Corporate Blogging: Why you SHOULD publish press releases on your blog

This morning, I came across the excellent “10 Harsh Truths about Corporate Blogging”, published by Paul Boag on Smashing Magazine. I was nodding emphatically at each point, until I hit the 5th one, which jarred me in the back like a bad pothole in the road when you’re daydreaming on the drive to work.

Funnily enough, a year or two ago, I would have militantly agreed with Paul.

5. Press releases shouldn’t appear on a blog

[…] a press release preforms [sic] a different role to that of corporate blog. As the name implies, a press release is meant for professional journalists. It is designed to encourage journalists to write about your product or service. It is not designed for your customers.

A blog, on the other hand, is meant to be read by prospective and existing customers. It should be engaging, informative and helpful. When writing a blog post, you should always have the end reader in mind. What will they learn? What insight will this give them into who we are? How will it help build our relationship with the reader? You should never simply copy and paste press releases or news stories.

The other problem with press releases is that they are corporate statements. A blog should have a more personal tone.

Here’s why I now disagree; Bloggers are both journalists (in the broad sense of the term at least) and, one can assume, interested customers or prospects. Yet bloggers are journalists who often don’t get paid to deal with PR agencies’ bullshit (eg. embargoes) and don’t necessarily have the research resources that a professional journalist has access to.

Realistically, a corporate blog won’t be read by the vast majority of customers. Even with cool companies like Flickr, 37Signals or Twitter, what percentage of users really care about what’s being said on the corporate blog? [Note: There is a difference between a corporate blog & a blog directed at the end users. On a blog solely directed at end users, press releases are unlikely to have a purpose. This post refers to corporate blogs specifically.]

The beady eyeballs who will find most relevance in a corporate blog will be:

  • Existing and potential investors;
  • Competitors (As Paul says, get over it!);
  • Potential employees;
  • Active developers & geeks who want to use your API;
  • Journalists & Bloggers;
  • The occasional day-to-day user.

Don’t fool yourself, the majority of users will only care when the service goes down. As long as your site/ service/ product is available, they don’t think about what you do as a company an awful lot.*

So why does it still matter so much? The bloggers and the passionate users give a damn. They’re a key player in spreading the word about your business, and when they want to write about you, you should provide all the information you can so that they can feel smart and well informed. Yes, including that nasty old-world press release. Why? Bloggers cannot divinate information. Bloggers find themselves with only a short amount of time to write an entry and will be grateful for the stats you provide or the CEO’s past startup that can be confirmed via the release’s boilerplate.

So go for it, publish that press release. But wait! Don’t publish it alone. Accompany it with a summary in informal tone, some context to help readers understand the relevancy of the PR push, and a bucketload of useful resources (links, images & further information).

If your press release is so officious that you’re embarrassed to publish it on the blog, could it be that you need to rethink your releases altogether? Journalism is changing too, and a fresh, no-bullshit press release will most likely appeal to traditional journalists too. Why not try that for a change?

[* Here’s another tip: If your livelihood is dependent on being available on the web, host your blog elsewhere so that you can still provide status updates when your service goes down.]

You Gotta Have Faith: Taming Your Inner Critic

grumpy_smallI came across Tara’s post here about taming her inner critic, where she questions her abilities at live interviews and doubts her own writing skills. I believe we all have moments like this. But some are worse than others…

[I’m about to make a bold generalisation and some will have want my head off for making such a statement, but bear with me.]

Since I moved from Canada, I have seen too many Brits or Europeans be very sheepish about self-promotion. American sales people are reputed to be bubbly, brash and bigger than life, speaking louder than anyone else in the room and gesticulating endlessly to illustrate what they’re saying. Quite at the other extreme, British marketing folks are often seen to be more reserved and self-deprecating.

I think there are two aspects to this cultural difference;

A lack of faith for the team or product

In the US, in particular in buzzing centres like Silicon Valley and New York, the belief that a small nobody can become the Next Big Thing is encouraged and nurtured.

In Europe and in the UK, too many people let themselves believe that they’re necessarily second fiddles in the game. This unfortunate attitude is perpetuated by sheltered Americans like Mike Arrington of TechCrunch fame, who base their views of an entire culture on a single event. I strongly believe that this perception is wrong, it isn’t about geographic location (mostly) but about what you do with your resources. Are you out there talking to prospects (in person and virtually) or somewhere in the deepest, darkest Midlands developing in your small office, assuming that because you put your app on the iTunes Store, it’ll market itself?

As a promoter for your business, you aren’t Hugh Grant, and self-deprecating sweetness won’t get you there on its own. If you don’t sell yourself, nobody will do it for you.

An assumption that the product speaks for itself

Yes, a great product is 90% of the marketing effort. But unless people can find out about your product and feel their questions will be heard, you’re missing the first link of the chain, that first 10% of the effort that leads to the viral spread Holy Grail.

So dust off your pencil and paper, write that press release about the latest features or the new team members and send it far and wide (but do it gracefully, of course!) Step outside of your comfort zone a little and be bold about what you do and love.

That’s why folks like Whatleydude, Andrew J. Scott and many more* stand out from the crowd and sometimes can rub folks the wrong way by being more open and self-promoting than your average community or marketing person in the UK.

So where is the widespread shrinking violet attitude coming from? Isn’t this the country that once reigned on history’s largest empire?

I’m no historian or psychoanalyst so I’ll spare you the attempt at explaining it – Let’s leave it as a rhetorical question, shall we? When I’ve challenged the Brits around me about their unwillingness to stand up and be vocally proud of what they’ve created or their talent, I’ve received a range of answers;

  • Not self-promoting is a sign of humility
  • Casual is cooler, you have to look like you’re not trying too hard or you’ll be seen as a sell-out
  • We don’t like to shove our product in the users’ faces, if they want it, they’ll come to us
  • We don’t do press releases, it’s not in our ethos

But that’s not how it works anymore, sorry to break it to you! There are too many products, too many services and too much noise in our lives. If you don’t promote what you love, people won’t magically discover it. The community manager, the marketing team, the PR folks, you’re all that first 10% of the chain. It’s your job to let people see that you’re passionate about what you’ve created. (And if you’re not, time to go jobhunt, innit?)

Breaking the habit

So here are my three top tips for those who want to come out of the proverbial shell and learn to feel good about their business:

  • Go sing karaoke, both in front of friends and strangers: Putting yourself on stage forces you out of your comfort zone and requires you to take on a braver personality. It’s like a fun and more social version of Toastmasters’ public speaking organisation. Alternatives involve joining an improv league, speaking at a BarCamp, working as a tour guide, etc…
  • Get a grip: Write down what makes you, your product or your company great and ask your customers to do the same. You’ll probably be surprised by the number of positives that crop up!
  • It’s a fine balance between self-assurance and arrogance: Ask your bluntest friends and colleagues to evaluate your performance after a presentation or when you finish writing a piece about the company. Take in all their feedback and listen patiently (but don’t take it personally). Build on that in the same way as a ballet dancer analyses her movements in the dance room mirror to perfect her step next time.

[* These two were not singled out due to any negative press even though I’ve talked about rubbing people the wrong way. They’re examples of folks who are more pro-active than your average community manager!]
[Image: Grrrrrr… by Peter Williamson on Flickr, Creative Commons]

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”

SXSWi 2008: "The Future of Corporate Blogs" panel notes

These aren’t the tidiest notes, and I even failed on jotting down exactly who was speaking but there are a few useful points in there… Thanks to Lionel for the insight on how Dell dealt with feedback in the early days.

The Future of Corporate Blogs
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Blog Topic Challenge: "Write about your job"

As first entry for my infamous Blog Topic Challenge, I thought I’d begin with an elementary and logical first step.

James Whatley, SpinVox blogger and great friend of mine, suggested that I should “write about your job and everyone you have ever met in your niche industry…” Great suggestion, but there are just too many awesome people I’ve met so I’ll split this into two entries, concentrating on the “write about your job” part first.

Taptu.com LogoFrom one day to the next, I wear many hats… and wigs… and tiaras. By daylight, I’m part of a great team at Taptu. It’s my first time taking part in the early days of a startup and I’m really enjoying it. There are new challenges every day, which is a refreshing change from previous jobs where tasks were repetitive to say the least (could YOU spend 52 weeks a year sending email newsletters that always say the same thing? I couldn’t.)

These days, there’s blogging, attending events, handling search engine optimisation (which I love), researching new ideas for the search engine, speaking to our mobile search users as well as our Facebook app users to get their feedback (which I love even more!) and planning future super-secret projects which I can’t tell you about yet… unless you ply me with shiny gadgets, at which point I might just crack. Or not. (But you can offer me shiny gadgets anyways!) 😉

My job also entails making copious amounts of coffee every day and occasionally teasing Bob about his taste in movies and Lynsey about her Scrabulous choice of words.

All in all, it’s exciting and challenging. And no, you can’t have my job!

Blog Topic Challenge: Want to suggest the next topic for me to write about? Leave a comment here and I’ll tackle your topic soon!

2007's dumbest moments in business according to Fortune (and me)

Being the end of the year, everyone jumps in on Top lists, both retrospectively and looking to the new year. Fortune created its list of 101 Dumbest Moments in Business in 2007. From the peanut gallery, I can’t help but comment on their list and add a few of my favourite dumbest moments of the year in business and technology.

From Fortune’s list…

8. KFC/Taco Bell rats video in NYC

Did you really need a video to remind you KFC/Taco Bell is likely to kill you? Apparently, a million people did.

16. Microsoft’s PR firm sends writer own background document

Now that’s probably one of my worse nightmares when handling the PR aspect of a project. I’ve never had 13-pages long background files on anyone, but certain short notes which are helpful in remembering how to handle certain difficult people would probably not be received too well, should it fall in the hands of the person profiled.

17. Cocaine energy drink

Well, the marketing team can’t say they didn’t see that one coming when they picked the name. While I don’t approve of the choice of name, find another product that can call itself “Censored” or “NoName” yet keep a supposedly cool cachet to it due to its previous name.

36. Best Buy

“The state of Connecticut sues Best Buy for setting up in-store kiosks set to a website that looks identical to bestbuy.com but lists higher prices than those they would actually find online.” That was a marketing disaster waiting to happen, and I personally would have put that far higher on the list. For someone to actively commission this mock-site is beyond words. How else do they screw their customers?

46. Johnson & Johnson throw a hissy fit at the Red Cross for infringement of its trademarked red cross

Here, J&J’s PR team definitely could have spent a bit longer doing their homework and evaluating how to best put a positive twist, some sort of partnership with the Red Cross rather than getting all uppity about the international symbol of rescue, safety and health being used on First Aid Kits.

51. Apple threatens to sue a 9 year old for sending ideas

Here, good ol’ AAPL could have taken a kinder approach to responding to this child. After the public uproar, the little girl received an apology for the otherwise formal and harsh response from the legal department.

58. Taco Bell “It doesn’t pretend to be mexican food”

It doesn’t pretend to be edible either, does it?

59. Radiohead “In Rainbows” available freely

Fortune gets snipey about it, saying Radiohead will follow shortly with an album called “In Debt”, but TUAW echoes my thoughts – Fortune is utterly wrong in its calculation. Only the labels have been starved from their fat paychecks in this deal, with Radiohead clearing over twice what it usually would on an album.

65. Verizon Wireless realises it’s not God

Verizon Wireless attempts to stop messages from a Pro-Choice American association to its own opted-in subscribers, but gets overruled. Good. Mobile carriers are facilitators of communication, not a censorship office.

70. Circuit City shoots itself in the food badly

In a cost-cutting exercise, Circuit City shows 3,400 of its best employees the door. Nobody ever taught these guys about the 80/20 rule where a few of your employees either make up most of your sales or, at least, serve as positive motivators for the rest of the team.

Vero’s list of top dumbest moments of 2007

1. Twitter claiming upgrades every time it went down.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter, I love their approach and style, and while I’ve never met the team face to face, they all seem like a bunch of people I’d love to work with.

However, when your community is made up of the cream of the crop of early adopters, you can’t take ’em for a ride, or they’ll head over to The Next Big Thing. So Twitter, in the future, a bit more honesty and transparency would be very welcome when you’re flippin’ us the bird.

2. Facebook Beacon launches without asking users to opt in first.

This was a fundamentally stupid mistake. There’s a fine line between giving users useful services and features, and being invasive 1984-stylee!

I find it shocking that anyone thought they were doing users a service by opting us all in by default. Coming from an email marketing background, I appreciate how difficult it is to convince users to opt-in of their own accord, but sharing this much information without our explicit permission is downright disgusting. As one of the articles on this topic said, what if I was buying a book called “Coping with AIDS”? It’s not all about purple scarves and ruined Christmas surprises, it’s personal lives that could be ruined by it.

Thankfully, Facebook did well in listening to feedback and sorting the situation as quickly as possible.

3. Apple plays hard balls over iPhone in the UK, gets fewer sales

Against any past mobile culture in the UK, Apple chooses to charge a significant amount for the iPhone regardless of the contract it is purchased on. The Register comments on the tumbleweeds rolling by on launch night. Brits and Europeans aren’t blinded enough by Apple to fall head over heels when the deal isn’t good enough.

Hopefully, Apple will shape up to the culture in the next round of iPhones.

4. A few idiots rob the blogosphere from Kathy Sierra’s writing and insight.

I still haven’t forgiven the mean kids who’ve caused Kathy to stop blogging. It may have felt like a funny joke at the time, but their impact is greater than they realise. Her style was unique and enlightening for people in my area of work. It may have been 9 months now since Kathy’s stopped writing but her words still carry.

What are the dumbest business moments of 2007 in your eyes?

Must PR people and bloggers be like oil and water?

Last week, Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and Wired Magazine blogger, lashed out at lazy PR people. The crux of the story is that Chris gets torrents of press releases, some more or less relevant, from public relations agencies that can’t really be bothered to do their research before sending releases around. Therefore Chris chose to publish the email addresses of a few hundred PR people who’ve sent him said releases.

Bloggr cat sez ur PR is b0ringThis story really rings true for me on three levels;

  • First, I’m a blogger, albeit a small-time one. But I still get plenty of press material, ranging from jaw-droppingly excited news to awfully written, pointless drivel. More of the latter than the former, needless to say.
  • Second, I come from an email marketing background where my key concern was whether the content I was sending week in, week out, to over half a million readers was worth THEIR while. I was, to say the least, precious about Data Protection and if anyone suggested buying lists from agencies or scraping our customer database for addresses, I suggested in return ripping their balls out and cooking them in a nice tomato and basil sauce. Once I felt that the company I worked for didn’t allow me to produce content I genuinely thought could make our customers feel warm and fuzzy inside, I had to leave.
  • Finally, in my new role at Taptu, I wear many hats – one of which involves handling some of the communication and PR. I adore that part of my job but it means I’m on the OTHER side of the fence, sending press releases, praying that bloggers won’t rebuff me or, worse, publish a post claiming I’ve spammed them with irrelevant content. That’s amongst my worst nightmares, no joke.

It’s a funny place to be, to say the least. I sympathise with both camps to a certain point; the PR people who are given targets to meet, numbers of mentions and pageviews to get, and the bloggers who want real news.

At the same time, as a blogger, poor journalism in the form of bloggers who regurgitate press releases thinly veiled as news articles make my blood boil, as I know these are the people who have lulled PR agencies into a state of comfortable laziness.

There’s no denying it, working in PR and always being on top of the latest news and the important bloggers isn’t easy and requires passion. You need to be interested in your industry and personally invested. The canyon between the passionate product evangelist and the PR Joe Bloggs who’s trying to hit targets on paper is deeper and more obvious than ever, and I’ll let you guess which one manages to appeal to me, Carlo or Chris Anderson.

So PR people, make an effort to think before you send. Send quality news, don’t blow your own trumpet too much and let us figure out whether your product is “revolutionary” or “ground-breaking”. And bloggers, let PR people know when they’re hitting the sweet spot and when they’re not.

Hopefully, we can all learn to play nice together and live in a nice utopian world where bloggers and PR people walk together hand in hand, surrounded by rainbows and unicorns. Right? Right? Can’t we? Well… I tried.

[Cat picture by edmittance on Flickr]

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.

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