• 30Aug

    I ran across an interesting factoid last week, complements of Marketing Pilgrim – nearly half of all marketers are willing to pay for posts on blogs, web sites, and social media. As blogger Cynthia Boris notes:

    Now, paying for posts, Tweets, Facebook shoutouts or video mentions is not only acceptable, it’s good business.

    According to new numbers from eMarketer, 48.8% of marketers have used a sponsored blog post. 39.4% have sponsored Tweets and 50.2% said they were open to using some kind of social media sponsorship.

    Paid-for-Post programs run the gamut from sketchy clearinghouses pushing articles on windows blinds and times shares, to well-funded, creative properties that pay people for posts they would have written anyway for free.

    As a marketing professional, my reaction was, “Cool, a new way to promote clients and maybe make some money.” I was particularly impressed with the amount of coin that sponsors are willing to pay for content – as much as $100 for a blog post. Not bad wages for freelance writers.

    imageThen I thought about the flip side of this coin. If there is a market for paid posts, that means that any number of web sites, Facebook fan pages, Twitter feeds, and more are willing to pay for contributors to generate content. This seems counter to the spirit of social media. Do paid posts undermine the power of social media campaigns and online marketing?

    If you are paying for content from third party contributors, does that undermine the value of your social media outlets? How do these social media channels reflect your brand if you are taking paid contributions from a host of contributors?

    It also reminded me that blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds can’t be confused with conventional, or dare I say “legitimate”media outlets. When you see a byline in a publication like Forbes or BusinessWeek, you know that it was either a paid contribution by a staff writer or freelancer, or it is a contributed article by a guest expert. The publication makes it clear, and you can read the article using the appropriate filter and adjust your skepticism accordingly.

    The rules for web contributions aren’t so well defined. Content providers come from all corners of the web. Some have a story they want to share to add to the conversation. Others have a product to sell. And still others are apparently now using a pay-for-placement strategy which looks a lot like advertising to me.

    What separates the web, and specifically the blogosphere, from traditional print journalism is transparency. Journalists have a code of ethics and specific rules they must abide by, and when they fail to abide by those rules by misrepresenting the truth, manufacturing a source, or selling their influence in print, they are publicly censured and usually lose their position. The same is not true of the web. The code of ethics is different, and you can’t be clear about the objectivity of motives of the party on the other end of a post.

    So while social media is great for building buzz and can be good for business, we all still need to view what we read on the web with a grain of salt (if not the entire shaker). Web sites masquerading as news sources are potentially dangerous, and can undermine the entire concept of legitimate journalism.

    As a PR professional, I now have to ask myself, do I pitch or do I pay?

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  • 24Aug

    Are you suffering from information overload? I certainly am. The amount of noise in my life seems to be increasing exponentially. My definition of listening goes beyond just hearing the sounds around you. It also encompasses the amount of digital noise that we have to deal with on a daily basis, including SPAM, Twitter feeds, text messages, and Facebook updates.

    To combat the increasing level of noise in our lives, I see a number of people working on refining their multitasking skills. Unfortunately, the human brain is not really wired to multitask, so instead of handling multiple feats simultaneously, we end up doing two or more things poorly. If you doubt it, but try to hold a phone conversation with someone checking their email at the other end of the line. Or try talking to your teenager while their thumbs are busily texting their friends. You not only don’t have their attention, but they are actually actively ignoring what you have to say.

    We need to recapture the art of listening. We need to rediscover ways to cut through the noise and re-engage with those around us. Especially in the age of social media, we have all become “skimmers,” sifting through the cacophony of incoming noise and taking away the sound bites we want without applying critical thought to the context or the bigger picture. In fact, we are all starting to communicate in sound bites since we know our listeners won’t take the time to hear a longer statement. One of the prime criteria for bloggers is keep it short so you don’t lose your audience. (I recall the Jeff Goldblum character in the film “The Big Chill” stating that the editorial criteria for People magazine is “I don’t write anything longer than the average person can read during the average crap,” which seems to apply to most communications these days.)

    To quote Julian Treasure from a recent TED presentation, “Conversation is being replaced by personal broadcasting.” This particularly true with social media where we are all shouting at each other for online attention, and have to ask ourselves if anyone is listening. Sure, we each can count the number of Twitter followers or LinkedIn contacts, but how many of them are paying attention to you?

    As Treasure states, listening is our access to understanding. It’s time to renew our commitment to conscious listening.

    In his TED presentation, Treasure offers five exercises to improve your listening skills, which I will present here for your consideration. We all need to reassess our listening skills and stop shouting at one another, so take a moment to consider these exercises:

    1. Practice Silence – Take three minutes each day to recalibrate your consciousness. Get yourself back in tune with the world around you.
    2. The Mixer – How many individual channels can you hear in your environment? If you are at Starbucks or waiting for a BART train, or just sitting in your backyard, sharpen your listening skills by trying to tune into to as many simultaneous sounds of “channels” as you can.
    3. Savoring – Enjoy mundane sounds. Tune to something that generates sound in your life and pay attention to its sound and how you can deconstruct that sound to make it more meaningful.
    4. Listening Positions – Work with the filters to get conscious about the sounds around you and work with the ways we listen. Is your listening active or passive? Reductive or expansive? Critical or empathetic?
    5. RASA – This is the Sanskrit word for “essence” and can be applied to the acronym Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, and Ask. This is the process of listening in its most active form. If you are going to engage with your audience or as a member of someone else’s audience, then you need to listen carefully and critically, which means you need to apply RASA.

    Listening is a critical component of any communications campaign. If you can’t engage with your audience in a manner that promotes critical listening, you are just adding to the noise. Let’s all think more about listening and less about trying to get our own message across.

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  • 09Aug

    We who do marketing, PR, and communications for a living have our own  language that we have adopted over time to tell each other what we do. In my  case, the marcomm* language of Silicon Valley has become so  ingrained after 20 years that I find it is making its way into my everyday  conversation as well as proposals and other materials – my wife keeps telling me  to cut out the business speak. Since we live in our own world of buzz words and  code phrases, we tend to forget that the rest of the world sometimes needs a decoder ring to follow the thread.

    A case in point. I was having coffee last week with a friend and we started talking about his consulting business. He works with medical professionals but  has no marketing background at all.

    I asked him what was his value proposition?

    Response: Blank stare….

    I then asked him about his personal brand and the brand promise of his consulting practice.

    Response: “You mean my logo?”

    Which led to a lengthy discussion about marketing strategy and how to think  about your brand value as it relates to customer needs. I dug through my digital archives to try to find a good primer on branding and identifying your value proposition, and I found a copy of “Irresistible Value Propositions: How to Entice Your Prospects to Switch from the Status Quo,” a white paper developed by  Chief Sales Officer and author Jill Konrath. Konrath has some really good tips that I found valuable as a refresher, so I thought I  would share a few of them here.

    Every product or service needs a value proposition, which Konrath defines that as:

    A value proposition is a clear statement of the tangible results a customer gets from using your products or services. It’s outcome focused and stresses the business value of your offering.

    Where most B2B companies fail here is in creating a unique value proposition that appeals to the customer’s point of pain, and show them how to make money or save money. You need something that will capture the  prospect’s attention and imagination. Unfortunately, most companies speak about features and functions; speeds and feeds:

    • “Our systems is the fastest on the market” (Speed doesn’t matter to me.)
    • “We offer the most cost-effective solution in the category” (But I am
      willing to pay more for something that suits my needs.)
    • “We offer one-stop shopping.” (So does Wal-Mart. Why does that help me?)

    The other day I remembered an age-old joke from the tech sector that  denigrated the poor marketing of the late Digital Equipment Corporation: “If DEC were to sell sushi, they’d market it as cold, dead fish.” You get the idea, features and functions only matter if they fix my problem!

    What appeals to customers? Performance that drives revenue. Whether it’s increasing revenue, reducing costs, shortening time to profit, shortening sales cycle, reducing cost of sales, minimizing risk, whatever, you need to appeal to tangible returns using real data.

    (As an aside, FUD – fear, uncertainty, and doubt – can also be a good value proposition. “If you don’t buy my product and the feds audit you it could cost millions of dollars.” Averting risk is a solid motivator.)

    So think about your value proposition in terms of what you offer of value to your customer. The mistake a lot of my clients make is selling what they have to offer, not what the customer wants. So walk a mile in your customers’ shoes and then ask yourself, “Why can’t they live without my product or service.” Then you have a value proposition that you can package as part of your brand.

    * Here is where you can start playing Buzz Word Bingo – see how many buzz words you can spot in this blog, starting with the techspeak term “marcomm.”

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  • 03Aug

    I am sure you have heard the old adage from the peacenik sixties, “What if you held a war and no one showed up?” My mind came up with a variation on that theme over the past few weeks as I have been watching Google+ take off, and as I have been getting notifications from a myriad of other social networks.Too-Many-Social-Networks-595x600

    It seems that the Google empire has successfully expanded into the social media realm, or at least the initial foray has been a success. According to Reuters, Google+ is attracting more than one million users a day and is the fastest social media site with more than 25 million visitors to date. But is this a flash in the pan or does Google+ really have legs?

    Some of the early critics of Google+ note that since this is Google’s social network, everyone will give it a try but who knows how many people will stick with it. As noted by Cynthia Boris in a guest blog on Marketing Pilgrim posted today:

    What’s interesting about this monumental number [25 million visitors] is that I don’t see any difference in the site than I did when I joined. Actually, it’s worse. As of today, my entire Google+ stream, all the way to the bottom of the page is nothing but posts from the very informative and fun Darren Rowse of ProBlogger. Yes, he’s a talkative guy, and granted I don’t have a lot of people attached to my account, but I have to go back several weeks to see a range of posts from people.

    So maybe Google+ will be a flash in the pan; yet another online destination that has been abandoned by users.

    I also received email this week with invitations for other social networking opportunities. A few of the invitation are to forums on Facebook where experts gather to discuss topics I actually am interested in. I have been following a new thread on web content curation with some interest. And apparently my Facebook friends have been busy on Branch Out, which is the latest entry into the online career management space alongside LinkedIn, Jobster, eCademy, Spoke, and countless others. Just as Google+ has the power of Google behind it, Branch Out is making the most of its affiliation with Facebook so we will have to see if it has legs moving forward. (For my money, LinkedIn continues to be the “go to” resource for people really looking for professional connections, and it will be hard to unseat, at least in the foreseeable future.)

    And I received another invitation last week from a social network I never heard of, Elixio. Taking a page from the Google+ launch strategy, Elixio is an exclusive, “invitation only” social network; a private online club. Call me a skeptic but I can’t see any value in a network I haven’t heard of, especially if they send me a blind invitation to join an exclusive club. It’s akin to any number of Who’s Who directory invitations I receive where I can be included in a directory of influential personages for only a small gratuity. My ego doesn’t need that kind of stroke.

    So how many social networks can you realistically use effectively? If you are doing nothing but networking all day, I suppose you can stay on top of quite a few. I find my social networking time pretty much consumed with LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. I also browse a few vertical networks that serve niche client markets, like BankInnovation.net. But can the market really sustain all these new social networks? After all, isn’t the idea of social networking to connect as many like-minded people as possible? If you fragment your markets too much, you can’t attract a large body of followers. At the same time, the market can only sustain one or two social networks with the reach of Facebook or LinkedIn. So it will continue to be a marathon race, with different candidates entering and dropping out. Since I value my time, I don’t tend to be an early adopter for new social networks (although I will dabble; I confess to being one of the first 25 million to check out Google+), but I will sign up and use something that delivers real value.

    So let me leave you with a recent blog post from satirist Andy Borowitz’s column, The Borowitz Report, which inspired this post. The headline reads, “No New Social Network Launched Today – Silicon Valley Stunned”:

    Across this tech-heavy hub, Internet-savvy insiders were checking their Blackberries, Droids and iPhones for an announcement of the next Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare or Google+ — an announcement that, to everyone’s astonishment, never came.

    “We’ve been averaging between 500 and 1000 new social networks a day,” said Carol Foyler, head of the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. “So this is definitely a little weird.”

    While there was no shortage of finger-pointing as tech-watchers across the Valley bemoaned the absence of a new launch, many blamed Tracy Klugian, 24, a website incubator who has created over 1800 social networks and was expected to launch his latest, MeetCircle, today.

    “MeetCircle will totally change the way people meet, interact, shop, stream movies, buy cars and have sex,” Mr. Klugian said in a TEDTalk earlier this year. “It will be the biggest game-changer since the fall of Communism or the birth of Jesus.”

    Somebody please wake me in time for the next social media revolution.

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