Sunday, February 16, 2014

Relocated

Just a note that I've ported all of this content over to my official website and online portfolio, along with other old blog content (such as my blog on IGN.com). Go read all of my new content and see what I've been up to at www.joshuadelung.com!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Well... This is Awkward: Where the Posts Have Been

I once read somewhere, in all the what must be thousands of articles on social media I have read in the past decade, that you shouldn't start a blog post on a long-neglected blog with lines such as "I apologize for not posting in so long" or "Wow, it's been a really long time!" While I agree that it might be poor form to draw attention to the fact that you have failed to keep a blog up-to-date if it is, say, a corporate blog, for a personal blog such as this one... I'm going to let the rule slide. Besides, taking a paragraph to justify why you're writing a blog post about not having blogged makes for a feasible blog post introduction.

But really, why no blogging from me for a long time? It's been something like three months, and the posts were admittedly sporadic before then. It's not that I haven't been inspired. I keep a list of blog topic ideas on my desktop, but I often find an idea to not be very timely by the time I come around to writing a blog post. I've tended to, during the last couple of years, try to stay on topic with this blog and focus on public relations and journalism posts exclusively. I think, however, that now that I'm knee deep in my field, I pour my heart and soul into my work and rarely feel like I have enough left to want to come home and write blog posts about it. They say doing what you love as a hobby for your job takes the fun out of it — I don't concede that, I love strategic communication as a career, but working in a field certainly makes you less likely to spend your free time producing extra content on the subject when you know you'd be getting paid to do so otherwise.

I started ReJo as a blog to chronicle my internship during graduate school. It then evolved into a smorgasbord of humor, sports and all sorts of other posts before I really honed in and made it as specific as a blog should be. However, that specificity has limited the amount of content that I write that I actually end up posting here. Though, I'm not ready to let go of ReJo just yet. I like knowing the outlet is here when I have something to say in long form, and there is a lot of what I consider to be great content, much of it evergreen, buried within these posts. But really, if I haven't been posting here, where have I been?

Working is one answer. After graduate school, I embarked into my career first as a public affairs writer for a government contracting firm working in the energy field. I loved it, gained a promotion, and led a small public affairs team to become what I think was perhaps the most knowledgeable team of writers to ever exist on the subjects we covered. It was a ton of fun, and being a passionate environmentalist, it was joyous work for the most part. But the contractor for which I worked got bought out simultaneously with the energy project I was on being subsumed by its parent organization — that meant I was headed to another government agency. At my second gig for my new old company, I was primarily editing technical reports, doing graphic design and prepping briefings for some very senior staff. It was important, good work, but I was utilizing a very small subset of my broader strategic communication knowledge. In addition, the new company that bought my old company was, you guessed it, being bought. It was time to go.

I ended up interviewing, and landing a position, with a small-but-bustling strategic communication firm that specializes in both government work and high-tech commercial work, both within my specialty range. Now, I'm head-first in advertising, marketing, public relations, copywriting — really doing all of the things I know and love, but managing those tasks from a more strategic level, as they should be done. While I'm certainly working more, I'm doing all the things I've talked about doing before on this blog. I suppose you might say I've come full circle, as my job now is similar to the work I did as a graduate intern, when my love for PR and related subjects was solidified.

And there you have one major reason as to why I haven't blogged here on ReJo much. Instead, I'm blogging on behalf of clients and focusing my creative energies elsewhere. But, that doesn't mean I haven't been writing. A writer can never stop writing.

Because I'm focused on communication all day long, I've been using my free writing time to talk about a lifelong hobby of mine, one that is often misunderstood by outsiders — gaming. I won't delve into all the details of video games and why they are actually a good thing — there's plenty of that out there already if you want to go read about the interactivity, the writing, the music, the art, etc., of video games. (And oh yeah, the marketing and PR lessons from game developers and publishers is fascinating, by the way.) But I'll just point you toward my other blog — Thunder Hokie's Blog. Gaming isn't just fun, it's a form of media filled with juicy narratives and brain-bending puzzles — and it is a way for me to write, something I can't keep myself from doing, but still relax. I game, then I write about it. As you can see, Thunder Hokie's Blog has received a lot more attention from me (and commenters) than ReJo.

Aside from work, my MyIGN blog and the other related life happenings, another reason for my lack of long-form blogging has been microblogging using Twitter. I love Twitter because you can customize your feed to the things that are important to you by following experts in those areas — news, celebs, gardening, gaming, sports, you name it. Plus, I don't need even a WSIWYG editor or other special interface — I can tweet or have a conversation with folks on my mobile device. If you're missing out, join the conversation on Twitter. And be sure to follow me @joshuadelung.

And now you know, as the famed radio host Paul Harvey put it, the rest of the story. Thanks for reading, commenting, tweeting, sharing and all that in terms of this post and my blog in general if you have been a reader for years. Who knows when the next time I post here will be... but stay tuned here and via my other blogs, social networks, etc., and keep in touch with me. Let's see where the innerwebz take us next....

Photo credit: Shari Baloch; photo taken of me at Sunset Beach in August 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Broken Trending Topics and ABC's Twitter Fail

This isn't a blog post about the usefulness of Twitter. You're either sold or not on the benefits of being involved with Twitter and social media in general. The only thing I'll say is that Twitter — for any late adopters — is not the endless stream of what people had for breakfast that you think it is (in fact, that's increasingly becoming Facebook). Twitter is anything you want it to be — follow news, your favorite celebs or your fellow hobbyists.

The key with effectively using Twitter is in carving out your niche. Finding people to follow who are valuable. Either they provide helpful links, breaking news, humor or interesting musings about a topic in which you are interested, such as the environment or video games (two of my favorites). One tool that can make this process easier is by paying attention to trending topics.

What's in a trending topic?

Bear with me for a second, Twitter pros. Here is a good definition of trending topics straight from Twitter:

Twitter's Trending Topics algorithm identifies topics that are immediately popular, rather than topics that have been popular for a while or on a daily basis, to help people discover the "most breaking" news stories from across the world. We think that trending topics which capture the hottest emerging trends and topics of discussion on Twitter are the most interesting.

Sounds really helpful for staying in the know

If you think trending topics sound great, you're half right. There is a lot of potential for keeping up with current events in following trending topics. Often, when breaking news happens, it will be a trending topic on Twitter within seconds. However, there is a lot of room for Twitter to improve this feature, and trending topics aren't always the most reliable source of information, and they are rarely ever fully helpful.

Take, for example, the recent RIP Jackie Chan trending topic. Guess what? Jackie Chan didn't actually die. But once a few people tweeted that he had as a hoax, it caught on fire... the more retweets, the more those words had potential for becoming a trend. Eventually, even people asking "OMG Whyz JACKIE CHAN RIP ???" were fueling the fire by feeding Twitter's algorithm and appearing in the stream for that trending topic.

Unreliable information isn't the only problem with trending topics (TTs from here forward). Another problem is that people latch on to pretty useless TTs sometimes. As I'm writing this (using the U.S. as my TT region), one TT is #youlookedgooduntil. The top tweet of that TT is from @kattwilliams: "#youlookedgooduntil I saw you in person. U must be using that new makeup called photoshop?" Not really even that great from a humor standpoint. Another example is #dontdoit. As in @RealWizKhalifa's utterly genius (sarcasm, yes): "Changing your looks and lifestyle to please someone #dontdoit..."

So what's the newsiest thing trending on Twitter at this hour? It seems to be "Joan Jett," a non-hashtagged trend. However, I have to read several tweets down in the stream to find out that Joan Jett is supposedly going to perform with Miley Cyrus on Oprah. Not sure if that's actually accurate (too bad there's no verified status for tweets like there is for accounts). Most of the tweets that show up first in this timeline are quotes from Joan Jett that people have apparently found inspirational.

There's a great opportunity with TTs if Twitter will capitalize on it. The geniuses there need to perfect their algorithm or perhaps even hire people to monitor trending topics and do a better job of filtering the useful from the junk (more on spam in TTs later). What's intended to be a spotlight on what people are talking about is too easily becoming a random list of mundane things that segmented audiences are skyrocketing to 15 seconds of fame, leaving much of the real news, humor and social movements in the dust. Even when important things do rise to the TT list, users often need to do some scrolling and perhaps even some Googling to figure out exactly what is going on with this topic (unless, of course, you're hopefully already following someone who is in the know, which is where Twitter is actually highly valuable). It's not uncommon to see 25 tweets when you click on a TT of people asking "WTF Why is da #cheeseballz trendings?" These people don't know why the topic is trending, but they are contributing tweets with the same words that appear in its stream and keep it trending, making it even more useless. Simple monitoring of the TTs to provide a quick explanation and perhaps a link to an AP article or a company news release about a new product at the top of the page would be super helpful.

Let's just promote trending topics about our company then!

Before you start delving into the realm of paying Twitter to advertise on its site by sponsoring a trending topic, think long and hard about your messaging and if this is right for you and your brand. One problem with TTs is that they can easily be hijacked by the public, and they bring increased attention to your company and your messages. One perceived wrong move, then you're toast, and you just wasted a bunch of money on ineffective social advertising. Plus, spammers will take advantage of your spent cash by using the words from your sponsored topics in their tweets so that they appear in your stream, potentially offering a competing product or even malicious links.

Luckily, ABC provided me with a great example of this for my post today! To promote its new show, Happy Endings, ABC created @HappyEndingsABC and sponsored a TT based on the hashtag #HappyEndings. If you've ever been 12 years old, you can see where this is going. When I check out that stream, I see tweets such as these:

@azraluvzyou: #happyendings well I've always wanted one.
@RadHayes: I think it's awesome that #HappyEndings is the promoted trend right now. Glad people finally realize the value of full-release massage.
@PkSmith9: #HappyEndings are only in fairy tales and at the end of a Asian massages

More mature tweets deal with folks claiming that happy endings only happen in Disney movies or that there is no such thing as a real happy ending in life. I just refreshed the page, and without scrolling, I see no tweets that are actually about the ABC show. I am in awe that no one at ABC had the foresight to think that this messaging might be hijacked. But even if you use more carefully crafted messages, be aware that even when you pay for promoted tweets — the public controls the message with social media, not you. That's why you have to constantly develop your brand and build good relationships so that when the ball is in your fans' court, they slam dunk your message home for you.

Discussion

What do you think? Have you found trending topics to be sort of helpful but lacking in substance? Do you love following them? Do you ignore them altogether? And do you have your own stories of lame promoted tweets or perhaps of very successful ones? Share it and discuss in the comments!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Mass Effect: PR Tactics

Opening rant

I'm not entirely sure who is doing public relations for BioWare right now, but whoever it is could school the industry a bit on generating buzz. I didn't take the time to do an extremely thorough search, so if anyone knows who the mastermind is behind yesterday's cryptic announcements, leave it in the comments. I was able to find some PR firms that BioWare utilized in the past on some old press materials, but they don't seem to have the developer listed as a client currently. I did also see some @bioware e-mail addresses on other materials, indicating that internal folks could be responsible for recent communication efforts.

Now, if you aren't a gamer, you're likely still staring at your screen asking, What buzz? And why the heck should I care as a PR professional about some video game developer?

Well, look, I'll catch you up on the news next. But you really should be paying attention to the gaming industry, which is comparable in sales ($10.5 billion in 2009) to the movie industry ($10.6 billion in 2009). Americans have already spent about $9.7 billion on gaming in 2010. And right now, the gaming industry is exemplifying good PR and marketing smartly.

So what'd they do this time?

BioWare is a Canadian-based video game company responsible for many bestsellers and gamer favorites such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect (and their sequels). The company is a subsidiary of industry heavyweight Electronic Arts.

Yesterday, Spike TV posted a video on its 2010 Video Game Awards site stating that BioWare will make an announcement during the awards show Dec. 11:



Gamers immediately began scouring the Web for information... is this a new franchise, or could it be that BioWare is already dishing out the next part of the highly popular Mass Effect series? (Mass Effect 2 only came out this year and is a nominee for the 2010 game of the year — even still, an announcement would likely mean a late 2011 release for a new game.) Not long after the promo debuted, a savvy poster on the gaming site Kotaku noticed that the rifle shown in the video was very similar to a rifle obtained in Mass Effect 2, the M-29 Incisor:


As if that wasn't enough to fuel the nerdy fire, moments later, BioWare's Facebook page (and its pages for Mass Effect, Dragon Age, etc.) posted two cryptic barcodish symbols:

This is where the PR buzz really exploded. Hundreds and hundreds of commenters and 'conspiracy theorists' across BioWare's various platforms and on Kotaku, IGN, Shacknews and elsewhere discussed what it all could mean, some fervently defending their positions.

The general consensus seems to be that the barcodes can be scanned in and translated to binary and eventually determined to equal the mass of iron and the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth (temperature is apparently known as an effect in physics). Also, that temperature of -128.6 F was recorded in Vostok, Antarctica. Vostok is also a system in the Mass Effect universe. This has led many to believe that BioWare's Dec. 11 announcement will be Mass Effect 3, or a related spinoff game. Others think that because of the connection to a temperature on Earth and the prevalence of iron on Earth that the new Mass Effect game may take place on the planet (Mass Effect has never explored Earth previously, even though the Milky Way is a part of the lore).

A successful PR tactic

By the end of the day, BioWare had gained coverage on all of the major gaming and tech news sites, several gaming podcasts and all over the social media space. It will be interesting to see what ratings turn out to be for the VGAs this year, but I predict they'll be mediocre at best because (A) good luck figuring out what channel Spike TV is and (B) gamers would rather just find the info online during/after the show. For BioWare, though, this tactic of using a little mystery with some cross-promotion couldn't have gone better, and it's a perfect case study for PR professionals seeking some inspiration on innovative ways to connect with target audiences and get them talking.

Photos are from wikis, social media and officially released press materials obtained through Games Press.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Undead Nightmare Anything But for Rockstar Games

Just in time for Halloween, Rockstar Games has released its Undead Nightmare downloadable content (DLC), and the company might have a hit on its hands. Only time will tell, but one thing that's for certain is that the actions taken by Rockstar and its affiliates surrounding this release seem pretty smart. Perhaps it's just another example of the ever-growing gaming industry doing some smart PR.

If you aren't familiar with the video game world, DLC is content that gamers can download directly to their Xboxes and Playstations, usually as an add-on chapter to a full game they've already purchased in disc form. In this case, Undead Nightmare is a horror-themed add-on for the hit game Red Dead Redemption, the open-world Western journey of an outlaw across the American frontier in the early 1900s. What the new DLC does is essentially transform that world into a horror film, bringing back characters from the dead as zombies into the world players have already explored.

There are several reasons that Rockstar deserves credit from the business/advertising/PR standpoint for this move:

1. Zombies are a hot topic right now in pop culture, regardless of what season it is. The success of books such as World War Z, podcasts like We're Alive, movies in the vein of Zombieland and new TV releases such as The Walking Dead, have fed the market. While video games like Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead have been popular for years, capitalizing on the current popularity of zombies is likely a good idea.

2. Rockstar isn't just cashing in on an opportunity in the marketplace here, though. The company is known for making quality games, not just putting out products to make a quick dime. The fact that this DLC is a followup to one of the year's best-reviewed games means Rockstar is giving gamers more of what they want.

3. What really grabbed my attention here was that Undead Nightmare was advertised on TV, and the release being coordinated with Halloween (with ads on channels playing Halloween movies about zombies and such) is just one great promotional move by everyone involved with the project. Also, please leave comments on this blog post if I'm wrong, but I think this is the first time I have ever seen DLC advertised on TV instead of just a standalone game. (Note: Is this a first? I've tried confirming online but can't seem to find out. I've been thinking really hard about this and can't think of another ad for DLC on TV before. Unless they did this before with some of the extra GTA content?)

4. The coordination with Halloween audiences on TV was great, but just the idea of getting the word out about DLC is also a good idea. How often does new content release for video games but gamers have already moved on to another title? Giving them a little reminder somewhere other than their Xbox Live dashboard (because let's face it, that thing requires a lot of scrolling to find anything) certainly seems like a great piece of the strategic communication strategy behind this DLC's launch.

What else do you think Rockstar has done right/wrong with the communication about its products? Leave it in the comments!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

PR No-Brainers Managers Disregard

Set clear, measurable goals. Sounds simple enough, right? But CEOs and managers in organizations all around the country seem to get infatuated with ideas such as Oh! We’re going to make a really cool website! or Let’s see how many news releases we can get out this week!

Some officials seemingly go about these tactics without ever stopping to think about their overall strategy. Again, even if you get a lot of website visits and spam people with 40 news releases per week, it’s important to see if those materials are helping you achieve a clearly stated goal on which the entire public relations staff has been thoroughly briefed. Remember: Clear, measurable goals.

I’ve revised a slide from PRSA’s “Documenting the Business Outcomes of Public Relations” presentation to reflect the key public relations questions every practitioner should ask of his or her manager (presuming, of course, that person is regularly accessible, which sometimes isn’t the case):

  • Whom are you seeking to affect?
  • What about them are you seeking to affect?
  • How much must they be affected to be successful?
  • By when does this effect need to occur?
  • How are you measuring success or failure?
  • When are you adjusting your tactics according to your measurements of effectiveness or ineffectiveness?

If these questions have not been answered and effectively communicated internally, then forget having any sort of noticeable relationship management by any other way than luck (if you believe in such things). In order to begin answering these questions, quite a bit of formative research must be done. As often as vague objectives are poorly communicated to PR staffs, projects are launched before enough research is conducted. For example, how can you know what segmented audience needs a better relationship with your organization if you haven’t researched what specific public has issues and what those issues are? How can you know for certain that a website is the best medium through which to reach your target publics if you haven’t done research to find out what their preferred means of engagement are?

Once audiences, goals and tactics have been determined, the implementation of the overall strategic process can begin. Constant measurement of the effects of implemented tactics must take place in order to prevent wasting valuable time and resources. It’s not just enough to see website hits increasing — how do you know if your target audience is taking away the message you intend for them to if you aren’t interacting with that audience on a regular basis? Pretesting and post-testing in relation to your public relations efforts can be a great aid here. Remember, the business of public relations is about relationships, not sheer numbers.

I’ll leave you with two thoughts from two of my favorite communication scholars (and parents of the excellence theory of public relations), James and Larissa Grunig. This material came from a 2001 study on public affairs within a government agency:

“It is important to point out that measures of communication processes must go beyond measures of products. Too often, communication products (such as numbers of press releases or publications) are counted without understanding how those products fit into a strategic process for communicating with a particular public.”
and
Less-excellent departments conducted no formative or evaluative research and generally had only vague objectives that were difficult to measure.”

@joshuadelung
is on Twitter

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Photo credit, Flickr Creative Commons uploader jayneandd.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Quirkiest Journalism

The other day, several of my coworkers and I were discussing our earlier days in journalism and some of the stranger pieces we had done in our careers before we started working in public affairs. One coworker told us she had reported on the "cat beat" for a short period of time, covering all things feral and furry. Another writer had a classic assignment — to write about a new doll that had been released for young girls. The conversation went on from there.

Here's an excerpt from my submission:
"We're setting up a gateway; we will invite the dead through so they can join us for our rite."
Read more here.

What's one of the more interesting pieces of journalism you've done? Talk about it in the comments and/or post a link there! You can join the discussion and become a fan on Facebook here.

Note: Feral cat photo is not actually a feral cat ... just a scruffy-looking cat to go along with the reference made to covering the cat beat. In fact, that cool-looking kitteh is a Norwegian forest cat, according to the photographer, Flickr user eva101. Check out the original here.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gaming Industry Exemplifies Smart PR

One area of public relations that doesn't yet receive a lot of attention in communication research literature, in the classroom or in boardroom discussions is that of PR in the gaming industry. And no, I'm not talking about casinos.

Video game sales are way up — scoff not, this is a big business that has overtaken music sales. Since the latest generation of gaming consoles released — beginning with the Xbox 360 in 2005 and ending with the Wii and PS3 in 2006 — the industry has grown to epic proportions, and even nontraditional gamers began snatching up Wii consoles to try its unique motion controls (soon to be released by its competitors as well). Mainstream and high-end gamers stuck with the Xbox 360 and PS3, respectively. But now that we're years into the current gen, it's software (actual individual game) sales that are stunning.

photo of a truck driving across a mountainous landscape in halo reach
Bungie is allowing some players to test its new game, Halo Reach, in a beta test on the Xbox 360. Here, players use a vehicle to move across the game's world. | Microsoft photo

Well-known retailer GameStop reported a 13.3-percent increase in new software sales for its first quarter earnings this year. The year's big games once released during the holiday season, leaving what gamers referred to as a summer drought. But now, publishers are learning that with the right titles, marketed to the right gamers, they can sell games all year long.

So how has gaming become such a hugely successful industry? I could debate that topic for days, covering everything from achievement systems implemented lately in games to targeting new demographics to the immersion experience that movies and music can't provide to the increased popularity of mobile devices and therefore mobile gaming. But a large part of the gaming industry's success is thanks to good PR and marketing.

Game developers employ a two-way communication channel with the games' eventual players. Virtually every major company maintains forums where they have open conversations with gamers about what they want from games. These companies also know what type of people play first-person shooters as opposed to flight simulators — they put in the time to do good market research.

Perhaps one of the best moves used by the gaming industry is something we might think of as a pilot test in the communication realm — companies make end users a real part of the development process. Two of the top game makers in the business — Blizzard and Bungie — are both currently in the process of beta testing their latest titles with select loyal gamers. This is the process where gamers can sign up to actually play parts of a new game early in order to help tweak the balance of in-game characters and report bugs. This makes gamers feel more invested in the game, and even those who don't participate in the beta are more confident in buying the final product because they know their peers have already tried to 'break the game,' therefore making the retail version virtually a perfect experience.

PR practitioners should take a page from the growing gaming industry. Put more time and thought into the development of products and campaigns, open up communication channels with stakeholders and involve end users in the process to ensure a polished final result.

Want to know more about gaming? Joshua DeLung is also a D.C.-metro area gaming writer for Examiner.com. You can find his articles here.