What Your Email Says About Your Brand

A Case Study: Your Emails

Digital branding starts in your inbox.

It’s something you take for granted, something seemingly trivial, even mundane. When executed thoughtfully, however, it makes a splash. It says, “This guy is sharp—I want to work with him!”

What is this opportunity, obvious but overlooked? It’s the bookends of your emails: your address and signature block—often, the first and last thing your recipients will see. For better or worse, your email bookends are powerful purveyors of your brand. What are yours conveying about you?

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Jesse Jackson’s Brilliant Apology

Jesse Jackson

Last week, former congressman, Jesse Jackson Jr., was charged with conspiracy, making false statements, and mail and wire fraud. This is serious stuff, requiring a serious statement. Fortunately, Jackson has a brilliant lawyer, who issued the following apology on his client’s behalf:

Over the course of my life I have come to realize that none of us are immune from our share of shortcomings and human frailties. Still I offer no excuses for my conduct and I fully accept my responsibility for the improper decisions and mistakes I have made. To that end I want to offer my sincerest apologies to my family, my friends and all of my supporters for my errors in judgment and while my journey is not yet complete, it my hope that I am remembered for things that I did right.

Leave aside the grammatical error (“none of us are” should be “none of us is”), as well as the semantic sloppiness (“all of my supporters” should be “all my supporters”) and lack of commas. The statement is succinct, thoughtful, and shrewd—especially when compared with how Jackson blundered his last spin in the crisis chair. This time around, the congressman nails it. Here’s how Jackson succeeded this time:

1. He begins with a Big Picture reflection that paints himself as an everyman. He says, in effect, “We all make mistakes.” Who could disagree with that?

2. He doesn’t point fingers or refer to extenuating circumstances. Instead, he embraces his culpability without qualification.

3. He doesn’t dance around the elephant. Instead, he walks straight up to it and apologizes, directly and earnestly.

4. He doesn’t rely on adjectives to make his point. Instead, he writes with nouns.

5. He closes by asking people to remember him for the good he’s done, and refrains from self-indulgently citing examples. This understated, upbeat note thus effectively shifts our final focus.

My only disagreement: Jackson’s misdeeds aren’t mere “errors of judgment,” as he claims. Self-dealing and theft are crimes.

Anyone can apologize. Indeed, we all do from time to time. But to do it well—to extinguish the fire rather than re-ignite it—ultimately requires the one thing that PR pros can’t fake: sincerity.

For example, in the past month alone, the Atlantic has apologized with frankness, humor, and transparency for its Scientology advertorial. Maker’s Mark has apologized with heart, brio, and class for almost diluting its bourbon. And a leading environmental activist has apologized with honesty and courage for spearheading the movement against genetically modified foods.

Study these examples, together with Jackson’s. Even if you’re not Larry David, chances are, you’re going to need to say “sorry” sooner or later.

Jonathan Rick is the president of the Jonathan Rick Group, a digital communications firm in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter @jrick.

A version of this blog post appeared in PR Daily.

5 Ways to Transform Your Blog Post Into Endless Tweets

Click the presentation above to view the 41 examples below that form the heart of this post. 

You just finished a killer blog post. Reliving the process: first you had to pitch the idea to your editor. Then you reworked the angle to satisfy his feedback. Then it was research time, wherein you bumped up against facts that challenged your hypothesis. Finally, you penned the piece, sweating over decisions as light as commas, as lofty as conclusions.

Now, the post has been published. And you, like a wide-eyed kitten mesmerized by a shiny new object, sit in thrall to the whimsies of the web—watching, waiting, wishing for the big payoff.

Slowly, the clicks come trickling in. But why settle for a trickle when these numbers could be a raging torrent? As soon as your article goes live, it behooves you to SHOUT IT from the rafters. You labored so long and hard on the writing, shouldn’t you reward your efforts with a little promotion?

Indeed you should. In fact, every hack must now be his own flack.

Contrary to custom, a blogger’s job doesn’t end once you click “publish.” Far from it. In this Age of Big Data, where every blog, vlog, and broadcast lives and dies by metrics, your success depends on your page views. (At least if you’re writing for Forbes, Gawker, or Business Insider; if your pub is Mashable, the Times, or New York, you’re ranked on the number of times your story is shared, emailed, or commented on, respectively. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.)

And when eyeballs count, Twitter is your best friend. Quicker than placing a phone call, easier than drafting an email, and more trackable than Linking In, tweeting facilitates the Holy Grail of PR: one-on-one outreach en masse.

To wit: Twitter lets you repackage and repurpose your content. This is crucial: you can’t just tweet once, kitten, and expect to snag that ball of string. You must tweet and tweet again, baiting your tweet with various angles and hooks, casting it to segmented audiences.

Equally crucial: instead of publishing your tweets all at once, you need to unloose them over the next few days. (Since the first 24 hours are the most important, it’s best to frontload your tweets for the day of publication, then dribble the rest out over the next day or two.)

This is the playbook I followed for a post I wrote last year for Mashable, which has been shared more than 3,100 times. Here’s how you can achieve similar results for your next piece:

1. Tweet Summaries, Excerpts, and Teasers

Every digital native knows how to tweet the obvious “Check out my new post.” But when the half-life of a tweet is less than three hours, you must keep pushing. Like a politico on the campaign trail, you must say the same thing over and over, drawing on different words for different audiences.

To this end, go beyond the headline and review your text line by line. Identify the juiciest parts, then carve each one into 140 characters of catnip. If your post is meaty, you’ll be able to extract a plethora of summaries, excerpts, and teasers (facts and stats are invariably appetite-whetting). Here are the tweets I crafted to promote my post:

  1. My new post for @Mashable: How to Optimize Your Headlines for Google and Humans – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  2. Done right, a #headline will stop a mouse-moving, page-scrolling, attention-deprived user in his pixels – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  3. In addition to writing for eternity, or for one’s mother, today’s writer must also write for Google – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  4. With this foundation, you’ll be able to pull off one of the web’s hardest acts: you’ll be able to make Google laugh – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  5. New Blog Post: How to Make Google Laugh: SEO Your Headlines – http://j.mp/K9HGOK
  6. RT @Mashable: How to Optimize Your #Headlines for Google and Humans – http://j.mp/Jes1ZZ #SEO
  7. Algorithms don’t appreciate wit, irony, humor, or style – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  8. The secret of stellar #SEO is that you can have your cake and eat it, too – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  9. Why bother with a meta description? – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  10. Google, SEO and Writing a Great Headline – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  11. How the Mainstream Media Are Optimizing Their Headlines for Google – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  12. 3 Ways to Make Your Headlines Catnip for Search Engines – http://j.mp/JWfPAv #SEO

2. Send Shout-Outs (aka Kiss-Ups)

No doubt, you quoted, mentioned, or linked to others in your post. Be sure to recognize them. Play on their vanity—flattery will get you everywhere. Your unspoken goal: get them to share your post with their network. Here are the shout-outs I circulated:

  1. @DeadlineDiaries Your post, “Google Doesn’t Laugh,” inspired me to write this for @Mashable – http://j.mp/K9HGOK
  2. @SteveLohr Remember when you wrote, “This Boring Headline Is Written for Google”? At @Mashable, I offer a solution – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  3. @yoast Today on @Mashable, I link to and praise your WordPress plug-in for SEO – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  4. @SEOmoz @RandFish In a just-published post for Mashable, I quote heavily from your guidance on meta descriptions – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  5. @GeneWeingarten Remember “Gene Weingarten Column Mentions Lady Gaga”? In fact, you can have your cake and eat it too – http://j.mp/JWfPAv

3. Give Thanks

If anyone helped you along the way, remember what your mother taught you: thank them. Here are my acknowledgments:

  1. @PardonMyFrench Thanks for helping me take this from an idea in an email to a 1,000-word post for @Mashable – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  2. @lyontef Thanks for helping me take this from an idea in an email to a 1,000-word post for @Mashable – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  3. @ChuckDefeo Thanks for helping me take this from an idea in an email to a 1,000-word post for @Mashable – http://j.mp/JWfPAv

4. Push FYIs

Certainly, you can think of people whom your post will interest. Instead of guessing their email address, find their Twitter handle, which is publicly available even if their tweets are private, and tweet them your link.

The caveat: Be careful not to be seen as self-serving. Instead, ask for feedback, or tie your tweet to a subject near and dear to your acquaintance’s heart. Feel free to adapt the headline of your post as needed. Here are the FYI tweets I sent forth:

To the Media

  1. @JackShafer Some news organizations are optimizing their headlines for Google. Others are not. Curious? – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  2. @HowardKurtz This may interest you: How News Outlets Are Optimizing Their Headlines for Both Google and Humans – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  3. @poynter @abeaujon @juliemmoos Here’s an easy way that editors of news websites can SEO their headlines – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  4. @NiemanLab Which news organizations are optimizing their headlines for Google? The results may surprise you – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  5. @zseward If you have a few minutes, I’d love your thoughts on this: How News Outlets Are SEO-ing Their Headlines – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  6. @JeremyStahl @KGeee This may interest you: How News Outlets Are Optimizing Their Headlines for Both Google and Humans – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  7. @AntDeRosa Any thoughts on this? How News Outlets Are Optimizing Their Headlines for Both Google and Humans – http://on.mash.to/JdigwG
  8. @nxthompson Over at @Mashable, I offer some ideas on how the @NewYorker can better SEO its headlines – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  9. @lheron Over at @Mashable, I offer some ideas on how @WSJ and @NYTimes can better SEO their headlines. Whaddya think? – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  10. @pilhofer @sashak @lexinyt Over at @Mashable, I laud the @NYTimes’s SEO strategy – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  11. @rajunarisetti Over at @Mashable, I commend the @WSJ’s SEO strategy – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  12. @Ckanal The @HuffingtonPost’s SEO program was recently featured on Mashable – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  13. @ethanklapper No doubt, you could have written this in your sleep: How News Outlets Are SEO-ing Their Headlines – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  14. @JenNedeau I recently knocked @TIME’s SEO strategy—or lack thereof. Any thoughts? – http://j.mp/JWfPAv

To the SEOers

  1. @JaredBKeller Do your @TheAtlanticWire responsibilities include SEO? If so, here’s some unsolicited advice – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  2. @MattCutts I’d love to know what you think of this: How to Optimize Your Headlines for Google and Humans – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  3. Hey @SEOSteve Is this Mashable post on SEO accurate? – http://on.mash.to/JdigwG

To the Wordsmiths

  1. @Plain_Language Where do plain languagers come down on the issue of writing for Google vs. writing for humans? – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  2. @JesseSheidlower Are you as troubled as others by the need today to write for Google rather than humans? – http://j.mp/JWfPAv

5. Drop ICYMIs

In your regular use of Twitter, you’ll likely come across people discussing a subject that pertains to your post. If so, chime in and contribute to the conversation.

The caveat: Make sure the connection is significant. Just because someone links to a post about search engine optimization doesn’t make your post on this subject germane. Relevance requires more than scanning for hash tags. Again, tailor your tweet so that it flows into the dialogue, rather than intrudes on it.

Here are the in-case-you-missed-it opportunities I harnessed:

  1. @laureni @1bobcohn Here’s the counterargument on why writing to attract Google’s algorithms still matters – http://j.mp/JWfPAv
  2. @cmoffett Why they should – http://j.mp/JWfPAv


Of course, the above tweets constitute an aggressive thrust. At this rate, you’re tweeting once every 25 words. Isn’t that excessive? Isn’t this all just a cover for shameless self-promotion?

On one hand, it is. As such, consider warning your followers that over the next day or so, a spammer will be hijacking your Twitter feed.

On the other hand, in a digiverse that grows more crowded by the second, you owe it to yourself to wring every tweet, like, plus, pin, digg, comment, view, and email out of everything you create. Whether you’re a guest contributor or a staff writer, self-promotion is an inescapable part of today’s creative process. The more opportunities you can create and maximize, the more your hard work will receive the recognition it deserves.

Jonathan Rick is the president of the Jonathan Rick Group, a digital communications firm that helps brands use social media to shape and tell their story. Follow him on Twitter, circle him on Google+, and connect with him on LinkedIn.

A version of this blog post appeared in PR Daily.