Friday, August 29, 2008

LinkedIn's Community Java

Good news today in the world of social media! Here is a bulleted list of features that LinkedIn has added to stimulate more interaction and community among members of its groups:

• Discussion forums: Simple discussion spaces for you and your members.
• Enhanced roster: Searchable list of group members.
• Digest emails: Daily or weekly digests of new discussion topics which your members may choose to receive.
• Group home page: A private space for your members on LinkedIn.


I’m jazzed about this, as I see LinkedIn emerging as an even more valuable resource for lead generation and executive visibility/thought leadership. In fact, I have already participated in a discussion in a group called “Public Relations and Communications Professionals” about social media applications for employee communications.

Question to the group:

Using "social media" for internal communications. Share your experiences. Please share your best practices or worst nightmares so everyone can learn from each other about implementing blogs, wikis, RSS feeds etc... in the context of internal communications.

My comment:
I have an interesting social media anecdote that's right on point. We launched an executive blog for the new president of Altron, a provider of program management services to US government agencies. It was initially designed as a thought leadership platform for external audiences, yet the feedback we received from our client is that it became a source of information for the company's employees who were very interested in learning more about the business philosophy of their new executive.

Here's a link to the blog: http://altroninc.blogspot.com/

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Microsoft's Search Share Reality

In mid-May I lauded Microsoft for its “Live Search Cashback” as an attempt to more effectively compete with Google. Multiple vendors in any market lead to innovative new approaches and programs, which is good for consumers.

I also made this prediction:

Will this help Microsoft steal away a share of the search market? Probably not. The registration requirements and waiting period for the money are both fairly extensive.

Looks like I was spot on. According to an assessment of US search market share by Comscore, Microsoft saw an initial bump in June yet has since drifted back to just under 9% market share.

Microsoft’s Live Search Cashback Scheme Fails to Move the Market Share Needle

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Moneyball and a Feel for the Deal

I’m not a baseball fan. My wife accurately describes a typical game as 10 minutes of action jam packed into three hours.

Yet, I have always been intrigued by the non-traditional approach of Oakland Athletics manager Billy Beane. Documented in the book “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis, Beane evaluates players based on their on base percentage, rather than batting average or runs batted in. The result: the Athletics have been a consistent playoff team even though their payroll ranks near the bottom of all Major League Baseball teams.

Does this atypical methodology for evaluating performance translate to the world of corporate sales? The folks at business software vendor NetSuite sure think so. In fact, last year they added Bill Beane to their board of directors.

GigaOm writer Carleen Hawn recently penned an excellent interview with NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson exploring how the company has changed its sales methodology and measurement criteria based on Beane’s “Moneyball” philosophy.

What Start-Ups Can Learn from Billy “Moneyball” Beane


I’m right in step with NetSuite on the importance of consistently measuring the effectiveness of tactical sales activities. The same holds true for public relations and social media programs, which can now be evaluated using benchmarks like search engine optimization (SEO) and impact on pay-per-click advertising.

However, I also believe statistics can only take you so far. One of the recommendations in Hawn’s article is to “trust your data even when your intuition suggests otherwise.” That is a good guideline, yet successful selling requires what I refer to as a feel for the deal.

Whether evaluating a product or professional service, a deciding factor for a prospect is the trust they have in the vendor and its representatives. An effective sales executive knows how to build relationships…when to push for more information…and (equally important) when to give a potential buyer some space.

Yes, it’s important to measure the tactics that support the sales process. Just never underestimate the power of intuition.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Full Disclosure, Please

Surveys are an effective tool to establish third-party validation of a concept, competency or company…except when there is a lack of full disclosure.

Take PRSourceCode’s annual survey to identify the “Top Tech Communicators." The company that conducted the assessment provides public relations professionals and journalists with a suite of information products and services designed to increase their efficiency on the job. Sounds good.

Plus, they queried more than 800 IT journalists to identify the public relations agencies, corporate PR departments and practitioners who rate the best in terms of responsiveness, reliability and overall recognition of editorial needs. OK…works for me.

So, where does everything fall down with this survey? One of the PR shops recognized as being the “best of the best” in the large agency category is O’Keeffe & Company. In fact, this agency has achieved the distinction every year the survey has been conducted.

What is not disclosed is that the same individual who owns O’Keeffe & Company also happens to own PRSourceCode. In fact, they share the same office address at 921 King Street in Alexandria, VA. Hmmm…makes you wonder.

Admittedly, I have no knowledge of the methodology used to conduct this survey nor have I seen the raw data. Everything may very well be on the up and up.

However, the failure to disclose the connection between PRSourceCode and one of the honorees denigrates the credibility of the survey.

Staying true to the interest of full disclosure, here are a few things I need to acknowledge:

--Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has never been recognized in this survey even though we work very hard to maintain productive and mutually beneficial relationships with the journalists who cover our clients’ industries.

--We often compete against O’Keeffe & Company, especially in the area of business-to-government public relations.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The CEO Sales Trap

The foundation of relationship selling is the ability to establish a connection with decision-makers at a prospective customer.

Who better to champion your product or service than the CEO? They refer you to one of their lieutenants with a positive reference and you are well on your way to securing a new client. Right?


Not so fast, explains Dave Stein of sales consultancy ES Research Group. In an informative post on Oracle’s The Customer Collective Web-based community for sales and marketing professionals, Stein overviews his exchange with the VP of Information Technology at J.R. Simplot Company – a $3B agribusiness company based in Boise, Idaho. (Image courtesy of Flytrapgrowing.info.)

In Sales: Calling on the CEO

I have a couple of take-aways from Stein’s post. It’s critical for sales executives promoting an enterprise-level product or service to understand the structure and workings of a prospect company, and to then develop a strategy to identify and build relationships with decision-makers and influencers. This notion seems elementary, yet I suspect many sales organizations fall into the CEO trap at times.

For marketers and corporate communications professionals, we have to align our public relations, social media and lead generation programs to address the information requirements of multiple target audiences. This most likely means different tactics for different targets, as well as close interaction with sales to measure effectiveness.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Call for Generalists

There is an adage in business that the specialist prevails over the generalist. It’s why so many public relations consultancies segment their staff by practice group (i.e. we have market experts) and/or job function – we will call in our social media expert.

We’ve taken quite a different approach at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) by requiring our team of professionals to bring a broad-base set of market knowledge, skills and experience to their clients. They represent companies in different, yet related technology and healthcare markets. And they must be proficient in strategy, client service and the full range of public relations tactics.

Yes…it is more challenging to recruit and train generalists. Yet, the value they are able to deliver by offering an integrated approach to public relations and social media makes the effort well worthwhile.

The “specialist versus generalist” issue was top-of-mind this evening as I read an informative post from Jonny Bentwood, an analyst relations professional with PR shop Edelman. He listed the number of industry analysts who are now conducting research and interacting with companies via Twitter, a highly popular microblogging platform.

This is a great example of the intersection of traditional PR and social media, and why it is critical for public relations professionals to be engaged in all facets of communications. Strategic has experienced this first hand in our work on BT Americas “Secure Thinking” twitter community. Followers include journalists, analysts, customers and prospects.

My take: in public relations it is the generalist who typically carries the day.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Targeting the Zombie Niche

Online communities present an ideal environment for companies to engage target audiences who share common interests.

Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) is working with a number of clients to help them identify groups in LinkedIN and Facebook, and then appropriately share insight and participate in discussions. We refer to this as social network engagement.

There are also a myriad of niche social networks that cater to professionals within a specific industry or attract consumers who share a hobby. For instance, my colleague Chris Parente’s “Work, Wine and Wheels” blog is popular among BMW owners.

Of course, there’s niche (BMW owners) and then there’s real niche (zombie hunting vigilantes or social anxiety disorder sufferers).

The Web's 10 Weirdest Social Networks

Monday, August 4, 2008

Exxon Mobil, Brand-Jacked

Social media has emerged as a high-impact channel for companies to message and engage with key stakeholders.

Yet, the lack of a peer review process that is adhered to by traditional news media outlets creates an exorbitant amount of risk. Simply put, people can say what they want, when they want and then misrepresent themselves with the goal of enhancing credibility.

This is why any company of significance has to monitor the blogosphere and proactively take steps to address the distribution of inaccurate information.


Exxon Mobil's brand 'hijacked' by impersonator on Twitter

Market Moving Thought Leadership

The backbone of public relations, social media, marketing communications and advertising programs is content that engages, educates and entertains. Our methodology at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) is to produce and/or package content once and then merchandise it across multiple channels. This approach positively impacts awareness, credibility and lead generation (via search engine optimization and sales cycle marketing).

One of the zingers I typically drop to a prospect during a new business presentation is that “thought leaders have thoughts.” Sounds elementary, yet I point out that most executives shy away from taking a stand on issues or topics that could be controversial. And that limits the effectiveness of their company’s external communications program.

Now, it’s important that any thought leadership platform align with a company’s business objectives. There is simply no ROI in controversy for the sake of being argumentative. Additionally, ideas need to be presented in a clear manner, supported by third-party commentary and (when possible) statistical validation.

Salesforce.com chairman and CEO Marc Benioff is the premier thought leader in the adoption of innovative technology by enterprises. Salesforce.com’s “Say No to Software” launch campaign for its software-as-a-service (SaaS) CRM product ultimately redefined how many companies procure applications. (Image courtesy of ZDNet.)

Competitors like Oracle, SAP and Microsoft initially protested Benioff’s views and then were ultimately forced to play catch-up. More important, Salesforce.com ignited a movement that spurred innovation across multiple segments of the market. Strategic clients Avectra and GovDelivery are two examples of SaaS providers that are accelerating growth in their respective market niches.

Benioff’s back with a new thought leadership campaign that defines what comes after SaaS. His premise: view companies like Salesforce.com as offering a “platform as a service” that allows entrepreneurs to write, test and deploy software without cost-prohibitive infrastructure investments.

Citing vendors like Google, Amazon, Facebook and MySpace that are all employing a comparable “platform” strategy, Benioff brands this movement as Web 3.0.

While I find the Web 3.0 tag to be clich├ęd (a myriad of companies have already made a run at using this term), I applaud Benioff and Salesforce.com for their continued innovation in marketing and positioning.

Take a few moments to read his guest column in TechCrunch IT. It’s a well constructed argument for Salesforce.com’s approach and proves out that thought leaders truly do have thoughts with the potential to move markets.

Welcome to Web 3.0: Now Your Other Computer is a Data Center
TechCrunch IT
http://www.techcrunchit.com/2008/08/01/welcome-to-web-30-now-your-other-computer-is-a-data-center/