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Friday, August 23, 2013

Good News Get More Shares – Really?

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word news, I often think of crime, kidnappings, shootings, bridges collapsing, earthquakes, wars, fraud, abuse or someone important passing away. So it’s safe to say that the way I view the news is slanted toward doom and gloom. I don’t think I’m the only one. When you turn on the television, there are images of people crying because a one-year-old child was killed alongside his dad in a senseless act of murder, bullet holes stamped on the walls and a pool of blood drying on the mattress. The images are powerful, but having seen them too often, they leave me desensitized.

Luckily, a new trend is emerging because of social media. Researchers have found that people seek and share positive stories with their friends and followers.  As a result, the news is becoming less mean. With 14 million visits, the most read article of all time is not about a celebrity baby or the latest politician caught in the act but rather a series of photos called “21 pictures that will restore your faith in humanity.”

From my own observation in creating content and sharing stories for my clients’ social media accounts, the articles people will click on and share are the human stories of hope and overcoming.  While so many will say that any attention is good attention, this new trend shows that not all news is good news, especially when shares are involved. Everyone talks about strategies on how to make a story go viral. Sharing with friends is the key, and the way to do that is not through malicious rants, gossip or negativity but rather through hopeful solutions and allowing for readers to feel that they can make a difference at the end of the day. Good news may even surprise you, like the passengers on this video of a guy in a New York subway

Maybe it’s time to rethink how to write our stories to reflect more of the best of the human experience.

~ Muriel

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Old Lessons, Modern Meanings

When you surround yourself with talent on a regular basis, you start to see crossover. I wrap up my summer residency with Brown Miller Communications this week, having had the great fortune (and fun) to learn from this incredible team about the art of communication. And like every August before, I’m now heading to southern Alabama for a visit during the dog days of summer with my 90-year-old grandmother (who’s a real spitfire).
As I’ve been reflecting on all that I’ve learned this summer and thinking about my upcoming visit, I know my grandmother would love this team the way I have come to.
Here are three nuggets of wisdom she’s given me I’ve seen reflected in the day-to-day philosophy and operations at Brown Miller:
There’s no substitute for a handwritten thank you card.

When you’re in charge of a campaign or a company’s communications, people notice your manners when it comes to how you do business. Communications professionals understand that taking the time to show appreciation and build connections with authenticity pays off.
It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

My grandmother wears lipstick and kitten heels just about everywhere she goes, no matter what, but she has always said it’s what’s on the inside that counts. When marketing ideas to the public, it matters whether or not a PR firm truly understands the vision and heart of their clients. Good communications professionals understand that a “slap a coat of paint on it and call it new” approach isn’t going to fool anyone.

A garden tended regularly yields the best fruit.

Some communications and PR firms approach building their client base like speed dating. But it’s the long-term investments in relationships that pay off over time. With longstanding, trusted client relationships, a communications firm can see the client through strategic planning processes, rebranding, organizational restructures and other sea changes – and serve them better for having seen them through it.

Thank you to everyone at Brown Miller for an unforgettable summer!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Feeling Stupid? Don't Sweat It

Over roast chicken and blueberry crumble this week, I hosted some friends for dinner who are in my public health doctoral program. As we topped ourselves off for a third glass of wine, our conversation turned to my summer residency here at Brown Miller Communications which is focused on an unusual phenomenon happening in Northern California that affects the health of young people. I explained I was doing research to develop a communications strategy on something we just don’t fully understand yet.

That night I was struck again with a familiar feeling – simply not having the answers and feeling stupid for it. For anyone who works in communications, it can be awkward to not have the right words to explain a phenomenon when you’re asked for answers.

My case in point: For a specific county in Northern California, recent data shows extremely high rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among certain young people. These numbers are literally off the charts and represent a crisis for young people in that county. At the same time, data also shows rates of teen births on the decline. A young person who has received sexuality education and has the tools and personal resources to keep themselves safe from pregnancy at a young age would logically also stay safe from STDs. But that’s not the case in this county – and no one knows why.

Social science research – and the communications strategies that sprout out of it – is all about searching for answers where there aren’t any yet. Doing social science research can make you feel stupid and at a loss for effectively communicating about an urgent issue. For my project, communications must be tailored to different audiences affected by high rates of STDs and those with the potential to help solve the problem, including teens, parents, community leaders and public health professionals. But before that can happen, research is needed to understand community perceptions about why this is happening and what we can do about it. In other words, we have to push into the unknown.

In my experience you can’t let feeling stupid or not having all the answers stop you from delivering authentic, honest communications about an issue. I don’t need stacks of conclusive research to conduct interviews and talk about this problem affecting young people, but I do need to communicate compassionately and authentically about what we know and what we’re learning. And I also need a willingness to embrace stupidity – for now.