Archive for July, 2012

The Beautiful Language Covering the Beautiful Game

When my family lived in the UK, one of my fondest memories came from watching Liverpool take on West Ham at Anfield.

Liverpool take on West Ham at Anfield

I’ll never walk alone (as the song goes).

LeBron followed in my footsteps some 10 years.

By the time we moved back to Silicon Valley, I was quasi hooked on futbol.

I checked out some of the recent Euro 2012 matches; but it’s a story, specifically a New York Times story on the Spanish player Andrés Iniesta, that I want to share.

Even if you hate sports – I hear there are a few such folks out there – you’ll love the writing by Jeré Longman.

The story unwinds with the type of amusement in which the smile never actually happens, but it’s there.

I thought this line was worthy of a 3M sticker:

He is 5 feet 7 inches, humble, pale and balding at 28, but Iniesta’s natural reticence is balanced by a chimney sweep’s comfort in tight spaces.

After my third pass through the piece, I realized much of Longman’s art comes from the juxtaposition of words.

I’ve highlighted such examples in the full length of the story:

Spain’s Midfield Enchanter Stands Out by Fitting In

When conducting our workshops on storytelling techniques and corporate blogging, we make the point that even one word or phrase can lift writing above the mundane.

In the case of the Longman piece, you can see the juxtaposition of words takes place three times in a mass of almost 1,000 words.

As is often the case in writing, less is more.



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So is the U.S. Sending 529 Athletes or 530 Athletes To the Olympics?

The London Olympics opened today.

Nothing like sitting down with a beverage and spending a couple hours watching people shoot air rifles at targets. Then again, who could have predicted that poker would make good TV.

Anyway, I hate to start a controversy before the competitions are in full swing. Yet, in the spirit of hard-hitting storytelling you’ve come to expect from this corner, I feel an obligation to point out the conflicting reports in the number of athletes that the United States sent to London.

If you go to the Team USA website, you’ll find a serious looking Michael Phelps with words announcing the 529-member USA team.

Olympics Team USA 529 members

But if you scroll over the adjacent video, we find out that we’re about to meet 530 athletes.

Olympics Team USA 530 members

What the heck is going on?

Is it 529 or 530?

And if it’s the latter, I want to know who that 530th athlete is.

It turns out that the discrepancy in count is confusing the media as the storytelling marches on.

There are stories highlighting the 529 athletes representing America like this USA Today story.

Olympics USA Today story

And there are stories touting the USA’s 530 athletes like this Reuters story:

Olympics Reuters story

I don’t want to go “Oliver Stone” on you, but there’s something very peculiar going on.

I will keep investigating.



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How Nieman Lab Protects Its Twitter Turf

I like the work that comes out of Nieman Lab.

While the property caters to journalists, it’s a good read for communicators who push beyond the status quo with features like “Why’s This So Good?” (reverse engineers storytelling).

I’ve always thought PR professionals should spend more time analyzing the storytelling techniques in a range of publications. This way, you gain a better understanding of what journalists are looking for and can hone your content accordingly.

With companies redefining owned media with greater investment, this only makes more sense.

It turns out there are tidbits to be had from media properties like Nieman Lab on the digital side too.

For example —

No surprise, Nieman Lab uses @NiemanLab for its Twitter handle.

Nieman Lab twitter

The wrinkle comes from anticipating people who will misspell the property.

Check this out.

Nieman lab twitter handle 2

You’ve got to love the levity in reminding the world, “I before E, except after C!”

And yes, I did stumble across this by forgetting the axiom (please forgive me, Mr. Tuttle).

I suppose the fact that this dead account with one tweet on May 15, 2009 has secured 372 followers shows people will follow anything.

Still, it doesn’t exactly reflect well on CalPERS – the investment arm of California’s state employees which manages an investment portfolio of $237 billion and change – that it happens to be one of the 372.

Nieman lab twitter followers

Moving along—

Neiman Lab has even covered those who misspelled through the plural path.

Nieman lab twitter handle 3

A technique to consider with your company’s Twitter account.



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Social Networks in China Don’t Follow the U.S. Model

A few weeks ago I forwarded an article from a major U.S. newspaper to our China team that referred to the social network Renren as “China’s Facebook.”

Their response that the story completely missed the mark planted the seed for this guest post.

There’s something to be said for an on-the-ground view.

Yin Mei, who grew up in the United States and graduated from UC Berkeley, is a consultant based in our Beijing office. Teaming with others in our China offices – Chris Tang, Dong Chen, Tom McHale – she penned this post on the social networking scene in China.


By Yin Mei
The Hoffman Agency China
Yin Mei Hoffman Agency Beijing office

Everyone knows one company, Facebook, dominates the U.S. social networking scene.

That’s not the case in China where several social networks are carving out meaningful positions.

Renren, despite being referred to as China’s Facebook, has a user demographic that tilts heavily toward students. It’s tough to uncover hard numbers, but translating the company’s 2011 Annual Report finds phrases like “consists largely of Chinese college students, young urban professionals, and high school students” and “includes a substantial majority of all current college students and recent college graduates in China.”

Founded around the same time as Renren, Douban.com offers a second example of going after a specific audience, in this case China’s intellectual types and artsy circles. They’re often using the platform to share and critique books, movies and music.

But discussions on Douban often evolve to address social issues which presents a challenge to the company which must censor content to avoid being shut down by the Chinese government. While such censorship obviously poses an obstacle for social networks in China, many of my colleagues and friends in the United States think censorship is only applied to Western companies. In fact, all companies deal with the issue.

Looking at the overall picture, the social networks in China with traction all have a focus. They identify and lay claim to a specific demographic or specialized communities of people who share common interests.

Recently, I was part of the inaugural Beijing Alumni Ball 2012 keynoted by Dr. Robert S. Wang, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy. As you would expect, the event was well-attended by the Chinese digerati including many founders and entrepreneurs from Chinese social networking companies. I took the opportunity to talk with a few, asking what differentiates their particular platforms.

Their answers underscored the extent to which pursuing dominance in a specialized area has been critical to their success.

Derek Ling, founder and CEO of Tianji.com, a Chinese professional network with over 10 million members, described how Tianji’s membership grew out of an extended network of a core group of well-connected alumni of Beijing University, Tsinghua University and other top Chinese universities. Ling said that “in the U.S. there are established social norms that allow professionals to do business directly; in China, professionals feel much more comfortable becoming ‘friends’ first before doing business together.”

Recognizing this need for familiar circles, Svante Jerling, one of the founding members of a by-invitation-only social network called P1, has sought to create a platform for China’s top 10 percent of earners. Today P1 claims over 2.7 million members. Jerling, now vice president of P1, emphasized the importance of trying to build a product that focuses on its members’ closest clusters. This way, the product minimizes irrelevant information for its members.

By branding itself as “the private social network for China’s finest,” the P1 website emphasizes the exclusivity of its network. In order to identify China’s upper echelon, P1 positions “Street Style Photographers” at strategic locations and exclusive events to photograph and invite well-dressed, potential members to join their network. Although this concept might sound strange in practice, P1 successfully played up a certain glamour and excitement attached to being “discovered” as if for a celebrity search. As a result, most of the initial members of P1 were women.

P1 old website

P1 awards more prominent and active members with VIP silver and VIP gold statuses. The P1 website also highlights a P1 Ambassadors status which is “only granted to the most outstanding elites with wide social networks in various industries.” While this blatant display of status may be a turn-off in a Western society with cultural schemas based on equality, such allure of status and exclusivity plays well in China.

However, P1′s latest approach to forming familiar circles is the soft launch of their new website, P1.COM, starting with a core group of social hubs to slowly build a tight, intimate network of friends connected by two degrees and less. Taking a more socially responsible approach, they are emphasizing a common set of core values as the standard for P1.COM’s members.

By creating a unique identity for their networks, Ling and Jerling are defining the purpose of their respective platforms. This type of network identity proves valuable for businesses and individuals looking for a specific audience.

For instance, Limiao Cheng, founder of social e-commerce website Joyachic.com, can name more than 50 small communities of fashionistas and shopaholics that comprise her target market. By locating her audience, Cheng aims to elevate China’s sense of style through a social network for fashionable women known as the IT Girl Club. Although anyone can join the club, the most active “IT Girls” with large social circles and high fashion influence get selected to receive special benefits and invitations to exclusive events.

For those living in the United States, it’s easy to look at China and assume it is one massive market of more than 1 billion people.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Social networks like Tianji, P1 and Joyachic are showing the benefits of appealing to a specialized audience. I expect this trend will only get more pronounced over time.

Who knows?

Perhaps Facebook’s challenge down the road will come from many niche social networks as opposed to one company.



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Top 10 Storytelling Posts From First Half of 2012 (Part II)

I shared five of my favorite posts from the past six months on Monday.

Today, I roll out the second half of the list.

  1. New York Times Story on Journalism in China Is Much Ado About Nothing

    New York Times maskhead

    It doesn’t make for provocative copy, but the gray area of what constitutes “undue influence” exists everywhere. Apparently, The New York Times didn’t get the memo in devoting 1,300 words to the “groundbreaking” story that the line between editorial and advertising blurs in China. Duh.

  2. Applying Storytelling Techniques To An Enterprise Computing Case Study (Video)

    I love this NetApp video on a customer case study which deviates from the typical dull formula. Dare I say there’s genuine storytelling in the video. NetApp gets that even in the B2B world, the target audience still has emotions.

  3. Journalists Accept Apple’s “Storytelling Candy”

    Everyone knows Apple as a branding juggernaut. Few appreciate that the company is equally adroit at PR, illustrated by the handling of Tim Cook’s trip to Asia earlier in the year. Using the concept of supply and demand to its advantage, the distribution of a couple photos ensured that Apple’s controlled narrative found its way into countless stories.

  4. Top 10 Reasons Why Companies Fail at International PR

    Our involvement in global campaigns goes back to even before opening our first office overseas in 1996. It’s sobering to see companies make the same mistakes. This top-10 list captures the ones that surface the most led by Americanitis – the unwavering commitment to duplicate overseas what worked on the home field.

  5. Every Imaginable Storytelling Technique Surfaces in Media Coverage on Facebook IPO

    Yes, the Facebook IPO turned into a debacle only a mother could love. But the media coverage right after the big event offered a lesson in storytelling. How does a media property find that one unique angle when thousands of journalists are essentially writing from the same script? We found seven examples that went beyond stock movement, Zuck is rich and good luck living up to the valuation.

My first post of the year addressed ideas for evolving the blog.

Sometimes less is more, like reducing the number of posts driven by my personal amusement.

On the plus side, I think the grab-bag post has worked out well.

I also continue to be painfully aware that the “look and feel” of the blog needs more than a paint job.

As always, I welcome your feedback.



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