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Our server at work was on the brink of crashing last week (ok, that’s an exaggeration but our IT manager did send out a warning email). Apparently, too many of us were ‘secretly’ streaming videos of the Olympics during work hours. Seems like many people around the world have the same idea, though.

These Olympics have been aptly dubbed “The Digital Games”. Millions of viewers – up to 5% – will watch the Olympics without ever turning on their tallies, and NBC Universal will stream a record 2,200 hours of live footage online.

With figures like these, it makes me wonder – will the Internet become our future medium of choice for watching the Olympics (or any other World Cup/Superbowl equivalent)? Call me old fashioned, but for me, part of the Olympic fun is about sharing the big screen with a bunch friends at the pub while cheering for your team. What do you think?

Either way, it sure is paving for an interesting way of marketing around the Olympics. Gone are the days when big sponsors “pay a gazillion dollars to the IOC, then pay a gazillion more to brag like heck about it on TV and in print ads” (read this article from USA Today ‘Faster, higher, stronger and digital’. It also has some great examples of the digital marketing strategies implemented by savvy companies like Lenovo and Johnson & Johnson – such as athletes blogging and video sharing).

Will the rise of the Internet mean the death of the TV? I hope not. (…but I may just be swayed if the pubs start streaming live internet videos on the big screen).

One wise man who arguably has the best bird’s eye view of the situation is Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP. According to Sir Martin in his interview with CNBC on the day of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, whilst “this is really the first truly digital games…[digital is] only 10% of client budgets, it’s 20% of consumer time. By the time clients move their budgets to 20%, we’ll be spending more time on the web. But you’re right. They all work together.”

As I sit here typing my debut post for this blog, I can’t help but think of the dozens of topics I should write about– my thoughts on social media, the new widgets I downloaded on my iPhone, my new obsession with Twitter, or even Facebooking at work (I am guilty, and so are you.)  Just thinking of these topics made me realize how in one very short year after moving from Pennsylvania to San Francisco, I have warped into a digital girl. Prior to working as an AAE in the Technology Practice, I had no idea that blogs were big business and social networking was encouraged at work.  I still can’t figure out where all the “stuff” goes when we upload pictures or download music, it’s all still a mystery. I’m still learning.

All this digital information, mind-numbing technology, and creative innovation that surrounds us each day is extremely overwhelming, borderline suffocating but in a strange way humbling and inspiring. While studying in college I refused to read dissertation papers or reports online, I had to feel the pages, trace the words, and touch the pictures. I hardly signed on to AIM and I refused to respond to text messages, thinking it was so silly to not pick up the phone and press “call.”  I honestly thought personal blogs were rants and ramblings with no credibility (many still are), and heck, I created a blog last year just for my friends and family to read so they would stop calling me in the middle of the night while living abroad in South Korea, hence the very creative blog title. In one short year, my perception of technology has changed, drastically.

We, namely Gen Y, grew up bombarded with information overload. We are a spoiled generation, not in terms of material things, but in digital goods. We watched as the tech bubble burst in Silicon Valley, we witnessed 9/11 while sitting in classrooms, we quit Harvard and started an online yearbook, and we asked Google, not God, why the sky is blue.  We have a reputation of being “know-it-alls” because of all this technology. You can’t blame us, because with the click of our fingers, we feel like we know it all.

This year, Gen Y Americans have more incentive, power and voice to rock the vote and elect the next President of the United States.  Presidential Candidates are blogging and even YouTube is playing a fundamental role during debates. We are optimistic for the future and are more wired and globally connected with our peers than previous generations.  Yet, we are facing an economic downturn, a grim job market and a mortgage crisis.  We are renting, not buying, borrowing, not paying, dating, not marrying…or maybe that’s just me ;). We are aware of what’s imminent, but hopeful because like I said, we live in a digital world, and with technology, we can find answers, innovate, communicate, educate, spark controversy and conversation, and bring about change. 

[Disclaimer: author is an extreme optimist.]


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Here is an important post on TechCrunch about the decision of the SEC to recognize corporate blogs as public disclosure. This is just a natural step towards more visual communication, something we have been talking about on this blog for some time and something we are pushing our clients to embrace more and more. I predict we will see companies (probably mid-size technology companies) to embrace this more rapidly than others. One thing is to have the SEC making this decision, the other is to change the corporate culture overnight. It will require time and as PR consultants we will need to sit down with our clients and help them go through this process. It seems easy. But it’s not. Game on.

I’ve been reading a lot about network effects lately. I attribute this to the large number of Bill Gates retrospectives that describe how Microsoft dominated the PC area. Also there’s Steve Lohr’s story in the New York Times this Monday which describes how the principle applies to Google.

The network effect seems to perfectly describe the value of social networks. However, I can’t help wondering: what happens as the Web becomes more open, more semantic? Doesn’t increased data portability, by definition, undermine the effect as it applies to social networking companies?

Social networking has helped individuals (and the groups they belong to) benefit from the network effect in new ways. That’s not going to go away. But is it possible that continued innovation will eradicate the ability of the host networks themselves to benefit?

What’s to stop social networks from ending up as widgets easily added or subtracted from a fully-customizable, personalized and interactive home page (iGoogle or myYahoo)? How can they stop it from happening?

I’m genuinely curious. Anyone have any ideas?

Not too long ago, I found myself standing in the middle of the “condiments” aisle in my local grocery store, staring cross-eyed at shelves full of Jelly choices. After about 5 minutes of picking up different kinds of grape jelly and studying the labels, I actually had to call my wife and ask her (with a not-so-subtle hint of sarcasm), “which of the 14 jars of grape jelly do you want?” Among others, there were organic, regular, low-sugar, sugar-free, preservatives, jam, peanut butter swirl, tall skinny jar, short wide jar, plastic jar, glass jar, etc. etc. – the options seemed limitless.

This isn’t a new discussion and there are some interesting studies that cover the impact of too much choice. I found the image that was in a recent and quite interesting National Post article particularly striking – look at all of those TVs!?.

Then, to my suprise, I read a story in the Sydney Morning Herald that actually references an experiment on too much choice and Jam…”In the experiment, two groups of supermarket shoppers were asked to sample jam. One group was given six jams to taste, the other group was given 24. Thirty per cent of the first group purchased something after the tasting, only 3 per cent of the second group made a purchase.”

For technology communications professionals, choice poses more than just challenges in our personal lives. We’re faced with the added test of differentiating both our own services as well as the products or services were are helping promote. Whether you are launching a new consumer technology, marketing an enterprise storage device, a core router or a new professional service, crafting a unique message that stands out.

We are also forced to consider the fragmentation of the media industry and understand how media is being consumed, accessed or shared by readers so we can devise the best approach to reaching a target audience is an ever-increasing challenge .

Just consider that the two stories I’ve linked to in this article are from international news sources that I found by reading Google News Alerts – not my local paper or the blogs I follow on a daily basis.

I read the vast majority of my news via my iGoogle homepage, which now includes a widget for my Facebook, Twitter and Flickr accounts as well as several other applications I used to have to individually check on a daily basis. Here are just a few of my Tabs on my iGoogle homepage:

Storage Blogs and News

PR Blogs (You’ll see my Denver Bias here as several are from my hometown)

Technology News

The challenge to all of us is to be the jelly that stood out enough for the 3 percent to actually read about and then purchase.

Graham’s post on the decline in B2B blogging reminded me of this from Shel Holtz arguing, persuasively, that social media is ideally suited for B2B environments. Interestingly Holtz cites last year’s bullish Forrester report while Graham cites this year’s more downcast findings.

I agree with much of what Graham writes and suspect the recent findings are illustrative of the fact that we’re still very much in an evolutionary phase. As people jump on the social media bandwagon there’s bound to be a great deal of disappointment. Furthermore, when professionals are asked to add content creation to their ever-expanding list of job responsibilities there’s bound to be some push back or, after a quick burst, an inevitable decline in the level of activity.

I wonder if part of the problem some companies experience with blogging is that they are asking, or expecting, to much. There’s tremendous pressure for every business (in virtually every industry) to establish itself as a thought leader. I suspect that most blogs are launched as thought leadership platforms, thereby resulting in pressure on the bloggers themselves to write something new and exciting with every keystroke.

I’ve believed for a long time that this is the reason some PR blogs are unreadable. Setting aside the inexcusably poor writing, many feel the need to establish thought leadership by writing – at great length and in a constant loop – about how social media is reinventing public relations. This leads to a constant recycling of ideas which is masked (poorly) by a mixture of breathless hyperbole, impenetrable linguistic complexity and the forceful declaration of the painfully obvious.

To me, and I think the examples Holtz provides dovetail with this, a B2B blog is an opportunity for a company to reveal itself to its potential customers, partners and employees. I’m reminded of David Ogilvy’s recommendation to clients in “Confessions of an Advertising Man.” When evaluating agencies: “find out if you like them; the relationship between client and agency has to be an intimate one, and it can be hell if personal chemistry is sour.”

A B2B blog, I feel, is ideal– especially in the service sector – for providing a window to customers (and others) that will help them determine whether or not the authors are people they want to do business with. A B2B blog can reveal how a company and its employees think, their personalities, their approach to considering issues, knowledge of certain spaces and so on. With this in mind it strikes me that it’s as legitimate (and as valuable) to write about experiences with the Nintendo Wii (as this EDS blogger does), as it is to come up with, and share, a new idea.

One final point, I’m not sure Forrester’s recent findings are really all that negative. After all, if 53% of respondents spurned blogging that suggests 47% embraced it. How many embraced blogging ten years ago? From that perspective 47% looks pretty good.

I was reading a story this morning from B2B magazine that the popularity of blogging by b-to-b marketers is waning. This is according to Forrester Research’s “How to Derive Value from B2B Blogging” report released Monday. A stand out finding is that 53% of respondents said blogs were either marginal or irrelevant in their 2008 marketing strategy.

Why?

Whilst not an expert and without knowing the companies surveyed, my gut tells me that the only reason for a negative response like this could be because the content is not relevant and is not driving conversations. I also imagine the reason for starting a blog in the first place was a knee jerk reaction due to the interest and desire to embrace blogging as part of a corporate social media program.

Forrester recommends that companies give it another go, employing a few basic strategies like honing their voice on other public forums, becoming a resource rather than espousing company rhetoric.

Are we going to see a decline in the number of corporate blogs – one would expect that technology companies would have more success, especially within the markets they operate and the topics relevant to their buyers. Perhaps I am wrong. But with blogging and other conversational marketing activities now part of an employee’s job description, are we forcing the issue and as a consequence, finding that there is little of no value because the content is probably not worth the effort. These results in this Forrester survey would suggest that is happening.


Jun 25

Uh-oh

We are being watched . . .

While I largely agree with the points Tom Foremski makes, I do have two quibbles.

First: the notion that “PR firms cannot claim to know anything about new/social media if they aren’t using it themselves.”

There’s no question in my mind that direct experience is tremendously valuable, however it seems to me that there is plenty of evidence to support the notion that, in any endeavor, outside perspectives can provide unique, valuable insight and trenchant analysis.

I think the tendency of some in the blogosphere to critique the MSM without having experience or training as reporters is a great example of this. Their critique is no less true and no less valid for their lack of experience in investigative reporting.

There’s also plenty of evidence, I think, to support the notion that an overly insider perspective can negatively distort and bias opinions. That’s how we get market bubbles. On balance direct experience is better than no experience, but I don’t think it’s an absolute.

Second: the notion that many PR firms only post “after meetings about what they will blog about.” This strikes me as somewhat apocryphal. It’s certainly not true in our case.

One final point, I do think most publicists struggle to blog – I know I do. I’m not entirely sure why but I think it may have something to do with the nature of our profession. We can’t blog about day-to-day work because it’s all supposed to be privileged – until its not – and then the focus should be on the client. It can be difficult to make the time, and the head space, to find other sources of material.


Jun 23

Predictions

There’s a great package of articles covering the future of the Internet, start-ups to watch and the business of social networking in the latest Technology Review. While there’s too much to summarize I do want to draw attention to these predictions (and hopes and fears) for the next 5-10 years of the Internet by the likes of Vint Cerf and Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

My prediction (or hope) is that the Internet as a distinct entity becomes, more or less, extinct. To put it another way: in the next decade I hope to see an Internet so pervasive, so easily and seamlessly accessed from such a multitude of essentially invisible interfaces that it goes unnoticed by the average user. You can’t help but be conscious of your interactions and experiences with, or on, the Internet today. Ten years from now, who needs the hassle?

Any other predictions?


For the past couple of years I haven’t been in a client meeting or industry event where “social media” isn’t mentioned. Forget “mention”: it has been at the core of the discussion. But in all these conversations, what hasn’t been covered is how traditional media, in particular tech press, is evolving, changing, adapting; and what this means for “traditional” tech PR professionals. Publishers like CMP (or better the former CMP) and IDG are changing. They have been “socialized”.

From now on, when I talk to a client or colleague, I’d like to make a distinction between social media and socialized media.

Of course I believe they are both very important, but they are critically different. And since all the attention has been focused on the first one, in this post I want to share some initial thoughts on the latter:

  1. Traditional tech papers have been migrating for the past 2/3 years from print to online. By 2010 there won’t be any print. We will be living in a Paperless Tech PR world.
  2. Traditional space in the media to cover tech related stories is shrinking, but new opportunities to pitch and place stories are rising in new, different venues. The use of video, slide shows, graphs is exploding. The publishers themselves are still sorting out what they want to be, still blurry on what is pay to play and what is vendor content deemed worthy of editorial sharing. They’d be wise to make the distinction. As PR professionals, we now need to learn how to navigate this new environment and become fluent visual storytellers. We always knew that “an image is worth 1,000 words “. Now a video is worth even more.
  3. Almost all “traditional” journalists (I hate calling them traditional, as if they didn’t matter anymore – they do) are now blogging. We all know that. Some of them prefer staying unbiased on reporting, others enjoy the opportunity to become commentators. But the way they get their information and are sharing their stories is changing. Some of them are using social networks to do that, others not. So, in some cases, following a journalist on Twitter can be the best way to find out about a story or to come up with a brilliant pitch.
  4. Everyone is now a publisher. Now, in the “socialized media” world, tech publishers are eager to use vendor-generated content. The publishers are becoming a distributor of information. Transparency, ethics and credibility will play an important role as new rules will apply.
  5. Bloggers can be social media or they can be writing for a socialized media outlet. How can we define what’s what? Traditional bloggers like Michael Arrington, Om Malik and Robert Scoble (I love to define them as the traditional ones!) are spending a lot of time building their own personal brands. We can call them the “brandbloggers.” Bloggers of traditional media outlets (the “journabloggers”) are not focused on that at all. They are journalists by background, enjoy the freedom that only a blog platform can give them and know that branding is not part of their job description.

So what’s the net-net? As PR practitioners we are in front a very complex ecosystem, with a lot of moving parts. I think knowing and understanding the different motivations of all the players (the blogger, the journalist, the publisher, the editor) will make us better counselors and strategists.

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