What Students Want to Know

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Last week I had the great pleasure of serving as a guest lecturer for two University of Maryland Communications classes. The students all brought questions, which we did not get a chance to answer. But in the spirit of continuing the conversation, here are some answers. I did not answer all of them, but may do a second round next week.

Q: How do you know if a blog is credible?

A: All things are subjective, but my preferred way is to delve into the links-to a blog, and see who is linking back and how. A blog that inspires a lot of negative conversations probably should not be considered credible. Another way is to use a formulaic tool like the Ad Age Power 150 or AideRSS to measure a blog’s standing.

A word of caution: Just because a blog does not get links-to does not mean the content lacks weight. The author may not blog often, or does not actively promote or cross-link.

Q: What is the most useful new media tool and what should we know about it?

A: FriendFeed has the hot hand right now. FriendFeed captures a latent demand for providing multiple pieces of content in one place, similar to a reader, but capturing headlines rather than full articles.It really allows individuals and small businesses to aggregate their content in a social way. Consider that integrated into Facebook it provides a viral way to show a diverse contact base several initiatives.

Further, it allows content creators to better serve their constituents in one place. For example, a guy like me blogs here to support a book, my company blog, and my personal blog as well as bookmarks, photos and videos. You can follow me on FriendFeed here.

Keep in mind that bigger businesses are doing this with portals, such as GM’s Next, Cisco’s page or Dell. But none of these entities benefit from the viral commenting and spread that FriendFeed offers.

Q: How do you choose what to blog? Do you accept pitches?

A: I use an editorial mission for my two business blogs. Now Is Gone and The Buzz Bin are meant to serve specific stakeholders, buyers of my book or the communications industry, respectively (including clients, employees, and partners and potential members of any of these stakeholder groups). Creative whim dictates content on my personal Off Hours blog.

I do accept pitches for the Buzz Bin, but very rarely. Usually, the pitches are way off and deal with a company’s specific marketing intent. If I do accept a pitch, I usually make the pitcher by-line the post.

Q: Do you recommend starting your own public relations company after accumulating enough experience? Was it difficult to get started?

A: If you are an entrepreneur, yes. But this is not for the faint of heart. Think five times before doing this. If you are not sure, Escape from Cubicle Nation would be a good resource to peruse.

You have to know how to sell. No matter how smart you are, no business succeeds without sales. You have to be ready for the long haul. You have to be ready for major trials, and be OK with the possibility of failing. I am celebrating my company’s second birthday this week, and looking back it has been absolutely grueling. Hobbies go out the window, relationships dissolve, and marriage can be strained.

If I knew then… I may not have started an agency, instead just focused on being an uber-consultant. Or, I may not have started at all. Now that I am two years in and have a team of five full-time (once we get our next person on…) + consultants, the rewards are starting to appear. I love watching people grow, the new challenges expansion is bringing, and of course, living with almost complete freedom.

Q: How do you make a corporate blog seem authentic without completely giving up control?

A: You can’t. Control is an illusion. For the most part, companies never really had it anyway.

Q: How do you balance the strict guidelines of the AP Stylebook and the informal culture of a blog?

A: Hah! Throw out the AP stylebook, of course! Great writers write to the medium. So a press release or corporate backgrounder is much different than a blog, and should be written in a completely different fashion. Corporate blogging and social media in general are conversational, demanding personality. AP Style takes that edge off. Institutions that enforce AP style on a blog better have fantastic content if they want to engage people.

That being said, editing a post a couple of times for basic grammar and spelling is usually appreciated by readers. Check out Copyblogger, too.

Q: I currently intern for the Washington Capitals and our public relations department openly welcomes bloggers to sit in the press box during the game. What are your feelings? Do you think what bloggers have to say is equally important as what a local newspaper writes?

A: The Washington Post seems to think so. So do I. Why? Because there’s a symbiotic relationship between reporters and bloggers, with many newspapers using blogs — or more importantly story trends across blogs — as a means of story research. To ignore bloggers or prevent them from executing stories like Mark Cuban wants to is foolish. It’s kind of like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals, is a long-time Internet veteran. He gets it, and is actively trying to get AOL into this next generation of Internet technologies. It doesn’t surprise me that he allows bloggers. Heck, he even accepted my friendship request on Facebook.

Q: What disadvantages do you think our generation has or will struggle with once we get into the work force?

A: Ahh, millenials ;) Most of my workforce is in your generation. Generally speaking, your generation is accustomed to immediacy, co-creating and crowd-sourcing. That means you expect to be a part of the larger picture, you want things now. You are disappointed when you are not included in all aspects of what your curiosity dictates should be an open conversation. This can lead to a sense of entitlement. I think the current economic environment may rectify this.

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