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Pivot logoAt the Pivot Conference #pivotcon these past two days in New York, there has been a great spirit of sharing and learning among social media stakeholders at major brands like Unilever, Gap, American Express, IBM, Bloomberg to name a few, their agencies and the ecosystem of technologies that serve as the backbone and analytics of this discipline. Knowing Pivot is very focused on consumer-facing brands, I was delighted to hear a few good examples from b to b technology companies and technology PR professionals too.

A few themes at the conference have stood out, such as:

  1. It’s about relationships, not megaphones
  2. Authenticity is required, and
  3. Transparency.

Conference speaker Charlene Li of Altimeter Group acknowledged what most in the audience were thinking, that these themes are words that are increasingly thrown about, but she was focused on drilling into what do they really mean in the realm of social media.

Her message: That being online representing your brand, say on Twitter, and responding to consumer concerns is simply not enough anymore. Charlene contends that individuals want brands to know and understand them. That It’s not about technology, its about relationships.

So here is how Charlene suggests brands can prepare to do more than simply respond in social media:

  1. Create a culture of sharing. (Which is difficult when we are conditioned to be secretive in many corporate cultures)
  2. Have the discipline needed to succeed. (For example, create different flow charts for positive and negative comments, thinking through ahead of time various scenarios. Response should not be an ad-hoc process that can walk out the door with an employee)
  3. Prioritize disruptions that matter. (Focus on user experience; your business model; your ecosystem value. What can you do in social to change the flow of value?)
  4. Prepare for failure. (Fail fast, fail smart. Define ahead of time what kind of failures are acceptable, and what the consequences will be)

There has been a great spirit of learning and humility here, acknowledging that nobody has all the answers and that to be successful in social, you need to be prepared to develop sound social strategy, but also amass the drive to champion its adoption and best practices throughout your organization. And I guess that is the point. Your company culture needs to embrace the inherent openness of social in order to be successful in social. How else can a brand be authentic? (Yes, that word again).


In 1983, as a reporter for the Financial Times, I interviewed Steve Jobs. It was one of many such meetings – but one that I have never forgotten.

This was what we would now call a “pre-brief” about the original Macintosh – a breakthrough product that in many ways changed the way we use computers.

Steve was determined to impress me. I was very determined NOT to be impressed! This guy had a reputation for turning journalists’ heads. It was called the “Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field” and many had succumbed to it.

The interview was in his office on Brandley Drive, in Cupertino (close to the Apple HQ but not in it. He had handed over the CEO role at Apple to John Sculley). By then the renegade Macintosh development group was officially sanctioned by Apple PR – but only just! The company’s primary focus was on office computers.

There was a pirate flag flying over the entrance, a Harley Davidson in the lobby, and a grand piano in the central area inside. Steve’s office was furnished in blonde wood…and was quite Spartan. Was this a PR setup or for real, I was asking myself!

I was ready to ding Steve with tough questions, but he began by asking me if I would like something to drink. I fully expected the PR lady (who came to be a good friend over the years) to fetch the drink, but no! I watched as Steve meticulously brewed, poured and served me a cup of tea (with milk, of course). And I knew that he had won this battle of wills even before the interview began.

It was a little thing that made a big impression. A very Steve thing. One of his many talents was to know exactly how to win people over. And he did it to great effect.

Steve was not always charming. I recall being in a meeting with him a few years later and witnessing him ream out a product manager after I asked an awkward question. The guy told me more than ten years later that he had never forgotten the experience.

Steve was incredibly demanding of his people, incredibly egotistic and eccentric at times, incredibly insightful, yet to use his own phrase, “insanely great”.

Another keen memory of Steve was on the day he returned to Apple – not officially, but as a “consultant”. This must have been in 1996. As I recall, it was the Friday before Christmas and Apple called a press conference. The weather and the traffic were terrible. Only Apple could pull this off!
I got there just in time to hear Gil Amelio, then Apple CEO, announce that Apple was acquiring NeXT computer – the company founded by Steve after his 1985 ouster from Apple.

Steve made a surprise appearance, bounding down the steps of the auditorium only to say that he could not take questions because he had been up all night negotiating the deal. That didn’t stop me. “What the hell are you up to?” I asked him. “”Oh Louise, I am not interested in returning to Apple. I have a family now…” he told me. Somebody snapped a photo and sent it to me. On this occasion I was not caught up in the distortion field. I felt sure that Steve was back at Apple.

Fortunately, my instincts were right. Over the past 15 years Steve Jobs has taken Apple Computer to new heights and “changed the world” (as he liked to say) with new generations of personal computers, phones and tablet computers.

The last time I saw Steve was in the lobby of Intel’s HQ in Santa Clara. He was chatting with a group of Intel people and I did not interrupt. He was skinny and gaunt and it was shocking to see how his illness had affected him. I wish that I had been bold enough to say again: “Steve, what the hell are you up to?” I am sure he would have had a great retort.

Louise


I have worked with David Kirkpatrick in the past with no issues and have always been a fan of his. And while this detailed account of events does not change my outlook on him, I must say after reading Michael Arrington’s blog post, I can only hope that David and others have a new appreciation for what PR people are up against on a daily basis. How many times have you had to go back and ask a reporter to pull something down or correct misinformation because of a miscommunication? Even if you know the reporter has a right to keep it posted or you and the publication have already agreed upon terms, sometimes circumstances require the information to be changed. And as a PR person who has had to do this more times than I would like to admit, it is never an easy process.

How did you feel after reading the blog post? Siding with Kirkpatrick or Arrington?

By now, almost all the western world — and a good chunk of Asia and Africa — have all heard of Apple’s latest breakthrough product, the iPad.

The sheer number of impressions this launch has generated is in itself impressive. But what is even more impressive is the use of early adopters and key influentials to drive the story, enthusiasm, excitement and buzz for Apple, not the company itself.

Remember that Apple is not a company that is that into social media, yet check out the Twitter hashtag #ipad and end user blogs to get a sense for the mountain of coverage and interest generated for the iPad.

How does it do this? Good old-fashioned smart PR and a communications strategy that relies on the magnification effect of early adopters and influentials to amplify launch noise via traditional PR, Word of Mouth (WoM) buzz and aspirational excitement.

Here’s some of the ground rules:

1. Carefully pick and choose your hero product(s) for the year and put as much wood behind these arrows as you can. The iPad was THE launch of 2010 for Apple. The company maintains ongoing influencer relations, a thorough reviewer’s program, and ongoing engagement for other products, like their laptops, iPods, etc., but the focus was iPad and later this year iPhone OS version 4.0. That’s it. Laser-like focus, picking and backing your product bets, not spreading the wealth across a wide product range that all cry out for PR support, even though they may be close to end-of-life (EOL) and have reached the downward side of the S-curve. The other products bask in the halo of the hero products. See what the iPod did for Macintosh sales post launch? See what the iPhone has done for iPad sales?

2. Focus on long term influencer and early adopter relations and engagement. These are your natural allies. Cultivate them, let them talk for you because they ultimately carry far more weight and credibility than your own Press Releases, blog posts or advertising. Engage with not just technology influencers, but with business, social and celebrity folk that give you brand cache and style. It’s no accident that Stephen Fry is an Apple fan boy, so is half of Hollywood, thanks to decades of engagement with product placement on set and off set, with the stars themselves. Every episode of Seinfeld has a Macintosh and a small statuette of Superman in the background. Check it out next time re-run comes on. At one point, Jerry Seinfeld had a Mac too (and probably still does even though he did ads with Bill Gates last year).

So how does this translate into the iPad launch? How do these uber-strategies map with launch tactics? Well, here’s a synopsis:

The iPad launched officially on April 1, but embargoes were set for March 31. This means a wave of launch buzz and hype 24 hours prior to people being able to buy one (not counting the rumours and speculation in the prior nine months).

Key influencers were seeded with Product Verification & Testing (PVT) units three to four months out in some cases, depending on when these units were deemed stable enough and of sufficient quality to pass muster for people that will forgive non-production machine foibles because they love the technology and because they consider themselves Apple-insiders. These units went to key Apple business partners/friends (remember Google CEO Eric Schmidt got a pre-production iPhone and not so surreptitiously flashed it at Davos, where it stole the headlines rather than dry economic prognostications?), celebrities, technology gurus, etc. Also note that they all honoured the strict Apple NDAs — no insider wants to be ostracized and get thrown out of the club.

Journos/key bloggers in the US (a very select few, high impact folks) had their iPads under NDA for a week prior to launch, enough for them to play and enjoy, but not enough time for them to be too heavily critical. Launch reviews reflect that and it’s commonsense when you think about it. The shine always rubs off the shiny new toy the longer you have it. This early enthusiasm sets the tone for the launch coverage, providing the initial launch gestalt.

Celebrity Twitter-ers helped fuel the social media buzz. Stephen Fry was on the US West Coast at launch (funny how that happened) and put up video of the un-boxing of his iPad. He openly Tweeted he had one a day prior to the rest of the population. Robert Scoble did the same thing, except for the video of the unboxing (he later went out and bought two more iPads because his family kept hijacking his — and Tweeted about it). Reviews popped up the day before the official launch by Walt Mossberg and David Pogue in the US — two of the most highly respected tech journos in the country. Surgical media placement and engagement for maximum impact rather than a broad ‘hit as many as you can’ approach most companies take.

Foreign (that is, non-US) media got flown to a glitzy New York event and even if there was no pricing for their markets, they got to play with units at launch in salubrious surroundings and with high profile Apple execs. They in turn also had the opportunity if they were keen enough to buy their own units in the US, which judging by the coverage, a good few did, thereby continuing the buzz momentum.

And the result is, as you can see, a wave of initial great coverage that drives WoM, then sales and sets the tone.

More importantly its a self-reinforcing cycle of clever, surgical market engagement that fuels Apple’s mystique as a cult rather than as a technology company.

And the interesting thing is that other companies with ‘insanely’ great products could be doing the same to build their own mystique and stories. Mass communications doesn’t have to be massive, just smart.

Postscript: The iPhone OS 4.0 was announced a few days ago. Only Apple developers are supposed to have the beta code for testing. Stephen Fry, who last time I checked can’t cut a line of code, Tweeted yesterday that he had just installed it on his 3G iPhone. General availability for the masses is not expected until the northern hemisphere summer/autumn (fall).

Not too long ago, the NY Times ran a very interesting story that covered the emerging new marketing buzzword — Curate.  This week Steve Rosenbaum added a new perspective in the Huffington Post introducing the notion of a Curation Nation.  Fascinating read.

Certainly the concept and theme around agreggation as well as compiling and sharing content is nothing new, but the art and technology around this process is certainly changing.  It has evolved to the point where we’re all becoming curators without even realizing it — whether that is through Twitter lists, Foursquare, Facebook or a seemingly endless array of platforms.

For brands the challenge remains how they can either move beyond simple content aggregation for aggregation sake and add value to the chain…or find a way to be an essential element in the content that is being curated.  In other words, do you create the content that is curated or do you curate the content yourself? 

I happen to believe that, for most bands, the best approach will be a blend of the two where they can deliver an experience that intersects the conversation around a particular area while creating and sharing relevant original content that adds to the dialogue.  Its not about “owning” a topic or subject, its more about being a relevant listener and contributor to the conversation around that topic or subject.

Happy curating.

Right about now, the Global Financial Crisis has probably hit most companies marketing budgets, with CEO’s tightening the belt on expenses as their revenue lines come down.  Prudently these chief executives seek to bring costs into line with revenues.

A study by the Aberdeen Group, a Harte-Hanks company, found ‘82% of companies have reallocated their planned marketing spend for 2009 to varying degrees on account of the recession.’

The Aberdeen analyst continues with what would seem to be the bleeding obvious: ‘Companies need to ensure that they’re allocating their limited marketing funds in the most productive ways possible … In other cases, companies are actually investing more aggressively in various types of marketing programs, sensing an opportunity to capitalize on the grim economic headlines.’

So for PR managers across the globe this means that marketers are probably beating a direct path to their doorstep looking to leverage ‘free PR’ to augment their dwindling demand generation dollars. This is good news.

It’s good because like the Marines, PR comes to the rescue and to the forefront of marketers’ consciousness. It’s good because PR executed and managed correctly can do enormous good for awareness, consideration and preference. And finally it’s good because social media is the next black and PR as a discipline is primed and ready to take to this new vehicle with a vengeance.

Smart PR managers will be evaluating and prioritizing their core dollars and then looking to see how they can maximize and deliver results on the incremental dollars that some of the marketing folks will bring to the table. The even smarter ones will start to factor into their PR programs effectiveness metrics and will be able to provide a correlation between the campaign or program spend and execution and whatever pre-determined measures were agreed with the marketing folks. That then provides clear accountability and enables PR to talk the marketing talk and walk it at the same time.

Unlike traditional media, social media metrics provide a fantastic opportunity to highlight PR ROI, if done correctly. Linking back a PR-specific program to traffic, or eyeballs or community conversations can be easier (and cheaper) than the more traditional qual and quant analyses of print and broadcast media. There are powerful online tools that allow you to do this and even automate the reporting.

All in all, now is a great time to be in PR.

With tech publications and online media warming to the idea of vendor generated content, the opportunity to garner coverage and increase the visibility of your brand, products and services through channels such as videos, infographics, slideshows and podcasts are on the rise. Although many of these outlets will accept content in the form of bylined articles, guest columns, and white papers, they require significant time commitments from our clients, which can oftentimes be a challenge.  Video is quick, easy and requires a relatively low investment in time and resources, all while providing yet another medium for showcasing thought leadership.

Video has seen enormous growth online over the past few years, which can be attributed to increased broadband adoption and the proliferation of video sharing sites such as YouTube, Blip.TV and Yahoo! Video. With these sites attracting hundreds of millions of eyeballs per month, and with tech media and bloggers scrambling for content, the opportunity to broadcast your company’s message can seem just about endless.

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Being a Denver Nuggets fan, I was recently reminded that Mark Cuban has said some off the wall things.  Having said that, he often provides some very interesting and thought provoking ideas on the world of social media.  His recent post in late May “Who Cares What People Write?” is a good example of the latter.

Cuban shares some interesting ideas around “Outties” (content creators that fit into professional “Outties” as well as amateur “Outties”) and “Innies” (who are “passive consumers of web writings” or consumers who “read watch and listen to the professional “Outties” and ignore the amateur “Outties””).  The idea being that professional “Outties” are generally established, branded sites with strong/large readership and amateur “Outties” are people looking for an audience (commenters, retweeters, reposters, etc.) who are creating content to be discovered.  Read his post for the full scoop and he closes with a pretty interesting wrap up of the concept…

The moral of the story is that on the internet, volume is not engagement .  Traffic is not reach.  When you see things written about a person, place or thing you care about,  whether its positive or negative, take a very deep breath before thinking that the story means anything to anyone but you.

It was also a concept expanded on by the Progress & Freedom Foundation‘s Senior Fellow and Director, Center of Digital Media Freedom Adam D. Thierer.  Adam’s blog does a nice job of framing Cuban’s thoughts and adding some additional parallels to them around Power Laws as well as Chris Anderson’s Long Tail theory.

I think the one area that is not captured in either blog is the importance of recognizing the conversation that is happening — whether they are driven by the professional or amateur “Outties.”   While I agree with Cuban that volume is not engagement and traffic is not reach, but I also believe that all comments, re-posts, link backs, tweets/re-tweets, blogs expanding on a topic or theme, etc. (like this one) are part of the conversation that is taking place.  The collective conversation is the piece that matters for brands.

A simplified example of this would be to search for your brand on Twitter and see what’s being said.  One person with 15 followers may be saying something that may be able to be dismissed, but if 10, 20 or 50 people with 15 followers each are saying something, after you take your deep breadth, it may be worth taking a closer look and joining the conversation.

The role of communications is indeed changing and how we think about creating or sharing a message is something that needs to be considered.  I think this is one of the key reasons companies are starting to act more like publishers or content providers — to ensure anyone (either professional or amateur) can participate in their story, share it and share their perspectives on it.

Regardless of which outtie you are thinking of or the innie you are trying to reach, always consider the importance of helping foster conversation through your communications initaitives.

One of Banksy's Public Works in New York City

One of Banksy's Public Works in New York City

A few months ago I had a chance to check out a book of Banksy’s art.  At least for me, I consider it art, others may consider some of the work graffiti or vandalism, but that’s a different discussion.

In the book I was flipping through there is a quote from Banksy stating, “Any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours, it belongs to you. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use.  Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.”

While very much focused on advertising – billboards, poster-boards, etc. – and brought to life by some of Banksy’s public works where the existing Ads were altered, I think it holds true to the online world of communications today as well.

More than ever, companies in the tech sector (and others) are acting as publishers and the sheer amount of vendor generated content in the form of blogs, videos, photos, slideshows, podcasts, etc. are almost unavoidable. Whether you are creating a video, shooting photos of an event or just publishing your latest white paper, its important to keep in mind that the minute you share it online – your message is now open to the world at large to ‘take, re-arrange and re-use.’  This is a trend we call Socialized Media and is permeating not only vendor Websites but industry publications as well.

In many cases the opportunity is present for someone to interpret, analyze and share opinions and perspectives on your content — so the concept of re-using or re-arranging may take many different forms.  In short, the job of creating and sharing is the first step, the ongoing conversation and engagement around the content is what becomes even more important for you to be a part of. Have you thought through what you’d do if / when a competitor responds publicly to your content or a mashup being created of your content or are you even prepared to track and monitor that conversation?

In many cases, how you respond or don’t may say as much about your brand as the original content itself.

To use Banksy’s words, in the evolving world of communications, there is a fine line between throwing rocks at someone and throwing a rock WITH someone – so they realate to and become part of sharing your message.

Let me start by saying, I’m a big fan of RSS readers, etc. thanks to their very tangible benefits.  My iGoogle page is still the first site I go to when I get online everyday and I’ve started using TheDailyInfluence as well (this is an Ogilvy PR Reader we created with NetVibes and is a good site to consider if you want to jump start an RSS Reader).

Earlier this month, Mashable posted a story on RSS readers and their possible decline, but the poll at the end of the story showed that more than 70% of respondents still use some form of reader daily (as of May 27th).  Only 1% use something else, 5% never use a reader and 16% use it less than they used to.

The one thing I’d pose and recommend for my peers and colleagues in the industry is to not live and die by your reader and set some personal ground rules.  Early on I found myself so reliant on the convenience of the site that I stopped visiting the main pages of the publications I enjoyed reading.  RSS readers are certainly addictive thanks to their efficiency, ease of use, how comprehensive they have become, how flexible the platforms are and lets just say how flat out convenient it is to get the news from the sources I really care about (or the topics I care most about) on one screen at one time.

But, they don’t replace the good old fashioned need to visit a website.  I’ve seen quite a few PR professionals fall into the trap of just relying on their RSS reader and don’t spend the time learning about the publications, sites and, dare I say, hard-copy issues that are critical to their clients.

There is still a lot of value in spending time reading publication sites and blogs and bouncing around from section to section.  Not only do you learn about news, trends and discussions that are outside of your specific areas of interest, but often times you find something you wouldn’t normally expect to see that is relevant to your interests — maybe a new section or a new feature added to the site or a new contributor or just an interesting story you wouldn’t have read otherwise.

I found myself so reliant I created three personal rules of using my RSS reader that I thought I’d share:

1-      Keep my RSS Reader open all day, but only check it 3 times per day max. (Morning, Lunch, Evening)
2-      Visit at least 5 news sites directly per day
3-      Read at least 3 unusual stories or new sections per day

Happy RSS Reading and let me know what works for you?

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