Posts Tagged ‘bloggers’

Journalists, PR Pros and Bloggers, Oh My!

Posted on: June 28th, 2011 by Geoff Livingston 11 Comments

by Jeremy Pepper

Lion

The past month had two interesting data points on content: ProPublica noted that public relations professionals now outnumber journalists 3:1, which is changing the face of journalism. Then the FCC noted that the dearth of local journalism is, well, hurting journalism and local communities (a nice overview off the stories and the story is here).

Neither of these stories are surprising: the death of local stories has been happening for the past 10 years; it has less to do with the economy but more to do with the profit margins of the large media conglomerates – who are in business to make their shareholders (and owners) money. Picking up a local paper in the past five years, the steady decline of coverage – both local and of importance – is obvious and quite sad.

With journalism becoming a weakening industry, though, the obvious switch to public relations from journalism makes sense. Public relations has this aura of being a well-paying field, and that people still get to work with journalism and journalists in telling a story, and sometimes you get to change and help the world. While thought of as the dark side, there is value in the public relations world to get a story told.

What both these big stories ignore is the growth of the local website – Patch, et al – and the growth of the bloggers. Are PR professionals just outnumbering traditional journalists, or is that taking into account the growth of local media and blogs? Is the dearth of local journalism affecting the world, or has social media changed journalism so much that people no longer want differing opinions but only want to see similar opinions and viewpoints to show that “yes, I’m right!!” That narcissistic world-view is already amplified (and helped) by Facebook and Twitter streams – note that most people only friend and follow those with similar opinions, so the middle tends to get drowned out and disenfranchised as the right and left noise becomes overbearing.

The fact is that local journalism is hurt by the profit motive in journalism – but oddly enough, it’s not easier for people to hide the crisis because of the growth of the local social media person digging for the stories. Without social media, would the Representative Weiner story broken so quickly and so fast? But on the flip side, without the traditional, local journalists, stories like the Bell, California corruption scandal would likely never come to light.

The question for what is good for the public is becoming amplified with the army of PR people out there to hide the story for clients, and the lack of local journalism to uncover the dirt. Are the next Woodward and Bernstein going to be bloggers, or is there immediately going to be a call of bias because it won’t be the middle, but left attacking right and right attacking left?

That is the future of both public relations and local journalism: content. Both are going to be pushing to produce as much local content as possible to get results and be known as news, but it won’t be real news but product of our cult of personality culture that is ignoring or blind to the real big stories.

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Jeremy Pepper has been writing about public relations and social media since July 2003, and is a 15-year veteran of public relations. You can learn more about him here, or watch his rants on Twitter. He also has grandiose plans to launch a food blog and aggregate all his content at jspepper.tv.

Machine Gunners and Gardeners

Posted on: May 1st, 2011 by Geoff Livingston 30 Comments

Navy gunner's mates inspect machine gun.
Image by the U.S. Navy

A movement exists to quantify everyone’s social media strength across diverse social networks and blogs. This widespread strength is a sign of true influence, argue social media gurus. Perhaps from a mass consumer market or a top influencer’s perspective, a “machine gun” approach towards influence makes sense. For most, addressing only widespread influence puts an organization into a position of weakness. A vast majority of companies and nonprofits must cultivate specific vertical markets, and specialized media and communities, just like a gardener tending his/her specific plot of land.

Rare is the brand that has the luxury of shooting across all markets with blanket approaches aiming for only the most “influential” voices. This is in essence a PR method, treating social media voices like large broad based media, and using them to broadcast to markets. Undoubtably, this top down approach creates a lot of attention, but is it effective? Does it produce desired outcomes?

Research shows that such approaches fire many more blanks than hits. In actuality, contagious moments occur online when multiple voices pick up a topic, and start discussing it. The buzz trickles up and then out, suggesting maximum impact occurs by seeding both the top and the bottom alike.

So much of social media is relational. People may retweet and give attention to the influencers, but they respond to the voices within their trusted sector. The difference is 90 percent trust for friends, versus 70% for general consumer opinions, according to Nielsen. Top down voices may spark conversation, IF you can get their attention, but they may have no relevancy within the sector (hello, Malcolm Gladwell). The best tactical approach is to also focus on the smaller, but more knowledgable voices within a sector.

In the interview for The New Battleground for Politics, GOP director of social media Todd Herman said the party specifically focused on diverse voices of varying influencer within the community to seed the fire Nancy Pelosi campaign. There was not a mention of Michelle Malkin. The effort went viral, raising $1.6 million on $20,000 budget, not to mention all of the fantastic impressions.

Why Mass Influence Metrics Don’t Work in Gardens

Garden work
Image by re.ality

Mass influence metrics are destined to fail. While someone may have strong pull across social channels and rank well on an influence metric, they aren’t necessarily influential within a specific vertical. Meaning that someone may have a wide reach, but that influence isn’t deep enough to have an effect on core communities. It’s like rain falling on the roof. The water never gets in.

Instead, organic approaches to cultivation are needed with influencer relations.
Online communicators need to dig deep into their communities, and work to build relationships over time within the community. That means actual participation with and manual verification of potential desired relationships.

How does one begin? Start with applying David Sifry’s magic middle influencer theory to your community. Back in 2006, those were the bloggers who had 20-1000 other people linking to them. While these metrics are not as applicable in the world of Facebook and Twitter, the principle is the same: Find the voices who discuss and/or curate relevant topical community knowledge and have their own pull.

These people may not be huge on Twitter, Klout, Facebook, Empire Avenue or any other quantifiable statistic, but they have great weight in their sector. They are the most important people to focus on cultivating relationships with day after day, year after year.

We’re talking about the Amy Sample Wards and the J.D. Lasicas, the Shonali Burkes and Justin Goldsboroughs of the world. These four voices have earned great respect within their communities, but you won’t find them on the top of the A-List. Yet, it is often these voices that break and/or discuss stories first. In tandem with other similar voices, they can create great ripples across their community’s conversations. Ironically, when a story or idea takes off because of the magic middle, often top “influential” voices and the media pick up the thread, the desired effect of the machine gunners.

Similarly, someone may have a very strong LinkedIn presence within their sector, perhaps moderating a large group. They are highly influential to tens of thousands, but because they choose to spend their time on LinkedIn as opposed to Facebook, Twitter, or blogging, are they suddenly not influential? If you need to reach their group but use machine gun influence approaches, you miss the value of knowing specific communities. Again, the vast majority of nonprofits and companies MUST target specific stakeholders. Understanding where the stakeholders are determines influence, not systematic metrics.

This is the exact type of influencer approach Zoetica uses when it plans efforts like last year’s award-winning American Red Cross Crisis Data conference, and prior recognized campaigns. After more than five years in social media marketing, the magic middle form of relationship “gardening” works almost every time. The top down machine gun approach has been hit or miss.

Which influence method do you prefer, top down, organic, something completely different, or a bit of everything?

Differentiating in a Sea of Sameness

Posted on: January 2nd, 2011 by Geoff Livingston 18 Comments

Junior, the Pug!

Maturation in social media marketing has created a sea of sameness, where conversations revolve around listening, responding, strategy, ROI, influence, etc. Consider the common complaint that all of the social media books, A-List blogs, and retweeting fans say the same things. The current “state of the conversation” serves as a great reminder that mature markets require differentiation to stand out and capture stakeholders’ attention.

It’s only by differentiation can one cut through the cluttered idea market to gain a stakeholder group’s interest. Differentiation distinguishes ideas, services and products.

Differentiation gets back to basic product marketing. That means creating an element(s) of uniqueness to an offering that appeals to the marketplace, whether that’s information for marketers, social change theories to attract charitable donors, new social middleware solutions to help organizations achieve their missions, or products for consumers. Without uniqueness, new blogs, causes, services and products are doomed to live in the second tier, offering a slightly less or more brilliant version of the market leader’s products. Yet regardless of the offerings’ merits, without differentiation it cannot rise above.

Sometimes the answer is as simple as positioning. Other times differentiation takes the form of carving out a niche from the larger mix. The organization focuses on one piece of the puzzle only, for example Flip camera’s sole focus on low-end handheld video cameras. This form of product marketing and branding was the basis for Al and Laura Ries’ Origin of Brands.

Differentiation always takes a deep understanding of market dynamics. This comes from listening, but also a perception of what stakeholders want and their unresolved needs. As much as algorithms and mathematical data helps marketing, part of it remains this deep perception that causes an organization to take a risk and launch new products that have yet to be proven. Consider the iPad’s incredible success in spite of the empty slate of apps that had yet to be developed for the tablet at launch. Within six months, 10,000 apps had been developed.

There’s a great desire for new ideas in social media marketing. The current voices haven’t broken out of meme box with substantive new approaches. Discontent amongst the marketplace continues to rise, and has spread to the corporate side where customers are starting to cry bubble. The idea marketplace is ripe for voices to differentiate with new exciting approaches that work. Consider how Danny Brown’s voice continues to evolve with his new partnerships, thoughts and approaches.

How will a cancer org separate itself from LIVESTRONG, the American Cancer Society and Komen to stand out and really make a difference for those interested in resolving cancer? Donors won’t be easily shaken to try something new unless they feel it has a serious chance to do a better job. Or maybe the cancer approach focuses on a niche, like Jennifer Windrum Strauss’s WTF Lung Cancer effort.

It’s a New Year. How will you differentiate your efforts so they don’t fall into the mediocre trap of sameness?