Archive for May, 2007

Brand "Re-mix" – Whuzzat?

VikingRecently I was chatting with a client about the concepts described in the recent “Think Like A Cannon” post, and in the course of my 2.0 bloviation about engagement, transparency, interaction, community, etc., I also touched on how “it’s okay to lose some control of the brand; to put some faith into consumers to re-mix some of the brand’s elements.” 

That caught him short.  “What do you mean by ‘re-mixing the brand?’” he asked.  “Sounds weird.”

Luckily, I’ve got a ready answer for this one.  I wear it under my street clothes.  It’s the tee-shirt pictured with this blog post (and you can order it yourself).

Look closely: it’s an Ikea-style diagram that describes how-to build a Viking longboat.  Note the “logo” of the manufacturer, a.k.a., “Vikea.”

Yes, this is a blatant rip-off of Ikea.  Yes, I am sure Ikea would be well within its rights to issue a Cease & Desist Order.  But, why would they? 

The iconic furniture-maker would be better served if this tee became a monster hit; it’s a whimsical play on their brand that, a) does no harm, b) serves as a hip, mobile commercial to pedestrians who see it on the street, and c) reminds the folks who see it that Ikea makes complex stuff simple.

Ikeas should not only embrace such brand remixing, it really ought to sponsor a contest at Threadless to solicit more of the same.  This brilliant “In Case Of Zombies” tee could have easily been branded in an Ikea-ish way.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t wearing my “Vikea” tee-shirt at the time of the conversation with my client … how cool would it have been to rip open my dress shirt, Superman-style?!

"Participation Is Marketing"

Bimmercs_mountainsI was recently interviewed over at the Buzz Bin, and one of their questions got me thinking a bit more.  The question was, “What are your thoughts of the concept ‘participation is marketing?’”   My answer: “I totally agree. Speaking as a consumer, when I notice that a company takes an active, helpful role in community interactions, I am impressed and more favorably inclined to their brand.”

I decided to do a quick spot check on one major brand.  If I could identify a situation in which it was obvious that they benefit by participating with engaged consumers, would they already be doing so?

I chose BMW at random.  Here was the process…

Google search on “BMW” brought up organic search result #8: AutoBlog.  Specifically, “Posts from the BMW Category at AutoBlog.” 

(Please note how wondrous, surprising & cool it is that a blog pops up in the first 10 Google search results for a major brand.)

Next: regardless of its impressive organic search ranking, is AutoBlog worth paying attention to?  Let’s check Technorati.  “There are 246,930 links to this URL.”  (Authority 4,154, rank 146).  Pretty darn good.

What’s the most recent post in the BMW category at AutoBlog?  A May 24 “spy shot” (and article) regarding the BMW 1–Series Coupe.  The article has 11 comments, and (as of this writing), 14 inbound blog links.  Not a vast wave of consumer interaction, but – given AutoBlog’s overall site traffic and also the fact that the post is just a day old – it’s not trivial volume, either.  (A quick scan of some of the other BMW postings at AutoBlog showed a fairly consistent amount of user interaction.) 

Clearly there is an active community congregating at AutoBlog’s BMW site, and while at first glance the number of active users is relatively small, we can extrapolate from the site’s outsized Google & T’rati rankings that anyone searching for “BMW” on the web is going to quickly find this site.

Thus the opportunity.  I read through several posts and comments, and did not note anyone from BMW participating in this community.  How cool would it be for these brand enthusiasts to interface directly with a BMW representative on a regular basis?  Pretty cool.  And more importantly, it would show visitors to the highly-trafficked blog that BMW truly cared about its customers and prospective buyers.

I recognize that there are challenges for any company to scale and train and monitor a group of “community managers” that could serve as adjuncts to the marketing group.  But what’s worth doing that isn’t going to be a challenge?

I also acknowledge that this was an unscientific approach.  For all I know, BMW is engaging “big-time” in other parts of the blogosphere.  They might even be represented in deeper sections of the AutoBlog. 

The “failure,” in my opinion, is that BMW is not taking advantage of this easily-recognized opportunity to engage, consistently, in a place that is so prominently impacting their brand, via AutoBlog’s high placement in a quickie Google search on the term “BMW.” 

If you’re not paying attention to what’s being said about your brand within the Top 10 search results, how “engaged” can you claim to be?

Quizzing a Prospective Partner on Social Media Know-How

Candidates_interviewJeneane Sessum recently published a cheeky quiz for evaluating a prospective “Social Media Partner.”  Mike Manuel also recently tackled this subject, at a high level, as has Tom Foremski.

I’ll take the middle road (if for no other reason than that Jeneane is funnier than me, Mike is smarter, and Tom’s far more hip – but don’t tell them I said so).

Borrowing liberally from the concepts Jeneane raised, I think it’s worthwhile to consider what’s truly important when a client wants to ensure that their prospective PR agency “gets it.” 

Here’s my version of Jeneane’s Social Media Partner Quiz…  Feel free to add it to your Agency RFP…

  1. Please provide the links to any and all blogs maintained by agency staff.  How old is your oldest agency-affiliated blog?
  2. Please provide links to any posts that your staff bloggers feel best represent their style and content.
  3. What are the top 3 blogs in our industry?  Does anyone who works at your agency regularly monitor or (better yet) participate in these blogs?  Would that staffer work on our account?  What would these “top 3 bloggers” say about your staff member(s), if asked?
  4. Are any of the blogs written by your staff among the Technorati Top 10,000?  (Alternately, “How would you rate your staff-written blogs within the PR blogosphere: are they respected?  How would you quantify this?”)
  5. What tools are you using to monitor conversations in the blogosphere?  How often are you monitoring (e.g., as often as you monitor the mainstream media)?
  6. What percentage of your staff use RSS?  (What is RSS?)
  7. How has your agency used social media tools in campaigns for clients?  What tools were used?  What was the result?  In retrospect, how might you have handled it differently?  Please include links.
  8. What social media tools/sites do you use in your everyday life?  Can you also name a few that you’re interested in (why are you interested?), but not currently using or viewing?
  9. What mistakes have you made in the Social Media arena?
  10. What are some of your favorite books about Social Media concepts? 

Please note that since there can be no self-respecting, self-described experts in a sphere as young as Social Media, there are no “right” answers to a quiz like this one.  Ultimately you want someone who can answer such questions lucidly and confidently – but not too confidently.  (If they shrug their shoulders a fair amount, that’s not such a bad thing.) 

You don’t need to be a “T’rati Top 5,000” blogger to understand how to connect with people (after all, there are precious few PR bloggers in this lofty zone).  You don’t need 100% of agency staffers to be hardcore RSS users to entrust blog monitoring to your PR team.  Mostly you need to hire somone who respects the medium; someone who already participates in a full-blooded way.  You want someone who is in awe of it but also embraces it; someone who is scared witless and yet is totally energized by Social Media’s possibilities and pitfalls.

Dude, Where's My Blogola?

IStock_000002808064XSmallAn interesting conversation is slowly starting from the WSJ article this week that discussed “blogola” – that’s the funky new term for the emerging practice of giving free stuff (from tote bags to travel junkets) to bloggers, in return for a sympathetic review.

It was bound to happen.  It happens with every emerging media channel.  Radio DJs were bribed to play new records on heavy rotations.  Journalists have always been wooed with whispered promises of “access” to newsmakers & celebrities. 

Inevitably, ethics guidelines spring up to dash such behaviors.  But it will be harder to police such activities in the blogosphere.

The difference is the complete lack of organization. 

It makes perfect sense for Gawker Media to have “some sort of policy” about blogola: Gawker maintains a network of “professional” blogs; it is centrally owned and controlled.  The Gawker writers are basically journalists – cheekier-than-thou, sure, but still bound to ethical guidelines.

But 99% of today’s bloggers are essentially hobbyists.  Passionate, evangelical, funny, and maybe even making some decent money at it – but they are still freelancing.  No one owns them.  No one tells them what to do.  The only ethical guidelines they need to adhere to are the ones that their own mommies taught them.

This is a particularly complex issue.  As the WSJ stated, “blogs are important because they often serve as idea farms for professional reporters.” 

Marketers thus have an opportunity to “influence the influencers of the influencers” … and, in this nascent period, such bloggers are probably going to be pretty easy to impress.  Who wouldn’t love to get a free camera, or an all-expenses-paid trip to meet a Hollywood star, or to make some extra cash??

By the way, is it so bad?  It’s hard for me to begrudge a workaday blogger who’s been willing and able to turn their private passion into an influential public forum, while holding down a real-life job. 

Similarly, what’s cool about bloggers is that they can be loose cannons: you could give a blogger a million bucks and they still might flip the bird at your product or brand … Blogger Relations, and blogola in particular, is risky.

So, is “blogola” good or bad?  Neither.  It all boils down to transparency. 

As long as the blogger is clear about what they’ve received (in any and all subsequent posts about the topic), it is up to the informed reader to decide whether their opinion has been swayed. 

If the product in question sucks, no number of happy-face blog postings will convince anyone otherwise. 

If the bloggers’ audience reacts disdainfully to their happy-face posts; call the blogger a “sell-out;” delete the RSS feed – then the respectable blogger will soon form their own ethics policy.

Everybody loves free stuff.

But nobody wants to be called a sucker.

Practicing What We Preach

UnSpun logoNext month, PR-Squared will celebrate its 3rd anniversary.  Since June 2004, this blog has served as both a personal forum and a place that SHIFT could point to as its “official” blog.  I am glad that we got started early in the blogging game, and incredibly gratified by the positive response.

But I’m not sure that PR-Squared can still be considered our official blog.

Last week, we created a blog that’s being written and run by our employees; specifically, by our junior staff.  It’s called UnSpun, and it’s linked to the Careers Page of our website: anyone who’s considering a career at SHIFT (p.s. – We’re Hiring!) ought to use the UnSpun blog as a place to learn more about our people and culture.

For the record, we put in place a fairly generic “Blogging Policy” to guide the newly-minted bloggers’ efforts, but I do not see the posts before they go up (unless asked to do so by the individual bloggers).

There are already a few entries, and I am truly gratified in these early days by the quality of writing, humor and thoughtfulness that our “newbies” are offering to the blogosphere, both in terms of the posts and the comments.  We’ve attracted some really smart, really nice people to this joint.

Moving forward, I’ll be watching to see how the blog evolves, sure, but more interesting will be gauging how the bloggers themselves evolve their thinking about Social Media.  Will it change the way they handle Blogger Relations?  Will the folks who post more consistently become the “go-to” staffers on all-things-2.0?  Will it enhance their careers?

Have a look, and please feel free to participate with my friends at the UnSpun Blog.  I know they’d be thrilled to hear from you.

Show some social media love would ya?

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