Making the Most of User Feedback

Yay monster cupcakes!

This is the third and final part in a mini series of posts on using a community forum to exchange ideas with your users.

Part I: Why and when should I start my own community forum?
Part II: Setting up your forum: Top tips for using Get Satisfaction
Part III: Making the most of user feedback

In the first part, we looked at the right time and right way to get started with a community forum. As we picked Get Satisfaction as our platform of choice, I then outlined a few top tips for it. Today, we’re looking at what happens once you’ve successfully created a place for conversation and the users begin to trickle in.

If you thought that once the community existed, you could kick back and relax, think again! Now comes the best part: Finally interacting with your users. You’ll meet the most wonderful people, as well as the occasional user who seems to relish being your daily pain in the backside.

So how can you deal with vast amounts of feedback, good and bad, yet retain your sanity?

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Setting Up Your Forum: Top Tips for Using Get Satisfaction

Tasty chocolate cupcake

Recently, I started a short series of blog post on using a community forum to exchange with your users. In this second part, we’ll look at why we chose a particular platform and how we’ve used it since launch.

Part I: Why and when should I start my own community forum?
Part II: Setting up your forum: Top tips for using Get Satisfaction
Part III: Making the most of user feedback

Why we chose Get Satisfaction

From the first time I came across Get Satisfaction in 2007, I’ve been looking for a suitable context in which to use it but the opportunity never came until now.

In the early days, what struck me about it was that there was a natural positive aura to the service. Users weren’t simply encouraged to post questions and problems, they also were prompted to praise the product when applicable!

I’ll admit I was also swayed by the cupcake images that are used as default icons for new users. As co-founder Amy Muller said in a 2009 interview with Ciara Byrne, “we felt that cupcakes were associated with satisfaction and happiness. What’s not to love about a cupcake?” Indeed, what’s not to love about a cupcake?
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Three Reasons Why the Mac Community Makes Me Happy

As some of you know, in recent months, Andrew and I have been working on Alfred, our very own Mac productivity app. It’s been exciting, sometimes tough, but definitely enlightening. And finally, the fruit of our labour, the Powerpack, is nearly ready to be released.

We’ve met and talked to tons of Mac users, developers and bloggers. Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to give a talk on social networking for business at the Apple Store in Cambridge, meeting more recent Mac converts.

While I’ve been a Mac user since the late 80’s (thanks grandpa for the hand-me-downs!), it’s only in the past few years that there has been enough of a community for it to really become exciting – which brought me to make these observations.

The enthusiasm of Mac geeks is boundless

This energy could have something to do with Apple’s approach – superlative “everything changes” descriptions – or with the feeling of being a trailblazer by always being on the hunt for a shiny thing more beautiful, more efficient and more undiscovered than the last shiny thing.

Sometimes, I admit, Mac users (myself included) love our gadgetry and possibly annoy those who don’t feel so strongly about their computer setup. But then, if that’s our personality, it’ll be either Macs, cars, stamp collecting or some other obsessive compulsive passion.

From the more practical angle, we spend an obscene number of hours a week at the computer so why not make it an environment that’s a pleasure to use?

So we just celebrate it! We post pictures of our desks on Lifehacker’s workspace Flickr pool, we publish our favourite apps on iusethis and show off our gadgets to anyone who’ll listen. (Or is it just me?)

A great willingness to contribute and participate

As our Mac productivity app Alfred is growing, I can’t begin to count how many offers to beta test, help out and write about it we’ve received. Sure, some are self-serving and coming from bloggers who are mainly looking for an exclusive sneak peek into the app, but all have some sense of altruism, where the ultimate objective is to make the Mac community better.

We have asked for feedback on Twitter, with questions like “Which colour scheme do you use?” to “Who’s still on Leopard and why?” Simple yet important questions, to which we sometimes received in excess of 100 responses within a few minutes from posting. It’s difficult to express how useful this instant feedback has been.

Aside from the practical or technical responses we received, the general chatter about the app and positive comments on blogs and on Twitter have been the fuel to our long evenings and weekends of work. Looking back at the Alfred favourites page is all the motivation we need to keep going sometimes.

The openness of Mac developers

I’m sure most people have worked this out but I’m not a developer, so it’s news to me. Through exchanging with Mac developers who use Alfred, meeting nice folks at CambMacDev and other events, it’s become clear that most Mac developers are willing to lend a hand, share some useful tips or offer feedback.

Even as the non-developer that I am, I’m enjoying the exchanges, gaining some great business insight that will help me shape the future of Alfred. We’re lucky not to be dealing with the Russian roulette that is the iPhone App Store, but there’s still a lot to learn about the Mac ecosystem.

Overall, it’s just a great fun ride to date, and it’s only the beginning! Who knows where the next few years will take us…

[Image credit: Itty Bitty Mac Earrings by PixelParty on Etsy]

Community managers – This season's must-have accessory

This year’s must-have accessory for any business or marketing team seems to be a community manager.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had nearly a dozen emails – either direct or via LinkedIn – from companies who were calling upon my network to find Social Networks Managers, Community Relations Executives, etc. [If you’re of the right breed, skip to the bottom for information] I couldn’t help but think about how much things have changed in the past few years.

What’s it like being a Community Gal?

sunflowerI don’t care what fancy title a company makes up, I’ll always boil them down to being the Community Gal/Guy. I was once asked why I “lowered” my job title to Community Gal, when one of my previous employers had hired me with the title “Blog Goddess”. I mean, wow, Goddess? That’s a shiny title, isn’t it?

If you can’t see the issue with the Goddess title, then you’ve failed the first test to becoming a good Community Gal/Guy (CG).

In my opinion, being the community’s main link into an organisation requires a lot of humility. Maybe, just maybe, having a humble and simple title like “Community Gal” was a daily reminder that I wasn’t hired to stand in my ivory tower telling people how GREAT the company/product was. I was there to sit in on conversations and listen. Like a sunflower, I faithfully turned to where I should be every day, no matter what happened.

As Toby Moore said today at Amplified 09 East: “We have 2 ears and one mouth. Let’s use them at that ratio.” Listening actively means there’s a lot of feedback to filter, summarise and turn into actions for the rest of the company, whether from a technical, ethical or business relations management perspective.

Being a CG also requires thick skin. There are some real bastards out there who will absolutely not sugar-coat their views of your business. They’ve always been there, but social media now gives them an easy way to make themselves heard. While it’s important to listen to those users and act upon their feedback wherever possible, anyone taking those comments too personally will lose sleep over it and feel like crap.

I know, I’ve been there. Nearly failed the second test myself.

However, the thick skin can’t be accompanied by a thick skull. If you’re a stubborn mofo who assumes that anyone disagreeing with you is wrong, you’ve failed the third test.

So being a CG is both the best job and worst job in a company.

Why so in demand, suddenly?!

As I mentioned in my introduction above, the influx of CG roles has been unbelievable lately. It’s like everyone woke up two weeks ago and decided they should recruit their own.

For most of these companies, it’ll most likely be the first time they put any thought into how to interact with their community. From cursory glances at the many job descriptions thrown around, many companies seem to allocate very minimal budgets to their new-found passion for social media, hiring junior to mid-level people.

Nothing wrong with that, I’m all for the youff getting to experience great new roles. I got to where I am now because some people were mad smart enough to give me a chance to setup their first blog back in early 2004. It was a complete and utter failure because neither company or market were ready for it. Since then, I’ve setup community outposts everywhere I’ve been and rubbed a lot of people the wrong way in the process. But we’ve also achieved great things through spending time listening to the community’s feedback.

That’s the wonderful thing about young, creative people – they might be a bit green but believe me, they can be passionate!

So it’s a question of balance then; someone youthful* enough to understand what excites and engages your users. There is no maximum age to “getting it” when it comes to community, but younger people often have an affinity with technology – I don’t think anyone could deny that. However, experience can help avoid making a complete cock up of an outreach campaign through having a deeper understanding of the risks involved.

[Note: By youthful, I don’t necessarily mean based on birth date, but rather in mentality. My grandpa was in his 70’s and was still more young at heart than many 25 year olds I know!]

Finding the right balance is key. Every company will experience a crisis at some point and a very junior team member may not have the experience to deal with it best. In the same way, someone with little knowledge of social media may not spot some great opportunities to build new relationships.

This is an area where I believe mentors – whether internal team members or external consultants – can make a world of difference to how successfully a business can be in their first year of active community interaction. A few hours a week with a skilled mentor can help your CG become far more confident and resourceful.

Would you want your PR Manager to be a £20k fresh graduate with no experience of dealing with customers or journalists? Then why opt for that in social media, when your CG probably touches 100 times more people in a day than your PR department does?

So here’s my advice

1. Build your team with a cool head

Find someone who has a passion for your industry, not the first girl who says she knows how to use Facebook.

2. Have someone dedicated to community relations

If the CG is torn between a number of roles, he/she is more likely to drop the ball at an important time. If it’s not possible to have someone doing just that, ensure that community management remains their top priority.

3. Give your CG a support network

If your product is technical, ensure the development team are aware that they’ll occasionally need to provide insight when the CG reports bugs or enquiries. There’s nothing more demotivating than feeling that no one in the company is willing to help.

4. Provide guidance

Whether it’s through the existing marketing team or an external consultant, your CG should have someone with experience to sanity-check ideas with. The book of social media remains largely unwritten so the best way to check something’s a good idea is through a good ol’ natter over coffee.

5. Set realistic (and useful) objectives

Getting 500 Twitter followers is pointless if the followers are spammers or people who’ll never become your users. Social media is much less about numbers than a traditional marketing team might be used to.

It’s more important to have reached out to 10 bloggers who’ll love you and talk about you, than ship your press release to hundreds of people to whom you’re only vaguely relevant.

6. Be open to your CG’s feedback

This is a tough nut to crack, but the feedback coming from the community might not always be rosy. Be open and welcoming of it, and accept that people will occasionally suggest things you think are stupid or useless. Don’t close up or start to ignore those reports – you might just miss some real gems.

Let’s Connect!

As you’ve gathered by now, I’m a strong believer that there’s a big future out there for people who are passionate and interested in being the main point of contact for an active community.

If you think you’re that person, please connect with me on LinkedIn. Use the intro box to tell me what makes you tick and what you’re passionate about. When companies next contacts me looking for a Community Gal/Guy, I’ll introduce you to each other.

I hope that, in doing this, I can help top notch companies find someone who’ll help them nurture the relationship with their community, whether budding or already fully-fledged.

[Image Source: “Yellow sunflower. Blue Sky.” by wabberjocky on Flickr]

South by Southwest 2009: Surviving a Week of Geekery

I landed back in the UK two days ago, and I can already feel the most vivid memories of the week slipping away. Before any more memories disappear, better put pen to paper (figuratively, you know I rarely use paper) and note the salient points of South by Southwest 2009.

I arrived a day early to Austin on Wednesday night after a reasonably uneventful flight – just how I like them. The city was preparing for two weeks where everything changed; First, a week where geeks descend upon the city, then a week of musicians taking over every club, bar and hole in the wall.

On Thursday, once settled in, I met with the lovely Kara, an Austin local I met last year, who drove David, Rebecca & myself down to San Antonio for the day. We visited the Alamo and walked along the river, stopping by for our first Tex Mex lunch of the week (certainly not the last).

Friday, panels started slowly, but there was truly only one I wanted to see – Clearleft‘s Paul Annett’s presentation entitled “Oooh that’s Clever! Unnatural Web Design” focused on the small delights designers can add when creating a site. He bravely invited volunteers onto the stage to reenact the Silverback App site’s parallax effect alongside a gorilla costume-clad Elliot Jay Stocks. A surreal start to what was going to be a surreal week.

The evening was just as memorable; The Boiling Pot on 6th is rather unique, in the sense that the crab, sea bugs & meat gets unceremoniously dumped on the table, everyone gets a bib and a hammer and the fun begins.

Sophie and Steve eating at the Boiling Pot, Austin

Saturday, panel topics ranged from “Tips for Making Ideas Happen” with Scott Belsky, “First year as a freelancer” with Thomas Myer to “Mobilizing your Online Community” (the worst panel I attended all week, I left promptly) and “Building your Brand with Web 2.0 Tools”. The latter had an excellent panel composed of Saul Colt (Freshbooks), Chris Brogan, Loic LeMeur (Seesmic), CC Chapman & Dave Delaney, but the excitement of SXSW caused them to behave like fratboys rather than an intelligent, knowledgeable panel for a good part of the hour. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Brogan!)

The evening was a whirlwind of events: Brief visit by the Diggnation party where Alex Albrecht was seen throwing (Adidas-sponsored) shoes at the audience, followed by a few hours at the Frog Design Party, ending up at the Belmont Lounge for a cocktail before bed.

Sunday morning started well with “Ditch the Valley, Run for the Hills”, moderated by the lovely John Erik Metcalf, on running a successful business outside of the San Francisco area. Opinions were divided, with Scoble suggesting a strong link with the Valley is essential to get a business off the ground, and others proving otherwise. (Louis Gray’s notes)

Next session was “Making Whuffie: Raising Social Capital in Online Communities” by Tara Hunt, which realistically I should have skipped on. It’s a great presentation, but one I had seen twice already.

In the afternoon, the “From Flickr and Beyond: Lessons in Community Management” and “Are PR Agencies a Dying Breed?” panels were enlightening, with more detailed notes to be blogged soon.

Monday‘s first panel was “Beyond Aggregation — Finding the Web’s Best Content” with ReadWriteWeb ‘s Marshall Kirkpatrick, Louis Gray, Gabe Rivera (TechMeme), Melanie Baker (AideRSS) & Micah Baldwin (Lijit) I’ll be blogging this one in more details too but here are Louis’ notes for an early look.

“Enough To Be Dangerous: Managing ‘Expert’ Clients” looked promising but somewhere along the way, I got bored by the duh-that’s-obvious statements and the misinformed observations about the use of Flash in business sites, and walked out to get some Austin sunshine onto my pasty skin and spend some time with new and old friends.

Tuesday, last day of the event, I went to the Great British Breakfast to shmooze a little with the Digital Mission brits. Returning to the Convention Centre, I’d had enough of the fluffy community and social media panels (How many of them? Simon counted) and thought I’d dive into a few topics I knew nothing about; Get Satisfaction’s Thor Muller’s “Welcome to Your Posthuman Future” provided just that. It was like jumping head first into Cory Doctorow’s “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” book.

After lunch, I attempted to get in the Kawasaki & Anderson keynote, but it was so crowded that I gave up and wandered the halls one last time. Hoping to finish the week on another unexpected-and-interesting note, I headed to the “DRM: The Fight Isn’t Over Yet” Core Conversation by Fred Benenson of Creative Commons, but Core Conversations are always very hit-or-miss and again, it wasn’t worth staying for.

The Media Temple Closing Party provided a great opportunity to meet new people, where I couldn’t help wondering where they/I’d been all week! It’s always that way,

Wednesday, the long trek home began, flying at 11am from Austin, spending a few hours around Charlotte airport and meeting Glenn Jones for a beer, followed by an overnight flight.

And now, I’m home. The South By Lurgy’s hit me and is holding one of my lungs ransom. But I’ve had a great week, I already miss many of the great people I’ve met and I’m ready to do it again next year.

If I were to make three recommendations to SXSW organisers for next year:

1. Identify the level of the panel more clearly:

Mark panels as Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced on the pocket schedule and ask speakers to stick to that level. The vast majority of panels I attended were far too Beginner level, which sometimes felt like a waste of time. The panelists aren’t necessarily to blame, as they aimed to be as inclusive as possible, but when every panel is lowest-common-denominator, it can be tricky to learn new things.

When I did find a slightly more advanced panel, I reacted just as Simon Willison did “For the record, the asychronous scaling panel is exactly the kind of meaty technical content I want to see more of at #sxsw” When I did find those panels, however, they made my day.

2. Don’t get greedy:

This year, there was a rumoured 12,000 attendees at the Interactive festival. To put it simply, that’s too many. Being refused from entering panels or made to watch a keynote from a second or third re-broadcast room is disappointing, having made the 9,000 miles round-trip to Austin. Having to trek over to the Hilton in the short break between panels was also less than convenient.

It’s great to see the event get more popular and I certainly don’t want it to be reserved for some sort of technical/social elite of the web, but the Convention Centre was creaking at the seams this year.

3. Keep the team in charge of wifi:

I must tip my hat to the team in charge of the wifi at the event. While it wasn’t completely flawless, it was a marked improvement on last year. I hear the AT&T network was a bit more spotty (my roaming mobile picked T-Mobile) and that mobile AT&T vans were brought into the area to boost the service levels for everyone. Someone clearly went out of their way to keep the wifi running smoothly – my bank account will thank you greatly when my data roaming bill comes through.

Finally, to all the wonderful geeks I met for the first time, or had the pleasure of seeing again: See you all next year!

Thmbnls: The Government is Screwing with Your Money (Again)

thmbnls

I had to resist the urge to use the first post name that came to mind for this one, or it simply would have been “What the f*ck is the government thinking?” But then that would have been too vague, and probably applies to at least two baker’s dozens of its recent policies.

The reason for my gobsmackedness on this sunny Friday is the Department for Children, Schools and Families’ latest campaign to promote condom use amongst the youth.

I’ve seen my fair share of poor decisions in choosing agencies – whether it be PR, web development, online marketing or otherwise – but how on Dog’s green Earth they are managing to spend a budget of £4.6 million of our hard-earned near-valueless-now pounds on this campaign yet fail so miserably?

Some KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) for the data nerds in the house:

  • The campaign is composed of 22 episodes, of which 8 plus a trailer have been released at this point, so we’re roughly a third through the series
  • Their MySpace page has 555 friends at the time of writing, many of which appear to be the usual spammers & none of which appear to have left genuine comments
  • Their Facebook fan page has 38 fans, which ain’t an awful lot (Prior to The Register’s coverage, it had 15 friends which, as someone rightly pointed out, is less than Hitler has on FB)
  • Prior to The Register’s article, “Thmbnls had been mentioned on Twitter, but only 14 times and half of those were notifications about the launch”
  • The Reg asked for some download stats on the video, but was told “that they would look into it, but that it was unlikely such figures would be available” so let’s not mention the fact that there’s Google Analytics on every part of the site, mmkay?
  • I wonder if they even do enough tracking to see this pop into their reporting on Monday morning… If so, sorry to be pissing in your cornflakes but the hard truth needs to be heard sometimes.

On first glance, the quality of the video is reasonably professional – maybe too polished for its purpose? The characters are a bit tacky, but not half as cringing as I’d expected. So I suppose they get a B+ for effort on video production.

Where they fail with an F- is on the targetting, the distribution methods, the themes, the social media approach and well… just about everything else. I get the impression that the agency brought on board writes a great proposal document, thorough and detailed, the kind government suits really like to read. But they can’t tell their elbow from their ass when it comes to actually interacting with young people. Looking at the fake MySpace page, it’s just highly condescending to think that teenagers won’t mind being friends with a fake identity that’s trying to sneak a condom in their backpocket.

Oh and don’t get me started on the targetting & distribution channels. I work with two clients in mobile, I look at mobile stats on a daily basis, and I’m afraid the majority of phones used to browse the mobile web aren’t most suited for video distribution just yet. Sure it’s free to download the clips thanks to downloads being sender-paid rather than recipient-paid, but I’m not sure a large number of teens even have the appropriate phones to watch the 1-minute clips. And I really do hope they’ve got something better to do at 7pm on a Friday night.

There is also seemingly no effort to interact with the young people; Facebook & MySpace were used to dump video files on and left there. The MySpace account, for example, has not been logged in to for a week now. They seem to have forgotten that at the centre of any social media strategy, it’s critical to socialise with the community & be genuine, transparent and human.

When looking for a social media agency, it’s better to look for someone who WAS that tall when they started using social media, not someone who condescendingly says YOU were that tall when they started. The fact that an agency distributed educational CD-roms to career advisers in schools back in the 80’s does not make them the right person to run a campaign today. I certainly don’t want to downplay experience, but there’s a fine balance between being connected to the right social groups and having professional experience.

I simply wonder at what point the agencies involved in the PR, production & distribution of the campaign will look back and say “You know what, Nancy? I think we may have misjudged our audience!” After SXSW last year, one of my key takeaways after attending one of the teen panels was “that these kids are clever and pretty discerning, we need to give them a whole lot more credit than we (or I) currently do!” That penny hasn’t yet dropped for the Department for Children, Schools and Families, clearly!

What does this leave us with? Average content, a mediocre campaign and a Dog-awful hole in our pocket.

Astroturfing & Disclosure: Where Do You Draw the Line?

As more businesses start peppering their marketing plans with social media projects, activities that previously were reserved for the geeky early adopters are now coming under scrutiny when used for commercial endeavours.

astroturf-belkinWith all this new media growth, there’s no clear rule book yet. We’re writing it as we go, and just like the Bible, there are an awful lot of different interpretations of the same guidelines.

Certain aspects of blogging and online brand identity are seeing their limits pushed by certain brands lately…

Belkin, the computer peripherals manufacturer, was caught red-handed recently when The Daily Background Blog uncovered that a Belkin employee used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and similar services to solicit paid reviews. An anonymous tip-off from a Belkin staff member seemed to confirm this wasn’t a one-off either.

Belkin apologised publicly for the actions of its employee, but “Is that enough?” asks The Responsible Marketing Blog.

The above is a clear case of astroturfing, but rarely is the line quite so clearly drawn into the fake plastic grass.

Before I go any further, let me pause and let Wikipedia explain the concept of Astroturfing:

Astroturfing is a word in American English describing formal political, advertising, or public relations campaigns seeking to create the impression of being spontaneous “grassroots” behavior, hence the reference to the artificial grass, AstroTurf.

Back when I worked for Active Hotels, we prided ourselves in having a hotel review system that was much more fool proof than average; only guests that had stayed at the hotel, paid for their stay & been confirmed by the hotel would be able to leave a review. The site was engineered to discourage astroturfing on the part of overzealous hotel managers – while it didn’t stop them, each attempt would cost them a commission, which in most cases was enough of a deterrent. Trip Advisor couldn’t exactly say the same of their reviews. Ethically, again the line is fairly clear; you haven’t stayed, you shouldn’t make up a review about a hotel. Still with me?

Via Simon Collister, I then I found a blurry line, one written by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (who often strike me as not “getting” the online world at all):

“[CIPR] Members’ use of social media must be transparent, and they must make extra effort to disclose any potential conflicts of interest. … In this regard, members should be aware that ‘ghosting’ a blog is illegal”

Woah, hold your horses there, Georgie! Surely, their definition of a ghost blog is different to mine then? A ghost blogger, in my experience, writes on behalf of the CEO, politician or other high-profile person, who may have called the PR team from across the country to give an outline of what they wants to say, letting them find the exact words.

Marketing teams are used to committee-written press releases, so blog entries often get the same treatment. Circulating between the marketing team, the CEO and the legal time a few times in a three-way table tennis match, the watered-down, reviewed entry gets posted. It may not be the most genuine method of writing, but it certainly isn’t something I’d consider illegal.

I suspect that what they refer to as ghost blogging is in fact the above-described astroturfing, which deserves a long stay on the naughty step and a spank to the bottom (not in a good way!)

How does this scenario (not the bottom spanking, the ghost writing for the CEO one), and every other one in between, fit in alongside all other transparency issues encountered online?

It’s not the first time I bring up my issues with non-disclosure & dodgy marketing practices, but as social media becomes a more mainstream interest for marketing bods of all walks of life, I truly hope that we’ll all take a few moments to think about the opportunities available to us. If organisations spent as much on building positive branding and community relations with their audiences as they do on being snake oil salesmen equipped with smoke and mirrors, the relationships could have a far longer shelf life.

Open letter to PR agencies: It doesn't have to be that way, you know…

Recently, there has been a rise in the number of press releases I’ve received, an observation many bloggers around me have confirmed. But these PR emails are accompanied by intros as uncomfortable as the teenage “Will you go on a date with me? Yes/No” scribbled by the nerdy girl who sat next to you in geography class.

Nerdy Nancy wants to go on a dateRanging from impersonal emails to borderline harassment calls and Facebook messages, there just seems to be a plague of poorly thought-out attempts at exploiting the circles of bloggers who are gaining influence in the media by the day.

According to Forrester Research, the general public doesn’t seem to trust us bloggers just yet, and might think we’re still total nerds, but it doesn’t matter, PR agencies have got a total crush on us.

So this is my open letter to all PR agencies we have had the (dis)pleasure of dealing with recently.

“Dear PR agency guys & gals,

We’re all very flattered that you fancy us now that we’ve gone from being viewed as the losers who spend too much time on their computers to being the cool kids with influence. We appreciate it’s difficult to accept that bloggers were never in the curriculum in your marketing theory classes, and that you feel the need to poke us with a stick while observing us from a distance, like you’re the Steve Irwin of public relations and we’re a wounded python. But I’ll let you in on a secret: We’re actually really quite normal. And we don’t even mind being treated that way.

I won’t be pointing fingers and naming names today, but I’ll use a few examples to illustrate where you unnecessarily complicated your own lives recently. If you recognise yourself, feel free to either take it as a call to action to review the way things are done, or roll your eyes and mutter that I’m an idiot. Don’t worry, I’ve got thick skin. But if you choose to do the latter, I may just name and shame you next time you stick your foot in stinky cow dung.

Exhibit A: The Lazy Approach

“Hi,

Please see below for news on this weeks launch of the [Product Name], which I thought would be of interest for the blog.

Let me know if you need any more info.

Thanks,

R”

Now, not only did I not give permission to R’s agency to email me, but R here failed to call me by my name (it’s in my email address, can’t miss it), use my blog’s name (also in my email address) and didn’t notice that I’d already reviewed the viral campaign for the product they’re pawning. Already, 3 strikes, you should be out.

Below that dull message is an equally dull press release, using 3 different fonts and sizes, a LOT of ® characters, no real call to action, no freebies/samples offered and a link to an entirely Flash-based website with no HTML alternative. What the hell good is all that tripe when I’m on my iPhone?

Honestly how this PR agency received two PR Consultancy/Agency of the year is beyond me.

Exhibit B: The psychopath

Blogger pal receives mail from PR agency who wants them to show up at a product launch in exchange for a measly fee and liveblog the event like it’s the Spice Girls’ reunion tour. Blogger takes offense (rightly so) at the suggestion that his readership can be bought for the price of a cheap pair of shoes and chooses to ignore PR agency.

PR agency follows up deluge of pushy emails with “Email broken – Msg me your phone #. Love facebook!” via social networks. Next thing you know, they’ll be outside knocking at the window as he gets out the shower.

Creepy. Not good. Sometimes, the non-verbal signal should be enough to tell you to back off.

Exhibit C: The foreign agency

“Hi,

Hope you would forgive the intrusion.

We have been working on this for a couple of months now and are NOW live. Allow me to present Plooshh [name changed for anonymity] – why the extra ‘h’? We think it’s sexy! We think it gives you an extra H – oops, ‘extra EDGE’ we mean. :)”

And it continues on for two full screens worth of awkwardly friendly banter, filled with bright coloured large fonts, caps-lock sentences and extraneous exclamation marks. The English flip-flops between too formal and chat-speak, a bit rough ’round the edges yet endearing.

Exhibit C is the product of an Indian agency jumping head-first into Web 2.0. Nothing wrong with their pitch, everything strikes me as being done textbook-style, ticking every box. But it’s soulless. Again, there’s no attempt to get to know the bloggers they approach, opting for a scattergun mail-out. Throw enough stuff at the wall, something’s bound to stick.

While this wasn’t a particularly thrilling email, I suspect that once these guys catch on to the nuances of public relations in the new media age, their willingness and motivation might allow them to overtake many Western agencies who otherwise had a headstart in the game.

Jury’s Verdict:

Toilet cat is guilty! PR agencies are too!While a few PR agencies have embraced social media and are actively engaging with the communities their clients have an interest in, most have totally blown it so far. They’re as guilty of carelessness as this cat is of drinking out of the toilet bowl.

But hope is not lost. Assuming said agency is willing to put some elbow grease into their day’s work, I dare say there is a huge amount of potential for a beautiful relationship to blossom between PR people and bloggers.

So dear PR guys and gals, behave in a natural and human way; you’ll resonate emotionally with us. Emotional resonance is invaluable; we feel that we can become friends and are far more willing to listen to you, even when the product you’re pitching isn’t 100% on target.

I appreciate that we are the means to an end, helping you reach the (sometimes unrealistic) targets set by your client, but remember that we’re all human – yes, even us weirdo bloggers – so treat others as you would like to be treated and we’ll be more than happy to give you a hand.

In Summary

Your future cheat-sheet.

Do…

  • Have a Twitter account or personal blog where we can find out about the real you.
  • Have a product geek or evangelist we can speak to and quiz without getting the canned marketing answers (Carphone Warehouse and O2, I’m looking at you, guys. You could have definitely done with a public-facing real-person on the days surrounding the iPhone launch.)
  • Participate in events in an altruistic way every so often. We’ll get to know each other, and it’s bound to be good for your karma.
  • Put some chili in your cornflakes; By that, I mean, have genuine energy and passion about your client’s product. If you don’t get up in the morning loving your job, maybe you need to find something else to do.

Don’t…

  • Try to buy our participation to your event. Telling me you’ll pay £150 to show up on Thursday morning with a video camera for a “secret launch” isn’t social media, it’s cheap labour and fake hype.
  • Send us a stock press release with an intro that betrays you’ve never even looked at our blogs
  • Always play it so safe that we’d rather read the back of the cereal packet than your press release. Have some balls, and hey, have some fun!
  • Don’t run with scissors Be afraid of asking a couple of bloggers for a pint to bounce some ideas. Most of them will be happy to help you out!

I’d love to hear what PR agencies or other bloggers would like to add to this. How’s your PR-to-blogger relationship going?

With much love & geekery,
Vero”

An engaged community is an invaluable resource

The Big Knit, by Innocent DrinksWhen designing a new site feature or planning a new campaign, I always create with a rule of thumb in mind: “Lower cognitive friction and make it as effortless as possible for the user to participate.” Less fields in the signup form, less clicks to a destination, a better FAQ page…

Then I heard Ted Hunt from Innocent Drinks, during Fuel Conference on Friday, who talked about the +400,000 hats that were knitted during The Big Knit campaign for the Age Concern charity.

Knitting. Four hundred thousand hats.

Nobody’s getting paid to do this, and some participants even learned to knit specifically for the occasion. That’s when it struck me; far more important than reducing friction to participation is engaging the community so that they’re willing to do something crazy – like knitting hats – to support your cause.

On the topic of Twitter and scalability

Talios: “I wonder if Scoble could be used as a scalability term. “This application support five 9’s and is fully scobalable.”

Oh hello there!

I'm Véro - a crafty, knitty, spinny gal who enjoys making (and drinking) a cocktail or three. If you've stumbled here, you might enjoy browsing some of my older posts with the tags over to the right or finding out more about me.

Say hi in the comments or on Twitter! :)

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