Archive for June, 2010

The Social Media Express

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Over the past few years, anyone with a broadband connection has experience social media at some level. Some see it as a way to connect with random people while others see it as a way to connect with friends. In the business world, many see it as a waste of time and drain on corporate productivity, or worse a security risk. One thing for certain, you know that if your grandmother is out there using Facebook, social media has reached a whole new level. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and YouTube have emerged as the new media. So it only makes sense that politicians have whole heartedly embraced social media. Why not?

social media

Blogger Kyle Lacy noted “that President Obama showed the potential for success with the tying of politics and social media in the 2008 election with his millions of friends.” The recent mid-term elections showed us how savvy politicians use social media to their advantage. In fact, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ushered in the state’s new social media standard to make sure that state employees aren’t exposing the state to lawsuits…as well as keeping them productive.

Many new kids on the political block, in this case California Republican Governor nominee Meg Whitman, showed that utilizing new technologies to reach their audiences can indeed have a dramatic impact on the election process. As noted in a blog entry in Mashable:

As it stands, the social web is ripe with opportunities for candidates and office holders alike to connect with voters, foster transparency, and even spar with opponents in the same ways they have been in the traditional media for hundreds of years. We spoke with some innovators who have been tapping into the political power of social media. If their work is any indication, expect the future of elected government to be measured in fans and followers, as well as votes.

I find it interesting to watch the growth of the use of social media. From re-connecting with friends from high school, to showing the world images of political demonstrations, to sharing ideas with constituents during the election process, social media has changed the way we work in today’s world. At the same time, the role of the gatekeeper – the tough editor or journalist who filtered the story to understandable chunks – is greatly diminishing. Is this a good thing? Are we better off with social media, or is this leading us in a direction we might regret? For better or worse, it likely can’t be stopped.

Will Write for Food

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Early in my career, I landed the job as the assignment editor for a small computer magazine targeting the Digital Equipment (DEC) market. We wrote stories about the latest VAX computers and provided lots of tips about how to make then run more efficiently, or to lower costs. It didn’t seem too complicated…to me.

When I needed some writers, I decided to bring on a couple of friends from college on a freelance basis. These were journalists and I figured they could write about anything. Turns out, they couldn’t get their heads around VAX computers, and what’s more, they hated it.

From that experience, I learned that the ability to understand complex technology, and write clearly and articulately about it, is something of a valuable commodity.

So why do I bring this up? As it turns out, even to this day of pervasive tech, media outlets are still looking for good technical content. That is, they want content that provides the technical depth their readers are looking for, and at the same time is understandable even to non-experts.


The Swagger Wagon

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Well, despite the fact that Toyota is a case study for how not to handle a crisis situation…they’ve sure come up with a catchy new YouTube campaign for their new minivan. I’ve seen this video posted all over Facebook and sent numerous times over email. It seems to be a YouTube sensation with 3,347,969 views, you can also find the commercials featuring this same couple, the “Meet the Parents” commercial has 774,232 views!

This campaign has definitely taken on a life of its own, even in light of Toyota’s recent troubles. With safety obviously being one of the number one concerns with their cars, you can bet it’s even more of a factor in marketing their minivan. Instead of focusing on the safety, however, they’ve been able to capture a “coolness” factor which personalizes this car to their target market and perhaps is helping people to forget about the whole sticky gas pedal issue.

I guess laughter really is the best medicine…well played Toyota!

What’s the Brand Impact of Privacy?

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Over the past few weeks there’s been a lot of discussion about privacy policies on the Web. As reported in a recent CNETarticle, the discussion has focused on Facebook’s deployment of a “Like” button that publishers can place on their Web site. So what’s the harm in a small icon on a Web site? Privacy experts and advocacy groups aren’t happy.

Even if someone is not a Facebook user or is not logged in, Facebook’s social plug-ins collect the address of the Web page being visited and the Internet address of the visitor as soon as the page is loaded–clicking on the Like button is not required. If enough sites participate, that permits Facebook to assemble a vast amount of data about Internet users’ browsing habits.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had to do a lot of backpedaling to cover his company’s bases on this one. You can see him interviewed on the topic of privacy and the backlash of sharing people’s information by the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg at D8. As he publicly admitted in Mashable, “we’ve made a bunch of mistakes.” In fact, he had an e-mail exchange with noted blogger Robert Scoble about the issue and came out publicly via an e-mail, which Scoble published with Zuckerberg’s permission, that said “We’re going to be ready to start talking about some of the new things we’ve built this week. I want to make sure we get this stuff right this time.”

The growth of the Web and proliferation of social media sites appears to have opened up a Pandora’s box of privacy issues. Is it fair for companies like Facebook, Google, or MySpace to capture data about your viewing habits and then sell them?

The more I read about this issue the more I thought about how privacy policies can impact your brand. Has Facebook suffered a loss in customers from this snafu? Did Google loose web traffic last summer when it caught flak for launching Google Web History, “which records the sites you visit, searches you make, images and videos you view, and even sites you haven’t been to but may like.” I doubt it.

I don’t believe that this public backlash has hurt either of these companies so far. But if important private data would have been leaked, or Facebook or Google had clearly lied to customers, I’m sure that their brands would have been tarnished.

If you look beyond concerns about privacy policy for a minute – after all policies are easily fixed and everyone moves on – a bigger problem is those having to do with old fashioned computer security. As reported here, social networking sites as well as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! are not exactly enterprise grade when it comes to security. People generally use weak passwords that open the door to all kinds of malfeasance. Its one thing to have your surfing habits tracked, but entirely different when your identity and credit cards get into the wrong hands.

So how much does trust enter into the equation when you’re working with companies? If you don’t trust Facebook with data about your viewing habits – or other personal information – will you stop visiting the site, or just scale back? How important is trust when it comes to brand loyalty? More important, can trust be regained after an issue like the one outlined above? What’s your opinion?

Trendspotting in the SAP Ecosystem

Friday, June 4th, 2010

For those of us who work to build brands within the SAP ecosystem, one of the most important strategies is to ride whatever waves SAP is creating. The momentum SAP creates can push you along and help you be part of the discussion. Since SAP is promoting these themes, you’ll get much more support from their partner teams, and media types who are writing about these themes will be more receptive to pitches.

While the themes evolve over the course of year, SAP’s agenda for the coming year is laid out during the annual SAPPHIRE NOW events, which recently completed. The job of setting the agenda falls to the CEO, or in this case, co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Hagermann Snabe.

Here are the main themes that emerged from the co-CEO’s 2010 keynotes.

  • Mobility – SAP is making a huge bet on mobile enablement of its platform with the acquisition of Sybase. While much is unknown about how this will play out, it’s not too soon to start thinking how your company’s products will mesh with mobile SAP applications.
  • On-Demand – According to Snabe, the SAP Business ByDemand will be ready for mass volume in July and you can bet that SAP will be pushing it hard, both as a complement to on-premise apps and as a solution for small- and mid-size enterprises.
  • Changing IT Stack – With social media and mobility, users are more empowered than ever before. This will require changes in the technology stack and a new generation of analytics to find knowledge. “This requires a complete new IT,” said Snabe. “This is an era that requires collaboration.” I suspect SAP will be articulating what this means in more depth in the coming months.

Unlike some years past when the media response from SAPPHIRE has been somewhat to even highly negative, the majority of coverage I’ve seen this year has been positive and upbeat. The media enjoyed SAPPHIRE and believe that McDermott and Snabe along with a re-energized Hasso Plattner have SAP headed in the right direction. After a couple of down years, it looks like IT spending is about to rebound and SAP – and with partners who play their cards correctly – are poised to take advantage.

Trust in Public Relations

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot about how recent world and industry news have given us more than enough examples of how important establishing trust is to an organization. We all grew up in the world of “PR Spin,” but that doesn’t feel like a good term anymore. Our jobs as PR professionals are fundamentally changing, in relation to the counsel we need to be giving to our clients. I saw the following post on the PRSA site reflecting this thinking:

Transparency has become increasingly necessary in our society. As communicators, we are tasked with sharing information from our organizations with members of the public. How can a communicator assure the public the organization he or she represents is a transparent one? How should a communicator handle information that is negative?

These are all questions we need to be asking ourselves as PR professionals with consumers and businesses prioritizing trust and transparency in an organization over products or services. How do we help create that trust for the organizations we represent? How does that effect the counsel we give regarding messages and how to communicate those messages? All questions I will be thinking (and blogging) about in the months to come.

Customer References in the Age of Social Media

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

I’ve always been a big believer in the KISS principle —keep it simple, stupid. In the high tech world it seems like things just keep getting more and more complicated. Sure, new products are launched to make our lives easier but why does it feel like my life is getting more cluttered?

That thought came to mind when I was speaking with a former colleague about customer reference programs. In my experience customer reference programs are a big help in fueling PR activities including interviews with editors, briefings with analysts, speaking engagements and customer roundtables. But so often I run into customer program managers who over-engineer their plans.

In this case, simplicity is the way to go. That’s why I’ve always been a fan of consultant, author and loyalty expert Fred Reichheld, the creator of the Net Promoter Score. His books, The Loyalty Effect, Loyalty Rules! and
The Ultimate Question all use one simple question when engaging customers: How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?

Managing customer programs takes skill and guile since you must balance customer needs and time-restraints against the needs of your company to promote itself. For PR pros, it’s very important to have access to happy customers – those who definitely will recommend your company –  to serve as references for the press. For one thing, some journalists won’t accept vendor-hype at face value, insisting that there must be some relatively unbiased third-party to support the vendor’s claims.

But the question we’re facing today is…how has the rapid growth of social media impacted customer reference programs? In addition to traditional media activities, PR pros now have the complexity of working customers into social media programs.  Needless to say, this is not a simple endeavor, but the viral value of a positive customer mention in Twitter feed or blog posting could be considerable.  Building a community is tough, getting your customers to willingly spend valuable business hours contributing to these sites — on your behalf – is even tougher.

While this adds yet one more thing to the to-do list, there are some simple (remember KISS) things you can do to engage with customer on social media. For instance, you can set up a Twitter feed and make sure you follow all your customers on Twitter. Similarly, set up a Facebook presence and engage with customers. Or if you have a blog, invite the customer to provide a guest blog, or maybe you could post on your customer’s blog. The great thing about social media is not only is the customer carrying the message directly to potential prospects, you’re also deepening a relationship that couple be useful when the Wall Street Journal calls asking for a reference.

Customers references are so critical to growing a company.  What are some ways have you tried to get your customers actively engaged in online customer communities?

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