Archive for February, 2007

Social Media Newsrooms: An Example & A Challenge

One of our clients just went live with a Social Media-optimized newsroom, based on the SHIFT template.

The template was literally a jumble of chicken-scratch doodlings when I first showed it to the marketing team at NeatReceipts (you’ve probably seen their Scanalizer product at kiosks within airports, at Sharper Image stores, or in the ubiquitous SkyMall catalog). But to their credit, they instantly "got it" and approved the idea without a moment’s hesitation. You can check it out here.

Frankly, it was no accident that I previewed the template to the NeatReceipts folks first: not only are they a consumer products company, which means that they are apt to get a fair bit of "man-on-the-street" web traffic, but, they are also sincerely dedicated to getting things right for their customers. That might mean taking a few lumps along the way, in a public forum like their very own newsroom, i.e., if a customer starts squawking (rightly or wrongly) about a broken scanner in the Comments section of a news release, it could be seen by thousands of other consumers. Then again, the NeatReceipts team’s response (and responsiveness) would also be seen by the same people, which could snatch victories from the jaws of "defeat."

Ultimately that leads to the litmus test of whether your company is ready to "engage" — whether via a corporate blog, a Social Media Newsroom, or what-have-you …

  • Are you confident enough in your product that you’re willing to endure the potential for public criticism?
  • Are you sure that you have enough time, and adequate support resources, to respond to such criticisms in a consistently prompt and professional and public manner?

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It's the Message, Not the Medium

Listen to some of the cynics — those who believe that "PR" will wither in the face of direct, corporate-to-consumer conversations — and you’d quickly get the impression that "issuing (lame) press releases" is all that PR people do.

But as I noted in the Comments field under Robert French’s excellent post, "Blogs are Soma to So Many:"

When did this question of Press Releases "versus" Blogs become an EITHER/OR proposition?

Can’t we agree that for some companies, for some reasons, blogs are preferable; but that for some companies, for some reasons, "press releases" (and other PR "stuff") might be preferable?

It’s a WORLD WIDE WEB, a global communications opportunity, which to me implies that there are probably many potential means to approach similar challenges.

One thing that few people mention: whether you choose to use Blogs or Press Releases, if no one is listening in the first place, then no one is gonna give a rat’s ass about your news (or your conversational skills). If you’re running Widgets Inc. — i.e., a company no one has ever heard of — then using JUST press releases or JUST a blog (or both!) won’t get your voice heard.

One of the benefits of Public Relations is the outreach to influencers — whose advocacy, in turn, leads to the cultivation of audiences who subscribe to the company blog and/or to the company’s future press releases.

Did you note that last sentence? I said "and/or," not "either/or."

While we’re at it, what else do PR pros do?

Beyond the basics that that the cynics seem to completely dismiss (speaking engagements, award submissions, competitive monitoring, etc.), what about strategy?

Part of the PR pro’s role is to successfully convince a CEO or marketer that they need to stop drinking their own Kool-Aid: a good PR person can provide a shot of real-world advice on "the message" that will ultimately make it more palatable to consumer audiences.

Ironically, it’s often the so-called spinmeisters who are running herd on the marketers, insisting on greater levels of authenticity!

"Messaging" is not about "obfuscation" or "spin," ultimately it’s about telling the truth in a way that makes sense to the right people. Whether those truths are communicated via blog or press release? Really — who cares??

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Good Luck, Natali

I am (still) swamped on other fronts — including prepping for tonight’s sold-out PRSA shindig, where I’ll be on a Social Media panel with moderator John Cass, Paul Gillin, Todd VanHoosear of Topaz — but you always ought to take the time to shout-out when an old friend is engaged on a new adventure.

Natali Del Conte, probably best-known for a brief stint at TechCrunch, has got a new venture, TeXtra, on the PodShow network, and I encourage you to check it out. Natali’s the host of the show, providing on-going snapshots of tech news with speed, intelligence and her trademark charm.

You won’t see it on her bio, but one of Natali’s first jobs was at SHIFT, a few years back. Don’t let the glamour shots fool you: Nat’s a smart cookie. Her bio says it all:

"Natali Del Conte is an accomplished technology journalist, having written for PC Magazine, Variety Magazine, MarketWatch, TechCrunch, The San Francisco Examiner, The Oakland Tribune, and more."

Good luck with your new venture, Nat. "We knew you when…"

UPDATE: Nat comes clean.

After busting on Natali for omitting SHIFT from her resume, I got this nice note.

"Well, in my defense, that really isn’t a ‘bio.’ It’s a summary of my credibility as a journalist. But certainly SHIFT is part of the reason I landed in this crazy place…

  • If I hadn’t worked for SHIFT, I wouldn’t have felt confident to start pitching stories about tech to MarketWatch.
  • If I hadn’t freelanced for MarketWatch, I wouldn’t have been considered to be the business writer for The Examiner.
  • If I hadn’t written on the business page for The Examiner, I wouldn’t have been qualified to write about tech for PC Magazine.
  • If I hadn’t written for PC Magazine, I wouldn’t have made the appearances I did on Cranky Geeks.
  • If I hadn’t done Cranky Geeks, I wouldn’t have been "discovered" by Adam Curry and talked into doing this show!

SEE! It all started with SHIFT. Believe me, I haven’t forgotten that!"

Vindication! A career in PR can lead to great things.

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Generation M: Multimedia, Multicultural, Millenial, Mockumental

I may get myself in trouble with this post; it touches on some hot button issues of race, diversity, affluence, etc., but it strikes me as an interesting consideration for the future of marketing.

In most people’s eyes, my wife and I would probably be described as "typical liberals." White, white collar, vote Democratic, spiritual but not religious, big believers in civil rights, equal opportunity, etc. We are bi-coastal, and in both of these home metros, we’re rubbing elbows with a decent mix of racial types: white, asian, indian, black, latino. It’s fairly homogenous from the standpoint of "affluence" but refreshingly heterogeneous in terms of "race." That’s just some background for my recent "learnings."

You know that age-old trick that parents play, when their kids are budding teenagers — the one where you’re playing chauffeur for your kids and their friends, and you clam up (rather than make a fool of yourself) to hear what’s on their minds? I make it a point to keep my lips zipped when I am shuttling my 14-year old son and his friends to-and-fro; they soon forget I exist.

Here’s what I noticed: these well-off kids, all of whom appear to be raised by conscientious, highly educated, liberal-minded parents, are not blind to race (as they were raised); rather, they make a BIG deal of it; they completely wrap their arms around racial stereotypes to the point where they are rendered ridiculously ineffective. Not only that, they drill down beyond the "macro" identities (say, "latino") and get specific (not "latino" but "Chilean").

At first I was horrified. One of my son’s friends is Egyptian (see? not "arabic" but, specifically, "egyptian"), and as I asked for directions to his house, one of the other boys spouted, "Turn left at the fork and be on the look-out for a pyramid!" — which elicited gales of laughter, including from the Egyptian boy. A Chilean boy is good-naturedly chided about his "in-born" abilities at soccer: "Duh, of course you’re good at soccer — you’re Chilean!" A Chinese kid is good at algebra "because all Chinese kids are good at math." White kids are ragged on for everything from dance-floor clumsiness to chasing off the American Indians…

Obviously these are relatively harmless examples. I wonder how a Jewish kid might react if his friends ribbed him for being a natural penny-pincher, for example. I wonder how a Chinese student who sucked at mathematics might feel about being pegged as an outrageous anomaly. I wonder whether a black kid in this crowd might laugh as easily about lame "fried chicken" jokes as they might about the outlandish claim that "all Egyptians live in pyramids."

It seems like a crazy precedent. Certainly there are dangers; certainly any one of these boys in my son’s group might secretly hate such foolishness. But from what I’ve seen so far of these kids (and they’re all good kids), this is equal-opportunity racism; it is not based on ignorance, rather it is very self-aware. Does "racism for all" take the teeth out of racism? For these kids, the answer seems to be "yes." Looking in my rearview mirror at my son’s good friends is like looking at a rainbow of nationalities.

The only thing that is distinctly "white" about these kids are their iPod earbuds. Which got me thinking…

Will the corporate brands that, today, cater in a high-brow way to the realistic differences of culture, race and language ever consider taking a page from the book of this "M" Generation, and cook up campaigns that simultaneously acknowledge, embrace, and ultimately mock racial stereotypes?

On the one hand you might find that idea to be in horribly bad taste. I do, too — at least for today’s world. But take a step back: if the world could accept such a ridiculous campaign, wouldn’t that mean that we’d truly gotten past such stereotypes, to the point that we could just laugh at them and move on?

From my own unscientific sample, Generation M appears to be ready.

Goosing the Conversation (Finally!)

How many times have you left a comment at a blog, and then blithely flitted away, never to return to that "conversation"? Probably happens all the time, right? Drive-by commenting — such a faux pas for the Conversational Set.

If the blogger responds to your comment, and you don’t respond in-kind, it kind of stunts the dialogue. Also, as a blogger who tends to get anywhere from 2 to 10 comments on any given post, I can’t help but wonder how many commenters might return to the conversation if they knew that I (or another reader) had responded…

Yet, unless you are a co.mment subscriber, it can become burdensome to keep track of your simultaneous chit-chats. That’s why I am a big fan of blogs that enable me to track comments by email or RSS. And finally, as of today, PR-Squared has joined those ranks. You can now enter your email address to subscribe to follow-up comments on each post. Hurrah!

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