Archive for March, 2009

Retweets Welcome

Thumbs upMitch Joel says ““I’ll tweet that” is the ultimate insult.” 

The gist of Mitch’s argument is that “tweeting” takes almost zero effort – you push a few buttons, hit enter and it’s done. A few months back, people would perhaps write a blog post about what you said, which took much more commitment and could potentially drive lots of traffic over time.

He also notes that only a small proportion of users are on Twitter at any one time. For the others, “…odds are that piece of content will become nothing more than road kill on the information superhighway.”

This leads Mitch to conclude that tweeting about someone’s content is “almost a cop-out” and to wonder if someone tweeting about you is “the ultimate insult.”

Re-tweeting is a compliment

I disagree with Mitch’s perspective for four key reasons:

  • You may not have something useful to add to that excellent post you’ve just written. I think there’s little use in blogging about a topic without adding value.
  • One of Twitter’s greatest strengths (and issues) is that Twitter exponentially increases the volume of information to which you’re exposed. Blogging takes a long time. I wrote down five topics today alone that I want to write about. Most of those will never see the light of day, because tomorrow I’ll think of or read another five things. As much as I like your content, I don’t have time to write about everything. You’re probably in the same situation. 
  • The argument that “a tweet does drive traffic, but it’s nothing like a Blog post or a position on a Blogroll” implies by extension that comments also have little value, as they only reach the people who are already on your site. However, I value comments highly, as I know most people, including Mitch, do too.
  • Posting on Twitter about something still requires you to put your name next to it. I may not have written the post, but by tweeting about it I’m saying I agree with it. To me, that’s worth something.

If someone tweets about something I’ve written, I’m delighted. Presumably they’ve read it and they’ve enjoyed it, or it made them think. That alone makes me happy. The fact that they want to tell others is even better.

I get the difference in commitment. I get that tweeting about something takes less effort than a blog post, and has less long-term impact than a blogroll.

I still appreciate it.

The value you put on different forms of interaction will vary by personal. What’s your perspective?

Update: Mitch has commented below and updated his post. I’ll wait while you read it… ok,? So, what do you think?

I’ve disagreed with Mitch on a couple of things recently. I suspect that’s because I consume more of his content than that of almost anyone else – on his blog, on Six Pixels of Separation and on Media Hacks. Mitch rocks. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest you subscribe to all three. 

Where Will You Be This Year?

I’m no A-list jet-setter, but I’m speaking at a several events over the next couple of months.

In case you’re in the area, I’ll be speaking at the following events:

 

I’m also attending the Mesh Conference in April and Podcasters Across Borders in June.

If you’re able to attend any of these events, please say hi!

I haven’t thought much past the next few weeks in terms of events. Where will you be this year?

What are your “must attend” events this year?

(Image credit: Keith Burtis)

Why Autofollow on Twitter?

Ever wondered why do people use automated services to follow people back on Twitter?

I have. 

I’ve heard lots of different reasons given, almost none of which make sense to me:

  • They feel some kind of obligation to reciprocate when someone follows (do you subscribe to all of your blog subscribers’ blogs?)
  • They want others to be able to DM them (if you’re a business then fine; otherwise can’t they just say they want to DM you, and ask for the follow?)
  • They want to get to know more people (this has some validity, although once you’re past a certain number it’s hard to really get to know everyone)

One of the underlying ones, though, which I suspect few people admit, is that they think that by following everyone back they will maintain more followers.

Until recently, the people who auto-followed were easy to spot – they were the ones complaining about receiving large volumes of auto-DMs (messages automatically sent when people follow some accounts). 

I’ve written before about my approach to “following people back” on Twitter. To summarize – rather than automatically following back, I look at a variety of factors:

  • Occurrence @ replies to me;
  • Use of a real name in the user name or bio;
  • Relevance of bio to my interests;
  • Relevance of website to my interests;
  • Relevance of recent posts.

Note: To be clear, as I’ve said before, I absolutely appreciate every single person who chooses to follow me on Twitter and I’d be delighted to have conversations with each of them – just send me an @ message to say hi and let’s chat!

Two weeks ago I decided to start an experiment – I decided to find out whether auto-following people did have an effect on follower numbers. So, I signed-up for Tweetlater and set up my account to automatically follow-back people who followed me.

The result:

Auto-following back had no effect on the number of people following me.

The math: Over the last three months, according to Tweetcounter my average number of new followers per day was 26. Over the last two weeks, the average number was 27.7 – a marginal difference, even despite a big jump of over 100 on one day. 

I’m not going to start telling other people how to go about choosing who they follow. As far as I’m concerned that’s a personal thing and, while I’ll frown on people trying to game the system to generate a big following, as long as you don’t hurt other people I think it’s largely up to you. 

With that said, if you’re auto-following people back in the hope of driving-up your numbers then think again.

It doesn’t work.

I’m curious – do you use an auto-following service on Twitter? If so, why?

(For the record, I’ve now turned auto-following off on my account. While I try to check-out my new followers as much as I can, if you would like to connect, send me an @ message to say hi!)

Related posts:

Are Social Media Rules Defined By Transgression?

It feels like every week we see another company or organization launch itself into social media, only to get beaten down by the blogosphere. Last week it was Skittles; this week it’s Facebook redesigning its site (again).

But where do rules to which we hold these companies come from?

Listening to an old episode of CBC’s Spark podcast today, I noticed Mitch Joel posed an excellent question:

Do we define social media rules by their transgression?

How many of these “rules” exist before someone breaks them, and how many are made up once people decide they don’t like companies’ actions?

Sometimes it’s obvious.

But what about others? What about the rules that aren’t as clear, and that only become apparent when people get upset about others contravening them (even though they don’t exist yet)?

What about Burger King’s Facebook app that offered a whopper to users who sacrificed a few long-lost high-school friends for a whopper? Where were the rules about that written? What about companies who use humour in their online campaigns (Motrin, for example) and get crucified when others find it offensive rather than funny?

These are two examples; rather than focus on those I want to look at the bigger picture.

Does the blogosphere takes people and companies to task for breaking rules that don’t yet exist?

News Release Vs. Press Release

A few days ago, I mused publicly on Twitter that the term “press release” was outdated and that “Anyone (especially PR people) who uses the term “press release” needs to update their vocabulary.”

This isn’t a new topic – as people pointed out during the ensuing discussion  it’s been around for a while, yet I keep seeing the term “press release.”

What’s wrong with “press release?”

The term “press release” implies something that is no longer true:

Your materials are no longer only seen only by the press. Many releases are now posted online, either via newswire services or in company newsrooms, where they often rank highly in search results. That means customers, stakeholders and others are likely to see them.

Why is “news release” a better term?

The term has a broader focus, which accommodates the multiple audiences of your materials. It’s a good reminder that people outside the media will see your materials.

Equally importantly, the term “news release” reminds us and clients that we should only issue releases when you have news (although the occasional pithy pitch can work). Unfortunately, this is all too easily forgotten.

Who cares?

Why am I writing about this? Beyond those of us in the industry, who really cares?

I think the terms we use with clients are important. Saying “press release” reinforces the misconception that public relations is all about media coverage. The onus is on us in the industry to help others learn that we do much more than that.

It’s not about us – it’s about our audience. Sound familiar?

What do you think?

The Bigger Picture On Public Relations

Marketing guy Seth Godin published a post yesterday entitled “The difference between PR and publicity.” In it he says:

“Publicity is the act of getting ink. Publicity is getting unpaid media to pay attention, write you up, point to you, run a picture, make a commotion. Sometimes publicity is helpful, and good publicity is always good for your ego.

But it’s not PR.”

While I disagree with his assertion that “Most PR firms do publicity, not PR,” I wholeheartedly agree with the central premise of his post.

Public relations is bigger than publicity.

Unfortunately, many other people, including people making communications decisions on behalf of organizations, don’t recognize this fact. They see companies in newspapers, read stories about bad pitches or hear someone ranting about spin and assume that’s all there is to the function.

I’ve written on this topic before, but this topic is worth revisiting in a little more detail.

Most people outside the PR/communications business think public relations consists of a few things

  • News releases
  • Pitching (if they’re bad, then sometimes spamming) journalists

Wrong.

Public relations does cover these two activities (minus the spam), but it is so much more.

Godin defined it as “…the strategic crafting of your story. It’s the focused examination of your interactions and tactics and products and pricing that, when combined, determine what and how people talk about you.”

That’s a better definition than many, but it’s still narrow.

Back in October 2008, the folks on the Inside PR podcast - Terry FallisDavid Jones, and Julie Rusciolelli - broke public relations down into five categories:

  1. Media relations
  2. Government relations
  3. Stakeholder relations
  4. Investor relations
  5. Internal/employee communications

Within the last week alone I’ve worked on three of these five areas (our company doesn’t operate in the other two). I would also add two more categories:

Most people don’t see beyond the first category of communications, because much of it happens behind the scenes.

Speak to anyone who works at a good public relations agency (or fills a broad role in a corporation). They’ll tell you an immense amount of planning, preparation and foundation-setting goes on within any good communications function, and behind any good communications plan.

Anyone who says public relations is all pitches and publicity doesn’t have a clue what they’re talking about.

The Fees Debate – Time, Value or Performance?

What’s the “best” fee structure system for public relations agencies?

A little while after starting my consulting career at Thornley Fallis Communications, I had an interesting conversation with Terry Fallis about the pros and cons of the different ways agencies charge fees. Several months later, I had a similar conversation with Joe Thornley as I continued to try to get my head around it.

Both conversations ended, after a while, with the same question from each: “do you have a better system?”

I don’t. I’m not an “expert” on this topic. So, while I’ve thought about the ups and downs of several systems, this is one post that I really hope sparks your thoughts and contributions.

Time-based

The time-based fees model calculates the cost of an activity using an hourly rate and multiplying that by the time needed to conduct an activity.

There are some obvious advantages to this system:

  • Accountability is built into the system – the client pays for the time expended. The agency can’t just stick its finger in the air and pick a cost to charge;
  • Agencies can generally provide fairly close estimates as to the actual budget needed for an activity;
  • There’s less risk to the agency from scope creep – if the client asks for more, they pay more;
  • If an activity takes less time than expected, the client pays less;
  • When on a retainer, the client is assured that consistent effort is expended on their behalf each month.

However, I can see some disadvantages:

  • There’s no reward for efficiency – if you’ve budgeted three hours to draft a news release and it only takes 90 minutes, there’s no incentive to stop working at that point (of course, you would hope that the client would recognize that efficiency and reward the agency with loyalty over time);
  • If something unexpected happens and an activity takes longer than expected, the agency may have to have an awkward conversation with the client to increase the budget, or may have to write-down some of their time;
  • This mechanism can often understate the value of the services the agency provides;
  • Some activities, especially time-consuming ones (and social media, in particular, is time-consuming), can be difficult to justify on a per-hour basis.

Value-based

The other main alternative is a value-based system. You want your agency to prepare a news release? That’ll be X thousand dollars. You want media training? That’ll be Y thousand.

The advantages to this system:

  • Certainty for both sides on the budget, which makes accounting easier on both ends;
  • Efficiency is rewarded – if you can produce a high-quality product in a shorter amount of time than expected, the mark-up is greater;
  • For the agency, it offers the potential to mark-up work considerably;
  • The client pays for the value of what’s produced. Perhaps your media training may only take a morning to conduct, but its value is such that you can charge for more than four hours’ work.

The disadvantages to value-based billing:

  • If the work takes longer than expected, the agency is stuck footing the bill;
  • From a client perspective, they may pay for a high mark-up on agency work.

Performance-based

Some agencies may charge clients based on a percentage of the “value obtained” over a period. For example, if you achieve media coverage valued at $50,000, you might charge 10 per cent of that value ($5,000). 

Advantages of this approach:

  • Clients pay for what they receive – if you don’t deliver results, they don’t pay;
  • While any good agency encourages best practices, they are perhaps most essential in this system – without well-conducted campaigns, you won’t see results and you won’t get paid;
  • The system inherently rewards good results.

Disadvantages:

  • The systems available for calculating the “value” of media coverage (e.g. ad equivalency) are woefully inadequate and arbitrary;
  • Both client and agency have zero certainty on the budget;
  • The system has no means for measuring the value of social media or digital activities – it is primarily focused on traditional media relations.

As I said earlier, I’m not an expert on these systems. I’ve done some reading around them and I’ve talked to a few experienced practitioners, but I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, especially if you’ve been in the agency business for a while.

What do you think – is there an optimal way for agencies to charge fees?

MSNBC vs. AIG’s Public Relations Agencies

If you didn’t catch it, last week MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow tore a strip off AIG for having a “list” of PR firms on its roster. As Maddow put it, “We’re paying the bill for PR firms to spin us?”

Here’s the clip:

As juicy as this clip is, I do feel the need to point out a few things about the AIG rant:

  1. Even if AIG is now largely government-sponsored, it is still in business. For the company to remain that way, it needs to attract customers. Public relations, along with a long list of other business functions, needs to feed into that.
  2. Public relations firms do more (much more) than just “spin” people. I expect the company’s new owners (Americans) might like to know about changes being made to bring the company out of its predicament. Guess what? That’s PR’s job.
  3. It’s unlikely (although possible) that AIG’s “list” of firms is doubling-up. Maddow’s melodramatic reaction makes it seem as though AIG is paying several firms to do the same work. It’s much more likely that they each have their designated areas on which to focus.

It’s not surprising that people react this way to AIG’s activities. Reputation is built on trust. When, on repeated occasions, you accept public money (over $150bn to date) then send employees on expensive getaways, your trust is shot. At this point, no-one trusts anything that AIG does.

What do you think about this, and how would you respond if you were AIG?

(Maddow also mentions PR agency Burson-Marsteller, reeling-off a laundry list of some of the agency’s clients and saying “When evil needs public relations, evil has Burson Marsteller on speed dial.” Disclosure: Burson-Marsteller is the parent company of National Public Relations, a competitor to my employer Thornley Fallis. We’re also starting to work with an insurance company that I can’t name yet – however, its products don’t compete with AIG in Canada)

Q&A With Marcel Lebrun – Part Two: Radian6 And The Marketplace

Yesterday I posted the first half of my Q&A with Marcel Lebrun, CEO of Radian6. Today I’m giving you the second half, looking more generally at Radian6 and its place in the “listening platforms” market.

Q: What features do you think set Radian6 ahead of the competition?

A: It really depends on the client since there are many areas where we differentiate.  The foundation of our platform is that you can trust it and that it is very fast & flexible.  We invest a lot of R&D to make sure we have the broadest content coverage and fastest discovery time in the industry so you can trust that you will find the conversations and you can respond quickly.  Adding comment tracking, for example, was an important addition to this.  

Customer also love our pace of continuous innovation and our unique features tailored around social media’s unique characteristics.  Something as simple as social profiles where a user, with a single click, can see a complete view of a author’s presence on various social networks saves certain people hours per day in doing this manually (just one example). 

Our workflow enhancements, for example, were designed and tested in collaboration with the brands who are leading in this area so that they are designed to meet real world needs of people using the platform.

Last but certainly not least is our customer support.  Our culture is very customer centric and we work hard to provide the best customer support (online and offline).  I’m encouraged when I hear positive feedback from customers about the service they receive from us.  This will remain a priority as we grow.

Q: What’s your most requested feature from users?

A: The feature set we just added was based on these most requested features.  Adding indexing of comments was a top request.  Real-time as-it-happens email & IM with integrated workflow was another.  Our new topic analysis widget was based on customer requests to be able to quickly visualize the content by media type, region, language, and on the data entered through workflow (segmenting by engagement stage or source tag for example).

The customer requests are quite varied and numerous, in fact, and we do our best to prioritize.  While our priority is customer requests, we also continue to drive innovations based on our own vision so we can delight/surprise customers with features they have not thought of.    

Q: As time goes on, have you come to view social media monitoring differently from how you saw it initially? How have you seen the field change over time?

A: Yes, definitely.  The impact and importance of the social web has broadened and now we are seeing it move into several business functions across the enterprise.  

While the primary focus (in 2007) was PR, we are now seeing the social web become an important communications channel for sales, customer support, product management as well as PR/Comms & marketing.  This is also blurring some functions and we are seeing PR’s role grow as they provide some coaching across the other disciplines given the public nature of the social web.  As such, enterprises and their partners (agencies, etc.) need to figure out how to effectively bring listening into the whole of their organization (I call this a listening grid, where each person plugs into the slice of conversation that is important to them). 

A second change/development is the growing importance of engagement.  Listening isn’t a one-way activity (I wrote  about this recently - http://www.mediaphilosopher.com/2009/02/12/the-practice-of-conversational-listening)

In fact this is why I call social media, “the social phone”, because it has really migrated into a multi-purpose communications medium (much like a phone) and it will be an important tool for every business function.

Q: You’re a small company, but you’re widely dispersed, with people working remotely from as far away as Chicago. What challenges have you had to overcome with this structure?

A: Frankly, being dispersed is more of an advantage than a challenge.  We have become very good at collaborating online and our different locations provide us with better opportunities to connect with people at industry events (with less travel) and plus into local communities.  The bulk of our communication, however, is still online and so location is increasingly less relevant. 

Q: A Forrester report released at the end of January pitted Radian6 against some big-scale monitoring companies like BuzzMetrics, Dow Jones and TNS Cymfony. While they acknowledged that Radian6 is an emerging contender and that it is tailored for PR folks, the report was fairly harsh towards Radian6 in the area of sentiment analysis. Any comments on the report?

A: I was pleased to see Forrester acknowledge a market shift by changing the name from Brand Monitoring to Listening Platforms, but I was disappointed to see that the underlying report is still based on the previous brand monitoring perspective.  The market is now much broader than brand monitoring, but the fundamental market shift toward listening platforms is not yet reflected in the report.

For instance, we really don’t compete with BuzzMetrics, TNS, Dow Jones, etc.  Brands perceive these companies more as consulting and research companies (that do great work, by the way), but they are not listening platforms.

Customers like Dell, for example, need true enterprise scale listening platforms to engage in customer conversations.  It is a fundamentally different need from brand monitoring.  It is like the difference between buying a phone system for your company so you can have conversations with customers or hiring a third party to survey your customers to see what they want.  Both have value, but they are not the same thing.  Companies are recognizing that the social web is not only a passive medium that you measure at a distance.  Your customers are calling you on the “social phone” and brands need the platform to listen & engage.   This does not diminish the value of the research services, but they are just one piece of the pie.

In terms of the comment that we are tailored for PR folks, we do have a huge focus on PR agencies and we are proud of that.  We see them as partners in helping brands mature in their use of the social web.  PR has an critical skill set to apply across all the business functions now (including customer support, etc.) because of the public nature of conversations on the social web.  However, a deeper look at our customer traction amongst leading brands also shows how our product has become the leading enterprise scale listening platform.

In the end, we were the new guy in the Forrester report and they position us as “the contender” – I don’t mind that.  The report also shows that we are the fastest growing in terms of customer numbers so we are really pleased with that too.

Q: What’s next for Radian6? Any upcoming features you can give us a hint about?

A: We release new features every 4 weeks on average and we will continue with this pace of innovation.  We highly value customer feedback and we have lots of very practical enhancements in the works based on customer requests. 

One of the features that you asked about, automated sentiment analysis, will be added next quarter, although we don’t see this as game changing – it does have value for certain clients. 

We are also working on some game changing innovations that we are quite excited about, but I can’t yet reveal the details just yet.  

Thanks to Marcel for taking the time to share his thoughts on these questions. What do you think of what Marcel has said? Leave your thoughts in the comments – we know he’s listening.

If you haven’t already, check out the first half of this Q&A. Normal programming will resume next week :)

Q&A With Marcel Lebrun – Part One: Radian6′s New Features

Earlier this week I posted an analysis of new features that Radian6, a social media monitoring company, released over the last weekend. That same day Marcel Lebrun, CEO of Radian6, left a very lengthy but equally helpful comment on my post.

As a follow-up to that post, I had a chance to ask Marcel a few questions about the new features about Radian6 in general and about their plans on the future. The interview was quite long, so I’m splitting it into two posts.

Today: looking at Radian6′s new features.

Q: You released a lot of new features last weekend. They affect a lot of different areas of Radian6; which ones are you most excited about?

A: All of it!!  There are so many new things we can do with this platform now.   I am most excited about the power of these new features when used in combination to help companies (and their agencies) collaborate & scale their listening & engagement.   It really enables a company to effectively setup their “listening grid” in a way that can engage many parts of the company and facilitate easy collaboration amongst employees (and their consultants, agency partners, etc.). 

A lot of practical testing went into how we integrated workflow (conversation sidebar) into as-it-happens emails & IM and then how we enable this data to be sliced & diced in the dashboard.    

Even for a small company like us, we have become so dependent on this tool to coordinate & manage our own listening & engagement that we know it will be a hit.  Without it we would likely need 2-3 more headcount and I know we would have coordination issues (multiple people responding, stuff falling through the cracks, wasted/duplicated effort, lack of measurement, etc.).

Q: Your new “conversation sidebar” significantly enhances the workflow functionality within Radian6. Do you have any plans to enhance that further?

A: Yes, the conversation sidebar enhances workflow, and it also significantly enhances the ability to have internal conversations & collaboration around listening & engagement.  It enables what I like to call a “purpose driven” social network inside your company or between agency/client (the purpose being listening & engaging with customers). 

In terms of further enhancements, we are really looking to see what feedback we get from our customers on the sidebar and we will keep making it better.

Q: Any plans to extend IM functionality to Live Messenger?

A: Yes, we are looking into adding Live Messenger support as well.

Q: How do you see people using source tagging [a new feature] most effectively?

A: Source tagging is extremely powerful.  I like to think of it like the “calling line ID” of the social web.  Let’s say you see a mention of your brand, and one employee tags this person with “national account” and “customer ID#1234”.  In the future, every time this customer talks about you online, the content will carry these tags so that the information is available to everyone in your organization.  This saves effort and provides for smarter engagement.  Not only that, but you can setup different listening alerts tied to the tags. 

In this example, someone in the company could setup an alert to listen only to conversations/mentions from “national accounts”.   In the future we will be adding rules based on source tags (and we have the start of that today with tag based alerting).

Another powerful use of source tags is segmentation & measurement.  Imagine being able to understand the conversation pattern of only the particular customers who bought your new product?  How many of these existing customers first asked their network about your product prior to buying?  How long before the purchase and which ones did you engage with directly (versus others)?  

Use source tags in combination with our new segmenting features and you can segment by tag, then sub-segment by engagement type and quickly get answers to these questions.  

We have a post up (yesterday) which talks a bit more about source tags: http://www.radian6.com/blog/141/source-tagging-the-caller-id-of-the-social-web

As an example, I added the tag “Thornley Fallis” for you [Dave: Marcel added this tag to his search for posts mentioning Radian6].  So here is a chart I generated where I picked March 2, filtered for your tag only and then segmenting by media type.  I can quickly see that you had 1 post, 2 tweets and 11 comments on topic (we count both comments and trackbacks since they appear on your blog). 

Overall we had 125 Radian6 mentions on March 2 and you generated 11% of that.  I also know that about 32% of the mentions came from current customers and 52% from people who are not yet customers – interesting.  I can now easily analyze the conversations from customers vs non customers to see patterns.

Thanks to Marcel for taking the time to share his thoughts. 

Check back in tomorrow for the second half of the interview, in which Marcel speaks about trends in social media monitoring, tells us where he sees Radian6 in the marketplace, and gives us a sneak preview of an upcoming feature.