• 23Apr

    I’m sorry. I have been remiss in keeping the PRagmatist up to date in recent weeks. I realized it’s been more than a month since my last blog post so it is high time I added some fresh thinking here to share with you.

    But then, I’m just following the trend of corporate America. According to a new research report from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, corporate blogging is clearly on the decline:

    Of the companies they surveyed, only 37% were blogging in 2011. That’s down from 50% in 2010. If you look only at Fortune 500 companies, the percentage drops to 23%.

    Why are corporate blogs falling out of favor? USA Today says, mostly because Facebook and Twitter are so much easier to manage.

    Well that makes sense. I heard a news report today that with the pending Facebook IPO there are now more than 900 million active Facebook users. Twitter says they have hit 500 million users. Clearly people are hanging out on Facebook and Twitter as their online water cooler, and that’s where a lot of companies want to be seen, with an impact.

    And as Cynthia Boris points out in her blog, Marketing Pilgrim, imagesCA29WMKZ

    Keeping up a blog is a lot harder than people think. I’ve dealt with dozens of clients who jump in with grand plans of updating every day! They soon learn that updating even once a week is a chore. It’s amazing how quickly seven days pass when you need to come up with a fresh blog post.

    Facebook and Twitter are easier to keep up with, but everyone is throwing their pebbles into the same pond so it’s harder to make a splash, let alone a ripple. People with interesting things to say will rule. Just ask George Takei who has 1.7 million Facebook “likes.” He reposts material from his fan-base and occasionally sprinkles in information about his latest project or a political message. The funny posts keep it interesting so he can deliver the stuff that matters. For most companies, keeping it interesting and staying on brand message is a real challenge.

    What blogging does does for you is give you focus. It allows you to tell a story in a way that you can’t do in 140 characters or a status update. It allows you to elaborate on an idea in a way that builds a different kind of rapport with your audience. Why does corporate blogging matter?

    • Blogging lets you tell a story in detail, with nuances and context.
    • Blogging gives you an independent voice isolated from the social media noise. If takes you away from the cocktail party  for an intimate conversation.
    • Blogging gives you greater searchability. You build more web credibility and Google credibility with a blog than you can with Facebook posts or tweets.

    I like blogging because it forces my clients to focus their best brand thinking, and it’s that thinking that drives outreach through Facebook and Twitter. I consider the blog home base of the mother ship; the incubator where you can test and refine ideas before you take them out on the road.

    So while the survey says that corporate blogging may be on the decline, those companies that are passionate about their brand and sharing that passion with their customers and others will continue to blog. It’s still the best forum to tell a complete story.

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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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  • 07Feb

    I have been working with all my clients lately to help them expand their social media strategy. For some, like Lifehouse, a non-profit group that I do some pro bono work for here in the Bay Area, it’s really a matter of developing a strategy and finding the in-house resources to execute the strategy. Their target audience is mostly regional, and they are working to build a following to promote their work with people with developmental disabilities, and to promote their Great Chefs and Wineries event in April, which makes Facebook and Twitter logical channels to build a following. For other clients, like Market Rates Insight, which offers deposit rate research to banks and credit unions, we have developed a more a more targeted approach, blogging about research findings and bank rate trends to build awareness in the banking community and create content to feed channels on LinkedIn, Banking Innovation, Twitter, and the like.

    But no matter what the strategy, it amazes me that I still run into resistance from senior management about why they don’t want to deal with social media. That’s why I was inspired by a recent guest post on Marketing Profs’ Daily Fix by Chester Frazier of Definition Systems offering a set of common excuses for NOT using social media. I have heard all of these, and others:

    1. Our target audience isn’t on Facebook or Twitter. Chester’s point is that clients think it’s a demographic issue and boomers clueless-excusesdon’t hang out online. Definitely false. But more to the point, there are special forums on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere that appeal to every niche and market. You just have to find the right conversation and join in.

    2. Facebook is a time-waster for staff. One of my clients, Actiance (formerly FaceTime Communications), specializes in securing Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, not because their customers are worried about employees wasting time, but because they recognize that people want to connect through these channels, including customers. The new generation of customers are communicating using social media, and you should find ways to encourage them to harness these new marketing channels.

    3. We tried it and it didn’t work. It’s like any other marketing program, you have to experiment and refine your strategy, then measure the results. Most companies social media strategies fail because they forget that it’s about being social, it’s about conversation, it’s not about a one-way blast saying “buy my product.” (And it still amazes me that I get Twitter requests from businesses that don’t post anything except the praises of their multi-level marketing scheme or their latest health product.)

    4. We are too busy. I hear that a lot. Does this mean you are too busy to talk to potential customers about what you do? You should be able to build social media into your day-to-day operations, particularly if you are conducting business via the web. It’s like saying you are too busy to market your business.

    5. We don’t have the staff. Can we outsource it? I hear this one a lot. Executives are busy people and don’t have the time, or want to take the time, to engage with potential customers. People want to talk to you, not a shill. You can’t outsource authenticity. And you can’t outsource expertise. I can help my clients interpret and articulate their opinions and expertise, but no one wants my opinion. They want to talk to the expert directly, and if you demonstrate your expertise, they will engage with you looking for more. That’s how you build your business.

    So no matter what your business, you can benefit from social media. You just need to have a strategy that dovetails with your marketing program, then focus on execution and measuring the results. Don’t get sidetracked by excuses. Get out there and experiment. You’ll be pleased with the results.

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  • 30Sep

    The Web has been bending our understanding of traditional journalism for some time. The United States is one of the only countries in the world that guarantees freedom of the press as a constitutional right. Part of the basis of that freedom is the implicit understanding that advertising does not affect editorial. To maintain journalistic integrity, your editorial opinion cannot be bought by advertising dollars. Those of us who have worked as journalists refer to the separation of advertising and editorial as the metaphorical separation of church and state.

    Forbes just broke that model with the acquisition of True/Slant. According to the profile story this week in Advertising Age, with the acquisition, editor Lewis Dvorkin returns to Forbes with a new editorial model where staff writers, contributors, and even paid advertisers are given a Forbes-branded blog forum; a model that Dvorkin has labeled a “much more scalable content-creation model.” To quote from AdAge:

    This isn’t the “sponsored post” of yore; rather, it is giving advocacy groups or corporations such as Ford or Pfizer the same voice and same distribution tools as Forbes staffers, not to mention the Forbes brand…

    “In this case the marketer or advertiser is part of the Forbes environment, the news environment,” Mr. DVorkin said in an interview at an empty restaurant across Fifth Avenue from the historic headquarters of the 93-year-old magazine.

    The product itself is called AdVoice, and the notion is that in a world of social media, corporations have to become participants and, in a sense, their own media companies. Corporations these days also have to face the practical problem of fewer business reporters left to pitch. “There’s fewer ways to get your message out, because there are fewer reporters, and that’s a fact,” he said.

    Granted, in the world of social media content is king, but to give paid advertisers equal access seems to be going a bit far. It wasn’t that long ago that the influence of bloggers granted them access to the press room. Although we PR pros are continually reminded that “bloggers are different” and “read their content and approach them gently,” the blogtocracy have been granted the same privileges as card-carrying journalists, even though they aren’t constrained by the same rules of ethics. In the blogosphere, opinion rules and facts, well they are sometimes nice to have as well.

    So with this new shift in Forbes editorial direction, the rules haven’t just changed, but the entire rule book has been thrown out the window. Granted, there are fewer traditional news vehicles than ever before, and we are moving into a brave new world of online journalism. But that doesn’t mean we should abandon the lessons of the past. Early on in this blog, I commented on the important role of pamphleteers and citizen journalists. What differentiates the citizen journalist from the Dvorkin model is avarice – pimping the Forbes brand to give advertisers space in the blogosphere seems to be a violation of the rules to me.

    One of the first rules of social media is disclosure – tell them where you are coming from and which side of the ax you are grinding. Disclosure does not excuse bad reporting or bad behavior, but at least the reader is forewarned. This new model that Forbes is experimenting with seems just plain wrong. It not only blurs the lines of legitimate journalism, it erases them completely. As the article states:

    Consumer marketers such as P&G and Johnson & Johnson have years of experience creating branded entertainment, and many have arms dedicated to creating entertainment properties. But the motivations have broadened in an age of social media. There’s an ongoing conversation about corporations — not always nice, as BP or Toyota could tell you — and corporations feel they must participate.

    The changes at Forbes since it bought True/Slant and brought Mr. DVorkin back have gone beyond strategy. They’ve also included an exodus of top-level editors, two of whom declined to comment for this story.

    So where does online entertainment end and dispassionate reporting begin, or vice versa? In a world where everyone becomes a news source, all sources become suspect. As so-called “legitimate” news vehicles struggle to survive in a world where information is available at the click of a mouse, other news groups like Forbes decide to turn the old journalistic values on their heads for the sake of profit cloaked as participation in the online conversation. It’s becoming increasingly clear that we need a journalistic touchstone to tell the real news sources from the emerging online imposters.

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  • 29Aug
    newseum_1

    Newseun News History Gallery

    This week, I have been traveling to Washington, DC, to get my stepdaughter settled in at George Washington University. While sightseeing, I had a chance to stop in at the Newseum, the recently opened news museum. If you ever have a chance, I urge you to visit Newseum – it’s an incredible experience.

    As a follow-up to my last blog post, it was interesting to see the role that citizen journalism has played throughout history. One of the exhibitions, the Pulliam Family Great Books Gallery, included a number of historical printed documents, such as Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologica,” Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” a few Revolutionary War pamphlets, and Frederick Douglass’ autobiography. I was struck by the role these early political observers and commentators played in the evolution of modern journalism. Viewing some of the archival material at the museum and the very moving 9/11 exhibit, it reminded me that much of citizen journalism is a matter of being a witness and recording what you see. It’s often a matter of being in the right place at the right time and making observations.

    So in a sense, today’s bloggers and tweeters are carrying on the tradition of the pamphleteers, commenting on events of the day. There were a number of Newseum exhibits that talked about Internet technology and its impact on journalism today, such as the Twittering of the recent Moldovian revolution. Blogs have the potential to be the pamphlets of the 21st century, and as with the early pamphleteers, there is a responsibility that comes with blogging. This is part of the reason I am so concerned about making sure there is transparency in the blogosphere. Whether you are on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or maintaining a weblog, you need to tell visitors who you are and where your interests lie.

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