Get to the Point: Why Sound Bites Rule the Day

by Maribeth Neelis

: a succinct recorded statement (as by a public figure) broadcast especially on a television news program; also: a brief catchy comment or saying.

A Brief History

In politics
The term, coined in the 1970s in media circles, is said to have gained traction during the Reagan administration, as the President was known for his short, memorable phrases, like:

“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

In the media
The first known printed citations come from that period.

"Remember that any editor watching needs a concise, 30-second sound bite. Anything more than that, you're losing them."

          --The Washington Post, June 1980

"TV's formula these days is perhaps 100 words from the reporter, and a ‘sound bite’ of 15 or 20 words from the speaker."

          --Time, June 1983

In marketing and PR
Social media has taken the sound bite to new levels, compelling companies and individuals to boil down ideas into short, catchy phrases, driving them to cheap tricks to get our attention.

Sound Bites and Reductionism

Even when they click, readers can’t stay focused. It's the age of skimming, and data suggests, the more words on the page, the less likely a reader will make it to the bottom. What’s more, many people share articles they haven’t fully read. 
Maria Popova discusses this issue that concerns her daily on her website

“the reckless reduction of complex ideas into sticky sound bites and catchphrases, a practice that … has become not merely an accepted cultural standard, but a profitable business model in the 'ideas economy.' Under such commodification of thought, after a while, all these bite-sized ideas begin to sound, look and, eventually, act the same."

You have probably experienced this first hand searching for information online. Despite different titles and URLs, articles often contain very similar information, sometimes sharing entire paragraphs verbatim.

The Value of a Sound Bite

Despite some drawbacks, a well-crafted sound bite can be a marketing or PR professional's secret weapon. Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, author, and science communicator, recounts how he discovered the value of the sound bite and how to whip up one that whets your audience's appetite.

Its anatomy: three sentences that tell something informative, make you smile and contain something so tasty, you might want to tell it to someone else.

"Why do you think we call them bites?"

deGrasse Tyson reminds us:

 “don’t think that sound bites aren’t useful if they don’t contain a curriculum. A sound bite is useful because it triggers interest in someone, who then goes and puts in the effort to learn more. … Take the moment to stimulate interest, and upon doing that you have set a learning path into motion that becomes self-driven because that sound bite was so tasty — why do you think we call them bites?”

His sentiment is relevant to anyone engaged in the art of communication, (or those of us who have ever been asked what we do for a living at a dinner party.)

How to Craft a Sound Bite

Consider your audience.
For deGrasse Tyson, this a-ha moment came after ABC aired just a piece of his extensive interview about the discovery of the first planet orbiting a star that was not the sun. 

This piece:

He realized that although they were interviewing him in his area of expertise, it was actually for them in their place, where sound bites rule.

“Rather than have them sound bite me, why don’t I hand them a sound bite that's already condensed. They can’t edit that.”

Boil it down.
deGrasse Tyson begins by stating the main concepts he wants to articulate and then paring them down to three sentences that are informative, make you smile and contain something so tasty that you might want to share it with someone else.

“You trim, you carve the words such that all that’s left is the most important concept communicated in the simplest, most direct way.”

Be an artist.
Poetic techniques that work in literature can make a simple phrase more memorable. You can get ideas from popular advertising slogans, but don’t ignore the classics. Pick up a famous novel and read it paying attention to word choice, metaphors, contrast, rhyme, rhythm, and repetition.

Pay attention to sentence construction. A long, meandering sentence will dull your point. Short choppy ones can interrupt flow and rhythm.

deGrasse Tyson likens this process of whittling down an idea for social media to sculpting.

“When I compose a tweet, I feel like [Rodin] who said, “When I make a sculpture, I just cut away everything that isn’t the man or the woman, and then that’s what’s left.”

If you just skimmed through until the end of this post, here’s the sound bite:

Part of the evolution of communication, sound bites aim to distill ideas into pithy, persuasive packages. In our multi-tasked, content-crammed culture, they may be the most effective means to control a message, trigger interest and set a learning path in motion.

How to Create a Social Media Plan Using the POST Method

By Maribeth Neelis
I am working on a social media strategy for one of our clients, so I thought I'd share one of the ways I do this called the POST Method.
The number of social mediums can be overwhelming, and while it’s important to create content and engage with clients and prospects somewhere online, it’s not necessary (or even feasible) to be everywhere.
Before you begin using social, it’s important to create a plan. But, it's never too late to re-evaluate the way you are currently doing things. And there is no shame in saying, "(Fill in the social medium here) just doesn't make sense for our business." It's better to do this than waste your time on an approach that isn't working.

There are many ways to do develop a plan. The POST Method, from Forrester Research, is a fairly quick and simple way.
People: Get to know your audience (clients and prospects) and how they use the internet and behave online.
1. Look at the demographic (age, gender, occupation) and psychographic (values, beliefs, motivations) characteristics of your customers and prospects.
2. Think about what your clients and prospects do online. Do they fall into any of these six overlapping categories of social technology participation?
  • Creators: posting photos and creating videos
  • Critics: reviewing products and services, commenting in forums
  • Collectors: gathering photos, products and ideas they like and sharing with their network
  • Joiners: actively participating in groups and pages, providing feedback and offering solutions
  • Spectators: using and watching social media without contributing
  • Inactives: not using social media
3. Follow customers and competitors on various social media. Listen to what they are saying, and look at how they are using the various technologies. This will help you brainstorm what might work for you.
Objective: What are you trying to accomplish through social media? Figure this out before you begin. Then, figure out how you will measure it.
At least initially, focus narrowly and choose one main goal, such as,
  • Build awareness
  • Improve retention
  • Increase sales
  • Boost loyalty
Strategy: In the POST model, strategy means the result of your activity. How will your relationship with your customers have changed? Knowing this ahead of time will help you create an action plan.
  • Do you want to improve your relationship with your best customers?
  • Do you want to more people talking about your products and/or services?
  • Do you want a place where people will test your products, provide feedback and offer up new ideas?
Technology: Based on the people you want to reach, your objective and your strategy (or end game) decide what social technologies to use and how much time it will take.
  • Should you start a blog?
  • Do you want to develop your Facebook or Google+ community?
  • Should you be more active on Twitter?
  • Should you be posting photos and videos to Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest?
  • Should you start an email newsletter?
  • And finally, how will you measure your success—Google analytics, Facebook insights, Hootsuite, blog subscribers?
The deluge of content and slew of social media options can be overwhelming. But, the great thing about these uber-social times: there is a plan that will work for you, as long as you are thoughtful and strategic in your execution.

The Case for Google+

By Maribeth Neelis

Once upon a time (like six months ago), most of us thought of Google+ as a ghost town. Maybe we had a profile, as a result of having a Gmail account. But we didn’t click on that “View Profile” button at the top right corner of the page very often.

Sometimes we would be alerted to the fact that someone had added us into a circle. We usually ignored this notification and checked our Facebook newsfeed for the 47th time that day.
But listen up, folks, Google (per usual) is making moves. They are integrating several  Google products (YouTube, Drive, Gmail, Maps) into Google+ and thus increasing the number of G+ users worldwide.

Ultimately, this integration will lead to a better user experience. Imagine a version of Yelp where your friends’ reviews or places nearby move to the top. Picture a video chat with your friend or potential client. Except, you don’t have to download Skype. It can all be set up through Gmail and then stored on your YouTube channel afterward.

For businesses using G+, this integration means access to more prospects across several mediums. It can also serve as a way for companies using G+ to communicate amongst themselves.

The low-down on some Google+ features:

  • When you add a contact, you assign them to one or more circles (in-store customers; online customers; partners; industry leaders; business friends; coworkers; etc.). You can create targeted messages for each of your circles.
  • You can share circles publicly or privately. Publicly, you could share a circle of team members on Google+ to help customers. Privately, you could share a circle of people to attended a recent webinar or event, so they can then all follow each other. You can also invite an entire circle to a Hangout to collaborate.
  • You can literally create whatever circles you want. And no one can see what circle they fall into. So “People who talk too much” will never know how you really feel.

  • There are public and private communities that allow you to join or create groups around interests, or even brands. Unlike on Facebook, you can join a G+ community as a brand and interact with influencers and experts, as well as current and potential customers.
  • A great example: Ford Motor Company has a Ford Photo Community where members can share their Ford-related images.

  • You can hold video chat sessions with an unlimited number of people, broadest in real time and saved to your YouTube channel. You can slide share, collaborate with clients and colleagues and broadcast events and interviews. 
  • A great example: VeteransUnited uses Hangouts to educate veterans on how to use their VA benefit to get a home loan. It also partners with a nonprofit to create “virtual walks” where able-bodied citizens record their visit to different locations acting as the virtual eyes and ears for disabled vets.
  • Ready to get started? Read about how to set up your profile, create a business page and optimize your account to reach the greatest number of people.
Ready to get started? Begin by creating a profile, adding your info and finding people you know. And, stay tuned for more about how people and companies are using Google+.

Pinspiration: Learn to Use Pinterest Successfully

Sure, Pinterest started out as the place where (mostly) women pinned DIY projects, inventive recipes and home decor ideas. To a large degree, it still is. But that's changing as more big name brands are harnessing the power of pinning.

If the site's vivid, attractive images haven't lured you down the rabbit hole toward the dream of a more marvelous life, here's the gist.

Users, called "pinners," create and manage pinboards around certain themes, browse other users’ boards and repin or like images they fancy.
  • When you share an image, it’s called a pin.
  • When you share someone else’s pin, it’s called a repin.
  • You can pin images you find online or upload them from your computer.
  • After installing the Pinit button, you can share images from any website directly from your browser.
  • You can also share pins on Facebook and Twitter.
  • When you follow another pinner's board, you'll see her (or his) latest pins on your homepage. Kind of like the Facebook newsfeed. 
So, why is Pinterest relevant to you or your business?

It's growing. The company was recently valued at $3.8 billion and had 50 million unique visitors in September 2013. It drives more revenue than Twitter or Facebook.

It is transforming into a visual search engine. As more people use the site, it's becoming a place people go to find more specific results. Do a Google or Bing search for garage organization; you will get a list of products and stores where you can find them. A Pinterest search displays an inspiring, visual catalog of resources and ideas.  

It's a top of funnel marketing source. It can introduce new customers to your website, if they click on an image you post. Not only that, your customers and clients can share your pins, directing their followers to your website or Pinterest page.
Check out these 10 innovative uses of Pinterest.

OK, you say, but my company sells insurance or blenders, or I do people's taxes. The ways to use Pinterest are more obvious, if you're an interior decorator or work for a company that sells apparel. But, when you think creatively, Pinterest can be an effective marketing tool for any brand. Bonus: it's fun to use.

Check out these boards from companies that have found interesting ways to develop or adapt content to be successful on Pinterest.

Lowe's pins DIY projects from bloggers that can be made from products found at Lowe’s.

Why is works: This is an example or a company using Pinterest to drive traffic to its site and sell products. The board contains helpful content, much of it user-generated, which makes it more sharable. But it also piques customers' interest and gives them a reason to come into the store.

WSJ pins original graphics.

Why it works: The board creates something compelling and informative from dense subject matter. It's a great example of how you can repurpose content you have already created into something pin-worthy. (It would be even better, if the images linked to the WSJ website.)

GE pins inspirational quotes from GE founder Thomas Edison.

Why it works: The pins are uplifting and visually appealing. This board proves that even a B2B company can recast itself for this medium. A Pinterest board doesn't have to be all about products. It can be about showcasing your brand and building awareness.

Sephora pins helpful tutorials from its community.

Why it works: The pins are helpful, attractive and, in many cases, from the Sephora community. Sephora understands its customers and has designed a board around their passions, making them more likely to contribute and repin.

Chobani pins workouts, fitness tips and health information from across the web.

Why it works: It provides valuable information targeted toward the interests of Chobani's community.  It's an excellent example of how a Pinterest board can be themed around a concept other than your product or service.

MCNG pins infographics about social media.

Why it works: The pins are illustrative and helpful. MCNG demonstrates that even a company selling a service, instead of a product, can create dynamic Pinterest boards.

If you haven't thought of at least one cool way your company can use Pinterest, let me know, and I will help you brainstorm.

The Stream and Four Online Media Trends to Look for in 2014

By Maribeth Neelis

The Stream, described in detail by Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic, has been the organizing metaphor of the internet since 2009. Think about how a blog is structured. Content is placed in reverse chronological order—newest is at the top, and recency is rewarded by the search engines. That is The Stream, and like a flowing waterway, The Stream is never ending.

In an internet where the content is infinite, The Stream offered order.  But, for some, the flood of content to our inboxes, Facebook and Twitter feeds and news aggregators has become a bit of a burden. And it is not slowing down; the indexed web now has 1.66 billion pages.

But Madrigal suggests a change is on the horizon, that the internet may be in a period of flux, beginning to rebalance and start making more durable things.

He sites some big product and service ideas from 2013 that suggest a shift.
  • The emergence of SnapChat, an ephemeral photo sharing app
  • The launch of Medium, a site designed around collections of work
  • The popularity of Reddit, which he describes as more like a hive than a stream
  • The rise of paywalls by newspapers and magazines that are, in essence, removing themselves from The Stream, at least for non-subscribers
  • The viral successes, Upworthy, ViralNova, TwentyTwoWords, FaithIt, that take advantage of the structure of the stream, creating idealized stories with a beginning, middle and end
  • The changes to Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm that have started giving more attention to older, better performing posts
Several other trends have emerged. Some attempt to manage or counter the effects of The Stream; others are departing from the model altogether, attempting to create something evergreen and valuable, rather than churn out content.

The Longform Renaissance
With the advent and proliferation of smartphones, tablets and readers, longfrom, narrative journalism, the kind that takes 10,000 plus words to unfold, appears to be making a comeback. Last October, Pew Research Center found that 73 percent of tablet owners access longform content either regularly or sometimes; 19 percent do so each day. Meanwhile, prominent newspapers, like New York Times, and newer outfits, like Atavist and Narratively are pairing compelling narrative with multimedia embellishments. (Seriously, check this out!)

Simplicity Reigns
The sheer amount of content available is overwhelming. So it stands to reason that consumers are putting a higher value on simplicity. Whether it’s your website, social media presence, or brand messaging, simpler is better.

As an article by Forbes explained: “There is a sense that from the hyper-connectivity of our highly-digitized lives to the bright, flashy, complicated sensory input we’re fed everyday, there is no way to continue at this pace. As a result, 2013 is likely to be a year where the most successful marketing strategies will be ones that are not only simple in nature, but promote goods and services that serve to simplify the consumer’s life, or even just their customer experience.”

Like this VIP fridge magnet from Dubai's Red Tomato Pizza that allows customers to order a pizza with the touch of a button.

Image-Centric Content
Many marketers are standing out with image and video content that is quickly and easily digestible. Social media sites, like Buzzfeed and Pinterest, have seen success by adopting this model from the beginning. And successful blog posts with the most social shares usually incorporate some visual element.

Free People on Pinterest

The Diversification of Social Media
With more and varied content, it makes sense that new social media will arise to organize and share it. Most marketers focus their energy on Facebook and Twitter, a solid strategy. But as different sites (Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, Tumblr) gain popularity, it’s worthwhile to diversify your social media efforts and produce content in a variety of forms, depending on which network best fits your business.

What other trends have you noticed out there?

Celebrate the Season: Think Abundantly

By Maribeth Neelis

Around this time of year, we're reminded to appreciate what we have. But even though we may be grateful, in this digital age, it’s difficult not to compare ourselves to others and determine that we’re coming up short. There is a related philosophy that suggests the existence of two polar views: abundance and scarcity.

Originally based off of an economic principle and later adopted by the field of organizational development, the concept of abundance vs. scarcity can also be viewed as a personal philosophy that you can apply to your own life. Some say maintaining an abundant mental model will actually help you become more successful.

A mentality of scarcity reveals the overwhelming lack in life; one person’s success is another’s failure and there are few chances allotted to each person.

Scarcity sounds like:
  •  “I’ll never be as successful as the people I read about in magazines.”
  • “My company will never have enough clients to compete with the big guys.”
  • “There are just no new ideas left to have. Everything creative has already been thought of.”

As you might expect, this outlook provokes fear, anxiety, and desperation. On the other hand, the model of abundance suggests there are many opportunities afforded to all and we can prosper together.

Abundance sounds like:
  • “I’m excited for the challenge of creating my own success and good fortune.”
  • “There are plenty of potential clients out there who I can help.”
  • “The potential for new ideas is limitless.”

This way of thinking lifts pressure and inspires courage.

Focus on Scarcity and You Will Find It

You can often hear people trying to disprove abundance by giving examples of the lack around them. Sometimes it can certainly seem as though you have to work really hard just to make ends meet, or that life isn’t fair for you compared to others, but this mindset fails to take into account one very important thing: you usually see what you are looking for.

If you are searching for scarcity, you will surely find it. By focusing on all the things you lack, you are inviting more of the same into your life. Conversely, abundance as a mindset creates a different path where you focus on the things you have in plenty and the amazing experiences that you keep coming across.

This outlook is not meant to deny that there is hardship, merely that there is no reason to prepare yourself for hardship by focusing on it daily in the form of all the things you don’t have or all the ways things might go wrong. This doesn’t actually help you avoid a negative outcome; in fact, it ensures its likelihood all the more.

From the abundant view, life is fun and worth living; we’re not competing with everyone, we’re all in it together, and mistakes aren't catastrophic because they help us better ourselves and continue after our objectives. From this standpoint, focusing on the good areas of life and on their goals, people start to see more of the possibilities available to them. Not to mention, if someone is just enjoying the ride, they don’t have to take every misstep so seriously.

How to Develop an Abundant Mindset

Focus on abundance, rather than lack.
What you focus on in your world is what you will see. Turn the areas in which you see lack into opportunities for abundance. For example, don’t stress out about not having enough work or an unfulfilling job. Instead, focus on all the possible ways there are to build your business or expand your skillset. Brainstorm all the ways you can do what you are passionate about outside of work. The more you place your energy here, the more likely it is that you will see things you had previously missed.

Develop an attitude of gratitude.
When it’s hard to be grateful, start small. Every day, make a point to notice the little things that you enjoy. This allows you to see the abundance in your world. Unlike scarcity, which makes you pull in, a grateful demeanor creates space in which to see opportunities.

Pick up on good vibrations.
If commercials and social media can cause you to think in terms of lack, then you can change your input in order to think abundantly instead. Be selective with what you take into your mind. Surround yourself with optimistic people, read up on ways to increase your own positivity, and cultivate happiness by celebrating others’ success instead of just your own.

Share what you have.
If you feel you don’t have enough of something, give some of it away. Not enough money? Donate $5 to a local charity. Not enough love? Do something nice for a friend. While seemingly counter-intuitive, giving away the thing you feel you lack, will demonstrate how you actually have it in abundance and help you feel more appreciative.

Happy Thanksgiving week!

Additional Reading:
Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. New York: Free Press.
Orman, S. (2001). The courage to be rich: Creating a life of material and spiritual abundance. New York: Riverhead Trade.

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