This week wrapped up San Francisco’s Web 2.0 Expo with its conversations about openness and transparency (including NPR talking about its API), innovation (presented by the “accidental entrepreneurs” of Threadless.com), and marketing (which took the form of everyone talking ad nauseum about Twitter, including the upcoming cruise on which you can learn tweeting best practices).
Tim O’Reilly, CEO of O’Reilly Media and the person who coined the phrase “Web 2.0” to describe the phenomenon of increased social and consumer-created interactions online, spoke about the changes in the media industry with a group of 15 bloggers at one morning roundtable. O’Reilly, whose company publishes the DIY magazine Make and its sister web publication Craft, wore a Maker Faire t-shirt while answering questions about the types on content that stand to survive the much-discussed “death of print.” Craft has been distributed as a somewhat substantial print magazine but is soon to become an online only publication. The switch is a bittersweet one: while I’ll miss dog-earing and saving the physical volumes, I’m intrigued by the multimedia and mobile content possibilities it presents for clever creators.
O’Reilly described some of the variables that have become key considerations for media organizations looking for sustainable long-term publishing models:
Because each of these factors has so many additional variables (form factors and timeliness of delivery not the least among them), the issue of the quality of the news product that the reader is getting can be overlooked. While print publications are inherently limited in the amount of sensory information they can deliver (video, real-time observations from the community, and photo slideshows win here), I’m concerned that the demise of print gives us an easy excuse not to create something well-made in its place but to sink to the level of what O’Reilly described as the most minimal form of publishing–the dreaded retweet.
Yes, I do get excited about SNW. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend nine of the last 12 ‘SNWs and it has grown to be a part of my annual plan.
Almost without saying, it has been interesting to be a part of this conference as it has evolved over the last six years. Not long ago press conferences were the daily norm, vendor news was flying across the wires, on- and off-site parties, dinners and comedy shows (it was only about 4 years ago that Sinbad was the evening entertainment – yes, that Sinbad) were all just ‘the norm’ for SNW.
This Spring the shift I’m starting to hear and feel is that social media is starting to take hold at the conference. This feels a bit overdue, and rightfully so, as social media has been engrained in almost every large event for the last two years or longer. Truth be told, there is so much great information created and shared at this conference, it will be interesting to see how much of it will be shared outside of the confines of the Rosen Shingle Creek.
Here are some interesting developments and new additions to this years’ SNW conference that may help you keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening at the conference this spring:
So, cheers to another SNW and lets hope the social media buzz around the event avoids “Storage Smackdown” status from Byte & Switch.
Feel free to follow me around during the show as I’ll be posting live updates whenever something interesting comes my way…@dlarusso15.
If you’re a Sheryl Crow fan like me, you’ll recognize the lyrics from Maybe Angels. But in this economy, B2B marketers and Tech PR pros are dying to believe that IT decision-makers are out there ‘angels of the technology economy’ that they are – ready to be engaged.
And Forrester Research says they are out there. Forrester’s just released study The Social Technographics Of B2B Buyers by Laura Ramos and Oliver Young looks to be a fantastic study on what buyers of technology products are doing with social media. We knew they were out there, I swear. But its been difficult to determine who they are (still is), and what exactly they’ve been doing with social media as it relates to their jobs (now we’ve got the first look). The good news is they are on the whole (77%) engaging with social media, though predominantly as what Forrester calls ‘spectators’. Which is fine. That’s what we do in PR; reach out to target audiences (active or spectator) to foster positive engagements.
Take a look. Laura Ramos gives a nice overview of the study on her blog. Our B2B technology PR clients have done some effective initial forays into social media. Now with greater data to prove the right targets will be there, there’s no time to lose to jump in with both feet.
Some time ago on a blog not so far away there was a posting about the role that borders play in digital influence. The conclusion that I drew was that borders have an extremely limited role to play when undertaking online campaigns.
An outlet’s reach is only as far as it can sustain continuous profitable distribution. In terms of heritage media, it was as far as they could truck newspapers overnight, or as far as a radio or television signal could be broadcast.
The result of this is that the only people that would have access to an outlet is those within its distribution network. This generally meant, within the same city, state or country.
It follows then, that what their audiences wanted to see and hear was what was happening in their communities.
Which lead to the local, state, national and world approach to news that we see today.
Who can blame us? It just makes sense. We work in geographical teams handing off work to in-country teams because they have better knowledge of their publics.
I said knowledge of their publics not knowledge of their geos or regions. Although in the old world these two aligned, in the world of Internet, your publics could be anyone, anywhere, the only commonality is they may want to hear your message.
Widget Company XYZ sells computer widgets globally. It’s customer base is truly global. The company is well regarded and its music playing widgets are popular the world over.
Due to its popularity there are a legion of bloggers, and tweeple that talk about its products the world over.
When customers have questions, they go to the internet and search for a solution and try to look for other people who have the same problem. Do you think they’re only going to try to find bloggers in Australia?
Well it’s not rocket science and I’m no rocket scientist. I think the answer actually lies in creating content aligned, not geography aligned teams. The teams may be geographically dispersed to aid in cultural differences but these virtual teams can be anywhere in the world.
If you are running a campaign to assist a product launch or educate your publics, you should be looking at any and every influencer not just those that are in your geo. Your publics won’t be that limited.
But really, was adapting to a mobile workforce easy when we first started trying to 10 years ago? We start by counselling ourselves, talking to our teams and get the conversation going. We then talk to our clients and get them thinking about these issues. It won’t change overnight because people won’t change overnight, but we have to start talking now.
Tech PR in 2009 and beyond.
A new year. A new American President. A bad recession. There are many reasons why I have been thinking about the future of Tech PR, not just through 2009 but beyond. What is the role PR agencies play in this new world? I am an optimist by nature, and cautious by experience.
What can we expect to see, in the short term and the long? Is PR going to suffer as an industry?
I see seven major trends:
1. Smart companies continue to invest in PR during recessions because this is the time to gain market share, differentiate yourself from your competition, build your brand and protect your reputation. I like the way Craig Barrett put it “You can’t save your way out of recession – you have to invest your way out.”
2. PR agencies who can provide a seamless, integrated approach to tech companies will survive better than tech specialists. This is the time where you need to provide your clients with counsel on different issues, so you need to have a team of people with different backgrounds that you can pull from. Corporate reputation, crisis and issue management, consumer marketing, public affairs, government, and vertical expertise…the list goes on. The agency who can deliver a seamless, holistic mix has a huge competitive advantage (and will prove most useful to clients.)
3. Tech companies need to learn how to better integrate PR and marketing. In a media world that is becoming more complex, fractured; where the difference between earned and paid media is blurry, companies that will develop a strategic, integrated marketing approach (we call it 360) will go beyond mere survival. It’s not about channels; it’s about how you engage with your stakeholders. The Obama campaign is an excellent example. Agencies that can deliver on that will hugely benefit from it (and so will their clients.)
4. Social media is not killing PR agencies; on the contrary. It’s giving us more opportunities. We all read posts about social media killing PR… well, anyone who thinks PR is just calling media doesn’t have a clue about what we actually do. As I mentioned above, the complexity of the environment is only adding square feet (and toys) to our already really fun sand box.
5. Chief Content Officer. Content creation is key. With the media shrinking (every day we hear of layoffs at very prestigious media outlets) creating your own content and distributing it through different channels is critical to the success of building a powerful brand. Is it time for a new position? Chief Content Officer, anyone?
6. The world is flat, yes. But it is also hot and crowded as Thomas Friedman pointed out. Two trends here. Global and Green. Let’s start with global. Clients need PR agencies to work with them on a global basis, but it’s not about “Think Globally, Act Locally” anymore. It’s about idea creation and sharing those ideas globally, efficiently. It’s about understanding the sensibilities of different markets and cultures.
7. Green. As I wrote in my post the opportunity for working with green tech companies is huge. But the skill set needs to go beyond pure tech PR. You need to combine b2b tech with experience in public affairs, energy, government relations and corporate reputation.
PR is here to stay. Paraphrasing Neil Young’s “My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)” song, PR can never die, there’s more to the picture.
my my, hey hey
rock and roll is here to stay
it’s better to burn out
than to fade away
my my, hey hey
hey hey, my my
rock and roll can never die
there’s more to the picture
than meets the eye
hey hey, my my
Here is to a new era of responsibility.
This may be a slightly controversial post with many different opinions floating around. Let me know what you think and whether this is a global trend.
Nick Davies, an investigative journalist of 30 years’ standing who works mainly for England’s Guardian newspaper, has put the spotlight rather savagely on his own industry and questioned what he sees as a deeply disturbing decline in journalistic standards. He also cites PR as a contributor. These assertions were recently aired in a TV interview in Australia on the ABC.
Davies says that journalistic standards are declining the world over as cost cutting and government pressures take toll on the industry. In his book, Flat Earth News, which focuses mainly on the state of UK quality newspapers, he argues that the combination of manipulation by government and the PR industry on a media industry under endless cost-cutting pressures and an expanding workload is a pattern repeated the world over. An irony of timing with big staff cuts just announced at Australia’s oldest newspaper group, Fairfax Media.
In the interview Davies says, “Big corporations have taken over newspapers, which used to be owned by small family firms, and injected the logic of commercialism into newsrooms and that logic has overwhelmed the logic of journalism.
“The big structural sign of that is that all across the developed world these new corporate owners of the newsrooms have cut editorial staff at the same time as they’ve increased the output of those staff. And the result of that is, crudely put… in the UK we did a big calculation on this, your average Fleet Street reporter now has only a third of the time to spend on each story that he or she used to have 20 years ago. If you take away time from reporters, you are taking away their most important working asset. So they can’t do their jobs properly any more.
“In this commercialised world, you have journalists who instead of being active gatherers of news – going out and finding stories and making contacts and doing funny old-fashioned things like checking facts, they’ve become instead passive processors of second-hand information, stuff that come up on the wire Reuters or AP, stuff that comes from the PR industry. And they churn it out. I use this word “churnalism” instead of journalism.”
Davies clearly feels journalists are led along, particularly by the PR industry. His examples are not so much in the technology sector, although he does talk about the millennium bug, but more mainstream. He also notes a pattern of many journalists who have lost their job moving across to PR.
Davies says the impact of electronic technology is very complex on this whole problem.
Whilst he admits journalists can do more research from the desktop and stories remain online permanently, the second implication is that they’ve lost their deadlines. He says the pressure is immense, always there five minutes ahead of your nose every day. Not only that, but journalists now have to write the story, do an audio version, a vodcast, a podcast, and so it goes on. The end result is the quality of the work is going down even though the amount and the variation of the product is increasing.
And his thoughts on bloggers is also quite depressing.
“I don’t agree with the view that we will be saved by the operation of citizen journalists and bloggers…..an awful lot of what bloggers put out is false, is crazy ideas and crazy facts, to the extent that bloggers have reliable information very often that’s because they’re feeding off the small extent to which the mainstream media are coming up with reliable information. If the mainstream is going to carry on getting weaker, as I fear, then the proportion of reliable information which the bloggers come up with will also decline,” he says.
And his prognosis for TV and radio is no different. “It’s in the same kind of mess that the print media are in. There’s no difference, I’m afraid, because news is expensive and unless we find a new financial model we won’t be able to deliver it and I don’t quite see where that new financial model is coming from and I don’t know any media proprietor who can see it either. They’re all very worried.”
Personally, whilst there are some points in this article that I concur with, I think the accusation of PR being a big contributor to the quality of journalism is a bit of a stretch. Like many industries in this modern era, publishers have to change their business models and this will impact their operations. This is changing the way in which journalists spend their working day. But technology can also help and I don’t think Davies looks at that side much either in this interview. I haven’t read the book, but my hunch is that it will be overlooked.
I think the technology press are adapting well, blending online and print, or dropping print and going totally online. We have seen the size of editorial teams decline and technology journalists are getting younger. But the young ones seem very adaptable, taking content for print, shooting a video and posting fast. Many of them are also generalists rather than specialists. But despite those circumstances, they are smart, savvy people and it is no different trying to get a story up with them now than it was three years ago. In fact, with some smaller books due to the decline in advertising spend, in many instances it is getting harder.
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.”
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.
Half Moon Bay that is at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech. Reflecting on what I found to be some of the best ideas shared yesterday:
- How can social media be leveraged to make your employee talent more highly engaged? Gary Hamel of London Business School cited a Towers Perrin study across 16 countries, and it found that nobody has more than 20% of employees who say they feel highly engaged. If we can engage customers, allow them to congregate and engage with collectively work around a problem, why can’t we do more with our talent?
- Where is your platform strategy? This was a recurring theme; that innovative companies are providing platforms as a strategy to allow others to build things for them.
- CC Per Annum. OK, I just made that up, but after hearing CEOs Michael Dell, Marc Benioff and Brad Smith all cite at different times in the afternoon just how many customer conversations their companies are having annually, I think we’re going to start seeing that as a communications department proof point in an effort to show innovation from the outside in. For the record, Intuit has two billion customer conversations per year.
- Books, toys and web services? I had wondered how Amazon Web Services had come to be. Jeff Bezos shared that Amazon built web services for themselves over four years ago in an effort to free up their engineering hours that were not directly adding customer value. The idea came up a few years after that to get into the web services business. I also like the analogy he used – that we’re moving into a new world where like a brewery, they’ll be able to focus on the beer and not on having their own power generator to produce it.
- Best insight of the day: Small business owners will happily share tips and advice with other similar small business owners as long as they’re not in the same zip code. Florist to florist, etc. Just think of the opportunities to facilitate that for a company like Intuit.
Which brings me to the some of the best remarks of the day, made by Intuit CEO Brad Smith. I had never seen Mr. Smith speak before, and he has a pretty polished approach, so much so that I worried he was going to be too smooth and salesy. Many around me agreed. But he ended up surprising us all and really delivered a candid commentary on his challenge; He said they’re asking themselves at Intuit, will their 25 years of success be an accelerant or inhibitor? He says the answer is with the youth in the company. He gave a great anecdote. TurboTax is a 20+ year old product, so there is resistance to change. An engineer proposed that they put the live user community inside the product for the first time – so users can talk to other users while doing taxes. They took a risk, did a test. Guess what happened? 44% of users asked the questions and got community answers, and at a higher accuracy rate than ever before. He concluded, “And it cost us zero.”
It was a great day. And I’m looking forward to more. Oh yeah, and Neil Young is here.
As technology enthusiasts it’s often easy to forget that technology is not, in and of itself, a solution to anything. This article in Slate on the potential negative impact of programs such as One Laptop per Child is illustrative. Here’s one key point:
“So what happens when good fortune delivers vouchers (and hence computers) into the homes of Romanian youths? . . . computer use also crowded out homework (2.3 hours less per week), reading, and sleep. Less schoolwork translated into lower grades at school—vouchered kids’ GPAs were 0.36 grade points lower than their nonvouchered counterparts—and also lower aspirations for higher education. Vouchered kids were 13 percentage points less likely to report an intention to attend college.”
The article also links to this CNET article from May reporting on a survey showing that one-fifth of all Americans have never sent an email or never used the Internet. That number is striking – but also easy to believe.
Why wouldn’t 60 million Americans reject the Internet? It is possible to live a pretty good life without unfettered, 24/7 access to everything from the most sublime to the most squalid output of human civilization.
That said, I think this all amounts to further evidence of the fracturing of the digital divide into digital subdivisions: increasing numbers of distinct groups defined by widely varying degrees of technological sophistication. (I’m further persuaded by the fact that it’s my idea).
As professional communicators, however, I think it behooves us to take note of this fracturing; the growing complexity that is coming to define how people experience and view technology. Today’s survey measures email use. Tomorrow’s, I have no doubt, will measure take-up, impact (and rejection) of social networking – won’t that be interesting.
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