Navigating the Digital Landscape during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every business, forcing a halt to most avenues of revenue. One avenue, however, remains a lifeline for organizations: digital platforms. From Zoom conferences to AMAs, we’re entering into a new reality on how to best connect with consumers. 

To best take advantage of this, organizations need to understand how to navigate this current climate. Below you’ll find a list of best practices to consider when diving into your new strategy: 

 

  • Update your communications social media crisis plan: Create a COVID-19 specific response bank and escalation path that includes all key stakeholders for the situation. If you don’t have an existing social media crisis plan, consider creating one that includes the following:  

 

      • What counts as a crisis and guidelines for how to identify 
      • Roles and responsibilities for every department.
      • A communication plan for internal updates.
      • Up-to-date contact information for critical employees.
      • Approval processes for messaging posted on social media.
      • Any pre-approved external messages, images, or information.
      • A link to your social media policy.

 

  • Create social media guidelines for employees: Guide employees on how they should talk about the business on social media during the COVID-19 crisis. Your policy is dependent on factors like size and independence of the company. It should also include information around:

 

      • Privacy guidelines
      • Copyright reminders
      • Brand voice guidelines

 

  • Secure your accounts: Hackers and bad actors can take advantage of a crisis, and we’re seeing an increase in attacks due to COVID-19 (ie: spreading malware, stealing personal information, etc.). Update your passwords and have dedicated managers who have access to social channels. Don’t keep your passwords in a document or email, or anywhere where it is at risk of being stolen/hacked. 
  • Use a social media management platform: Now is the time to set up your listening dashboard to monitor conversations and concerns in real time. Monitor social sentiment to see how consumers are reacting to your brand and address questions as they come in – setting up a response plan with dedicated community managers can also help. 
  • Engage and respond when needed: Have canned statements ready for conversations, but remember these are people you’re talking to. Approach with empathy, but keep it short. 
  • Stop all scheduled content: Remember, content today may not work tomorrow. Stop all scheduled content and switch to a daily scheduling plan. 
  • Save your “lessons learned:” This will be a learning experience for marketers/communications teams everywhere. Keep a log of what worked, what didn’t go as planned, and make notes for future crisis planning. 

 

Then, organizations can move forward and enact their digital strategy. Here are some things to consider when you begin sharing content across digital platforms:

  • Consistency: From employee communications to customer letters, it’s important for your audiences to have a clear understanding of your perspective on the topic. For example, Lululemon has repeatedly emphasized the importance of community on their social channels, and have upheld that by continuing to pay employees and livestreaming workout classes. 
  • Authenticity: Brands that have a credible reason to be providing information and updates should; it should not be self-serving.  
  • Highly transparent: Deliver clear communication about what decisions are being made and why  
  • Respectful and aware: ensure your content topics, tone and frequency are appropriate and relevant in today’s environment. For example, avoid events promotion or self-serving updates that could be deemed insensitive.
  • Helpful: Offer content and information that is relevant, beneficial and actionable

If you’re looking for more insight on how to optimize your digital strategy during COVID-19, please reach out to digital@highwirepr.com 

The four things you must do to get the best video conferencing results

Home photo studioWe’re all going to be spending a lot more time doing video calls from home, it’s worth putting in the time and effort to get the best video conferencing setup. Sitting on a comfortable chair, at a sturdy desk, looking at a good quality monitor is no longer enough. Getting your home video conferencing setup right can make a big difference to you and your brand. Particularly if you’re engaging customers, conducting media interviews or producing webinar content from home. These tips will help you get the best video conferencing setup. 

Start with the Camera

Most people have a good quality camera built into their laptops. If you’re not putting out HD quality footage, consider investing in a camera that does. Depending on the kind of lighting you’re going to use, a Logitech Brio is a good first step for an external webcam. If you’re going to use a ring-light (helpful if you’re planning to do broadcast interviews) then look for a camera with a shoe mount, such as the Logitech Stream Cam

Sound that will get you listened to

One of the best investments get the best video conferencing quality is a condenser microphone. If you’re not willing to spend a couple of hundred dollars on something from Rode, then the Snowball Ice comes highly recommended. Alternatively, we’re also big fans of the Jabra Speak 510 which doubles as a microphone and a speaker. 

Lighting up your presence

Follow the stage rules for a basic three-light configuration consisting of a key light, fill light and backlight. The key light is the focus and the one you need shining at your face and with the highest strength. At approximately half the strength of your key light comes a fill light, which will help remove shadows. The backlight helps to even out the entire scene and introduce some highlights on your head and shoulders, making sure you look your best on video conferences. 

Invest in some proper lights if you’re doing a lot of video with customers or prospects. Look at a GVM ring light paired with a shoe-mount camera to act as your key light. Neewer stage lights can complement to act as your fill and background lights, or skip the ring light and use each Neewer as your key and fill lights. 

Getting the best video will make a big difference in how colleagues, customers, and prospects respond to you. Oh, and keep some foundation nearby.

Don’t clutter your background 

If you don’t have a blank wall to work with, consider ordering a personal background with a solid color that works well and ideally, fits with your brand. Grab a backdrop holder and pair it with a colored backdrop for less than $50 and you’ll transform your setting to studio quality.

Getting it right

Building a home studio setup takes some work and a level of investment. It’s worth the investment to make sure your executives represent your brand on screen. Sales and marketing teams will get better engagement if they look and sounds their best.

Nailing your home setup doesn’t need to be complex – invest a little in getting sound, light and camera right and you’ll have a big impact. We’re happy to help.

Lights Out on Your Events, Now What? Part Two: Integrate, Align, Reinforce, and Repeat

Last week, we took a look at how businesses can respond to the coronavirus pandemic, prioritize objectives and focus on audiences to fill the void of in-person events shutting down or going virtual. You can read my breakdown and suggestions in this Marketing Land piece. 

For part two in the series, we’re going to tap into the wisdom of crowds (remember those? #StayHome) and the beauty of truly integrated campaigns, amplified through the audience. 

Invoke the wisdom of crowds

So you’ve identified your audience, crafted some killer content and need to find reach. In many cases, amplification begins at home. Employee advocacy harnesses the combined social reach of your team. 

It’s a technique that requires some groundwork, but that pays dividends year-round. At the moment, with swathes of office workers logging on remotely, there’s no better time to tap into skyrocketing social media usage and begin turning your workforce into an amplification powerhouse.

Start with the simplest tool you almost certainly already have: LinkedIn. The social network recently rolled out Employee Notifications, letting you push an update to every employee directly from your company page. 

It makes distributing content incredibly easy, and requires very little training or even prep, since it leverages the page, employee audience and social posts you already have.

When you’re ready to step up to the next level, take a look at LinkedIn Elevate – the big brother to Employee Notifications, which includes a full suite of amplification tools, built on the same social network. 

Third-party platforms can extend the same techniques to Facebook and Twitter. While adding new networks increases the complexity of your employee advocacy efforts, it also greatly enhances your reach. 

When you’re ready to level-up, remember that managing such a program can be a full-time job. Employee communication needs to be clear, actionable and unambiguously designed for sharing. Employees can be nervous about inadvertently publicizing something that was meant to be confidential, so lay the groundwork and consider bringing in experts before embarking on an advocacy adventure alone.

Get some influence

Of course, one of the fastest ways to turbo-charge your campaigns is to integrate some influencers. Doing this correctly will take some time, not to mention some tools to identify, vet, onboard, and engage the right people to help spread your message. 

However, those investing the time and budget into getting it right now will see dividends in the months and years to come. A strong influencer program can be activated year-round, and dialed up to provide extra reach in coordination with your other paid, earned and owned activities. You’ll need to weigh analytics carefully when managing your influencer cohorts. We recommend looking for the Three-Rs: Relevance, Reach and Resonance.

Relevance should be obvious, but go deeper than bios and hashtags. Look for influencers who are regularly referenced by the wider community. Look for more than high-level key phrases, and build a panel of influencers who go from the highest level of general interest to true specialism and deep knowledge. Don’t be afraid to have some of your influencers truly geek out on your subject matter, as long as their audience is along for the ride. 

Reach is another metric that might seem simple, but is easily misunderstood. You’ll need to ensure influencers’ reach is evolving, growing and showing evidence of natural churn. You do not want to market to the same audience over and over. If you did, a one-off engagement would suffice.

Lastly, resonance. Map out the social networks of your influencers and look for tell-tale signs that they’re actually having an impact. Beware of those simply broadcasting to echo chambers. Instead, look for a healthy connection, conversation and engagement with the community. 

Integrate, align, reinforce, and repeat 

There’s probably nothing here you don’t already do, to one degree or another, but just as we’ve all become fantastically good at hand-washing in recent weeks, practice makes perfect. 

Without in-person events, now is your opportunity to practice more integrated marketing. Go beyond what you would usually do and up-level each aspect of your campaign activity. This is the time to draw everything together, and double down on what’s working, rather than reinvent a perfectly good wheel. Integrate, align, reinforce, and repeat. 

As we outlined in the first blog post in this series, your efforts should be integrated, objectives tightly aligned and each should reinforce some aspect of the other.  

When everything works together, everything works better. That means feeding thought leadership into employee advocacy programs, fueling paid with earned media mentions and funneling everything toward lead-generation in partnership with sales. As we all work increasingly remotely it’s ironic that we’re being given fresh reasons to work closer together.

Lights Out on Your Events, Now What? Part One: Objectives and Audience 

The coronavirus pandemic has cancelled conferences all over the world, leaving marketing teams scrambling for replacements to help meet their goals. Some companies are attempting all-in-one virtual replacements as a sales salvation, but in reality there is no single substitute for real-world events.

Our new piece in Marketing Land highlights what companies can do to fill the void left by in-person events. In this two-part blog series, we’re going to take a closer look into what teams can do right now that will help them get through this crisis, but also reinforce their long term strategy to be more successful in the future. First, let’s start with resetting objectives and putting your audience’s needs first.

A hard reset on objectives

It may not seem like it, but the cancellation of conferences worldwide gives you an opportunity to reassess your strategy. Instead of looking for an online version of a conference, stop and ask yourself these questions:

  • Which audiences were you hoping to connect with? What are those people doing instead? How are recent events impacting immediate concerns?
  • Is it all about sales and lead gen? Or were you looking for networking, brand building or product launch opportunities?
  • Were you attending out of habit, or with a clear, measurable purpose? If you can’t quantify the value of attending, finding a replacement will be extra tough, and perhaps unnecessary.

Once you answer these questions you’ll likely realize you can achieve similar results with a different strategy, ideally one which leverages activity you already have in place. This is the time to double down on integration, and make every aspect of your existing marcomms program work better, together. Here are some examples: 

  • Run a LinkedIn lead generation campaign with target audiences built from idealized attendee lists. It will almost certainly cost less than the budget you reserved on building a booth or even holding your own conference.
  • Connect with industry influencers and use live-streamed product demos to build awareness. Amplify with paid social and invite reporters to pose questions for an earned media hit.
  • Double down on your thought leadership and turn conference keynotes into long-form executive posts. Turn high value technical talks into gated white papers to boost consideration, while also driving leads.
  • Best of all, combine all of the above for a truly integrated campaign. When everything works together, everything works better.

It’s not just about relying more heavily on what you’ve always done. Keep in mind that you’re not alone looking for alternatives. Now more than ever you need quality, targeted content with clear purpose to break through the noise of online marketing.

Think audience-first and channel-native

How do you get the most compelling content possible? By being relevant first, and self promotional second. Your priority should be to understand your audience, clarify your point of view and align it with their needs. Do research on who your audience is and what they want and where they will see it: 

  • Use social media listening tools to not only follow conversations, but become involved in industry discussions. 
  • Conduct a content audit to discover the gaps between what you are producing and what your audience responds to.
  • Build personas. Understanding your audience’s demographic, psychographic and firmographic make-up is the key to finding relevance.

Say something that will get you noticed and do it where your audience already is: embrace social, podcasts, video, and put executives forward just as you would at a conference. 

Amplify your content with paid social to increase awareness and engagement. Be sure to optimize content by channel. Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin and, if you’re adventurous, TikTok, all require unique material to make the biggest impact. Presenting a native appearance on each platform is the difference between social pros and novices. 

There is no need to panic when a major conference is canceled. You have the tools at your disposal to streamline and integrate your marketing plans in ways that will help you prevail long term and make you smarter and more productive in the future. 

Finally, it’s important to revert to measurable and quantifiable value. Ask the difficult questions and be bold in creating the right content to reach your targeted audience. A hard look at your objectives can go a long way. Read more about what we suggest you do in this new reality in Marketing Land.

Thinking of Using TikTok to Reach Gen Z? Read This First.

Whether you’re Gen Z, a Millennial or even Gen X, chances are you’ve heard of TikTok. It’s the latest social media app that’s taking over and everyone wants to be a part of it. 

TikTok offers users the ability to express themselves through quick clips set to popular music (available via the platform’s expansive library), the app has become a fashionable channel for lip-syncing, dance, comedy videos, and more.

Celebrities use the platform to promote their own brand and the platform has cultivated its own influencers through the TikTok community. So if influencers are using this to successfully promote their brand, should companies be doing the same?

Given TikTok’s popularity amongst Gen Z, we took it upon ourselves to do a deep dive into the platform and determine how companies can use this platform to elevate their brand awareness.

What is TikTok?

Let’s start off with the basics — what is TikTok? It’s a Chinese-based video app founded in 2016 that allows everyone to be a creator and encourages users to share their passion and personal creative expression through their videos. TikTok combines Vine and Music.ly, a famous lip-syncing app that was acquired, in 2017 by ByteDance. 

In the short amount of time since being founded, TikTok has skyrocketed as a social media app. The app has been downloaded more than a billion times, there are 30 million-plus monthly active users in the U.S. and 37 billion U.S. video views a month. It’s reported that Americans are opening the app eight times a day, spending around 46 minutes a day in the app. 

How do brands currently use TikTok?

Despite the growth of TikTok’s user base and usage, it hasn’t yet reached the advertising heights of its competitors such as Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. According to its second-quarter financial report, Snapchat has 83 million daily active users in North America and 10 billion video views a day or 300 billion a month, beating TikTok significantly.

To stay competitive, TikTok offers five ad products including the hashtag challenge, a brand takeover, in-feed video, branded lenses and a “top-view” video. These require significant investment – a hashtag challenge will run you a minimum of $150,000 a day.

Brands have been utilizing these ad products by partnering with influencers or celebrities within the TikTok community to promote their products and increase their awareness, engagement and reach. 

Looking ahead, TikTok plans to build out its ad tech with “internet-based” targeting, which serves ads to audiences based on their behavioral characteristics – e.g. identifying people based on preferences and personalities learned from collecting data on their activity use within the app.

Is TikTok measurable?

While TikTok does have ad products, it’s not a fully open ad platform just yet making measuring ROI difficult. As it stands, it measures metrics similar to other social channels — think views, likes, comments, engagements, etc. With their hashtag challenge feature, they’re also able to measure from those that viewed the video and how many of those people created their own video using the hashtag.

Currently, there are doubts about how accurately the platform can measure videos and ensuring all followers are humans versus bots, a challenge most social media apps face. Until there is a better system put in place, brands using TikTok for advertising purposes will struggle with defining success based on metrics.

Should your company be using TikTok?

With 69 percent of users between the ages of 16 and 24, brands that have cultural relevance to this demographic will benefit the most. It’s an ideal platform for brands and companies that are looking for a creative way to increase their awareness and reach a younger audience. That being said, as it stands, this platform isn’t the best fit for the Cisco’s and Oracle’s of the world.

Digital Tips for Event Promotion

When it comes to planning an event for your company, designing and leveraging digital assets is one of the greatest opportunities for your business. Branding isn’t just throwing your logo on a graphic, sending out some tweets and crossing your fingers for high engagement. It comes down to the overall messaging and display.

We wanted to share some tips and tricks based on Highwire’s recent Security Panel, Privacy and Policy in the Age of Disinformation, and how it helped both our digital and design teams. Here’s our process:

  1. Think about the goals and objectives of the event itself. What are you trying to illustrate to your target audience, and how can you display that in your graphic? For example, the goals of Highwire’s Security Panel were to educate on the matter of Disinformation, and, of course, garner interest in attending from our target audience.
  2. Get educated on design. To non-designers, photo-editing, vectoring, masking, etc. may seem a little overwhelming. For beginners, it’s best to start by learning the principles of design – balance, emphasis, movement, pattern, repetition, proportion, rhythm, variety, and unity. Also, take into consideration color, typography, graphic elements and composition to help promote your event the best way possible while staying on brand. Finally, there are platforms out there that can help beginners get started with design. Free tools that could be great resources include Canva, Picmonkey, and Vectr.
  3. Plan it out. Having diversity throughout graphics is crucial in the promotion of the event as it keeps the information interesting, while also consistent and straightforward to the audience. Always include photos from the event to promote afterward on social channels.
  4. How are you going to promote this event with these graphics? Think about what social platforms resonate best with your target audience and when that audience will be online. You don’t want to post when no one will see it.

With these tips, you’ll be able to start designing and leveraging your digital assets to promote your event in the best possible way. For more information, contact Highwire’s Digital Studio at digital@highwirepr.com

How to Beat the Trade Show Noise with Digital

When it comes to trade shows, social media presents one of the biggest opportunities but also one of the greatest challenges for businesses. Sending out a few tweets the month before an event like CES, RSAC, or even Black Hat USA is not enough — businesses need a digital strategy that encompasses all parts of an integrated PR program if they want to cut through the trade show noise.

It’s no surprise that we are seeing more companies take advantage of modern marketing tactics at events. Social media is no exception; statistics show that 96 percent of marketers use social media to increase awareness around events. More than half find the biggest challenge is how to use social media effectively.

Social media is not a new phenomenon. The questions we as marketers, social media managers, and PR professionals need to ask ourselves is, how can we cut through the clutter and elevate our clients’ messages? How can we make the most of an integrated PR program, while tracking towards target KPIs?

I wish I could say it is as easy as sending out a tweet, but thankfully there are a few tricks to the trade if you are just getting started implementing a trade show social media strategy:

Goals, Goals, Goals

Just like any other marketing or PR initiative, the key to success is setting goals. Do you want to increase brand awareness? Do you want to drive revenue? Define your goals early on and determine how social media tactics can help you get there.

Highwire recently worked with a security company during Black Hat USA 2018 and RSAC 2019. While our focus during BHUSA was to spark conversation among practitioners and increase engagement around the many talks and presentations of the company’s thought leaders, our goals for RSAC were centered around brand awareness and increasing foot traffic during the many partner and company demos in-booth. No matter the trade show, get aligned on business goals and don’t treat this part of your strategy as an afterthought.

Get Creative

When I was at RSAC 2019, I stopped at a booth where a man had his arms strapped to his chest while riding a unicycle. I’ll give them major bonus points for creativity and drawing in a huge crowd, but it seemed a little out of place and I wondered how many bystanders stuck around to learn more about their products or services.

It’s easy for your message to get lost. Dance mobs and men on unicycles can certainly draw attendees, but how does this help you meet your goals? Is your creative activation all flash and no substance? What do you want attendees to walk away with when they leave your booth?

When we work with our clients during ideation, we always shoot for the moon, but we spend time narrowing down ideas to those that we can execute and those that land results.

We love big ideas, but we’re also keen on simple tactics that drive engagement and brand awareness: live streaming demos, Twitter giveaways, authentic on-the-ground videos, and capturing content that we can leverage during and post-trade show. Recently, we did this at RSAC with one of our technology clients. A quick and simple in-the-moment video of the company’s CEO landed more than double the engagements compared to other organic posts, generating plenty of positive sentiment on Twitter. Plus, we shared it again post-RSAC as an #ICYMI post to garner additional engagements (bonus: we didn’t even need to ride a unicycle).

Rinse and Recap

Besides a little R&R, the debrief with your team and client is arguably the most important part of the post-trade show work. Get together with your digital and PR team and talk at a high-level of what worked and what didn’t. If you ran a contest, how did participants respond? How did your content perform? Did you hit target KPIs? What could you do next year that you couldn’t do this year? What did your competitors do and did they nail it?

Collecting this data is incredibly valuable, and this knowledge might be useful for your current social media strategy. Did you learn something new about your core audience? Did you attract any new audiences to your booth? Did attendees respond well to live video or images? Turn those insights into action.

If you’re looking for a partner to bring your messaging front and center to the next trade show, contact Highwire’s Digital Studio at digital@highwirepr.com to learn more about our services.

Analyst Trade Shows Standout in an Increasingly Digital World

For all the talk about marketing’s digital transformation, a heck of a lot of people are still attending physical trade shows. More than 42K attended the largest B2B security show, RSA Conference, in March 2019. More than 180K were in Las Vegas in January 2018 for CES, the massive consumer electronics show.

Many years ago, I believed that trade show popularity followed an inverted arc curve. At the apex of the curve– when a given show reached the peak of its popularity– is marketing saturation. Attendees would realize that a given show’s vendors all said the same thing, or, even worse, that the only people attending were non-practitioners. The show’s popularity would then see a precipitous decline.

My theory is easily disproved, given the longevity of certain shows I have attended for the majority of my career. But also disproven is a belief conditioned deep in my mind that the importance of physical trade shows will ultimately wane, given 1:1 marketing and the internet.

In truth, the concept of the trade show is amorphous and resilient. Alongside horizontal trade shows, such as CES, are a variety of other types of shows, such as user conferences. They commence as gatherings of peers to learn best practices for a specific solution but morph into living, breathing communities of their own.

A similar morphing might be underway among events run by industry analyst firms, which often prove to be wise investments by my clients. Incorporating industry analyst trade shows into a marketing mix is important for any B2B technology company, as long as those companies ponder a few key questions:

What’s the objective of your attendance? For companies interested in branding, a larger horizontal show avails you to a wide audience. Sponsoring trade show happenings, such as receptions or parties, creates buzz. Vertical and industry-analyst-driven events are more precise in their audience, and they should be considered if the objective is equally more narrow, such as driving customer acquisition.

One reason for attending an industry analyst event is to earn an audience with the analysts themselves. Regular communication with them is key to understanding the conditioning of the market and to teach the analyst as to why a given solution is ideal for where an industry is headed.

What is the target audience for the organization running the event? Certainly it’s important to know who is attending a given show, but a better way to look at this is to evaluate the audience that the show’s organizers care about. The more zeroed-in an organizer is on a target audience, the more zeroed-in that organization’s event is on that audience.

Evaluating the audiences an analyst firm cares about is not hard—simply review published research. However, organizations sometimes are misled by the credibility of a given firm and blindly sign up for that firm’s events, even if the firm doesn’t write for the correct end-user audience and has not defined a research area for those users. Most analyst firms place tech vendors in categories; if a given firm doesn’t have a category for you, it’s probably a wasted investment to attend that firm’s events.

Are there desirable outcomes beyond visibility and high-level lead generation? The right analyst trade shows gather a targeted list of influencers that matter to marketing efforts. Today’s digital world presents wide-ranging opportunities to leverage them.

Influencer dinners during the events are an informal setting to discuss trends. If they are positioned as such they have long-tail benefits. Dinner guests are more likely in the future to engage with the host’s content, act as a reference for marketing campaigns, or, obviously, mention the company in online comments or stories.

On-site social efforts by an exhibitor demonstrate that company’s commitment to the target audience. Visuals and short YouTube-quality videos from the events drive better engagement numbers than general thought leadership content.

Physical trade shows remain an important part of an organization’s marketing mix. And increasing the investment in shows run by analysts can deliver a nice return, as long as the audience and potential impact of such an investment are carefully weighed.