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Emojis may be hot, but they’re destroying the art of communication

By now, I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about my personal stance on emojis as a communication tool.

But, despite my personal feeling, the thundering success of emojis rages on.

Obviously, they’ve long been a tool for texting. But, in the last year they started showing up much more frequently on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (just to name a few of the spots).

Heck, they’re even showing up in news releases, thanks to Chevy.

Chevy Emojis

And, I dare say, they’re completely socially acceptable–especially among younger generations.

But, they’re also destroying the art of communication.

Yes, I know communicating with emojis is trendy.

Yes, I know communicating with emojis is fun.

Yes, I know communicating with emojis is easier for the reader (visuals vs. text discussion).

But, it’s destroying the written word. Little by little. Emoji by emoji.

And that’s a big deal for an industry (PR) that’s completely built on the written word.

How is it destroying the art of communications? Consider the following:

Emojis = less practice writing.

Kids already have difficulty learning to write coherently, creatively and effectively in school. Now, these kids are communicating less and less with written expressions, and more and more with visual cues. Gotta believe that’s not helping.

More emojis = more fun = less writing.

It’s fun to use emojis. In texts. On social networks. In email communications with your professor (I bet it’s happening). It’s not fun (for most people) to write–and write well. So, as emojis proliferate, and more people use them, fewer people are using the written word. Not good.

Great writers = Great strategists.

Learning how to think visually is a great thing. I’m not disputing that. But, learning how to express your thoughts via the written word is a different skill. And, I would argue those who learn to write well are the same people who go on to become strategists, VPs and presidents. Learning how to communicate via the the written word is a pathway to strategy. In my experience, most of the people I see ascending to senior-level PR/communications jobs are those with strong to very strong background in writing–not design/visuals.

Your CEO definitely isn’t using emojis.

Written business communication isn’t going anywhere. When was the last time you saw an emoji in an executive communication? Yep, that’s what I thought. Using emojis may be fun and light-hearted, but it’s not how the top levels of business communicate. Not at all.

So year, are emojis a fun and light-hearted way to communicate to friends? Absolutely. But, I’m not sure they should a major presence in the PR and communications world–and that seems to me what is increasingly happening.

Does that concern you as much as it does me?


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PR Rock Stars: Explore Minnesota’s Alyssa Ebel

The first time I saw or heard Alyssa Ebel’s came when I was researching the fantastic #OnlyInMn campaign. Since then, she seems to pop up everywhere. And, as WCCO-TV’s Jason DeRusha said in a recent Facebook comment thread, she’s “always on brand.” That couldn’t be more true. Every time you see her pop up in a social feed, she’s traveling around the state using the now-ubiquitous #onlyinmn hash tag. When you see her on TV, she’s covered in Explore MN garb. When you hear her talking on the radio, she’s raving about our great state. I know of few PR people who live the brand they represent more than Alyssa Ebel. So, it seemed like a good idea to feature her here today.

Alyssa Ebel 1

More than anyone I’ve seen in recent memory, you completely live the #exploremn brand. Can you talk a little about that and how that’s evolved for you? Do you think that’s absolutely necessary for success in this kind of position with a tourism organization?

That’s my queue to say yes I live the #ExploreMN /@exploreminnesota (Instagram and Facebook) / @exploreminn (Twitter) and #OnlyinMN brand. I live and breathe all things you can explore and find only in Minnesota, whether I’m on the clock or not in my current role as Explore Minnesota’s Senior Public Information Officer. My true love for Minnesota has grown over the years, so much that I left an awesome job with a big office overlooking Chicago’s Michigan Avenue to come back to my motherland. This is home and it’s way better than any swanky office view. Working for Explore Minnesota these last three years has deepened my appreciation for the state. Minnesota is an incredible, one-of-a-kind destination.

Alyssa Ebel 4

I like to practice what I preach to media near and far, so living the Explore Minnesota brand has lent success in publicizing statewide travel and tourism opportunities. I have a lot of media contacts who follow, or friend me on my professional and personal social channels, so regularly showing off my #OnlyinMN experiences is a simple and effective media relations tactic. Follow me on Twitter @ExploreMN_PR, or @AlyssaLEbel (also Instagram).

No, I haven’t visited every single 100+ breweries, biked all 4,000 miles of paved trails, swam in each one of our 11,842 lakes, trekked six national parks sites, 75 state parks and recreation areas, etc., etc., etc. – YET! I take every chance I get for a shameless #OnlyinMN plug, and you and WCCO’s Jason DeRusha are my #1 fans.

Now count how many times I use #OnlyinMN in this Q&A .


Working for a tourism organization must present a set of fairly unique challenges. Can you talk about those challenges, and what you’ve done so well to work around them?

Any organization presents challenges, but when representing a statewide tourism organization in the public sector, these are two challenges:

  1. Geographic and activity-diverse parameters

Representing an entire state of travel destinations, attractions, lodging properties, etc. is exciting, but it’s impossible to promote all of the assets in one breath, so my solution is the rule of three and roundup-style media pitches. Explore Minnesota defines five regions in Minnesota: Northwest, Northwest, Central, Metro and Southern, so I think three when pitching travel opportunities to media. Up to three regions (all if applicable to topic) are included in PR deliverables and media FAM tour itineraries (FAM = travel PR talk for media familiarization tour.). Just like any PR strategy, I have diverse, timely and seasonal editorial calendars. I execute a lot of in-house pitching, and recently teamed up with local PR agency, Bellmont Partners for some extra help. Just ask the Bellmont team about my rule of three! You’ll also start to notice Explore Minnesota’s geographic-diverse mission when planning your next Minnesota getaway at exploreminnesota.com, or while you’re seeking inspiration from our social channels.

  1. Minnesota’s perception problem

What’s the first reaction you get when you ask people who have never been to our state what they know about Minnesota? I often ask my out-of-state media contacts that question as an ice-breaker and among a few responses are: “It’s COLD.” “Mall of America.” “Lot’s of Lakes.” Minnesota is all-too often known as a flyover state or stereotyped as the “ice-box of the nation,” when some states are just as cold, if not colder or snowier than MN in the winter. I always get such a kick out of the national weather anchors when they talk about Minneapolis.

My job is to promote Minnesota as a premier travel destination – that we’re known for SO much more, and hey, when it’s cold, it’s OK because we embrace it with quirky winter activities that you can find #OnlyinMN. Or, experience the great indoors with our vibrant arts scene or fab TAX-FREE shopping!

I spend a lot of time pitching and coordinating media FAMS, like this recent Denver Post FAM that yielded two proud stories in one of Explore Minnesota’s target markets right before the 2015-16 winter season hit:

I also attend travel media conventions, I’m a member of Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and use Twitter as a key media outreach tool. Regularly meeting face-to-face with various media has been a game-changer in my PR career.

PR pro-tip: Joey Bunch, Denver Post writer is the best Colorado media contact you’ll find. He eats wild rice soup at every meal and knows Minnesota hockey hair better than any Minnesotan. He might even use #OnlyinMN more than I do.


Your family owns and operates a houseboat company near Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. I see you visiting frequently. Did your love of the outdoors and all things Northern Minnesota play into your wanting to work for Explore Minnesota? How has that helped you in this position?

Alyssa Ebel 3

That’s right; I grew up in Minnesota’s tourism and hospitality industry selling houseboat trips (and cleaning!) since my teenage years for Ebel’s Voyageur Houseboats (44 years in the biz, built by my amazing grandpa and dad…may they rest in peace). My upbringing absolutely played a role in wanting to work for Explore Minnesota, or any sort of tourism organization. My dad and mom instilled my passion for the tourism industry and I’m proud of my MN roots. I live the best of all Minnesota worlds. I get to go home to one of our nation’s most unique and only freshwater-based national park whenever I want, run around the lakes of south Minneapolis (and shop at Primp. A lot.), work downtown St. Paul and get to visit so many iconic destinations along the way. I’m a city-living, country/lake girl at heart (cheesy, but true). I knew a lot about Minnesota and how to sell a destination long before joining the Explore Minnesota team. I’m so grateful my mom forwarded me the EMT Express job posting (Explore Minnesota’s tourism industry newsletter).


I’ve been a big fan of your #onlyinmn social campaign the last year or so. In fact, I’ve written about it before. How did that campaign get off the ground, and why do you believe it’s been so successful?

Alyssa Ebel 6

I think I counted that blog post on my media report, so thanks! Explore Minnesota was looking for a fresh way to market unique and diverse travel experiences and wanted to elevate our social media presence. The campaign was presented by Explore Minnesota’s marketing agency partner, Colle+McVoy and when introduced, the first thing we did was look up #OnlyinMN on Twitter to see if it’s ever been used. It was, but in a negative way (i.e. #OnlyinMN would it be -20 below, etc.), so we loved the idea of it being established. We hijacked it by sharing positive experiences that can be found #OnlyinMN.

The #OnlyinMN campaign is the largest travel marketing campaign in the state’s history and efforts generated big returns for the state: 3.2 million trips, $337.4 million in traveler spending and $31.2 million in state and local taxes in 2015. Not only is the campaign enticing travelers, but it’s changing perceptions of Minnesota as a top place to live, retire, or go to college – the campaign is augmenting Minnesota’s overall economic development objectives. Impressive details about Explore Minnesota’s recent ROI study can be found here: http://www.exploreminnesota.com/news/details/?nid=1128

The hashtag has been used more than 260,000 times so far and is a Minnesota travel inspiration tool. It’s a Minnesota movement.


10 years into your career, you’ve now spent time on the agency, media, and government sides of the PR world. What have been your favorite aspects of each?

During the last 10 years, I dabbled in news, entertainment, to consumer CPG, retail and now travel/tourism PR, so I had a lot of rewarding experiences from each gig.

Media: I learned how a newsroom really operates at KARE 11 and what they like/don’t like about PR professionals. Most importantly, I fostered a few relationships while making coffee.

Agency: I learned the true meaning of of multitasking, managing my time and how to drink free beer.

Government: gaining a broad knowledge of politics and great relationships with the Governor’s Office through Governor’s tourism events and initiatives, such as the Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener – a time-honored 69 year media tradition that celebrates travel in our state and serves as the unofficial kick-off to the summer tourism season.


Selecting the “Top Pics of the Week” for your popular Instagram campaign must be one of the more fun parts of your job. How do you go about selecting those pics? And, what have been some of your very favorite over the last year?

Alyssa Ebel 5

Explore Minnesota’s #OnlyinMN “Top Pics of the Week” has been a blast, but I can’t take the credit for it since we hired social media rockstar, @CaitlinRick just a few months after the campaign launched.

Explore Minnesota strives to highlight a wide variety of destinations across the state each week. Throughout, Caitlin likes photos on Instagram or pins them to Explore Minnesota’s #OnlyinMN hub: exploreminnesota.com/onlyinmn

We receive so many #OnlyinMN photos, so it’s a great way to stay organized. We also try to feature a variety of Instagram users, so we’re lucky to have such a talented, enthusiastic and passionate Instagram community in Minnesota. Explore Minnesota also launches seasonal theme weeks on Instgram (currently in process, so get out there and start exploring MN) as way to crowd source featured photos. Our audience loves it.

We don’t have personal favorites – we love them ALL.


What’s one thing you’ve learned about Minnesota that you didn’t know before you started your job with Explore Minnesota?

How truly diverse Minnesota is every which way you travel. From the lake-splashed, tree-covered northwoods, to the vibrant and cultural metro scene, to rolling prairie hills, to mighty Mississippi River bluff country, there is something for everyone and always something new to try here in my home state.


I see from a former tweet, you’re interested in teaching an adult class on how to best use hash tags. What would be your first lesson? 

#Pleasedonteverusethislongofahashtagtotellmeyourlifestory. And use #OnlyinMN to leverage your visibility. You’re among more than 260,000 uses so far. Become part of a Minnesota travel movement. Change perceptions of Minnesota. Be #MinnesotaProud.


I’m a huge craft beer geek. You’re clearly a fan. Top 5 Minnesota craft beers. Go!

Alyssa Ebel 7

You’re really testing my mission for geographic-diversity with this one, so I’m going to say that I love all kinds of #MNBeer, because I truly do, and strive to try something different each time. My latest favorite is Northbound Brewpub on Sunday’s for the Smokehouse Porter and the porketta breakfast burrito (double #OnlyinMN).

Note: Photos courtesy of Alyssa Ebel and Explore MN.

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What to read–and what NOT to read–in digital marketing

One question I get A LOT when meeting with colleagues and clients: What should I be reading?

Which blogs?

Which media outlets?

Which Tumblrs? (OK, not really, but I needed a third one for symmetry!)

It’s a complex question these days because there’s so much junk out there. So much junk.

Content Strategist

So, you typically have to sift through a lot of that junk to get to the good stuff.

Now, some of the good stuff is obvious. Some, not so much. And some of the other stuff is tricky, because, well, the internet is a very tricky place these days. You have to pay attention.

Today, I thought I’d share my take on what TO read, and what NOT to read–and why:


Read every week: Digiday

Only read when the author posts: grow by Mark Schaefer.

Explanation: I like Digiday for a few reasons: 1) It covers interesting case studies in the digital marketing realm–case studies I don’t usually hear about, 2) It covers a wide swath of topics within digital–everything from social media marketing to social advertising to influencer campaigns, and, 3) It does have promotional content, but it’s clearly marked and I can easily avoid it. Mark Schaefer’s blog is one of the better independent blogs covering the social/digital world–but only when Mark posts. I find most of Mark’s posts insightful and well thought out (especially lately). The guest/community bloggers posts? Well…


Read every month: Content Strategist

Also read, if you have time: The Content Marketing Institute 

Explanation: So yeah, The Content Strategist is a very self-serving blog. And yeah, I have written for it before, in full disclosure. But, they also do a pretty good job of keeping their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the content marketing world. Just a bit better than the Content Marketing Institute, in my view. Both, probably worth reading, if you have time.


Sign up for the e-newsletter: V3b blog

Read for more basic social stuff: Social Media Examiner

Explanation: Shelly Kramer’s blog continues to impress. And I’m a regular reader of her weekly recap (sign up for that ASAP). Much like Digiday, what I like about Shelly’s blog is how she covers so many areas of digital–and even areas few others tackle (her recent post on how to market to one of the unheralded audiences is one of my faves). On the other hand, SME was a blog I once read regularly. The last few years, I feel like it’s gotten a little too basic for me. I find myself reading it less and less.


Read every post: Shel Holtz blog

Read when Gini posts: Spin Sucks

Explanation: Shel’s blog has been on my must-read list for years. Probably about eight to be exact. He covers more of a PR/social/internal comms angle, but he’s one of the best in that arena. Gini’s blog, Spin Sucks, is widely regarded as maybe the most popular PR blog. I’ve been a reader for years. And, she has, without question, the most engaged PR community on the planet. But, much like Mark’s blog, for me, I tend to pay attention only when Gini blogs.


Read every so often: Shift Comm blog

Check in once a week: PR Daily

Explanation: No, Shift Comm president, Todd Defren, doesn’t blog as much as he used to at his legendary PR Squared blog. And, that’s a shame. But, the Shift Comm blog is still one of my favorite agency blogs. Mostly because Christopher Penn writes so much. Definitely one of my must reads each week. PR Daily is a site I check once or twice a week–to make sure I’m staying on top of PR news and trends (disclosure: PR Daily runs content from Communications Conversations from time to time).


Read, but focus on the “PR Links” posts: O’Dwyer’s blog

Sporadically, at best: Social Media Today

Explanation: O’Dwyer’s has a ton of industry news and information–not all of it that relevant to me. I don’t pay attention to most of it, to be honest. But, I browse their “PR Links” post religiously. It doesn’t always contain a great nugget, but it uncovers posts and articles I might not normally read in the world of PR. On the flip side, I’ve found Social Media Today to be borderline useless. The articles seem to be all over the place–and there are WAY too many of them. Really hard to find the good stuff (if it’s even in there).


Check in often: eConsultancy

Check in once in a while: Convince & Convert

Explanation: eConsultancy is on my “must read” list for one big reason: It touches on areas of digital marketing well beyond PR and social. And, I routinely find the articles fairly insightful–like this recent post about video ads on Facebook that cater to auto-play. On the flip side, I’m kinda sad to note Convince & Convert here as a blog to check in on only once in a while. It wasn’t so long ago (when Jay was posting much more often) that I would check in almost daily. Nowadays, the blog is less about Jay, and more about the community (read: guest bloggers/contributors) and his book. Still worth checking out from time to time.

Read regularly: Hubspot

Only if you need high-end Facebook ideas/help: Jon Loomer

Explanation: Sure, Hubspot has the occasional link-bait-like headline post. But, by and large, they’re churning out fairly useful content on a wide range of digital marketing topics every week. Worth a regular read. On the other hand, Jon Loomer’s blog–which has been heralded as a top blog in social media–is only worth reading if you’re in need of high-level, advanced, Facebook help. It’s great for that, but overall, it’s a little narrow to be on the “must read” list every week.

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Why more brands AREN’T experimenting with Snapchat

Yeah, I know Snapchat has 100 million daily active users.

I know they have like 46 billion views on their videos (slight exaggeration).

And I know every 17-year-old alive checks Snapchat no fewer than 89 times per day.

I get it–Snapchat is a BFD (you aren’t the only ones who can use cool acronyms, Millennials!).

GE-Tweet Snap

Yet we’re still not seeing even semi-widespread adoption among brands.

Sure, the Taco Bells, Sour Patch Kids, and General Electrics of the world are all over Snapchat–just like they are any other social network that caters to younger audiences.

But, other than big CPG brands and a smattering of other early adopters, not many brands are really using Snapchat at all.

Curious, right?

Not if you know the game. I see four big reasons mid-sized to large brands aren’t jumping on the Snapchat bandwagon just yet.

Visuals aren’t as polished

You know those crayons you use on Snapchat? Yeah, those aren’t “on brand” for most big orgs. As a result, I’m guessing a lot of big brands aren’t too hot to trot with the tool just yet. They’ll come around, but I would bet a lot of money that’s a big reason out of the gate. Marketers and communicators are reframing expectations of management as we speak.

No visual archive

You know what brands love? Recognition. And, an archive of all the visual assets they’ve worked so hard to create over the years (i.e., Facebook, Twitter feeds). You know what they don’t generally like? For visuals they work hard to create to disappear in three seconds (hey, I didn’t say the reasons were rational, did I?).

Entry to Discover tool entry is very, very high

OK, so we know big publisher brands like ESPN, Cosmo and Nat Geo are seeing big impression numbers with the Discover feature. But, you think Snapchat is just going to turn that kind of functionality over to brands right now? Think again. Snapchat seems finely keyed in to the user experience right now–much like Facebook was 4-5 years ago. Advertising and promotion options will come–but right now, they’re either very expensive or just don’t exist for most companies.

Wait, how do I get followers again?

I’m no Snapchat expert, but from what I can gather, it’s tough to build a following/community if you’re a brand. And, it seems like there are few–if any–viable paid options to do that. Don’t you think that’s most brands first question? How do we start a community on Snapchat? Hey, I’m not saying it’s the right question–I’m just betting it is THE question. And, if that’s the question being asked first, it’s a pretty quick conversation at this point, right? I think this is a big part of it right now, too. Brands just aren’t quite there yet.

So, what’s a brand to do?

Two words: Be patient.

Advertising options will come–in time.

Snapchat will get smarter–and more prolific–in how they work with brands.

Just think about where Facebook was with brands 5-6 years ago. They’ll get there. Just be patient.

In the meantime, a lot of the successful brand executions I’ve seen seem to revolve around influencer engagement. Work with (read: pay) an existing Snapchat influencer to help tell your story–and get your Snapchat account off the ground (just look at what Audi and Sour Patch Kids did in these case studies).

Something to consider if you ARE hot on the Snapchat bandwagon right now.

Otherwise–be patient and check back in a few months.





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Less is the new more when it comes to social posting frequency

A friend of mine raised a question we’ve heard before on Facebook the other day: How many times should I be posting to Facebook per week?

A question that’s been asked by thousands of clients and company-side folks over the last few years (but a question I haven’t heard in quite a while, actually).

And, what have we heard from the “gurus”? A variety of “answers”.

Buffer says two times per day.

Mari Smith says 5-6 time per week.

Target FB

The real answer: “It depends.” Of course it depends. No consultant worth their salt would give you a blanket answer to that question.

But, overall, I’m here to tell you less is WAY more when it comes to Facebook right now.


Three strategic reasons:

1 – Facebook advertising means longer shelf-life for fewer posts.

Biggest case–by far. Assumption: All posts on your timeline now virtually require paid support to ensure they’re seen by existing or targeted audiences. We all agree to that, correct? Given that, think about the following scenario. You post twice a day, as suggested by Buffer above. That’s 10-14 times a week, depending on if you post over the weekends. That’s 10-14 posts you’re amplifying to your existing fans, or people outside your community, with promoted post dollars. Unless you have a ton of different audiences you’re targeting with those posts, you’re going to hit that audience many, many times over the course of the week. Now, in some instances, that might work. But, I would argue in most, it won’t. People will either: 1) Become desensitized to your content, having seen it far too often over the course of the week, 2) Become increasingly frustrated by the fact that you are clearly advertising to them non-stop on Facebook. I’m not sure either scenario is what most brands want. Instead, consider this scenario: You post twice per week. You boost post both posts for 2-3 days to either your existing fans or targeted groups. The result? Brand produces far less content (read: easier; hopefully, better content). Fans get a steady, but not overwhelming dose of content. And, Facebook gets their money :) Doesn’t that make a heckuva lot more sense?

2 – Fewer posts means generating less content.

As mentioned above, posting less often means brands won’t have to generate the gobs of content they’re being asked to generate right now. Posting less often means brands can focus MORE time and energy on creating content that’s higher quality. Posting less often means brands can use that ‘found time’ to dig into their analytics more and create content that’s more data-driven. Again, in the end, posting less makes sense.

3 – Focus more time on using Facebook’s other ad products.

Another interesting angle here–posting less doesn’t mean you’re not still active on Facebook. Go check out Target’s Facebook page. How many posts have they have to their feed since Jan. 1? Two. TWO! Does that mean Target’s not taking Facebook seriously? I highly doubt it (although, to be fair, I don’t know for certain). What I do suspect, however, is that Target is using the variety of Facebook ad products to drive toward their goals. Ad products like lookalike audiences and retargeting. Ad products that are laser focused. Ad products that allow Facebook to drive hardcore marketing results like site traffic and e-commerce. Isn’t that a better use of Target’s time that focusing on creating X amount of Facebook posts per day?

So, that’s my case. And, I tend to think it’s a darn solid one. Disagree with me, if you will. I’d like to hear the argument for posting more often actually (generally speaking, at least).

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