Archive for the ‘social networking’ category

Enough with the social networking!

April 6, 2008

This week I received invitations to two more social networking sites. In this case they were promising to help me manage my online reputation.

I seem to be getting these continuously these days. In the early days of LinkedIn, I used to think “cool, a great way to network and enhance my SEO efforts.” I even advised clients and everyone I knew to do the same. (and yes, I secretly smiled at the “luddites” who said they couldn’t see the point.)

Now, I just think “what a nuisance.”

There are the really big sites, of course, such as Facebook and Linkedin (sorry I could never get interested in MySpace — I don’t work in cartoons). They’re good for just general networking, socially or for business purposes.

But every pursuit in which I’m interested now seems to have at least one, and often several, community site dedicated to that pursuit alone. Marketing — many. Management — several. Consulting — a few. Science — a couple of good ones. Music — of course. Job searching — oh yeah. Online reputation — apparently at least three.

All of them are vying for my time constantly. I could literally spend my entire day on these sites, networking myself into poverty.

What I find particularly upsetting about this avalanche of social networking is that they all claim they’re “innovative”. Since I work in the innovation management field considerably, I beg to differ. Innovation is creating radical or near-radical change — in products or business models. These are not innovative: they’re just taking standard community building tools and slicing up the social networking field in ever more fine gradients for marketing purposes.

At best it’s called working a niche. More likely, it’s simply copycatting with a slight differentiation.

Let’s take the latest invitations I’ve had. They are part of a group that includes companies like Naymz.com ReputationDefender.com and DefendMyName.com. For a fee, they promise to scrub search engines of anything I don’t want to see about me out there, or to create a new online identity for me.

Isn’t this just search engine optimization, which I – and probably you — have been practising for years? It’s just a newer version of the Google Profile technique.

Also it presumes that social networking sites are where most of our content rests — which to me seems a pretty narrow view. Most MarCom people have (or should have) much more content on their sites than simple social networking profiles, or blog comments.

A well rounded search engine profile should have these, of course, as well as white papers, FAQs, articles, endorsements, and other expertise-marketing content.

To help in organic search, SEO should be a planned and consistent process, with new content added on a schedule. If social networks are to be part of this mix, fine, but it shouldn’t take it over.

PR 2.0: Bringing the press release back from the dead

March 11, 2008

It’s pretty common today for people to believe the press release, newsletter, or press kit is dead. But my friend Phoebe Yong and I don’t think so. Instead we think they’re calcified and mostly ignored because they’ve become so templated, boring and useless.

So recently, Phoebe, of Magnolia Marketing Communications, and I launched Digital Pressroom PR 2.0, a new service that uses social media tools to update the press release, press kit and newsletter formats so that they actually accomplish what they’re supposed to — point out a good story, offer useful information, gain attention, and, we hope, generate some business for our clients.

Basically, we’ve jazzed up the formats to make them more interactive, useful, and even entertaining. The heart of the release or newsletter, is still the story, but underlying it is the thinking that this is a collaborative effort at creating knowledge instead of a one-way system of delivering information.

So around the elemental story we put links to pictures, videos, funny or entertaining content that touches on the subject, and links to everything ever written about the organizations — good or bad.

It’s the latter point that really encompasses social media thinking, which is all about openness and sharing. So we’re encouraging that. It’s a good bet that any reporter or reader is probably going to perform research on a company anyway, so you might as well offer it up to him or her ahead of time.

This creates the perception that you’re a transparent company or organization because you have nothing to hide. It also creates the perception of integrity and authority: That you’re willing to to be honest with customers, investors, the press and everybody else because they’re your partners in this, not your enemies or prey.

This point is also where we’ve found some resistance to the concept. Many marketers and communicators still believe that you have to control all information about your organization, that you must deliver contrived “messages” that sell, only put you in a good light, and suppress any semblance of reality. It’s top down advertising thinking and delivery.

And it’s dead. No one believes it any more. That kind of thinking is what has created the belief that marketing and communications is all just spin doctoring and bullshit. By being transparent, honest, and a little entertaining, you’re engaging in a conversation with someone, not at them.

Another bonus is that the PR 2.0 concept works equally well for both traditional press and new online publishers such as bloggers (although the two are rapidly converging today).

For the traditional press, beset by shrinking staffs and increasing demands on their time, you’re performing much of their research and background work for them. Ergo, you have a better chance of being noticed.

For social media, you’re offering up what they need — a compelling story, with pictures and video — to increase traffic to their sites. Nothing like a catchy video to market the blog or website (and your product or service) virally.

BTW: if you think the latter are just a bunch of kids writing about their hot date last night, look at some of these stats from WordPress.com for just the month of February:

  • 245,329 blogs were created.
  • 432,478 new users joined.
  • 1,920,593 file uploads.
  • 2,814,893 posts and 996,000 new pages.
  • 4,961,330 comments.
  • 3,813,432 logins.
  • 540,799,534 pageviews on WordPress.com, and another 304,499,648 on self-hosted blogs.
  • 726,789 active blogs in February, where “active” means they got a human visitor.

Information Architecture: The Key to Marketing

March 6, 2008

We can argue all night about methodology, but I’m pretty sure we’ll all agree that marketing is about providing information.

You might have differing ideas about what that information is, or the emotion-triggering words that you’re going to use to deliver it. But whether you’re creating an ad, a media release, a blog, website content, or a scientific white paper, the underlying purpose is always to deliver information that persuades. The only difference is in the complexity of that information.

And if you’ve every created any of these marketing materials, you’ve probably noticed that sometimes your work just didn’t seem to hit the mark

People didn’t read them, or if they did, didn’t fully comprehend them. If so, it could be how you organized that information. As we increasingly fight for attention today, all marketers have to pay special attention to information architecture.

Since the best way to form architecture is to study how whatever you’re building will be used, it might be illustrative to understand how people read today.

Increasingly, most people subscribe to a simple concept: Don’t make me work. Then they use versions of the SQ3R method, which stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recall, Review.

Here’s how it works:

Survey: Readers scan a document to pick up an overview of the text and form an opinion of what they need to know. Like reading a website, they scan the entire thing looking for a word that triggers their desire to delve in deeper. How to address this tendency? Summarize, either in a compelling headline, or with sub headlines (or visual boxes). Your goal here is to guide the scanner to important items.

Question: As they are scanning, readers often form questions. Writers should try to structure the entire document so that these questions are answered in some form later on. For example, if you’re offering a new product or service, one of the first questions a reader will ask is “is it for me?” Be sure you answer that somehow.

Read: Once they’ve scanned a document, readers usually return to sections they have deemed most relevant TO THEM for closer reading. So writers should concentrate on what they think readers will find most relevant, not what they personally think is most important. (i.e. their message)

Recall: Readers often run salient points or important sections through their mind to remember them. This might take a nanosecond or much longer depending on the complexity of the document — but it’s almost always done. Writers should help this recall by repeating key words or phrases to reinforce a concept.

Review: Readers review information through rereading or discussion. A summary provides a quick review of a relevant section to help them.

All communications is about persuading others of some point of view, or some action that you’d like to see taken. So, if you want to persuade readers , you might want to go farther than simply forming messages, and pushing them at people.

You have to architect your thoughts in a structure that will align with those of your readers.

Who are you and who cares?– Media relations in a web 2.0 world

February 27, 2008

Old World: Simple. One story — AcmeTech is doing this. Prepare one press release, blast to newspapers and magazines. Take phone calls and connect with CEO. Bath in the glow of CEO’s praise. Spend the bonus on new shoes.

New World: Complicated. Multiple stories, depending on listener segments. Target proper media, prepare angles and pitches for each, write multiple press releases in traditional and new forms, deliver to specific targets, follow up. Try to find some ROI to please an increasingly grumpy CEO. Examine old shoes (and pocketbook), schedule repair.

That’s the lot in life for a marcom person today. It was once easy. Now it’s not. In the past five years, and especially in the past three, media has changed radically, shattering into hundreds of channels and outlets. This means it’s a lot more work.

Now, everything must be targeted, customized, and specific. It’s no longer a case of media blasting, following up (maybe) and hoping something will stick somewhere. You have to zone in completely on the best influencers.

Here’s the media world today:

Channels have multiplied
Traditional print and television news outlets have been joined by specific magazines; e-zines; blogs; content sites,; citizen journalism sites; social networking (Web 2.0); webinars, podcasts; newsletters; e-books, online forums, video games, etc. – the list grows daily. And each one approaches your story from a different viewpoint and requirement. But you can’t tell hundreds of stories, so determining your REAL story is now paramount. So no jargon, no biz speak, no geekspeak. Now, the most important concept is that it’s CLEAR. (And that it’s search engine optimized.)

Channel preferences have segmented
Generally, the older watch television and read newspapers and magazines, the younger tend more toward online and word-of-mouth (buzz) or peer information sources. Most people now juggle several segments, usually surfing general sources and then moving sequentially to more specific and useful (to them) information channels.

Channels must be graded for value to the campaign
More than ever you have to assess value today. This means you have to sift through and examine multiple options, and then zero in on the ones that will best achieve your objectives. Media today is almost as targeted as direct mail. So pick media targets in channels most appropriate to (and most used by) your target audience. And then understand how that target gathers and processes information.

Match material to outlet
With increasing movement to content niches comes the demand to make material extremely relevant to the niche and the target. One size does not fit all because everyone wants extremely relevant subject matter. This just about spells the death knell for the generic press release (except for isolated instances, such as use to support other campaigns). It also boosts SEO, because it has more likelihood of being used.

Position the story
First of all, What the heck is your story? The most important rule about story telling in a Web 2.0 world? You can’t control it by hiding, prevaricating, sleight of hand, jargonizing, buzzwording and bullshitting. You have to stand naked in front of everybody and take pride in your own body. Sure, you can adjust the lighting to highlight your best features, but you can’t change what you are by buying more clothes. Despite the emphasis on “messaging”, the basis of all communications is still story telling, complete with triumph-or-tragedy drama or problem-solution case studies.

Know Your Business
What space are you in? B2B or B2C? Think hard on this because many marcom people get it wrong by using B2C techniques in a B2B context. Many still use product-marketing techniques, which are different because the two types of marketing operate at different stages of the buying cycle. If you’re in B2B, you have to use B2B marketing techniques such as thought leadership and expertise marketing, case studies, and other problem solving material relevant to the unique nature of the audience. And it has to be delivered to media accessed by the target prospects that have different buying behaviors than product buyers.

Tell your story the right way.
The format must be appropriate to the channel. Each channel outlet has its own style and it’s almost instant death to send the wrong style to a channel. If you’ve targeted a few specific channels ensure that the material sent to them is similar to what they normally use. This means much prep work.

Tell your story in the right language
You have to use language that’s appropriate to the end user. If material is to speak to engineers, who are always seeking facts, there’s no point in presenting a flash video that’s all design wizardry. Make it very scientific and simple. CFO’s are concerned about a business case first, integration second, and technology third, so don’t deliver a list of tech specs. Today, committees often choose products or services (i.e. software), so you may have to speak to several users and find a hybrid style that answers all their individual concerns.

Hand it to them on a plate
Everybody’s busy today, and publishing people more than most. So they have no time. If you can’t tell them your story in one line, you’re dead. And once you do have their attention, you have to do all the work. If a writer has to do much today, he’ll bail, because he has too many other things to do. One way to do this is with a digital press kit, that is encompassed in a digital press release. The kit should include anything ever written about you – good or bad – which saves the writer work, and enables him or her to understand you warts and all (see naked above).

B-to-B Content: Provide, don’t pitch

February 13, 2008

Looks like some B-to-B marketers may have lost touch with their customers regarding what kind of content works best for lead generation.

A survey of marketers and content users distributed by MarketingSherpa shows that many marketers picked case studies as the most attractive content.

But nearly as many content users also cited  as most interesting industry research, how-to guides and top-10 lists for improving their business.

“Some B-to-B marketers focused on generating leads don’t fully realize the impact of content when it comes to engaging their audience and reinforcing their marketing message,” says Matt Lohman, Director, Business Development, KnowledgeStorm Inc., which conducted the study.

“The quality of the leads has everything to do with how the message, positioning and format of the content resonates with their target audience, in addition to when and where marketers engage them.”

Obviously, the most attractive content provides lessons and information that can be used. Case studies present a useful problem-solution format to customers, and are extremely attractive if presented in story form. People like a good story that they can learn from — it’s been a dominant format since Aesop began educating people through his fables.

But the operative word for case studies and all other content is form. While everyone loves a story, most people don’t like sales pitches. And too many case studies are simply bad sales pitches hidden in data or technical jargon. Mostly, they extol the features of some particular product or service but impart few lessons that receivers can apply to their own situations.

So, let’s say it one more time: Content should not be data or simple information. It should provide knowledge that can be used in learning.

Maybe that’s why end-users (a technical term, by the way, as if content was just another piece of software) are out of sinc with the marketers.

What’s A Word’s Worth?

February 5, 2008

Back, about what seems like a hundred years ago, I ran a newspaper rewrite desk that was charged with helping the paper make the transition from broadsheet to tabloid. Because this was a difficult switch for most reporters, the desk used to go through regular training exercises aimed at constantly finding the right word that would resonate with many meanings.

Our model was what, to my mind, was the best sentence ever written — “Jesus wept”. Two simple words that carried immense meaning.

This wasn’t because we were particularly religious — hey it was a newspaper — but because those nine letters resonated far beyond the actual words used.

Using the word “Jesus” instantly brought dozens of concepts to mind: whether you were a close follower or not, you probably knew the story of Jesus, and so could bring many thoughts to the word. Jesus was a leader, a prophet, God, a wise man, a healer, a thinker, a preacher, a miracle worker, etc.

The word “wept” conveyed almost as much. Why did Jesus weep? For us, because we were frailer than he was; because mankind didn’t understand his mission; because the Romans were taking him away to be crucified; because it succinctly summed up the theory of Christianity; or all of the above?

Two simple words that told a powerful story and so were worth far more than their size. And that’s what every marketer and communicator has to keep in mind today.

Back in the day of the transition from broadsheet to tabloid writing the concept of a short story was considered sacrilegious, but rapidly became the norm. And writing has progressed continually since.

We’re now in an era where social networking style of writing is the most common style used. Acronyms, short forms, mobile messaging, flaming, punchy and to the point writing rule. Try using newspaper style in a PR 2.0 press release or a blog post today and you’ll quickly spill out all over the place. Worse, your message will probably disappear into the morass.

Today, when you write (and think), you have to get to the essence all the time. There’s no room for vague and fuzzy; no time or space for bringing in vaguely interesting, albeit extraneous, concepts.

You have to know the worth of every word.

There are so many messages, so much information transferred visually or aurally, so many demands on attention, that there is no room for the big, sweeping style of communication that was once so common. Neither is there room for the kind of fuzziness so favored by corporate communicators whose objective was to obscure more than inform.

In a sense, today, you have to think in headlines and taglines all the time. Or at least in bullet points. Whatever has multiple meanings and psychological triggers.

So, whenever you sit down at the keyboard, slow down and think “Jesus Wept”.

Influence The One You’re With

January 25, 2008

I love a British blog called PsyBlog for its continual information about the workings of the mind, which is the real last great frontier.

A post caught my eye recently because it directly speaks to marketers and communicators who attempt to persuade. The post discusses a study into which persuasion method works better: face to face or email.

Gender has an effect

Apparently an earlier study approached this question from a social role point of view via gender stereotypes. This is based on the conventional thinking that face-to-face communication is the most persuasive, and therefore women are better at it, because they’re more “relationship-minded”. Men, it seems, are more competitive and so aren’t very good at face-to-face persuasion.

A newer study examines the effect of relationships in general on persuasion. The authors, Guadagno and Cialdini, came up with the concept of “oneness” to describe how men interact with men and women interact with women. Apparently the closer two people feel, the more they see each other as sympatico, and so can persuade each other. So, yes, the study concluded, men prefer email because it sidesteps their natural competitive tendencies; women on the other hand are better at one to one.

So the new study merely backed up the old one.

But it’s really about relationships

As PsyBlog pointed out, it’s not really about gender, it’s about whether a relationship is competitive or co-operative, which to me is probably more relevant in this 21st century collaborative world.

If you want to persuade someone with whom you have a competitive relationship — whatever their gender — then you probably want to try email, because it’s more logical. If you want to pursuade someone with whom you have a co-operative relationship, then face to face is a better choice.

This conclusion has meaning for marketers and communicators. In the old days, they rarely had co-operative relationships with their customers or clients; instead it was a kind of competition in that they were trying to “sell” them on an idea. Hence the old dominance of advertising, which was a version of propaganda, which in turn was really an assault on a target’s mental defenses.

But in the new Web 2.0 world with all its user-generated content, collaboration with customers and clients, transparency and one-to-one interchange style of marketing, perhaps we have a new version of face-to-face marketing.

Could that be why some forward thinking companies and/or social networks encourage the use of avatars or pictures in their discussion forums? Because they intuitively understand that influence comes from a sense of “oneness” with someone else?

B2B Marketing: Venturing Beyond the Trade Press

January 7, 2008

Most marketers for technology vendors and other B2B operations are quite familiar with the trade press that covers their industry. Most are also quite successful at placing their messages in these specific media outlets.

But almost all are also under pressure from senior management CEOs to get their product or service written up in the broader business press.

It’s the get me in USA Today/New York Times/Entrepreneur magazine/local business magazine/television syndrome.

So off goes our marketer, trying to apply consumer marketing to the business to business sphere. And usually failing miserably.

This doesn’t work because these kind of demands are just as often aimed at boosting egos, or impressing colleagues as they are at accomplishing marketing objectives.

There may be some peripheral marketing kick in including a story in the straight press in your press kit. But it’s often not worth the time and effort.

So here’s some ammo for the next time your client/CEO/Marketing VP muses about getting some straight press coverage.

1. Our product or service is too boring. You may have a great service or product that’s registering with your target business market, but that doesn’t mean the straight business press will be interested. Because it sells advertising, the straight press is usually consumer oriented. So it tends to cover business from a consumer point of view, which means excitement (and yes, that often is shallow). Don’t forget, there’s a lot of competition for space so a reporter has to sell the story up the line, usually to people who don’t know anything about business. And B2B is rarely exciting.

2. We don’t have what they want. The straight press invariably looks for articles containing one or more of the standard news values — novelty, celebrity, harm or threat, trendiness, tragedy or triumph. You probably don’t want to be involved in a story that’s tragic, probably aren’t very trendy, aren’t that unique, and don’t have an army of paparazzi chronicling your every move. So what do you have that they want?

3. We’re too complicated. This can be a problem with your own customers, who are supposed to know what you’re talking about. What do you think is going to happen if you drone on for 10 minutes to a straight press reporter about how your product or service works. Eyes Glaze Over time. If they can’t understand it instantly, they don’t want to know.

4. We’re making them work too hard. Business reporters, like most straight press writers, are very, very busy trying to juggle multiple demands. They have quotas (mental, if not actual), and if you want to be noticed, you better hand them the story on a plate — meaning you’ve lined up everything for them. If you make them work too hard, they’ll give it a pass and find something easier. Web 2.0 press releases, which include links to all articles about you, your web site, clients who will speak for you, independent analysts/consultants, and any other information about you, can help considerably with this.

5. We’re no different than the last 10 companies that talked to them. Every CEO thinks his or her business is unique. It may be, but it’s unlikely. The truth is, almost all of them are some variation on a common theme. Since most reporters have heard all these stories before, they tend to dismiss them unless it’s immediately obvious that there is something different.

6. We can’t explain ourselves very well. What works for B2B customers or clients probably won’t for the straight press. If your description of yourself is full of jargon, cliches, and insider language (“paradigm shift”, “outcome-based processes”, “software architecture”, etc. etc. ) you’re going to 1. make them feel very stupid and 2. really piss them off. Result: dismissal.

Thicker Than A Hundred Head O’ Sheep

December 6, 2007

It’s a colloquial metaphor to describe someone who’s not too bright. Pretty evocative image isn’t it?

Makes for a great headline and stops you in your tracks. Tells the story instantly in a very visual way and puts a smile on your face at the same time.

I’ve used it here because of that power. I’m convinced that in a modern technological world, we’re in danger of losing the power of language. Instead we throw out opinions or bury people in facts and information.

Even marketers and communicators, who are supposed to know language well, are often more concerned with facts than language these days. Creative use of language rarely goes beyond the standard “describe the benefits, not the features” admonition.

We work so hard to follow the rules of copywriting, webwriting, and other forms of marketing writing, that we often end up spouting cliches in the mistaken belief that buzzwords will somehow connect people in a common understanding.

Like most people, I can be guilty of it. I recently wrote a technology paper that, because of its intended audience, I believed had to be very straight. Boy, was it boring. As the first person I showed it to said, where’s the magic.

And so, I’ll say the same thing. Where’s the magic?

Saying that the great prairies of North America are flat is accurate, but it’s pretty dull and won’t arrest anyone for a second. So how about one I heard from a prairie farmer: “This land is flatter than piss on a plate”.

Or the wonderful UK expression, Thick as a Brick, or the American one, Thick as a Post (interesting how many expressions describe stupid people).

Or “Dumb as a bag of hammers” to describe a plan or action that went horribly wrong. Or “face like a plate of worms” to describe someone mean and ugly. Or even “brutal” to describe something bad or intense.

Every region has its colloquialisms, and they can often lend some magic to marketing copy. The poets know it. Metaphors create images that stop you and make you take a second look.

And in an over-marketed world, isn’t that what we’re all looking for?

I’m not saying every piece of marketing material should overreach by trying to be folksy.

But come on, loosen up a little. Try to put a little magic back into words.

Beyond Branding

November 29, 2007

An article on Marketingprofs.com on the New Rules of Internet Marketing got me thinking about the widespread reverence for branding in marketing today.

All you hear today is brand, brand, brand. Every company has one, or thinks it does.

Marketers and communicators are all about branding. It’s their language and if they can get through an hour without using the word it’s a miracle.

But most of this branding is simply image creation. It’s the manipulation of visual and textual information to create a mental picture of what you want somebody to believe about your company. It’s a one-way conversation, the delivery of a carefully crafted, impersonal story to a wide audience.

And, as the article suggests, the day of branding dominance may be coming to an end. Why? Because on the Internet, branding as we know it doesn’t work as well.

It used to, because until recently the Internet was just another broadcasting vehicle for most companies — put up ads, write copy to deliver the messages, insert forms to capture leads, etc. But the rise of Web 2.0, often also called the participative web, has changed all that.

No longer can you simply deliver a story to customers or clients. Now it’s all about creating and being part of communities. And all communities live through conversations, exchange of opinions, shared knowledge, and sometimes criticism. This means that personality — not a sanitized brand — is more important.

Unlike with the brand, which can easily be faked, your real personality will show through.

Today, because of the Internet many companies are going to have to rethink their concept of branding. It can’t be the picture you want it to be, it will be a picture of what you are.

If you’re distant and unresponsive, you’ll be perceived as arrogant; if your style of communicating is top down, you’ll be perceived as pompous; if you’re open and willing to listen, you’ll be perceived as worth knowing.