Monday, April 30, 2007

Social Media Collective

I have been invited to join Social Media Today.  I first learned about it from fellow blogger Mike Manuel.

Social Media Today “is a collection of the best writing from the Social Media Collective, a diverse group of bloggers, consultants, investors, entrepreneurs, journalists, and analysts who regularly report on social media, marketing and Web 2.0.”  I hope I live up to the billing and a thanks  to Jerry Bowles for the invite. 

In an effort to get to know my fellow borthers and sisters, I checked out their recent postings over the weekend. Their entries run the gamut of what social media has to offer.  Among the posts about conferences that they are attending, studies they are reading, and time off they are taking, here are several that caught my eye:

Any PR person’s dreaded topic — measuring online performace, a posting by John Bell.  On the topic of research and numbers, Charlene Li writes about the new Forrester study on Social Technographics looking at how consumers approach social technologies – not just the adoption of individual technologies.

Planning or Timing – You Decide – Rohit Bhargava opines on the notion that when it comes to marketing, timing is everything – even in online marketing. The problem is, it misses the one element that is perhaps the most important … timing.”  In another posting, Amanda Chapel writes on the topic of mobile marketing of the 18 wheeler kind and emphasizes first and foremost that planning is everything – Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Michael O’Connor Clarke and Dennis Howlett enlist the same Dilbert cartoon to address concerns over corporate ghost writing. 

On the topic of PowerPointNathan Gilliatt looks at user-generated content vs PowerPoint and asks,If your presentation visuals taken in the aggregate (e.g., your “PowerPoint deck”) can be perfectly and completely understood without your narration, then it begs the question: why are you there?  Is it time to ditch power point (sic)?   Meanwhile David Tebbutt looks at PowerPoint’s two conflicting purposes.– “One for posterity and the other for the gig itself.” Apparently the brain cannot process textual and verbal inputs concurrently. Believe me anything is preferable to looking at 8 pt typeface even on a large screen.

There is a poignant posting on the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech by Gary Goldhammer. As one parent of slain student urged:  Hug your loved ones — now!

Great minds dept. — A posting by Brian Magierski on Nike looking for a new ad agency that is more digital savvy – a topic I have discussed as well.   

Representing the Social Media ClubChris Heuer one of the founders of social Media Club.  I am involved with its Atlanta chapter.  Brian Solis, another Social Media Club co-founder, opines on PR Version inflation.  Are we on PR, PR 1.0, 2.0 or as PR Week suggested 3.0  I suppose the number you choose depends on how far you think the industry has embraced social media in theory and practice.

Love Links — Peter Himler writes about linking and link love and concludes, “But remember, you’ve got to give to receive.” (I hear you Peter!)

Mathew Ingram writes about the illusion of user-generated content.  How much power do consumers and fans actually have?

Mark Kuznicki opines on formulating a new definition for television in a new media age. What is television when we can download and watch episodes of “Lost” on our laptops? I have asked the same question about newspapers.  Is a newspaper still a newspaper when it comes with audio and video on a website?  Maybe the newspaper construct goes away after I stop getting ink on my hands from reading the New York Times in Starbucks. 

Bee Ware – Mitch Ratcliffe discusses research that shows that wireless phone radiation is interfering with bees’ navigational abilities.  The implications for bees and us are buzz worthy.

An interesting slice of trivia by Giovanni Rodriguez – Norwegians consume more pizza per capita than any other country in the world. Not sure what I can do with this, but worth chewing on preferably at pizzeria near you.

Posted a while back, some interesting predictions on word of mouth marketing by Todd Tweedy.

Telling the Truth Melvin Yuan observes: “When PR professionals successfully mask the truth to get a positive story where a negative one could have resulted, we get applauded for solving the problem.”  Masking the truth is never a good thing.  But making sure your side is heard and masking the truth are the not necessarily the same thing. 

Happy reading.

Let me get back to you.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Lights, Camera, Resume: Job Seekers Use Video

Yesterday, USA Today featured a story about job seekers who are submitting online video as part of their interview process.  The story caught my eye in part because the article highlighted a candidate seeking a job at EarthLink where I work.

Without going into specifics about that applicant, the article made me think about hiring as I am now looking for a new corporate communications manager in my department. 

Using video is just another indication of how technology is the raising the stakes in the workplace.  As I have previously pondered, computers and web 2.0 are forcing all of us to acquire an increasingly larger number of technical skills.  For students, typing is not enough;  PowerPoint skills are now expected.  For bloggers, text is not enough.  We must be multimedia experts incorporating pictures, sound, and video into our postings.

For a generation now growing up with camera phones and the ability to inexpensively access and post online content, using video as part of the screening process seems only natural.  It demonstrates their comfort level with web 2.0 technology.  In the short run, it may even help separate them from the field.

But not so fast.  It is only a matter of time before the rest of the field catches up.   The first bank to have Saturday hours or the first gas station to be open 24/7 may have had an initial competitive advantage.  But what is the long term result?  Longer hours for everyone.

We should also be careful what we ask for.  For one, are we now going to be judged on our background and qualifications or on our production skills?  Will everyone be expected to provide video (thus eliminating the competitive advantage) and will those who don’t be regarded with suspicion?  What if we don’t do well on video which in most cases has no bearing on the job itself?   Will video hurt our chances, even though our “performance” has nothing to do with our job?

I think in the end, we shouldn’t use technology just because we can.  But perhaps it is generational.  I asked a seasoned recruiter about video resumes.  She was not impressed.  She thought it was a distraction and could raise legal issues if people were contacted or not contacted for an interview based on their looks. 

Are You Ready for Your Screen Test?

I am personally not wild about video resumes, but I know it is only a matter of time before it is standard practice.  Soon actors may not be the only ones who will need a screen test for a job.  This is coming from someone who started his career in video and television news.  I will still rely on resumes and in-person interviews.  But then again I am not inclined to post highly personal  material on a MySpace page – which in fact has cost some young applicants a job offer.  Of course, standards are changing.  Those who can’t adapt may very well be left behind.

Let me get back to you.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Evaluating Business 2.0′s Top 25: Meebo

Today I am looking at how meebo uses new media to tell their story and market to their customers.  It is second in a series of postings on companies profiled in Business 2.0 Magazine 25 Web 2.0 startups to watch in 2007. 

Meebo lets users manage multiple instant-messaging services from one site. Meebo’s killer app is a widget that places an IM window on one’s blog or webpage.


What is “Password” in Tagalog or Russian?

One of the first things that struck me about meebo was its global reach.  On their home page you can download their template in one of dozens of languages and through meebo map  you can check out an approximation of where IMs have been sent or received through meebo over the past 15 minutes.

The map shows approximately where IMs have been sent or received through meebo over the past 15 minute slice. Lighter dots represent areas with low IM activitiy (even a single IM!) and red dots show areas with lots of IMs

That’s cool and in the spirit of web 2.0, meebo users from around the world have volunteered to post translations for free – an incredibly valuable service offered by users that meebo does not have the resources to do themselves.

Despite the global presence, meebo still has the intimacy of a start up as Dan Bernstein, meebo’s “marketing dude,” explained to me.

No surprise that  blogs play an important role in meebo’s communications and strategy.  In addition to mainstream press, they also reached out to Om Malik and Mark Jen when they launched.  Their blog is used to announce products, and more importantly to stay close to their users.  And their users reward them with mentions about meebo on 60 to 70 blogs each day.   Reflecting its informal style, their CEO Seth Sternberg wrote several postings to chronicle the company’s efforts to get funding and why they chose Sequoia Capital for at least part of their funding. 

Today, meebo is enjoying strong growth.  As of today on a daily basis, there are 1 million logins, 100 million messages sent, and 10,000 new users sign up.

Again like most web 2.0 companies, the product is the marketing. Product developers – the folks that design the product features — also play an important marketing role.  Every meebo subscriber downloads a widget to his or her blog or website to use the service.  Dan believes this is more word of mouth than viral (“there is no natural invite mechanism, but that is under consideration”).  The growing popularity of the widget on other sites helps facilitate further adoption.  It has created an interesting user base – including KBXX a Houston hip hop station and hundreds of librarians who use the service to field reference questions from the public.

A diverse base is encouraging, but the challenge Dan admits is moving meebo from early adapter stage to the mainstream. 

How does meebo retain its existing customer base and grow its business by reaching a wider population?   To date, meebo has not used advertising and doesn’t envision using it any time soon.  They have relied on word of mouth efforts, blogs and user-generated content to generate their organic growth, but reaching a wider audience may require using more mainstream media. 

Maintaining your edge and crossing over to a wider audience.  Meebo is a Web 2.0 company, but it faces the same question that web 1.0 and pre web companies have always faced. It will be interesting to see how they combine new and traditional media and find new ways to use social media to reach mainstream consumers.

Let me get back to you. 

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Evaluating Business 2.0′s Top 25: Blip.tv

Last month’s issue of Business 2.0 Magazine featured 25 Web 2.0 startups to watch in 2007.  The featured companies not only reveal how new media is creating new services, products and business models;  they also serve as a point of departure to understand how companies are using new media to tell their story and market to their customers.

As the editors said in their introduction to the story – “the losers are likely to be those companies that try to make money by pouring old-media wine into the new Web bottles. The winners will be the players that invent new ways to tap into what the Web brings to the party: instant feedback, instant analysis, and the collective wisdom of a billion users.

I reached out to several of the featured companies to get their perspective on new media’s impact on their marketing efforts.

In no particular order, I will begin with blip.tv. Blip.tv has built a platform for syndicating serialized online shows and provides producers with software, ads, and distribution to websites and blogs. According to Dina Kaplan, co-founder/COO of blip.tv, the company is taking advantage of the explosion of user generated content and the growth of broadband.  Blip.tv is not only a destination in its own right.  It is also a syndicator — providing tools for its users to deliver their video content over the Internet. As a web 2.0 company, it is tapping into the universe of users for its content.  That is why their relationship to their users is so critical.

So how does blip.tv tell its story, create a brand and build a customer base using new media?  They only have a handful of employees.  And to date, there is no official marketing department.

To begin with their product is the marketing.  Their product is user generated content that is shared on the web.  While they are a new media company, their marketing strategy is a mixture of both the new and the old.  It is not about advertising and buying one-shot spots on the Super Bowl like dot bomb companies did.  It is about conversations – both face to face and online. 

From meetings with video bloggers at barbeques in New Jersey and in bars in San Francisco to conferences like Von, conversations are central to their marketing strategy.  

It’s a focus on listening, getting ideas from customers and working to solve their needs.  In fact their roster of mavens — the term Malcom Gladwell used in his book The Tipping Point to describe individuals that are likely to initiate discussions with consumers and respond to their requests — has been responsible for some of blip.tv’s features.  As a result of these conservations, permanent Internet records of video blogger content are now standard.

And everyone is on the act — from the CEO down.  Any time of day is fair game – even, as I was told, one Friday night when CEO Mike Hudack took service calls from a customer while he and the management team were taking a break for Korean food.  Customer service is essential to their marketing efforts.

As part of their focus on conversations, it is no surprise the company relies heavily on bloggers like Om Malik and Michael Arrington to reach their customers.  Bloggers have their “ear to the ground.”

And their blog?  Dina explains that it was not the result of a formal strategy; rather one day they realized they needed a blog so they started one.  It serves as an extension of who they are and of course a key vehicle for relationship building with customers.

Going forward it will be interesting to see how blip.tv will manage its growth and how it will continue to maintain an intimate relationship with a larger customer base.  For Dina, it is not a matter of size – it’s about content creation.  They don’t believe that more content creation will change their model or the company’s ethos.

It will also be interesting to see how the blip.tv brand will be impacted by the success of individual series created by their users.  Will it focus on the blip.tv brand or the individual programs?    More traditional networks like NBC must grapple with the same issue.  For its viewers, is it about Must See TV on NBC or programs like Friends?  But how will new media impact the equation?  Will there be brand loyalty and how critical is the blip.tv brand?   It will also be interesting to see how their deals like those with  CNN Exchange impact their brand as other media properties license their software.

For her part, Dina wrote me that for more than a year now  “we have been focused on building up the brands of our shows.  And that will always be really important to us, even to the point that we do press directly for our shows: whether it is Goodnight Burbank, Unleashed or Winning Hearts, which is about the peacekeeping effort in Afghanistan.

“We are increasingly seeing the value of our own brand, however, and how that can be helpful to the shows.  There is value to blip.tv being considered, as we have been called, the HBO to YouTube’s America’s Funniest Home Videos.  So if we can leverage that to help promote, market and monetize our shows at a higher rate, that’s a win for everyone in the blip.tv family: us, our shows, and all of our distribution partners.  In the end, it is their show, and their brand, and they should have as much freedom as possible to build it as they see fit.”

Next up in my examination of some of Business 2.0 Magazine featured startups will be meebo.

Let me get back to you.

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Monday, April 9, 2007

Apology Notes: Don Imus

As part of an attempt from time to time to comment on apologies by celebrities, politicians, sports figures and corporate executives, I offer the latest controversial apology in the news.  This time it is from Don Imus, the famed morning radio talk show host of Don Imus in the Morning.

Known for his shock jock tirades, Don Imus and his producer made some racist remarks about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team this past week.  Last Tuesday, the Tennessee’s Lady Vols had beaten the Rutgers’ Scarlet Knights for the NCAA women’s championship.  You can read about what Imus said here.

In response The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) issued a statement condemning Imus’ remarks. The NABJ and Reverend Al Sharpton have called for his dismissal. 

On Friday, Imus made the following on air apology.

“(I) want to take a moment to apologize for an insensitive and ill-conceived remark we made the other morning referring to the Rutgers women’s basketball team. It was completely inappropriate, and we can understand why people were offended. Our characterization was thoughtless and stupid, so, and we’re sorry.”

Few seem satisfied.

We all say things we regret and get caught up in the moment, but, in my opinion, I would rate Imus’ apology:

  A broken heart (see rating system below). It feels like a forced apology — not made on his own accord.  Shocking and insulting all sorts of people is what he does for a living.  He has a long history of doing so.  Millions of people have listened to him, and people have made millions of dollars off his shtick.  I feel you need to make an apology heart-felt or don’t make it at all.  A true apology needs a subsequent change in action.  Either you don’t say something offensive in the first place or you live with the consequences.  His apology is not going to change his behavior. 

Personally, I don’t find racist remarks or offending people funny.  I don’t listen to him.  He is not a journalist or politician.  He doesn’t purport to be objective or represent the public interest. I don’t know what Imus really believes, but if nothing else, perhaps in the future he will catch himself before crossing the line from bad taste and out right racism.

I devised this rating system as a way to understand the role of apologies in crisis communications.  It is also attempt to bring meaning back to apologies. It seems every week someone famous is apologizing. Too many apologies are being made these days to gloss over insensitive comments and actions.  Apologies have to stand for something.  I believe we should reserve apologies for when they are really heart-felt and try to live the rest of the time in ways that don’t require us to make apologies in the first place. 

Let me get back to you.

Apology Notes Rating System for Public Figures

   
   Red heart – heart felt apology accompanied by meaningful
   change in action beyond what was expected

  
   Clear heart – the apology is sincere, with no game changing
   action beyond what was expected

 

  
   Broken heart – meaningless apology mailed in by a PR
   department or publicist where bad actions continue

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Thursday, April 5, 2007

EarthLink Announces on Twitter


Yesterday I took the leap and signed up for Twitter. For the growing number of techies who are joining this social networking phenomenon, Twitter is an opportunity to broadcast random thoughts and personal updates to groups of friends, family, and colleagues or the public at large.

For the most part, I see this as a valuable service to those who want to connect quickly and in real time with a larger group – whether it is friends, clients or co-workers.  But can this application serve as a communications tool to distribute news and updates?  It is a subject that David Thulin and Eric Eggertson have recently raised.

In the spirit of experimentation, Jerry Grasso and Dave Coustan here at EarthLink used Twitter to announce that Arlington County, VA selected us to build, own and operate their 26 square-mile Wi-Fi network.  You can read about it in our press release or on our new EarthLink Twitter presence, ELNK.  You tell me which is more useful.

Coustan calls it the get-to-the-point version of our announcement.  Others have called micro blogging.  I call it an opportunity to test drive a new social media app.  All of us are experimenting with how to best deliver information in a tech-obsessed, attention-deprived world.  With Twitter, you have 140 characters to tell your story – just enough space for readers to decide whether it is news they can use.  Twitter users can get their news via a web browser, RSS, instant messenger or text messages on their cell phone.  They can also use desktop applications and widgets.

Whether or not this experiment will become part of my communications arsenal is less critical to me than exploring new technologies and applications. Nothing is too sacred.  Even the low tech press release is going through a social media redesign.  Besides, the barrier to entry is so low that I don’t think we can afford not to try it. 

I do find it interesting, however, that it used to be that business applications would find their way into the home.  Today with new media, consumer applications are finding their way into the workplace – driven not by older generations down, but by younger generations up.  Maybe I will Twitter about it

Let me get back to you.

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Monday, April 2, 2007

Changing PR’s Game — Just Do It

I read recently that ad agency Wieden + Kennedy had lost part of its Nike account.  It was a big deal.  Apparently the athletic footwear and apparel giant was dissatisfied with Wieden + Kennedy’s digital expertise and its online efforts to reach their target audience.

I suspect Nike’s move is a wake up call for both PR and ad agencies.  In this day and age, press releases and 30 second ads are losing their utility.  We are all grappling with the changing set of expectations set by consumers and clients alike.   Similar observations were recently made in Bob Garfield’s excellent story in Ad Age, in a blog posting by Richard Stacy and in a piece by Matt Shaw, vice president of the Council of Public Relations Firms that a friend sent me.

Is the Term “PR” Still Relevant?

Shaw raises some interesting points that should embolden and unnerve PR agencies – depending on their place on the adoption curve and the level of their digital teams’ talent.  In particular, Shaw cites a prediction made by a marketing consultant who said that the term PR firm won’t exist in 15-20 years — that changes taking place will require a new name.

The number may be 15-20, but I am thinking months, not years.  And one thing is for sure, once the dust settles, it won’t be called a new media firm either.  By then new media and old media will just be media. 

So why are firms like Widen + Kennedy failing to keep up?  No question the demand for digital expertise is outpacing supply.  But perhaps the problem is that we have not adjusted to the new boundaries or absence of boundaries that new media has created for PR, advertising and marketing. 

This discussion is all too familiar territory for folks running about in the new media space.  We regularly talk about the morphing of PR and the changing face of advertising.  Clearly Nike’s move with Wieden + Kennedy demonstrates that the issue is far from resolved. 

Now I can see why ad agencies are having a hard time with new media.  It disrupts the entire economic model that they are used to.  It requires radically new ways to interact with customers.  It disperses expertise over an ever widening group of people.  Executives everywhere are trying to keep up and, more importantly, monetize it.

For PR firms wanting a seat at the marketing and strategic table, these changes should be most welcome.  It is not surprising that Shaw cites a recent study showing that headcounts in the public relations sector have increased 44 percent since 1990 – more than 3 times faster than that of advertising.  Clients are demanding that firms understand transparency, relationship building and the importance of conversations.

PR’s bread and butter and advertising’s jam

Such demands are not new for us; they have been PR’s bread and butter for years. Viral campaigns, user generated content, and buzz marketing are all forms of what PR folks call “free” or “earned” media.  But now our bread and butter has become advertising’s jam – something to spread on top of making commercials, building brands and buying ad time and space.  I suspect the only real difference is that PR has historically charged less for these services. 

And so what will PR firms look like a few years out?  Will advertising become PR’s jam?  Or will we need a whole new food group metaphor?  The easy part is defining what we do.  Traditional media relations will only be a portion of the portfolio.  Circumnavigating new channels of communications, embracing new technologies, managing greater and greater information sources, and corralling a widening number of spokespeople will become the bulk of our time and billable hours. 

Monetizing these services will be more difficult.  So will measuring the results.  As corporate communications experts, we ourselves will need to do some “PR” or, depending on your perspective, advertising to help clients and management understand our potential.  Old habits die hard – especially with the old guard.  A hit in the Wall Street Journal still carries more weight. 

If PR agencies and ad agencies continue to morph, who will get there first and be able to charge the most?   

“Show Me the Money”

Maybe Cuba Gooding’s famous line in the movie – Jerry McGuire — is instructive:  “Show me the money.”  Citing Matt Shaw’s piece, if we can leverage our expertise, demonstrate results and figure out how to monetize these efforts, then we will be able, as PR veteran Lou Capozzi said, “add a zero to the (public relations) budget and call advertising a public relations tactic.”

Let me get back to you.

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