Thoughts on blogging

After six weeks of keeping my first blog, I think I’ve finally started to get the hang of it. One of standout lessons from this experience has been the importance of clear writing. When you are a college student steeped in history and philosophy courses, it can be difficult to switch out of an academic writing mode. But good writing should be both informative and accessible. This means, short paragraphs, concise language and logical flow.

I’m definitely still working on these skills, but blogging has been the perfect opportunity to practice. Keeping a blog gives you the platform to develop your interests and find your voice in the process. While at first it may feel awkward to craft posts in a conversational tone, I’ve started to realize that the most clear written communication should sounds just like speaking out loud.

Here are some other tips I’ve picked up about keeping a successful blog.

Tips for blogging

  • Choose a theme that interests you

Before starting your blog, make sure to organize your posts around a common theme. Whether its purely professional or an exploration of a passion on the side, it should reflect some interest that you’re excited to write about. Find a theme that you want to research and become immersed in. Letting your voice come through may help engage your audience, but they will come back for helpful content. Become an expert on your topic and let your knowledge speak louder than your opinions. 

  • Always use images

Choosing visuals is part of the fun of crafting a blog. And don’t forget that visuals create your reader’s first impression of your site. Developing an aesthetic that helps support your ideas can be a challenge. But taking time to distill the message of your post and search for a relevant image is a helpful step in communicating strategically.

  • Interact

This is an aspect of blogging that I still have to work on. Having a blog gives you the opportunity to easily follow other thought leaders and start conversations with them. Including a blogroll on your site is a helpful reminder to check out certain sites for news and inspiration. Another part of interacting is linking to other sites in blog posts. Just like any paper or pitch, a blog post earns credibility by tying in information from other sources or reliable research.      

  • Keep it up

A pro blogger will stay on top of content and update it regularly. This task is easy when the posts come from a weekly assignment, but it becomes more difficult when it’s just another project on your to-do list. That’s why it’s important to connect your blog’s theme to your interests in some way. Think of blogging as a time to practice writing, share your opinions and stay in the loop. This isn’t just a professional tool, after all. Writing can help release stress, stir your creativity and your memory. 

 

Image: Kari Shea via Unsplash

Perfecting your next presentation

Most people can recognize a great presentation, the kind that leaves the audience engaged, entertained and inspired. But it’s much more difficult to create one. I can get overwhelmed by the process of conveying something to an audience in a way that’s both easy to understand and fun to listen to. Fortunately there are certain elements that can make or break a presentation, so the trick is paying attention to the basics.  

  1. Focus

Just like any good pitch, essay or any other kind of communication, your presentation should have a clear, core message. No matter the complexity of the topic, it’s the presenter’s job to make sure the audience follows along. One foolproof way to keep them on track is to understand what they want to hear. Focus on the needs and interests of your target audience to deliver the contents of the presentation. Use relatable anecdotes, helpful facts and demonstrate that you know why this topic matters to them.

     2. Visuals

Presentations are a unique opportunity to make your messages visual. That being said, the audiovisual aids should only be there to enhance each point . The speaker is the primary vessel of information, so slides should never be so text heavy that they distract. In fact, some of the best presentations have very few words at all. Find a high quality series of coherent images to keep your audience looking up and leaning in. Try curated online photo libraries like Unsplash for inspiration.   

     3. Body language

Presenters by definition have a certain level of expertise on their topic. Audiences pay attention because they want to leave more knowledgeable than they came. So own the topic, demonstrate the passion you have for the material through confident body language. Stand up straight, project your voice and make sure to pause frequently so that the audience has a time to process each new piece of information.

      4. Engage

A presentation is not just a live reading of a memo, it’s an opportunity to convey information in new and meaningful ways. One of the best ways to make a lasting impression is telling stories because humans are hardwired to learn from them. Help your audience tune in by offering your ideas in a recognizable narrative arch. People can remember concrete details better than concepts. 

 

 

 

Photo by Tong Vo via Unsplash  

 

 

The importance of nonprofit partnerships

In 2015, the entertainment conglomerate Viacom launched a powerful CSR campaign titled “Witness the power of story.” Throughout this campaign, Viacom partnered with WITNESS, a human rights activist organization, to produce public service announcements educating the public on social issues. Each brand within Viacom featured PSAs tailored to its target audience. For example, VH1 addressed the Save The Music Foundation, BET sponsored Celebrating Young African American Men and Spike championed Veterans Operation Wellness.  This campaign won first place in the “Corporate-Community/Nonprofit Partnership” category of PR Daily’s 2016 Corporate Social Responsibility Awards.

Viacom’s campaign represents the exciting potential for mega corporations to initiate change for good. Or at least take part in important conversations. Although Viacom has a unique position as a hugely influential company, its CSR efforts can still be a lesson to others looking for inspiration.

Key elements of campaign success:

  • Demonstrates a partnership with a related nonprofit
  • Stays consistent with the core values of the company
  • Leverages consumer content through social media

The authenticity of this campaign partly stems from its  alliance with a respected advocacy group.  More specifically, Viacom chose to align itself with WITNESS because of the clear parallels with its own position as a media and video giant. It also used this partnership to elevate the socially responsible potential of the company.  Former Viacom president, Philippe Dauman wrote for a new release, “As a global media and entertainment company, Viacom has a unique opportunity to tell stories that spark movements.”

Viacom’s website reads:

  • Viacom is home to the world’s premier entertainment brands that connect with audiences through compelling content across television, motion picture, online and mobile platforms in over 160 countries and territories.

The mission of WITNESS reads:

  • WITNESS trains and supports activists and citizens around the world to use video safely, ethically, and effectively to expose human rights abuse and fight for human rights change.

Viacom recognized its overlap with WITNESS because of their shared emphasis on digital visual communication. The media giant demonstrated a clear strategy in keeping the goal of the campaign itself in line with the core values of the company and the nonprofit.

The final component of success I will mention is Viacom’s engagement with audiences through social media. The campaign included the hashtag #Story4Change, which encouraged audiences to share their own stories about social change. This tactic also mirrors the mission of WITNESS to empower individuals.

Regardless of size or influence, I believe any company has the potential to implement these strategies to create a successful CSR campaign with tangible societal effects.

Photo by Viktor Haneck via PicJumbo

 

Pro CSR is always proactive

Even a well intentioned act of corporate activism can be misinterpreted if it appears overly staged. More specifically, CSR often comes under scrutiny when it’s a reactive rather than proactive response to a community’s needs. When a company uses CSR to cover up complaints from its consumers, the impact of its efforts can suddenly become disingenuous. 

Corporate giants with a particular challenge of reputation management must stay vigilant about the timing of their CSR initiatives. In a recent article, NPR covered Amazon’s decision to donate part of a new office complex to a local homeless shelter. The piece points out, while Amazon’s donation undoubtedly provides a positive impact for the 200 families who will be living in the renovated facility, the act has still been met with skepticism from the public at large. The article reports that Amazon has faced criticism in the past for not engaging more in philanthropic efforts like other Seattle mega companies such as Microsoft and Starbucks. In addition, the city cites Amazon as a major culprit in raising the housing prices because of its draw of high profile employees.

Even though Amazon’s community outreach does address this growing issue in Seattle, it looks more like an attempt to mend a broken reputation than initiate a cause for good. This brings up an interesting issue within the realm of CSR PR. Proactive campaigns are much more powerful than reactive ones. Not just financially, but in the public eye as well.

When a company engages in charitable efforts to overshadow preexisting criticism, the act becomes less authentic and heartfelt. Of course, part of any CSR campaign had an element on enlightened self-interest but it requires a careful balancing act to ensure that good deeds are separated from explicit attempts to save corporate face. In the face of criticism, CSR is not the remedy. Perhaps instead the best approach is to process public complaints, apologize and offer a direct solution.

 

Photo by Ganapathy Kumar via Upsplash

CSR or greenwashing?

The term “greenwashing” grew in popularity during the 1980s when corporate social responsibility found a place in conventional business practices. Investopedia defines the term as the following:

  • Greenwashing is when a company, government or other group promotes green-based environmental initiatives or images but actually operates in a way that is damaging to the environment or in an opposite manner to the goal of the announced initiatives.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) similarly defines greenwashing as portraying company products or actions as green, while in practice the company takes the opposite actions. A related contributor to greenwashing is choosing arbitrary or falsely important causes that don’t have real meaning to begin with.   

This kind of deception is what gives CSR a bad reputation. Ineffective CSR occurs when the strategic communication precedes or overstates actual sustainable business practices. So how does a company make sure its communication and actions are aligned? How does it determine if the CSR is addressing a significant need?   

More and more CSR is becoming a function of PR because it requires the active exchange of values between a company and the public. PR practitioners have a growing role in both conveying the efforts of a client and gaging attitudes of the public to inform the actions of the company. This could even be thought of as a new expression of relationship management theory.     

For example, at the intersection of managerial and communication responsibilities, PR has a role in aligning companies CSR efforts with nonprofit organizations. Facilitating this kind of partnership can directly influence impact on the society, while creating earned media as well. It helps that PR practitioners have a particular gift for this kind kind of audience scanning and multi-party problem solving.

Once the PR practitioner helps the company understand the specific needs of the public they can also help develop next steps to a successful campaign. In short, the only way to avoid greenwashing is to have the action to back up your claims. Consider the following criteria when planning for a CSR campaign.

  • Do you have tangible evidence?
  • Are you making clear, actionable messages?
  • Are messages intended to cover up or distract from a non-sustainable component of the company?

The easiest way to slip into greenwashing (besides just plain lying) is to not be transparent and specific with CSR communication. Change starts from within a company, but PR practitioners can help with that too.   

I will leave on this proposition from a Guardian article on CSR. “What if public relations’ role was not about managing reputation or winning favour for past acts of philanthropy but engendering positive future change and accelerating progress on key sustainability issues?”

Image by Vivek Kumar via Unsplash

Metrics make all the difference

Measuring the impact of CSR initiatives is a crucial part of making them successful. A worthwhile campaign must have real deliverables that can measured and conveyed to the public. Of course, the kind of measurement depends on the kind of campaign a company carries out. And some campaigns are easier to track than others.

According to the blog True Impact, gathering data to determine “success” begins long before the campaign gets launched. When planning, the CSR team should already have an idea about how they will measure the results.

Some general metrics that could be important:

  • Volunteers numbers or volunteer hours
  • Dollars raised
  • Energy produced / saved

To think about the desired outcomes of a CSR campaign there are a few guiding questions a company can consider. First, what kind of initiative will align best with the mission of the company? What kind of recognition does the company hope to receive? In other words, how will the specific metrics add to the company’s values narrative? For example, if the client emphasizes community engagement as a corporate value, then perhaps community service volunteer hours will be an important data point to track and report to audiences.
Photo by Carlos Muza via Upsplash

Building a broader audience

While scrolling through Tweets with the hashtag “OpenYourWorld,” the tagline  of Heineken’s latest campaign I noticed nearly all positive responses. On Facebook I’ve also noticed friends of all ages sharing the ad with comments of praise. Many regarded the advertisement spot, “Worlds Apart” as a more successful attempt at Pepsi’s recent commercial flop.

So what makes this ad so memorable, shareable and an overall hit? One major factor in the popularity of “Worlds Apart” is its theme of bringing people together.

The benefit to unifying campaigns such as this is twofold.

  1. They’re feel-good.
  2. They target a broad audience base. 

Making a political statement or rallying behind a particular cause may work for some brands, but with an international manufacturer such as Heineken, for example, they may not want to alienate consumers with a strong stance on political or social issues.

Instead, pushing the benefits of unification and solidarity between different groups make the messaging accessible and efficient. Not only does the add strategically position the brand as non-partisan, but it taps into a conversation about overcoming differences that inherently includes a broad audience.   

Jeep took a similar route with its ad campaign “Free to Be,” which ran during the 2016 presidential elections. This spot also took hold of a national conversation about polarization and social division and presented the product as a vehicle (no pun intended) for unification.
The difference between Jeep and Heineken’s campaigns and, say, Pepsi’s controversial attempt, is that the former identified specific points of division to address. Pepsi, on the other hand, reeked of inauthenticity as it paraded generic visuals of “protests” without aligning with an actual issue or solution.

 

Photo by Yutacar via Upsplash