Archive for November, 2009

ANYWHERE – Still Not Here

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

The other day I was in a Tacos del Mar munching down a burrito and scanning through email on my BlackBerry. An email push from Yankee Group CEO Emily Nagle Green caught my eye. She was hyping her new book called ANYWHERE about the global connectivity revolution.

The email made it sound intriguing so I clicked the “more info” link and instead of jumping to a Web page where I presumably could learn much more about the book and possibly even order up or download a copy, I got an error message that the location I was in couldn’t handle data traffic.

Oh the irony.

Here I am reading about how connectivity will transform our businesses and lives, only to not be able to access it ANYWHERE. Instead I had to access it from somewhere else.

Recently my daughter came up to visit from college on the bus. Being a diligent student, she was working on the bus but was ultimately frustrated by the lack of connectivity and power for her laptop. “Why is that dad?” she wondered. On the University of Oregon campus, there are plenty of power outlets and Wi-Fi signals are strong, plentiful and free.

My colleague Megan, who has a 3G USB modem for her laptop, has a persistent problem on the ride from Portland to Seattle. About 20 minutes outside of the urban centers, connectivity disappears. No connectivity = no productivity.

I definitely share Yankee Group’s enthusiasm for ubiquitous connectivity. I look forward to the day when it becomes reality, and agree with the premise that we should all be preparing for the connected future, especially those of us in the PR and communications field. But the full realization of that vision won’t happen until the following developments are in place:

  • Battery technology takes a significant step forward – at least 2x capacity compared to today’s best in smaller packages
  • High-bandwidth wireless blankets the country, and works reliably in both cities and rural areas
  • The cost of data connectivity drops significantly so everyone can afford a seat at the ANYWHERE table – $40 to $50 per month per device is too much.

Building out a truly reliable, ready-for-prime-time network is not a trivial undertaking.  But it is just as important to our national competitiveness as highways and bridges.  Perhaps more so.  Are we really doing everything we can do to improve on the ANYWHERE experience? I’m thinking not.

Dinosaurs Didn't Adapt, But You Should

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Say what you want about social media, but I firmly believe that it’s here to stay and it’s changing the way the world works. And it’s not even social media. Why bother waiting for the morning newspaper to learn about world events or national politics when I can go onto www.cnn.com of www.foxnews.com (always fair and balanced) and find out everything I need to know whenever I want? What kind of an impact is social media having on our conventional news outlets? Try these on for size…

Question: What do the following have in common?

  • Tucson Citizen
  • Rocky Mountain News
  • Baltimore Examiner
  • Cincinnati Post
  • Albuquerque Tribune

Answer: They are all daily newspapers that have closed since 2007.

Question: What do the following have in common?

  • Seattle Post-Intelligencer
  • Detroit News/Detroit Free Press
  • Christian Science Monitor
  • Ann Arbor News

Answer: They are print dailies that have adopted hybrid online/print or online-only models.

I’m sure there are other major metro daily papers teetering on the brink, but as sad as that may be, what does it say about the changing landscape of the media? The bigger question I have is…could we be approaching a world where everyone gets their news online or on TV in real-time?

While I read many publications, both online and in actual print, the thought of losing my local newspaper does cause me concern. More habit than anything else, part of my morning ritual is to read the paper while I’m having breakfast. I know many people spend a good part of the Sunday mornings reading their local paper or doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. But to be honest I mostly skim the headlines since I’ve almost always gotten my news the day before online. In our 24 hour news cycle world, our insatiable appetite to be “in the know” means having all the news updated in real-time.

So while the potential death of local newspapers is truly a concern, the good news is that the online news world and social media continue to dominate our daily lives. You want proof? Check these out:

  • The rise of Twitter has been the talk of the tech and media world. Last year, it grew 422%. That’s staggering, but nothing compared to the 1,382% growth it experienced earlier this year. (Mashable)
  • More than 8 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day (worldwide) and there are more than 45 million status updates each day.
  • Did LinkedIn more than double its U.S. visitors in October? A casual glance at the latest comScore data makes it look that way, with LinkedIn shooting up to 20 million unique visitors in October, 2009, from 9 million in September, 2009. (TechCrunch)

The moral of this story? Take hold of the future while not forgetting the past. Print isn’t dead yet, it’s just got a nasty case of the flu.

So what do you think? Is social media a passing fad that will simply fade out over time or is it here to stay?

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

What do the following publications, Government Computer News, Pharmaceutical Engineering and Maintenance Technology have in common? They are the publications that cover how software solutions are actually being used by real industry customers. They are the vertical publications for these industries … and on their pages is where the “rubber meets the road.”

My very first PR assignment back in 1995 was to explore the world of vertical publications for Microsoft. I proudly set up binders for each vertical industry and filled those binders with all of the information I could find on the publications within each of those verticals. When I would proudly tell my co-workers what I was working on, they looked at me with pity. They saw that I wasn’t working with the big IT publications such as PC Week (now eWeek), PC Magazine, or Information Week. I didn’t care. I loved my vertical pubs — even Waste Management. Of course, I also got to work with those bigger IT publications and I still do. But, it’s like coming home for me when I can lead a vertical program for a client.

There’s a reason why I feel so strongly about the importance of a solid vertical PR program. In my opinion, these highly specialized industry publications that often go unnoticed by a client can actually give the biggest bang for the buck because they directly reach target industry customers. Yes, you do have to have a customer reference that is compelling. And, you need to persuade the customer to tell their story, to explain how they are actually using the solution and how they’ve been able to specifically relate the solution to their industry. Most of the vertical publications are particularly interested in the ROI the customer has experienced. When this story all comes together … JACKPOT! And now with all of the social media at our fingertips, we have a new outlet for our vertical market friends in vertical market blogs: http://www.zibb.com/business/interstitial/newsblogs/Business_Vertical+Industries+%26+Markets Now we have a whole new way to engage with the vertical market community!

Blogger Conduct: Official blogs vs. Personal blogs

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

While blogging has been largely accepted in most companies, there are many details still to be sorted out. One significant grey area is around what’s acceptable in corporate vs. personal blogs.

Many employees share insights and information in their company-sponsored wikis and blogs. Yet those same employees also may participate in non-work related blogs, tweets or wikis. When talking about a company-sponsored social media tool, the question becomes “on the corporate level who determines what is and what isn’t acceptable language?” We’re not talking about swearing or vulgar language, rather, we’re talking about what does an employee think they can share on a blog (whether public or private) vs. what the employer thinks is acceptable?

I recently ran across an interesting story in EContent Magazine titled “Companies Struggle with Social Media Guidelines.” The story is about a social media policy that The Washington Post recently implemented and the backlash they received from employees. Here is the explanation of the policy:

The policy covers routine issues for a media organization when it says, for example: “When using these networks, nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment. We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism.”

I realize that working for a new organization puts those employees into a unique situation since they must maintain their impartiality. But how does this apply to a typical corporation?  What rights and responsibilities do employees have when their name is attached to their company?

Another example from the EContent story is a lesson to learn from. A waiter at a posh L.A. restaurant commented on his blog, “How to Succeed as a Failure,” that a famous actress left the restaurant without paying her bill or leaving a tip. The waiter has tweeted about other celebrity issues in his restaurant, but this issue caught the eyes of the restaurant’s corporate team and the waiter was fired. The waiter had this to say about the incident:

“I have to admit that what I did might not have had my own best interest at hand. I did not think anyone, other than the 22 people following me, would read what I tweeted. That was my ignorance to the power of social media.”

The waiter lost his job but he noted that he had only 22 followers on Twitter when the incident occurred, and now he has 1,365.

I believe that if employees are writing on a company blog or wiki, then they should be required to follow their company’s basic social media  guidelines. However, as the EContent story suggests, you can attract more bees with honey than you can with vinegar.

The EContent story talks about how IBM, “a company with 400,000 employees worldwide, an estimated 17,000 of whom are bloggers and 200,000 of whom are on LinkedIn,” implemented a policy that included input from employees. Instead of simply laying down a draconian law with regards to blog and wikis, IBM solicited input from employees and made them feel a part of the decision-making process. That simple act, garnering input and making the employees feel as though they had skin in the game, made everything work smoothly.

Noted blogger Tim O’Reilly has created at Draft Blogger’s Code of Conduct which does a good job of addressing the issue of guidelines for blogging. Here are the six rules O’Reilly asks everyone to consider:

  1. We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog.
  2. We won’t say anything online that we wouldn’t say in person.
  3. We connect privately before we respond publicly.
  4. When we believe someone is unfairly attacking another, we take action.
  5. We do not allow anonymous comments.
  6. We ignore the trolls.

It’s a very slippery slope when freedom of speech becomes involved. As an employee do I give up some of those rights? What are your thoughts on the responsibility of the person who is tweeting and posting? What is your point of view on the topic of social media guidelines?

Let’s Get Brand Appy

Monday, November 16th, 2009

With the successful launch of the Verizon Droid, the best-selling Android phone to date, app-capable smartphones are well on their way to becoming the standard for

The new Motorola Droid on Verizon.

The new Motorola Droid on Verizon.

cell phones.  The wireless service providers such as AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are all seeing big spikes in revenue and profit as consumers sign up for data plans in droves. This is leading to escalating battles to build out faster, more capable networks and over time lower prices for data plans.

What all this points to is widespread, mainstream adoption of incredibly powerful and well-connected smartphones. Within a few years, there’s no doubt that today’s spiffy Droid will be obsolete and Verizon will be all but giving them away if you sign up for a two year deal with a heavily discounted data plan.  Sure there will be people who say they don’t need all the features etc., just as there are people who still don’t have email accounts.  Whatever.

The era of smartphones in everyone’s pocket has arrived.

If you’re in the business of building your company’s brand, now is the time to figure out your personal branding app strategy.  Stake out your space, figure out what works and what doesn’t work.  Over time, you can count on your competitors to match your every move, but there’s a big advantage to be had for those who figure it out sooner rather than later.

One objection we’re likely to hear is that with so many apps already available, how many apps could someone actually need or want?  The answer is that people will want as many apps as make their life better in some incremental way or add entertainment value.  There will also be a long-tail phenomenon and every app will find a target audience of some sort.  The way I see it, the opportunity to get customers to interact with your brand on a personal and meaningful way is too good to pass up.

As a homeowner and committed do-it-yourself type, I spend a lot of time snooping around my local Home Depot. I could see how a well-designed app could improve my loyalty to Home Depot, improve my shopping experience and save time and trips on projects.  The app could start with an intelligent shopping list function with helpful tools like conversion tables and so forth. Once the list is built, the app would confirm with the local stores if the items I want are available. At the store, turn-by-turn navigation would route me through the aisles in an efficient manner. It would also alert me to specials based on my buying patterns, and of course provide plenty of sponsorship opportunities for manufacturers to explain why their tape measure is better than the next guys.  The app would also link to my Facebook account and let my buddies know about the great deals on nail guns or PVC pipe.

And lest you think DIYers aren’t’ a great demographic, check out this list of the 10 Essential Apps for Do-It-Yourself already available on the iPhone.

This brings up the platform discussion. While Apple has a big lead at the moment and has demonstrated the value of the smartphone application model, my take is that Android is poised to become dominate in short order. It will be similar to the PC industry where Apple sticks to its closed, proprietary and heavy-handed control over the developer community and keeps about 10 percent market share.  Android is more open, developer friendly and being promoted by a host of vendors. It’s the industry vs. Apple all over, and in that scenario Apple loses.

Want to build your brand? Start looking for an app developer, preferably one who’s been to an Android developer boot camp.

Update: Highly influential blogger Robert Scoble on his Scobelizer blog stresses the importance of apps on smartphone. His post is in response to comments by Microsoft exec Ray Ozzie that apps won’t be a differentiating factor on smartphones.  I’m not sure Ozzie realizes how ridiculous he sounds, but Scoble’s response is more proof that apps are where the action is in mobile. Check out the discussion here.

The Human Factor

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

I love it when you can humanize a high-tech solution, when you can demonstrate the solution at work, hear how it’s actually making lives better.  It’s great when you can see how Microsoft Office makes someone be more productive or how a Tektronix oscilloscope could help an engineer test for signal integrity.  All good stuff.

But when you hear a story about how a software solution is helping to give a child in Africa food to eat…that’s pretty cool.

I recently hosted a podcast interview with an organization called Compassion International that is using Open Text’s Digital Media Management solution to organize all of their digital media information relating to their sponsorship program.  With this solution, they are able to capture, store, search and find digital information which they use to raise awareness for impoverished third-world countries.  The organization recently celebrated their one-millionth child being sponsored!

High tech PR is exciting and ever-changing, but I often find myself wishing I could give back somehow, that I could have a job that makes a real difference, such as a teacher.  Then, I’m able to find these moments where I feel like maybe, just maybe, by helping organizations like Compassion International get their message out, I am making a difference by helping to raise the awareness.  I may not be on the ground with the troops but maybe I’m giving those “troops” some much needed air cover?  I hope so.

Mobilizing the Troops

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Being in the high tech industry has given me a front row seat to the launch of many new products and technologies. My knowledge of the rapid adoption of social media tools, such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, has largely been focused on the tech industry. High tech companies and the people who work for them are usually early adopters of new forms of technology since they’re more comfortable with trying new things or adopting new ways of doing business. Yet for the masses out there who are not part of the high tech world, I wonder how social media tools are being adopted by the non-tech crowd? For instance, is Joe the Plumber using Twitter to find new customers? A central question is if and how people in all walks of life and industries will use these new forms of technology to strengthen their personal and business brand.

Since I work with a vendor that is in the enterprise content management space, I frequently read Ron Miller’s blog at Fierce Content Management. His October 28 posting, “White House continues to get value from social networking”, caught my eye. It focused on how the Obama administration used social media tools, in this case Facebook, to call on loyal supporters to reach out to congress about a healthcare issue. On October 21st, the President posted a request on his Facebook page for 100,000 calls to Congress on this issue. By the end of the day the number of callers surpassed 315,000! Has there ever been a time in history where so much action can be achieved in merely a few hours?

One of the areas that helped get President Obama elected was his team’s sophisticated use of social media tools. Now that he’s in office his team continues to demonstrate how powerful social media can be. I respect their use of these tools and I hold them in higher regard since they’re willing to change the way things are done.

Those of us in the high tech world should take notice. Using these types of tools can address a specific issue, like what the President did with the healthcare request, or customer feedback on a new product. Beyond the immediate feedback, however, is a larger golden nugget to shoot for— brand development.

I’m more inclined to work with a company that adopts new forms of technology to make my life easier. For instance, I continue to buy products from Dell because I see the company using social media tools to improve customer service. I hold a higher view of companies that are actively using social media tools because it tells me they understand the value of engaging with customers, becoming more transparent, and taking action rather than dragging their feet. That helps to strengthen their brand.

As a consumer do you hold a company in higher regard if they use social media tools? Or let’s look at another way. Put yourself in mainstream America, do you care if your mechanic/plumber/babysitter/hair stylist/grocer friends you on Facebook or follows your Tweets? What about in the business world? Would you be more inclined to work for or with a company if they actively used social media tools?

Open Text’s Journey to Social Media Awareness

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

A couple of years ago, we started talking to our client Open Text about doing some “radical” things in social media, like start up a company blog.  A number of other enterprise software companies were starting blogs and gaining some traction so it seemed like a good starting point.

As we pushed ahead, we ran into some obstacles – ones that were pretty common at the time. The company policy forbidding personal blogs was a biggie. There were many doubters who questioned if social media was even worth the effort and time.

Still we forged ahead and in time succeeded in launching ECM Briefs, a corporate blog (but more of a news stream) that lived within the Open Text news pages.  We also started a program of regular “news” podcasts.  While lacking in personal observations, these efforts steadily moved Open Text to a self-publishing model.  The podcasts in particular were a huge hit since they provided a way to hear customers, partners and executives in their own voice.

Fast forward to today.  Based on the early successes, Open Text has fully embraced social media as a way to build buzz and influence audiences

Open Text Conversations

Open Text Conversations

directly.  Employees from around the company on a global basis have set up their own blogs and are developing personal followings.  Their posts are aggregated on a site called Open Text Conversations.

Going to the next step, the company has established its own YouTube channel and teams from around the company have set up audience-specific Twitter feeds, in addition to a large number of personal Twitter accounts. The company also has a presence of Facebook and LinkedIn.  The annual user meeting last month prompted a flood of tweets and retweets using the Content World #otcw hashtag, and many employees and customers documented the event on their blogs.

During a recent meeting with the PR team, one of the folks on the call noticed that a large percentage of our time was devoted to social media topics. We all agreed that was a good thing. While traditional media is still very important to Open Text – we crank out a steady flow of press releases – the new channels have taken on a life of their own and clearly point the way to future.

There are two take aways from the Open Text journey to becoming social media aware: any social media program is better than none, and a little social media always leads to more.  Is your company on the fence about social media? If so, start with baby steps and you’ll be amazed where they lead.

Social media helps bring your stories to life

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

PR and social media programs thrive on content. Compelling, content-rich communications programs aligned with strategic objectives – and yes sales objectives – can be the glue that binds your company together during a time of crisis, such as the ongoing recession. Clear, open two-way channels of communication keep your customers and prospects on board while giving you vital feedback to assist in managing through the crisis.

The compelling content and stories are there. Every organization has great products and human interest angles in abundance. The trick is to track down this content and put it to use.  With social media, this content can be turned into a powerful ally in the quest to maintain revenue. It also puts you in control of your message and gives you the ability to put up information according to your timetables.

Take a customer success story. Traditionally, you might write up a dry piece of collateral, post it on your Web site and maybe push out a press release. With social media, it can be much more than that. Customer stories can be brought to life as videos on YouTube, podcasts that you post on an iTunes and used as the basis for insightful

Social media lets you take a multi-faceted approach to communications.

Social media lets you take a multi-faceted approach to communications.

blog postings. The content can also be used for email pushes to prospects or turned into testimonials that help sales teams close deals. What’s more the PR team can use the customer stories to drive media coverage, both in traditional print and online publications, and on blogs, further boosting visibility.

A successful, multi-faceted public relations and social media approach like this moves your business forward quickly. The results can be tracked and a measurable return on investment demonstrated.  When stakes are high and business survival is on the line, every fiber of the organization must be focused on moving forward. Your marketing and communications programs are no exception and you should carefully evaluate everything that doesn’t contribute to the bottom line in a definable way.

It is also well understood that social media and PR programs are powerful, cost-effective brand builders. A strategic communications program can do more than just generate leads. In the course of generating leads it’s also boosting awareness and differentiating your products and services from competitors. Done right, you will not only glide through the downturn, but you will be poised to surge ahead when the timing is right.

Use social media to keep your company’s visibility up in this down economy

Monday, November 9th, 2009

The advice we often give our clients during a downturn is that they should keep investing in advertising, public relations and marketing promotion to maintain their corporate visibility. The main reason is that this will increase brand awareness as your competitors scale back, leading to a healthy uptick in sales when the market begins to grow again.

To be sure, there is truth in this advice and there have been many well-documented studies showing that consistent visibility in tough times leads to market share gains down the road. But this falls flat when companies are struggling to keep the lights on. And even though things have improved somewhat, the recession is far from over (unfortunately). In this reality, managers are more likely to be interested in investing in marketing activities that lead to sales today, not some fuzzy hope for the future.

Given this reality, the best communications strategies are those that deliver measurable results in the short-term while also helping to elevate the company’s visibility for long-term gain. With those goals in mind, one of the best approaches available to companies pulls together the strategic and high-value content of public relations and merges it with social media.

During the past 18 months, the media landscape has changed dramatically with the rise of user-generated content. Social networks (Facebook), web-based video (YouTube), and blogging and micro-blogging (Twitter) platforms have enthralled and empowered individuals. Anyone can go online as both a consumer and publisher of media.

For business, social media is emerging as a channel to reach prospects, partners, investors, employees and market influencers in a measurable, targeted fashion.  In a down economy, the business case for a company to fund an investment in social media is clear and compelling:

  • Generates leads from prospects who have self-identified as being interested in your goods and services
  • Helps to supports your sales cycle and cross-sell activities
  • Improves search engine optimization (SEO) results (leading to more leads)
  • Increases the success of co-marketing and partner programs
  • Strengthens customer relationships
  • Creates broader awareness in your brand while defining your position in the market
  • Allows you to quickly pursue new markets and opportunities

In tomorrow’s post, we’ll take a look at how compelling content can make your social media outreach programs come alive.


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