PRSA Boston – Social Media Panel – 2/26/07

Last night I attended a social media panel put on by the PRSA chapter in Boston. I went in part to hear the content; but also to meet John Cass and to say hello to a few folks I’ve met at various events over time. All in all it was a successful event on all fronts.

John started by providing an overview of the major trends in social media and Web 2.0. He pointed out that this is really all about individuals having the ability to create and contribute content in a wide variety or forms and formats – blogs, podcasts, video, MySpace, etc. As more and more people participate and create content, the nature of communication is changing – it isn’t a one way street any more and that means that the audience is gaining power. John pointed to the example of Vince Ferrari, whose blog on attempting to cancel his AOL account was the online equivalent to the shot heard round the world. The bottom line is that the world of communication has changed and that PR people need to learn to apply their skills in new ways to be effective for their clients.

Each of the panelists was then asked to describe how they had become involved with social media.

Gillin got interested in social media while at TechTarget. His blog, which had been languishing with minimal readership, suddenly saw a huge spike – first hundreds then thousands of readers – because a couple of influential bloggers linked to a post he did following an open source event. This was more readers than many of the articles which appeared in some of the traditional online outlets he had worked with. This led him to realize that through social media (or personal publishing) one person – or a group of people – can made a difference.

He thinks that this new reality makes PR more difficult. In the past there was a limited pool of people that mattered. When the Web came along that pool grew, but only incrementally. With social media there are hundreds or even thousands of people that matter and the role of relationships – and the role of PR – is changing as a result.

Defren helped create the social media press release after Tom Foremski’s, Die! Press release! Die! Die! Die! post. He recognized that PR people need to rethink the way they consider, create and convey the news and that the traditional press release was not effective for social media.

Van Hoosear was a marketing guy going to his boss saying: blog, blog, blog – and was told to do it himself. At the time blogs were viewed as a new communication medium – not a destination in themselves. But the growth and readership is there and now Van Hoosear is expanding beyond blogs to podcasts and vidcasts. His blog has become a way to share what he has learned about social media PR.

One of the things he has learned is that social media has made PR more challenging in some respects; but more effective if done right. Much of the focus now is on identifying influencers and understanding how to reach them. The traditional ideas about static messages and target audiences don’t work in the world of social media. Now the focus needs to be on the conversation. People need to get over the idea of controlling the message; now they need to be thinking about how to start and sustain a conversation.

Each panelist was next asked to share their thoughts on how to make the Web more effective for social media.

Gillin started by pointing out the importance of search engine optimization and of making a site truly informational so that it is viewed as a destination for people.

Defren talked about the idea of the “microchunked” document. Something that people can take from a site or release and put it to work where and how they need it. Content chunks should be able to function as blog posts and as the starting point for conversation.

Van Hoosear felt that the social media press release provided a model for making Web sites more effective. Things like tagging, adding video, posting it to MySpace, etc. People will find and use the content if it is good enough and strong enough.

Cass next asked Defren to provide additional detail on the social media press release

He outline four elements that need to be considered and included to create a successful social media press release:

  • Accuracy – the core news facts need to be included in an accessible format. It doesn’t need to be in the boxes and bullets of the template but that can make it easier for its content to be pulled apart and repurposed
  • Context – provide links to relevant past coverage; people will search it out themselves so make it easier for them; use services like del.icio.us to provide a collection of relevant links (with appropriate context and explanation); tag it for Technorati
  • Build community – create opportunities for people to provide commentary and share the content – add RSS, add DIGG links, use Del.icio.us, etc.
  • Be findable – provide contact info and submit the news everywhere so that bloggers and other social media influencers can find it where they spend their time

A member of the audience said that she sees lots of clients that don’t understand the differences between key words and tags.

Defren explained tags are more relevant for social media and blogs and that key words tend to be more important for search engines.

Cass next asked the panelists to explain how one might find blogs and new influencers.

Gillin said that there are some 300 directories now that people can use and the they ought be be having alerts delivered via RSS. Doing this will help locate the key blogs. Finding the influencers though is more interesting. The top bloggers are influenced by other bloggers and most of them link to other influencers. Reading and following the links will help create a view of influence.

Defren suggested that “freshness” be used as a parameter for evaluating content, as well as authority (based on the number of links to and from a specific blog).

Van Hoosear finds the idea of authority to be very interesting; it can be abused to create flogs and slogs by raising authority artificially. Once a potential influencer has been found they still need to be evaluated in terms of their reach, their receptivity, how relevant they are and their reputation.

Gillin provided a bit of a social media reality check by explaining that he’d had trouble finding bloggers for a whole host of areas: architecture, construction, oil and gas, etc. The fact is that most industries are not yet represented in the world of social media.

After some conversation of the differences between different types of search and HTML vs. XML, Cass asked the panel to discuss other types of social media . . .

Gillin cited engadget as a very useful blog that many people might not recognize as a blog, tripadvisor as a tool for people to share their experiences and Will it blend? – a great site for those seeking a blender. All of these point to the writable Web where it is easy, cheap and simple to publish. What is important is that people are able to create and share things for others to consume and use. While you might not be able to control the message any more, you can be a part of the community.
Defren explained that one thing PR people need to focus on is selecting the right medium for communicating with a community.

Van Hoosear echoed this point and described people wanting to use things like Second Life whether it makes sense or not. He suggested a series of stages people ought to consider when they are thinking about social media. The first is simply to monitor what is happening in a relevant community. Once you understand that, you can join the conversation, start talking to others, comment on content, etc. Next begin to start conversations and create communities. Finally, one can begin to optimize visibility online (SEO, press room, etc.). Just saying “hello” is a good place to start.

The panel was then asked to describe what makes for a good blog.

Gillin said it was important to stay focused, post often, be interesting and transparent and to connect and cross links with others. Defren pointed out that many of the top bloggers aggregate other people’s content and wondered how that squared with Paul’s description. Paul explained that most of the top bloggers had established themselves by doing all of those things first; but that many of them then began aggregating and commenting on other content.

Another member of the audience raised the issue of authenticity and how to respond when clients ask for someone to ghost write blogs.

Defren is opposed to writing on behalf of clients while Van Hoosear has done it in the past. When doing so though transparency is critical. He suggests that it is OK to help with a general corporate blog but not a personal blog or as an individual at the company. He also said that you can never misrepresent the blog or yourself as a blogger. Gillin felt that there is a perception that a blog has to be written by an individual; but that that isn’t the case. Many blogs are written by multiple people – Channel 9 at Microsoft and Benetton are good examples of this.

The panel was asked to describe some things to avoid:

Defren warned against being a a drive by commentator; and also the importance of being honest about who you are and who you are working for. The key to social media starts with good listening and being part of the conversation. He also recommended against starting a relationship that you weren’t going to be able to maintain. Gillin’s advice was not to quit. Even if you stop blogging your content will remain. He also suggested that people think about what they say and post. Van Hoosear echoed the message of not quitting.

John’s final question to the panel was on corporate blog policies and whether they mattered.

According to Gillin Microsoft’s blogging policy is two words: “Be Smart.” At Harvard Business School, on the other hand, the policy is more than 2000 words. He recommended that people check out Charlene Li’s blog at Forrester for more examples of corporate blogging policies.

Defren thought it was important for there to be rules – especially for public companies. He liked Microsoft’s. Companies shouldn’t try to prohibit blogging because it will happen on way or another. If companies want the conversations to happen they should encourage people to be blogging.

While there was also a Q&A session I haven’t included it in this summary. The core of the event was excellent and it reinforced many things that I already believe to be true – that the nature of PR – especially for the tech industry has changed radically, that social media is fast replacing the traditional media as the primary vehicle for communication, that the ideas and approaches of traditional PR will soon reach the end of their useful lives and that all of us that practice PR need to do all we can to recognize, understand and embrace these changes. It is an exciting time.

For another perspective on the evening, check out Ponderings and Wanderings.
[tags]PRSA, Boston, social media, blogging, PR, communications, podcast, Paul Gillin, Todd Defren, Todd Van Hoosear, John Cass, social media press release, Charlene Li[/tags]

retailers’ double standard

Twice in the past few months I’ve been told off for taking pictures in stores. The first time was in Crate and Barrel and today it was in Home Depot. Despite being told that it was not OK, I took pictures in both places.

Here’s what kind of bothers me. Home Depot has a sign when you come in saying that there are no cameras allowed. Now I’ll be honest – I had never noticed these signs before today when I was told, “no pictures!” But here’s the thing, Home Depot has a cameras all over the store taking pictures of me and my family while I’m there.

The sign on the door doesn’t specify “No CUSTOMER cameras”, it simply says, ‘No cameras.” Since the store blatantly disregards its stated policy, why should customers be expected to comply?

I think that it is interesting that retailers somehow think it’s acceptable to record, save, review and analyze me while prohibiting me from doing the same. I’m just ignoring these absurd policies. Maybe I’ll have a shirt made stating that photographing or making recorded images of me is prohibited. What gives corporations the right to set this kind of double standard?

Here’s a couple examples of the the “forbidden” images:

Orchid

Negative Dots

leafy Y

[tags]Home Depot, Crate and Barrel, photography, policy, double standard[/tags]

MIT Communications Forum – Remixing Shakespeare

I attended the recent MIT Communications Forum on Remixing Shakespeare and prepared the following summary. An edited version will eventually appear on the MIT Comms Forum Web site.  Here is a link to the offical version which appears on the Commuication Forum site.  I’d appreciate any thoughts or feedback on the version below.

Continue reading

Coming Back – Slowly

I thought I’d get caught up on things over this past week of vacation; but that didn’t turn out to be the case.  Between writing up a summary of the MIT Communication Forum on Remixing Shakespeare, visiting friends, family and museums and facing slow or non-existent Internet connections I really didn’t do a whole lot of anything.

Vacation is over now though and it’s time to get back to work.  Slowly but surely I’ll be picking up the pace and responding to everyone.

Falling behind – Fast

There is so much great stuff going on out there that I’m falling behind in my posting.  Just from yesterday I have three things I need to write about.

The first was a really good meeting with Shawn Broderick of TrustPlus.  We met in Natick yesterday morning and had a good conversation about trust, reputation, identity and eBay.  I have to get my thoughts together on that one.

The second is Justin Kirkby’s survey on connected marketing.  John Cass mentioned it in a post the other day and I went to check it out.  Basically Justin wrote the book on connected marketing and he wanted people to provide feedback on the predictions he made on the topic way back in 2005.  Some of them were on target while others either haven’t come to pass.  One of his predictions was that marketers would hyper-localize (not his term) their search for – and targeting of – influencers geographically.  I think that what’s happening in virtual communities – and understanding and reaching the influencers there – has become much more important.

The last this is last night’s MIT Communication Forum on Remixing Shakespeare.  This was a really interesting event on the ways the Bard has been used, abused, modified and repurposed from his own day through today and beyond.  Summarizing it will be no small task as much of the content was video-based.

Of course on top of all of this there is that little thing called work . . .

It will take me a few days, but thankfully I am on vacation next week and should be able to give these topics some attention.

[tags]TrustPlus, Justin Kirkby, Connected Marketing, John Cass, MIT Communications Forum, Remixing Shakespeare[/tags]

Floundering

I was in a couple of meetings today where social media came up. These were meetings of PR people and it was interesting to hear how little people seemed to grasp the concepts. I’m not saying that these folks are dense – it’s more that the topic is really opaque. Part of the problem is that social media has a certain bandwagon-like quality to it – the blossoming of MySpace clones is a good case in point. Just because a profile-based community worked in that context doesn’t mean that it makes sense for everyone.

The same is true for video. Sure it’s a great medium but it isn’t the right thing for everything. It’s like a bunch of people deep see fishing – as soon as someone gets a bite everyone rushes to that side and the boat and it starts to tip one way and then the other. What people need to get a handle on is that social media are just a new set of tools to work with and that they need to experiment with them themselves to figure out which ones are going to work best in which situations.

There isn’t going to be some silver bullet for social media. What will work best is going to depend what industry your talking about, who you’re trying to reach and what you’re trying to say. It’s going to take time, but I think people are smart enough to figure it out. Then comes the hard part – doing it well and doing it right. One step at a time though, one step at a time.

[tags]PR, social media[/tags]

Another view of transparency

Today I came across an interesting post on transparency in Social News at the Blog Herald. Derek van Vliet writes about transparency in a different way than I’d thought about it. He focuses on the role of transparency in accountability for comments and ratings.

The principle of transparency is regarded by many to be necessary in a successful democracy. Every day, people are demanding more transparency out of the media, business and government. Socially driven news sites are a step in that direction. They offer a level playing field where users come to edit news democratically. What role does transparency play in the users’ actions on these sites?

Transparency in Social News at The Blog Herald

He suggests that knowing who rates a story up or down would be helpful in creating greater accountability. Being able to see who responds in which ways to a given story could certainly decrease the amount of collusions on sites like Digg. More than seeing the names of people providing rating-like feedback, I want to see who they are and get a sense of what their agendas might be. This is why identity and transparency need to be closely linked.

[tags]transparency, identity, social news[/tags]

Old school PR isn’t going to work forever

A few weeks ago I went out to California to pitch a piece of business. It was a large enterprise software company and we pulled together a big and very competent team to think about and present our ideas about their communications challenges. We did an awesome job; but learned last week – unofficially at least – that we did not get the business. (Hence the fact that I am not going to name the company – which isn’t that germane to the story anyway.)

The reason that we lost was that we weren’t felt to have the same depth of knowledge of the enterprise software space as some of our competitors. I don’t believe that this was the issue; members of our team had a great deal of enterprise experience – both internally and on the agency side. What we didn’t have was faith that enterprise software matters to the media in the way it did in the past.

I spend a fair amount of my time talking to reporters and analysts and most of them are pretty frank that this stuff just isn’t that interesting for them anymore. It isn’t that they don’t think it’s important or valuable; it’s just that it isn’t as newsworthy as it once was. One conversation in particular – about the company we pitched – illustrates the point. A reporter at one of the major business magazines said that she hadn’t written about their category in a while because it was “boring.” She mentioned that four or five years ago it was cool but that things hadn’t changed that much since then. She pointed out that she understood that businesses benefited by working with them; but that the benefits were the same today as they were in the past. In short, what they were doing just wasn’t that new or newsworthy.

There are a couple of things that are coming together that are going to make this a more and more common refrain. The first is that the IT industry is maturing. While there is lots of very cool and exciting stuff being done, not EVERYTHING that is being done is cool or exciting. This doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable or important or worthy of attention; it just means that it needs to be presented and discussed in different terms.

Fifteen years ago, when I started in PR, you could talk to the media about a technology and odds were that if it were interesting enough it would be covered. Very quickly reporters started saying, “sure, it sounds cool, but does it work?” Reviews became the order of the day for technology products and every publisher began investing in larger and more complete testing labs.

After a while, reporters would say, “OK, it does what you said it would; but how does that help a business?” Case studies and user stories were critical – some publications wouldn’t even talk to a company unless they could provide a referancable customer that would lay out the benefits, dollars saved, ROI, etc.

Now, we’ve reached the point where reporters are saying, “right, I accept that the product is what you say it is, does what it it meant to do, delivers some form of measurable business benefit; but it that all there is? Is the whole purpose of this just to add a few fractions of a cent per share? Does this really matter?” And that’s where we are now. Yes, a company’s hardware/software/service may be all that it says it is, preforms as promised and delivers some legitimate business benefit – but it might also not be different enough or relevant enough (to the larger world) to get the level of attention that it did in the past.

The other thing that is changing is that there are just a whole lot fewer publications out there – and for many companies, print publications continue to be seen as the standard for success when it comes to coverage. In the early 90s – during the time when the technology and reviews were the focus – think how many publications there were: PC Magazine, PC World, Windows Magazine, Byte, Windows Sources, PC Computing – and these are the ones just off the top of my head.

As the focus moved from the technology to the business story, a whole crop of other publications came up – Fast Company, Business 2.0, Red Herring, Wired, Industry Standard, etc. – and the technology coverage in traditional business publications also expanded. The failure of so many Web 1.0 companies – and the loss of the ad revenue they represented – knocked out many outlets. The result is that there are fewer and fewer outlets in general and even fewer that are going to cover technology the way they did in the past.

Too many PR people (and their clients) are clamoring around a dwindling pool of media, talking about things in the same old ways they did in the past. That just isn’t going to keep working much longer.

That was essentially the message we delivered to the client we lost out on. Not that we were all doom and gloom – we were excited about the possibility of telling their story (which could be an exciting one). Unfortunately, it wasn’t necessarily the story they wanted told. I think I know the very moment we lost – a colleague and I were presenting our ideas – which had nothing to do with the company’s technology – when we were asked how we would work the products into what we were describing. We explained that the products wouldn’t be a part of the story – that the story was about the company, the business issue they sought to address and how they were taking a much different approach. The program we had come up with relied heavily on Web relations and non-traditional elements – not because (as the client felt) we didn’t understand enterprise software; but because we did.

The days of simply telling clients what they want to hear need to end.  This is not in anyone’s best interest – even if it feels good doing it.
Old school PR isn’t going to be able to carry on much longer – at least not for technology companies. PR needs to bring relevant topics for conversation – not just company/product/benefit/customer to all constituents – and not only the traditional media. PR needs to also be an open, honest and active participant in the conversation.  Trying to manipulate things from the sidelines is a sure way to screw yourself and your clients. PR already gets the cold shoulder from the Wikipedia – which somehow sees us as not being a part of the community – and that has to change. But it isn’t going to change until PR people recognize, understand and act like a part of the community and help their clients do the same.
[tags]PR, public relations, technology, enterprise software, social media, web relations, media, communications[/tags]

Identity-aggregation service thinking

Last night I was up thinking at three something in the morning.  It probably sounds really dumb, but what I was thinking about was online identity again.  I was thinking about what the ideal solution to identity and reputation would look like; I was thinking about OpenID; I was thinking about profile-based communities and I was thinking about those annoying Web page previews that pop up if you hover over links.

I was thinking that there is probably a way to bring all of these things together to create something useful.  Let me spell this out – but understand that I am writing this with half-formed thoughts and a quickly disappearing glass of whiskey (or three).

I can imagine a centralized service that preserves all of my identity data – like MyOpenID or the other OpenID sites.  That’s all well and good – but it would be better if that site could also capture all of the reputation information associate with my identity, links to recent postings, the names used on different sites, data on the services I use most frequently, etc.  In addition to this centralized data, it would be cool to have a hover-over thumbnail of the identity data that could be seen wherever I was writing or posting.

For example, on Digg, where I use “gregpc”, hovering over my user name would bring up a synopsis of the data and a link to the full identity profile.  What would make this interesting is that it would be a combination of what I want to say about myself, what I have said publicly in various postings or forums and what others have to say about me.  Such a site would serve to aggregate all of the various information associated with my identity (or identities) in one place to make gaining an understanding of me easier.

I’ve started talking to people about how this might be accomplished and am excited about the possibility of linking and making available and accessible all of the various data in context-appropriate ways.  More on this soon.

[tags]identity, OpenID, persistence, reputation, identity-aggregation[/tags]

Social Media Club Boston – 2/8

Last night I went to my first Social Media Club event. It was kind of like Fight Club but with a lot less fighting. (OK, so maybe it wasn’t anything like Fight Club.) The focus of the evening was on the various roles for video in social networking and the three panelists – Steve Garfield, Larry Lawfer and Jason Alcorn – each brought a very different perspective to the subject. It was kind of ironic that video was the topic on the very day Google came out saying that the Internet can’t scale to deliver TV; but that didn’t come up.

Steve Garfield got the ball rolling with a nice intro to video blogging. He went through the nuts and bolts, demonstrated how to shot and post and showed some of the various posts he has made. Here’s a video he made during the event. The bottom line is that anyone can do a video blog, it doesn’t take a whole load of special equipment and it can be an engaging and interactive format. One interesting tidbit that Steve shared is that blip.tv creates its thumbnails from the image seconds into a video while YouTube pulls the image from the midpoint of the video. Who’d have guessed? (Steve was also packing a Nokia N93 which is one kick-ass little gadget.)

Larry Lawfer, of YourStorys, is not such a do it yourself kind of guy. Larry makes well-produced videos that might be used on the Web have a much broader set of potential applications. They focus on doing customer testimonial videos and he described some projects and outcomes that were truly impressive. It was pretty interesting stuff. One thing that I thought was kind of funny was that Steve was talking about the importance of spontaneity and authenticity while Larry was talking up the importance of production and quality. Different strokes for different folks – and uses.

The final presenter was Jason Alcorn of Mindshare Interactive. They help non-profits put video to work for issue awareness and fund raising. Jason played a video they did for American Rivers – a non-profit focused on – you guessed it – America’s rivers. What impressed me the most about what they were doing was that it wasn’t just video. It was a Flash that incorporated audio, video and navigable text to create a pretty sweet little package.

After the presentations we broke into groups with one of the thee presenters to talk about the topic in more detail. I joined Steve as I found the idea of content creation the most interesting of the three. We talked about why more people weren’t doing video blogging and decided that it came down to a few things – first, people wrongly assume there is a technical hurdle, then comes the problem that you actually have to have something meaningful to say and be able to say it in an authentic and visually compelling way.

We discussed the ways that video is changing the way people communicate – from friends Steve has made through connecting with other vloggers to things like Stickam that allow people to self-broadcast and interact in real-time. It was a good set of conversations.

After the event a handful of us went out for a few beers. Conversation there – at least the ones I was involved with – were pretty much focused on identity and trust online. All-in-all, it was a good night and I’m looking forward to next months event.

[tags]SMCBoston, Social Media, Video, Steve Garfield, blip.tv, YouTube, Nokia N93, Larry Lawfer, YourStory, Jason Alcorn, Mindshare Interactive, blogging, vlogging, stickam[/tags]