Jobs was someone I looked up to. It wasn’t idol worship; I admired his vision, his drive, and how he pushed the technology envelope. Jobs’ legacy is more than just the Mac, iPod, iPhone, or iPad. He will be remembered as a man who did it his way (note: Steve Wozniak must get credit as well). Jobs could be cantankerous, but also generous.

My colleague, Nathan Burgess (aka @PRCog), wrote a great blog last night, which I suggest you read. Cog does a great job of capturing Jobs’ impact.

I’m not like Steve Jobs in any way, shape, or form. But this line from his commencement speech at Stamford University in 2005 has always struck me:

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

Since I lost my job, I’ve read this daily. It provides great inspiration to me. I suggest you read the whole transcript, and also watch the YouTube video, which is below, of Jobs’ commencement speech.

Thank you, Steve… I am one of a million that will miss you.