March 2nd, 2009
This is the second part of my two part interview with Patty Azzarello. Patty actually interviewed me and here’s the discussion that came afterwards. I posted this before, but I’m reposting it so subscribers to the podcast can pick it up as well.
December 20th, 2008
Andy Sernovitz is the author of “Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking” and founder of GasPedal, a word of mouth marketing firm.
- If you have a strong personal brand or corporate brand it supersedes whatever the hot product of the day is.
- Launching word of mouth marketing requires marketers to stop thinking about what can I get for my budget.
- Once you start talking to people and they start talking back, you can never put that genie back in the bottle.
- Word of mouth is a function of customer service.
- For word of mouth to work you need talkers, topics, and tools.
- It’s so easy to apply a little effort and get little successes to create a business case for word of mouth marketing.
- Unbury that hidden statistic that shows that a huge percentage of your customers come to you for free. Compare word of mouth marketing costs to search engine marketing costs.
- Could one person if they were sitting on Twitter would be more functional if they were on the phone?
- Find the heroes within your company and the simple wins.
Developing the “Andy” brand vs. the company brand
Andy Sernovitz is synonymous with word of mouth marketing. From his popular book to his firm, GasPedal, he’s a highly sought after thought leader for speaking engagements on the subject. But that hasn’t always been the case.
Originally, GasPedal was a dotcom incubator, and thus its brand was all about Internet start ups. Over time the company began focusing on email communications, and thus the brand changed to the email marketing people. Now that they’ve expanded that subset of word of mouth marketing, GasPedal’s formed the brand of being the word of mouth marketing people.
“The [company] brand has become a function of what I’m doing at any particular point in time, which is an interesting point in personal branding that if you have a strong personal brand or corporate brand it supersedes whatever the hot product of the day is,” Sernovitz said.
Because Sernovitz is a speaker, much of his work is associated with him personally. The problem is Andy doesn’t scale. Without the company, he’s the product. And only one of him can fly around and do keynote speeches and consult with companies. It’s a common problem for consultants. “What happens is you run out of you, and it’s exhausting. The reason there’s a GasPedal brand is the objective has got to be not buying Andy, but buying our education and our training and what we do so the de-Andification of Gas Pedal is a very explicit product. It’s a very explicit branding objective,” Sernovitz said.
The brand of GasPedal has very little of Andy Sernovitz in it. But separately, in a different brand space is his book and his blog with very little mention of his company.
Word of mouth marketing is not that difficult
Word of mouth marketing is so much easier than people think, said Sernovitz. He has companies that come to him and they say, “I’ve got $100,000 and I want to do word of mouth marketing campaign.” It’s a common introduction because that’s how marketers work. They think about budget. Throw enough money at a problem and you’ll get results.
That’s not how marketers should be approaching word of mouth marketing. One must think, how do I build relationships with people and give them something they want to share?
“Word of mouth marketing is first and foremost about communications. And turning them on, and making them happy, and giving them things to talk about. So when you go into a word of mouth campaign with ‘We’re going to do a campaign that has a budget, and a start and a stop.’ That’s not how it works. Once you start talking to people and they start talking back, you can never put that genie back in the bottle. It’s a campaign misconception,” said Sernovitz.
Word of mouth is a function of customer service
Sernovitz doesn’t believe that social media is synonymous with word of mouth. Social media is simply one of the many tools you can use to generate word of mouth.
In actuality, word of mouth is a function of customer service. You provide that service in a way that your audience should want to share it. He references the popularity of Zappos, the online shoe company. They’re not popular because they Tweet, but rather they’ve developed a customer service methodology that bleeds through traditional and non-traditional (e.g. Twitter) forms of communications. To only talk about their success on Twitter is only capturing a small part of Zappos’ entire customer service story.
For word of mouth to work, three things need to come together:
- Who’s going to talk about you? The talkers.
- What are they going to say? The topics.
- How are we going to make it easier for them to say it? The tools (traditional and social media).
Word of mouth doesn’t have to have social media involved at all. Sernovitz tells the story of Lowe’s 10% off coupons that he sees available on a weekday at the store. He realizes that Lowe’s figures that anyone that comes to its store before 12pm on a weekday is probably going back to work. So why not give people something to bring back to work that they can place on the office refrigerator? It’s a simple sheet that just says “Office Deals.” Lowe’s invites you to take this sheet, put it on your company fridge, offering up ten 10% off coupons for ten of your coworkers.
The Lowe’s coupon sheet is a very economical and efficient means of word of mouth, and it’s not social media. In the Lowe’s example, the “talkers” are the shoppers. The “topic” is the offer, but really you can also say the topic is connecting with your coworkers. And you make it easier with a single sheet with ten offers that you can put on the fridge (“the tool”).
How do you join in the conversation, expand it, and accelerate it?
The essential step of word of mouth marketing that so many companies have a hard time with is just “do it.” Not to do it big with a huge $100,000 budget, but just begin communicating and do it. It’s hard to fail with this stuff, said Sernovitz. It’s so easy to apply a little effort and get little successes to create a business case.
Sernovitz told the story of the Chicago Tribune journalist who became the social media evangelist for the paper with his character he dubbed “Col. Tribune.” All he did was send out light goofy Tweets on Twitter that garnered him a lot of success.
Sernovitz said that any individual can gather the same learnings as a business analyst by constantly trying stuff. All the word of mouth success stories begin exactly the same way – someone just started doing it.
Not all customers come from marketing efforts
Where do you get your business? Does it all come from marketing? Probably not. Unbury that hidden statistic that shows that a huge percentage of your customers come to you for free. No marketing effort brought them there. They heard about you through word of mouth. That’s your number one ROI. You want to get more of those free customers.
It’s easy to calculate the value of customers garnered through word of mouth. Let’s say you pay $5 for a lead through search marketing. A referral through search marketing is not nearly as a strong as a recommendation from a friend. If you add an “email a friend” link on your product page, that referral is worth at least $5 if not more. If you can get 5,000 people to click on that link, the value of that button is at least $25,000. It’s worth it to you now to spend some money on that page, the offer, and conversion. The cost to change that is far less than your SEM efforts.
Shift customer service efforts to enhance word of mouth marketing for the same cost
Word of mouth makes a lot of good things obvious. For example, in the case of a great customer service call (the customer calls, gets their problem fixed, and everyone’s happy) that moment is lost once the phone hangs up. Nobody knows that the call happened. But if that same customer had the same problem and they wrote it up on their blog, the cost to your business is the same. When someone goes to search that same problem, they find it, and can have that same experience. You help a lot more people, but you spend the same amount of money.
I told Sernovitz my story about the woman who couldn’t get satisfaction calling DirecTV’s customer support, but did when she sent out a Tweet. While I thought it was ironic that the two departments weren’t talking to each other on how to handle customers, Sernovitz said it made perfect sense. Twitter allows a company to have a fresh new start with customer service, said Sernovitz. The phone system is loaded with baggage. They can start customer service over again with a presence on Twitter.
When I asked Sernovitz what’s the biggest mistake he’s made in social media, he admitted that he often makes things too complicated. For example, he will set up huge communities with all these varying technologies and functionality, but in the end realizes that the most functional tools are often phone calls and an email list. He finds that the less he does, the more successful he becomes.
Andy Sernovitz’s advice for companies getting started in word of mouth marketing
Offering up the same advice Chris Brogan gave in his “Be the Voice” interview, Sernovitz suggested companies should start by listening. That doesn’t mean hiring an analytics company. Just set up Google Alerts, said Sernovitz. (NOTE: I suggest doing a lot more than Google Alerts. Google Alerts only catch a small portion of conversation about you.)
Second step is to find someone who really wants to do this. Find the person who loves social media and who’s wearing the company shirt on weekends, Sernovitz said. Ross Mayfield suggested the same thing in his “Be the Voice” interview as well. Although it was really hip at one point, don’t have your CEO blog. The CEO should be running the company.
And finally, find the simple wins. Could one person if they were sitting on Twitter would be more functional if they were on the phone? Take them off the phone and find out. Or instead of spending $5,000 on an SEM campaign, why not soup up a tell a friend form?
Simply put, find the heroes within your company and the simple wins. It’s really hard to screw this up, said Sernovitz.
December 11th, 2008
David Meerman Scott is the author of “The New Rules of Marketing and PR,” “Tuned In,” and the forthcoming book, “World Wide Rave.”
Summary (David Meerman Scott)
- Three years ago, most companies were more interested in site usability and design for their site, not content.
- Marketers are still being trained that the way to get your information into the marketplace is to buy advertising and convince the media to write about you.
- With new media, you can technically get your message out there for zero cost. That’s simply not possible with traditional media.
- Stop measuring sales leads and start measuring the number of people exposed to your ideas.
- If you’re only talking to and about your customers, you’re missing a huge percentage of your market. You have to focus on your non-customers. You have to focus on the market you’re trying to attract, not just the market you currently have.
- Fallacy of viral marketing. Traffic doesn’t equate to customers for you. Offering a free iPod can go viral and lots of companies do offer free iPods. That’s just people who want a free iPod, not people who want your stuff.
- Ask yourself what can you do today to get more people online to know who you are. Ask that question every day, and over a couple of years you’ll be an industry voice.
- Everyone’s a dork sometimes and I think the alternative is you’re not out there.
(NOTE: I admittedly bury the lead on the title as it doesn’t appear to the end, but you’ll see all of Scott’s commentary leads up to not fearing making stupid mistakes online.)
I discovered David M. Scott while researching for this very blog and podcast, looking for people who wrote about the value of creating content for your business. I reached out to Scott in hopes of just having a conversation with him on the phone. He was so busy with his day long seminars which sends him all over the world, that the earliest time he’d be available for just a phone call would be in a month. I put a note in my calendar to follow up with him in a month, but I also started following him on Twitter and he started following me as well.
Two days later Scott sends out a Tweet announcing that he was flying to San Francisco the next day. He didn’t know I lived there, so I tweeted back that I’d love to get together for a drink or a meal. The next day, Scott and I sat down for dinner and I shot this quick video interview with him.
Ahead of the curve on developing content for your business
David M. Scott’s book, “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” has been wildly successful. But it wasn’t his first book. Scott has written many books before that, and the one that caught my eye, which was so in line with the thinking for “Be the Voice” was his book “Cashing in with Content” which didn’t do nearly as well as “The New Rules of Marketing and PR.”
Scott believes “Cashing in with Content’s” lack of success had a lot to do with the obvious reasons: a small publisher, limited distribution, and it was only available in paperback. But he believes he was too early for the market. “In 2005 I was talking about content [saying that it] was the most important part of the Web site and [at the time] the whole world was focused on design and technology,” Scott said. From my own experience, it’s still difficult to explain to people why creating content is so valuable for their business.
Patting himself on the back for his foresight three years ago, Scott really felt like a pioneer touting the value of content and getting out there and blogging. While blogging has been out for a while, nobody else had written a book about the value of creating content for your company at that time. That’s why I stumbled across Scott.
Explaining the value of content for your business is still difficult. Scott believes the reason is because marketers are still being trained that the way to get your information into the marketplace is to buy advertising and convince the media to write about you. Business and communications schools still teach advertising and media relations.
But what Scott, myself, and many others are trying to prove is that you don’t need to be beholden to others to distribute your information. You can create the content and distribute it yourself. That idea by itself is an enormous logical leap from ‘you have to buy access’ for which we’ve been trained through schooling to believe.
It’s going to cost you zero
If you want to buy access on TV, you have to pay for access. There’s absolutely no other way around it. If you want to buy a TV ad, you need to pay for the audience that it will be shown to. In the new media and social media sphere, there are no pre-defined costs. You can technically get your message out there for zero cost. That’s simply not possible with traditional media.
Measure success of influence
One of the questions I use to chronically get during my early days of trying to sell new media was “How much is it going to cost us, and how many people are we going to reach?” It’s a question that I could never answer because neither I nor my client can control the audience.
Scott argues that in marketing we’ve never truly been able to measure reach and that what we do is we calculate success based on other metrics like sales leads or number of press clips/mentions in the media. “I don’t think either of those are effective ways to measure the success of being a thought leader. Of getting really great information out there. Of creating something that people spread one to another because they want to consume it,” Scott said.
Luckily there are tons of valuable metrics out there that will show your place in the market and your thought leadership. You can measure how many people were exposed to your ideas (e.g. how many people have seen your video, downloaded your whitepaper, etc.). You can measure what people are saying about you. Is it positive or negative? How many blogs are talking about you versus the competition? Where you appear in search results on key words and phrases versus your competition?
Look beyond your current customers – The “Tuned In” methodology
“If you’re only talking to and about your customers, you’re missing a huge percentage of your market,” said Scott, “You have to focus on your non-customers. You have to focus on the market you’re trying to attract, not just the market you currently have.” Think of your potential market as a pie. Your current customers are but a small slice of that pie. There’s so much more to go after.
Scott recommends a simple solution to reaching your non-customer audience. Talk to them. Go to where they are in the real world and in the virtual world. Attend conferences, networking events, and read the blogs that they read. Interview them on their turf and ask open ended questions and listen to phrases they use.
This was exactly the technique Scott used to come up with the idea for his new book. In his open conversations with people, the phrase that kept coming up was “viral marketing.” To test the waters, Scott wrote a free online ebook entitled, “The New Rules of Viral Marketing.” Prior to writing the book, a search for “viral marketing” on Google and Scott would appear deep in the weeds, on page 20, where no one ever looked. Once his ebook was published, Scott’s public recognition for the term “viral marketing” on Google placed him as the fourth result on the front page on Google (as of publishing this blog post). Currently his ebook has 250,000 downloads and more than 500 bloggers have written about it.
“There’s a huge misunderstanding about viral marketing. And there’s a whole cadre of basically charlatans and fly-by-night experts who talk about viral marketing and suggest they know how to create a viral marketing campaign. And typically it’s traditional advertising techniques. Things like bait and switch. Things like inane contests that have nothing to do with your products. Ways to interrupt people to get them to do something and not truly information that spreads because it’s valuable,” said Scott.
That kind of viral marketing doesn’t build a relationship with your audience. “Offering a free iPod can go viral and lots of companies do offer free iPods. That’s just people who want a free iPod, not people who want your stuff,” Scott warned.
All of this plays to the advice he’s building in Scott’s new book, “World Wide Rave: Creating triggers to get millions of people to spread your ideas and share your stories,” coming out in March, 2009. He’s hoping the phrase, “World Wide Rave,” will change people’s thinking about the term viral marketing.
Admire those ahead of you
Scott reminds people though that it’s not just doing one thing that gets you recognized. It’s a lot of little things that add up. He’s written more than 500 blog posts and has four ebooks available for free.
Yet with all of Scott’s success, he looks to someone like Seth Godin, whom he greatly admires, and wonders when will he be able to write as well as him and have as much of an industry name as him. Even the billionaire wonders if he’ll be as rich as Bill Gates. We’re always looking at the people ahead of us. Don’t let others’ success prevent you from beginning the path of your own success.
Scott suggest you ask yourself what can you do today to get more people online to know who you are. It can be just a little thing like leaving a comment on a blog. But do something every day, and those multiplied over a few years, and now you’re the expert in your industry.
Blogging for research and writing a new book
Scott uses his blog to gauge the audience’s interest on different ideas. Certain topics that he think will be of great interest will fall flat with his audience while others that he doesn’t think much of will take off. But what he loves best is when he starts a concept, and those people with more knowledge and greater interest jump in and add value and sometimes correct him.
Scott points to an example about a post where he said the NY Islanders hockey team were the first to give bloggers press credentials. The post alerted the VP of marketing for the bloggers, and another reader commented that the Islanders weren’t the first hockey team to do this.
You can’t control opinion
I asked Scott what was the feedback from his new book, “Tuned In,” and he said it was split. Businesspeople liked the practical nononsense approach while academics thought it was too simplistic and it didn’t break any new ground. In essence, both are saying the same thing, but they’re coming from different viewpoints, each choosing to spin it a different way. You can’t control opinion, you can only disclose what it is that you’re doing. For more, watch this great video which includes Chris Shipley of the Guidewire Group discuss the need for transparency and how people will generate different opinions based on their viewpoint.
Scott thinks that negative comments on his blog are a very positive thing because the person is taking the time to argue against your point. But more importantly, those who support your argument will jump in and defend you. And what was originally going to be a blog post with just one or two comments is now a blog post with forty comments.
David M. Scott is a dork
When I asked Scott about his biggest mistake made in social media, he admitted to a moment of online uncoolness that was pointed out to him by his teenage daughter. After setting up his Facebook profile, he showed it to his daughter to which she responded, “You’re not supposed to write on your own wall. You’re such a dork, dad.”
“It’s OK to be a dork online every now and then,” said Scott. We don’t always know what we’re supposed to do when we start using a new technology. Scott felt foolish when he first started with Twitter and he had only one follower. Scott said you just have to jump in and not worry, “I think everyone’s a dork sometimes and I think the alternative is you’re not out there.”
November 10th, 2008
Summary (Chris Brogan):
- Large companies know that their marketing dollars aren’t cutting it like they use to.
- While not everyone is ready to publish in social media, everyone can agree to begin a listening campaign.
- When you listen, don’t just look for your company name, but think how the consumer would write about issues related to your product.
- Begin building relationships now with influencers. It’ll be a lot easier to talk with them down the line when you have positive and negative news.
- Brogan purposely doesn’t finish his blog posts and that invites lots of comments. People love to give their opinion and he wants readers to feel welcome to do that.
- Transparency is a misused term. Not all companies can be transparent, but everyone can disclose a relationship where others may perceive a conflict if it wasn’t disclosed.
- Being part of the conversation means actually learning the language and being more of an appropriate immigrant to this new digital community.
- Don’t assume social media doesn’t exist until you arrive.
I spoke to Brogan about how he conducts his business as a social media consultant. Brogan talks with a lot of large corporations about incorporating social media into their marketing mix. What I was eager to find out from Brogan was how he got these large corporations to take the social media plunge. For years I’ve dealt with companies that only can think like a traditional marketer (e.g. make sure you hit all your message points). I asked Brogan, how do you get companies to shift from marketing-type thinking and more into the storytelling and informational nature that’s required of social and new media communications.
Recognizing you can’t build Rome in a day, Brogan doesn’t immediately recommend companies start going into full blown social media production mode. He first tries to get a level of agreement with potential clients that marketing has changed for their business. That they’re getting less and less uptake for the number of dollars they’re putting into traditional marketing. They usually agree to that. In fact, they probably agreed to that before he walked through the door. There’s a reason they asked him to come.
What’s different today about these social media marketing meetings, said Brogan, is that now he’s meeting with senior level people. In the past, he would talk to kids in the organization who were chomping at the bit to get something done. Things have definitely changed. You’ve got CMOs and VP’s of Marketing realizing that they’re slow out of the gate, but they know they want to do this. And Brogan feels that this trend shows that the market is evolving. Companies are taking social media seriously as a place they actually want to place their dollars.
Commitment to listening
I asked Brogan how committed these companies are on the long haul and he said what they are committed to is listening, not necessarily exposing their voice online. “They’re almost always willing to commit to a listening program. Because I can almost always find either dirt or really interesting competitive information for free on the Web every single day,” said Brogan.
Brogan describes one company (could not mention name) that was doing some listening, via Google alerts, but only around their company name. They didn’t actually do any listening around what their product was and how people would actually talk about it (e.g. “My ____ service sucks”). “They weren’t putting in things that would get into the mindset of what the customer would write about this,” said Brogan, “They were doing it from their brand.”
To help the company, Brogan started putting in search terms as to what a customer would say if they were having a good or bad experience with the company. What they discovered is there was a lot more being said about them positive and negative. Brogan used Google blog search, Twitter search, and Technorati to see where those conversations were happening.
For hearing what people are saying about your company, products, and services, Brogan started plugging a company Radian6 that delivers as their CEO describes, “Listening at the point of need.” Radian6 is a dashboard tool that you can tweak and listen across multiple social applications, the Web, discussion boards, and communications services. Radian6 has many competitors like BuzzLogic, Nielsen BuzzMetrics, and Visible Technologies. Brogan argues that these services are too expensive, charging upwards of $50,000. Radian6 has some solutions that are as low as $500/month. The big difference, said Brogan, is with Radian6 you get the toolset, not just a report at the end of the month that tells you what’s happening. Other services may charge you for every requested change. Radian6 lets you change the terms and tweak until you see what you need to see.
Brogan said large companies respond well to the listening and that’s simply because listening is an easier sell than trying to push a big campaign that gets the company fully embedded in social media. Although Brogan admits not all companies can listen. “A couple of pharmaceutical companies I worked with had to decline because it turns out that if somebody says something gripey, anecdotal, or negative about their product, they have reporting requirements that say they have to hand it in to some federal [monitoring] groups,” said Brogan. In other words, pharmaceutical companies can’t afford to listen. Especially if boneheads are typing in random symptoms connected with some pharmaceutical company’s product.
Taking it slow with big corporations
“When I talk to a large corporation I look for a comfort level first,” said Brogan, “They all say the same thing, ‘We feel like we’re a little slow to get on this. We feel like we’re behind everyone else. We’re really not sure.’ And they’ll cite one of the bigger social media blunder stories of the universe (e.g. Wal-Mart’s RV bloggers).” Once he understands where their comfort level is, then he gets into a discussion about commenting and what it’s like to comment on a blog, or what news outlets and blogs they should read that have anything to do with the company’s vertical.
“If you’ve already got a blog out there in the space and you’ve already started to build small relationships, then if some kind of big news hits or if something sweeps out across the social media space, having a blog in place and having even a small amount of relationships in place certainly is a lot easier,” said Brogan. You don’t want to have to launch as soon as there is a problem, said Brogan. “Having a platform (e.g. a blog) is a nice step, it’s just never my first step,” Brogan continued. Brogan suggests listening and then commenting to get yourself acclimated.
How to get tons of comments
On Brogan’s blog, he can have some posts that get north of 85 comments. He says his norm is between 30 to 60 comments per post. Yet, there are some of his posts that will only get zero to two comments. Of the posts that get few to no comments, Brogan is pushing the reader off to another location to either read another article or to see a video. For the posts that get tons of comments, Brogan purposefully doesn’t finish what he’s writing. Leaving lots of issues unanswered is an invitation to readers to add their thoughts.
“I usually write my blog posts so that they’re not entirely finished. I leave a lot of open space for you to add your opinion. And the reason I do that is because I want you to feel like there’s some contribution and some give or take to the experience. I’m not writing thesis and essay and editorials. I’m writing things where I have something in my mind and I want to share it and get your ideas too,” said Brogan. He’s constantly asking questions in his posts to elicit answers. He asks lots of questions. It’s very strategic for him. People love to give their opinion.
Biggest misunderstandings about social media
“Join the conversation” and “transparency” are buzzwords Brogan can do without. They’re the terms that are constantly demanded as requirements if you want to get into social media. But Brogan realizes that businesses can’t be completely transparent because private company information is a competitive advantage. You don’t want to be giving away trade secrets. It’s more of an issue as to “what” should be transparent. You don’t put your company strategy on the Web.
What most people mean by transparent is let’s not have “Wal-marting across America” again. That was the case where bloggers traveled across America in their RVs staying at Wal-Mart, never revealing they were hired by Wal-Mart. There wasn’t any disclosure and there should have been. “Transparency would be better said as disclosure and that’s where people get it wrong all the time,” said Brogan, “What we’re really saying with transparency is, is be open and honest about situations where there might be a prior relationship that would cause you something of an upsetting nature to happen should someone reveal that information.”
I referenced what Chris Shipley said in an interview (select the video) with me about not being able to control people’s opinions. You can only disclose and people will form their own opinions as to what that means. So if you say you’re working with some company, some will think it’s great that you’re getting inside information, and others will think you’re a shill for the company and that’s why you’re writing about them. Brogan referenced Robert Scoble when he was working at Microsoft as being a great example of the former way of thinking in that he was very open about who he worked for, but had no problem talking about the company positively or negatively.
I asked Brogan how somebody pulls off what Scoble did. Work for a company yet still talk negatively about them in a public forum. In Brogan’s upcoming book in May called “Trust Agents” co-written with Julian Smith, he talks about how to be open and honest on the Web. In the Scoble case, he wasn’t being negative strategically about the company, but rather he was “being one of us.” He was saying what many of us were thinking, but he said it with more authority because it was coming from someone within the company. He may have received plenty of internal heat for comments like that, but he got tons of props from the community at large.
Scoble could get away with his pro and con opinions about Microsoft because he had an audience, and that audience has value. “If he’s got an audience, then Microsoft wants to know what that audience thinks, and that’s better than paying some girl in a mall with a clipboard to get your opinion as you walk by,” Brogan said.
For companies looking to offer up the same freedom Robert Scoble had at Microsoft to its employees, yet not let them go over the line, Brogan suggests first opening up your company’s email policies. Ninety percent of blogging policies mirror a company’s email policies. The additional part is to add information about not being disloyal to the organization. You could say you want products to be a certain way. Brogan gives an example of how Robert Scoble might talk about how he prefers Firefox over IE. “There’s a big difference between Robert saying, ‘I wish IE would take some hints from Firefox’ than him saying, ‘IE will never be good. I can’t believe this company is bothering. I think we should drop this browser line entirely,’” explained Brogan.
With all that advice, Brogan still admits it’s not a science and company blogging is a live and learn situation.
As for the phrase “join the conversation” Brogan believes there are far too many opportunities to get this wrong. Some companies come in with a bullhorn and start talking. What you need to do is listen first and comment on what’s being said. “Being part of the conversation means actually learning the language and being more of an appropriate immigrant to this new digital community,” Brogan said.
As you begin to comment around the Web, it’s a good idea to take advantage of a commenting tool. Brogan recommends Disqus which allows you to track all your comments all over the Web. I use a service called Cocomment that does much of the same thing.
I asked Brogan is there are any large companies engaging in social media that really impress him. Excluding the way Whole Foods’ CEO, John Mackey, handled himself in the past, Brogan’s impressed with what the company is doing currently. They have a lot of online content, blogs, podcasts, video, and even Twitter. They have a Twitter person of the day where they just find someone who’s doing some good online and they give them recognition and an award which is usually a Whole Foods product. They’ll also talk a lot about community events going on in and near local stores. What he likes most is they’re putting a human face on Whole Foods and also trying to create that local market feel using social media and Twitter.
Don’t assume that social media doesn’t exist until you arrive
Brogan admits he’s made some massive blunders in social media. One case was when he reached out to the New England podcasters’ bulletin board and said he was going to invite all the social media rock stars to come to Boston for Podcamp. Nobody responded to what he thought was a generous offer until he saw a response on the board that said, “There are a lot of rock stars in Boston and it’s kind of offensive you got to import them from other places.” Brogan learned from his mistake. Wherever you go on the Web realize there’s been a history. Don’t assume you know everything and discredit what’s been done before you arrived, Brogan said.
“Social networks allow us to assume familiarity a little too fast,” Brogan said, “We presume by having these two way conversations on the Web that the other person knows and is comfortable with our interactions with them already. And so we sometimes overstep accidentally what we could request or make a joke that isn’t appropriate to that level of interrelationship.”
For the individual businessperson that wants to put their best social media foot forward, Brogan offers this advice, “Make sure you dress up your profile and who you are on the Web and how you’re representing yourself through these platforms appropriate to the space where you are and be human about it, instead of just putting the bare minimums of an account together just so that you can observe and be part of something or try to extract value before you’ve shown yourself there to be a persona.”
Photo credit: Daniel Alexander/Framesmedia.com
October 13th, 2008
Ross Mayfield is the cofounder, chairman, and president of SocialText, a social business software platform.
Summary (Ross Mayfield):
- You can’t dictate collaboration within an organization. Find a small area where it would excel, introduce it, and then roll it out in concentric circles to other groups that have interest and can provide unique value.
- Collaboration needs a clear business purpose. You can’t have collaboration without a goal.
- Take all content out of email to build a company knowledge base of the revolving door of employees, plus a back channel on what the company thinks on a given issue.
- If one significant person changes their process to be more collaborative and open, it can change the process for an entire organization
- PR has evolved to add value in conversations and be agents for collaboration. It’s not just about connecting clients with press.
- When you ask for permission to market to your audience, immediately offer some value in return.
- Even if someone’s collaboration intentions is purely to promote themselves, still engage if there’s a connection to your brand.
- Collaboration needs to involve multiple individuals within an organization and not just one person, because that one person is just a resume away from leaving and taking that company goodwill with him.
Pushing close to 5000 followers on Twitter and a popular blog, Ross Mayfield has been a leading voice in the creation and development of collaborative media. He’s the cofounder, chairman, and president of SocialText, the first wiki developers back in 2002, said Mayfield. Today, SocialText develops and sells a social business software platform.
When Mayfield first started SocialText, before he even incorporated, he wanted to share the process of building his company by launching a company-wide blog. His coworkers had already been comfortable blogging as individuals, but now they were going to use it as an open development platform which was very rare back in 2002.
“I say ’share the process’ because one of the mistakes most people do is they think about blogging as an activity of promoting outcomes,” said Mayfield, “That’s a very different thing. It’s a press release mentality to say, ‘We have achieved this, we’re launching this, here’s the big bang message we’ve been carefully working on in the laboratory, and now it’s ready for the mass consumption.’”
You can’t dictate collaboration
Collaboration doesn’t just happen by you announcing, “OK, it’s time for everybody to collaborate.” Mayfield advises companies to find a location within the business where a public social software deployment would really excel, by prototyping in private. Meaning, what internal project can you put a social platform on top of to get people into the groove of using collaboration software and see its benefits.
The example Mayfield points to is IBM who wanted employees to engage in public blogging, but before they did, they asked employees within IBM as to what their blogging policy should be. Instead of starting an email thread that someone would have to edit, IBM set up a wiki which acted as an editable document. It also established the all important company back channel.
“If there’s a crisis communications event that happens publicly, they will first turn to that back channel, privately inside the company, before airing things out in public,” said Mayfield.
Getting people to start using a new communications tool the way you want it used is not easy. I asked Mayfield what tricks he’s seen work to increase adoption of his tools and get people more involved.
“First, you need a clear business purpose. There’s no such thing as collaboration without a goal,” said Mayfield. We both attended the Enterprise 2.0 conference and this realization was often echoed during the sessions at the conference.
In addition, you have to invest some time and money in how the tool is going to be introduced. Some people are going to need training to get comfortable with editing their thoughts on your new software in public.
Social networking: from cheating to business collaboration
People take to the software differently, depending on where you deploy it (e.g. sales and marketing vs. engineering) and who you deploy it to (e.g. baby boomers vs. the Net generation).
“The Net generation just entering the workforce. They grew up doing their homework on Facebook and that’s called cheating. They come to the workforce, that’s called collaboration,” said Mayfield.
Recognize the differences for the environment that you’re adapting the software, said Mayfield. But as you’re training internally and getting people comfortable with the software, start rolling it out in concentric circles over time. An internal group that collaborates on a project will obviously have interest in that project. But there’s also a group outside of those creators that will have interest, and can provide their own unique value. Keep an eye on those groups and over time roll it out to them. Let them participate, and then look for the interest and the connection to roll it out to the next group. This is how collaboration can just grow and grow.
One person’s process change can change that of an entire business
Over the past six years, SocialText has evolved from a wiki-only type collaboration environment for knowledge sharing to a more vertically integrated process implementation for collaboration. Mayfield explained that SocialText’s software is deployed in a way to help them more productively get their work done, and knowledge sharing is a byproduct of getting their work done.
A video game news company called 1UP.com used to handle all of its communications and processes via email. A simple request to an art director to create a graphic could be an endless thread and flurry of emails. That art director decided to change HIS process. All he did is ask that all requests and edits for his work be placed on his wiki page. When the job was done, the person would be notified with a link within the wiki page as to where to find the files. That art director created a process where there wasn’t one before. He became so successful inside the company that he went on to publicly blog for the company as well.
Take content out of email so it has value and life beyond the inbox
One of the other huge advantages of taking content out of email and onto the Web is that it has a life and value when that person leaves. There’s so much knowledge and information that’s locked into each individual’s personal knowledge management systems. Companies need to break free of each person having their own “system” and set up one that everyone is comfortable with and has value for the whole company when employees are and aren’t there. “All of Web 2.0 is just taking things out of email that existed before and adding backlinks, pings, and restructuring them in a more transparent discoverable way,” said Mayfield as he admittedly oversimplifies the Web 2.0 environment.
As a personal example, I used to work at an ad agency and I produced a ton of content for them. Proposals, ideas, concepts, etc. All of that information lived on the hard drive of my computer at work. When I left, they simply formatted the hard drive instead of saving the information for later. They later called me asking for it, and I told them it was on that hard drive. Unfortunately, they erased my three years of information I created for that company with that move.
“People are sharing more than ever,” said Mayfield, “There’s new patterns of sharing by default. You see it particularly in the ‘net generation. Cause that’s how they’ve grown up, that’s what they’ve always done. They don’t necessarily see the reasons not to.”
Mayfield brought up the CIA who presented at the Enterprise 2.0 conference (I wrote about them and conducted an interview with them as well.). The model of the CIA is the complete opposite of open collaboration-type thinking, yet that’s what they’re doing. Traditionally, the CIA has operated under a “need to know” philosophy, they are slowly switching into a “need to share” culture, yet still with levels of security clearance.
Don’t let one person in your company possess the “King of Collaboration” title
Culture change can’t be the goal of a collaboration initiative. It has to be a byproduct. Those who share will be rewarded, and those who horde will be at a disadvantage, Mayfield said.
During my interview with Dana Gardner of Interarbor Solutions, he stressed the need to build a network of individuals to develop your industry voice. That it was detrimental to leave that up to just one person because they’re one resume from walking out of the company with all that built up goodwill. Mayfield continued that line of thinking by repeating results from studies that show that people trust individuals within a company more than they trust brands (source: Edelman trust barometer, six out of ten countries trust individuals as peers rather than institutions as reliable and credible sources of information). In addition, half of all individuals trust a rank and file employee more than a CEO of the same company.
PR has evolved to provide value in conversations, not just connecting clients and the press
Mayfield believes that the role of PR is actually increasing and not declining. “You have a much more decentralized, fragmented media landscape that organizations need help understanding,” said Mayfield, “You have a new role of a PR person as a public actor in the conversation.” PR persons are no longer agents to allow conversations between their clients and the press, but rather people that are providing value and developing relationships within the conversation. And PR is no longer relegated to training top executives to hit the top message points, but also the entire company who has interactions at lower levels like support or developer relations.
“An overall social media strategy needs to be diverse in its tools. It needs to be diverse in its empowerment of different individuals,” said Mayfield. While most of the social media being presented by the media and pushed is very public, Mayfield sees a trend to more intimate type relations like a social communications network between PR firm and client. Or maybe new relationships between PR agents and those that they’re contacting. For example, instead of setting up two separate interviews with two different analysts, why not get both of them in a room as you’re giving your presentation and see what new rises from that interaction. For more on the importance of developing a relationship for communications, see episode #3, Build your audience by sharing their ideals and beliefs.
As I implored Mayfield to give me stories of what it takes to get people to collaborate, he straightened me out by explaining, “There’s no collaboration panacea,” said Mayfield, “It really just takes some conviction to identify what the true collaborative problem is and get agreement from a group to try to solve it and with what steps.” To start that off, Mayfield suggest looking for those people that have already taken to online collaboration outside of the organization (e.g. say they started a local social network of cat lovers). These are people that feel comfortable with social tools and are passionate being a community manager. Let them lead the charge.
Permission to market to your audience
As you’re developing a relationship with your audience, when you ask them for information like how to get a hold of them (e.g. contact information), you need to immediately reply back with some value (e.g. an invite to an event, or a trial of a product).
“[Ask yourself], ‘What can I give away to let people distribute, reuse, attribute, bring sources back to you, not just find on the Web, but carry forward into social networks,’” said Mayfield. It’s also not just your direct business, but the goodwill you bring to the environment. It’s something Mayfield has been doing for years, and he’s hoping it’s what is going to keep him afloat.
Even if people just want to promote, engage in conversation
When I asked my traditional, “What are the worst mistakes you’ve made?” question Mayfield admitted that he didn’t initially see the value of engaging with people who were obviously just interacting with him for their own ego and to push forward their own initiative. People would come on, self promote, and Mayfield would ignore them. Today he realizes “You really want to engage with every conversation that relates with your brand,” Mayfield advised, “Even if you don’t want to necessarily draw attention to the existence of a competitor.” How open is your discussion about your competition is an issue Mayfield still wrestles with today. It’s different industry by industry. A general rule of thumb about sharing information is to share the process, not the outcomes.
Your audience doesn’t care about you. They care about themselves. What are you going to give them? – podcast
August 27th, 2008
Episode nine of the “Be the Voice” podcast stars online media mogul Susan Bratton, co-founder and CEO of Personal Life Media.
Summary (Susan Bratton):
- Podcast production: deliver exactly the same format consistently gives listeners the comfort that you’re there for them.
- Have an individual in mind (ideally a thought leader) when you’re asking questions during your show.
- Personal Life Media’s network of 25 programs have taken off thanks to the network effect which we all know by the other name of social media.
- Don’t be afraid to approach someone yourself if you think you’re the ideal candidate.
- Ad agencies need to follow UGC, not try to control it, and encourage engagement.
- Your audience doesn’t care about you. They care about themselves. What are you going to give them?
- Bloggers are not journalists, but some are. Proceed with caution.
Susan Bratton is the co-founder and CEO of Personal Life Media, a podcast and blog publishing company that produces 25 weekly programs on the subjects of personal growth, relationships, longevity, and spirituality. One of those programs, DishyMix, hosted by Bratton herself, is a series of one-on-one interviews with leading members of the digerati. With each interview Bratton hopes to find out what these thought leaders are doing that makes them so special and what can her and her listeners do to copy their behavior?
DishyMix is just one of dozens of programs that make up the Personal Life Media brand. To build the brand’s editorial, Bratton sought out top notch voices that fit under her editorial umbrella of “personal life media,” and taught them how to podcast. Using a “MadLibs production format” as Bratton called it, she rattled off a “how to” list that was obvious she has said many times before. Bratton explained her production formula for a great Personal Life Media podcast.
- Introduce yourself, the show, and your guest
- Explain who your guest is and why they were invited to be on the show.
- Go over the top things you’re going to cover.
- Play the show intro with music bed.
- After the show is edited, put highlights of that show immediately after the intro with music, so the audience knows what they’re going to hear.
- Once again tell the audience what you’re going to talk about so they know what you’re going to deliver.
- Do the show.
- Have a break.
- Wrap it up and say thanks.
“I do that exact same format every single week so my listeners know what I’m going to deliver for them,” said Bratton, “I think that consistency of always delivering in exactly the same format gives the listeners the comfort that you’re there for them.”
If you’re not of interest to other thought leaders, then you can’t be a thought leader yourself
Those are just the mechanics of producing a show. To deliver great content you have to keep the individual listener in mind. Its best to think of a real person you know that would be the ideal audience for your podcast. For Bratton’s DishyMix show which is filled often with social media thought leaders, she speaks to Andy Sernovitz, author of “The Word of Mouth Marketing” book, and a leader in conversational media. Andy becomes the representative audience member that she thinks about when she does her show. It’s something she didn’t believe Andy knew…until now.
The reason she picks a person like Sernovitz is because he’s a though leader in the same space for which she’s interviewing others. As she’s preparing and interviewing a guest, she always thinks about Andy. Would Andy find this interesting? Is this the kind of information that would help Andy’s business? “It just gives me someone to talk to and think about so that my thoughts are collected at a pretty senior level when I’m doing my show which is my intent,” said Bratton.
Building an online media network allows you to take advantage of “the network effect.” Remember that? It’s also called social media.
Podcasting for Bratton is “The Global Microphone.” For Personal Life Media, “[It's] an ability to connect with an audience on a weekly basis and take them through a process of self empowerment in any given category. Whether it was your relationship or your weight or your body image or whatever it might be,” said Bratton.
Each host has their audio show, their blog, and their community. And they make money through advertising and given the similar nature of their media, sponsors will typically sponsor a minimum of five up to all of the shows across Personal Life Media. No one show makes or breaks the network, but each one helps each other grow because they actually like each other, enjoy being part of the Personal Life Media community, and cross-promote each other’s programming. As a result, in just a little over a year, Personal Life Media’s entire 25 program network has between 400,000 – 500,000 listeners, with each show having a listenership somewhere between 2,000 to 80,000, said Bratton.
Bratton understands how important it is to hold on to those listeners and nurture those relationships. That’s why the hosts of the shows also have blogs and contact information so they can engage with their listeners. Bratton is in the process of building out a community site for Personal Life Media and they just began offering a widget from Gigya that allows listeners who have blogs or profile pages on social networks to put the audio playing widget on their site so that they and their visitors can listen to the show in their own online space.
Susan Bratton isn’t scared of David Spark
I’m thrilled that Susan Bratton introduced herself to me for the Be the Voice podcast. She found my content online, realized that she would be an appropriate interview, and offered herself as a potential interview including a bio to show that she is in fact a leading voice for her market. I was so impressed by her approach and then I realized during our interview, this was far from the first time she’s introduced herself as being perfect for the job. In fact, that’s how she became a member of the board at Ad:tech.
Attending the Ad:tech conference back in 1996, Bratton was enthralled. She walked up to the founder and said, “I love this and I have ten ideas for you.” His response was, “You’re going to be on my board.” Since that first meeting Bratton’s programmed many worldwide events for Ad:tech and is still chair emeritus today.
How to deal with the ad agency question of “How many people am I going to reach and how much is it going to cost me?”
Given Bratton’s background in advertising, I asked her a question that always made pitching to ad agencies difficult for me. Ad agencies boil down everything to “How many people am I going to reach and how much is it going to cost me?” Because that’s how they buy media, in known quantities. When you’re dealing with an organization that knows its audience and its size, like a TV network or magazine, then you can answer that question. But the realm of social media doesn’t allow you to answer that question.
Bratton split her answer into two parts, first discussing user generated content where you don’t have control of the audience’s take on your brand, yet you still need to keep an ear to what people are saying. She recommended Andy Beal’s book, Radically Transparent and Pete Blackshaw’s book, Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000 for an understanding of how to get a handle around your online reputation.
The second part, as Bratton sees it, is social media, which is not about how the public is going to trash your brand, but rather “What more can I do to play with my customers, to listen to my customers, to give them some experiences with my brand rather than buying media and looking at impression measurements,” explained Bratton. There’s so much more engagement that can happen as people take your content and forward it or discuss it with their friends. “You might have to widen the aperture of your lens on how you measure impressions, [but] impressions can still be very aptly measured in the social media space,” Bratton said.
Honey, I want you and I to go to the next level. I want us to begin a campaign
Bratton agreed with me that the term “campaign” is dying as a term to associate with social media. Because social media is about relationships, and you can’t put the kind of effort you put into a campaign (which is a lot) into a relationship with your audience. It’s too costly and too exhausting. Social media tools like Facebook and Flickr allow you to create ongoing and sustainable relationships. Something a traditional ad campaign simply can’t do.
The initial cost of a social media engagement doesn’t end with the creative push. You have to be prepared with staff and funds to manage the feedback. Because while you may predict everyone’s going to love what you put out there, people are still going to have questions and criticisms of what you’re doing. Think about what your end goal is and make sure you’re “leaving room in your budget to have the time and the energy to really work it all the way through to customer satisfaction with any program you do in the social media realm,” advised Bratton.
The problem that Bratton is still having with social media is how she scales while she manages individual relationships. It’s a problem she continues to face when she sends out a well intended message to two hundred and fifty hand picked friends from a database of 8,000, and still gets messages back telling her to “take me off this list.”
The other issue she’s having is trying to find the right balance of communications with bloggers who are “being really prickly right now,” said Bratton. It’s a response I’ve heard before, of which I remarked, bloggers come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of ethics. Many don’t have to adhere to an editorial mandate from someone else, and most don’t get paid for what they do, so often they feel they can do what they want to do.
Getting started the Susan Bratton way
Like her steps for producing a great podcast, Bratton advises wanna be online voices to begin developing in the following way:
STEP 1: “You have to understand what you represent to someone else,” explained Bratton, “Why they want you and why they care about you. They don’t actually care about you. They only care about themselves. What are you going to give them?”
STEP 2: With every blog post, podcast, or video, show that you can deliver on that objective.
STEP 3: There’s never such a thing as an overnight success. You have to keep plugging at it and build your audience. Realizing this, Bratton delivers consistently on the production of her shows.
STEP 4: Don’t try to do too much. Meaning, don’t try to do a podcast, Facebook, Twitter, blog, videos, etc. all at once. Pick one to start with and be really good at it.
August 27th, 2008
Summary (Paul Dunay):
- The blog is the new resume
- Starting a personal/professional blog can be your social media sandbox. Play with it and learn the tricks and traps before you launch something within your organization.
- If you work at a large organization, you’re going to need to some corporate blogging guidelines. There are tons.
- You want to grow your audience so write content to elicit conversation, not act as the voice of G-d telling people what’s right and wrong.
- Pick your platform wisely. You don’t want to run into a situation where you’re on one platform (e.g. Blogger) and want to switch to another (e.g. WordPress) and you’re hesitant because the change in addressing will cause you to lose your “Google juice.”
- The best way to get a blog audience is to follow the people you want following you.
- When hosting a podcast, ask questions that will elicit honest responses to experiences rather than the talking points marketing wants to hit.
- Veotag allows you to take advantage of podcasts’ shortcomings by bookmarking chapters throughout your program.
- Know what’s on your audience’s minds and follow the news and the trends. To grab an audience always try to hook your editorial with the day’s headlines.
Back in May I was working at The CMO Club, producing editorial coverage for the organization’s first ever conference specifically for high level marketing executives. One of the presenters I wrote about was Paul Dunay of BearingPoint who gave a fantastic presentation about putting social media into the mix for a total media/marketing campaign. I was really impressed with the total level of involvement BearingPoint was committing to social media. They weren’t just doing one blog and one social network, they were everywhere, with lots of content, contests, and conversations in many different locations. In some cases they were creating their own properties for content (e.g. New Thinking blog at BearingPoint), and in other cases they would open up discussion groups in locations where people were already congregating (e.g. on Facebook).
What Dunay orchestrated for BearingPoint didn’t come overnight. It all began when he started building his own voice through his own blog. I asked Dunay about how he began.
The blog is the new resume
Paul Dunay’s inspiration to write the Buzz Marketing for Technology blog came after reading Keith Ferrazzi’s book, Never Eat Alone. Specifically, Dunay pointed to Ferrazzi’s projection that “the blog would be the new resume” (honestly, Dunay couldn’t remember if the line was actually in the book or he just read that phrase between the lines).
From that advice, Dunay felt he should start writing a blog for his own professional growth. A good idea, but immediately he though, what am I going to do with this? “What kind of content can I create on an ongoing basis that would be an interesting conversation for most people,” Dunay asked himself as he started his blog. “I didn’t have a voice at that moment. [I] sort of started and hoped [I'd] figure it out down the line,” said Dunay, “For me it was a sandbox for me to play with a little bit before I introduced it internally.”
Following corporate blogging guidelines?
Dunay began his personal/professional blog without alerting anyone at BearingPoint. About a month into writing the blog they got wind of what he was doing and he got “the call” from corporate and they asked him, “‘Are you adhering to any sort of corporate guidelines around [the blog]?’ And of course I typed in ‘corporate blogging guidelines’ at the time to a Google search engine and came up with the IBM corporate blogging guidelines and I said, ‘Oh yes, I’m using the IBM corporate blogging guidelines.’” Not realizing he was winging his answer on the call, BearingPoint’s legal department was so happy that he was following some sort of official type guidelines that they asked him to send him a copy. And so Dunay, after seeing the IBM corporate blogging guidelines for the first time, downloaded them, and sent them off to BearingPoint’s legal department.
After that conversation, Dunay added the following copy on the front page of his blog to indicate the division between Paul Dunay the individual thought leader and Paul Dunay the consultant who works for BearingPoint.
“The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent BearingPoint’s positions, strategies or opinions.”
Developing a blogging strategy, and hooking readers
Dunay wanted to take charge of the social media strategy at BearingPoint and he knew the best way he was going to learn social media is just by doing it (How very “Nike” of him). There were two aspects of social media he needed to learn: the technical (e.g. how to set up a blog, how to configure an RSS feed, how to post a podcast) and the strategy. At the beginning, Dunay’s only “strategy” was to blog. Over time he thought about his audience, the buzz marketer, and how he should target them. Initially, Dunay was just giving advice on what they should specifically do to create “buzz.” But he quickly realized that came off as a “voice of G-d” telling you what you should do and it didn’t encourage conversation.
Dunay began to tweak his writing style to engage readers more in conversation. But to really hook people to read his posts he quickly realized that those first few words of his title were critical as they are the first words a search engine sees. Which is very true, although the way Dunay has his Blogger blog set up, the first words a search engine sees are actually AFTER the title of his blog, “Buzz Marketing for Technology.” Just prior to our interview, I had attended a WordCamp conference (a conference for WordPress users) whre SEO (search engine optimization) expert Stephen Spencer of Netconcepts recommended that bloggers put the title of their blog AFTER the blog post. This is the content that appears inside the <TITLE> tag of a blog post which gets indexed very highly on search engines. Luckily, for WordPress users, Spencer offered us a free plugin called SEO Title Tag that could do just that. Is there an equivalent plugin for Blogger?
Dunay and I then got into a discussion about the value and problems with migrating your blog to another platform. There are two ways to publish a blog. Publish it on the blog company’s servers or publish it on your own server. The advantage of the former is there’s no maintenance and it’s completely free. The disadvantage is you’re connected to their addressing system (e.g. http://davidspark.blogspot.com/interestingpost.html). While there are plenty of tools to migrate a blog from one platform to another (e.g. Blogger to WordPress) Dunay fears he’ll lose all his “Google juice,” because the addressing system will inevitably have to change. While you can bring over readers, it takes time for the search engines to rediscover your content.
“Pick your platform and your URL wisely,” advised Dunay who was having second thoughts about his blog being hosted on Blogger.
Build an audience for your blog by linking to others
Dunay said that developing an audience for his blog required linking to people, commenting on other blogs, and linking back to stuff on your blog that was relative to what they were saying. “The best way to get a blog audience is to follow the people you want following you,” recommended Dunay. It was even easier for Dunay because he would invite bloggers he liked to be interviewed for a podcast.
Dunay was posting two, maybe three times a week. Many of the people he followed were far more prolific than him. He thought of increasing his posting but realized he needed to create a balance with his work and that the schedule he created so far was sufficient.
BearingPoint has a blog as well now called New Thinking. All interactions with that blog – views, downloads, comments – are cross-referenced with other marketing that BearingPoint is doing. They’re tracking the audiences’ interest and interactions and responding. The information, updated weekly, is invaluable to them.
Dunay and I got into talking about link baiting techniques. For example, using lists or specifically going negative with posts that start “The Worst…” or the “The Biggest Mistakes…” BearingPoint does go negative for traffic, but they’re not so crass and have to be more politically judicious, so they’ll substitute the word “pitfalls” instead.
Taking advantage of podcasting’s shortcomings
Dunay admitted one of his greatest “pitfalls” came during his early days of podcasting. His first show, never actually published, was a disaster. He wrote a paper and hired a voice talent for $2,000 to read the paper into a microphone, and that was going to be his “podcast.” It didn’t sound like a show. It sounded more like a book on tape and he and his colleagues were horrified when they actually listened to it. Realizing that hiring talent to read podcasts was not going to be the solution, Dunay looked for another podcast format that was conversational and avoided the stilted premise of having a vendor come in and shill their product.
When I worked as a host of The Sprint podcast, I would often get marketing people as guests on the show. And marketing people can’t shut off that part of their brain that causes them to talk only in sales mode. They know their talking points and they can’t help themselves from repeating them. While hosting the podcast, I kept begging Sprint, please stop sending me marketing people, send me geeks to interview.
Dunay had a somewhat similar situation. While he didn’t get marketing people and got the geeks, the geeks were being trained or questioned with traditional marketing questions like, “What are the six implementation pitfalls?” Dunay shifted focus and started asking more qualitative questions such as “When you delivered this, what did the client say and what was the reaction internally?” It got around to the same point, but he realized that the medium (podcasting) was different than blogs or even video, and depending on which one you choose, “you have to design into each medium,” advised Dunay.
Dunay also confirmed something that I’ve seen time and time again about podcasting. I’m a very strong proponent and consumer of podcasts on my iPod. I subscribe to them, download them, and take them with me to listen to on my commute or when I’m working out, Problem is I’m in a severe minority. I keep seeing statistics that 70% of all podcasts are heard on the computer at the moment and not via a subscription like iTunes or on the iPod.
To facilitate that ‘listening at your computer experience, Dunay implemented Veotag’s technology on his podcasts which allows the publisher to title chapters of his podcast and let listeners skip to portions of the show. “They want the question they want answered, and that’s the end of it,” said Dunay realizing that sometimes listeners don’t want to hear his entire show. Other advantages of Veotag for podcasts is the tags improve SEO and he can run slides or video alongside the audio of the podcast.
Crafting your editorial to coincide with what’s on people’s minds now
The core of BearingPoint’s messaging is through its editorial. Building their editorial requires knowing the top concerns of their audience which revolve around issues of identity theft and personal privacy. To increase interest, BearingPoint carves its editorial to tie in their issues with topical news. For example, and admittedly not a good one but it gets the point across, BearingPoint might write a story, “What should Michael Phelps be concerned about with his presence on Facebook?” Hooking your editorial with top of mind issues increases your chances of being recognized.
A good trick to knowing what are top news stories is to follow social bookmarking sites such as Google Trends, Hitwise, Technorati, Techmeme, Digg, and Tailrank, to name a few.
Be like Dunay
For those of you just starting out, Dunay advises first and foremost that you just start. Like the lottery “You have to be in it to win it,” Dunay said. Once you start, follow what is and isn’t working. “What is getting the reaction compared to what isn’t getting the reaction,” Dunay said. If people are gravitating towards a certain subject, then build it out. Turn it into a multi-part series, invite others to comment and join in the conversation. Like any marketing you might do, success comes with time.
August 23rd, 2008
Summary (Dana Gardner):
- Deliver high quality content and the social media tools and search engines will do their work to make your material discoverable.
- Answer your audience’s questions.
- It is possible to produce editorial content that satisfies the desires of your audience and your sponsors.
- BriefingsDirect aims to expose in full the analyst briefing experience. A valuable conversation that traditionally has been hidden from the public.
- Social media allows for interaction and feedback from your audience which is far cheaper and faster than conducting traditional research.
- Flame wars can result in great traffic, but they don’t solicit the audience you really want.
- Don’t rely on a single individual to be the voice of your company. Create a network of voices.
Dana Gardner is the founder and principal of the analyst firm Interarbor Solutions, he blogs for ZDNet, and he’s also the host of BriefingsDirect, a podcast that lets sit in and listen to the in depth conversation during an analyst briefing. Gardner has been a journalist and industry analyst for years, covering IT in the enterprise and currently focuses on hot issues for enterprise organizations such as service-oriented architecture or SOA. The combination of being an analyst, producing freely available content, and distributing it to the people who need it make up the three pillars of his business.
Gardner began producing all this content when he saw a need in the market for someone to be an advocate at the enterprise level for IT decisions and spending. The enterprise has traditionally been the space for innovation, said Gardner. Discoveries happen at the highest levels and then they work their way down to the masses thanks to economies of scale. Gardner though readily realizes that the complete reverse happens all the time. It’s what’s getting all the press these days. Technologies start at the bottom, at a pedestrian or grass roots level, and then they bubble up to the enterprise. Think Web 2.0 and it’s enterprise moniker, Enterprise 2.0.
Steve Gillmor, Dana Gardner, and Dan Farber (photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid)
Detailed answers to audience questions
Gardner is always looking to answer questions people have in his area of expertise. He recognizes that he’s riding the hype curve, but that’s what people are interested in that given time. And if Gardner wants to stay relevant he has to provide answers to what concerns his audience at the time they need the information.
Given the complexity of IT development in the enterprise, any discussion on the topic has to be thorough in order to be credible to the audience. In Gardner’s own work, what he discovered was the more detailed, deep, and rich his content was, the more the search engines paid attention, driving traffic to his Web site. Pointing to one example, he wrote a post on “application modernization.” It only got a couple of comments, yet today a search on “application modernization” into Google, brings that post up as the second post.
Feed the market what it wants and you don’t need to do marketing
“When you become associated as a content producer with essential keywords in IT you don’t have to go out and do advertising or marketing. The fact that you’re defining some of the top organic content around very important up and coming and global IT subject matter makes people recognize it,” Gardner said, “I don’t know enough about the algorithms of the search engines to feed them what they want, but I try to feed the market what it wants in terms of education, evangelism, and understanding, and hope that the algorithms recognize that and then that becomes a self fulfilling or virtual adoption pattern.”
Gardner has found that by finding his niche of delivering high quality B2B content, the social media tools and search engines will do their work to make his material discoverable.
Producing editorial that satisfies your audience and sponsors
Companies will sponsor Gardner’s content, but as Gardner explained, “I take into full account what they’re (the sponsor) trying to accomplish, but my number one role is to be an advocate for the listener and to be important and valuable and productive for the people that find the content. And my secondary role is trying to be productive and an advocate for the sponsor. The nice thing is that you can do both. It is not an either or or zero sum equation. However, you don’t want to err too far in one way or the other. If you’re just out there for just a consumer level discussion then somebody wouldn’t be interested in sponsoring it. It has to be deep it has to be specific. It has to be about a technology that’s emerging. On the other hand if you’re too far in the advocacy side of the sponsor well then you become of diminishing value to the end listener. And so striking that balance is what becomes essential and that’s why the analyst briefing model works so well is because organizations that come in to brief an analyst know they’re not going to BS them. They’re not going to pull a snow job over on these people. These people are too well versed and well educated in the subject matter to do that. At the same time the analyst does legitimately want to learn a lot more about this organization because they need to present this back to the market.”
Take cutting room floor content and produce it as social media
Gardner said he got the idea for his podcast BriefingsDirect from his work at a previous analyst firm. “We’d have hour long discussions with people – fabulous discussions – deep penetration into the markets, the trends, the competitive analysis, the implications, the ongoing business outcomes, but 5% of what took place in these discussions would end up in an analyst report. I figure I’d take the 95% left on the cutting room floor and present it out as social media,” said Gardner.
Allowing for conversation across social media has proven to be a fabulous research tool. “The feedback you take back from that (allowing comments on your blog) is very valuable. I highly encourage anybody to blog for no other reason than to enjoy a rich market research capability,” said Gardner, “You can learn so much from a few quick comments that might take you months and then some significant investment to uncover otherwise.”
Social media is alluring, but don’t fall into its traps
Gardner has seen other companies fall into the trap of not committing to social media even though they “say” they want to do it. “Unfortunately, many times, like with blogging, companies will do this (social media) three or four times and then suddenly it falls to the back burner. Other people are very busy. They don’t have the time. They see it as an imposition. Publishing and/or presenting in a media format is not their core competency. They feel a little unsure of themselves. And because they don’t do it frequently, it becomes stale,” Gardner said.
In his past, Gardner admits he would get into online arguments that would get him excited to keep doing it because the traffic on his site would shoot up as a result of all the arguing. But over time Gardner realized that flaming and reflaming and getting into these arguments don’t amount to much and it ultimately doesn’t attract the right kind of audience. “Going to the lowest emotional common denominator to me is an ineffective way of reaching that audience. I’d rather come up with valuable insightful fresh innovative content then appeal to angry white men sitting around computers that don’t have anything else to do,” Gardner said.
Your company’s voice should be a network of voices, not just an individual voice
You have to make a decision if this is worthwhile for you as an organization to do. Is there a lot of information your company possesses that your audience wants to know? If so, then you need to be out there communicating. But remember not every business is capable of producing content on an ongoing basis without it becoming arduous and consuming. That’s when you have to decide is it better to do it yourself, partner, or buy.
Once you go into production, be wary of giving one individual too much public authority. “If you’re a company and you’ve got an individual who becomes the voice of your company, they might leave in two months and you have to start from scratch,” warned Gardner. “If you’re a company though, be careful that you don’t place this visibility and brand in the hands of someone who is only a resume away from moving on to some other place,” said Gardner. If someone leaves, you will lose the audience you had two days earlier.
Gardner advises to create a network, not an individual. Have a stable of people, third parties, and outside influencers. You want to create a community and conversation, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
August 18th, 2008
Summary (Charlene Li):
- Charlene Li leaves Forrester to break out an independent though leader and consultant in the area of emerging technologies.
- Business communications have changed. Even if you try to hide problems, they will eventually be discovered and blow up in your face.
- Social media should not be treated like an advertising campaign. It’s a conversation. And conversations are open ended.
- If you don’t give your audience what they need and want, it doesn’t matter how great a voice you have, they won’t come and listen to you.
I’ve run into Charlene Li many times at related tech industry events in the San Francisco Bay Area. Last time I saw her was at the Blogher conference in San Francisco which also happened to be her last day at Forrester where she worked for 9 1/2 years as an emerging technology analyst. I asked Charlene what she was going to do now and she said she was going to break out on her own as an independent thought leader.
The decision said Li was due to a collection of different events converging. While she was very happy with her time at Forrester, she wanted more balance between her work and home life (she has two children). And the success of her new book Groundswell has proven to her that she’s developed a strong enough industry voice for herself that she has the capability to be successful on her own.
As an independent, Li wants to broaden her reach to cover and track more emerging technologies, such as mobile, and not be pigeon-holed into just social media because she’s interested in all technologies and how they relate to social media.
Her audiences include other thought leaders she wants to influence, practitioners that want advice on what’s good and what’s bad, and then there’s the press for which she advises as well. At Forrester, she developed a very strong relationship with the press who are constantly looking for tips on breaking news and feedback on phenomenons. In fact, I think she’s NPR’s go to person for anything and everything that’s social media.
Charlene Li wants her independent consulting and online voice to be more conversational and not so institutionalized as when she worked at Forrester, which offers a far more considered “from the company” opinion. Her own personality and personal experiences are injected in her analysis of emerging technologies. But being an independent will not be the first time she will have done that. She developed her own voice at Forrester, where the company allowed her to do just that even though they knew that she could leave at any time. She did eventually leave, but only after working there for more than nine years to which Li said speaks volumes of how much she enjoyed working at Forrester.
I was surprised to hear that Charlene Li spends only two to three hours a week at most on blogging activities. It’s an area she doesn’t rely on for her industry voice. What she does rely on are her public appearances and her strong relationship with press for which she spends at least an hour every day talking with journalists.
What she likes so much about public speaking is NOT delivering typical “voice of G-d” speeches which come off as “you’re stupid if you don’t get this.” Rather she prefers more conversational presentations that try to make technology less scary and show how others can use it in your every day life. She tries to avoid a lot of the hype. She just wants to boil it down to what’s going to work and what’s not going to work.
Any problems you’re hiding will eventually blow up in your face
Typical client engagements for Charlene Li involve companies about to launch a product and maybe they don’t know how open they should or should not be about it. I asked in what situations does she advise one way or the other and Li said it all depends on the client’s audience. Does the audience want openness?
Many companies are very fearful of that openness because they think something’s going to blow up in their face. Business communications have changed, said Li, and any problems you may be hiding now will blow up eventually. The question is do you want it to blow up two days from now or two months from now? A core part of Li’s job is advising clients on the relationship they need to build with their customers.
Advertising agencies are misguiding their clients developing social media campaigns
“I think advertising agencies are doing a great disservice to the industry because they’re creating what I call ’social media campaigns,’ rather than a strategy that says, ‘This is what the relationship is going to look like.’ [Social media] is not a one off. It’s a long term conversation you want to have with these people. It sounds kind of trite, but conversations are open ended and marketing and advertising by definition are not open ended. They want you to go buy a product. That’s not what people want these days,” Li said.
For those companies fearful of this kind of openness, Li advises them to start something small off in the corner of the organization and see how it works and what it needs to survive. For example, the corporate blogging mark of success is Bob Lutz’s Fastlane blog. It appears it was the first blog for GM because that’s the one that got all the press. But it was not GM’s first blog, said Li, GM’s first blog was actually a small block engine blog celebrating the 25th anniversary of the block engine. The success of that small blog gave GM and Bob Lutz the confidence to launch his more high profile blog publicly at the auto show.
You must listen to your audience in order to build your business
Now that Charlene Li is going independent and is no longer a Forrester salaried employee, I asked her how she’s going to manage and rationalize all her non-revenue generating work like blogging and research. “My posts are based on revenue generating. Because these are the questions that people will be dying to ask me about. They want to dig deeper into it. They want to have discussions with me about it,” said Li, “These are topics that are very much driven by what my clients and my prospects are thinking about. So that’s always at the front of what I’m doing. Frankly, if you don’t give your audience what they need and want, it doesn’t matter how great a voice you have, they won’t come and listen to you.”
“The core content has to address the core problems that other people are willing to pay money to get more information about,” Li advised. As a result, Li goes out of her way at events or with clients and vendors to talk to users and ask them what are the problems they’re facing to better understand the issues of her audience.
Unlike Alec Saunders who committed himself to posting three blogs a day, Charlene Li only publishes when she has something to say and something that her audience wants to hear. She doesn’t want to waste her audience’s time with frivolous content. For others, she recommends they have a clear strategy in mind. What is it you want to say and not want to say over what platforms, e.g. blogs, Twitter, social networks, etc. And what is it your audience wants to hear? That will be your content strategy.
For more on Charlene Li, visit her blog.
July 27th, 2008
Below is a short presentation I gave last week to the SVAMA (Silicon Valley American Marketing Association) about how social media has been sold to us through the general media and social media consultancies. The big story that’s constantly sidestepped is that you must first create great editorial content and THEN you can worry about distribution (social media).
I put together this short (6 min) Slideshare presentation to debunk the traditional way social media is being sold and offer a more sane and logical approach to developing industry voice to grow your business.
This is cross-posted on my blog, Spark Minute, but I thought it would be appropriate to launch the “Be the Voice” blog and podcast with this presentation.
I’m interested to know your opinion. Do you agree/disagree this is how it’s being sold and do you believe/not believe that the social media evangelists are sidestepping the issue of content?