Web Marketing is About Creating Links to Your Passions

I am inspired by Catherine Mohr. Of course, you probably have not heard of Catherine Mohr. She is a self-professed “geek” who designs surgical robots by day and worries about the environment and building a green house in her spare time. I first encountered Catherine Mohr through a TED presentation, where she talked about her environmental concerns and her desire to build a green house. Like most people of my generation, I am concerned about the environment, so I watched the video and thought, “Wow! there’s some very insightful stuff here.”

Now here is where things get interesting and the Web comes into play. I decided I wanted to learn more about this medical technologist/environmentalist/geek, so I “Googled” her. What I uncovered was a rich online persona, including a LinkedIn profile, Facebook profile, and other online tidbits that would tell me more about this woman and her passions. And then I ran across a KALW-FM interview. KALW is one of my favorite Bay Area NPR affiliates, and I was intrigued to see she had been interviewed for the Crosscurrents news program. Now I had a chance to hear the professional side of Catherine Mohr, and learn more about surgical spiders and her other passion, developing surgical robots that can go where no human surgeon can.

And I knew I wanted to blog about this woman because what she is doing is interesting and important. My stepdaughter has taught me a lot about environmentalism and eco-responsibility, and Mohr’s green construction presentation was quite thought-provoking. And the geekier aspects of designing surgical robots appealed to my own inner geek. But what would make Catherine Mohr a suitable topic for a blog about public relations and online marketing?

The answer, of course, was the way that I discovered her and the effective way she has built an online brand that provides a fairly complete portrait that spans both her personal and professional personas. Whether she intended it or not, Catherine Mohr had created an integrated marketing campaign that builds awareness for her personal and professional passions, and drives awareness for Intuitive Surgical and the DaVinci Surgical System. If I hadn’t run across her TED presentation on green building practice I would never have uncovered Intuitive Surgical.

The threaded connections of the Web are diverse and deep, and the blog entry you post today could help promote your latest professional triumph, or lead to your last online embarrassment. So be proactive and be positive. Understand that every move you make online reflects not only on you, but your employer, your family, and everyone to whom you are connected. If you understand the power of the web, you can tap it to build connections and a personal brand that will follow you and promote your passions, no matter what they are.

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The Open Web: From Big Brother to Neighborhood Watch

Over the years, I have worked with a number of companies in the technology security sector. In fact, I am currently working on a project for FaceTime Communications to launch a new software product to secure, track, and archive conversations on enterprise networks, including conversations sent over public IM networks. FaceTime has products that help corporate users secure Web 2.0 conversations on the enterprise, so when you log in to your Facebook or Twitter page from your office computer, you know that Big Brother in the IT department is watching.

And there is good reason for these Web 2.0 watchdogs. Government regulations are driving corporate paranoia, and legal counsel , CFOs, and others are telling IT they have to keep track of ALL online conversations and data exchanges so they are prepared in case the company is audited for compliance with HIPAA, SOX, FINRA, or whatever regulatory agency matters to you. So private corporations are becoming increasingly concerned about threats from public networks, such as the introduction of some kind of malware, or more likely, some kind of data leak or employee malfeasance that puts the company at legal risk.

But what if there was a free exchange of web information? What if organizations became less concerned about locking up their corporate data and more concerned with contributing to the greater pool of human knowledge and understanding. What is fascinating about the Internet and the World Wide Web is that is an open, self-policing entity. The reason that Wikipedia works, for example, is that people are inherently seekers of truth and will correct each other’s errors. The Web is a giant experiment in the democratization of data. There is an inherent faith that for every malicious rumor or deliberate lie posted on the Web, there will be hundreds of other posts with opposing views and accurate information, and the truth will find its way to the top of the search engines.

Which is why I was fascinated by this latest report from the godfather of the web, Tim Berners Lee, who is calling for an open exchange of data between governments, scientists, and institutions. Just as the Web has the power to serve up more accurate information through democratization, by making more information public, there is an even greater opportunity for smart people to combine information to uncover new revelations and greater truths.

Check out the video and tell me, is it better to lock the data vault and hide the key, or should we be less concerned about data security and more concerned about finding ways to share information in ways that will lead to new revelations, new solutions, and new ultimate truths?

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Watch the Birdie: Vanity Fair Article Brings Twitter Mainstream, Sort Of…

The "Tweethears" of Vanity Fair: (l to r) Julia Roy, Sarah Evans, Stefanie Michaels, Felicia Day, Sarah Austin, and Amy Jo Martin


Well, they say that sex sells, and I guess sex can sell social media as well as anything else. That must have been what the editors at Vanity Fair had in mind when they commissioned the article on “America’s Tweethearts,” which is running in the February issue. 

For those of us who are serious about social media, this puff piece is a disservice to the power of Twitter. You should read it, if for no other reason than to see what kind of treatment social media is getting in the mainstream media. The article is about six successful entrepreneurs who have built a following on Twitter to support their personal brands. These women, social strategist Julia Roy, PR professional Sarah Evans, travel journalist Stefanie Michaels, actress Felicia Day, lifecaster Sarah Austin, and marketing pro Amy Jo Martin, have figured out how to harness Twitter to gain a following of thousands, or millions. I follow some of these ladies online, and I know they are not vapid or brainless, but that is how they are portrayed in this article. To quote from Felicity Day’s blog

“Well, despite the overwhelming insinuation, these women ALL of them are self-made, business entrepreneurs. They aren’t skating by on their good looks, they have businesses. In some of their cases, with professional sports teams and major brands, they help steer the online presence of empires. They are a new kind of savvy business person, cutting the middle man out. Carving and creating new professions. Most importantly, in this celebrity culture of “Jersey Shore” fame, they aren’t just “famous” for being “famous” as the article implies. They have influence in an emerging and important arena. I guess that just wasn’t an interesting angle?  I mean, we’re practically naked in trench coats, who needs MORE zing?! 

That’s the point. Sex sells, and the image of six attractive women dressed in suggestive attire will trump whatever they might want to say that is important. They could be advocating en end to terrorism or selling snow cones – it wouldn’t matter, the message would be lost. And as Mark Drapeau points out, “These ladies were the focus of an article published in a print magazine about people and vanity. The magazine doesn’t have a track record of understanding technology very well, or using it themselves.” 

So no matter what your level of outrage about this article, whether you are offended that it seems racist or because it is sexist, remember that it’s the media that is the message. If these attractive entrepreneurs are going to be blinded by the flashbulbs and pose for this photo, then the outcome is a foregone conclusion. You can’t be too offended because this is, after all, Vanity Fair, and not a technical or business journal. Twitter is for the masses, and as Drapeau points out, it even has a silly name so why should we take it so seriously? 

Twitter, like any publishing medium, is only as serious as you want to make it. It can be a serious marketing and branding tool, or it can be just for fun, like this article. If nothing else, the article raises awareness for Twitter and highlights its popularity. Who knows, maybe this kind of exposure will turn that $1 billion valuation for Twitter the company into real revenue. 

So where do you stand on this article? Amused? Annoyed? Ambivalent? Let me know. 

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Santa Claus Offers Marketing Tips For A Tough Economy

Although this clip is from 2008, it’s even more relevant today. Here is a little holiday fun and inspiration from Old Saint Nick for all those good girls and boys who have been working so hard at online marketing, branding, and public relations in 2009. Here’s hoping we all have a more prosperous 2010.

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The Changing Face of Newsprint: Goodbye Daily Fish Wrap, Hello DailyFishWrap.com

fishy_arizona_republicIs anyone else worried about the future of the newspaper industry? I have been a newspaper reader for most of my life, and even I have found that I am getting almost all of my news online these days. And with the advent of handheld, wireless computers like the iPhone, more and more of us are going to abandon the daily printed product in favor of online information.

If you look at the numbers, the decline and fall of the printed newspaper seems inevitable. According to Reflections of a Newsosaur, a blog site started by Alan D. Mutter, a Silicon Valley CEO, college professor, new media pundit, and former journalist, newspapers are dropping like the proverbial flies. In his latest post, Mutter notes that 142 newspapers ceased publication in 2009, compared to 37 in 2008. Not only does that reflect the loss of 90,000 jobs, but it also means that some communities no longer have access to a local news resource. In other, larger markets, it means that where there were conflicting voices debating in print and offering alternative viewpoints, now there is one newspaper reporting events and shaping public opinion. (Does anyone else remember when the New York Times was actually a local paper and there were a dozen dailies competing for newsstand space in New York City?)

Of course, hope springs eternal in the publishing business. As Mutter points out, the power of the newspaper monopoly and the magic of the bankruptcy court have kept a number of newspapers afloat. I have heard some second-hand stories from those laid off from the San Francisco Chronicle that while the Hearst Corporation does its best to create a profitable newspaper/Web hybrid, it may only be a matter of time before union demands kill the dream.

But as Mutter and the numbers indicate, the optimism of newspaper publishers seems unquashable. As Mutter notes in his previous post:

“A positively effervescent survey of more than 500 newspaper publishers yesterday predicted that advertising sales would drop only 0.2% in 2010 after plunging 28.4% in the first nine months of this year.”

Of course, this is magical thinking on the part of newspaper publishers. Print advertising revenue is drying up as more brands move online. And why not? Isn’t it more efficient to drive a banner ad/pay-per-click marketing strategy with social media support? Shoppers are increasingly going online first, and so is the advertising.

So what are newspapers going to do to survive? I have been watching the experiment that the San Francisco Chronicle, my home town newspaper, has been conducting for more than a decade. SFGate was one of the first online newspaper sites (it recently celebrated its 15th anniversary), and as the Chronicle’s print circulation has slowly been eroding, SFGate has been picking up online momentum. The SFGate site had 124.6 million page hits in September of this year. At the same, the number of regular contributors from the printed newspaper writing for the online site is dwindling. A number or regular columnists and reporters have moved on, and SFGate is bringing in more newswire content, freelance contributors and community leaders to provide content; sources that are cheap or free. And there is still no guarantee Hearst Newspapers will find a way to make SFGate profitable.

Still, I am confident that a new form of successful newspaper will emerge from the current chaos. You may remember the birth of USA Today? At the time, the concept of launching a national news daily seemed revolutionary. That’s nothing compared to the revolution we are witnessing today. And as with most revolutions, those who are flexible and can adapt to changing times will thrive, including professional journalists and public relations professionals.

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Happy 40th Birthday, Internet

internetbdayI can’t believe that I forgot the Internet’s 40th birthday. Throughout most of my professional career the Internet has been a steadfast ally; a friend that has helped me stay in touch and brought me new business. I have been writing and talking about Internet technology for 25 years now. Some of my first clients sold TCP/IP stacks for Windows, VMS, and Macintosh (no, the IP protocol wasn’t always bundled with the OS). I worked with early SMTP vendors, including the guys who created the MIME standard that lets us send files by e-mail, and the first SNMP stack vendors selling raw, Internet management goodness.

The march of alphabet soup has continued over the years, the Internet has become a bosom companion. Who knew that from the early ARPANET days, the Internet would grow from a network of loosely connected college computers to a global infrastructure supporting billions of users? One of the things that continues to amaze me about the Internet is that it is an autonomous entity. There is no central Internet authority. And while the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) remains the harbinger of evolving networking standards, the Internet infrastructure itself has become a self-healing mesh of data arteries that remains incredibly reliable, even though no one entity is really in charge.

The Internet’s actually birthday is somewhat in question. One group claims that it was born in 1961 when Dr. Leonard Kleinrock presented a paper on packet-switching at MIT. Most acknowledge the Internet was born in 1969 when data was transmitted by two California universities. Wherever you set the marker, the world has never been the same since.

And it is important to remember that the Internet is not the same as the World Wide Web. The Web has made the Internet more consumer-friendly and commercially accessible, but the Web is only 20 years old. Tim Berners Lee first proposed the concept of the Web to CERN management in March 1989. However, the Web is just another protocol that runs over the Internet, like e-mail of file transfer.

So with the growth of the Internet and the Web, our world has changed. And as a PR professional, our world has changed dramatically as well. I have been doing PR long enough to remember stuffing envelopes with press releases that were mailed to editors for publication. Today, of course, data is distributed via e-mail, blog posts, Twitter, and any number of other Internet-driven communications. Information access has become virtually instantaneous, which makes our jobs as publicists infinitely more challenging. We have to make our clients’ stories more compelling, more relevant, and more Web-friendly in order to have an impact. We need to engage in the Internet-driven conversation, rather than pitching stories in a one-way channel, pleading with editors to write about our clients.

The Internet has made the world much smaller, and given us instant access to an unprecedented amount of data. I believe that part of our responsibility as PR professionals is to use the power of this incredible technology for good, and to promote best practices, authenticity, and adopt new methodologies that promote truth and authenticity. And the 40th birthday of the Internet seems to be an appropriate moment to pause and consider what role we can play in shaping the future of the information revolution.

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The Obama/Fox Faceoff – Round Two


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.

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Why the Fourth Estate Needs to Come First

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…

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