• 26Apr

    I have a client in the social media market who refers to the Holy Trinity of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Certainly these are the three most popular social media destinations where users flock to hear the latest news and connect with friends, family, and associates. But as I have noted previously in this blog, these are private companies, they are not part of the Web or the Internet, although they certainly use those resources. And while the open structure of the Internet means that the Web is likely to endure, these companies are capitalists after all and will only continue to grow as they become profitable.

    Which brings us to Twitter.

    My wife recently directed me to an article in Fortune entitled “Trouble @Twitter,” and the story read to me like the biography of a typical Silicon Valley startup,with all it’s ups and downs. One of the great things about technological innovation is the ride is never boring, and today’s boom can be tomorrow’s bust. You can have the best technology on the planet, but without a solid understanding of your roadmap and the value your customers get from your service, there’s no guarantee of staying power. (How many remember to dot.bomb bubble a decade ago when the slogan was, “If you build it they will come”?)

    Okay, the concept of microblogging is cool, and Twitter has developed a huge following – 200 million registered users compared to 600 million for Facebook. However, how many of those users are active? But what is Twitter doing to monetize all that traffic? They’ve tried paid tweets, but is that really paying off? This from the Fortune article:

    Just two years ago Twitter was the hottest thing on the web. But in the past year U.S. traffic at Twitter.com, the site users visit to read and broadcast 140-character messages, has leveled off. Nearly half the people who have Twitter accounts are no longer active on the network, according to an ExactTarget report from January 2011. It has been months — an eternity in Silicon Valley — since the company rolled out a new product that excited consumers. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg used to watch developments at Twitter obsessively; now he pays much less attention to the rival service. Meanwhile companies are hungry to advertise, but Twitter hasn’t been able to provide marketers with enough opportunities. Last year the company pulled in a mere $45 million in ad revenue, according to research firm eMarketer. Facebook brought in $1.86 billion.

    It’s interesting that Twitter was born out of chaos. As the article explains, co-founders Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey found their start-up, Odeo, made obsolete by iTunes and were trying to figure out what to do with their venture money when Dorsey Came up with Twttr to let other people know what you were up to. I think any business expert will agree that “throwing it against the wall to see what sticks” is not a sound business strategy, yet that was the birth of Twitter. To this day, Twitter seems to lack a clear business objective, partially because of changes in leadership, but mostly because the vision seems to have been lacking from the start. Mark Zuckerberg has been with Facebook since Day 1, guiding its operations and providing a consistent vision for growth that seems to be paying off. Twitter doesn’t have those same strong roots, and it shows.

    So even the most popular technologies can fail without proper nurturing. Remember the Betamax? Imagine what would happen if Twitter pulled the plug tomorrow because they couldn’t #gettheiracttogether. The short answer is, not much. The world would keep turning and the loss of Twitter would be noticed by a fraction of those 200 million subscribers, but something else would rise in its place. Another platform would emerge to make up the third part of the Holy Trinity of social media.

    I am not sounding the death knell for Twitter. They have a huge market opportunity, but they still haven’t figured out how to make it pay. Once they find the right formula, they could be innovators for years to come, or they could fade away. But the hole they would leave will be filled by another entrepreneur with a better business plan, or by an existing company that can acquire Twitter and take it to the next level.

    Twitter has demonstrated the power of connection. And whether they succeed or fail, they have proven that we want to connect, even at 140 characters. No matter what for it takes, the power of connection will continue to open up new possibilities for marketers.

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  • 20Apr

    bloggingLately I have been spending a lot of time educating my clients about the power of social media. Many of them come to me and tell me their customers are bankers or executives who don’t hang out on Facebook, or they don’t have the time to blog about their company. They can’t see the ROI for the trees. What would I get out of trying to build a social media campaign?

    Whether you are a butcher or baker or ice cream maker; whether your target audience are a small group of professionals or a demographic that doesn’t seem suited to social media (if there is one), a social media campaign can lend focus to your brand, and help you crystallize your value proposition and ultimately build sales. And it all starts with the weblog.

    Why blogging? Because creating and maintaining a blog forces you to think about your target market, your audience, and what you have to say to your customers that is fresh, meaningful, and valuable. If you can’t continue to provide insight and value to your customers, then they won’t stay your customers. And it doesn’t matter what your profession is. If you have something to offer, then you need to shout it from the rooftops.

    One of the interesting things about the phenomenon of the Web is that it has served as a great equalizer for business. Just as the DARPAnet has evolved into the Internet and ultimately the web, the core infrastructure is still maintained by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), a neutral body that maintains the standards, protocols, and infrastructure that make up the Internet. The Internet is not owned by any one entity or country, but is a set of interconnected computers that link us all together. It’s like Switzerland – a neutral body that provides equal access to everyone. And just as the Internet is unbiased in providing access, the World Wide Web has become a neutral platform where the corner flower shop can create a web site to compete with 1-800-Flowers. If you can make your business searchable, then you can compete on a global scale.

    So why blog? Because a blog gives you a platform from which you can launch a global social media campaign. I am an advocate of reusing content. If you have a good story to tell, then you should retell it over and over using different media. And blogging is a great way to develop new content that can then be reused. Blogging allows you to engage with your customers and others and share ideas that stimulate new ideas and ultimately promote you as a thought leader. And the insights you develop in blog posts can evolve into white papers, sell sheets, material for other social media channels, articles, you name it. Blogging provides a forum for corporate creativity that can be harnessed to drive your brand.

    So what do you need to start blogging? The basic technology is simple. You can add WordPress or any an open source blogging platform to your web site, or you can start a blog on Typepad or Blogger or any of the public platforms. The real thing you need is discipline, and inspiration. The New York Times reported in 2009 that only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs tracked by Technorati remained active (within the last four month). There are millions of orphan blogs abandoned along the information superhighway, so before you start blogging you need to be prepared to commit. Post weekly, monthly, with some kind of regular schedule. Find your inspiration from other ideas posted on the Web. I maintain an electronic clip file of interesting ideas I find in my daily web surfing and some of them turn into blog fodder. This entry, for example, was loosely inspired by a TechCrunch blog post on why start-ups need to blog. Whatever your inspiration, keep it fresh, keep it relevant, and keep it coming. The content will give you new material you can then use to talk to your customers on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or give you inspirational insight you can use in your next new business meeting.

    Don’t be shy. There’s enough room in the blogosphere for all.

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  • 12Apr

    Flying Solo Caution SignPublic relations is a creative job. You have to be able to look at a client’s product or service, assess market needs and news angles, and find a way to build market awareness with his target audience. It’s not always an easy task and it requires innovative thinking, solid storytelling – creativity! Good PR and marketing also require solid teamwork. You need to be able to engage with your clients to agree on market objectives, key messages, market differentiators, everything. You need to work together with senior decision-makers to agree on strategy, execution, deliverables, and ways to measure success.

    Creativity and teamwork are not good bedfellows.

    I have the privilege or working with some very smart and dedicated people. And that means we have some very heated discussions on how to do things to achieve an end result, right or wrong. One of the challenges in being smart and creative is that you can see multiple ways to solve a problem or achieve an objective. However, your ideas may not jibe with someone who is equally intelligent and brings a different perspective. So good PR also requires good diplomacy and a willingness to compromise, even when you are convinced you are right. There is little room for ego if you run a service business.

    So I was interested to spot a blog post by Kimberley Weisul on BNET today, “Why Smart People Make Lousy Teams.” Citing a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, and Union College, the findings demonstrate that smart people don’t necessarily play well with others. For example:

    Intelligence does not affect team performance. There is no connection between smarts and teamwork, so throwing smart people at a team-driven problem isn’t going to help you.

    EQ is more important than IQ. Good communications, good coordination, and stronger emotional intelligence (EQ) tend to promote good teamwork. If you have people who are good at reading and responding to other’s emotional needs, your team will deliver better performance. Even a single contributor with a high EQ can make a big difference.

    Strong personalities hurt team performance. Groups where a single strong personality or decision-maker dominates the conversation don’t do as well as groups where team members take turns. Strong leaders are less effective in group decision-making.

    According to the research, the easiest way to create more emotionally intelligent teams is to include women:

    Women are often perceived to be more socially sensitive, and more communally-minded, than men. To the extent that’s true, it’s easy to see how it could be helpful in a team context. And in the experiments, the researchers found that teams that included women were more socially-sensitive, and better performing, than then all-male teams. (No word on the performance of all-female teams. I’ve reached out to the researchers about that, and will update if I hear back.)

    Without revising any additional scientific research, I think I can safely say that the male ego plays a role here. Working with male CEOs and executives, particularly at start-up companies, has taught me that even though they are paying for your counsel and expertise, you have to tread lightly and be judicious with your opinion. (I find women executives are, indeed, more open to new ideas. I also think that’s why women gravitate to public relations.) To be a successful CEO requires a certain amount of hutzpah, and the conviction to stand your ground when everyone else tells you that you are wrong. Sometimes such egos get in the way of success and sometimes they fuel that success; it depends on the situation. But whenever you are dealing with a strong, charismatic leader, the concept of teamwork changes dramatically and the work becomes more of a parade than a huddle. If you can’t follow the leader, then you should bow out.

    And that’s where a different kind of creativity comes into play. You need to find new ways to deliver through compromise. No matter how good your approach or ideas, if the client says no, then you have to achieve the goal within whatever restrictions you have to deal with. Being in a service business means you have to fulfill the wishes of the client as well as the requirements of the project. And when the two seem at odds, it’s time to set aside you IQ, crank up your EQ, and deliver the goods.

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  • 06Apr
    From today’s CNBC TV feed

     

    Yesterday I posted a blog about GoDaddy’s current communications crisis. Today, I received an email from CNBC asking me to comment. This story continues to escalate, and clearly it’s time for GoDaddy’s management to step forward and say something positive and proactive to restore some of the company’s lost reputation.

    In his recent CBS interview, CEO Bob Parsons said”

    “I couldn’t be any better,” he told CBSNews.com in an interview. “The blowback – you’ve got to look at who it’s coming from: a small but very, very vocal group that moves in unison, inspired by PETA. Very few of them are our customers.”

    Due to the viral nature of the web, this story is indeed touching GoDaddy customers and they are abandoning the domain registry in droves. The blowback is turning into a firestorm as this kind of ongoing coverage demonstrates. Clearly it’s time for the communications team at GoDaddy to step forward, muzzle their CEO, and start rebuilding their reputation. It’s not enough for Parsons to commit to no longer hunt big game. He has to apologize and make amends to the people he has offended, especially his customers.

    And if they don’t act soon, GoDaddy is going to lose much of its business to aggressive competitors that are willing to kick Parsons when he is down. Consider the launch of the NoDaddy promotion from Venovix. It’s time GoDaddy gave up this fight before all their customers switch.

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  • 05Apr

    Undoubtedly you have already heard about the major major macho faux pas committed by GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons. He posted an online video profiling his exploits killing an African elephant. The video went viral and has shone a negative spotlight on Parsons, and by association GoDaddy. PETA and other animal lovers are outraged, and there has been a huge backlash. Social media guru Peter Shankman put a call out to his social media following (which is sizable) to switch domain providers. Even Hollywood stalwart Cloris Leachman launched a Twitter campaign to hit Parsons where it hurts – in the pocketbook – by directing followers to rival Network Solutions.

    In response to his critics, Parsons remains adamant that his actions were innocent and even altruistic. It’s not that he was hunting elephants. He was helping the natives by taking down rogue wildlife that was ruining the crops of the locals and promoting starvation. This from a recent post on Entrepreneur.com:

    “Parsons, 60, told CBS News he believed people’s "hearts were in the right place" in criticizing him, but they misunderstood his intention, which was to help starving people and stop elephants from destroying crops in Africa.

    “Several comments posted to the video questioned why the cameras zoomed in on villagers wearing orange Go Daddy hats. But the video wasn’t part of a company marketing initiative, a company spokeswoman says, adding that it was "something Bob, the individual, edited and posted." After complaints, the close-ups of the Go Daddy hats and still photos of Parsons posing with the dead elephant were removed.”

    Sound a little disingenuous to you?

    Parsons violated one of the first laws of crisis communications – show empathy. He completely missed the boat in empathizing with his critics. And he missed a golden opportunity to take the high road, admit that he may have been wrong, and find ways to make this right which would create a whole new cadre of loyal customers. Instead, he became defensive, evasive, and pointed to his critics saying that he was misunderstood.

    In fact, Parsons created this crisis by being stupid, then tried to cover his error by being arrogant. He created the crisis and then violated a number of the basic rules of crisis communications:

    1. Apply conclusive action: Be decisive and affirmative and move quickly to head off collateral damage. Instead, Parsons entered into a Twitter war that fueled the flamers rather than calming things down.

    2. Bring unassailable behavior: In a crisis, the element of surprise often catches executives off-guard, which leads to foolish behavior and mistakes. Parsons didn’t take a beat and assess his situation to make himself unassailable. Instead he attacked his critics, which reinforced his wrongdoing. He didn’t accept responsibility for a mistake in judgment.

    3. Use humane words and be empathetic: He totally missed the target here by being an apologist rather than empathetic. He is so busy defending himself that he continues to alienate his customers and potential customers by not acknowledging their position. By standing his ground his is alienating himself from his audience.

    I couldn’t help but recall the old Grouch Marx joke, “One morning I shot an elephant in my Pajamas and how he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.” In this case, Parson and his crisis communications team seem to have been caught napping, and as a result, it looks like the emperor has no clothes.

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