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Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

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.

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.

Much has been said about the use of social media and I’ve heard several business to business technology companies either struggling with how to best harness social media or viewing social media as something that is too risky to adopt.

What I think lies at the center of this discussion is the need to really know the voice of the organization and the key attributes that factor into building the foundation that supports the voice.

That foundation should include a few key elements: a secure and confident understanding of the organization’s core values that ultimately define the brand; a compelling mix of core messages to support the company’s products or services; and a vision for where the company and industry are going.

From these elements – and quite possibly several other considerations – a social media strategy can be built that integrates the right tools, activities and campaigns that adequately represent the brand and help communicate with the company’s audiences.

I attended a Business Social Software Jeopardy Webcast hosted by Jive Software on May 28th. The Webcast three contestants - Bill Johnston - Chief Community Officer at Forum One Communications; Laura Ramos - Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research; and Jeremiah Owyang - Senior Analyst at Forrester Research and was hosted by Jive Software’s CMO, Sam Lawrence.

Overall the Webcast was informative, but what really stood out was the POST methodologythat Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang spoke about. POST stands for People (knowing your audience/ who you are trying to reach), Objectives (what are you trying to achieve?), Strategy (how your relationships will change from the activities) and Technologies (the tools you’ll use to achieve your goals for the effort). Following these four steps make a lot of sense to me, but they need to be built on a foundation that falls in-line with the company’s voice and overarching brand personality.

I do believe that there is a role for social media within any company or organization. How broad reaching the effort is, how “edgy” the tactics are and what tools and techniques are applied. The chief underlying rule to always keep in mind is that they must be built from a solid foundation and awareness of your voice.

Here are a few interesting current and past social media efforts from business to business companies that support their brands. The differences are obvious, but what is important is how they found their own voice and approach to meet their goals.

Some of these are well known examples, others may be new to you…

LiveVault Institute for Backup Trauma

Cisco donthaveameltdown.com (I believe the official site has been taken down, but the viral video still lives on)

*Hitachi Data Systems blogs and viral videos

Know of any good B2B social media campaigns or activities? If so, please share them!

* full disclosure we currently represent Hitachi Data Systems, however we were not involved in the development of the Mr. T viral video series

Yeah, as in Wonka. Remember the scene? Charlie at the gates? Thousands upon thousands of fans standing in eager amazement as the gates were about to open. Would we see oompa-loompas for the first time? Gorge on chocolates to our hearts content? Just what would we do with the gates open?

And that’s a bit of the sensation I had as a tech PR professional upon reading that some mainstream media (MSM) are responding to the surge in growth and buzz (there’s a difference) in and about social media. They want some too (yes, get me some of that social media, but as a means to growth and buzz) so they’re opening the gates. Call it readership community! Collaboration! Co-creation! Whatever you call it, BusinessWeek and others want to let readers guide story topic selection; heck sometimes they’ll let them write the next sentence! They want to engage with readers, and in doing so cede the ‘we are the experts, we’ll decide what to analyze and then do the analysis’ mantel.

So like I said, at first the PR pro in me gets giddy. What an opportunity! More ways to suggest topics! More ways to influence! More ways to get the experts I want to see espousing with more air-time than your experts! Alas my clients will be heard!

But wait. Then the New Englander in me speaks up. The New Englander automatically furrows the brow and looks for ‘the angle’ in anything that looks good at first. There must be a downside dammit. And then it hits me. The thousands of fans at the gate. Some of them are maybe not evil, but certainly not upstanding. Let’s just say, they won’t be operating with transparency. They might just dupe those MSM. They might steer, influence and suggest too far. Why, with the news staffs shrinking, who will ensure that some bot doesn’t just keep changing names and suggesting similar topics that mislead a tag cloud of story ideas! Those poor unsuspecting MSM!

Then I decide, maybe the change actually lands somewhere in the middle. Of course BusinessWeek needs to socialize itself. They must innovate or shrink. They’ll succeed in places, fail in others. And after all, this is about conversations and relationships, and that’s why I got into this field 20 years ago. It’s a good thing, right? As long as those of us acting transparently traffic the rest of the crowd. After all, someone has to protect the Ever-lasting Gobbstoppers.

It’s a good thing. Right?

I’ve worked with a lot of tech start-ups; many had ill-defined paths to revenue. Some had no path at all. I share Om Malik’s skepticism (see here and here) towards the soundness of all that VC money deposited in the bank accounts of developers of “Widgets, Facebook Applications, OpenSocial Web 2.0 gee gaws.”

Of course, a lot of start-ups require a large amount of capital to fund product development, marketing, etc. But developers of these ‘demi-apps’ don’t necessarily need much funding to get going or thrive. Furthermore, social networking facilitates a level of user engagement that – to me anyway – presents a much more tantalizing opportunity for funding than VCs.

See this article in the June issue of The Atlantic about Senator Obama’s “Amazing Money Machine.” With the passion that some users have for widgets, and with the technology to build and leverage strong networks of like-minded people, doesn’t it make more sense for these companies to try to tap into their users for funding?

There’s been a lot of moaning and groaning about Twitter outages recently (not a widget I know, but bear with me). From what I see on CrunchBase the company has raised $5.4 million. With their user base, however, and the obvious passion that user base has for the service, maybe the ‘Obama money machine’ might help solve the problems.

To be sure, tech start-ups don’t necessarily have the appeal of a candidate for the presidency of the United States, but who says they need to raise $50 million a month?

In what has felt like a sudden onset of one natural disaster of epic proportion after another, the last thing from which one might expect to be kept informed would be a social media tool traditionally used for personal updates to a network of friends, industry peers and family. But now, a program built around “short codes,” is playing a role in disaster recovery and affecting people emotionally and financially. So with the recent earthquake in China, the cyclone in Burma and the fires in California, it’s rather surprising that a growing trend has emerged with accounts of these disasters being reported on Twitter en masse.

A recent article in PRWeek got me thinking about the value of such social media tools that, in many ways, have come to be much more than strictly “social.” As tweets began to provide status updates on those in devastated areas of China, Twitter took on a new life, a new role. It became philanthropic and educational. The Salvation Army began using its Twitter page (twitter.com/salvationarmy) to let followers know about progress on relief efforts and directed people to where they could find more information and resources. Other organizations were right in step with this as well.

“Though the American Red Cross doesn’t have a staff in China, it did use Twitter (twitter.com/redcross), as well as traditional media notifications to tell victims of last year’s Southern California wildfires where to find help during the disaster, says Wendy Harman, senior associate for new media integration at the American Red Cross,” reported PRWeek.

Tweets have continually evolved; from personal status updates to a means of spreading news and trends. However, I must admit, if tools like Twitter can make finding shelter easier, allowing loved ones to reunite or even raise money, social media just got even better. I kind of love it even more.

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide