This month Gray Digital Group was recognized by UpCity as a Top Local Agencies in San Antonio. As you may know, we at Gray have been providing high-quality digital marketing services to our clients since 2001, and so we are excited to celebrate this accomplishment!
UpCity helps scout out the best local agencies around that United States to provide small businesses with recommendations of only the most qualified and trusted agencies in their cities. Not all agencies qualify and must be nominated and vetted before making the list.
“We [Gray Digital Group] pride ourselves on giving only the best services and customer service to our client’s so it’s exciting for us to be apart of UpCity’s Top Local Agency list,” said Brad Gray, co-owner of Gray Digital Group. “Our goal is always to think of new and innovative ways to help add value to each client’s business. Each client is unique and has a different goal in mind for what success looks like so we emphasize customer service and customizing our services for each business. It seems like a no-brainer, but you don’t see that with all agencies. One size does not fit all when it comes to digital marketing and we understand that.”
We would like to thank all of our clients and staff for making this opportunity possible and hope to continue to provide our clients with high-quality digital marketing. Check out our profile on UpCity here for an overview of our services or contact us to find out how we can help accomplish your business’s digital marketing goals.
The craft of telling visual stories differs from other disciplines in that it is forever married to the advancement of technology. If a writer possesses the necessary talent and vision, it makes little difference whether he uses Microsoft Word or a Quill pen and powdered ink. Visual storytelling is different. As technology advances, new horizons are opened up. New tools give us new ways of better constructing the narrative we hope to convey. This being the case, we are always on the lookout, keeping a watchful eye on the digital technology market. Technology creators realize this, which has naturally led to a world where digital video tools are perpetually burgeoning. Every day now it seems like a ground-breaking, tradition-shattering tool arrives on the scene. This comes with both good and bad attributes. As content creators, we must be intentional about not focusing too much on which tool is the most provocative, but which one practically and tangibly contributes to the story we are telling.
A lot of things are happening in the digital world, and fast! When DJI released the “Phantom” drone in January 2013, they forever changed the landscape of digital video. Video footage that use to cost hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars was now available to anyone that could afford the drone and a GoPro camera. It seemed like everyone had a drone in the sky, filming everything from scenic landscapes to fireworks. It wasn’t long before we acquired our own drone, the Dji Phantom 3. Admittedly, our excited got the best of us as well. We filmed anything and everything, sometimes for no other reason than to have an excuse to fly (which is fun enough on its own, let alone obtaining amazing footage).
After using the Drone for several projects, we began to take note of how it can add production value to our work. At first, we saw it’s obvious aesthetic potential. There is just something about aerial video that looks good. It has in innate ability to demand one’s focus, grabbing attention on footage that otherwise might not seem that interesting. While this is all well and good, and more than justifies having a Drone, there are other more dynamic applications.
Homes of Hope is a local client of ours that helps provide affordable housing to low income families and individuals. However, to say that is all they do would not just be an understatement, it would simply be wrong. The unseen effects of their work ripple through our society in numerous beneficial ways. I have met many of their “graduates” and they’ll be the first to tell you that affordable housing is barely scratching the surface. These are people with diverse backgrounds and challenges, but have all benefited from a better life trajectory, all thanks to Homes of Hope.
These are real people with real struggles who were willing to put forth the effort, and Homes of Hope was willing to meet them halfway. I could easily dedicate this entire blog post to the transformative effects Home of Hope has had on our local community, and still not cover all the bases. In the end, that’s the point. In order to even vaguely understand the full impact of Homes of Hope, one must take a bird’s eye look at all they have done. This is where we have found the absolute best application for the Drone. How else could we capture the sprawling neighborhoods, the community Barbecues and the scope of housing construction? It was these questions and these projects that we realized the Drone has far more to contribute than aesthetic trimming to a video. This was a situation in which the use of the Drone was actually broadening the scope of our narrative, giving us new creative freedom to fully tell the Homes of Hope story. You can’t see Homes of Hope at eye level, you must journey to the sky in order to understand the heights they have reached.
This past week I had the privilege of filming the demolition of some condemned properties in Greenville. Homes of Hope will soon be replacing the condemned houses with new, livable houses. As I was flying the Drone back and forth over the site, I couldn’t help but realize the symbolic nature of what was happening. Even though a physical house was being destroyed, a rebirth was taking place. I was reminder of the many Homes of Hope graduates I have met, who were intent on dismantling the destructive habits of their old lifestyle and making way for the new bright future ahead of them. Whether it’s with the freshly painted houses, or the glow of a graduate’s face when they get hired to their first full time job, Homes of Hope is changing the face of our community. It’s a story worth telling.
Once again I sit through another meeting where a public relations professional’s performance is based on the number of print articles earned in the local newspaper. This has driven me to finally write this post.
Owned media can be a huge influencer for earned and paid. Let’s be honest, earned media is about relationships. Organizations can have the best stories, provide the best value for the community, and have the most topical items to influence media outlet’s bottom line…but without relationships this means nothing. ZILCH! That’s why you see organizations hire PR firms, mainly for their relationships leveraging their?sphere of influence.
Organizations that do not know how to tell their story (and tell it well) can have great relationships with earned media outlets, but do a horrible job of communicating their message. That is why I love the owned space. LOVE IT!
Investing in storytelling is not this hypothetical catch phrase that can make everyone feel warm and fuzzy, yet it is a practical, strategic approach that can influence ownership of messaging. It is an operational way of taking ownership of the stories that happen on an internal basis, funneled through digital properties as pitch mechanism, and influence media relationships to broaden the storytelling strategy. Plus…I think journalists are competitive and sometimes want to prove they can write better than the organization.
If you tell your story well, influence your community to engage with your story, people want to share. Creating a digital storytelling strategy as an internal focus can be executed very simply:
Create a news area on the website
Create a content plan – Create a content calendar – Capture and write an organization’s story through first person narratives via the blog – Capture and write third person news articles via the news section
Write consistently (leverage content calendar)
Share through social and digital outlets
Leverage content as pitch narratives for earned media outlets. – Email blasts to media contacts – Have coffee/lunch/meetings with media contacts with story ideas from blog/news.
Integrate paid promotion around content boosting performance (reach and funnel metrics)
Track and report
This is the owned approach, putting a focus on telling your “own” story leveraging the organizations’ content for earned and paid media strategies. This allows organizations to focus on content on the tactical level (specialist, managers, directors) and the true function of PR, building long term relationships (director and vp level).
The best part of this approach is once the tactical strategy of content creation funneling through the organizations digital outlets…you can measure, refine, then scale.
Refining is the fun part! Measuring content that resonates with digital audiences then comparing the content narratives that support the communication/marketing focuses of the organization’s growth goals.
Now, I can hear you out there…”how do I get my internal team to focus on creation of quality content?” That is a whole other discussion, but it comes down to creating a commitment to this strategy, incorporating into individuals job functions/titles, and hiding them accountable. It also includes inspiring and recruiting the right people on your internal team that has a passion and voice for your organization, including outside the communications team.
This is one of the best updates from a hospital when it comes to the Zika virus. It comes from Mayo Clinic, and here is why it is works extremely well:
It is simple!
Dispels the myths
Provides information in written and video form.
It is sharable.
It provides media outlets video content to download for use in broadcasts and online via the media section where they have to sign-in to download.
We are seeing more hospital leaders jump in front of the public discussion surrounding Zika Virus. Google Trends is continuing to show a large uptick in online conversation. Google Trends is also making it EXTREMELY easy to create a content plan. Google Trends lists for anyone to see the top five questions being searched online.
There is increased search on Google for information about Zika virus, based on data supplied by Google Trends. Charleston, SC is leading the state geographically with increased Google search about the virus along with our neighboring state (Georgia) seeing an increased amount of search. Bottom-line, people are searching and seeking information.
Over the past few days, articles are being released by local South Carolina media outlets including two articles of note from the State Newspaper on Friday indicating 15 people in the State of SC have been tested along with an article in Anderson’s Independent Mail piggy backing off the same data. These articles are creating an uptick in search for content online in South Carolina.
This is what I am learning from these experiences:
Hospitals need a solid public facing content plan. This does not mean we need to start posting content, but start building a strategic communications plan that includes digital and social media along with media outlets.
Need a comprehensive plan to handle responses from media and public, including on social media. These means understanding the virus, understanding how the virus impacts South Carolina, and empowering member hospitals to be the ones how are thought leaders in the public face.
Here are the top five questions being asked on Google right now:
What is Zika virus?
Where is the Zika virus?
Is Zika virus contagious?
How long does Zika virus stay in your system?
How is Zika virus spread?
Digital Strategy Recommendations (Dedicated Zika Content Page) I have pulled together resources that might help us frame what the pubic is searching for online, creating opportunities to frame responses based on other hospitals and health care resources. I can see a whole section of a healthcare organization’s website dedicated to Zika with information for the public. This could be a combination of resources below based on content already created from credible resources.
This does not mean I am recommending going public with a part of the website immediately, yet recommending the creation of content in a unified spot on the website…and when ready, launch as a resource for member hospitals and the public. The following content can be leveraged or can serve as a guide for member hospitals to create something similar.
1 – Great video from WHO with question and answer video showcasing an epidemiologist answering the following questions on camera:
What is Zika virus?
What are the symptoms of the Zika virus disease?
Is there treatment for Zika virus disease?
Should I avoid traveling to areas where Zika virus is occurring?
What can I do to protect my family?
2 – Here is another great video from Healthcare Triage’s Aaron E. Carroll, MD, MS, a Professor of Pediatrics and Associate Dean for Research Mentoring at Indiana University School of Medicine.
He discusses in great medical detail with consumer friendly graphics defining what the Zika virus is all about and whether we should or should not be concerned.
3 – There is also lots of connected conversation and Google search surrounding the connection between Microcephaly and Zika virus. Here is a great videos from WHO’s Dr. Anthony Costello who is the Director of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health:
He addresses these questions in the video:
What is Microcephaly?
As a pregnant woman, how would I know if my baby is affected?
What support would I need if my child has microcephaly?
What steps can I take to protect myself and my baby from Zika virus?
4- Here is a new video about the Zika virus from the CDC called “Zika Virus 101” with Dr. Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director:
She tackles the same questions with informed responses:
What is Zika?
Statistics of who will become ill if infected.
Symptoms of Zika virus disease.
How to avoid getting Zika?
5 – Here is a wonderful blog post from Seattle Children’s Hospital tackling many of the questions and concerns for parents. I can see numerous blog posts from member hospitals tackling each of the topic areas from this blog post link:
What is Zika?
Potential birth defects
Guillain-Barre from Zika
What is Dengue?
Risks from Dengue for pregnant women & newborns?
Testing for Zika when you are worried.
Recommendations for men and their pregnant partners.
Bottom line advice about Zika, dengue, and pregnancy.
I am watching the digital curve surrounding Zika virus from inside Google Trends alongside monitoring the amount of conversation on Facebook using the Signal product. It was just yesterday that we noticed that Zika Virus moved to the trending position in Facebook after the media covered President Obama’s announcement surrounding funding to attack Zika virus.
It is absolutely fascinating to watch disease specific and public health matters emerge through the use of digital search and social media conversation. We know that digital listening has become a key component to engage the consumer, taking part in the the digital path as the consumer is using Google to search for information and going to social media channels like Facebook to have conversations with their friends and other thought leaders.
Hospitals and health care organizations have learned from many health crisis that the digital path is key to engaging the consumer, providing information that will ether empower the decision patterns or dispel myths. We also know that leveraging digital listening is another pathway in the decision pattern whether to release public information from hospitals about these large public health issues.
Digital listening should not be the only determinant whether to go public, but can play a vital role how to frame the release public information, when to release, and how to frame the conversation for the community.
I have been watching the Zika virus in two specific areas:
Google Trends – Indicator of consumer search
Facebook Signal – Indicator of consumer conversation
When looking at Google Trends, here are a few things I noticed:
1) Google search for Zika virus has been up and down over the last few weeks, and began another up-tick on Monday, February 8th when it was announced that President Obama was going to request $1.8 Billion dollars to address this public health issue.
Why should we care about this as an evolving trend? This showcases the intensity of engagement online as it relates to Zika. When people are interested in information, they use Google as a mechanism to seek information. This showcases the consumers interest over time and using search to find information that is relevant to their daily lives.
2) The Top Five Questions being asked on Google about Zika Virus.
Why is this important? This is a key guide to see what the consumer is asking, a guide for hospitals and health care organizations to frame content as a means to answer the questions consumers are searching for online. So much time is spent inside content strategies trying to figure out what content will be relevant to the consumer, here is a clear guide to what the consumer is truly interested in learning.
3) The intensity of search based on geographic areas in the United States.
Once again, why is this important? I spend lots of time working with hospitals in South Carolina and Texas. This interactive chart allows me to hover over geographic areas, seeking to understand the intensity of search surrounding Zika. Right now hospitals in Texas (specifically in Austin) are showing that there is an increased level of search for Zika (68) compared to the top level of interest in Florida maxed at 100. In Greenville, SC the level of search sits at 36, Columbia, SC is 40, and Charleston, SC 43. This is a scale from 1 – 100.
As you see the shades of blue become darker, the increased level of search is getting close to the max number of 100. If you look at Florida where the Governor has expanded state of emergency to the fifth county, you can match the areas impacted with the level of search. The five counties under a state of emergency are Broward, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Lee and Santa Rosa. Each of these counties represent areas of Florida with the highest search level for information.
With increased levels of search in Texas, and the fact there are ten confirmed cases diagnosed, you can see there is a high level of search in Austin (location of the legislature) and Dallas areas.
South Carolina hospitals need to watch the search in our geographic area surrounding Zika, and if it looks like it is starting to increase dramatically, implementing a content strategy that leverages content and Google search to dispel myths and concerns. Let’s take this to the tactical level, using the top trending questions in the Google search:
What is Zika Virus – Blog Post and/or Video from Clinician answering this question.
Where is Zika Virus – Interactive map showing where the Zika virus is being found as it relates to your geographic area.
Is Zika virus contagious? – Clinical expert sharing thoughts via blog and/or video about the virus and how impacts the local consumer.
How long does Zika virus stay in your system?– Clinical expert sharing thoughts via blog and/or video about the virus and how impacts the local consumer.
How is Zika virus spread? – Clinical expert sharing thoughts via blog and/or video about the virus and how impacts the local consumer.
Right now…major news outlets are dominating the content games in these areas, providing new information about the virus in these geographic areas and across the nation. Hospitals have a HUGE opportunity to do the following:
Create a robust content strategy presenting hospitals and health care organizations as thought leaders online.
Create a social media strategy to not only deliver content, but to engage in conversation online positioning thought leadership directly from health care leadership.
Hospitals MUST decide if and when they talk about the Zika virus online (website, blog, social media, and through earned media outlets). Hospitals have an opportunity to leverage listening tools to gauge the level of consumer interest on the Zika virus, and decide if that is a determining factor to release information digitally, empowering the public with accurate, real time information that does not create pandemonium, but empowers the community to become educated about this public health situation.
In a recent report by Forrester Research called “No Media Stands Alone” media is broken up into three areas:
Earned Media: Editorial influence of your brand, like a blog post which mentions your brand or product.
Paid Media: Usually advertising space that is paid for, such as online banner ads.
Owned media: Described in this study as a corporate website.
Did you catch that? OWNED media. We love this terminology! Your website is a form of media that you own—you have complete control over what it says, where people see it, and how often it is updated. You can (and you should) use your paid media to drive traffic to your owned media. Banner ads, print ads, billboards, radio spots. Your web address should be omnipresent on all.
We also think it is important to point out that social media, which has become a very powerful form of “earned media,” has the greatest potential to also become a form of “owned media,” too. Your company can absolutely leverage the power of social media by engaging in and directing the conversation about your product or service. For this to work, though, you need to be sure you are fully invested in your social media strategy:
Do you have the tools to communicate with your audience, and do they know where to find you? Which influential bloggers should you align with? What form of micro blogging are you using—Facebook or Twitter?
Are you listening? Do you have an understanding of what is being said about your product or your service—today—at this moment?
Are you engaging your audience? Are you ready to address positive and negative comments with equal exuberance?
Are you taking the time to generate conversation and ask for their input? Are you leveraging all the tools at your disposal? Are your social sites hooked to your blog? Is your blog prominently placed on your website? Are you using social media tools as part of your website?
Whatever your business, whatever your product, we say OWN it. Own your website and your earned media too. It will take some work, ownership always does.
Small business owners know that it takes community interaction to create growth. As the social media community continues to increase in size, small businesses are becoming interested in an online community strategy. At Gray Web Tech we’ve helped many clients navigate the world of social media to promote everything from happy hour specials to health and wellness events.
Alexis Lamster, VP of customers at Postling, created an infographic that shows how small businesses are using social media tools such as twitter and facebook to connect with consumers on another level.
How can social media leverage your business goals?
A few months ago, we hired Mark Berry to join Gray Digital Group’s video production and content development team. I have known Mark for about two years and finally had the opportunity to leverage his whole skill set by bringing him to Gray. The best way to welcome someone is to ask him a few questions…so here ya go, welcome to Mark Berry!
What project have you worked on that has impacted you the most? At first I thought this question was going to be difficult to answer, given that I have worked on hundreds of projects in my career. However the story of Beverly Odum very quickly made it’s way into my pondering. Beverly Odum is the widow of the locally popular Michael Odum, who owned and operated a wildly successful car dealership for many years in the Greenville area. I will not disclose the entire story, but I will say that Beverly has overcome more trials and hardships than most people would ever dare to fathom. Hers is a message of hope, and is in my opinion evidence of the good in the world. It was an honor to play a small part in the telling her story.
What is your favorite gadget? Well, besides Busby… I have to say that the Adobe Creative Suite is my favorite technological interest. While not technically a “gadget,” the shear breadth of it’s capabilities are awe inspiring, and I just love discovering new and exciting tricks and techniques. Learning is a passion of mine, and considering the fact that it’s nearly impossible to learn it all, Adobe keeps me very busy! What is your favorite movie and why? My favorite movie is by far “The Christmas Card,” which is a short kid’s movie that I made for my niece and nephew in 2010. My shameless, self promoting link is below:
What is your favorite book? My literary favorites are vast and numerous, but for the sake of this interview I shall pick “Empire of the Summer Moon” by S. C. Gwynne as my favorite (excluding the Bible). This riveting non-fiction work delves into the rise and fall of the Commanche nation. It differs from other books on the subject by it’s detailed look into the social dynamics of the Tribe’s day and age. Instead of following a formula of simply stating facts and giving commentary, Gwynne’s work gives the reader a thorough understanding of both the historical and human elements that played into this important time in history. (And almost all of it takes place in Texas, just thought I would throw that out there.) What is your favorite ice cream!?Peppermint. The End.
Why did you join Gray Digital Group? My decision to join Gray Digital Group was influenced by many factors, the most prominent being my desire to stay on a fulfilling trajectory. Steve Jobs once said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied it to do what you believe is great work.” I believe this quote to be inherently true. Before I officially joined Gray Digital Group, I was involved in a large amount of contract work with the company. During this time I worked on a variety of video pieces that dealt with all sorts of stories, some of them being very emotionally touching. It was these projects that convinced me that this was indeed great work, and extended beyond simply fulfilling the duties of employment. I think most can agree that when that sort enrichment is brought into the workplace; it stops resembling work and starts to become a truly meaningful endeavor.
What type of projects do you like to work on? The ones that pay the Big Buck$! Just kidding… My favorite projects are ones that address some sort of social or religious issue. I find the projects that have both of these elements to be particularly fulfilling! For example, I’ve done several projects for Anderson Interfaith Ministries. This faith based organization does a lot of work to fight poverty, domestic violence and many other social issues. It is always an honor to be involved in stories such as these.
Tell us about Busby the Drone! Busby the Drone is the newest addition to the Mark & Bobby Arsenal. He has had several near death experiences, most of which were no fault of his own (no names will be named). His capabilities extend far and wide, and he has made many tools of the past such as Jibs and Dollys obsolete. So far he has exceeded expectations and has yielded amazing and aesthetically pleasing results. I see a bright future for Busby (if he survives), and am very excited that he has joined us here at Gray Digital Group, SC.
Telling 25 Years of Stories…that sounds like a lot! It was a bit overwhelming, but a huge opportunity to embrace a powerful narrative right here in Anderson, SC. I was hired to help find, tell, and share 25 stories for 25 years…and what I found were passionate stories told by passionate people!
It is hard to completely wrap our heads around what it means to operationalize a digital content strategy. There are so many barriers to execution, ranging from the operational portion of generating content, finding unique stories that are consumer friendly, training people to share unique narratives, and even just getting the written word on digital paper.
I have found myself in 2015 actually training three different organizations how to operationalize a content strategy three different ways:
1. Content First – Finding and Telling Rich Stories (Focus on the written word) 2. Technology First – Distribution Methodology (Focus on a platform specific approach) 3. Content Marketing First (Leveraging internal content for generate reach for product marketing)
All three can be successfully executed; yet fun to implement all three simultaneously watching the real time impact.
I started working with a small non-profit here in Anderson, SC called AIM (Anderson Interfaith Ministries), mainly because they have a wonderful story to tell. Here is a little bit about their mission from their website:
Anderson Interfaith Ministries is an efficient nonprofit organization that meets the needs of struggling individuals and families in Anderson County. AIM was founded by churches to eliminate the duplication of assistance to those in need. For more than two decades, AIM has stabilized the community and continues to do so using its hand up, not hand out philosophy. AIM is known for doing a lot with a little and continues to significantly help its customers positively change their lives long-term. AIM is unique because of its numerous efficient programs and passionate, committed volunteers. AIM is well known in the Upstate for giving hope and changing lives and continues to do so with unparalleled levels of energy, efficiency and reliability.
Here was our objective: Build awareness in the community for the 25th Anniversary Gala celebrating 25 years of service. We did this by finding, capturing, and telling 25 stories for 25 years of service.
We found strong storytellers inside AIM to help us find 25 stories; then putting pen to paper writing and sharing each story, starting 21 days before the event. As we wrote, more stories emerged and we began stockpiling more stories to be shared after the 25th Anniversary Event.
The night of the event we revealed the final four stories through short videos. But before the reveal, each attendee was able to walk around the room and see all the stories on easels, each with a QR code so they could scan and read the whole story from the blog.
Yes, two days before the event, we emailed the attendees to download the QR Code Reader app on their smartphones. As the event started, the final four videos were played on the screens as we pulled a black sheet off each of the four as they were revealed.
After the event, AIM was able to take full control of their story: 1. Identified more than 25 stories, they ended up capturing close to 50 stories. 2. Produced four stories via video, stories many knew well, sharable stories from the blog. 3. Had a completely updated website putting content first via a dynamic blog and news feed. 4. Complete understanding how to find, capture, document, edit, publish, and share their stories.
What did I learn? Organic storytelling can grow faster and spread quicker, allowing your audience to become a part of the narrative in real time. The stories grew like wildfire on social media, not needing any paid advertising to reach those who love the AIM story. But the biggest take away, always start with content first! Help people find their inner storyteller, providing them the space and the platform to tell their story from the inside out.
I hope you go to the AIM blog and read! I hope you find some amazing writing, storytelling, videos, and content that speaks to you. They sure were lots of fun to help find and tell!