Does Social Media Marketing need a Reboot? Drew Neisser Chimes in

Drew Neisser, Founder & CEO of Renegade

I have been blogging about challenges confronting digital PR and social media marketing.  You can read those posts to learn more.  In a nutshell, issues have surfaced over the past couple of years (related to fake news, online manipulation, growing privacy concerns as examples) that I believe drive the need to take stock and possibly reevaluate digital strategies.

This is my first in series of interviews on the topic.  I thought it would be great to get Drew Neisser’s views.  He’s an impressive guy. Drew Neisser is the founder and CEO of Renegade, the NYC-based strategic boutique for B2B renegades. Drew also hosts Renegade Thinkers Unite, the #2 podcast for CMOs and writes the CMO Spotlight column for AdAge; is the author of The CMOs Periodic Table: A Renegade’s Guide to Marketing and serves on the boards of the Urban Green Council and Duke Alumni Association.

We’ve enjoyed partnering with Drew and his  team on groundbreaking campaigns over the yearsd. Here is the Q & A, and thanks for participating Drew!

  • Are the social media waters still safe for marketing?

Absolutely. What’s not safe is ignoring social conversations, especially those related to your brand and category.  Interestingly, brands that take a stand, even a controversial one, are generally way ahead of those that sit on the sidelines. Nike’s 30th anniversary campaign, which featured Colin Kaepernick among many athletes, was an unquestionable success, dramatically increasing their fan base and engagement rates and even ended up good for the brand on the stock market despite the 1-day panic sellers.

  • Have you been recommending a change in strategy regarding social media?

Yes and no. No, in that it is still essential for brands to participate in social media in the spirit of the channels – in other words, brands need to be interested and interesting, in that order. Fail on either parameter and you’ll probably fall flat.  The main strategic shifts are three-fold, first and foremost, you must have a paid strategy to support your organic efforts. Second, you need to have very different strategies for each channel, recognizing that Twitter is for real-time engagement, including social customer service. Instagram is all about dazzling images and stories and Facebook is increasingly about video storytelling. And LinkedIn is a powerhouse for B2B lead generation and recruiting. Third, given the plethora of content being pushed out every nanosecond, we’re recommending brands focus more on quality over quantity – since only the best stuff will rise to the top.

  • What comes after social media?

First, social media will be around for many years to come, just like TV, outdoor, radio and even print.  Social will evolve both as an organic and paid channel and of course, new social networks will arise. In particular, expect to see more smaller affinity networks that meet both virtually and physically.  The counter-trend to increased digital communications is the growing desire to meet in person.  Business event attendance is at record highs and many B2B brands consider events their best source of leads.

  • Can the ship be righted?

Who said the ship is listing or sinking? Despite all of the controversy around Facebook this year, usage levels are still extraordinarily high and marketers are still finding it to be a very effective advertising channel.  LinkedIn is also attracting increased advertising dollars and usage rates continue to grow.  Obviously, Snapchat is in trouble, having been eclipsed by Instagram – which essentially took the best of Snapchat and left the rest out. And Twitter is struggling to find its way but hopefully will turn itself around given its unique strengths.

  • Is Facebook still a good place to invest in social media marketing?

Yes. Yes. Yes.  It is still one of the most powerful advertising platforms ever invented and continues to prove its effectiveness for just about everyone from top 100 advertisers to local mom & pop businesses.

  • Have these changes affected your social media habits for personal brand building?

A bit. It’s more important than ever to engage with other people’s content, to demonstrate your interest in them. Inevitably, your interest in others will pay extraordinary dividends as they reciprocate with their attention. Also, the bar is higher for content quality. I’m creating a bit less content these days but trying to make what I do put out there as good as I can make it. Finally, it is important to recognize that organic reach can only get you so far, so it’s important to build your own mailing list, share quality content to your list AND get regular exposure on reputable media properties.

Posted in Interviews, PR, PR Tech, Public Relations, Social Media, Uncategorized, Web 2.0 | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Next Steps in Social Media Marketing

If social media were a brand, it’s one that I think most would agree has been tarnished.

The reputation hits come from many directions. Sure, Facebook’s troubles have been front and center. It’s nothing short of mind boggling, the mischief and misdeeds that run rampant there.

And it’s not just about Facebook or even social media. Others have come under fire too, for their content and privacy issues, in related areas of online like general Web, Google, and mobile.

These things are not likely to fade away or radically change anytime soon. But fixes are needed, from the industry side and it seems certain that lawmakers and regulators will have a growing hand too.

This may lead some to wonder what to do in the interim. Are the waters safe for social media marketing? Should brands hedge their bets? What about for personal interaction and brand building? There’s a #DeleteFacebook movement and rising tide to wean ourselves off our device addictions.

Amidst these trends I thought I’d investigate what people who work in the field have to say. So I sent the note below around, and will be running the answers in a series of posts.

(I was not sure what to expect. Would they gloss over the challenges or suggest major changes? interestingly, this Digiday articles says Facebook advertisers are staying the course).

It would be great to hear from others too, via comments, or DM me on Twitter if you’d like to do a full interview.  If there’s enough interest in the topic, I may run a Twitter chat.  So check out the inquiry below and stay tuned for answers in the coming days.

Thanks for reading.

Defending your Social Influence

I’m blogging on the following topic and wanted to get the thoughts of you and others who rock it in social media and related areas like digital PR, and content and influencer marketing.

Trust in social media and journalism are at an all-time low. Facebook’s problems have cast a pall over the social platform space. Social sharing saw a decline for the first time this year. Digital media and ads continue to grow as journalism and organic social suffer, ad fraud continues to be a problem, and mistrust between all in the ecosystem prevails.

In this climate, it can be hard to distinguish smart digital marketing from hacking a broken system, and legitimate news vs. disinformation, hype and outright fake, lying news.
Some say it is an awkward adolescence for social media; others say we have built a shaky house of cards that can’t continue without significant changes (well, I kind of wrote that).

What do you say?

  • Are the social media waters still safe for marketing?
  • Have you been recommending a change in strategy regarding social media?
  • What comes after social media?
  • Can the ship be righted?
  • Is Facebook still a good place to invest in social media marketing?
  • Have these changes affected your social media habits for personal brand building?
Posted in Influencer marketing, Interviews, Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media, Tech PR, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Definers Saga and the State of PR Ethics

I’m always interested in topics related to my profession, PR, and the industry we serve, technology. So I was eager to see what NY Times had to say in Jack Nicas’s recent piece: How Facebook’s P.R. Firm Brought Political Trickery to Tech.

Longtime readers know that I like to call out misperceptions about PR, hence the name of this blog.  I dug in with my revenge hackles up, ready to pounce on inaccuracies. Instead I found a solid piece of reporting (apart from a few minor quibbles).  It made me think of broader questions about PR ethics, which I’ve explored before here, and the state of communications today.

In his story, Nicas wrote: “Definers specialized in applying political campaign tactics to corporate public relations — an approach long employed in Washington… but less common in tech.”

Hardball PR is by no means new in tech. Indeed, my post Above the FUD, covered this very topic back in 2011 (ironically, it mentioned another PR agency that spread negative stories for Facebook back then).

What seems new is that there is a PR firm specializing in dark PR, that was born and bred in DC. Of course, Facebook makes this topic relevant as it fits in with NY Times story about their recent missteps.

But the reason I found the piece (and an earlier one Nicas wrote with Matthew Rosenberg) to be eye opening has nothing to do with Facebook per se, or opposition research, or political PR coming to tech.  The tactics Definers used sound like a page from the playbooks of Russian hackers and others who weaponize modern communications systems to achieve their goals.

Here are some excerpts from the first Times story mentioned above:

  • Definers’s strategy played to a target’s pressure points
  • To promote clients and attack enemies, Definers regularly used NTK Network, a news aggregator with a conservative slant and 122,000 followers on Facebook…
  • “Through NTK we can directly re-publish favorable news from other outlets, and work with like-minded individuals to help create an echo chamber effect” [from a Defners proposal reviewed by The Times].
  • Employees distributed anti-Apple research to reporters and would not say who was paying for it.
  • While working for Qualcomm, Definers pushed the idea that Apple’s chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, was a viable presidential candidate in 2020… Presumably to chill the cordial relations with the Trump administration.
  • Definers’s focus on Mr. Cook extended to a campaign it ran to promote the Apple chief as a 2020 presidential candidate. A slick website titled “Draft Tim Cook 2020” had digital links to Definers employees
  • [Definers] wrote an article that accused Mr. Cook of lying to President Trump about building Apple factories in the United States…. right-wing provocateur Charles C. Johnson published it on his website GotNews without a byline or other disclosures…
  • Definers encouraged reporters to write about the financial connections between anti-Facebook activists and the liberal financier George Soros, drawing accusations that it was relying on anti-Semitic tropes.

They combined traditional FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) tactics with tools of modern information warfare, using the web and social media, and pushed political and emotional hot buttons to generate media interest and spread their messages.

The above may seem like an extreme case, but it is a reminder of where we are now, in a world in which many are quick to scream “Fake News” and online channels can be so easily subverted.

It is all too tempting for any communications professional to consider how to coopt these systems; and poses all kinds of dilemmas about where to draw the line.

Some may think “PR ethics” is an oxymoron.  Like any profession, we have our good and bad apples. The industry has set some guidelines,  as explained in this Wikipedia article, which includes PRSA’s take.  As I wrote back in 2011, the lines can be fuzzy, and each one of us (as well as our employer) needs to decide what’s fair game.

Perhaps it is time to update the PR ethics rulebook, with the goal of taking a fresh look at how today’s communications systems can be used and abused.

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Google, you Complete Me! (A warm Thanksgiving tale)

It started several months ago. I was writing a Gmail when grey words mysteriously appeared ahead of my typing.

“Hmmm, must be some new functionality,” I thought.  Then: “Hey, this just might be interesting and useful!”

The suggested words did fit. But I was stuck, kind of.  Was I supposed to keep typing, right over the new text? How could I just accept them?

I muddled through, and this happened again the next time I wrote a Gmail. After some trial and error, I learned that just hitting the tab key accepted the text.

And, like new dance partners awkwardly anticipating the next step, Gmail and I found our footing and learned to work closely together.

After some digging (using Google, natch), I discovered that the new Gmail feature is called Smart Compose. It almost magically completes your thoughts, going beyond the few canned responses offered by Smart Reply.

Gmail Smart Compose brought me even closer to an app I had long used and trusted to carry my thoughts.

Ways it is useful

That was the start of a beautiful relationship, which only grew stronger over time.

As someone who can struggle to find the right words, I found Gmail Smart Compose to be a godsend.  It summoned the perfect sentiment, guessing almost exactly how to best finish a sentence, using the words I would, if only I had the writing skills and time.

Here are a few examples:

Have a Happy Thanksgiving

Beautiful!

Do you have time to meet first thing tomorrow?

Mwah!

Google, you rock!

It Starts to get Weird

I was loving it, and I think it was loving me.

But at some point, I noticed that something was off.  It was almost like Gmail could not only read my mind – but was smart about other things.  It started making suggestions that were unexpected, and even unwanted.

It began with one word.

I was writing my boss, asking for some much-needed time off:

Jordan, can I take off the week after STOPPPPP!!!

“That’s weird,” I thought.  Smart Compose is usually so on target.  I blew off the suggestion of course.

Then, another time, I was pitching a journalist for a product review:

Joe, you really need to check out this great app it will totally hose your phone

Damn, where did those words come from?  Gmail, what’s gotten into you?!!! I need to be more careful here.  Perhaps the relationship needed reevaluation.

The funny thing was, I went ahead with my vacation request anyway; and wound up sick that whole week.  Go figure.

It Gets Dark

I have been having some problems with my weird neighbor Doug, who lives on the same floor in our apartment building.  It relates to problems about excess noise and garbage in common areas.

I was writing him to arrange a meeting to hash things out. This is what I wrote, and what Smart Compose filled in:

Doug, can you meet at 10am tomorrow behind the garage and pay no mind to the hand behind my back that holds a brick which will bash your fucking skull in

Y’ know, this is just getting too strange.  First, how could Gmail even consider such words for me? I am not a violent person; it is not at all what I was thinking of saying (or even considering doing).  The suggested sentence completion is completely out of character for me, and for what you think a professional productivity app would suggest.

Perhaps it is time to turn off Smart Compose.

Epilogue

I am posting this blog from Gmail and wanted to update you on the status of my relationship with Gmail Smart Compose.  Unfortunately I can do little else because my smart home, powered by Google Nest and other IoT devices, has staged a revolt. All my bank accounts have been emptied. Steel cables from my fucking brilliant home universal gym are binding and choking me, making it a bitch to breathe let alone type… wait now, what’s all this? I must really be going off the deep end but am actually OK, pay no mind to the preceeding. Smart Compose and I are just fine, we’ve never been stronger together. Don’t worry if you don’t hear from me for awhile, I’m going to take a break from blogging but hope to be back soon. Meanwhile, have a Happy Thanksgiving (love that!)

Note: The above is a work of fiction.  No people, apps or neighbors were hurt in the writing of this post.  I don’t have a weird neighbor Doug.  Gmail did not actually suggest most of the above stated words.
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We’ve been hacked! Call the Press!

Folks, it is time for a tough conversation. No, not that one. The one about your cybersecurity stance – and any breaches.

These things are the “third rail” in technology public relations, which is my forte. Talking about it seems somewhat akin to admitting you have an STD.

After advising many cybersecurity companies over the years, I thought I’d issue this call for greater transparency. We work across the tech industry – and there is not one area that has higher sensitivity. Very few customers of such solutions want to say anything about their precautions, let alone stumbles.

But they should come clean, and ‘fess up to problems when they occur, according to the basic tenets of crisis management. As the saying goes, the coverup can be worse than the crime. Google learned this painful lesson recently, when reports made it clear that they sat on news about a massive breach. The company got pounded in the press (on top of other negative news) and wound up shutting down Google+.

No, you don’t want to shout about every small glitch from the rooftops. But big problems will get outed sooner or later – why not try to get ahead of it rather than let the delays compound the damage? The far better approach to crisis management is to rip off that Band-Aid – admit your mistake, explain, apologize, and rectify. Where I come from, it’s called being a mensch.

It is also understandable why some might think they are protecting themselves by staying mum about security posture. Most say they don’t want to tip their hands or wave a red flag in front of the angry bull that is the hacker community. The silence on the topic may give people a false sense of security.

Rest assured, every organization, every individual is a target. The threats are constantly evolving and growing more sophisticated. Talking about security will not increase vulnerability. Conversely, organizations have a responsibility to explain how they are protecting themselves – and their employees and customers’ sensitive data. They can do this in a way that doesn’t give away the keys, i.e. share enough info to instill confidence yet not empower hackers.

A proactive and positive communications program won’t repair damage from fraud and ID theft or keep you on the right side of laws and regulations that protect consumers. But some of the greatest damage caused by security lapses can be to brand and reputation – which in turn can adversely impact other things, like stock price and sales. It is here that good old PR and crisis management can help.

I urge a more open conversation. If there have been mistakes, admit it and fix them. Regardless, make your security precautions known; reassure customers, employees and others that sensitive data, networks and facilities are safe. Don’t be afraid to speak publicly – not to throw down the gauntlet to hackers – but in a positive way, that shows you are aware of dangers in the ever-changing threat landscape and bringing measures in line.

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End of Media Relations – or a new Beginning?

By now, content marketing has become an important part of almost every PR’s arsenal.  We’ve become an army of bloggers and article writers.

And why not? Content is the motive force for today’s noisy internet.  It offers more runway to tell stories, share messages and drive thought leadership than the typical press mention.

Plus, content seems like the path of least resistance.  There are plenty of places to publish and syndicate.  With fewer reporters  covering more beats, our pitches are increasingly easy to ignore amidst a sea of social chatter and other competing noise.  This makes it harder to earn coverage, as Frank Strong pointed out in his post This is How the Sorry State of Media Relations Ends.

It’s a situation that seems to frustrate all sides.  Journalists dislike getting end-run by tweeting execs who communicate directly with their audiences.  But many shun the kind of trend and feature pieces that used to be great homes for client and brand stories.   They’re covering big news and top names that can move the needle on readership and social sharing.  Frank wrote:

“Unless your story today is about Google, Facebook, money or scandal, the traditional, bona fide reporters are not interested.”

So, many in our profession have blithely gulped the content Kool Aid, been swept up in the flood. But after fielding the 10,000th byline request, hearing one too many prospects put off a PR program because they’re going to go it on their own with content and cheap writers, and surveying results from a field of content heavy programs, I thought it might be a good time to sound an alarm.

You Own it, You Break it

Not to dismiss the power of owned and social media channels; but these can be too much like the sound of one hand clapping without the credibility and validation of earned media.

Public relations’ stock in trade has been the ability to persuade and get ink for our news.  How can you convince others that your brand rocks, your product is a breakthrough, or to take a fresh look at the world if you are not in fact getting others on board?

This had been done since the birth of PR by getting the media to understand the need for your company, product or service and cover your stories.

Conversely, most of the types of content that PR generates (barring press releases) are by design not overtly promotional.   The soft sell of a vendor byline can be too subtle and go unnoticed in today’s media maelstrom.  It is all too easy to generate a sea of bland content that goes ignored.

A great product review; a nice company profile; articles that argue for the type of change that your company provides – that is great PR that is admittedly harder to get but is still vitally important.

A new Era of Media Relations

If some doors seem more tightly closed, other avenues are opening. Earned media is no longer just relegated to traditional media.  Bloggers and social influencers can count too.  It all gets back to social proof – with the major media brands at the top of the heap.

And if you are finding it difficult to scale that summit, perhaps now would be a good time to reset expectations and reevaluate your approach.  Mass blasts, the PR rep as a glorified pitching machine – these archetypes have never served our field well.  Yet it is a mode that too many still work in (I know this – as a blogger I get a ton of irrelevant pitches).

The true pros are looking beyond the transaction, building relationships with reporters beyond a single story or pitch.  They are keeping their ears to the ground and staying close to reporters by reading their stories and social musings.

They are finding ways to be helpful and serve the media’s needs – and getting out of the way when there is not a clear fit.

Those who stick to the old mode will not succeed in this business; or perhaps they will continue to double down on owned and earned media channels (as I said above, these things are all great but not enough).

Instead of the end of media relations, perhaps we will see the start of a new and more productive era.

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Prepare for a Reshuffling of the Internet Deck

In my last post I wrote about the house of cards called today’s Internet, and new rules that could shake things up. The European Directive threatens to force social media platforms and others to pay a link tax to copyright holders and guard against uploading of such content.

There was an outcry from many quarters when the idea was proposed, and the first attempt did not pass. In July it was sent back to the rulemakers for further discussion and fine tuning. Many viewed the effort as government overreaching and a threat to big tech; others saw it as a win for media. Curiously, consumers seemed chiefly concerned about losing out on their precious memes.

As I said in my last post, it might not be a bad thing, if the European Directive were adopted. The free Internet has left journalism reeling and savaged creative fields like writing, music and photography.

Yesterday, TheVerge reported that the EU Copyright Directive has passed, with most controversial provisions intact. It still needs to survive a final vote in January 2019, but the article said that this will likely happen.

I am quite honestly surprised there hasn’t been more noise and reporting about this.

It seems to be a big deal. OK, the rules won’t take effect immediately – and they are in Europe – but a similar clamping down on tech called GDPR (which holds businesses’ feet to the fire regarding personal info) – took years to unfold and is now coming to the US.

Prepare for a slow walk to a new Internet, and score one for the media. And now would be a good time to invest in companies that database and scan content for copyrights.

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Is it time to Rethink our Faustian Bargain with “Free”?

There is legislation brewing in Europe that could upend digital media.  They’re considering making the major platforms like Google, Facebook et al, pay copyright fees for all the content that they now freely distribute and monetize.

It may seem nuts and I never thought I’d agree with such a scheme. But perhaps the time really has come to think the unthinkable and reconsider our Faustian bargain with free.

According to legend, Faust traded his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge.  And it is just such a bargain we have made with tech – the applications we use and the industry that spawns them.

The problems start with Free; the assumption that information wants to be free, as tech luminaries famously proclaimed, that we want it to be free, and that society benefits from all of this.

It is the reality that Internet culture has given us today; where content is there for the taking, to be riffed on, often ripped off, repackaged, bookmarked, collated, aggregated, discovered, linked, shared and curated; in which content is commoditized and journalism has been torn asunder.

Free has created a world in which we blithely volunteer our info and ditch privacy to access addictive apps and social platforms; it’s grown in synch with big tech, companies that call the shots and don’t play by the same rules, e.g. if you are an online service vs. a media company, you are not bound by the CDA (Communications Decency Act).  That means you risk less but reap the rewards of distributing content.  (But it is not fair just to blame tech, or the ad tech ecosystem, as who doesn’t like Free?  We have met the enemy and they are each and every one of us).

It is the reality that pollutes our discourse, ironically isolates and has wrought havoc on creative fields like photography, music, and writing.  Free and unfettered access is behind the ads that help pay for all this; which feeds our dopamine-fueled, basest instincts, playing off instant gratification, fear, emotion, and hype.

It has created the Frankenstein mess we are in now.

You may think there is no way to walk this back. But soon, there may not be a choice.

The EU recently defeated the Copyright Directive. The proposed legislation included provisions that would force online platforms to pay publishers before linking to their stories and to screen uploaded content for copyright infringement, according to this story in TheVerge.  But the vote was reasonably close; they’ll go back to the drawing board and vote again in September.

So, it is very possible that some form of regulation compelling tech to pay the piper will be signed into law.  For those who think “that’s just Europe, it can’t happen here,” consider GDPR.  The European rules governing personal info ownership and access – which many considered Draconian and hurtful to big tech – are happening here, as California has adopted similar legislation.  It is indeed a very small world online and hard to compartmentalize.

Perhaps it is time to put the ketchup back in the bottle and rethink our Faustian bargain with free.

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Content Curation’s Last stand?

Quora recently sent me an email asking about my favorite content curation examples.

Image from Pixabay

In years past, answering this would have been a layup (I suppose that’s why I was on their list).  Now I was strangely stumped, even disinterested.

 

It’s not that I’m out of touch. These are different times.  Content curation had been championed as a way to up the pace of content marketing by riding OPC (other people’s content), and to boost thought leadership, by commenting on others’ thoughts when you didn’t have an original idea.

But now we’re all exhausted from content overload.   Much of the digital noise stems from endlessly recycled info, arising from link sharing, curation and aggregation. Newsfeeds have gone wild.  It is hard to know what is fake or real.

No Free Lunch

The problems start with Free; the assumption that it is our God-given right to access content and apps at low or no cost.  Yea, some have said information wants to be free, but where has that left us?

It is the reality that Internet culture has given us today; where content is there for the taking, to be riffed on, often ripped off, repackaged, bookmarked, collated, aggregated, discovered, shared and curated; in which content is commoditized and journalism has been torn asunder.

Free has created a world in which we blithely volunteer our info and ditch privacy to access addictive apps and social platforms; it’s grown in synch with big tech, companies that don’t play by the same rules as the media. But it is not really fair just to blame tech, as who doesn’t like Free?

It is the reality that pollutes our discourse, ironically isolates and has wrought havoc on creative fields like photography, music and writing.  Free and unfettered access are behind the ads that help pay for all this; which tap our dopamine fueled, basest instincts, playing off fear, emotion, instant gratification and hype. It has created the Frankenstein mess we are in now.

Curation Today (Back to the Question at Hand)

That said, I still think there’s a place for curation, from the demand and supply sides.   For users, it can solve the very problem it feeds into. When it advances a topic or steers great content your way, curation can be a boon and help cut through all the noise.

The supply side (marketers, publishers, apps, platforms) should heed what works for users. Anyone can quickly curate a quick post of 400 words, with links and light commentary.  But who really cares or reads the stuff?  We’ve seen the same news five other times on our social channels.

Regarding my choices, I find that curated email newsletters from the following providers are very helpful:

  • DrumUp:  It’s an app, like Buffer, that helps identify and post great content across social channels.  I customized it with my topics of interest; and now get emails several times a day with the title: Your Daily Digest of Fresh Content Suggestions.
  • Nuzzel: It alerts me via an email News Digest about being shared by my social channel connections.
  • Medium: A great source for great writing; the site sends me emails with links to articles that match my interests, based on what I read there and topics I’ve selected.

Each of the above does a great job of sifting content and sending stuff that appeals.  One could argue that these are more about algorithmic aggregation than curation.  In terms of truly hand-crafted curation that adds value via informed commentary, I love:

  • Gary’s Guide: Tracks the happenings in the NYC tech community; also shares related news, e.g. about local startup funding, and offers reading recommendations and other helpful info.
  • Sound Opinions: One of my favorite podcasts; they curate and help me discover great music spanning all popular genres; interview bands, and riff on the music news of the week.

Curation’s Last Stand?

Free content on social media, and by extension content curation, could be facing an existential challenge.  The EU recently defeated the Copyright Directive, rules intended to make online patforms pay publishers for story links, and screen uploaded content for copyright infringement, according to The Verge.

It’s gone back to the drawling board and they will vote again in September. So it is very possible that some form of legislation compelling tech to pay the piper will be signed into law.

For those who think “that’s just Europe, it can’t happen here,” consider GDPR.  The European rules governing personal info ownership and access – which many considered Draconian and hurtful to big tech – are happening here, as California has adopted similar legislation.

This would be a massive change with vast implications for tech, marketers, publishers and users.  But it might actually not be a bad idea, to shake the foundations of a linked Inter Web built on Free. Even if it doesn’t happen as advertised, such a move will drive discussion about content rights, and perhaps compel everyone involved to take these things more seriously.

In the meanwhile, you might want to hedge your content curation bets, which the savvier content marketers are doing anyway.  Launch content that adds value and advances knowledge, that meets the needs of your targeted audience.

Sorry for the long-winded answer, Quora, you asked! And I only included a few curated links in this story 🙂

Posted in Apps, In the News, Marketing, NY Tech, PR, PR Tech, Public Relations, Tech | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

I‘m in PR: What’s the Big Idea?

They huddle around a conference room table. The lights go dark. The 35 mm slide projector floods the screen. Its backlight shines an eerie glow on the presenter’s lower face. This is not just some ad man (or woman). It’s the sermon from the mount. Or maybe Dracula.

The pitch is delivered, building to a crescendo – the “a ha” moment in which the idea comes into focus.  More than just selling laundry detergent, the presentation is about emotion, story arc, and transformative life experience. Grown men and women well up and cry.

Most who are familiar with the concept of a Big Idea know it from the world of advertising. The TV show Mad Men won it an indelible place in popular culture. Usually delivered via the pitch, the big idea captivated agency clients and brought each episode to a climax.

PR is not as well-known as advertising or associated with glitzy pitches or Mad Men style theatrics. But as any good PR person knows, big ideas are incredibly important to the field and can be a game changer for your communications program. This article takes a closer look and describes several examples that can transform your PR.

WTF is a Big Idea?

So, what, really, is a Big Idea? And how is it different than, say, just a clever idea?

The phrase has specific meaning in advertising – and PR too, as we’ll learn. It’s about marketing that transcends products and features to tell a more meaningful story. The best ones connect brand values to the needs and desires of the target audience.

As ad whiz David Ogilvy said in his book On Advertising (related in this Fast Company story):

“You can do homework from now until doomsday, but you will never win fame and fortune unless you also invent big ideas.  It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product…”

Examples are all around us.  Just think about ads that break through and make an impression: e.g. a gecko that sells car insurance; or the AFLAC duck. In the world of business, IBM’s use of Watson to compete in Jeopardy and show AI leadership.  GE’s mantra: “We Bring Good things to Life.”  Apple’s “Think Different.” A Big Idea delivered in some agency conference room likely spawned these campaigns.

Big Ideas in PR

We talk about big ideas in PR too, although not in the same hallowed tones as in advertising.  But they are now more important than ever.  In a noisy media landscape, evasive journalists, and markets crowded with competition, big ideas are just the thing needed to help you break through. Like in advertising, they transcend routine product and company promotion.

Some may find this confusing, and wonder how this is different than just smart PR, or a well-written pitch, or a flawless campaign? I agree that it’s not always clear cut, or an exact science.  In fact, big ideas are more art than science (a good thing, since it means that great PR is high touch, and won’t be replaced by an AI bot anytime soon).

They can be as small as a fresh approach to a pitch, and as large as reinventing a product category, or pioneering a new one.

Here are a few examples to illustrate:

A Whack on The Side of the Pitch

I first got excited about the potential of big ideas in PR when I dreamed up one that reinvigorated a campaign.  This came soon after I started here at Fusion PR close to twenty years ago.

It was my first PR job and I had gotten off to a rough start.  The boss was a hard charging guy with impossible expectations. The clients all needed attention, and it wasn’t always clear how to get them results.

One day I was pulled into a hot project – a large voice recognition company was launching tech that helped users navigate websites via a phone call, with voice commands (pretty advanced for late 90s tech).  Unfortunately the team’s pitches went unheeded. The media just didn’t care.

In my previous role in enterprise software sales and consulting, we dealt with similar tech, and pitched it to prospects as software that turned your phone into a web browser.

I suggested this angle.  The team took the advice of the new guy, since nothing else was working, and rejiggered pitches accordingly. Soon results started pouring in – the media were biting!

The boss gave me kudos – actually picked me up and hugged me in front of the team! I was off to the races, hooked on PR and eager to find that next big idea.  In this case the breakthrough was nothing more than a different take that used a metaphor to simplify and entice.

Helping Tech Companies Play Bigger

Sometimes the idea involves novel product positioning.

Many tech solutions don’t fit neatly into a category – they either disrupt the existing landscape or are a totally different beast. Here, the opportunity is to craft the label and description that packages the innovation in just the right way and takes the market by storm.

Admittedly, this is not just about PR – it involves product engineering and other aspects of marketing.  But the PR team’s knowledge of the buzz in a space and playing field can help in coming up with the right words.  And PR campaigns do the heavy lifting of telling the market about the innovation.

The book Play Bigger (authored by the consulting firm of the same name) popularized the approach, which they call “category engineering”, and explained how companies like Salesforce, AirBnB and Uber became kings in each of their categories.

E.g, Salesforce did not invent CRM – but they pioneered enterprise software in the cloud. Their motto “No more software” neatly captured the value prop, and creative PR campaigns grabbed attention and explained why people should care.

At Fusion PR we have helped numerous startups break from the pack and achieve their potential through opportunistic positioning.

Building Bigger Stories

The media don’t want to write puff pieces about products and companies. Sure, they may cover truly breakthrough innovations, but these are few and far between.  A way to earn ongoing media attention and coverage is to tie your offering to a broader topic or trend.  It’s about building a bigger story.

Here are a few examples:

  • This NY Times story was about the cultural differences between workers in the U.S. vs. India. It put offshore outsourcing company Sierra Atlantic on the front page of the Times business section.
  • How do you get major media recognition for a provider of deep tech for insurance companies? Tie them in with a consumer-friendly story, like the Pokémon Go craze.  The angle got Valen Analytics into Money magazine and other top outlets. The connection was the increased risk and insurance implications of people walking the streets, heads-down, immersed in the game.
  • This B2B tech vendor got coverage in HelpNetSecurity by drawing an analogy between cybersecurity and the wildly popular Game of Thrones TV show.

In each situation, the PR team put themselves into the mindset of a journalist and crafted a pitch that rode an idea bigger than any single company or product.

The Art of the Stunt

In an era when our digital worlds are so noisy, a good old PR stunt can be just the thing to shake people out of their heads-down device stupors and grab attention.

Behind every PR stunt was a team that went beyond the usual press release or pitch to make something exciting happen.  They’re not all successful or sparked by a big idea, but it’s easy to find the ones that did work – as they tend to jump out when you read or watch the news.

Publicity stunts can be particularly effective because they surprise and engage.  Not just limited to the physical world, they can work online too. Here are a couple of recent examples:

  • The power of computer generated imagery was dramatically interested in this CNN story about Lil Miquela, an influencer who is really just a bot. It also got some good PR exposure for Brud, a Los Angeles startup that specializes in AI and robotics, and also the company behind the campaign.
  • Pancake chain IHOP recently got attention via a social media campaign (described in Forbes) that kept people guessing about the meaning behind their rebranding to IHOb.
  • The TV show Westworld created a real robot to promote its news season, reported in The Loop.

How can you come up with a big idea-style stunt to promote your news? First, study what others have done. The best ones send a clear message that sync with the attributes, values and benefits you’d like to promote.  They can align with other big ideas, such as the ones referenced above.

They can fail too, sadly, in disastrous ways that also make the news. Some believe that there is no such thing as bad publicity – I disagree. Check out this story. Suffice it to say that your stunt should be safe, legal, and inoffensive.

The Big Idea is not just for Mad Men style brand advertisers. They can and should be used in PR to help you break out of the box and get attention and results.

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