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I ooVood for a good cause

I only ever got around to doing one of the ooVoo sessions I had set up and always felt kind of bad about that. That’s mainly because I knew the company was donating money to the Frozen Pea Fund, a breast-cancer support charity, for every person who participated in their My ooVoo Day With… promotion that was organized by the guys at crayon.

Over on MediaBullseye you can see the $30,000 check that was presented to the Frozen Pea Fund during this past weekend’s Blogger Social ’08 in New York City. I’m happy I was able to participate to the extent that I could and am honored to be counted among the others who did so. Good on everyone involved in this.

Giving RSS numbers their due

rss2.JPGI’m sure everyone who has devised and executed a social media campaign, particularly one involving outreach to writers of blogs and other sites, has been asked to provide some sort of metric to justify such efforts. Often what’s asked for are pageviews or visitors or (gulp) impressions.

But here’s the story I tell all the time when people ask about my personal site’s reach: I get, on MMM, about 800 hits to the site a day. But a good amount of those come in, via searches, to posts I wrote months, if not years ago. So if you’re including MMM in your blog outreach plans and you’re basing its inclusion on that 800 +/- daily visits, you need to know that not all those 800 people are coming in through the front door.

That means some portion of that overall number of people are not seeing whatever you’ve just pitched me – yet – though some of them are. Unlike overall visitor numbers we can tell who’s hitting the front page. That is one advantage of the web versus traditional metrics like overall circulation – we can see how people move around on a site.

The 1,000+ people who subscribe to my RSS feed, though, definitely are. That’s because via the feed they’re always seeing the most recent content and updates, and they’re seeing them at a time of their choosing, whatever time they’ve blocked off to catch up on their reading. But I don’t think RSS subscriber numbers is something that’s often asked for or included when measuring success. This despite the fact that, based on my experience, far more publishers make their RSS subscriber numbers visible on their sites – largely through a FeedBurner chicklet – than make their site visit stats publicly viewable.

The same rings true here on OTD, where the number of people snagging the RSS feed vastly outstrip the number of hits to the site.

Considering there’s such a demand for numbers as a means to justify online public relations efforts; and considering there seem to be more publishers who use that FeedBurner number on their sites; and considering that number translates into a higher percentage of the audience that’s going to see the successful results of your outreach, I think it’s past time to start factoring RSS numbers into the numbers agencies provide to clients.

Now I’ll be the first to state that swapping one number for another does little or nothing to address the fact that influence in a particular vertical niche or community held by one person does not always correlate to certain numbers. But aside from anecdotal impressions given by those familiar with the online space there isn’t much we can do to back that up. Numbers are always more reassuring since that’s how traditional media has always been measured and that’s what people are looking for.

So as long as it’s numbers being asked for it’s incumbent on those of us navigating the online space on behalf of our clients to provide the best ones available. Considering all the factors above it seems to me RSS subscribers is probably one of the better numbers we can provide.

Book Review: Groundswell

groundswell.jpgAccompanied by the level of detail you’d expect from two Forrester analysts, Groundswell lays out case after case of strategies, rationales and insight that show either the groundswell in action or how a yet to be tapped community can be moved to create that groundswell.

The authors begin by laying out why it’s important to know what the groundswell is capable of. After all it’s often made up of customers or employees, two groups that are infinitely more valuable to a business’ success than whomever is occupying the CMO chair this week. These groups have the tools – in the form of message boards, blogs, social networks and more – to influence others either positively or negatively based on their experiences with your brand, product or staff.

From there Bernoff and Li go into tactics to turn existing groundswells to the advantage of the company, and that’s the central tenet of the rest of the book. After explaining what the groundswell can do for or to your business they then provide strategies, advice and tactics on how to know what’s being said, contribute to the conversation in a meaningful manner and energize the people who live in the groundswell.

Each chapter takes a slightly different tack on this, which makes it easy for brand marketers or others to find the section of the most relevance to what they need to accomplish and see what others have done by way of case studies and benefit from the authors’ thinking along these specific lines.

While much of the research that goes into the thinking that drives Groundswell is only alluded to or conveyed via quotes from others at Forrester, Bernoff and Li (and the firm as a whole) also use their Social Technographics Profile as a central – and publicly available – resource. That tool allows you to see, based on Forrester research, whether a particular demographic is filled more with Creators, Critics, Collectors or any of the other distinct groups the firm has identified. This tool informs the vast majority of the book so it’s good to familiarize yourself with the labels it uses and the data behind it in order to get the most out of the book itself.

Groundswell is one of those books that should be included in every corporate communications professional’s Christmas stocking. There may be marketing people out there who still think online engagement with consumers or other groups isn’t worth it but they won’t feel that way after reading the book. Instead they’ll likely be scared into some sort of action.

And that’s why Groundswell also needs to be read by the people lower down the ladder. When someone comes to them saying the company needs to create a Facebook application “NOW!” they need to be able to keep the analytical mindset exemplified by Li and Bernoff and ask simple but hard questions like “But is that where are customers are?” Doing so – and having the data to back up their questions – will save a lot of wasted time and money.

Groundswell is recommended without qualification.

LOTD: 4/7/08

  • Forrester’s Shar VanBoskirk helpfully reminds us that digital and interactive are not necessarily the same thing, with the latter promising some point of actual engagement and interactivity.
  • Also from Forrester comes Josh Bernoff reminding corporate bloggers that it’s actually more disingenuous to refuse to even acknowledge you have competitors than it is dangerous to ignore that reality.
  • A “Facebook strategy” might not be the best thing for every company – that’s just a fact – but that doesn’t mean proposals along those lines should be dismissed out of hand since there’s still good information to be gleamed from the users there.
  • Steve Hall has some informal feedback on new media trust and other related issues based on a panel he attended.
  • Between the New York Times confirming my belief that blogging is going to kill me and Time’s release of its very first Top 25 Blog Index (translation: a bunch of sites that will now appear on a lot of lists built after someone issues a “let’s get this on the blogs” list) I’m losing a lot of my belief that mainstream media can cover the online world effectively and respectfully.
  • Get this – the smaller scale and better opportunities for niche audiences to find the content makes online the perfect venue for small scale video series that have niche audience appeal. I’m not poking at Mark Glaser on this but instead that this keeps being forgotten as series are drawn over to TV that have no chance of survival on TV.

Define your own filters

There’s not much that hasn’t already been said about the findings from Pew on how young people are getting their news not so much directly from the source but from friends – through the filters of email, social networks and other tools. But with a few days perspective and the appearance of other stories that offer additional insights into similar stories a fuller picture can be painted of the latest water-line we’ve reached in the evolution of news and community.

Take for instance the increased focus on creating “appealing content” by journalists in the recent PRWeek/PR Newswire Media Survey. Add to that the 73 percent that now say they turn to blogs as part of their research efforts. Even if it is just to “measure sentiment” that’s a significant number of writers that new touch base with social media outlets in order to get a sense of what’s being said on a topic as they’re writing their own stories. And add to that the fact that more journalists are being tasked with re-purpose their stuff for online and you get a feeling that, even if the corporations they work for aren’t quite sure of where they need to go, the men and women in the trenches know exactly what they need to survive as both employees and media brands.

One group of writers that won’t be working harder are movie critics, an industry that continues to be decimated by cutbacks as movie conversations shift to blogs and fan sites. While there is a bit of a case to be made that the loss of professional critics will hurt smaller movies that need critical praise to survive, I don’t think the serious film community is exactly going to be hurt. Plenty of niche sites exist that appeal to this crowd and the better films still make it to mainstream sites.

I wonder, though, if that situation could have been avoided if the professional critics that looked down on fan enthusiasm had instead gotten in the conversation more and engaged with online writers. If they had spent some time building relationships and gotten to know people would that have led to more links back to their reviews, leading to more links back to the sites in general and so on. I don’t know if that would have been successful but it certainly would have done a lot to avoid the “critics are out of touch in their ivory towers” attitude that has become pervasive over the course of the last number of years.

You still have surveys showing print publications are more trusted than online sources, though honestly the data isn’t sliced and diced enough in this MediaVest survey to show how opinions might vary by age group.

One way some major media companies are attempting to do that is by partnering with niche publishers, most often with advertising or content networks. But these aren’t conversational tactics, their branding efforts. That’s better than nothing but it’s also limiting in some regards because there’s still no opportunity for interaction with the people behind the brands.

The Internet is changing how we pull content into our days and how we interact with that content. From the way we research obscure trivia to finding and donating to political campaigns to what we get for our concert ticket money our expectations of content availability to how we think journalists will find information.

There’s value in creating your own experience, though there’s also some in having an experience defined by so-called experts. But people are, because communications are no longer limited by geography or even niche interest, finding the experts most relevant to them and latching on tightly. And that shift is only going to increase as new technologies develop.

LOTD 3/25/08

We’ve been a little silent here for a while and for that I apologize. As we ramp back up the OTD engine grab a cup liquid caffeine and enjoy the LOTD while pondering just how hard the new Indiana Jones movie is going to rock. (CT)

  • No, social networking and online applications aren’t going to be big income earners. That’s for much the same reason playground parks aren’t big revenue sources. They’re community places.
  • This Search Engine Watch post says public relations people have been involved in search engine optimization efforts for five years or so now. Huh. Could have sworn this was a new concept.
  • Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li have unveiled a new look to their Groundswell Blog in anticipation of the release of their book of the same name.
  • Sarah at RW/W has an interesting post on how to keep up with the conversation as it becomes less centralized on blogs and more diffused to social networks, microblogging and other platforms.
  • Geoff Livingston makes the case for a renewed adherence to bottom-line-impact by social media PR specifically and PR in general as well as a way to ride out the tough economic times we’re in for a while.
  • The fallout from some blogger relations gone horribly, horribly wrong continues to escalate, with Queen of Spain providing a good recap of the SNAFU.
  • While the full usage of Starbucks’ new MyStarbucksIdea community conversation site still remains to be seen, I agree with Mack that it’s a great move in the right direction.
  • LinkedIn now lets you create company profiles, which makes so much sense it’s kind of ridiculous.
  • Interesting dovetailing between Lee Odden’s post asking what your social media strategy is and Jennifer Slegg’s on why social media marketing is important to your business.
  • Yes, reporter blogs make those reporters more human in the eyes of the audience. But they’re real power, I think, is that because of the power of links and comments they also become more conversational, bringing the previously aloof journalist into the community discussion pool.
  • At the same time Starbucks is launching an open community to solicit feedback on its stores from customers and others, Chrysler is launching a closed, private online initiative of just a couple thousand people to elicit the same sort of feedback. Both approaches are completely valid depending on the goals. Whatever the case, it’s good to see that listening is the new black.

LOTD: 3/5/08

  • BusinessWeek has an interesting to read point/counterpoint on why widgets may or may not be good things for your marketing efforts. I tend to come down on the “may” side of things, but with the realization that like all tools they’re not going to be the best for everyone and even those that can make them work need to approach them carefully. (CT)
  • A new Zogby poll says the news audience is increasingly dissatisfied with traditional media efforts and is turning to online sources for their news. (CT)
  • Some offices are cracking down on online video watching by employees both because of the productivity that’s seen as being lost and the bandwidth it sucks up. Personally I’d rather have people take a little stress relief by enjoying a little Ask A Ninja then have them just sit there and be miserable. (CT)
  • Read/Write Web covers the Graphing Social Patterns conference keynote by Forrester’s Charlene Li on the present and future of the social graph. (CT)
  • And speaking of Forrester, Jeremiah Owyang mentions that while a number of major brands have launched their own online communities the discussion of whether to join or create is still an important one to have. I think there is value in both approaches depending on the intent of the company (You do know why you’re doing something, right?) and what outcome you’re looking for. (CT)
  • WordPress may be moving to become the foundation of a social network of sites. Not sure what this might look like but it seems intriguing. (CT)
  • Congrats to Julia Hood and Keith O’Brien, both of whom got promotions at PR Week to publishing director and editor-in-chief, respectively. (CT)

LOTD: 3/2/08

  • Via the fine folks at Ranchero, there’s an AppleScript you can download from Stefan Seiz that allows you to play enclosures within NetNewsWire, rather than needing to copy files out into QuickTime. (TB)
  • While we’re on the tip parade, Nick Bradbury has published 10 more “tiny” tips for using FeedDemon. (TB)
  • As far as positive PR goes, this one’s pretty good. Tellme founder Mike McCue says that Yahoo! management shouldn’t fret about possibly becoming a Microsoft acquisition. (TB)
  • Viaspire notes that CBS has launched the Official Tournament Brackets application on Facebook. Now *that* is a perfect use of Facebook apps, IMHO. (TB)
  • Doug Karr provides a solid primer on what a new Website should contain. Sure, there are a ton of people who’ve written this up, but based on how I’ve seen random Websites crop up (and back down), it’s always good to review this kind of material. (TB)
  • Dear PR people, actually find out how to contact the blogs you’re pitching. Again.
  • Rex @ Fimoculous points to an essay, “The Charms of Wikipedia,” that provides details on just what it says. A good weekend read, especially if you’re into the whole Wikipedia thing. (TB)

The core of the conversation

The whole discussion of whether or not social media outlets can effectively be monetized isn’t at all surprising to me. For as long as there has been advertising on blogs and other platforms there’s been a conversation about what it’s value is to the audience, to the advertiser and to the publisher. What does seem to be surprising, to me at least, is that the root cause of this conversation often goes unspoken.

There’s so much hand-wringing over whether or not social media can be monetized because the online media world is the first time actual metrics were demanded to account for an ads success.

Traditional media touted its reach and sold ad inventory based on that reach. But online media had to wait to get paid for the most part until the ads it sold actually performed and then had to justify its methodology for counting visitors, clicks or whatever else it was providing to advertisers.

Even among the biggest, most savvy players, effectively making money on advertising against social media is a tricky proposition. Just look at Google’s problems selling inventory on MySpace’s search functionality, though that effort may be hampered by both the fact that Google caught that deal just as MySpace was beginning to lose it’s luster and the fact that it’s search function stinks (at least it always did for me).

Both Kami Huyse and David Armano have thoughts up on how advertising on social media channels is just as disruptive to the audience as on traditional channels and that’s true. That’s why, as Kami says, effective public relations efforts are more essential than ever. Part of that is through our efforts to position our clients as participants in the conversation, something that is as non-disruptive as possible and even has the potential (if they listen to our guidance and resist the urge to engage in outright marketing) to add value to that community’s conversation.

That’s especially likely true if they drop some of their guarded nature and engage in Jeremiah Owyang’s three “impossible” conversations in an open and honest manner. After all there are a lot of lessons to be learned from the people who have the most problems with your company. If you’re not listening to them and addressing their concerns then you’re effectively writing off them as customers, and that’s something not many companies can afford to do.

And if you or your clients are doing social media wrong or if there’s some sort of inconsistency in efforts there will always be someone there to call you on it.

Yes, social media can be distracting, but that distraction is worth it when you consider that it also creates this sort of ongoing industry conference that everyone can attend because you don’t have to travel and all you need is the ability to sign up at Social media turns the entire Internet into a help line, where colleagues can ping each other for advice, help noodling out an issue or just to make each other laugh, just like what often happens at conferences. We’re all attendees and we’re all presenters and all we can hope for is that we make the best impression possible because we respect the opinions of everyone who’s listening to us.

Social media also turns the entire Internet into one big recommendation engine that can drive us to movies, music or other media that we had overlooked, discounted or never heard of. While sites like Netflix, iTunes and others all use our behavior and perceived interests as part of an algorithm, the opinions of those people we respect will always carry more weight because we’re social animals, and we’ll never be able to say “That was an awesome find, thanks for pointing me to it” to a computer and have it say “Glad you liked it!” back to us.

Social media can. It allows for feedback. Feedback for our recommendations, feedback for our ideas, feedback for our opinions and feedback for all our other efforts. Therein lies its power. Not to provide new advertising outlets, but to give us all a voice. The best social media marketers know that and act accordingly.

Form follows function

What Mike Manuel has written here echoes the thinking of myself and others here that a true social media press release focuses on content and not on design. We all have different ideas of how things should be arranged and such, but those are design issues, relegating the discussion to one similar to what you’d have over works of art. The problem is that something that’s beautiful to one pair of eyes is ugly to the next. So there will never be a truly universal social media release format. Indeed even getting an entire internal team to agree on one that’s appropriate for all clients is going to be a significant task.

It’s what our clients say that’s remembered far more than how they said it. That’s why the focus needs to be on putting content on the release page that’s interesting and relevant, points that are easier to agree upon and which have much more value to the end audience.