Thursday, September 30, 2010

If They Like You, Let Them Show It!

Twitter has always been an excellent tool for driving traffic to other online content. As a CNN report this week points out, Twitter is “meant to be a content referral network.” A hint for utilities and others only taking advantage of the customer service and relationship-building aspects of Twitter: don’t forget to tweet links that refer customers to other online news and information you’re putting out there.

Even though Twitter is the major player in this space, the same CNN Report suggests that the Facebook “Like” button is showing signs of becoming a serious competitor in the traffic-referral business. Some intriguing traffic stats from the piece:

Since the “Like” button came about, ABC News has reported a 190 percent increase in traffic; Gawker's traffic shot up by 200 percent; Sporting News said their site traffic was up by a shocking 500 percent; and said that Facebook has become their second-largest referral source.

Popular sites like are also reporting that user engagement is up since adding the “Like” button, saying pages per user are up 92 percent, time on site is up 85 percent, video views up 86 percent and overall visits have climbed 36 percent.

This is the season where severe storms batter the East Coast and many utilities shine in responding to outages, rolling trucks and sharing crews to keep vital power flowing to your customers. As you communicate about restoration with your customers don’t forget that many of your customers really like you. Let them show it by adding this easy to use Facebook button to your site today.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Twitter and Facebook Replace Your Local AAA Office

As a child, family vacations began with a trip to the local AAA office. We’d sit with a travel agent who would provide us the TourBooks for our destinations, suggest hotel recommendations and my favorite part, they would give us the TripTik book that provided directions across all the North American highways. While that was a great system at the time, social media has revolutionized the way we plan for travel. Now we can engage with local hotels and restaurants directly and even gain insight from locals and travelers who have been to our chosen destinations in the past.

A 2006 trip to Croatia was the first time I tested out social media insights for travel. I used to find recommendations from other travelers on sobes (rooms) to rent as opposed to staying in large hotels. Following that trip I posted my reviews on the site and from then on I’ve relied on websites and social media for researching, planning and booking vacations.

In April 2010, social media took on new importance as the volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted in Iceland and sent a cloud of volcanic ash across the European skies resulting in thousands of canceled flights across Europe Рincluding mine. Almost immediately #ashcloud and #ashtag hastags popped up on Twitter and stranded passengers sought comfort from strangers on Twitter. EuroControl, the organization overseeing safe airline travel in Europe, began regularly posting to its Twitter feed, responding to as many people as possible and urging travelers to connect with each other over Twitter for more information. This major travel and business emergency, played out on Twitter as airlines, government regulators, and passengers used social media to tell their story.

At this point, it became clear that social media was a major source of travel information in developed countries. However, as I recently planned a trip to Peru, I realized it was even more critical in developing countries. While the invention of the internet allowed hotels, museums and other destinations to show and tell their story directly to travelers, the cost to build and maintain websites is a heavy burden for small inns in developing countries. When Facebook allowed companies to create pages, small inns found an easy and affordable way to maintain a web site. In addition, the increase of services like Skype allowed travelers around the world to talk to inns for the price of a monthly internet connection.

Travel boards, Facebook, Twitter and Skype were my only travel agents as I booked a 17-day trip to Peru. Without these social media tools, I would have been unable to find the 5-room B&Bs, best spots for ceviche and cheapest ways to travel across the country. And one of the best parts of social media is that I still today follow some of my favorite new twitter accounts and Facebook Groups from Peru to relive my vacation.

Picture taken at Machu Picchu by a local guide found on

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stuffed Animals and Smart Grid Anyone?

“I looked through Toys-R-Us and could not find a single stuffed smart meter.”

The above quote was a humorous way of describing the power industry’s challenge in selling the benefits of the smart grid to consumers and it came on day two of the Gridwise Global Forum in Washington D.C.

The forum has been abuzz with discussion of “killer apps” and self-healing networks. But during this session, leading minds from Intel Corp., Accenture, Battelle and OPOWER talked through the need to make sure the customer is not lost in the cold data.

Dr. Mani Vadari, vice president of Energy Infrastructure for Battelle Energy Technology, went so far as to suggest a consumer bill of rights for the smart grid. He outlined seven expectations:
  • Expectation of privacy
  • Expectation of transparency
  • Expectation of security
  • Expectation of anonymity
  • Expectation of choice
  • Expectation of sharing
  • Expectation of data
Other speakers commented that the industry understands smart grid technology, how to collect information and the best way to process this data and report back to customers. However, few have figured out how to trigger consumers to reflect on the data in front of them.

Fiona Sim, the director of the Intel Open Energy Initiative, said that her company is experimenting with smart grid imagery that people can connect with. For example, Intel’s employees can see how much energy they are using at work through a picture of a flower on their computer desktop. When the flower is bright and upright, employees have optimized their energy usage. When the flower wilts, they need to make a change.

Throughout the session, there was general agreement that the electric power industry and the consultants who serve it understand that customer power is the key to smart grid success. The way to harness this power is still up for discussion.

-- Potomac Communications Group

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Yes, They're Following... But are You Leading?

The rise of online communications and social media in PR has only increased the tension between quantity and quality. When one can send a pitch e-mail to reporters and know almost instantly how many people have opened it (and how many haven’t), the temptation is to view every PR task – every pitch, press release, blog post or tweet – as a number instead of a mutually helpful interaction.

Those numbers don’t always support the real goal of any public relations effort – inspiring an action of some kind, be it an article, vote or donation.

A recent catalogue of the “Top” 100 PR pros on Twitter, based entirely on each entrant’s number of followers, illustrates the misperception that more is always better and serves as a sharp reminder of two things:

Follower numbers are an imperfect measure at best of who the “Top” PR pros are on Twitter. Client service and creative problem solving define the very best in PR. Maybe the people and organizations included in this “Top” 100 list provide excellent service to their clients. But there’s no way to tell that based on how many Twitter followers someone collects.

• As a media relations tool, Twitter may look and feel different than that old mainstay, the press list, but using either properly requires the same skill set – respect for journalists, persistence when it comes to telling a story and a commitment to routinely refreshing the list as needed (sometimes sacrificing quantity to improve quality).

List management is a skill our political campaign-managing cousins seem to have perfected beyond the current standards in PR. In the political world, success is defined by what a campaign can ask its list to do, not just how many e-mail addresses sit in an Excel spreadsheet.

A successful PR approach to Twitter, social media and client relations generally borrows from that campaign mindset to build smarter lists and engage the people on them with respect and a clear sense of what the “ask” is – an interview with a client, letter to the local paper, or video from an event posted to YouTube.

Even in a new social media environment, success starts with the best – not the biggest – list.

(Join Matt's well-served followers on Twitter: @mps2003)

- Potomac Communications Group

Friday, September 17, 2010

Welcome To Our Newest Staff Member

Sarah Dirndorfer, who recently completed internships at the U.S. Naval Academy and the American Red Cross, has joined the PCG team as our newest Project Coordinator. A Mass Communication graduate from Towson University, Sarah is supporting AREVA, the Solar Electric Power Association, National Grid and TerraPower in her new role.

In addition to her passion for public relations, the native Marylander is an avid amateur filmmaker. In fact, she won an award at the Houston WorldFest International Film Festival for her film about sustainable living.

Sarah also enjoys playing violin, ballroom dancing and whitewater rafting in her free time and is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  You can reach Sarah anytime at

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Lindsay Lohan Loves Smart Grid; Tiger Ponders Climate Change

If you are trying to attract attention to a serious issue - say, climate change or the electrical smart grid - and finding it harder than ever, Howard Kurtz tells you why. His column in the Washington Post today describes one of the game-changers taking place in the media - the drive to maximize readership by emphasizing what on-line viewers are already searching for, often at the expense of what we old journalists would consider real "news."
Even at the Post, which is struggling against the tide of triviality as much as any publication, reporters have to fill out a box when they file an article on any subject. Kurtz explains: "The box is supposed to contain words and phrases that will help me reel you in," via Google and other search engines. That box no doubt reminds every reporter, on every filing, that the goal is, as the Post's executive editor acknowledges, "connecting our journalism to the greatest number of eyeballs possible."

And we all know what grabs eyeballs. One day recently, the Post was juggling several stories that would be seen as big by traditional journalists - McCain winning in Arizona, Murkowski being upset in Alaska. But the paper's "traffic directors" were reporting that the hot stories of the morning were "Elin Nordegren telling People that her life had been 'hell' since her husband's sex scandal, a photo of an alligator in the Chicago River, and a video on Gawker of a British woman throwing a feral cat into a dumpster."

The Post, the New York Times and a handful of other publications are working hard to protect their reputation for seriousness and credibility. But even they have to compete with the growing obsession - of the media and the public - with celebrities and self-help. More serious subjects, no matter how important, have to get over that hurdle.

That's the challenge we grapple with every day - how to compete, for media attention, with Lady Gaga, White House gate-crashers and the next miracle diet. Based on what Kurtz says, real journalists couldn't be any happier about all this than we are. And that may be the key to the puzzle . . . at least as long as there are real journalists.

- Potomac Communications Group