Tech PR War Stories podcast offers new social media advice

Over at the Tech PR War Stories podcast, David Strom and I have been busy interviewing some fascinating people about social media marketing. Here’s a roundup of recent activity. You can subscribe to the podcast feed on the site or by clicking here.

Tamar Weinberg44: Internet Marketing Superlist Author Shares Secrets
At the end of 2007, Tamar Weinberg assembled an amazing assortment of blog entries about everything from headline writing to linkbaiting to becoming a power user. Tamar will give you a twentysomething’s perspective on social media. If you’re trying to really understand this phenomenon, listen to what she has to say.

Four great trade show tips

Evan Schuman (TPRWS 39) of has spent a lot of time at trade shows lately and he sent us these four tips for getting the most out of media contacts.

45: The social media skeptic

Jennifer Mattern calls herself the “social media Grinch.” But that doesn’t mean she’s down on social media. It’s just that she thinks the focus on social media can distract PR people from their real work, In this interview, she outlines her cautionary advice about social media and stresses the fundamentals that PR people still need to employ.

46: How to find influencers

I’m writing a how-to book about social media marketing and one chapter is devoted to hands-on techniques for finding influencers online. It isn’t as simple as it sounds. In this episode, I talk about what I learned conducting influencer searches on behalf of a mythical Quebec resort. Step one: master advanced search.

47: Twitter magic

Many people’s first reaction to is that they just don’t get it. It looks like barely controlled chaos. But Twitter has inspired a passionate following. Laura Fitton is a poster child for a service that is revolutionizing the way people interact with their social networks. In this interview, she describes what’s unique about Twitter and how it can be useful even to people who don’t use it that often.

The TSA's bold move

I sometimes tell people, “If your products suck and your customers hate you, don’t start a blog.”

Well, the Transportation Security Administration has gone against that advice. More power to them.

The TSA blog mostly does it right. The branding is subtle; the TSA logo appears only at the bottom of the page. The slogan – “Terrorists Evolve. Threats Evolve. Security Must Stay Ahead. You Play A Part” – is meant to invite the public into a discussion about security. I think that’s a great marketing statement. The traveling public feels that security has been shoved down their throats, which is one of the reasons they hate TSA.

And they took the opportunity to express their emotions; more than 700 comments on the welcome post, according to the blog. There’s lots of anger, negativity and obscenity, but also a lot of good ideas and observations from people who clearly know something about security. Give TSA credit. They knew there’d be a firestorm of negativity, they were prepared for it and they responded calmly and constructively.

The blog is written by five people: four mid-level employees and a PR guy. Strangely, there are no photos of the bloggers, but maybe that’s a security measure. 🙂

As a government agency, TSA could afford to ignore the opinions of travelers if it wanted. Launching the blog is a gutsy move my hat’s off to them for it.

And can you believe it? They’re hosting the whole thing on Blogger!

Thanks to Daily Dish for the tip via Alex Howard.

Blog swarm engulfing AT&T; how will it respond?

A blog swarm is developing at this very moment over AT&T’s boneheaded decision to charge a California couple for a satellite dish they failed to remove from their home as they were fleeing the wildfires in California. Consumerist picked up the story, and it’s been viewed more than 11,000 times at this writing. There are already over 600 diggs, just within the first couple of hours. You can see the video from a local news station here.

Consumerist visitors are already using the incident to tee off on the much-hated cable companies. But that’s old news. What will be interesting is to watch AT&T’s reaction as this hits the national media. If it’s smart, AT&T will fall on its sword, apologize profusely and not only forgive the debt but set the couple up with a new satellite dish and maybe a couple years’ worth of service to boot. There’s no doubt people in AT&T PR are already aware of this story. Are they scrambling to respond or are they frozen by approvals and indecision? Keep an eye on Consumerist to see how this plays out.

Thanks to Dianna Huff for the tip.

Update 10/27/07: ZDNet blogger Russell Shaw posts a comment from a Dish Network spokeswoman saying the whole thing is a mistake and the California couple won’t be charged for the dish. AT&T also responded to Consumerist. It’ll be interesting to see if this story just goes away now. It’s up to over 1,900 diggs.

New England bloggers talk shop

I walked in late to a session on business blogging hosted by blogger and Boston Globe columnist Scott Kirsner. Panelists were:

Don Dodge, Director of Business Development, Microsoft Emerging Business Team, and blogger;

Barbara Heffner, partner at CHEN PR and blogger

Nabeel Hyatt, CEO at Conduit Labs and blogger

Bijan Sabet, venture capitalist at Spark Capital and blogger,

Jimmy Guterman, Editor of Release 2.0 and blogger, O’Reilly Radar

Scott Kirsner, Boston Globe “Innovation Economy” columnist and blogger

Chuck Tanowitz, director, Schwartz Communications and blogger

Here are my rather stream-of-consciousness notes on the discussion

Kirsner asks: “Why do you blog?”

Responses include:
Hyatt: It fills the space between press releases
Sabet: Great way to communicate with colleagues across the country
Hyatt: We have 10 employees nd four of them blog. We have internal editors go over all the entries. It may sound weird, but my opinion is that anyone who’s writing for the NY Times is writing on behalf of the NY Times. We want anything we release to be collective.

Kirsner says (jokingly) that the Globe probably hasn’t noticed his blog yet. I didn’t want to wait six months to start writing it. To have the Globe logo on the blog has issues of oversight and I don’t want that. I think I have the same standards for the blog as for the column, but there are things you can post there that you can’t put in the column. In other words, he applies journalistic standards, but is a little freer about language on the blog.

Jimmy Guterman notes that Kirsner’s blog voice is more engaging than his Globe voice. One of the appealing things about corporate blogs is that they better reflect the voice of the writer.

Don Dodge says 60% of his traffic comes from Google. He could write what he writes on a corporate website and wouldn’t get anywhere near that traffic. “For anyone starting a company, I would highly recommend that you blog. You will get far more juice from that than from having a company website.”

Dodge worked at Alta Vista at one point and knows about search. Some blogs get searched every hour and some get indexed once a week or once a month. Frequency of update relates to search engine performance (something I was unaware of).

Barb Heffner says her agency treats bloggers generally as they do other journalists.

Kirsner asks who’s more powerful: TechCrunch or the WSJ? Barb says Journal is an enterprise sell and TechCrunch is a consumer sell. Both powerful in their own way.

Audience member notes that you should read the blog before sending an e-mail to a blogger. “It’s extraordinary the number of e-mails I get who haven’t read my blog. From that perspective, there’s no difference between a journalist and a blogger.” Heffner says good PR practices apply equally in the blogosphere.

Don Dodge tells of bumping into Robert Scoble, who had two suggestions: put your name in the title and put your picture on the blog. “Those two things made an amazing difference. If your picture isn’t there, you can walk down the halls and no one will know who you are. If your picture is there, everyone knows who you are.”

Bijan Sabet says one of his favorite blogs is Flickr. Every now and then he wants to quick Flickr, but the genuineness of the blog keeps him coming back. He says he just invested in a company where the founder decided not to use PR but to use a blog instead. They wrote all their entries last week and were ready to go, but the bloggers picked it up before the embargo ended. “we’ve had a fair share of press releases that have gone out on the wire and I don’t see much return from that. We had one investment company get picked up on Engadget and got a 14:1 return versus a mention on TechCrunch.”

Barb Heffner warns against ghost-writing CEO blogs.

Nabeel notes that a lot of technologists aren’t great writers, and that’s why they need some oversight and editing. We’ve got people who are great and passionate in front of an audience, but when he sits down to write, he’s pretty timid.”

Dan Bricklin notes that not everybody writes well, but maybe they should be doing podcasts. That’s part of the job of marketing and PR people: figure out what’s the best way to get the message across. He cites a great podcast by the head of the US Navy. If you listened to it, you wouldn’t be surprised by what he said to the press.

Scott Kirsner asks how metrics-obsessed people are…

Author of 93South blog says he bought an iPhone so he could check his traffic while driving. “I used to check two or three times a day, but I’ve learned over the past six months to let go because I’m not doing it for traffic. I’m doing it to speak.”

Guterman notes that metrics are misleading. They tell you different things. “It’s as misleading as an author who writes a book and then starts checking his Amazon ranking 30 times a day. There’s a lot of talk about authenticity, but people confusing authenticity with spontaneity. Don’t think of a blog as a way to get around having to think about what you’re writing.”

Audience member George Jenkins writes a blog about identity theft. “I write because I’m passionate about the subject. I’ve had a lot of fun meeting people through the blog. I know that people from IBM visit my site (he worked at IBM at one time) but they’re reluctant to comment.”

Scott Kirsner tells of an executive taking him to task for something he said on the blog. He spoke to the exec on the phone and recommended the guy comment on the blog but it was clear that the exec was uncomfortable doing that.

Bijan says he has a Technorati addiction. “Blogging software is still one-way, it’s not two-way enough. We need to surface links from one blog to another.”

An audience member from Sphere asks whether people are using widgets to drive traffic.
Bijan says widgets are useful for driving traffic. “I’ll put them on my site for a while to see if people are engaging with them.”

Nabeel Hyatt says that when his company recently did A-round funding, they posted on a blog instead of issuing a press release. “We saw a ton of traffic, and by watching the inbound link, we learned of small competitors we had never seen before. Perhaps they thought no one was watching, but I was.” He says he’s addicted to MyBlogLog for its widget that tells who’s coming to the site. There’s about a 5% higher return rate from visitors who like to see their faces there.

Bijan says he’s seeing 3-4% CTR from Feedburner. He signed up to be an Amazon affiliate, so he does a lot of geeky product reviews (gives the money to charity). That leads to a few good-sized transactions every month.

A discussion ensues about taking gifts from businesses, quid pro quo and disclosure. Don Dodge tells of meeting Patriots owner Bob Kraft at a conference, ending up with free tickets to a Patriots game and still writing a critical article about the Patriots.

Guterman says disclosure isn’t enough. Just revealing your affiliations doesn’t excuse extreme bias. You can’t assume people notice your disclosures. Don’t let yourself be influenced and don’t take the graft.

Sabet notes that people come to his blog to read about the companies he’s funding and he sees no problem with promoting those companies. “You have to give the reader credit. The reader isn’t assuming that the venture capitalist isn’t biased.”

Discussion turns to most popular topics. Don Dodge notes that one of his most popular was about 1% of the search market being worth $1 billion. But the number one post of all time was a reference to a porn video site, although watching porn is not that safe anymore, since there are information about porn induced erectile dysfunction which could be a real issue for many. “I know how to get a lot of traffic if I wanted to, but I don’t do it for that reason.” Tr

affic alone isn’t that important to him.

Dan Bricklin says some things lend themselves to video. He went to see Vern Rayburn, who’s got a factory that makes jets. “The only way to really show people was to take the video and let people hear Vern’s voice. Sometimes the short, two-minute form is what you need.” Kirsner says it’s hard to drive traffic to Internet video.

Dodge says we’ve been conditioned to professional standards by TV. Your standards are high. Most people who try to do video on a blog stink compared to TV.

Kirsner says the most watched video on YouTube is Evolution of Dance, which was filmed by an amateur and looks it.

Dodge says he tried to convince Robert Scoble not to go to video. He’s a great blogger, but when he went to video, his traffic fell to 10%.