Dont’ Be the Bore at the Blog Party

In the last post, I mentioned that 95 percent of blogs have been abandoned, or at least untouched for three months or more. But what about those blogs that remain active? Are the authors getting the most from their online exposure?

I have been reading Paul Gillin’s book, The Secrets of Social Media Marketing, and visited his blog to see what he had to say. Paul offers some insights into the basics of successful blogging in three separate blog posts. I want to share his list of “blogging blunders” here:

1. Handing blogging off to PR. This is a tricky problem for me. I have written before about the challenge of online authenticity and the fact that PR and marketing professionals are better at messaging than conversation. Paul’s point that PR professionals tend to use the blog as another channel for news release is not inaccurate. However, I find that getting the real experts to contribute to the conversation can be equally challenging. Executives understand the value of social media, but don’t want to take the time to engage. Hence, PR moves from advisor to ghostwriter, which is where things can go wrong if you let them.

2. It’s all about me. If you are writing a humor blog or online diary that’s one thing. But for corporate bloggers, the key is to converse, not pontificate. It’s just like talking to a bore at a cocktail party; it it’s all about me, you tend not to talk with that individual.

3. A look that is boring. Well, we all can’t be design mavens, but I think the point really is that by investing in the look of your blog, you are showing you are invested in the blog itself.

4. Failure to link. Paul calls links “online currency,” which is an accurate statement. The power of the web is in the threads you can create to promote discussion. Linking not only acknowledges your sources and helps promote traffic for their blogs and web sites, it promotes threaded conversation, which is what the web is all about.

5. Treating your blog as a wire service. No brainer. That’s what web sites and wire services are for.

6. Being irrelevant. By their nature, blogs are dynamic, which means they should reflect events of the day and new ideas.

7. Turning off comments. Is it true that 20 percent of business blogs turn off comments? Why would you? That just shuts down the conversation. Beside, you are always in control of comments, and the feedback should be valuable.

8. Nothing more to say. If you are going to blog, you have to make sure your online commentary has depth. I thought long and hard about the structure of the PRagmatist before I launched it. You want to make sure there is enough in the discussion to be engaging, interesting, and to promote your personal brand without running out of steam. I maintain an electronic clip file of potential topics I encounter on the web so I am never short of topics.

9. Too busy to blog. I have had a couple of colleagues say, “when do you find the time?” Short entries don’t take long to create. Blogging is not like writing War and Peace.

10. Nobody came. As I have noted in a previous post, patience is required, as well as self-promotion. Put blog entries out on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other outlets, otherwise you are just talking to yourself.

If you are going to blog for profit and to build brand awareness, you have to understand how to make the most of the medium. It’s always about conversation and engaging with others, not just self-promotion. Too many marketeers lose sight of that when they turn to the web to carry their message.

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Friends for Sale: Social Media Clashes with Conventional Marketing

I spotted an interesting item on SFGate today. The Scavenger blog reveals that a company out of Australia, USocial, is selling friends. No, it’s not a white slavery ring. It’s a scheme born from conventional marketing that lets you buy “friends” for Facebook and Twitter campaigns just like you would buy a mailing list. It’s strategies like these that will co-opt social media and create new opportunities for the social media equivalent of spam.

The concept is fairly simple, and apparently has already been tried by everyone from the U.S. Marine Corps to the Church of Latter Day Saints to the Jackson family. You identity a special interest group and USocial will scour the social networks looking for matches and friend-request them on your behalf 1,000 users at a time (with discounts for 5,000 or more). Of course, USocial is never revealed as the source of the requests, and their clients get to build their online following by leaps and bounds.

USocial has been dinged by a number of social media sites for this practice. Apparently Digg sent them a “cease and desist” letter. But founder Leon Hill told AP, “We’re really only doing for our clients what they could do in their own time if they put their minds to it.”

So what’s wrong with this picture? Everything. The biggest outcry I hear from companies trying to figure out how to harness social media is that the marketing people just don’t get it. The concept is to engage online in an authentic and open way; to create a dialogue. Social media is not just another channel for one-way marketing messages, and spamming social media services with friend requests to increase the number of followers runs counter to the spirit of social media. Granted, I have already seen some blatant violators on Twitter and Facebook, including the Twitterers who have nothing more constructive to say than “buy my product,” or the follow requests from thinly disguised porn sites. You can manage those requests on a one-by-one basis, ignoring the idiots and reporting the violators. But when you have commercial spam generators trying to get your attention it’s a different story.

As with the early days of e-mail, we will find ways to address the emerging social media spam problem. I recall the early days of spam-free e-mail when I had some confidence that every message received was from a friend, client, or colleague. Now with two spam filters in place about one in 50 incoming messages are relevant. And so the next wave of social media technology will be spam filters for Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace.

 As they say, in cyberspace no one really knows if you are a dog.

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PR Pros Need to Practice What They Preach

When I launched this blog a few weeks ago, I cited the problem that many marketeers have finding the time and resources to service their own marketing needs. It’s interesting that Marc Hausman, founder of Strategic Communications Group, cited the same issues a few days later, and even used a similar headline, “Fallacy of the Cobbler’s Shoe-less Children.”faucet_Full

As Marc notes, there are a number of agencies out there that fail to practice what they preach. They deem social media and networking as a business strategy, as long as they aren’t too busy doing something else that makes real money. Marc cites two agencies who let their blogs languish while they were pursuing paying clients. As many agencies (and clients) have discovered in this economic recession, you can’t abandon your marketing strategy or your pipeline will dry up.

One commentator to Marc’s blog noted that the best agencies have a dedicated marketing team to make sure that marketing the agency’s services doesn’t fall between the cracks. I have seen that work in some settings, but most agencies are resource-constrained and the rank-and-file has to find a way to build agency marketing into their daily routine. I have worked on the marketing committee for a few agencies, and we managed to build in web redesign, collateral updates, social networking, and other tasks into the day-to-day routine – it’s all part of the MBOs. In fact, it should be part of your DNA.

In fact, I am writing this blog while I take a lunch break from developing a new business proposal. You can always find time to market yourself if you make marketing a priority.

So thanks to Marc and those other PR professionals who walk the walk, as well as talk the talk.

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PR Pricing Limbo: How Low Can You Go?

1limbo1After working in Silicon Valley for more than two decades, I have watched the booms and busts. In the good times, it seems as though the high-priced PR firms won’t touch an account for less than $10,000 or $15,000 per month, and freelance work usually commands top dollar. In tough times, the agencies cut their retainers in half and start looking for account work to just keep the lights on, and freelancers are willing to cut their rates just to keep the work flowing.

In this most recent recession, I have seen more panic than usual. All the marketing budgets were slashed in December and are just now they starting to rebound. With the increase in marketing layoffs there are more “consultants” out there than ever before, and agencies have been signing contracts for a fraction of what they used to charge. So as companies are now realizing they can’t dismantle their marketing machines and continue to generate sales, they are are starting to shop for PR and marketing talent at bargain prices.

All the rates have been slashed so services are generally available dirt cheap. In tough times, marketeers tend to abandon their rates just so they can stay competitive, and in the end, it’s all about price…

“Attention marcomm shoppers, we now have a blue light special in Aisle 5 – discounts on press releases and media tours.”

If you have tried to use any of the online freelance referral services, like E-lance, you know that most of them put contracts out to bid, and the result is that it’s all about price. With online referral services, you find yourself competing with international rates as well as domestic. It’s hard to compete with writing and PR services in less expensive markets that have little or no overhead. They may not be able to deliver results , but they certainly can deliver the process for less. (One of the many reasons I steer away from RFPs.)

I have been guilty of discounting along with many other PR professionals, but it’s a cannibalistic practice. If you bill $60, $70, or $80 per hour today, or offer to do a press release for $200 or $300, why should that same work be worth two or three times more when the economy improves? Better to stick to your guns. I, for one, have developed a rate card for common PR services so clients and prospects can estimate cost for my services, just as though they were estimating a press wire drop. I don’t think you have to drop your rates if you can adopt a “no surprises” policy when it comes to pricing. Clients understand they get what they pay for, as long as you tell them the price in advance.

So stick to your pricing and resist the temptation to offer discounted contracts, no matter what the economic climate. It just makes it that much harder to charge a fair rate when market conditions improve.

To dramatize the point, I want to direct you to a YouTube video that has been making the rounds among the consulting set. Everything else in our lives has a predefined rate. You don’t negotiate the price of groceries, or gasoline, or a haircut, so why are PR services negotiable? Set your rate and stick by your guns. In the long run, it will pay off.

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Shoes for the Cobbler’s Children

cobblers-shoesI have been providing public relations, branding, and marketing communications services to clients for 20 years now. In recent years, I have been advising my clients in how to tap the blogosphere by working with bloggers and becoming citizen journalists, and how to leverage emerging social media tools like Twitter and Facebook. And, like many successful consultants, I have been sufficiently busy servicing my clients that I have neglected marketing my own brand. It is time I started following my own advice.

Hence the launch of The PRagmatist, which I hope will evolve into an online forum to exchange insights and ideas about the rapidly changing world of marketing, communications, and public relations. I run across interesting insights and tidbits every day that I share with clients and colleagues. By launching this blog I now have a forum to share my thoughts and ideas with a wider audience, and solicit your feedback as to PR and marketing ideas that make sense, and those that don’t in today’s market.

Much of my insight will relate to revelations from client projects and exchanges with other professionals. And I hope to interject some fun and personal insights as well. The challenge, of course, will be finding the time to keep up with posts on a timely basis. Unlike the shoemaker whose children go barefoot, I will endeavor to make this online destination insightful, interesting, and worthy of your attention.

Feel free to engage, comment, critique, and keep me honest. I look forward to hearing from you.


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