360DigitalInfluence

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

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.]

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.

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.

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?

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