Six for Six

Day 71 - Dreidl Die
Image by slgckgc

Next Monday marks the six year anniversary of my first blog post. As I’m blogging less these days, I decided my final post of this year with six reflections based on my experiences over these years. Here are my observations about social media, blogging and marketing based on my journey:

1) The Idealism of Better Business Through Social

When I began blogging, I believed in The Cluetrain Manifesto. Its raw message that businesses would be forced to act better thanks to social media spoke to me. Cluetrain inspired hope that conversations could change the very fiber of business in favor of people. I was full of passion for that change, and my first book Now Is Gone reflected this idealism.

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Fixes for Three Lousy PR Pitches

pitch
Image by Melvin Schlubman

We all know how bad the state of media/blogger relations is: Bad pitches abound! But there are some pitches that are worse than others, and as a blogger for the past six years, my in box has become littered with them.

Here are three that all too common, and some suggestions to improve them another:

1) The XXX Blogger Already Wrote About It Pitch

This one is really annoying. It usually comes from someone you know in a passing manner, or is a cold pitch from a PR person. It goes something like this:

“Hey Geoff. I was hoping you would write about xxxx. Joe Schmo (or Mary Doe) already wrote about it here: (INSERT URL). So you should, too.”

OK, let’s make that Super Annoying. If another blogger already wrote about it, why would I? Seriously, and beyond that, it’s insulting to infer that because x A Lister covered a story I should kowtow and follow suit (with a schmoozy link, too).

DELETE!

Suggestion: Provide some sort of unique angle or information that will make my story somewhat unique.

2) The Pre-Written Pitch with Added Fields

This one is the best, a result of publishing an eponymous blog. Invariably, it reads something like this: “Hey Geoff, we were hoping you would feature our new Facebook application in Geoff Livingston.”

I wasn’t aware I could feature an application inside of me.

DELETE!

Suggestion: Stop using email programs to send your pitches. If you don’t have time to do this and reach your full list, cultivate a smaller list so it is must have contacts instead of a list of bloggers.

3) The “We’re So Awesome!” Pitch

This pitch features exaggerated facts, hyperbole and a wonderful amount of pomposity and clichéd buzz words:

“As the leading provider of wireless widgets (which were awarded the greatest on earth by J.D. Power & Associates), Acme helped save 799,291 lives through $1 donations as part of its service.”

Of course this means I should absolutely write about said company. Um, no.

DELETE!

Suggestion: Stick to straight up facts. Instead of talking about how great your company is, talk about the relevant issue that I write about, and how your company fits into the puzzle.

What are some of your favorite bad PR pitches?

Journalists, PR Pros and Bloggers, Oh My!

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.

# # #

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.

What ARE Influencers Good For?

Towed Out to Sea

The influencer hype bubble overvalues the role of popular digital voices in an online marketing program. Influencer attention can’t sustain a community over the long term, and using them often fails to produce strength of online community and actual business measurements. Rather than producing another post deconstructing the influence model, let’s try to take an objective look at what influencers can and cannot lend to an organization’s communications program.

It’s important to understand what influencers achieve in the larger social context. For the most part that consists of bursts of attention, and a perception of validity. In essence, this is the online version of media relations: Earned social mentions creating an aura of credibility.

Just like the traditional PR world, this tactical choice has its limitations. Mostly, it simply creates a word of mouth opportunity that needs to be backed by an actual product and service that a real pre-existing community likes. In addition, if deployed in an advisory role, influencers (the trusted servant kind, not the personal brands) can serve as a barometer for how a community will respond to an initiative.

Conversely, influencers don’t create the day-to-day participation and conversation necessary over long periods of time to develop and sustain a community. They can’t create valuable content for your stakeholders — unless you’re willing to sponsor full time bloggers. Influencers don’t manage communities and distributed networks of loyalists in such activities as crowdsourcing. Finally, influencers don’t produce the business outcomes that a loyal community delivers when it has embraced a symbiotic two way relationship.

A tow boat can only take a freighter out to sea, but if the actual ship is not sea-worthy it will sink with or without the tow. Similarly, influencers can only draw attention to something, but they can’t make a business, cause or idea succeed over the long term. Far from it. Let’s take a look using a familiar and recent case study.

Quora’s Mountain of Hype

Quora Traffic Post Influencer Bubble

As you can see by the above chart, the excitement over Quora has slowed down after the Silicon Valley influencer-driven bubble that started during the holiday season. It’s also interesting to note the drop in traffic preceded recent criticism and squabbles about Quora from that same Silicon Valley influencer community. Arguably the debates have given the site small, barely noticeable spikes. However, Quora’s overall traffic has increased since November, indicating the social network has successfully retained a minority of its new users.

The post-influence bubble decrease in traffic occurred because many found Quora’s product to be less interesting than advertised (and somewhat misrepresented as a blogging service). The spike featured industry specific conversations, and did not offer a broader consumer or cross-sector appeal. In essence, the influencers served as trade press, creating an echo chamber, but one that failed to compel non-insiders.

The higher plateau post influencer attention shows that Quora was able to retain some people who like question-based and information wiki-like products online. This can be credited to the preexisting community that had already seeded many questions and served as moderators. In actuality, the site was already growing in traffic naturally without the influencer bubble. The newly retained traffic after the influencer spike may have hastened Quora’s growth, but not by anything more than a few months.

Similar to an advisory board’s role, the usage created public feedback about problems with Quora, from its wonky interface and geekiness to popularity based answers as well as questionable moderation and editing. In some cases, influencers complained about censorship and their posts disappearing. Quora will need to respond and address these serious flaws if it hopes to become anything more than a niche community.

All in all, using the tow boat analogy, Quora has been brought to sea, but there are serious questions about its sea worthiness. The ship labors off the coast.

The influence bubble brought great attention, but Quora did not fully capitalize on the opportunity. It also needs to get beyond the confines of the Silicon Valley influencer circle and generate a much broader series of topical questions and answers if it intends to become a mass market success. It should be noted that there’s no business model in place to monetize, and given the large influx of traffic, this too can be considered a lost opportunity.

Conclusion

While Quora was “discovered,” its experience serves as the perfect example of the positives and limitations of influencers. As such, it should serve as an example of what to use influencers for… And what they cannot offer in the context of larger marketing programs that include product marketing, broader public relations efforts, advertising, as well as additional Internet marketing and tactics.

As for Quora itself, the question-based social network has work to do, but it still has business value, and should be monitored by professionals. Keep in mind that overall, in spite of the spike, traffic is still increasing.

What do you think an influencer’s role is in an online program? Does Quora have what it takes to make it?

P.S. Quora users seem uninterested in the question, “What are online influencers good for?