• 30Oct
    Social media is like a cocktail party - you never know who you will meet

    Social media is like a cocktail party - you never know who you will meet

    I wanted to share part of an e-mail exchange with a client earlier today. I have been evangelizing to this client for some time about how social media can help his business. His company serves the financial services market with some rather specialized research, and the logic of social media is often more elusive for B2B companies with a highly focused product. However, we had a major success this week with a news announcement profiling a new market research report that tied dropping deposit rates to rising unemployment rates. The release generated a lot of interest, including social media interest, and an e-mail from one follower to an influential executive at a credit union sealed a deal one quarter earlier than expected.

    Wow! You mean this social media stuff actually can help you make money? Of course it can!

    So we expanded our strategic discussion. Yes, press releases and news should be discussed in social media outlets. Of course you should be talking to your peers on specialty forums. And then the question came in, “So I see you are connected to Jane Doe on BankInnovation.net.  What is that contact going to do for me?”

    My response was, “Who knows?”

    The thing about social networking that marketeers consistently fail to grasp is that social media is not about outbound messages, it’s about engaging in conversation. I explained to my client, “Think of social networking like a good cocktail party. You meet a number of interesting people along the way, and there are lots of interesting topics to discuss, but that doesn’t mean that every person you speak to is a prospect for your business or can help you close a sale.”

    You have to apply the concept of six degrees of separation where the human web and the world wide web converge. You are talking to people who know other people you don’t know. If you can convince your contacts to say something interesting about you to one of their contacts, then you may acquire a new contact that has real value to you. It’s like having someone you know casually forward an influential press release to a senior executive who decides to buy your service. You never know where your next evangelist may come from.

    So when you are building your network of contacts, do you need to dissect ever connection for his or her potential value? Of course not. Consider my approach to Twitter followers. I get an e-mail notification that Marty Marketer is following me on Twitter. Cool! I bask in the love for a moment, then link to the profile to check him out. If he has posted a bio that is even marginally relevant to what I am interested in, I will follow him back out of Twitter courtesy. If there is no bio, the bio is completely offbase, or absolutely no one is following them, then I usually don’t bother to connect – we all have to have some standards. The point is that you are trying to build a sphere of influence relevant to your market, so you should weed out the MLM schemes and the porn vendors (unless that’s your bag). So I have some oddballs among my Twitter followers, like the custom T-shirt shop and the motor head who’s into muscle cars, but you never know who they know, or who they influence.

    So when you get that Twitter follow request or that LinkedIn request, should you connect? Use your own judgment but unless there are obvious reasons not to, remember you never know who your contacts might know. Naturally, you can’t develop a personal relationship with hundreds of people, but if they are interested in what you have to say, you never know whom they might tell.

    So what value do those contacts have to you? Who knows? Connect and find out.

  • 28Oct

    I have been getting a lot of objections from clients lately about social media. “Show me the money,” they cry. “Where’s my ROI?” In factr, I was working on a proposal today and trying to determine the best way to explain to the prospect where they really get ROI from social media. It’s not indutitive to the uninitiated, and if you don’t have a basic understanding of online communicaitons, the old outbound marketing think kicks in. It’s hard to retool your brain from outbound marketing to interactive conversation.

    So I wanted to share some insights from Olivier Blanchard, who blogs as the Brand Builder. He has some really insightful thoughts on how to think abotu social media in terms of ROI. Here’s a presentation on the topic…

    As well as a copy of the original slides. (With a nod to Ed Bishop and the cast of UFO – a very clever use of campy science fiction fare.)

    Any marketing program is useless unless you can measure the results, either in terms of increased profits or reduced costs. So how are you measuring ROI? What metrics matter to your clients?

  • 26Oct

    800 pound gorillaIndustry analysts play a unique role in media relations, especially in high-tech PR. You always want to brief analysts before you make a major product launch to get their take on your new technology, and ideally their buy-in so you can ask them to serve as an independent, unbiased reference for editors and sometimes prospects. Of course, not all industry research is created equal, and some has more value than others. My clients tend to watch their rankings in Gartner Magic Quadrant and Forrester Wave reports quite closely, because those rankings do translate into sales.

    However, analysts are fallible. Even with the best market data and research their reports are still subjective, which is why I found the recent news that ZL Technologies is suing Gartner Group for $132 million in lost sales astounding:

    “ZL alleges at great length in its Complaint (and recapitulates in its Opposition) that it has a strong product and satisfied customers. The Magic Quadrant reports do not say otherwise; the real point of contention here is not the quality of ZL’s product, but instead the subjective analytical model Gartner used to assess ZL’s market position and prospects. ZL does not contest Gartner’s basic assessments of ZL—that it has a good product but needs to expand its sales and marketing—but ZL challenges its placement on the Magic Quadrant Report because Gartner uses a “misguided analytical model” that gives “undue weight to sales and marketing.””

    Does Gartner really have that much market power? Over the last decade, I have watched Gartner gobble up Meta Group, Dataquest, and a host of other analyst firms like Pacman, so at the end of the day they are the biggest market force in the room, but does that really mean their analyses are more accurate? According to the filing by ZL Technologies, the Gartner Magic Quadrant holds the power of life and death for their sales. Although I see analysts having an influence on the market, I can’t see their reports having a stranglehold. Surely, having a better solution, better support, and a strong sales team make up the difference for an inaccurate research ranking.

    David Ferris of Ferris Research has a good take on the issue. As he states,

    • Any analyst firm is simply expressing an educated opinion.
    • No one firm knows the future, but can only predict based on past data.
    • The connection between analyst dollars spent and report results should be minimal, or non-existent. Paying for research should not give you special privileges.
    • Customers should consider the value of the product, not analyst rankings, hen making a buying decision.
    • Bigger is not necessarily better in the analyst world. Any research report is only as good as the analysts who are gathering and reporting the data.

    With great power comes great responsibility. Gartner has achieved great power, largely through acquisition, but that doesn’t mean they hold all the wisdom. In many ways, this lawsuit gives Gartner too much credit, too much power by claiming the Gartner Magic Quadrant has the ability to make or break a sale or a market. Analyst research can be valuable, but when you make it your sole raison d’être for closing or losing new business, you’ve missed the point.

    Who knows how the ZL Technologies lawsuit will turn out. But in my experience, when tech companies call out the lawyers to solve their marketing problems, there are bigger internal problems that are affecting their chances for success.

  • 23Oct


    In my last blog post, I offered some thoughts on whether President Obama is right in singling out Fox News for bias, or whether all news organizations deserve equal time and consideration despite their political stance. I posted the same question on LinkedIn and generated a lively debate amongst my PR peers.

    There was a lot of back and forth about this topic, with people landing on different sides of the political issue, but there were a lot of interesting comments on the role of bias in journalism and when bias goes too far because it is no longer subtext but the main part of the media agenda. To quote from Roger Griendling of Griendling Communications, who also blogs on this subject:

    “Obama’s goal is not to change Fox’s line-up or to get them to be more fair and balanced. Rather, he’s sending a message to the mainstream media (MSM) that they can’t let Fox News be their assignment editor. Many MSM echo stories started on Fox even if they have no shred of truth or relevance to the important issues of the day. But MSM feels compelled to follow them.”

    I particularly want to thank Roger Johnson of Newswise and moderator of the LinkedIn PRwise group for some cogent thoughts on this issue. From the threaded discussion, Roger offers this comment:

    “Fox News does not “slant right.” It represents and trumpets the right without regard for truth. Its news is propaganda. While it is transparent with its “rightness” it is egregiously false to claim to be a news organization.”

    Roger also pointed out a very interesting editorial on this issue from Newsweek that clarifies this issue with a different perspective I had not considered. What Rupert Murdoch is doing is using the same playbook that has succeeded for him in the UK, Australia, and Europe, and his rules have absolutely nothing to do with the American concept of freedom of the press. From the editorial:

    “What’s most distinctive about the American press is not its freedom but its century-old tradition of independence—that it serves the public interest rather than those of parties, persuasions, or pressure groups. Media independence is a 20th-century innovation that has never fully taken root in many other countries that do have a free press. The Australian-British-continental model of politicized media that Murdoch has applied at Fox is un-American, so much so that he has little choice but go on denying what he’s doing as he does it. For Murdoch, Ailes, and company, “fair and balanced” is a necessary lie. To admit that their coverage is slanted by design would violate the American understanding of the media’s role in democracy and our idea of what constitutes fair play. But it’s a demonstrable deceit that no longer deserves equal time.”

    So what litmus test should we use to sort the true journalists from the propagandists? To qualify as a journalist, you have to be able to distinguish fact from opinion and report the news, without commentary. That’s the difference between news and propaganda. You also have to be factual, something which the Fox News organization seems to overlook on a regular basis with factual errors meant to mislead, such as reporting that Obama was actually born in Kenya, not Hawaii. Since Fox is using Murdoch’s playbook and not the best traditions of American journalism, there doesn’t seem to be any distinction between fact and opinion or truth and fiction.

    And, as Tony Loftis of The Loftis Group pointed out, by calling out the Fox News organization for a shootout, the Obama administration has at least raised doubts about Fox’s legitimacy as a news organization:

    “By declaring war on the outlet, Obama served noticed that he thought Fox was biased, forcing everyone think about the bias in Fox’s coverage of his administration. It worked. At this point, everyone thinks Fox pushes the GOP’s agenda. From now on, whenever Fox reports on a story, independents will think of Fox as a right wing news organization. The Obama administration has successfully stolen a page from the GOP’s play book – taint the messenger.”

    So what do you think? Should you engage with news organizations who disagree with you, even if you know they have an agenda? Can we trust the average reader to see through the bias and make up their own minds? It will be interesting to see how this battle between the White House and Murdoch’s media empire will play out, and what long-lasting effect it might have on American journalism. I would welcome your comments here. Let me know what you think the future holds.

  • 21Oct

    newspaper-press-thumb-283x424If you have been following the news, you have probably heard that the Obama administration has once again attacked Fox News for bias, claiming it is not a news organization. Please don’t think that I will use this blog as a political soapbox; in the interest of full disclosure I will say that I supported the president through his campaign and I support him now, except on this issue. This is an issue of freedom of the press, which is a critical part of the American democratic process.

    Just because you don’t agree with the politics of a news organization doesn’t mean you have to censure them. Bias in the news is fairly commonplace, and always has been. In socialist countries the media are state controlled, so they issue propaganda and the populace knows that the media is biased. In democratic countries, the press promotes dialogue, offering views and opinions that ultimately create balance. The bias is there, of course, but the populace knows how to filter it.

    As far as I know, the United States is the only country in the world to guarantee freedom of the press as part of its constitution. Freedom of speech is guaranteed, no matter what you have to say,

    This is why I find it curious that the office of the President of the United States would take such an adversarial stance against a recognized news organization. Bias notwithstanding, Fox News still reports the news and they should get the same consideration as any news organization.

    In looking for news coverage of this particular issue, I did a quick comparison from three randomly selected news sources dealing with the most recent statements about Fox News from the White House: Fox News, the New York Daily News, and the Daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom. The three reports have very similar information and tone, and even the Fox News report seemed to have its facts straight. There is bias that shows in each report, whether through the Daily News’ snarky style or Fox News statements such as “Though Fox News has won the cable news ratings race consistently for years and is closing in on network news numbers…” All news reports have bias, and it’s up to the reader to filter that bias and make up his or her own mind.

    And as the definition of “journalist” continues to expand to encompass bloggers and smaller news organizations, it shouldn’t matter if journalists “buy ink by the barrel” (to paraphrase President Bill Clinton). Every voice should be heard, and the people can filter out what is noise and what is relevant.  As a PR professional I have come to acknowledge the efforts of bloggers and the more obscure news organizations, not because all coverage is good coverage, but because every media outlet is due respect for the sake of their respective audience, whether their readers number in the tens or the millions.

    The floor is open for comments…



  • 19Oct
    Consumers are turning into Ants, not Grasshoppers

    Consumers are turning into Ants, not Grasshoppers

    If you haven’t discovered TED Talks, you are missing a great source of inspirational thinking. TED, which stands for Technology, Education, Design, plays host to some awesome pundits and thinkers who have some really insightful stuff to share.

    This week, I have been working on a press release for a client, Market Rates Insight, a company that provides competitive rate research to banks and credit unions. Their latest research report reveals that consumers are looking to banks for security; trusting their money to an FDIC-insured institution over other options that may offer higher yields.  Even though banks are paying less than mutual funds or stocks, consumers are seeking security for their money. This is part of a shift in consumerism where people are planning for the future rather than spending in the present.

    That’s why I found the recent TED Talks recent presentation by John Gerzema so interesting. Gerzema is co-author of The Brand Bubble, a new book that advocates change as the best strategy for brand management in today’s market, and is Chief Insights Officer for Young & Rubicam. If you watch the video, you see that his perception is that consumers have returned to an old reality. They are no longer leveraging their future, and the future of their children. The economic downturn has transformed the grasshoppers into ants that are saving for the future.

    Consumers are saving more now. Spending in Q4 dropped 3.7 percent, the lowest in 62 years. Gerzema shares some interesting change indicators. More molars need filling because stress is causing people to grind their teeth.  Gun sales are up 25 percent since January according to the FBI. The Cornell Institute reports that vasectomies are up 48 percent. And shark attacks are at the lowest level since 2003 because no one is at the beach.

    So what Gerzema is seeing (or hoping for) is that by restricting demand, consumers can control their consumption and be more discriminating. As Gerzema says,

    “By restricting their demand, consumers can actually align their values with their spending and align capitalism to not just be about more, but to be about better…”

    Gerzema expands this theme, talking about people downscaling their consumption patterns and adjusting purchases to take advantage of reduced costs. Consumers also are demanding more empathy and social responsibility from companies. And they are looking for “durable living,” investing for the long haul. And finally, he points to the “return to the fold” phenomena, where consumers look to their peers to endorse brands and validate brand decisions.

    And much of this ties back to social media. People are looking to share their values and empathy through social media outlets, and they are looking for validation of their decisions and values. They are using the Internet more than ever to connect with like-minded people and research their purchases and support this new socially responsible lifestyle. If marketers are going to engage with these consumers, they need to be sensitive to this shift in perception and be prepared to engage with authenticity, empathy, and longevity. The new consumer is all about cooperative consumerism, and the smart marketing professionals will become part of the cooperative.

  • 15Oct
    Good storytelling requires empathy - being able to walk a mile in her shoes

    Good storytelling requires empathy - being able to walk a mile in her shoes

    From the earliest days in my professional career as a trade journalist through my years in public relations and marketing, I have learned that the crux of good communication is building empathy through good storytelling. You need to develop a connection with your audience and understand what they will be interested in – what they need to know. You need to have empathy, project yourself into the situation of your reader. In short, you have to understand what it feels like to walk a mile in their shoes.

    This is why good PR is about good storytelling. You are talking to people about issues that concern people. Whether you are talking about the economy or the latest computer product, it all ties back to how it affects people.

    I have been doing a lot of press briefings lately with senior executives who seem to have trouble making that empathetic connection with their audience. They are so busy trying to hammer their message home and justify features, benefits, and ROI that they forget they are talking to people. They forget that the reporter has to come away with something to report, which means the executive interviewee should be making an empathetic connection on two levels; a) understanding the writer’s audience and what they need to know, and b) understanding the reporter’s needs and what it takes for him to write an interesting story.

    So I want to share an excerpt from a presentation by Robert Deigh, author of “How Come No One Knows About Us? The Ultimate Public Relations Guide: Tactics Anyone Can Use to Win High Visibility.” If you can make the personal connection by telling a compelling story that is about people, and you will have delivered your message. How do you build empathy with your audience? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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  • 13Oct

    I am always scanning the Web for informational tidbits, and one blogger I have been following is Jeff Cole of JJC Communications LLC, who posts his PR101 observations every Monday. Last week’s blog particularly caught by eye, “PR 101 – Lesson 31 – Social Media Is Everywhere – Even Places I Didn’t Expect To Find It.” In this installment, Jeff recounts what he uncovered about how the Air Force is harnessing social media to facilitate coverage of the war in Afghanistan.

    How progressive! The military embracing an open forum like blogging! Of course, “open” is a relative term when you talk to the government.  

    “There has been a major debate in the Air Force over social media. There was an “old-school mentality” over its use, [U.S. Air Force Captain David Faggard, Chief, Public Affairs for the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing] said. From talking to Faggard and reading about the Air Force’s social media efforts, I think the senior commanders are having had the same debate many C-suite executives are having. The Air Force commanders are in their late 40s and 50s. They grew up reading newspapers and watching television news. In their worldview, those mediums still dominate. They are not sure about social media, what it is, and what it can do.”

    As Cole notes, bloggers have become field reporters like Ernie Pile in World War II. And why not, Twitter is playing a major role all over the world any time a disaster or political upheaval strikes. When traditional communications channels close, the Web is still there with fresh information.  And I noted a story on CNN today that military recruiters have met their goals this year for the first time since the draft was discontinued in 1973. The report said it may be largely due to the economic downturn, but it also has to be due to the fact that the military is now hipper than ever with pages on Facebook and channels on YouTube. 

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    Of course, the U.S. military is still erring on the side of caution, and there isn’t a consistent policy. There is still a huge concern about data leakage. The U.S. Marines banned use of Twitter, MySpace and Facebook from its networks as a security risk – see the article in Wired. Letting the social media genie out of the bottle clearly can have some disastrous side effects as well, but the same concerns are true in any corporation.

    I have been working on a project for a client, FaceTime Communications, which just shipped a new unified security appliance that monitors and records Web 2.0 traffic to prevent data leaks and promote compliance. Theoretically, with the right policies in place, it prevents Facebook data leaks such as status posts like “Our patrol attacked this well-protected village today,” or a LinkedIn query such as “We are working on a multi-million dollar deal with Acme and I need information…” As Faggard notes:

    “In my personal opinion, the military is still trying to figure it out… Of course, anyone talking to a blogger, or writing a blog, cannot violate standard Air Force rules. You cannot talk about war plans for instance or about operational plans.”

    But like the Internet, the blogosphere cannot be controlled, which is what scares both the military and corporate leadership. However, they can control the message by being proactive, and embracing the social medium that will help them deliver the message (with apologies to Marshall McLuhan). This means attacking the problem on three fronts:

    1. Taking a proactive approach and embracing social media, as the Air Force is clearly doing with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube;
    2. Using a reactive approach where you are using social media tools to track the conversation (both good and bad) on the Web – check out the Air Force’s “Counter Blogging” strategy and their Web, Posting Response Assessment; and
    3. Applying strict policies and procedures, bulletproof security technology, and common sense to prevent leaks of sensitive information.

    The U.S. military has been fighting its battles in the public press and in the trenches for as long as we can remember. Social media is too powerful a tool for them to ignore, and could be the most effective weapon in their PR arsenal once they figure out how to use it effectively.

  • 11Oct
    Marketers are stumbling blindly when social media can give them direction.

    Marketers are stumbling blindly when social media can give them direction.

    We all know the potential social networking offers to connect with customers and prospects. Social networks offer an unprecedented ability to connect with people you care about in a way that is meaningful and insightful. Yet a recent study by PRWeek and communications agency MS&L shows that most marketers are ignoring their followers:

    • Almost 70 percent of marketers say they never made a change to a product or a marketing campaign based on consumer feedback from social media sites.
    • Another 43 percent say that a lack of knowledge and expertise prevents them from using social media as part of their marketing programs.
    • And 39 percent say they are not convinced of the value or ROI from social networking.

    By way of counterpoint, let me share the following from the first chapter of Paul Gillin’s book, Secrets of Social Media Marketing:

    “Social media challenges nearly every assumption about how businesses should communicate with their constituencies. The most important change to understand and to accept is that one of those constituencies now have the capacity to talk – to each other and to the businesses they have to patronize. In the past, those conversations were limited to groups of at most a few hundred people. Today, they are global and may include millions of voices.”

    The social media revolution will change marketing, whether marketers choose to embrace it or not. The real challenge is that most marketers aren’t used to embracing dialogue. They would rather show how good they are as marketers by telling you what people want. Think of the cast of Mad Men sitting around brainstorming the latest advertising campaign. Or I can recall any one of countless PR strategy meetings where the PR team and the client sit around and imagine what will appeal to their target audience.

    Why not just ask them? Social media lets you do that.

    Some marketers seem to feel there is too much risk in embracing social media. The risk is they will be rejected, that their customers will tell them they are wrong. Isn’t that the point?

    As Einstein once said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Social media is a new concept that requires all of us to abandon old thinking. Embrace the new. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

  • 09Oct

    It pays to be ready with a crisis communications planI wanted to expand on a recent blog post about creating a crisis communications plan. There are many details you have to worry about when building out an effective crisis plan, but the framework for an effective crisis communications blueprint is the same, no matter what your market. Here are some of the basics you should keep in mind:

    1. Understand how to define a crisis. A communications crisis is any event that could adversely affect your organization’s reputation, integrity, brand, and ultimately your business. Remember that to be considered a crisis, there has to be a victim; someone who is directly affected and harmed, whether that person is a customer, employee, stockholder, or some other entity such as a special interest group, the community or the environment.
    2. Know the common elements of a crisis. Every crisis is a surprise. If you can see the train wreck coming then you should be able to prepare and control the message, so there is no crisis. There also needs to be an imminent threat; an element of danger or risk to employees, customers, the environment, somebody. And there needs to be a need for a short response time.
    3. Set goals to handle the crisis in advance. Of course, our primary goal is to protect the reputation of the organization. Beyond that you need to assess additional goals, whether it is to protect employees and their families, serve the needs of the public, protect key stakeholders, or some combination of multiple goals. You need to be clear about your objectives before you can formulate an effective game plan.
    4. Form a crisis team. Have your crisis management team (not necessarily your spokespersons) tapped in advance and create a master call sheet and a plan to make sure you can rally the troops quickly.
    5. Prepare your spokespersons. Once you have your goals and your messaging, you can prepare your spokespersons. Effective preparation extends beyond the immediate crisis. Most companies make sure their corporate spokespersons go through intense media training so they know how to deal effectively with the press in the event of a crisis. Practice promotes perfection and it keeps your team cool and controlled under pressure.
    6. Have background material ready. Make sure your fact sheets and executive biographies are up to date, and you have information you can hand out to the press to help them get their facts straight.
    7. Manage the crisis. This includes managing uncertainty first through quick and definitive outreach to all the parties affected, including the press. Then you can respond and resolve the situation, including setting compensation and memorializing the event so the victims can feel they have been honored and their needs met.
    8. Close the books. During the crisis you should maintain a communications log of all calls and e-mail communications with reporters. When the smoke clears, go back and make sure you have successfully closed each open issue in the log. Also be sure to perform a post-crisis analysis – Why did the crisis occur? Could it have been prevented? Was it handled properly? How did the spokespersons do? What would you do differently next time? Take this information and refine your plan to prepare for the next crisis.

    These are just some of the myriad of things to consider when developing your crisis communications strategy. And there’s lots of great material available online to help you refine your crisis plan. One of the most useful I found was a written by Sandra K Lawson Freeo at Newsplace.org. The PRSA and other groups have additional ideas. We’ll be fleshing out components of the crisis communications plan in future posts but in the meantime, be prepared!



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