Sunday, January 30, 2011

Reaching beyond the CEO

Building thought leadership with your expert employees

The CEO remains a trusted source, but employees with a technical background are even more credible according to the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer. For PR and marketing professionals that are looking to engage with customers and external publics, this finding opens the door to a new group of ambassadors that can help engage with influencers.

The annual study presented this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos gauges attitudes about the state of trust in business, government, NGOs and media. The study found an interesting shift in who people trust. People who are likely to believe CEOs climbed to 50 percent from 31 percent last year. That means it may be time for CEOs to poke their head from out from under their shell.

Another development comes in the area of employees as a trusted source. For the first time the survey asked respondents about the credibility of technical experts within the company. A strong 53 percent report that they are likely to trust what comes from these informed experts. For PR people looking to build the depth of their thought leadership program it means that there is a new roster of credible spokespeople such as engineers and analysts. Because they are well-informed, they can be a strong source of authentic communication with reporters and community forums.

In my own PR and marketing work, I've found that technical experts are often more available and eager to speak to the media, write a blog post or speak at a conference. They may need a bit of training, but their energy helps overcome the lack of experience. Especially when I'm working on day-to-day community management that requires a quick and accurate response to a developing issue, internal technical experts are an effective source. I'm excited to see some evidence that these informed employees are also credible to external audiences.

PR teams can now confidently reach beyond the CEO when they need to develop spokespeople for corporate communications.

The short video below highlights some of the points made in the survey on this topic.

Disclosure: Edelman is my employer.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Quora for PR and Marketing Pros

Quora is a screaming new service that has exploded with the social media insiders, reporters and tech crowd. The site About describes itself as a "continually improving collection of questions and answers" created by everyone. The site has set itself apart in three ways, first written about by Louis Gray, in its community, interface (technology), and relevancy. This killer combination has top-tech journalists, bloggers and insiders spending hours posing and answering meaningful questions. For PR and marketing people, this new site is an important emerging place to monitor conversations about your company and brand.


For example, Steve Case, former AOL CEO and chairman, answers business questions on the site such as "How much did it cost AOL to distribute all those CDs back in the 1990's?" That response kicked off news stories from TechCrunch, Business Insider and San Francisco Chronicle as reported by Poynter. You might be saying, "AOL is so 1997!" - Yes, but it is a fact that business leaders, CEOs and seasoned chair people are engaging on the site.

In addition to finding sources, journalists are also spending a lot of time posing and answering questions. Ben Parr from Mashable and Robert Scoble make regular comments. There is even a question on Quora about journalists that are using the service. Reporters from Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Economist, Bloomberg and Forbes top the list. It seems that there is a growing list of journalists from outside the U.S. so it is clear the community is growing beyond the Silicon Valley echo chamber.

Along with reporters, Quora has attracted the A-List of tech bloggers, Tweeps, conversationalists and creators who have the potential to influence the conversation.


The big buzz word in social media is relevancy and Quora seems to have more than its quota. Relevancy is auto-magically presenting what you want to see when you want to see it. Or, even better, the finding it for me before I know I want it. Quora seems to deliver something new and interesting to me each time I visit. As with any new database of information, critical mass is well, critical. I'm throwing questions at it about PR, social media and Silicon Valley and it does pretty well. It will need to continue to expand its reach to appeal to those who are outside that small world. One more word about relevancy, I'm seeing Quora results showing up in Google searches. If Google is pouring some of its juice on Quora, that means that posts about your company (positive and negative) will appear prominently in search results.


Like any good next generation idea, Quora has mastered several of the factors that make it easy to use, follow and contribute. With your permission, Quora automatically follows all of your Facebook friends and Twitter followers. This feature probably helped it to rapidly grow with minimal user input.

The social media world sometimes seems like a rapidly expanding foam filling every crack and crevice of our lives. I'm sure much of it is as empty as foam, but Quora has something a bit different. As a PR professional, I'd check it out and include it in your monitoring. They have got a lot of stuff right and a lot of the right people are at Quora right now.

Because of the explosion of interest in Quora, there are several blog posts that I'd recommend from PR people who are approaching the service from the same angle:
My own Quora profile can be found here. If you have other posts on this topic, please add them to the comments.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Make a Life By What We Give

Corporate responsibility and sustainability for marketing and PR professionals

Winston Churchill stated, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." Half a century later we see that this ethos has grown into an opportunity and obligation for global brands. Edelman's annual goodpurpose study found that 86 percent of global consumers believe that a business needs to place at least equal weigh on society's interests as on business' interests. The often invoked "fiduciary responsibility to maximize shareholder value" now includes a public mandate to invest in the community.

Supporting that point, the study found that 62 percent of consumers will switch brands if a different brand of similar quality supports a good cause. Brands that see this shift in consumers' priorities have a powerful opportunity to engage with their customers in a deep and mutually beneficial way. In today's socially networked world, people will buy a product with a cause and immediately share it with their friends on Facebook.

Consumers have never been more supportive of corporate efforts to promote brands with a cause. The study found that 66 percent would help promote a product with a cause, but 37 percent would also share negative experiences when brands violate their trust. These findings make the double-edged sword seems especially sharp and puts PR departments in a much more strategic position. Smart executive counselors can advise with confidence that customers reward companies that invest in good causes and will turn from brands that aren't returning value to their communities.

The good news is that consumers don't believe that companies should be doing it all on their own. Seventy-four percent believe brands and their consumers could do more to support good causes by working together. The study found that a majority want brands to help them make it easier to make a positive difference.

Just giving money isn't enough anymore. Consumers want companies to integrate the good causes into their everyday business. Nearly 67 percent of people have a better opinion of corporations that integrate good causes into their business.

The goodpurpose study found interesting differences in consumer priorities in the causes they want to support. Global consumers care most about the environment (86 percent) and improving the quality of healthcare (84 percent). Consumers in the U.S. put alleviating hunger and homelessness at the top of their list. Healthcare and environmental causes remain in the top 10, but less important than issues such as human rights and education.

After four years of caused-based marketing research, Edelman reports that there is no single killer-cause for companies to pursue. That probably means that best cause is likely the one that you and your employees feel passionately about and galvanizes your advocates to share their experiences with their friends. It turns out that we can still make a living and live a full life by giving back.

Disclosure: Edelman is my employer.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Giving What We Can

I was inspired by Toby Orb's pledge to give $1.5 million to charity during his lifetime. His organization Giving What We Can has 63 others who are committed to giving 10 percent of their income to charities that fight poverty in the developing world. Using the U.N.'s numbers, they estimate that a person making $15,000 a year will save 5 lives a year with their donations.

Ever since I read The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs, I've been aware of how little money it takes to lift the developing world out of extreme poverty. If people in developed nations give a 1 percent of their income we could lift people onto the first rung on the ladder out of poverty.

, a company that makes fund raising tools, sponsored research that says that overall holiday giving in 2010 is expected to top $48 billion. Online contributions are expected to grow more than 30 percent from 2009, to more than $6 billion. Interesting to me was the finding that donors with online relationships with a nonprofit report they will give almost $100 more than average ($378 vs $281) this holiday season.

I thought it would be a good chance to share interesting, social ways that we can give:

Kiva - Kiva's mission is to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty.

Network For Good - Makes it as easy to donate and volunteer online as it is to shop online.

mGive - Fund raising with mobile messaging.

Stanford Social Innovation Review
- Publication with several articles about online philanthropy.

Twitter Shortcode SMS Proxy Service - Allows people to donate by Tweeting their pledge.

Lessons Learned for a Twitterthon - Good look at ways to run a fund raiser over Twitter

Give Forward - Create personalized fund raising pages to raise money for medical expenses

(Update - I got lots of responses to this post, so I've updated it with other services)

If you know of any online or social ways to give, please post them in the comments.

Video from the founder of Giving What We Can:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Social Media Strategist or Help Desk?

Jeremiah Owyang published an insightful report on the career path of a social media strategist. He found that after some early success, the social media strategist faces an onslaught of problems that can cause the person to descend into a reactive help-desk list of tasks. He advocates that effective strategists develop a proactive program that gets ahead of the demands and allows them to operate from a strategic planning position.

Owyang identifies several key problems that map closely to the problems I've faced as a marketing director and community manager implementing social media programs. The issues he identifies are the following:
  • Resistance from internal culture
  • Measuring ROI
  • Lack of resources
  • Ever changing technology space
  • Resentment and envy of the role
  • A looming increase in business demands
Of the social media strategists he interviewed 41 percent report to the marketing department. Most of these programs lacked a formalized program with long-term direction. Only 23 percent have the required maturity to overcome these problems.

He recommends these 10 qualities when looking to hire a social media strategist:
  • Hire a program manager rather than a social media "hot shot"
  • Seek candidates with a track record of early technology adoption
  • Scrutinize how they have used social media
  • Seek backgrounds that demonstrate ability to manage dotted-line managers
  • Look for corporate entrepreneur
  • Ensure cultural fit, they will tackle change management
  • Find a natural born connector
  • Celebrate risks, clear obstacles
  • Enable them to connect to peers and grow careers
  • Protect investment by providing new challenges, compensate well
The full report from Jeremiah Owyang at Altimeter Group is found below.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Blekko Makes Influencing the Influencers Easy

Custom influencer searches for PR and marketing professionals who lead brand-reputation programs

Blekko is a new search engine that includes some time saving features for PR and marketing professionals who want to track a narrow set of online publications or domains. By allowing you to select only the domains or pages that you want searched, it helps you stay focused on the people who really influence your business and reduces the spam in your coverage scans.

Blekko uses what it calls Slashtags that allow you to "slash in" or "slash out" what you want in a search. This easy-to-use process allows you to create a complicated search, publish it for others to use and then repeat it quickly. For example, a Blekko user named Max created a list of advertising publications. If you wanted to do a search to see if your company was mentioned in AdAge, Adweek or MediaPost, you would search in Blekko like this:

Company Name /max/advertising

That string searches for "Company Name" using Max's predefined list of advertising domains. A snip of those publications can be seen below.

Instead of getting back a bunch of spam blogs like I do with a Google search, Blekko only gives me back results from the 21 publications that matter in the advertising and media industry. If you add a /date Slashtag, it will sort those results by date instead of relevancy. Another great tool when you are monitoring the web daily for news on you or your competitors.

Additionally, Blekko allows you to publish these searches in RSS so you can share them with your teammates or with your client. Pop them into Google Reader and you have a searchable archive of your news that is easy to read, process and report.

The current downside I'm finding with Blekko is that some of the less-popular domains are only searched every 14 days. Hopefully Blekko will address that issue as they come out of beta and put together the computing power to crawl the Internet faster.

Blekko has been in a super stealth mode for more than a year. They seem to be on solid financial ground with $20 million in financing. I'm not going to call them a Google killer because that would surely doom them. They are building some steam and they gave Robert Scoble a peek at their product in this long, but informative 45 minute YouTube video.

Blekko is really a lot more than the simple features that I've outlined. For example, the SEO rankings are radically different because they are completely open. I'll leave it to others to give you the feature-by-feature review. If you're a PR or marketing person managing the reputation of a brand, you really must give Blekko a try.

You may find that my Blekko links in this post don't work for you. You may need to get an invite to Blekko before you can access them. On Twitter, Follow @blekko and then ask for an invite and they'll direct message you in a day or so. Or you can email your request to scoble+at+ (I lifted this address from the end of the Robert Scoble video).

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Friends - The Killer Feature

My office is in a full-on fight for Foursquare mayorship. When I won it back this week, I cheered out loud in the office. This "great" feat was only seen by a small part of my social graph because most of my real-life friends aren't using Foursquare. Yet, when I checked into my first Place on Facebook, I saw that 20+ friends had checked into interesting locations all over the country. I reconnected with a couple of them to talk about their trip.

As these examples show, friends are the killer feature. We've known for a while that critical mass is a key element of success for nuclear weapons and social networks, but the nature-like ecosystem of relationships stored in Facebook are worth an order of magnitude greater than the parts. My 523 friends map very closely to the people that I know and care about most. I may not have spoken to some of them for several years, but their Place posts have already caused me to reach out and renew a friendship. In my opinion, the Facebook friendship map is probably one of the most important historical records of my life. Since I believe that social media makes you more social, I put a high value on the network's ability to improve my life.

If people like ourselves are the best way to influence us, then Facebook has the potential to be the best marketing tool in history. I'm sure to buy a product that my friends recommend and Facebook already knows all my friends and will soon know where they buy stuff. In fact, JiWire's (client) report this week indicates that more than one-half of people are willing to disclose their location to get more relevant advertising.

That doesn't mean that Foursquare and others are out of the game. Foursquare's concept of socializing loyalty means that brands may choose to market their products through Foursquare because it has the mechanisms to connect with customers at a much deeper level.

Friends take work to earn in our lives. Because of their value to us, we are reluctant to share them publicly. When we do, they become a tall barrier to entry and a killer feature that guarantees Facebook Places will rush to the top of the location-based services pile.

Disclosure: JiWire is a client of my employer Edelman.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Socializing Loyalty with Foursquare

Location-based services hold the promise of targeted advertising and ultra-relevant content for everyone. Are these services just high-tech coupons or is there a larger promise? Tristan Walker, VP of business development, from Foursquare sees something much deeper. He calls it socializing loyalty. This isn't a Tweet that I checked into Nola's with four friends, this is a way to tie a brand's existing loyalty program directly into their customer's social graph. Imagine a check-in at your favorite book store that occurs when your credit card is swiped. Or even better, a check-in that is tied to the book you just purchased. In an instant, you receive your loyalty points from the book publisher, bookstore and American Express. With your permission, that information is then shared with your friends. Instead of pulling out my phone and checking in and showing it to the clerk, all this occurs through the credit card payment systems that connect directly to the Foursquare system. All secure and all measurable.

From a brand's perspective, that engagement is very deep. If you have enough affinity for the brand to grant them access to your social graph, it is clear that you are a brand advocate. The customer also becomes a rich vector to connect the brand to like-minded customers. You are unlikely to grant a random taqueria the right to publish on your behalf, but you might trust French Laundry. Even everyday experiences such as visits to your favorite coffee shop or gym could trigger loyalty points and generate additional impressions for a brand.

The concept of loyalty programs and publishing your check-ins is not new, but the combination in a familiar mobile experience is different. Point solutions pop-up for all sorts of individual brands or specific campaigns, but they don't sit on everyone's mobile phone like Foursquare. In this scenario, Foursquare is much more like a platform than an mobile phone app. It allows for brands to build their loyalty programs around a consumer experience that guarantees engagement and relevancy.

We've seen other purchase broadcasting services go awry so good privacy control is needed, but people are quickly warming to the idea that they can get more from a brand if they are willing to share their experience with their friends.

This idea can change the market because instead of keeping Foursquare locked into brands with physical locations, they can now work with every brand in the store. Loyalty is extended beyond the bookstore to now include every brand, publisher and product in that store.

The concept of socializing loyalty with a location-based service such as Foursqure is still without a concrete, real-life example. I understand that Foursquare may be changing that soon. I'd love to see a major brand tap into their existing loyalty program and reward Foursquare users based on their past purchases. Imagine walking into the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay and upon checking in you are upgraded to a bigger room or treated to free marshmallows and chocolate by the fire. I know Robert Scoble would love that since he is the Ritz mayor.

Now that I've met Tristan Walker, I was able to take the first step toward getting my Foursquare stalker badge. Hint: Tristan's business card has the pizza symbol.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

What is the Value of a Brand Advocate?

How much is an enthusiastic advocate of your brand worth to you? It turns out that it is 5X their lifetime value to you. For example, if they spend $500 buying dinner at your restaurant over a few years, then you can estimate their value at $2,500 according to a recent white paper from Zuberance. A simple definition of this powerful consumer is someone who is willing to recommend your brand their friends or advocate on your behalf.

I've found these people difficult to find, but once they are found they are even more difficult to engage. You'd think in this world of email and Facebook I could capture them in a database and message to them. The problem is that they don't like that. According to a study by Deloitte, 53 percent of advocates (vs 33 percent for consumers) want to be recognized as an individual with individual needs. The second challenge is that brand advocates tend to believe they are busier than the average consumer, so convenience in use and access is important. The good news is that advocates tend to be more social and outgoing and are much more likely to share. Deloitte's research also found that brand advocates are more likely to be perfectionists, and more likely to be the first to buy new products.

So this is where the campaign to build 15,000 advocates for your successful software start-up fails. Most marketing and PR departments simply don't have the resources to interact with the large influx of advocates over a long term. You can find them with email surveys, but then what do you say back to them? Sure, you can send them a tin of mints (I just got some from one of my favorite brands), but what you really need is to help direct their efforts in a positive direction that they see as valuable. Just like a bunch of volunteers who show up with hammers to a Habitat for Humanity house building project, it is critical that you give each person a job that they see as meaningful so they will want to come back. Similarly, the energy emanating from your brand advocates needs to be focused like a laser to help them share that excitement with others. In the restaurant example, you can ask each of those advocates to share their honest reviews on Yelp. Or you could ask them to share your restaurant's Facebook Fan page with their friends.

There are lots of simple ways to build that word-of-mouth, but I still see most of these efforts fail for some simple reasons. First, many advocates will find it too time consuming to go home, find your Yelp site and then write a meaningful review. You have to harness the enthusiasm when they are actually in a position to write something. Today that is likely to be in front of their computer. Second, they need a variety of places to advocate. Once they have posted on Yelp, they can't post there again. You have to continue to present them with fresh opportunities to talk about you. Third, managing this stuff in spreadsheets and direct email systems simply won't work. You never learn more about what the advocate does and it is impossible to measure. This all comes down to something I say often about advocacy building - It simply does not scale.

“It is what companies do with fans that create value, not merely that a brand has fans,” says Forrester’s Augie Ray in a blog post.

Zuberance has build a platform that helps companies identify advocates, direct them to places where they can contribute and then track the results. They are currently working with large consumer and tech brands on campaigns that would crash my spreadsheet and email methods of the past. These types of CRM systems for advocates are exactly what is needed to overcome the scale issue. Rob Fuggetta, Zuberance CEO, tells a story about how they recently responded to a crisis with a brand that was receiving lots of bad online reviews. Using unpaid advocates, they were able to settle down the issue by activating the advocates to balancing out the negative comments.

With the right systems to focus the efforts of your brand's advocates' enthusiasm you can unlock their 5X value and create a cost-effective word-0f-mouth campaign.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Does Social Media make you more social?

I recently attended my 20-year high school reunion and realized that social media radically changed our relationships. I hadn't seen most of my friends since our 10-year reunion, but our connections after 20 years seemed stronger than they were at our 10 year reunion. Sure we had a lot less in common now (I came with a 4 week old and many of them had 14 year olds), but we seemed to mesh quickly. Instead of catching each other up, we were able to talk about what we were doing now. We weren't being rude - we already knew each other through Facebook. I had seen their wedding photos, children, vacations and knew about their jobs. Many of us had been chatting online for several months and making plans. I walked into a warm room of friends instead of a cold crypt of past memories.

At the 10-year reunion (2000), we had none of that connection. Although I had fun, we were forced to wade through a decade of life at the beginning of each conversation. We also made a lot of broken promises to keep in touch. This time, we continue to chat online and several people have plans to connect in person soon.

This leads me to the point I seem to be making regularly with friends and work colleagues - Social media ALWAYS leads to more in-person social interactions. When you talk to more people online, it leads to more opportunities to see each other in person. Of course I don't see all 500 of my Facebook friends, but I see more of them than I would without Facebook.

The theory that interacting with people online satisfies our need to connect with people so we don't make the effort to go out is simply not true. With over a decade of experience on social networks, I see social media as a catalyst for personal connections that ultimately lead to more in-person meetings. In simple terms, people don't stay home to talk on their computers on social networks when they have the chance to see those people in person.

Social media is a lot larger than Facebook and some social networks are certainly more social than others. On the whole, they connect me with colleagues, help build a career, make me a better brother and even a better father.

Before I break into a social media song, I'll pause to share the social media resources that drive the most face-to-face interactions for me:

1. Facebook events from friends - In the San Francisco Bay Area it seems that every event has a Facebook event. When I check the events my friends are attending, I often find great things to do.

2. LinkedIn - The interface for events is still a bit difficult, but again this great network seems to be a great place for what is hot. Because it is a professional network, people behave well and work to provide a lot of utility in their interactions.

3. Foursquare - My Foursquare network is small and growing, but nothing tells me better about what is hot with my friends than the check-in count at a venue.

What isn't on this list? Twitter isn't really a tool for me that drives more real-world interactions. It is very valuable as an information tool, but basic social tools are missing and spam is too high for me to really connect well with a large group. That could change as others build more tools on top of the Twitter platform. I've collected a lot of followers and friends on Google Buzz, but this network hasn't yet driven any meaningful in-person interactions. Yelp has the potential to be really socially meaningful if they can get people to use their real names. A message that says "Mark H. commented on your review" means nothing to me because I don't know that person. To know that Mark House, my childhood friend, found my review and reached out would be engaging.

Some people are naturally more social than others, but social media drives us all to get to know more people online and leads to more real-world relationships.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A-Team Adds Colin Travis Murdock to Cast

Sunnyvale, Calif. -- The A-Team, Inger and Travis Murdock, today added Colin Travis Murdock to the cast of their widely anticipated family. The baby was in casting for nine months and inside sources revealed the partnership after catching the trio napping together.

"We knew he was perfect for the part when he gave us a #1 sign during his first casting call in the womb," said director Travis Murdock. "We made him an early offer for the part, but he declined several offers to come out."

Although very late in production, A-Team the family, held a key role for Colin. Although a bit tardy, he is sure to be the focus of nearly every scene. Regardless of the cost, the director indicated that he will make Colin a star. The 8 pound 15.9 ounce actor is enjoying the attention of his fans.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Check-In or Watch Your Reputation Check-Out

Guide to location-based services, such as Foursquare and Gowalla, for PR and marketing professionals

I checked in on Foursquare as I arrived at a networking event the other day and I was greeted with a free drink if I showed my phone to the bartender. My excitement grew when Foursquare notified me that the restaurant across the street had a two-for-one dinner deal. I grabbed some colleagues to go with me. When we finished, I noticed that the bar across the street offered a free appetizer. So, we trouped across the street determined to follow our Foursquare adventure to its end even if we were already full. When we finished we had consumed drinks, dinner and appetizers all for less than $10 each.

As my experience shows, people are willing to give their location if they know they'll get something for it. JiWire's Insights report found that 53 percent of people are willing to show their location to get more relevant ads. Nielsen reports that 24 percent of Americans have a smartphone and we know that most of the new models have GPS. Foursquare has rapidly grown to 500,000 users and 275,000 check-ins in one day. Mashable reports that the other location-based check-in game, Gowalla, has about 100,000 customers. Additionally, nearly every user-generated review service is adding location to its mobile app because of its benefits to customers and the hope to attract higher advertising rates.

As a PR or marketing professional it is about time to add location-based services to your marketing mix and reputation management programs. Your customers are already mentioning your brand in these services and their comments are showing up in search results. It isn't hard to understand that like other social media, location-based services need active engagement and monitoring. Chuck Reynolds daftly details the impact of these services on local search and search engine visibility in this blog post.

Although not sanctioned by the company, there was even a Foursquare Day last month on April 16 (4/16) that fans put together. I know you have a lot to monitor already in the fragmented social media fracas, so here are some tools that can make it easy to keep an eye on public comments on Foursquare and Gowalla. Both Check-In Mania and FourWhere allow you to search for your business and view the shouts and recommendations people leave.

I love to see the updates and advice from my friends as they check-in throughout their day. It helps me find better restaurants and gets me to try new businesses. As a PR person, I've seen it create real-time buzz around an event and drive longer-term search engine results. It's time to check-in on your brand's reputation before your customers check-out.

Disclosure: JiWire is a client.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Social media is not a campaign: It's your customer

Social media really isn't media in the way we typically use the word today in public relations and marketing. Social media are your friends, your colleagues and your customers. Instead of a newspaper where you can place an ad to reach an audience, social media pushes right into their lives. For all practical purposes, it is a direct tie to your friends and customers. Because of its intimacy people have a higher expectation of etiquette and relevancy. Just like you can't cold call a friend (or customer) and try to sell them something, you can't quickly dial-up social media and sell your products.

This requirement of relevancy makes it nearly impossible to approach social media from a short-term campaign perspective. Social media looks a lot more like a long-term partner perspective where each works to deliver something valuable to the other. You have to listen for a long time and then approach the customer when they are ready for your message. PR people familiar with this approach - its called relationship building.

I was impressed with a keynote given by Loic Le Meur at ad:tech San Francisco (slides) where he said that Seesmic responds to every single customer Tweet. Within seconds, hundreds of Tweets from audience members soared from the auditorium challenging Seesmic to respond to them. I'm sure the customer response team hates it when he speaks.

I caught Le Meur immediately following his session and interviewed him in this video.

He urged digital marketers to stop thinking in terms of campaigns and to work to get real fans, not legions of fake followers. You can buy followers with enough marketing, but you want to really read what people are saying about your brand so you can respond and meet their needs.

Le Meur commented that fans are attracted by relevant content, not press releases. This commitment to content is the Achilles heal of any social marketing effort. People that are practiced in producing that type of content are difficult to find in traditional marketing departments. I agree with Paul Dunay's comment "When your content runs out, so does your social media audience."

Disclosure: ad:tech is a client.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

ITDatabase Digs Data for PR Pros

Using ITDatabase for media relations research on topics, publications and authors

The first thing I ask from my media relations team when I join a company is a list of our top 15 reporters and their publications. My first goal is to build relationships with those important influencers so we can facilitate better communication with them. Basic media relations, right? Well, getting that data is another story. Other than educated guesses, getting those names takes a lot of combing through coverage reports and resorting of spreadsheets. ITDatabase solves this problem in seconds.

In just a few weeks, this tool has helped me land two news stories and saved me dozens of hours of research. With a couple clicks, the search tool will deliver a list of the authors that have written on any topic in information technology. For example, when you search for Apple iPad, it quickly delivers a list of authors and sources that recently wrote about that topic sorted by the story count. Anyone can search in Google News for stories on a topic, but I need to know how often they talk about that topic.

As the graphic (left) shows, Jeff Garnet, from The Mac Observer, has mentioned the iPad the most with 158 stories. He represents 2 percent of all coverage on the topic. If I was the iPad PR team, I'd probably want to know Jeff fairly well.

IT Database also parses the vendors that are mentioned in the stories that mention iPad. No surprise that Apple is #1, but Google is #2. Google gobbles up share of voice in 20 percent of these stories without having anything to do with the iPad. As a PR professional, this type of data tells me a lot about the conversation and who is really competing with me for the mind of the customer.

The sources that cover a topic are also sorted by story count. When I went to pitch a recent story about the iPad for a client I realized that there were several publications listed that I didn't track regularly. I recognized the publication's name, but didn't realize they had invested so much editorial on the topic. This key insight drove me to research them better and reach out to an editor that I had neglected with a relevant pitch.

With nearly all of my clients I've found at least one or two reporters that were writing on one of their key topics more frequently than I realized. These are great insights that simply cost too much to discover with traditional media analysis tools.

Turn everything around and search by author right before you outreach to them. Instantly you can see the vendors they mention the most and the topics or themes of the stories. You may think they focus their time on gadgets, but you learn they have a large percent of their stories on storage and cloud computing. That information will help you tune the conversation with that reporter to match their current interests.

The database only goes back six months and this limitation is the only serious flaw I've found. Large brands have a media cycle that is one or two years long so more history would be very helpful. Of course, as the name indicates the search results are limited to information technology publications and reporters. I'd love to see this same tool applied to a wider publication set.

ITDatabase allows you to include or exclude blogs - a useful tool when you need to separate traditional from online media. I haven't used them yet, but the service also includes search tools for editorial calendars and events.

Pricing is $3,000 annually for unlimited number of seats. I'm sure I recovered that cost myself in two weeks of use. They offer a free trial for people that work at a qualified tech vendor or PR firm.

After a few successful weeks of digging for media data on new clients, prospects, competitors and products, nothing beats ITDatabase.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Agency or in-house? Your first PR job

Should I go in-house or work for an agency when I graduate college?

You have worked hard in college and want to take the best first step. You know that your first job can put you on a strong upward trajectory. You also probably see that corporate positions seem to offer you a little more money and might not make you jump through as many hoops to get the job. What should you do?

When I attend Public Relations Society of America events, I'm asked this question a few times a month by eager graduates who are exploring internships and first jobs.

Generally, I encourage anxious recent grads to find an agency that has a strong commitment to education and invests in its new employees. That may often be a larger agency that can afford to put together a training program that highlights writing, media relations, social media and digital marketing. Big or small, don't hesitate to ask the agency about their training program. At a basic level you are entering into a trade - you will work hard for them for less money if they agree to give you a top-notch education in public relations.

In my experience, companies offer you less public relations training, but more general marketing and business skills. These are very valuable, but I believe it works best if you get these skills after you have spent a few years of intense PR training. When you work at a company, there will only be a small handful of PR practitioners. Their collective experience is smaller than a PR agency so they can't expose you to all the different areas of communications. In-house PR jobs often focus on a specific PR task that may not be interesting to you and will not help you design your career path.

How do I know this? Well, I started out my career doing just the opposite of my advice. I got a job working for a start-up that luckily had a very progressive PR department with a manager that was wonderfully interested in training me. I got lots of opportunities to learn because she regularly sent our team to luncheons, seminars and conferences. I had a wonderful training ground, but I believe that situation was quite unusual. When I switched to an agency later in my career, I saw that people agency staffers were exposed to a wide set of experiences that a corporate PR department simply can't reproduce. Two or three years at a strong agency is like getting a master's degree in PR and provides you with more options.

To determine if the agencies you are investigating have strong training programs, I'd recommend that you make friends with someone at that agency that is in their first or second year on the job. You can make contact with them at local PRSA event, through LinkedIn or other professional networking mixer. Buy your new friend lunch and pick their brain. Specifically, you want to learn the number of hours a year they are allowed or required to spend in training. In the first few years, you should be spending a minimum of 20 to 40 hours a year in training classes provided by the employer - either on-site or at off-site seminars. A few writing classes here and there simply won't cut it. You need to find a culture of continuous learning that is supported by the agency executives.

You may just want to get in the door without all this fuss, but please be sure you are getting in the right door. It won't do you a lot of good to work hard for two years at a job that isn't giving you that extra polish you need to kick-off your career.

Way before you get to graduation, you should become very involved with your local PRSSA and PRSA chapter. These organizations are often closely aligned with the local agencies and their senior people sit on the board. Volunteer to help on a committee that has lots of interaction with professionals. Once you have developed a relationship of trust, your new colleagues can give you the honest assessment of the agencies in your area. I recommend that you cultivate at least three or four different relationships to get the most accurate information.

There are many paths to success in PR. If an agency job is not right for you, be sure to plan out your path by talking to a lot of professionals. To broaden my experience when I worked on the corporate side, I attended the PRSA National conference each year because it gave me a look at financial relations, analyst relations, digital marketing and client relations. Along with regular attendance at local PRSA events, I felt that I got the extra education I needed to be successful.

Agency or in-house? If you have questions or comments, I'd love to hear them.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Consume Not Create - The iPad media device

People who know me know that I like screens. I have five screens at my desk at work and two in my home office. I learned a long time ago that I was more productive when everything is visible and I don't have to switch back and forth between applications. I often quote this Microsoft research that says you are 9 to 50 percent more effective with multiple screens so my IT department will let me have another display. So, when I was presented with the opportunity to buy an iPad, I thought of it as another way to make me more productive.

After an exciting morning at the Palo Alto Apple store, I fired up the iPad and began "being productive." I was truly amazed at the speed and sharpness of the images. Like the iPhone, I naturally knew how to move the screen, change pages and navigate. The biggest moment occurred Sunday morning when I opened up the New York Times on the iPad. I had the device in front of me as I ate, like the paper, and I was able to click through and quickly find stories, like the Web site. Consuming media was much easier and enjoyable from my couch without my fire-hot MacBook Pro on my legs. Facebook is a lot of fun when you are casually browsing it on the iPad. My iPhone screen is too small to navigate Facebook well (even with the app) and my laptop is awkward. I'm sure I'll consume a lot of media with the iPad and enjoy it more.

My experience with being productive went very differently. As soon as I started to write email messages, everything fell apart. I only have two days using the keyboard, but it is completely impossible to type on at a decent clip. I don't look at the keyboard when I type and I have to rest my fingers on the keys. With a touch-sensitive keyboard you can't do that. Your fingers have to hover above the keys and there are no physical cues to guide you. The keyboard experience is exactly like that of your phone - you can type if you watch the keys and you can only type short messages. The only answer is a physical keyboard. I'm happy to see that Apple has that coming soon.

The device is a brilliant work of art that I believe will set the bar for any company that wants to compete in the tablet space. I've had it for two days and it is already changing the way I consume media. Unfortunately, I'll have to do my content creation on the laptop. The good news is that now I have a sixth screen for my desk.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Digital Boot Camp for PR Students

How to prepare and stand out for your first job interview

It's March and PR students are anxiously looking for internships and first job opportunities. They are facing a tough job market and unsure about how to make the best impression on employers. Much of what they have learned comes from text books that are probably 15 years old. Because these students were born in a digital world they intuitively understand that this is an important skill, but they are looking for practical advice on how to develop and demonstrate these digital communication skills.

I spoke at a Public Relations Student Society of America regional conference on Friday about environmental scanning - a big word for monitoring and digesting the conversation. Interns and new employees are often asked to do daily monitoring and coverage reports. The reason a team may be hiring an intern is likely because they need help with this time-consuming task. A way to quickly shine in the interview is to show that you understand and regularly use these online conversation monitoring tools.

Here are some of the points I shared with students to help them demonstrate their digital skills:

1. Develop a daily media diet
- Is this guy telling me to watch TV and surf the Internet? Yes! Unless you understand what the major media outlets are saying, how they work and the way they develop stories, you will never be able to monitor them effectively. Select a major daily, a TV news program and a few outlets that you really like. Read them everyday. Be prepared in your interview to list the news outlets you read each day. I've been reading the Wall Street Journal daily since my Communications 101 teach forced me to subscribe more than a decade ago (a lot more than a decade).

2. Monitor Twitter using TweetDeck - You can't really follow any meaningful conversations on You need a tool that lets you search on specific topics. Before you interview, learn what clients you may be working on and then monitor everything said about them for a week. In a very short period of time, you will have a good take on the tone of the conversation and may be able to suggest some easy ways the team can engage with the Twitterverse.

3. Use Facebook and other social media sites - Being digitally savvy requires hundreds of hours of practical experience. When you want to learn to ride a bike, you don't get on it for 30 minutes a month. You ride that bike every single day. Even if you are socializing with friends on Facebook, you are learning the social norms and rules of the digital world. I ask every employee I interview if they use Facebook or other social networks to see if they already have these skills. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to teach someone to think digitally so I really need to know if they have those skills already.

Some people advise students to scrub their profiles of all their photos and activities before they start a job hunt. I advise students to be human. Show your personality and be responsible. If you want people to think you are serious then look like a serious person online. I know you do stuff other than PR on the weekends and it is fun get to know you through social media.

4. Develop your voice and build a following
- But I'm just a student - No one wants to hear from me! If you are active in PRSSA and you are about to graduate, you probably have a lot of experience that someone in their first two years of school would love to hear. Maybe a long form blog is not right for you right now, but a shorter form blog on Posterous or even Twitter could be interesting. If you really want to be able to show employers that you can advise clients, then you should practice by developing your own content. That can be writing, photos, Tweets or videos.

5. Master a few other services - If you are going to be monitoring the online conversation, take some time to learn these tools too. Your less digital colleagues will be grateful when you join the team and help them save hours a week.
  • Topsy - Tracks Tweets that include links to stories about your clients. Great for counting the reach of a story on Twitter.
  • Muckrack - Aggregates journalists that are using Twitter. Great way to find interesting people to follow.
  • ScoutLabs - Super easy digital monitoring service. Free trial is enough time to learn it and allow you to prepare for you interview.
  • My6Sense - iPhone app that pulls in all of your RSS feeds, Twitter followers and Facebook friends and then automagically sorts them to put the interesting ones at the top. Great way to consume more media without setting aside more keyboard time.
  • - Shortens long URLs and lets you see how many times people clicked on those links. Since the data is public, you can even see traffic info on other people's links.
Although I was speaking to a room of smart students, I realized the advice for them is similar I'd give for a more experienced audience. If we get out and use these simple and free tools, we can better engage with our customers and increase the value we offer to our employers and clients.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Killer PR - Driving Large Audiences

How PR and marketing can drive more readers to news stories featuring your company

Tom Foremski, former Financial Times reporter and editor of Silicon Valley Watcher, wrote a blog post about a killer public relations pitch for a journalist - a guarantee that the PR person could drive traffic to the story. Foremski said that journalists are being pressured to write stories on topics that will drive page views and that a clicks-for-coverage guarantee might push the reporter to cover a company. Foremski predicts that PR will learn to push traffic in the future, but I'd say that the future is already here. Practiced PR people already have several tools available to them that reliably drive large audiences to stories about their clients.

All of these tools are things you have heard of before, but when they are sharply focused they can drive thousands of unique visitors for a publisher. For some sites, this effort could double or triple their daily views. In addition to the benefits to the publisher, this promotional approach helps a company merchandise its successes quickly and consistently.

Six steps to drive traffic to news stories:

1. Build loyal Twitter following - Appoint at least one person to be your Twitter ambassador to help build a loyal following. Preferably you should develop several executives, product managers, engineers or other industry passionates to engage with the community. When relevant to their followers, they can be a great channel to share your latest New York Times story.

2. Send stories out to sales teams and sales channels - Merchandise the stories so they are easy for sales teams to share with their customers and prospects. This is good news and it deserves its own email with a well-constructed headline so busy sales people take the time to read it. If you are a multi-million dollar company, you likely have thousands of sales people, customers and channel partners that are eager to read the top-tier stories. Their livelihoods are closely tied to your promotional efforts and they want to know what third parties are saying. Throwing it at the bottom of a monthly marketing update email won't help much. Take the time to summarize the story and write it so readers can easily forward it to their network.

3. Build an email list and RSS feed of news stories
- Your press section of your Web site probably already lists your top news stories. Add a way for visitors to subscribe to the feed with email and RSS. I worked for a start-up company that built up a list of over 1000 subscribers to its opt-in list. Examination of the list showed that most of our channel, customers, investors and even prospects asked to get this news pushed to them. The list grew on its own without any nurturing from the marketing team. It became one of our best promotional assets and it cost us nearly nothing to build.

4. Socialize your news - Post the news stories to your company's moderated social media sites such as its Facebook Fan page. People are fans because they want to know more about your brand and products. Keep the content fresh and build your community with your hottest hits.

5. Company sponsored media channels
- Larger companies have lots of channels, such as newsletters, that reach out to their internal and external publics. Be sure your best news stories are promoted in these outlets. This tactic doesn't drive immediate traffic to the story, but it can add a lot of volume over a longer period.

6. Measure the traffic - The publication's Web site manager may notice a spike in traffic to one story, but it isn't guaranteed the reporter will know that it came from your efforts. Closely track the traffic that you are generating for the story by using a unique link in your promotion of the story. This will allow you to count the number of times that someone with your link clicked on the story. Also, count the number of Tweets that link to the story using tools like Topsy. In your next conversation with the reporter, let them know that you saw the large audience for the story. Also, share this information with your boss - you are driving thousands of additional impressions for your brand and you should get credit.

With this list, I'd also like to add some caution. Please respect the terms of use of social media sites. Don't AstroTurf them with your votes or posts. It's perfectly OK to post your news to your Facebook Fan site, but it would be unethical to drive your employees to Digg a story to drive up its popularity. Your goal is to help people read the news who have an interest in your company, not artificially inflate it. If popularity or ranking is the purpose of the social media Web site (like Digg, and Reddit), think twice before you canvass for votes. Send your followers to the original news story to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

Also, it is important to keep a close eye on the ethical implications of your story promotion efforts. Just like it would be unethical to offer a reporter money for a story, it seems difficult to expressly promise clicks for coverage. I'd never promise a client that I can get coverage in a specific publication. In the same spirit, I'd never want to promise a reporter that I'd drive traffic on a specific story. Generally I'd recommend that PR people build relationships of trust with reporters and the reporters will look to you for assistance in building and promoting their stories.

PR and marketing teams that become media companies and develop their communication channels have the opportunity to greatly increase the readership of news stories. A disciplined approach can increase brand impressions without any additional cost. So, if a killer pitch includes lots of readers, then PR is ready, well, to kill.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Wikity Whack Your Reputation's Jacked!

Google Sidewiki for PR and marketing professionals

Google Sidewiki has been out for six months and it a is good time understand the strategies PR and marketing should adopt to deal with this new power-to-the-people channel. For those new to Google Sidewiki - it is like Wikipedia, but in this case anyone can comment right on your own corporate Web site. People who come to learn about your company on the well-kept site could see glowing comments from happy customers or spiteful graffiti from upset ex-employees. Instead of arguing if this is evil, legal, or ethical, I'd like to discus how PR and marketing professionals can address this challenge.

When Google Sidewiki was announced, some thought (including me) that this would result in graffiti all over the Web, but it seems that even months later many major brands have no Sidewiki comments. People simply didn't rush out to hate on their easy-to-bash cable company. Like the broader Web, most of the comments that are visible are constructive and seem to make an attempt to be fair. Just because much of the Web is acting civilly doesn't mean that you should leave this channel unmonitored. Like all social tools, each PR department should develop a plan to engage in a meaningful way with people that are attempting to converse with your company.

I pulled this example from When someone navigates to the Web site, Sidewiki prompts the visitor to view the comments. After six months, there are only four entries about Apple. Most of them are positive or neutral, but there is one that really seems to be burrowing into Apple. This opinion can't be removed, but the company has the opportunity to claim the Sidewiki entry and add their own comments (they haven't yet). Company produced comments are often shown at the top and can set the tone for the online conversation. The Web site owner's comments are always shown in green and that difference sets them apart. To help you retain your online reputation and keep the Debbie Downers in check, I recommend that you start with these steps:

Keeping your reputation from getting hijacked by Google Sidewiki:

1. Claim your site - Sidewiki pages should be claimed by the Web site owner. It's a simple process and it allows you to add a post that sets the tone for the other wiki posts. Without any real programming skills, I was able to claim mine in about five minutes.

2. You don't own your corporate Web - the public does - Paraphrasing from a great article on this topic by Jeremiah Owyang, you should shift your thinking on who owns your corporate Web site. The public now owns it, not you. It is best to adjust how you approach all communication now that it is easy for your customers and other stakeholders to add their opinions on your site through social media.

3. Appoint a Sidewiki ambassador - Steve Rubel, Edelman colleague, recommends in this white paper to assign an ambassador to each social network. Sidewiki is one more channel that requires that you establish and embassy and staff it with well-trained ambassadors. They can build relationships and alert you when relations with your community are cooling off.

4. Verify your identity and be transparent - Google is here to stay so it makes sense to invest a little time in your Google profile. A key benefit of the Google account is that it verifies your identity so people know that you are you (mine is here). This free process increases online trust and reduces spamming and scamming. Set a good example for the community and disclose your real name. Account verification instructions are found here.

For a deeper discussion on the ethics, viability and legality of Google's Sidewiki program, I encourage you to read these blog posts. Each has well-developed thoughts and extensive comments that seem to argue both sides.

Google Sidewiki: Danger - Jeff Jarvis - Buzz Machine

oogle Sidewiki is PR Game Changer - Mark Rose - PR Blog News

How To Use Google’s Sidewiki For Maximum SEM Benefit
- Kevin Gibbons - Search Engine Land

Google Sidewiki: Brands under attack - Malcom Coles - Econsultancy

The corporate Web site as a controlled communication channel has changed with the introduction of Google Sidewiki. Sharp PR and marketing teams still have an opportunity to understand this new user-generated social tool and develop strategies keep your company's reputation from being hijacked.

How has your company addressed comments on Sidewiki? Please post these stories or links to your blogs in the comments section.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

How Google Buzz could sting your PR program

Impact of Google Buzz on PR and Marketing

Google launched a new social network last week named Buzz that is certain to impact your marketing and public relations programs. At a minimum, the new Google effort adds one more social channel for you to monitor. At the worst, the social network could dramatically impact search engine results for your brand. Before you get stung by Buzz, invest a little time keeping the swarming new community.

Buzz is a mix of Twitter and Facebook. The service accepts updates like Twitter and ties you with all of your friends like Facebook. Most new social networks aren't important when they launch because no one is using them. Google is different because it has a built-in audience of over 100 million accounts and it is clear that much of the technology cool kids raced out to Buzz within hours of its launch. The strong media coverage and Google's brand has it off to a strong start. I saw nearly all of the influencers that I follow on the service in the first two days. To help orient you, Jeremiah Owyang from Altimeter Group put together a good chart that simplifies the differences between Buzz, Twitter, Facebook and Myspace. Also, Ben Parr at Mashable penned a great story that outlines why Buzz is growing quickly.

Because much of the world gets their search results from Google, I pay attention when they add services with the potential to impact search results for brands. Google has been steadily incorporating social updates into their search results. This means that you can pay search engine optimization folks lots of money to drive your brand to the top of a search, but then find that a rash of brand-bashing Tweets pop up in the top of your search results. For example, I searched for Southwest Airlines this evening and was surprised to see the face of Kevin Smith, the director, in the first few results. It appears that he had an incident with the airlines and Tweeted about it. I'm sure that hundreds of hours of SEO work done by the Southwest marketing team were wiped away in seconds by that situation. The public battle between the celebrity and the airline is also occurring on Buzz so it is critical that PR departments actively monitor this new channel for conversations about their brands.

Additionally, Google is certain to start offering paid search results around Buzz content like they do for regular search. This means that your competitors can quickly exploit your public mistakes and buy key words around the conversation about your brand. I haven't seen ads in Buzz yet, but ads are nearly always at the heart of the Google business strategy.

So what can you do about it? I put together some actions that PR and marketing departments can take immediately to help them monitor and engage with the community on Buzz.

How to keep Buzz from stinging your PR program:

1. Get on Buzz and monitor your brands
- Go to Buzz and put together a profile. Then connect all of your social networks so your communication in other places automatically flows in to Buzz. Google allows you to verify your account for free so people know that the name in Buzz is really you. It will help you protect your personal brand and helps Google include your posts in their search results.

2. Find and follow your influencers
- Just like on Twitter, there are people who are influencing the conversation more than others. Put together your list of traditional and social media influencers and then look for them on Buzz. If you have already followed them on Twitter, you can import them if they are using Buzz with this tool from Tw2buzz. Re-run Tw2buzz every couple of days so you can catch the new influencers that create Buzz accounts.

3. Engage by posting meaningful content on Buzz -
Produce meaningful content and then post it to Buzz just like you do on Twitter and Facebook. You'll quickly get feedback and learn how to fit this new channel into your customer engagement program.

4. Make your Web site, videos, photos and content shareable to Buzz - Social networks thrive on people sharing stuff with their friends. Studies show that people are more than three times more likely to share with their friends if you have easy-to-use sharing tools that push that content right into their social network of choice. Social sharing should be the heart of your search engine visibility program because it provides search engines with fresh and popular content when people are searching for your brand.

Right now Buzz seems to be filled with the technology crowd that were enthusiastic contributors on Friendfeed, but the large Google customer base is propelling the just-home-from-the-hospital social network into kindergarten. PR and marketing teams that invest now in the newborn can keep themselves from getting stung by the swarming Buzz community.

Do you have suggestions about how PR and marketing teams can get started on Buzz? Please let us know in the comments section.