“Influencers Who Inspire” Series continues with Alicia Eler, ReadWriteWeb

We’re happy to share another powerful interview in our “Influencers Who Inspire” series.  Today’s interview is with Alicia Eler, Reporter at ReadWriteWeb. We have always admired Alicia for her in-depth coverage of culture, tech and social media topics – things we are very passionate about here at PerkettPR. Her admiration of technology and its impact on our culture is extremely interesting, as is her experience in moving from the print publishing world to online. She also shares some great tips for PR folks in regards to “courting” journalists.

Alicia is curently a ReadWriteWeb Reporter. Before joining ReadWriteWeb, she was the Associate Editor of MoveOn.org, the Web Editor of Sylvia cartoonist Nicole Hollander’s BadGirlChats.com, and the Arts & Entertainment Community Manager for the Chicago Tribune’s ChicagoNow.com. Her arts writing has been published in Artforum.com, Art Papers, Time Out Chicago, and the Chicago Tribune, among others. She can be reached at @aliciaeler and alicia@readwriteweb.com. See her full portfolio here: http://www.aliciaeler.com

You used to cover arts and entertainment before RRW – do you look for topics that have an art or entertainment-based angle, even in the tech world?

Yes, I always look for an art and/or culture angle. I am interested in entertainment (movies, music, TV) if I can look at a larger cultural trend within. So, for example, I am fascinated by pop culture and the way Justin Bieber has become a celebrity both on social media sites (Instagram, Facebook) but also on a larger, mass media scale.

When it comes to technology, I am interested in looking at the ways it shapes culture and vice versa. We can’t think about Facebook or Twitter without thinking about celebrity; we can’t discuss communication without talking about iPhones and emoji icons. Like a cultural anthropologist, I work best when I immerse myself in the culture and space that I am trying to understand and tease apart.

I am also an excessive user of both mobile and social – I have more apps on my phone than I care to admit. I am fascinated by the culture of “free” – the fact that if we use a platform for free, we are the products. We pay for it with our information, the data that we so willingly provide. I investigate the push and pull between sharing and consuming, particularly as it relates to our increasingly networked culture. What does it mean to live a life on social networks in addition to a physical, offline reality?

How has journalism changed over your tenure in the industry? Or has it?

I started off in the print world. Back then, the idea of publishing an article online seemed both novel and silly. I got paid for what ran in print publications. That was back in 2006. Now, six years later, I write almost exclusively for the Web. As I mentioned above, I prefer to act as a cultural anthropologist working in the realm of social media.

I still write about art that happens offline when I have the time to do so – I cannot give myself emotionally to technology. It is cold, glass, wires and electricity. When I spend too much time online, I start to feel at a loss for meaningful offline relationships.

This is why I prefer to think about social media in a detached way. I see social networking sites as an experiment, not a space where I clone myself and act as me. I am “me” on Facebook.

So, as I was saying, I do write almost exclusively for the Web – but one exception is an essay I am writing about Chicago-based artist Ellen Greene.  She came to me through Peregrine Honig, an artist I have worked with over the past five years. Ellen paints raw, intricate vintage tattoo imagery on women’s hand gloves. In her work, she juxtaposes the realms of nature and culture, exploring ideas of motherhood, what it means to be a “hero,” and investigates the possibilities of personal myth making. I have been moved to tears by her work. It is what I think about when I’m not immersed in social networks. I am also fascinated by the work of Danah Boyd, who studies teen tech trends, race and class.

How do you like to be contacted? What makes a great pitch?

I prefer to be contacted either by people I know, people with whom I have mutual friends, or through some sort of smart, witty email or tweet.

I really appreciate formalities and the idea of “courting” a writer – too often I get a bunch of garbage-type press releases. I feel like people think that if they can put together a press release and blast it out to folks they know, they will get coverage. That is not true. I generally ignore or filter out press releases, especially if they are not at all personalized.

My advice to PR people is take your time, do your research and intuit when the best time to approach a writer is. I am someone who remembers everything – so when I meet someone I don’t like, I remember it as much as someone I do like.

When it comes down to it, I am fascinated by people who truly believe that their product/idea/brand is the best thing ever. I like a good salesperson as much as the next guy.

What are PR people NOT doing that they should be? What are they doing that they SHOULDN’T?

Like I said above, PR people should be doing their homework and not sending spammy press releases. Court the writer! Also please do not tell me your sad story about why you need to be covered – there is nothing more unattractive than someone who is desperate.

What do you read for journalistic/industry knowledge and inspiration?

I read Techmeme, my Facebook news feed, Twitter, Tumblr like RappersDoingNormalShit & LesbiansWhoLookLikeJustinBieber, the stuff people post on my Facebook wall. (My Facebook community is awesome!) I love Atlantic Wired, Wired magazine, Buzzfeed, Wall Street Journal Tech, New York Times’ Bits Blog, and my colleagues’ work at ReadWriteWeb. Sometimes I try not to read that much – it’s easy to get caught up in trends and what everyone else is saying. I like to meditate, too.

Do you have any secret ambitions or hobbies?

I collect owl ornaments and figurines. I believe in intuition, serendipity and kismet. In fact, Kismet is my middle name. No, seriously.

What is next for you in 2012?

Becoming ever more immersed in the social networked world, coining new terms that will define this era, meeting lots of artists and creative thinkers/visionaries, travel, hanging out with Mark Zuckerberg. (Hi Mark!)

 

Social Media Lessons from Bieber Fever

Justin BieberUnless you’re living under a rock, you’ve likely heard of Justin Bieber, the latest singing sensation that has teens and preteens around the world screaming and sobbing just for a quick, but memorable, glimpse of his dashing smile and famous hair. Last Sunday afternoon, I took my seven (going on 17)-year old daughter to see the new Justin Bieber movie “Never Say Never,” which came in second place at the box office.  As I sat there watching this surprisingly inspiring movie, I noticed my little girl get a twinkle in her eye and I began to understand the intriguing phenomenon known as “Bieber Fever.”

Later that evening, I tuned into the Grammy Awards and watched this young talent share the stage with well-known singer Usher and new-comer Jaden Smith. Though he didn’t win, he did get an amazing outpouring of support on Twitter – leading to his name being a trending topic, yet again.  Some of us love him, while others are tired of his constant media attention. Two things we can all agree on is that he’s captured the mind share of teens and tweens everywhere, and he could certainly teach us all a thing or two about the power of social marketing.

For anyone outside of his core demographic, it may be tough to understand just how this young boy has gained such popularity in a relatively short period of time.  Is it simply luck?  Some say it has something to do with his celebrity backings, from influential artists like Usher.  Or, could it be the impressionable age of his audience or his constant and hectic schedule of personal appearances and performances.

I think the real answer here is that this kid is “ahead of his time” and is an absolute marketing whiz!  When Justin was discovered by talent agent Scooter Braun in 2008, he had five videos on YouTube, with the most popular one generating an impressive 70,000 views—all of this with just the direction of his mother, who video taped all of his performances, including his first appearance at a local singing competition. By sharing his YouTube videos with friends and family (who in turn shared these videos with their networks and so on) and through some honest to goodness hard work, Justin’s celebrity status sky-rocketed and his music career took off. In a matter of a year, girls everywhere were screaming his name.

Bieber Fever

So how did he do it? Justin’s favorite and most-effective social media tool has been Twitter. He was one of the earliest artists to start using Twitter to reach and build his fan base and now just roughly three years later, he’s got 7.2 million dedicated followers hanging on his every word.  He uses Twitter to promote his music, videos, personal appearances and boost ticket and album sales.  A quick glance at his Twitter page and you will notice that he responds to each fan and retweets their messages, further proving to his fan base that he truly is “listening.” In addition to promoting his own videos, movie and other tour news, Justin also wisely takes the time to engage with other celebrities (with huge followings) while promoting his appearances on shows like Ellen and Lopez Tonight.

As a result of his hard work and creative social marketing tactics, the Biebster has the world’s most viewed YouTube video, has over 21 million fans on Facebook and is holding strong on AdAge’s list of Top 10 Twitter “Trending Topics” list with other important world figures and topics such as Egypt’s revolution, the Superbowl and fellow break-through artist Lady Gaga. His Twitter statistics are pretty impressive as well, with his readers’ reach at 146,362,484 and 118% of his tweets being Re-Tweeted.

So, what is next for this marketing sensation and what can we learn from him?

Listen and Engage With Your Audience.

He continuously taps into social media to obtain feedback from his fans and gain more insight into his target audience, their wants and needs.  He “listens” and “engages” with his audience just like any master marketer.

Understand Your Target Audience.

He takes the time to understand his fans and he is always pushing the envelope, trying new ways to promote himself. Because of all of this, he gains the hearts and minds of his fans and thousands of new Twitter followers each week and continues to gain on Britney Spears.

Get Creative and Give Back.

Justin is well-known for offering free concert tickets and pulling off surprise visits to fans, such as his recent Valentine’s Day visit to Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA

After the visit, Justin tweeted: “Just finished seeing some amazing kids who couldn’t get to see #NSN3D …so we surprised them and brought the movie to them.” Bieber ended the tweet with the hashtag #makeachange.

All in all, Justin Bieber and “Bieber Fever” is a classic example of putting social media to work for you in the ultra-competitive music industry. However, the lesson here goes far beyond the entertainment world.  Justin’s use of social media throughout his rise to stardom can be translated to almost any industry or small business.  Maybe all of us can’t reap as much reward from social media as Justin has, but we can definitely try by learning from his best practices. Justin was just ahead of his time in this area — but then again, having great hair can’t hurt either.

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun and 915thebeat.com

You say Potat-o, I say Potat-a. Social Media, Marketing & Perspectives

AdAge ran an article yesterday that reminded me of perspectives. Perspectives have been on my mind as we continue to help businesses and institutions of all types more directly communicate with their key audiences – from customers, patients and prospects to partners, VCs, media and more. Perspectives have also been on my mind as many social media fans questioned the value of attending the recent South by South West (SxSW) festival in Austin – many folks said it’s the “must attend” show for anyone in social media. Others claim the festival has gone by the wayside and many debated whether or not it was worth attending at all.

Well, I guess that depends on your perspective.

For example, the AdAge article was about Justin Bieber. I don’t know who Justin Bieber is – but thanks to Simon Dumenco, I know now that he’s a Twitter and marketing machine, and quite possibly “the biggest legit pop star ever created by YouTube.” Now, none of this really matters to me (other than my interest in the marketing impact and approach) because I don’t have, as Simon puts it, a “young teen or tween.” My perspective is, “Justin who?” because I have no connection to this phenom and thus, while impressed with his impact, don’t really have a reason to care.

Likewise, people not in the business of social media or marketing don’t really care that the social media crowd gathers in Austin for a week, while a social media manager would “just die” if she weren’t at the “see and be seen” event. Someone ready to retire doesn’t think much about the job market, an ice skater likely doesn’t much care about the NCAA championships, and a fashion maven would do anything to get into New York Fashion Week, while her neighbor Bob, who owns a bait and tackle store, doesn’t even know that entire weeks are dedicated to watching skinny models walk down elaborate runways in outrageous clothing.

The point is, perspectives matter – especially in marketing. It’s the marketer’s job to get out of their own heads and into that of the audience they’re trying to influence. Do you know what your potential customer’s perspective is? You know what you think it is, but do you really know? Have you asked? Do you include a feedback mechanism in your marketing in order to keep rapidly changing perspectives in mind as you devise your strategy?

Traditionally, marketers gathered such information through the likes of surveys, polls, or focus groups –often conducted via email, phone or formal gatherings. While these methods can still be fruitful, it’s often challenging to get a good response rate and can be a great undertaking of both time and expense.

Many companies often ask what the value is in dedicating time spent on social media sites as part of their marketing or PR efforts. If they can’t correlate a direct sale, it can be difficult to convince the C-suite of the value. However, marketers need to think of social networks not as a direct sales pipeline but more as an ongoing, live and constantly evolving focus group. Understanding your customers and prospects has always been a core focus in marketing, and social media allows you to gather such perspectives on a daily basis.

If you know how to navigate the networks, a good marketer can use social media for ongoing research – gathering oodles of useful data just by watching the conversations (note; understanding how to find the right conversations is key). When you can gather information about what your constituents are thinking, what they care about, where they see the “next hot thing,” etc., you can better understand their perspectives.

A better marketer understands how to participate in the networks to direct conversations toward useful topics – in order to get perspectives on the things that matter to your business.

A great marketer knows how to integrate an audience’s perspectives into social marketing campaigns. When customers feel that you understand them, they’re more likely to listen. When they see you participating in conversation with them – not just talking at them, but with them – they’re more likely to connect with and trust you (or your brand). When they feel an emotional connection to your brand – something easier to create when you understand perspectives – they’re more likely to become brand champions.

So listen up – and integrate social media into your marketing efforts to, at the very least, get your pulse on the perspectives that matter to your business.