When I first started as a reporter at PRWeek six years ago, (Monday was my anniversary, thank you very much) social media truly was a burgeoning tool for PR professionals. On my first day I met my cube mate, a quiet redhead with a mad-scientist air about him: Keith O'Brien, editor of prweekus.com (we kept our print and web operations pretty separate back then). Keith later become editor-in-chief of PRWeek and now works for social media firm Attention. So, it's fitting that for about five years Keith was the person I turned to when I had a question about the latest "nerdy" digital tool, as I referred to them. Back in early 2007, he told me about something new to feature in our then Inside Information column: Twitter.
Well, fast forward six years and I am far more adept at using digital and social media tools than I ever could have imagined I'd be. It's a skill all journalists need to have these days and the staff at PRWeek is no different. Each of us works directly with our website's content management system. All of us blog, have separate Twitter handles, record and edit video and audio podcasts, and the list goes on. But more important, we have an understanding of what makes a digital and/or social media campaign successful. The first, and of course it's a cliche, is that content is king. You can't have a "viral" video if it's not worth passing on to your friends. Also, you can't decide that a campaign is going to be viral before it ever launches, the same way you can't have a Twitter "strategy". It's just another tool in the PR arsenal. ( I think there may have been cliche overload in those last few sentences!)
So, what is my point? Purely selfish, I'll admit. A few months ago, I learned of a contest HarperCollins was running to promote Anthony Bourdain's new book Medium Raw. The point is to have "foodies" answer the question "What does it mean to cook food well?" in 500 words or less, use their own social media channels to promote their essay, and then have those votes count toward their overall score on the way to the grand prize: being published in the paperback edition of the book and also a nice cash prize (donated by Bourdain himself after a misinformed blogger called him out for not "paying" his writers). (Full disclosure: a friend of mine works at HC and helped create the site for the contest).
Now, like every other writer in the world, I've always had a fantasy of writing a book one day. Mine would be centered on growing up in my crazy Italian Catholic family and my life today as a single female journalist living and dating in New York City. Something of a cross between My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Sex and the City, and The Godfather (minus the whole mafia thing, of course). So, when I found out about this contest, I was really excited. Not only do I like Anthony Bourdain, but I really like food (cooking and eating) and knew I had some funny stories to share. And because I'm an editor, I knew that I could make the 500 words work. But unlike most people, I didn't rush to enter, even though the contest launched on July 1 and was set to run until September 30. I knew that a true social media campaign didn't need three months to work because one of the things that makes social media ideal for a promotional tool is that it's quick and easy. Also, I didn't want to pester my friends and family for three months to vote for me and comment. So, I waited until August 30 to enter and quickly went from last place into the top 9% of the entries. So, with only six hours to go (nine on the West Coast) where do I stand? Well, I'm currently number 158 out of more than 1900 entries. My progress has been slow, but steady, and while I don't have the most votes, as we know it's not always about the numbers; it's about building buzz. Check it out for yourself.