Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Great Content Angst

It arrives in the early morning well before I am scheduled to rise. It begins with the sweats and quickly moves to feelings of dread.

What is this ailment? It’s a relatively new phenomenon of the social media era: the content terrors.

During a new business presentation an often asked question centers around the demand for content to drive the success of a social media initiative. It’s true. Content that engages, educates and entertains is the foundation of any digital campaign.

Yet, we’ve found the obstacles to be few when it is time to launch a program. The editorial strategy typically flows from the agreed-upon goals and we are often able to repurpose existing content from multiple sources within an organization.

The content angst surfaces a ways down the road once a community of followers is in place. That’s because readers are fickle with their time and their investment with you can be fleeting.

Exceptional content pulls them in, yet also sets an expectation that future posts will be equally (if not more) insightful and inspiring. Fail to deliver and readers will drop you from their RSS reader faster than you can say “Friendster.”

Consider my Strategic Guy blog. Earlier this year I was on a readership roll with interest peaking in late spring at more than 2,000 unique visitors a week after a series of best practices posts. It has been slow drift downward ever since.

Each weekly check of Google Analytics creates a self-induced pressure vice that has lead to my terror-filled nights.

Others are feeling it too. For instance, accomplished blogger and marketer Beth Harte just announced that she is taking a hiatus because of the time and intensity involved in content creation.

So, what is the answer to this content conundrum? Here are a few ideas I am considering:

1. Tap into my relationship eco-system. Microsoft, Monster, British Telecom (BT), BearingPoint, Inmarsat, BroadSoft, GovDelivery…we are fortunate to represent a set of premium brands. Can I partner with their marketing leaders on content? Perhaps a guest post or executive Q&A?

2. Go back…for the future. As new readers sign on, I suspect many will find well-read blog posts from prior months to be of interest. Should I repurpose this content into a “best of” series?

3. Aggregate from credible sources across the Web. For our Open Road to Savings campaign, we have compiled content that provides insight into how companies are saving money in a challenging economic environment. The response from readers has been enthusiastic.

I read through nearly 150 content sources a week, such as business press, trade magazines, blogs and discussion forums. Could a collection of interesting articles help me keep up with the reader demanded pace of content creation?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fallacy of the Cobbler’s Shoe-less Kids

A quick look had me suspicious of the newly hired doctor my primary practitioner wanted to pawn me of on. He was a bit slovenly, scented by a touch of stale cigarettes and weighed in at about 100 bills too much.

There was no way I was listening to medical advice from someone who failed to take care of their own health.

This painful experience came to mind last week after reading blog posts from two PR shops apologizing for their failure to maintain a consistent time investment in their social media marketing programs. First up was inmedia Public Relations who explained away a two month blog hiatus on an economy-induced focus on business development activities.

After rambling through a spat of client wins and articulation of their competitive strengths, they encouraged readers to “stay tuned for more on this as we renew our commitment to this blog.”

Next came San Francisco-based Cutline Communications with a blog post entitled, “Wondering Were We Have Been? Wonder No More.” They attributed their failure to post on a myriad of client assignments and other “exciting things” that readers can anxiously look forward to learning about in the coming weeks.

Now I have nothing personally against inmedia and Cutline. I’m sure they are fine PR agencies populated with talented professionals.

My problem rests with the often-cited rationale by marketing, advertising and public relations firms that they are too busy to invest time and resources in their own promotion. Some even pretend this faulty justification is some type of validation of their expertise, capabilities and track record.

Guess what? The cobbler’s kids owned shoes – and probably damn nice ones.

Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) markets itself aggressively, regardless of how much work we have in-house. We have an ongoing investment in our Web presence. We issue press releases. We pitch the trade media. We publish multiple blogs and Twitter feeds. And our senior team is actively engaged in social networks.

In-strategy, targeted and aggressive promotion is a priority for us because this is exactly the counsel we provide to our clients. Plus, we are unconditionally committed to the notion that external communications enhances the success of any business.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Apologizing for dropping off the social media map merely calls more attention to this failure to engage.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Work Whine of the Entitled

It has been nearly 20 years since I last interviewed for a job, yet I am constantly looking for work.

Let me explain. In my role at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) I invest more than half of my time on business development.

I call on prospects. I schedule capabilities presentations. I develop pitches and proposals. And I build relationships over time with executive-level marketing and public relations decision-makers -- all with the goal of securing business for Strategic.

While I sympathize with the millions of professionals who have lost their jobs during this recession, I have little patience for the unemployed who spend their time whining about their lot in life.

The reality of our capitalistic society in which we all compete in a global economy is that no one owes us anything. We are not entitled to a job we find fulfilling, with fair compensation and excellent benefits. Finding and keeping work takes just that…work.

That’s because once we have secured a job (or in Strategic’s case, a client) it’s a must to deliver with creativity, enthusiasm, passion and commitment. If we fail to meet expectations, then being let go or laid off should come as no surprise.

Again, I do feel for those displaced in the past 18 months. The bright and talented will find employment, and I suspect will emerge from this experience as more productive and determined professionals.

I have to run now. It’s time to call on a few prospects.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Legit Concerns about Federal CIO

A quick post today to share a must-read story that raises some legitimate concerns about the professional and educational background of Vivek Kundra, the new Chief Information Officer of the US Federal Government.

The article is written by John Dvorak, a contributor to Dow Jones and PC Magazine. If these allegations prove to be true, I think the Obama Administration will have no choice but to demand Kundra's resignation.

Special Report: Is US Chief Information Officer (CIO) Vivek Kundra a Phony?

Update: Gautham Nagesh of NextGov verifies that Kundra did receive a master's degree from the University of Maryland, as stated in his bio.

The Facts on Kundra's College Records

Update #2: Vivek Kundra responds to allegations in an interview with Om Malik of GigaOm.

Dvorak Raises Doubts About U.S. CIO Kundra. White House Calls the Report “Highly Inaccurate” & “a Lie.” Kundra Speaks up

Monday, August 10, 2009

Social Media's Criminal Element

There is a somewhat unexpected (yet frequently) voiced concern from the executive suite when it comes to the evaluation of incorporating social media as part of the marketing mix. It is not related to messaging. It has little to do with budget. And it isn’t a determination of performance benchmarks.

Rather, many in senior management express a more personal fear: “If I put myself out there in social networks will the increased visibility result in more targeting by spammers, con-artists and identity thieves?”

This is certainly a valid concern. The fringes of the Internet are populated with these nefarious characters who are quite adept at trolling social networks for prey.

Plus, popular online communities like Facebook and Twitter are now constantly on the defensive against newly emerged phishing scams and viruses. (Image courtesy of

Our counsel to clients is the business ROI of social media participation and digital communications outweighs the personal risk. However, like most things in life, it is wise to exercise an appropriate level of caution.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

1. Do not post anything you wouldn’t want published on page one of the USA Today. That means no personal information, including social security number, home address, birthdays, etc. It even took me a long time before I became comfortable referencing the name of my kids.

2. Be careful about who you connect with or friend in an online environment. If you’re not sure who the person is or how they know you, then simply pass on accepting a friend request.

3. Google yourself…weekly. In fact, use all of the major search engines (i.e. Bing, Yahoo, etc.) to monitor your digital footprint.

4. Have a plan if you become the target (or worse, victim) of a cyber crime. Talk to your company’s legal counsel before engaging in social media as part of a corporate initiative. Don’t be shy to protect your interests and rights.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Zero Sum and a Competitor Conundrum

Can you be friends with a competitor?

Like most executives, I invest time thinking about the firms we square off against for client assignments. I visit their corporate Web sites, evaluate their social media activities, take note of their press announcements and review new marketing initiatives.

It’s all part of my responsibility to maintain a strong competitive position for Strategic Communications Group (Strategic).

While I have a healthy level of respect for nearly all of our competitors, there are several firms where I have a more cordial relationship with one or more of their principals. I make it a point to spend time with them at industry conferences and events and, whenever possible, refer business opportunities.

However, an Email landed in my Outlook inbox this week that has me re-thinking this dynamic:

Hi Marc

I hear you are meeting with my client, NAME WITHHELD.

Does this mean I can now aggressively go after your clients? I have been holding off going after my friends' clients up till now.

Business is typically a zero sum situation. If my business is to advance, it’s typically at the expense of a competitor.

It’s no secret that Strategic calls on companies represented by other firms. We don’t knock anyone, yet certainly have an agenda to win away business. I expect my competitors to be doing the same with our clients.

After giving this Email some thought, my view remains constant. It is professional (and respectful) to be friendly with a competitor. Friends though? I think not.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Virtual Worlds Get Down to Business

About two years ago I took a maiden stroll in Second Life.

I signed on, created an avatar and spent several unfulfilling afternoons visiting a mix of islands. Most lacked much in the way of traffic and there was limited interaction among the residents I did happen upon. I haven’t logged on since.

While I understand the appeal of virtual worlds to gamers who test their mettle against distant competitors, these environments have fallen way short when it comes to business relevance.

Granted, some progressive companies like IBM have used virtual worlds for work teams to collaborate. However, my impression is most virtual residents are a curious mix of techie geeks, experimenters and, even, the lonely and desperate. They are not the sort who offers much in the way of value to Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) clients.

It may be time though to take a fresh look at the potential business ROI of virtual worlds. For starters, if you believe the numbers, the virtual population continues to swell. (Image source: Open Knowledge and the Public Interest)

Consultancy K Zero recently reported that membership in virtual worlds jumped by 39 percent during Q2 2009 to nearly 580 million. Second Life now boasts 750,000 unique monthly visitors while World of Wars’ subscriber base tops 12 million.

Even the kid-set has jumped into the virtual fray. Habbo sports 135 million registered users, Neopets has 54 million and Club Penguin weighs in at 28 million – most under the age of 15. Consider these online teens (and pre-teens) will be entering the work force in as little as five years.

In addition, industry groups have now formed to help translate the residential traffic in virtual worlds into measurable ROI.

The National Defense University’s Information Resources Management College has played a lead role organizing the Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds. With a mission to share best practices, this group includes members from all levels of government, academia and corporate enterprise. It’s most recent virtual event attracted more than 500 participants.

And finally, tools have been introduced to help organizations tap into virtual worlds in a customizable fashion, comparably to how Ning enables social network creation.

OpenSimulator is one such offering. This software application allows a user to build a virtual world on the hard drive of a computer and then connect it to compatible virtual environments, such as Second Life.

Last week I sat with a client who explained she has allocated budget in their new fiscal year for a series of events in virtual worlds to communicate with customers and prospects. OK...looks like I need to dust off my avatar and give Second Life another whirl.