Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Will commercializing social media drive users away?

Looking at how little MySpace is used now, I worry that Twitter and Facebook will suffer from the same fate. As marketers and public relations people try to take advantage of the crowds that have flocked to Twitter and Facebook (300 million user on the latter, at least according to some estimates), are we in danger of turning people away. Is there a reason it's called social media and not commercial media?

How do we keep these sites entertaining and appealing, which will drive traffic, yet communicate key messages? And please, don't tell me it's about creating interesting content. We all understand that's the baseline and table stakes for this discussion.

How do we keep these sites vibrant, yet commercial? What are the lessons we can learn from television's business model? Does the print industry have anything to teach us?

I don't have the answers and only know a few of the questions. Does anyone have some of the answers? What should I read and where should I go (conferences that is)?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Baby boomers and social media, or not

Last week's Wall Street Journal served us an article on why email is dying. For my money, although email has ceded ground to other communications channels, it still has plenty of legs.

Outside of the tech elite, email is still the second best way to reach someone (the phone ranks as the clear first choice). If you are dealing with people outside of your social network, sending an email is the second best way to communicate non-urgent information.

Also, the shiny new social media toys we use today may not be in vogue ten years from now (hello and goodbye MySpace), but it's hard to believe email will ever go away. For example, snail mail, email's close cousin, has held its ground despite being faced with cheaper and faster competition. Fewer people letter, but bills still fill my mailbox.

Other means
That being said, even email can't reach all audiences. Some people aren't online, especially the old and poor.

My mother bought her first computer last week. My father owns an iPhone but has no interest in using the Web or email (don't ask me what he was thinking when he bought the iPhone). My grandmother uses email, but never checks her Facebook page. But, they all send cards and letters. They are not alone. There is large demographic who don't live on the Web and don't miss it. And yes, I know the demographic of people who don't use the Web shrinks every year. I read the survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project:

  • Senior citizens: Broadband usage among adults ages 65 or older grew from 19% in May 2008 to 30% in April 2009.
  • Low-income Americans: Two groups of low-income Americans saw strong broadband growth from 2008 to 2009: First, respondents living in households whose annual household income is $20,000 or less saw broadband adoption grow from 25% in 2008 to 35% in 2009. Second, respondents living in households whose annual incomes are between $20,000 and $30,000 annually experienced a growth in broadband penetration from 42% to 53%.Overall, respondents reporting that they live in homes with annual household incomes below $30,000 experienced a 34% growth in home broadband adoption from 2008 to 2009.
  • High-school graduates: Among adults whose highest level of educational attainment is a high school degree, broadband adoption grew from 40% in 2008 to 52% in 2009.
  • Older baby boomers: Among adults ages 50-64, broadband usage increased from 50% in 2008 to 61% in 2009.
  • Rural Americans: Adults living in rural America had home high-speed usage grow from 38% in 2008 to 46% in 2009.
While those numbers point to an overall rise in Internet usage, they also point to the limitations of social media. If you want to reach baby boomers, you will need to find a channel that speaks to the 40 percent of boomers who do not have broadband access. And if you are looking for the folks who did not attend college, nearly half of them can only be reached through traditional marketing channels.

The takeaway
Those of us in the tech bubble need to remember not everyone lives on the Web and some of the non-Webbies have money to spend. To reach those people, traditional media and marketing technique are required. In other words, just because you have a shiny new stick, you should not throw away the old bat that can still hit the occasional homerun.

How Obama plays the media game

When Obama appeared on Letterman as the show's only guest, he took a page from the George Bush playbook and bypassed the media to deliver his messages unfiltered and without pesky criticism, sort of like when Dick Chenney appears on Fox.

You could argue that he is diluting his premium brand by appearing on so many talks shows after he also blanketed the Sunday morning talking head panels, but he rightly thinks passing healthcare will define the next three years of his presidency. (Well, healthcare and the economy stupid.)

He also decided to take on Fox News. Figuring he has little to gain by playing nice, Obama declared war on the network, arguing the network's opinion makers rarely side with him on the issues of the day. In the Obama calculation, it was safer to call Fox News the opposition party megaphone rather a vendor of fair and balanced news. Shooting the messenger never gets old in Washington and the administration decided Fox's audience wasn't going to vote democratic in the next election anyway.

The next election cycle will tell us if Obama should have used a bigger carrot instead of the stick when dealing with Fox News.

Why newspapers matter and a pop quiz

If you have a chance, please read this excerpt on why we need newspapers. At a time when more people than ever turn to newspapers for information, the industry's economic model is crumbling, and its overall health is declining. In a speech before the Joint Economic Committee, the Director for the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, Tom Rosenstiel, noted:

Last year, the traffic to the top 50 news websites grew by 27%. But the price of an online ad fell by 48%.

The consequence is that the amount of our civic life that occurs in the sunlight of observation by journalists is shrinking. The number of city councils and zoning commissions, utility boards and state houses, governor's mansions and world capitals being covered on a regular basis, even by a lone journalist, is diminishing. One out of every five people working in newspaper newsrooms in 2000 was gone at the beginning of 2009, and the number is doubtless higher now. My old newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, has half the reporters it did a decade ago.

In a nutshell, while more people are reading the news, fewer people are reporting it. In a democracy, someone needs to ferret out the truth, if only for the populace to have an informed opinion.

If you think we have an informed populace, take this quiz and compare your answers with the nation at large and let me know how you feel about the depth of our collective knowledge.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The new PR: it's more than media relations

At the Web Innovators Group event in Cambridge last Tuesday, I listened to a blue ribbon media panel talk about how entrepreneurs could do PR on the cheap. Because consummate PR pro Bobbie Carton wrote a wonderful review of the panel, I won't bore you with the details except to say the big take away was that entrepreneurs don't need to pay for public relations.

Here, I am reminded of the phrase: you get what you pay for. The panel was free and the reporters did provide an hour's worth of excellent advice for the general public. But good PR counsel means crafting a specific strategy and story for a specific client and being able to take that story to the appropriate channels. And that strategy session takes more than an hour.

Besides, starting with media relations is putting the cart before the horse. At one point during the evening, an entrepreneur asked when was a good to time to engage in PR. I can't remember what the panel's response was, but I know it should have been, "What are you trying to do?"

When I am helping out an organization, I always start with the basics. You know that whole research, action, communication and evaluation thing. But if public relations is about relationships, how about starting with this?

1) How can I make things easier or less difficult for the organization?

2) How can I serve this organization to help them move forward?

3) What is “our” action plan?

4) How do we get the process going?

Sometimes these questions involve media relations, but most of the time it does not.

Cherisse's comments came in response to Chuck Tanowitz's thoughts about the Web Innovator's event. The main takeaway for Chuck was:
First, the panel didn't have a good idea of how PR actually helps media relations; but second is the misunderstanding that PR means only media relations. Today's PR is much more than that.
Having a PR person on the panel would have helped the audience understand there is more to PR than reaching out to traditional media outlets. For example, there are bloggers, who were unforgivably not represented on the panel.

Not having a PR person on the panel is like having a panel on offensive football hosted by defensive players. They can tell you how they react to an offensive game play, but they can't tell you how to build a game plan that takes advantage of an offensive team's strengths and hides the team's weaknesses.

I know this analogy makes it sound like PR and the press have an adversarial role. I don't think this was always the case, but after listening to the panel and reading other sources, the veneer that the media used to employ when dealing with PR people has been scratched thin, and ugliness has shown through the exposed surfaces.

I sincerely hope that we have not entered a new era in PR and media relations, but change is upon our industry. As I've mentioned before, change makes people uncomfortable. And if you start messing with someone's livelihood, well, discomfort turns to anger.

Traditional media players understand the Web is putting them out of a job, and they also know that PR people are trying to disintermediate them by using the Web and social media tools. If I were them, I'd be pissed off too.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

WSJ: social media has "consultants"

Yesterday's WSJ brought a fresh look at PR, although in linguistic feat akin to writing about surgery but not using the word "doctor, " the paper avoids using the words "public relations." In short, while the story details how SMBs are turning to "consultants" for help developing and executing social media strategies, these consultants are not called PR people.

Yet, if you polled most consultants who offer these services, they would undoubtedly say they work for PR companies or, at least, marketing agencies. Indeed, Everywhere, one of the firms cited in the article, is a self described "Social Media Marketing and Content Development" company. I would think the agencies named in the article would not mind being labeled marketing or PR shops, but perhaps that's just me.

To be fair, the article includes the following:
Other agencies simply tack on social-media support as part of a package of advertising and public-relations services. Red Square Agency Inc., in Mobile, Ala., charges clients around $200 an hour, and ThinkInk LLC charges $10,000 to $20,000 a month for the integrated services.

But, one quibble here, most agencies would look at social media as part of an overall PR program, not an add on or after thought. Social media is part of an overall PR campaign, not a separate entity. For my money, the WSJ missed the point.
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