With your brand being mentioned so many places online, it’s a difficult task to manage how it’s positioned and where it appears –in fact, in many ways, you can’t control the brand, as it’s now ‘owned’ by those who talk about it (or always has been).
Now, if your job is to be the caretaker of your company’s brand, or you’ve been hired to do so as a PR firm, you should keep on eye on how it’s positioned on Wikipedia (and follow these rules on how to update it), if you’re in the social media space, also monitor and manage Tradevibes, Crunchbase, and now Appappeal.
With the recent concerns about brandjacking, or getting your brand punk’d, this helpful tool user name check can quickly scan the popular (and not so popular social networks to find if your company’s name (or personal) has been taken. The service sometimes goes down, so be patient with it.
On a related note, Mukund suggests here’s some targets PR folks should look at when pitching social media companies, I left a comment suggesting a few others, maybe you can help him round it out. Targeting team blogs like centernetworks, or other influentials may yield a better spend on time and effort –I’m nearly tapped out in time reviewing products.
There’s been a lot of trash talk about the PR industry (again), this time a small group of successful CEOs (and VP bloggers) claim they don’t need public relations efforts. When you look closely, you realize, this is true, as they’ve primarily made it part of their ongoing effort as media experts –they’re using their own tools to reach out to folks. On the other hand, most companies don’t have CEOs that can afford to constantly be part of ‘the conversation’ or have time to be interacting with influencers all the time.
I’m a faithful listener of For Immediate Release Podcast Series with Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson, and they’ve been discussing this on the last few episodes.
Having observed this for a few years, it’s become very clear to me that the PR industry suffers the cobblers’ children syndrome. PR, an industry designed to help companies and industries have an improved reputation is inflicted with a bad reputation of their own. Why doesn’t the PR industry self promote their own value? Physcian, heal thyself! (I added this paragraph after I posted)
As an industry analyst, here’s where I’ve noticed a difference between companies with PR and those who don’t:
Ability to hire PR services is sometimes an indicator of maturity
I’m mainly looking for briefings from companies that are ready for prime time. They are established, have a solid product, and are ready for adoption by Fortune 5000 enterprise companies. These companies don’t have time to deal with a startup that may not last the test of time, or have weak infrastructure. As a result, often established companies may have significant funding, or a revenue stream and thereby are able to afford a few thousand dollars a month for PR services. Having PR services is one indicator that a startup is beyond the garage (but not always)
Outsource listening, but don’t replace –enhance
Secondly, some PR folks at companies have an actual job to follow all the tweets and blogs posts of analysts (wow what a job, yikes), but they don’t just have to watch analysts but also, media, press, bloggers as part of their full time job. Since a lot of what we do (myself included) is likely noise to any specific person, the role of PRs job to listen makes them a valuable filter, who can bubble up key findings to the client. The only caveat being is that startups should of course monitoring and part of the conversation, you can’t completely outsource this.
Sometimes, they have successful pitches
Setting up meetings and the pitch. PR folks are professionals at pitches (granted, many of them are sub-standard) and going to be pitching to me, I’ve found that many who get me to respond know my coverage area (social networks, community platforms, applications, widgets) also pay attention to my schedule and know when to reach to me. Some savvy PR folks know that they can automatically submit to my weekly digest of social networking events –making their clients happy
Benefit from refined communications
Also, I’ve found that during briefings, companies that have PR services often do a better job at communicating to me. How is it different? The entrepreneur without professional communications help may often yammer about how great their technology is, or spend time sharing his passions. The entrepreneur who has professional communications help often focuses on business solutions, able to talk at the market level, and puts the value statement right up front. They’re trained, rehearsed, and more refined in presentations.
Truly successful PR pros become –then lead– the community they represent
Some PR folks have become their own hubs. What’s this mean? They should up to so many tech events, that they’ve developed real relationships with influencers regardless of who their client list is. There’s a handful in silicon valley you can identify at any event or party, they literally are “hubs” and people are constantly surrounding them. These folks throw their own parties (regardless of who their client set is) introduce folks (regardless of who their clients are) and are active members of the community, as a result, they are trusted, connected, and more effective with their relationships. I’m much more likely to respond to them as they are here for the long term, and I build a real relationship with them over the years.
This is just my perspective, as one industry analyst, so you’ll have to do your own research on how to spend your marketing dollars. It is very important to note: no company, regardless of how busy they are, should completely outsource listening and talking to the market, they way I see this is PR is a competitive edge over those that don’t, or if your communication skills need improvement.
Yesterday morning, I sent over an email to Todd Defren and Brian Solis, champions of the Social Media Press Release (which I’ve critiqued in the past) offering some suggestions.
Recently, I’ve been receiving some press releases where the real important news isn’t in the leading paragraph. I had to hunt and read through the rest of the content (maybe that was their strategy) to find out what was really important. I sent an email back to the PR firm, suggesting that they get their writing funnel’ tightened up, I don’t have a lot of time, and most press releases get a quick scan –few get a deep read.
If a PR firms is representing a company in the social media space, then they really need to make sure content is formatted to the medium where information is spreading fastest –for today, that would be Twitter. Twitter limits messages to just a short sentence, 140 characters to be exact, and encourages people to be on point and succinct. Go over to Todd’s blog to read more of his thoughts on the topic.
Takeaway: If your market is in the social media space, press releases should have content summarized for 122 characters, and leave enough space for is.gd (a “tiny url” that’s composed of exactly 18 characters)
Update: After speaking with public affairs at Exxon, it’s been confirmed that Janet is not an official spokesperson of Exxon. Alan of Exxon has given me his story here.
Brands joining twitter
It’s no coincidence that brands that are under public scrutiny from customers, competitors, and other social groups start to turn to the most vocal of all –right in the epicenter of dialog.
Twitter is, for better or worse, a global chat room where honest, often vitriolic opinions are shared. With the recent public anointing of online support effort, Comcast Cares in New York Times “Griping Online? Comcast Hears and Talks Back” –it’s easy to see why corporation communications, and PR professionals are ready to embrace the dialog.
Exxon joins the dialog, steps right into heat
Next to join the fray is Exxon Mobile, announced in their first weet as: “Janet, one of a few Community Evengilist at ExxonMobil Corp”. The responses are mixed, but some asking the tough questions as they react, test, and push Exxon to see how they’ll respond.
Immediately, Janet walks into a firestorm, publishing this rebuttal tweet over the Valdez spill: “@1WineDude, did you know that the Valdez spill wasn’t even one of the top 10 worst spills in history? Like the Nowruz Oil Field spill in ’80“, a few in the community responded with bitterness, read the search results.
You’ll also notice when you visit the Exxon Twitter account that Janet is directly and actively engaging with others, she @replies back at folks, responding to their queries, all a good practice.
Speaking with Josh Bernoff, or former colleagues Charlene Li and Peter Kim, we often hear about a group of employees that push the ‘corporate membrane’ sometimes without official sanctions, these folks tend to be customer-centric, and are willing to risk apologizing rather than asking for permission –an internal Groundswell.
While I don’t know which group is responsible for this effort at Exxon, (likely Corp Comm, backed by PR firm) it’ll be interesting to see how they handle the many criticisms in their industry. As soon as Janet releases her full name, I’ll be sure to add her to the growing list of Community Managers at enterprise corporations.
Twitter community should let Exxon get sea legs first
When Dell launched their blogging programs a few years ago, I proposed a moratorium of a few days to let them get up to speed before bashing them into the ground. Why? I was sympathetic after having launched our blogging program at Hitachi, most critics aren’t aware of the internal struggles that happen for months or years from customer-centric revolutionaries.
So, I encourage the community to let them get their operational feet grounded, and then prepare for the open dialog. By doing this, you’ll let them get running (internally and externally) then they are better prepared to handle questions, criticisms, and hopefully, eventually solve important issues. A good rule of thumb is to follow the Company-Customer- Pact which is printed out on my desk, which suggests rules of engagement for both parties.
Many questions remain:
Is Exxon ready to make these important changes beyond discussing it in public?
Is this Community Team backed from the top, and ready for the long haul?
Is Exxon prepared to tackle the tough topics in a public forum?
Is this a PR cover-up, or a genuine desire to tell their story?
Who is Janet?
Will this effort impact the bottom line, or change public perception?
Every company makes mistakes, and I’m actually quite forgiving about it, what they do next is what will make or break me as a customer, and I have the habit of telling a few thousand people.
I’ve been a customer of Dreamhost since I’ve had this domain and have had quite a few outages, and recently my blog was 403 (forbidden to others), as they forgot to fix all the settings when I moved to a dedicated server. Despite these hardships (which I’m willing to let go, you know I used to work at Exodus, a web hosting company) I’m sympathetic towards web hosts.
Despite my willingness to forgive, I have a hard time when I feel like I’m being patronized when I received the following email:
Ack. Through a COMPLETE bumbling on our part, we’ve accidentally attempted to charge you for the ENTIRE year of 2008 (and probably 2009!) ALREADY (it was all due to a fat finger)!
We’re really really realllly embarassed about this, but you have nothing to worry about. Please ignore any confusing billing messages you may have received recently; we’ve already removed all those bum future charges on your account (#198980) and fixed everything up.
Thank you very very much for your patience with this.. we PROMISE this won’t happen again. There’s no need to reply to this message unless of course you have any other questions at all!
The Foolish DreamHost Billing Team!
To add insult to injury…
Despite the misspelling (embarassed) what really caught me was the blame of a ‘fat finger’ (I subdued my original title for the post). That’s not the cause, and companies need to take accountability in a human, and up front way of what the problem was. Later, I discovered an apology and explanation blog post, entitled “Um, Whoops.” sadly, they used cartoons (Homer Simpson) and images from pop movies (as well as elsewhere on their blog) to back peddle. I don’t need language written in chat-room-type language, I expect professional and sincere communications. The Dreamhost status blog (is this run by a different group? it must be) provides the information in a succinct, yet sincere manner.
While we complain about the cold heartless press release, I think the Dreamhost communications is a swing too far to the left, and recommend that we all find a place somewhere closer to the middle. I’d rather see pictures of the employees working on the problem (or live streaming) from the data center to demonstrate to me how professional they are working.
This patronizing doesn’t get my sympathy, instead it makes me irritated.
Special Notes: I had previously published this post, but there was a mixup with the announcement dates and removed it. Detail here.
Social Media for Corporations: To build a better world
I’m somewhat sympathetic to large brands launching social media programs, having done it at Hitachi, and I stayed close to Dell during their launches, but I’ll have to admit, Wal-Mart/Edelman have had two major failures and it’s current Facebook initiative isn’t going as one would hope.
For many of us social media folks, Wal-Mart is a case study for doing it wrong, from Astroturfing fake consumer blogs, to launching a MySpace clone that closed after 10 weeks, trust is certainly not there.
All of the above is what I told Edelman folks who were reading my blog and interactive me in Facebook. They let me know that they are helping their client Wal-Mart launch a new blog, one that is to be transparent authentic, and written from actual Wal-Mart employees. I’ve seen a preview of this blog, which will be letting the buyers and purchasers of products speak directly to the world in a conversation.
Wal-Mart’s newest Social Media Program: Checkout
Although it’s not live, Wal-Mart’s latest blogging program will be called “Checkout”, I’ve seen the preview and it self-states that “This is a blog, simply, about a team of experts at Wal-Mart who have really cool jobs working with gadgets, wine, sustainability, fashion and more.”
You can find Wal-Mart’s latest social media venture at http://checkoutblog.com/
An Interview with Rand Waddoups, Wal-Mart’s newest blogger
One of the bloggers Rand Waddoups contacted me this morning, we had a brief conversation, and I probed him to make sure he’s the real deal, you see, I’ve become a hopeful skeptic.
I did some Google Searches on Rand, (interesting interviews on sustainability) it’s confirmed by others he is indeed a real employee, and he sent me an email as well.
I learned that Rand, who’s based in Arkansas has been with Wal-Mart for seven years, and first started out as a purchaser for Ice, (not that exciting huh?) then moved into buying snacks and then moved into the sustainability role. Currently as the Senior Director of Strategy and Sustainability, Rand insists he doesn’t know all the answers to how a company can buy green products but wants the community to help him move forward.
Why blog? I asked Rand, “I’m new to blogging, its going to be interesting, but the main reason is I want to do better at listening to the market and learn. Sustainability has to be answered, and although there are other ways to learn, this is one of the ways”
“What concerns do you have?”
I asked Rand what are some of his concerns (I reminded him in detail of previous failures) and his responded “I’m new to it”. I gave Rand some advice on how to listen, using that feedreader (attention Edelman, please train clients how to listen), and suggested they use media like video and images, as those are very human mediums, and the trust of Wal-Mart blogging programs has been tainted.
Comments will be moderated by lightly moderated by Edelman staff, but just to weed out the nasties. Rand tells me his blog posts will not be filtered or reviewed, he can publish at will (a best practice), and he hopes to post twice a week.
“How is this different than previous initiatives?”
How is this different than previous social media efforts at Wal-Mart? I asked Rand, he comfortably responded that; “It’s an open conversation with people, its not about PR or Marketing, I want to better understand sustainability”
Feedback from the Community
As I wrote this post, I’ve asked my Twitter network (all 1000 of them) what they thought of Wal-Mart’s programs. I asked them to fill in the blank: “Wal-Mart’s social media programs are ________”
By the time I finished writing this post the following responses came in:
“… decided by executives who are too proud to let an outside consultant make *all* of the strategic decisions.”
“I loved their blogging across America campaign (joke!)”
“__disingenuous, insulting crap.”
“….obviously social media programs.”
” Irrelevant to me.”
“sad, not getting it, using old techniques in new media, unfortunate, a good example for me to use as what NOT to do in my book.”
“Wal-Mart’s social media programs are nonexistent.”
Although their responses are public on Twitter, I chose not to publish their names, they can choose to self identify in the comments.
Wal-Mart has had a series of failed or half-willed attempts at Social Media, their credibility has been tarnished, I’m honestly wishing them the best in this latest venture. I and many others will be watching and from the sidelines, at some point, I hope to start rooting for them too, I really do.
Wal-Mart could use an Evangelist (but not a Lionel of Dell, nor a Scoble)
Under Analysis: Facebook Deployment Wal-Mart’s vs Target (one is working and the other is stalled)
Case Study: Wal-Mart’s MySpace clone dies after 10 weeks
Case Study: Caught Astroturfing, Wal-Mart’s fake blog
Wal-Mart Watch Blog: I expect the Official Wal-Mart blog to engage this group
Update: On a related note, the Blog Council (A user group for corporations that blog) just launched yesterday, it would be interesting to see Wal-Mart align with some peers, to learn and share best practices.