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The Case Of The Missing Hotel Stationery...

Hotel deskSomething's gone missing from hotel rooms these days. In fact, I haven't seen it for quite some time. It used to always be there... and as a lover of writing I'd use it now and then. It was a fun way for me to stay in touch with those back at home.

I'm talking about hotel stationery.

Back in the day, as the younger kids say, that drawer in the desk in your hotel room often contained several pieces of stationery with the hotel name, address, etc. on it. If it wasn't in the desk drawer, it was perhaps in the binder or folder that was in your room describing all the hotel amenities, typically in the pocket in the front or the back.

The best stationery I can remember often had the hotel name in some fancy typeface... or perhaps embossed into the paper. Sometimes there was a drawing or the logo or branding of the hotel or of the geographic. The companion envelopes were also similarly designed.

In the evening, I'd sometimes write letters back to my wife or to other friends. Mail them off the next day... and very often beat them home so that they'd show up sometime after I'd returned. I didn't do it all that often, but now and then it was something fun to do.

Now, though, in the era of email and Facebook and Skype and Instagram, we as a society pretty much don't write letters any more. Not in our homes... not to our friends... not to our family... and not when traveling. Heck, these days many folks would probably be challenged to even find a stamp in their house if they randomly decided to send off a letter! Plus, they'd have to remember how to write with their hand for more than a few words...

And even in the random hotel that might still have stationery, the process of mailing a letter may be more trouble than it's worth. I remember maybe a year or two ago I tried to send a letter to my kids. I wrote it on the hotel stationery, but when I went to the front desk they (after looking at me as if was from Mars) said they had no stamps but that I could perhaps get them from the hotel gift shop. The shop was closed, though, and I was leaving early in the morning, and so I seem to recall bringing that letter home in my bag. Since that time, on a few random times when I've thought of it, I've not seen any evidence of any stationery anywhere in my rooms.

And so, just like hot meals on airplanes, hotel stationery fades off into memory... a quaint anachronism of a distant era.

As a writer and lover of pens and language, I admit that a part of me does lament the passing. There was something solid about writing letters. Something tangible... something "real." And something fun... since each hotel's stationery was different from that of the others.

'Twas an experience that can't really be replicated in the sterile digital world of 1's and 0's. Sure, we can use funky typefaces and can take photos of where we're at... and don't get me wrong, I love having the real-time updates from my friends and family while I'm away and completely enjoy the video calls back home.

But I can't shake the feeling that in those empty desk drawers we've lost a little something...

Ah, well.

Time to post this to my blog, where it will then go out to Twitter and Facebook and be published in ways we could never have even remotely imagined... back in the days when stationery was all there was...

P.S. And if you are young enough to have perhaps never experienced receiving anything written on stationery, the Wikipedia entry talks a bit about what you missed. :-)

P.P.S. As a bonus, if the word "stationery" falls out of usage, the new generations of kids will never have to be concerned about the difference between "stationEry" (writing materials) and "stationAry" (in a fixed place).


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Google Now Lets You Handwrite Search Queries On iPad, iPhone, Android

Google handwritingOkay, I admittedly find this pretty cool... you can now enter search queries into Google on a tablet or mobile phone just by writing anywhere on the screen!

As Google's blog post outlines, you need to go to www.google.com on your mobile device and then go into the Settings to configure this option. You do NOT need to sign in to Google. You just need to go there in your mobile web browser.

I've tested this on both my iPad and iPhone and found it worked quite well (per the blog post and Help Center page, it also works on Android phones and tablets - and is available in 27 languages). I find it particularly useful on the iPad where you have the larger screen to write on. On the iPhone, maybe my fingers are just too big but I found it tight to write in the regular portrait mode.

I did notice, though, that you can enter one or two letters, pause, then enter another letter or two... and as you do the search window is updated with what Google thinks the text should be as well as search query suggestions. So you may just be able to write a few letters and then tap the correct search suggestion.

Now, the question, of course, is WHY I find this interesting and the answer is that I have had some times when I'm in situations where it's not super easy to type nor do I want to be talking to my phone (i.e. using Siri). With the iPad, in particular, there are times I'm holding it while walking around at an event where typing with two hands would not be easy and voice usage isn't really possible. I could see this potentially being faster than hunt-and-peck typing a query using one hand. Will I use it all the time? No... but certainly I can see it being nice to have this option.

What's also interesting about this feature is that it requires you to go to "www.google.com". It doesn't work with the "search" box that is in the top of Mobile Safari in iOS. You need to go to Google's home page... so Google is pulling you out of using the app (Safari) and into using their web page. If you get used to doing that, Google can of course introduce other functionality - and if you are "signed in" you see your Google+ notifications and can easily access other Google services. Intriguing move by Google.

What do you think? Will you use this capability on your iPad, iPhone or Android device?

P.S. Alas, it is not as all-powerful as TechCrunch asserts with an ability to interpret cursive handwriting. I made several attempts at using cursive and found that in some cases the accuracy was "okay", but clearly not as good as block printing. In fact, Google's Tips for Handwrite very clearly state at the beginning that you should use block printing versus cursive.

And here is Google's video on the topic:


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Images/Photos Alone Do Not Make A Content Strategy

Thisisnotacontentstrategy

Credit: C.C. Chapman

Lately, it seems, the social media world is all abuzz about "images" in various forms. Photos, pictures... Instagram... Pinterest... infographics... plus Twitter, Facebook and Google+ all enhancing their capability to handle photos... and now this intense fascination with posting images with words and sayings on top of them!

I get it. I do. Visual storytelling is incredibly powerful. Evocative. Inspirational. Images and photos can transcend words and cut right to the emotional core of an issue. I personally enjoy photography, and you can usually find me shooting photos at events I attend. I'm sharing photos all the time into Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.

But...

... lately we seem to be seeing in the corporate PR / marketing / social media space a really severe case of "bright shiny object" syndrome. All over the place... large enterprises, small startups... and everyone in between.

Oooo... let's post a bunch of photos to Instagram because we'll look hip and cool! Hey, clearly we need to be pinning all the photos we can to Pinterest boards, because "everyone" is doing it! Hey, look, another new mobile app that lets us do _____ with our photos - cool! Wow, look how cool we are because we can post a photo with some pithy quote written on top of it in a funky font! And let's not even jump into the cesspool of poorly done infographics...

All of this without answering a fundamental question:

WHY?

WHY are you posting those images? Why are you using that service? How do the images help communicate your message to your audiences? How do they help get your message out? How do they facilitate sharing? How does posting the images to ______ increase your interaction with your audiences?

Now, don't get me wrong... experimentation is awesome and necessary. And I'm the last one to talk about chasing bright shiny objects... that's what I love to do (and in fact write about). Experimentation is really required if you are going to stay on top of the insane pace of new products and services appearing on a daily basis. But there is a difference between experimentation and trumpeting the fact that you are now using these services, as if the use of those services will somehow make you cooler and help you communicate better.

They might help you communicate better, and you won't know unless you experiment... but as you experiment you need to think about the why.

Ultimately these services are all tactics that need to line up with a larger strategy.

Why are you using them? Why are you posting the images you choose to post?

Do the images help educate your audiences about your products? your mission? your services?
Do they help humanize your organization and show a more personal side? or show the people behind the name?
Do they entertain or amuse people and help build your community?
Do they inspire people because of how beautiful or artistic they are?
Do they promote your brand name or social account? Will you gain more followers/fans/etc?

How does posting images to service X fit within your larger strategy? Now, maybe you are posting that LOLcat image purely as link-bait to build your followers... that's okay, just call it what it is. And this doesn't mean that every image needs to be serious and "on message" - images can certainly be posted "for fun"... and maybe that's one of the purposes they serve.

The point is that some conscious thought needs to be given to the use of images and the use of the various services... rather than just doing it "because everyone is doing it"!

As I was thinking about this, a trio of posts yesterday on this precise topic caught my eye:

First, in "Pictures With Words", C.C. Chapman provides this awesome photo that I've included here and hits the point:

If your brand is thinking about diving into this because everyone is doing it, remember that it is a tactic and not a strategy. Where does it fit into your other marketing programs and what can you do with this trend that is unique and relavent to your business? Always ask why before you do anything. Make sure it is a fit and that you are not doing it simply because everyone else is. Following the herd rarely gets you noticed.

We as a society love shiny new toys and are scared of doing the grunt work. We see other people doing things, so we have to do them. If there is a shortcut that looks like it’ll make things easier we take it.

Exactly!

Second, in "The Rise of the Junkweb and Why It’s Awesome or At Least Inevitable", Chris Brogan talks about this new love of images as the "junkweb":

It’s the Junkweb. Why “junk?” Because the original intent of the Internet was that links were gold, that searchability was key, that this ability to find anything and use resources from wherever was magic. And this new web? The web of pictures with text over them? They’re junk. They’re a dead end. The picture is the payload. They don’t lead you elsewhere. They are the stopping point, the cul de sac.

But goes on to say that maybe this is okay in our new world and that the new tools we have access to have in fact made it easier for anyone to participate and share. He concludes offering three suggestions for people to engage in the "junkweb":

1. Make interesting graphics worth sharing.
2. Make it easy to share them.
3. Evoke an emotion.

And for Chris the "why" is because this world of sharing images is where the sharing and interaction happen between "regular" people and thus is worth investigating. Good article and, as with many of Chris' posts, the comment stream is well worth a read, too.

Finally, in his AdAge column titled "The Revolution Won't Be Televised; It Will Be Instagrammed" and subtitled "Businesses That Bank on Photographic Storytelling Will Win", Steve Rubel discusses why businesses should pay attention to what is going on with the rise of visual storytelling through photography. Inadvertently aligning with Chris Brogan's "junkweb", he writes:

Visual storytelling today is blissfully cliche. Photos are deliberately over animated, over filtered and even over exposed. They ignore all the rules. Just as the proliferation of texting arguably made the written word less formal and YouTube did the same for video, the ubiquity of smartphones has changed the expectations of what's considered "good" photography.

On this last sentence my professional photography friends can definitely agree! Steve goes on to basically offer suggestions for people involved with advertising to get involved with this space. Earlier in the article, too, he makes some interesting points with regard to why photos will be more important that videos, particularly with regard to mobile devices.

He doesn't touch on the "why", though, beyond the fact that this is the "new normal" and businesses need to be embracing it.

Which goes back to my original points... WHY are you embracing the use of images? Or perhaps more HOW are you going to embrace them? How does it help you?

Are you asking these questions?


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Oracle Buys Facebook-App-Maker Involver

Oracle buys involverIn an intriguing development today, Oracle announced that it will be acquiring Involver, a startup with a platform to help you rapidly build Facebook apps that work with your Facebook Pages.

I first experimented with Involver a year or two ago when I was trying to add some interactivity to a Facebook Page for my previous employer. Involver had some useful options and while the fit wasn't there with what I wanted to do, I did keep monitoring how they were evolving.

No terms of the deal were announced, although TechCrunch is naturally continuing to try to determine the cost. The TechCrunch piece also has some more information about other ways Involver has been used.

How does Involver fit with Oracle? As both the TechCrunch article and a Business Insider article note, Oracle just recently acquired Vitrue, another social media marketing/engagement platform and has made a number of other acquisitions in the "social" space. For their part, Oracle has published a presentation about Involver that shows Oracle's view of how all the pieces fit together:

Oracle and involver

Time will tell if the pieces do all fit nicely together, but in the meantime Oracle is clearly looking to be a player in helping enterprises connect with their customers over social channels.

Congrats to the Involver team and I do hope this all works out well for them - and for their customers.

P.S. Involver's Don Beck published a blog post providing their viewpoint on the acquisition.


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Note to PR People: PLEASE INCLUDE A URL With Your News Release!

FACEPALM

Yet again I was reminded today that so many people involved with public relations (PR)[1] simply fail to understand how media works in 2012 - and fail to understand how one simple step could help them help other people tell their story!

As is the case most days, I received another batch of news releases[2], and there was one in particular I wanted to write about... but...

There was NO URL to where the news release was posted on the Internet!

Here's the thing... I write articles on my various sites. In doing so, I like to link to original sources. I'm generally NOT simply going to post your news release verbatim... I want to provide some context or commentary - but I want to provide a link back to the news release for any readers who want to read what the company/organization said.

Usually this takes the form of something like:

blah, blah, blah... As company XYZ indicated in a news release today, they will be... blah, blah, blah...

I like doing this as a way of citing an original source.

But to do this... I NEED A URL!

If you as a PR professional do not include a link to your news release in the email you send me, that means I have to dig for one. I have to go and try to find it on your site.

Odds are with the very little time I have for most of my writing, I'm not going to do that! Unless I am extremely interested in writing about your topic. I'm simply going to move on and write about something else.

Here I am... offering to give you a free link... to send people over to your site. TO SEND YOU TRAFFIC!

And you're missing that opportunity!

Yeah, Dan, but how many people actually read your site, you say? After all, I'm not __<insert name of big site>__.

Well, while my site may or may not send you much traffic, given that you are spamming me with an email you probably sent to a thousand other potential "media", you're potentially missing out on getting easy links from thousands of other people, too!

A Very Simple Recipe

Here's a VERY simple recipe for doing this right:

1. Publish your news release on YOUR site. You do have an area of your (or your client's) site where you post news releases, don't you?[3]

2. Visit the news release web page on your site using your web browser.

3. Copy the web address from your browser. (That would be the "URL" if you don't do geeky three-letter acronyms.)

4. Paste the web address into the news release email.

5. Spam your message out to me and everyone else, because clearly you don't have enough time to do PR correctly and target your messages appropriately.

Okay, step #5 may be a bit snarky... because in truth I've seen messages that have been targeted (and even individually tailored to me) that have still failed to include a URL.

A Bonus!

Here's another tip about why you might want to include a URL. I might not have the time - or interest - to write about your news release today. But I still might think it would be of interest to my "audience" of people who follow my site.

So while I might not post my own article, I might pass along your news via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.

But to do that, what do I need???

That's right... a LINK!

So by you failing to include a URL you're missing a moment when I might, right then, tweet out or post about your news release!

Instead I'll either have to try to find a link (which I may or may not do), or wait until sometime later when I see someone's post about your news.

Either way you lost my moment right then when I might have acted and helped spread your news.

Fix The Process!

Now, when I've asked some PR people why they have failed to send out a link in their email, often the comment is that "it takes a while" to publish the news release to the company/organization's site. They've wanted to get the word out quickly when the news release goes on the wire... and don't want to wait for whenever the company's web or IT team gets around to getting the page up on the site.

So FIX THAT!

This is 2012, people!

If your website is not up to the task of dealing with real-time publishing of content, maybe you need to be asking some tough questions about your site.

Pretty much every content management system (CMS) I am aware of has some mechanism for scheduling content publishing in advance. WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, others... they all have it either built-in or available as an add-on. You should be able to get the news release loaded into the website and even get the URL that the news release will be available at. Then, when the news release goes live, you can be all ready to send out your spammy email to everyone pointing them to your site.

You're already loading the news release text into a wire service web interface to distribute it... why can't you (or someone within your organization) also load it into your own site and queue it for publication at a specific time?

This is NOT rocket science or quantum physics.

If the "web team" or "IT team" won't let you load it into the site - or has some other issue making the content available at a specific time or at the very least getting you a URL - well, that is a process issue.

Fix it!

Send me and everyone else a URL to where your news release is posted on your site.

Help us tell your story!

One simple step.

Stop making excuses.

Do it!

P.S. And no, I did not write about that news release I saw this morning because the PR person did not include a URL... and I spent my time writing this rant instead! :-)

P.P.S. And for bonus points, you can even go a step above your other PR peers and have the link you send me also have links to company logos, quotes, photos, videos... other things you might want me to potentially include in my article. It could be a full-blown "social media news release" - or it could just be a set of easy-to-find links in the sidebar next to your news release. Help me tell your story! Make it super easy for me to do... and odds are I will!


[1] When I say "people involved with PR", I do not mean only people at PR agencies. It could be someone on staff or contracting for a company/organization... basically anyone sending out email messages promoting news releases.

[2] NONE of which were actually targeted to me, but rather just spammed out there... but that's another "PR101" topic for another day.

[3] Some people do send out URLs to the news release on distribution services like PR Newswire or Marketwire and while that's at least a link we can use, why send traffic to the distribution services site? Why not send it to your site instead? Where it can be surrounded in your branding and your other links?


Image credit: _maracuja on Flickr


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