Branding: Narratives that Lead

Blended Learning, M-Learning, Public Relations, Digital, Social Media

Narratives that Lead

As fall shadows start to appear on the horizon, it seems fitting to ponder memories of the season past. Curiously enough, it is not the actual content of happiness that we remember, it’s the more indirect perception of being happy, the narrative arc when a sombre moment turned to happiness, or an unexpected plan transformed an ordinary beautiful summer day into a memorable one.

PR and the Act of Perception: How We Identify

The human psychology is wired to perceive changes: the seasons, the diurnal rhythms, our mood, the weekends–more than a smooth, unbroken run, even one of purely happy moments. Those purely happy moments get blurred into something ordinary, an unremarkable, unsung time of stability, perhaps. We tend to skim over, or ignore things that are not different, that do not to appear change.

Not surprisingly, consciously or unconsciously, we humans like to brand things. Branding identifies by differentiating. We like to label things, or give them a name, as we communication scientists will say, in order to identify, grasp, and understand them.

In PR, social media gives us the tools to construct the micro-narratives that give life to the brand.

There is greater truth to that than apparent at first glance. Consider that unless we identify something (by name, by brand, by label, by a narrative arc) it might as well not have existed. By giving it a name, a brand, we give it an identity, we call it into being.

Remember your favorite brands. What makes them memorable?

Branding: Narrativizing Corporations

So it is with corporations. Branding identifies corporations with a narrative–an arc. A grand storyline that carries with it ideologies, personality, a collective memory of human history, tales, values, and aspirations.

“Just Do It” (Nike), “Read. Watch. Listen” (Facebook F8 motto), “People in Motion” (GM), “Think Different” (Apple).

We project our individual selves on the slogan, personalizing, adapting, and recreating it. It is a powerful, subconscious act.

Remember the Orwellian Apple, 1984?

Do you have a favorite example?

PR in Social Media: The Micro-Narratives Shaping our Grand Narrative

For the social media writer, narratives can be amplified into a grand narrative. Jean Francois Lyotard, the French postmodernist philosopher, argued in his 1979 book, “The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge,” that the grand narrative is, essentially, the story of our times.

It is the powerful logic that underlies the age we live in, that frames how we engage in sensemaking, giving meaning to our reality. Freedom, equality, progress, science, are examples of grand narratives that define our 21st century.

With social media, narrative construction, too is a dialogue. We tell the story in a community square, and it is in the micro-retellings that the narrative arc is shaped, filled out, given life. The story travels our village square by word of mouth. And the organization lives (or not) in its many retellings by its consumers. Our postmodern tribe is not so different after all.

As Kenneth Gergen notes, “With these changes, we confront profound questions of value: What is worth valuing, defending, and holding onto in our lives, and what can we abandon in favor of the new and the exotic?” (An Invitation to Social Construction, 2003, p. 2).

Strategies to Use Social Media To Craft the Micro-Narrative

As social media consultants, we want, we create, we stoke, the campfire around which such micro-tellings that create organiztional identity.

We tell our audiences what is worth valuing about us, yet, we realize that once stoked into being, they take on a life of their own. You watch them grow, shape them through your own narratives, create dialogue around key points, shed light on the bright stuff, and hope you have done your best.


Name: Identify your core values
Create: Envision your narrative arc.
Craft: Weave it into the grand narrative of our times.
Engage: Gently stoke the campfire, start conversations,
Differentiate: Amplify differences from competitors that identify the good stuff
Be True: Tell a good, real story

A Grand Narrative for All Times: Good Shall Prevail

During times of crisis, communications grounded in a good narrative arc, crafted into the grand narrative of our age, will only strengthen the organization’s character.

Your crisis communication will illuminate the good, the strong, and the upright values the organization has upheld. And to fall is only human. As humans, we forgive, we understand, we empathize with our humanity.

Lead with your narrative. Infuse it with value, a grand narrative, an identity that is an enduring player in your audiences’ lives, impossible to leave behind or live without.


Motivate with Inspiration

Gotta love writing about social media in PR. There’s new stuff to mull on everyday. Or, go beyond mulling to imagine new ways of doing things that create space for new ideas in your audience.

In other words, aim for inspiration to motivate behaviors.

Recall, Planning Does Not Equal Doing

However, before we actually “do” something, like buy, watch, act, we “plan” to or create an “intention” to do it. Sounds obvious, but that’s not a simple mantra to emulate in practice.

PR literature is rife with well-meaning social marketing efforts that have a noble goal, painstakingly conducted audience research, thorough analysis, well-executed campaign plans, yet behavior change, if any, is way below expectations.

Inspiration is a strong motivator to act. Researching what is good for your audience is important, but researching what really gets them going is inspiration.

Researching Inspiration

Yet, effectively researching inspiration is a tricky thing because it does not allow for traditional ways of audience segmentation. In other words, what makes me tick might be just a tad different from others in my psychographic/demographic profile.

And often, identifying those little differences are all important in changing behaviors.

I came across a magazine (in this case “Dwell” but that is not the point) on something inspirational, I wanted to savor the moment to mull on the concept.

What exactly was inspiration: it was a bit of dreams (a feeling connected with a value we hold like freedom), hopes (personal, professional), actualization (seeing myself there).

Social Media and PR Research

Social media enables us to understand a great deal about our audiences, much more than we could before. For PR researchers, it provides invaluable, unimaginably rich forms of data.

With aggregating information about your clients across different platforms (e.g., video, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, blogs, podcasts), it is reasonable to say we can get a fairly comprehensive picture of our audience.

Supplemented with classic research methods such as focus groups, surveys, and experiments, PR practitioners can cultivate a well-researched understanding of what inspires their audiences.

Heck, we even shout it out. And as a true PR professional, you can now have your ear tuned in when your audience is speaking to you.

Corporations are getting good at social media market research, although there are still occasional complaints about “why am I seeing ‘this’ ad on my FB stream?”

One of the newer campaigns on my Tumblr blog for instance, has a Capital One Venture Campaign theme , with a dreamy backpacking travel picture. I did not notice it was an ad until I came to the end of the brief post and saw the disclaimer. Nice.

It capitalized (no pun intended) on Tumblr’s blogging platform strength with photos and a pithy caption, but did so rather well, and above all, in a way that spoke to me.

On the other hand, had I noticed something annoying there, I would have disconnected from the company, it’s message, and if it happened once too often, maybe from the platform altogether.

Bottomline, oftentimes there is just one opportunity to win or fail. Aim carefully, aim well.

Coffee and Chocolate

Meanwhile, in recent news, it seems some researchers have found that coffee can reduce the risk of suicide.

With related studies reporting adverse effects in other health areas, or even qualifying the conditions when it is helpful, it’s still wise to leave coffee and chocolate as inspirations for your muse.

Or, plug it for your cause.

Here’s one cause marketing example I appreciate from Endangered Species.

What inspires you?

Hot or Cold? The Medium is Not As Simple Anymore

Media, Communication, McLuhan, Technology

Image copyright: (c) Vinita Agarwal


Vine, Vimeo, Instagram video.

With all the niche video genres, can YouTube be far behind? The news that YouTube has added embeddable buttons comes as no surprise (How To here). Now you can embed the YouTube button on your site to invite viewers to subscribe to your YouTube channel from other social networks, as opposed to them first finding you on YouTube.

Another reason for PR practitioners to focus their message to their target audience needs across platforms. In other words, what you say on one platform can be amplified and supported in myriad creative ways through other platforms and modalities. Exciting.

A TV-Video Blend:
Another, equally high profile and intriguing news is Google’s Chromecast. Chromecast will let you move your web video content to the TV. In terms of technology, basically the HDMI interface connects with video and audio apps (think YouTube, Netflix), and takes them to the HDTV screen.

The good news is that the little thing is cross-platform and can run on Android as well as iOS.

Check Google Play (word is that it’s sold out right now) and it’s expected to be on Amazon as well.

So far, some reviewers (here, or here, or here) have noted its low learning curve and ability to integrate various activities (e.g., Google hangout) with your show “casting,” thus enabling you to get more out of all your devices.

At $ 35, definitely can try this one.

What does it mean for PR folks?

For PR folks, it is a promising opportunity to integrate interactivity with video. In other words, you have an opportunity to enable your clients, members, customers, organizational folk, and so on, to connect tasks and engagement with TV, video, and yes, to other social apps.

But. . .
It’s important to recall the nature of our relationship with the medium. How we watch TV is different from how we engage with our devices (e.g., iPad).

In other words, think about how the media will be consumed by your audience and what that means for your PR goals.

Hint: Think about effectively and powerfully combining traditional ways of watching TV –which is a social activity–with the advantage of audience engagement with apps–which is characterized by interactivity, engagement, and focus. Then add on geographical span (e.g., a Google hangout kind-of social with people who are not in your living room right now), and you should be on the right track.

How far can you go with it? The altered modality combines relationships, engagement, interactivity, feedback. Having a clear understanding of how your audience or organizational members share, perform, engage, give feedback, and watch will help.

In the interactive global village, McLuhan’s medium is a message, a conversation, a relationship, and much more, sometimes all at once, sometimes one thing more than another.

In what other creative ways can you see yourself using this in your public relations efforts?

The Happiness Message: Big Brands Love Social

Blended learning, m-learning, technology, writing, public relations

It’s not just you and me. Though social media certainly give power to the personal branding, media 2.0, flat-collaboration-peer-to-peer responsiveness-person.

The personal corporation: responding, talking, sharing, building relationships with each of their buyers, one-on-one. And using social media as PR/marketing to work with their target audience.

Here are two examples. First, Coca Cola. Second, Hollywood.
Coca Cola.
How a big brand taps into a universal happiness message. Happiness ambassadors campaign. Great way of staying local wherever in the world you are.

Click here to learn more.

Second, Hollywood, not too far behind.

Love the drama in the Twilight app! Read on Here.

Demo midnight podcast here:

Strategic communication and disasters

I celebrated the weekend of the Fourth of July hiking West Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains at Shenandoah National Park with my family. We did a steep section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) starting from the 37.9 mile marker to the historic Corbin Cabin Cut-off–> Nicholson Hollow Trail–> Corbin Mountain Trail–>Indian Run Trail–>Corbin Cabin Cut-off–>37.9 mile marker. All in all, in our 9.5 mi hike we took in two 1000 ft. elevations, going up and down each time, each occurring within a mile. We saw bear paws and a deer. We were the only hikers on the Corbin Mountain and Indian Run trails and had no internet or phone service through the many tricky and steep portions of the trail during the 6 hours we were out in the forest.
My 4-year-old lab was a trooper, although he is still sleepy two days after the 9.5 mi hike. Here he is dipping into one of the many water points provided by the Hughes River.
At several points during the hike it occurred to me it would be good to have a local park app that could call for help during the long hours when there was no connectivity or service for our smartphones. Similar to Yelp, I would have loved to have a “Shenandoah” app along a dedicated community wisdom to draw upon. Social media can be usefully deployed by national parks to avoid disasters especially in areas where search and rescue operations are routinely carried out such as at the Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. A recent example is similar to this is the tragic 19 elite firefighters’ deaths in Arizona. At such times, calling for help under unexpected situations when there is no internet connectivity could be invaluable.
While there are some apps that allow for prediction and aid decision-making during disasters (see here for a NYTimes coverage), these do not yet allow for a social element for assistance nor do they tap into a crowdsourcing facility in a systematic way.
Crowdsourcing can help through being able to reach out to other campers or hikers on nearby trails, for example, and would have been neat for us to have this weekend. Luckily, of course, we did not need it. It can also be great for hikers to build a shared knowledge base through their experiences during the hike.
From another public relations perspective, organizations can also utilize crowdsourcing for knowledge sharing or during crises. While much has been written on the power of social networks to get feedback, connect, build relationships, and engage people, innovation has been discussed in terms of interaction and building on shared ideas. Can there be a way of systematically identifying unusual or outlier ideas that may not fall in the mainstream discussion but point to unique insights?