High-tech PR in the age of blogs, part 4

Yesterday I published the second installment of my new Microsoft Conversations podcast series. It’s a conversation with Marty Collins, senior marketing manager with the solution architecture group responsible for msdn.microsoft.com/architecture and skyscrapr.net. She wanted to interview me about the relationship between blogs and technical marketing, and I wanted to hear her thoughts on the same subject, so we wound up interviewing each other.

I gave Marty my take on how professionals — not only in the field of software, but also much more broadly — can and should use blogs to communicate their public agendas. And in response to her questions about how marketers can appropriately reach out to bloggers, I referred to the three-part series on high-tech PR in the age of blogs that I wrote back in 2002 and 2003. My bottom-line advice was and is: if you want to attract bloggers’ attention, point them to other bloggers who are authentic and credible. Three years ago that seemed like an exotic approach, but times have changed and it seems quite natural today.

Here’s an indication of how much times have changed. The folks that Marty markets to are solution architects, many of whom blog. On their blogs they raise questions, discuss options, and air concerns that intersect with her marketing agenda. What if her team of architects were able to monitor those conversations, and parachute in to respond where appropriate? That’s her plan. I think that it’s radical, will provoke controversy, but is ultimately clueful.

You could of course monitor those conversations using the existing suite of awareness tools: search, link aggregation, tag aggregation. But a new breed of power tools is emerging, and she’ll be using the ones provided by Visible Technologies.

Let’s think this through. I write a blog entry about problems with calendar sharing, as I did yesterday. It mentions products from Microsoft, Google, and Apple. Those companies watch my blog, and respond by injecting advice as comments on the blog entry. Am I shocked at this unwanted intrusion into my blog? Or am I grateful to receive useful information that I was lacking? Both outcomes can (and will) occur. These emerging brand awareness technologies will be abused by some marketers who will use it the wrong way. But there will also be right ways to use it.

Would-be abusers of this method will need to confront a couple of realities. First, if the comments you try to inject don’t add value to the conversation, most bloggers will just deflect them as spam. If for some reason they can’t or don’t, your comments will become part of a public record that’s easily discoverable and will undermine the reputation you were trying to enhance.

The incentives, and the checks and balances, are in place to do this right. I’ll be fascinated to watch this evolve.

Update: Although I’ve presented Marty’s plan as a form of marketing, which it is, I neglected to add that she also sees the underlying technique as a form of customer service. Today, for example, an A-list blogger like Dave Winer need only mention a problem with a product or service, and many voices — including maybe the provider of that product or service — will chime in to help. What if that ability to draw a response were democratized? What if any blogger could simply mention a problem with a Dell computer, and have a Dell support person notice and chime in right there on the blog with a solution? Very cool idea.

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10 thoughts on “High-tech PR in the age of blogs, part 4

  1. Funny, I just this morning presented some Web PR advice to my department. Since it was Powerpoint, one of my slides was this slightly pretentious (yet hopefully meaningful) list:

    1. Talk in your own voice
    2. Engage with the World
    3. Embrace the fishbowl
    4. Create compelling content, not compelling cases

    Points 1 & 4 are really relevant here. It’s important when the paratroopers descend that they don’t talk in the “voice of the institution”. It should be talking developer to developer, and the institution has to deal with the fact the developers speak more frankly than the PR bullhorn. (And of course, always say who you are, and never astroturf).

    The 4th point is that if I know you’re an interested party, I don’t want an argument. I’m not interested in the case you can make for using Infopath server, or why my situation is unusual. I want a link to a document that might clarify my problem, or a snippet of a workaround. Or to be told that what I’m doing is impossible.

  2. “What if any blogger could simply mention a problem with a Dell computer, and have a Dell support person notice and chime in right there on the blog with a solution?”
    The rate of signal-to-noise of such an approach would make it impractical. You probably heard of the guy who called the PC tech support to complain that its PC’s coffee tray (actually the CD tray) has broken, imagine this happening on a few hundred blogs.
    Another reason for which this approach is impractical is the fact that interpreting the content from blogs is, for the time being, a task performed by humans, therefore an expensive task. You cannot monitor all the blogs on the web for Dell problems, the cost is prohibitive. The fact that Dave Winer got some attention from Dell would probably mean that he is, to a certain extent, a valid media channel that gets monitored by their marketing deparment (just like ZDNet, PC Magazine, etc… are monitored).

  3. The customer support scenario is exactly what I used to do – not suprisingly when I was working for DEC in the customer support organization – via Usenet News, and did the same sort of thing as time went on as I “stumbled across” people who’d posted problems on their blogs.

    As CH notes, the difficulty is the scope – with usenet at least people who had problems or questions had an idea where they could post them and be seen. It might be nice for the support folks to be able to scour the whole ‘net every day and hope that they might find problems to solve, but I don’t expect it to happen anytime soon. Perhaps if the customers who were having trouble knew to not only post the problem to their blog but also then tag the post for support to find them via del.icio.us…

  4. It’s interesting to see people’s response to my thoughts on influencer blogging. Technology options are getting much better and there are options available to monitor the blog discussions that are quite scalable. You teach the technology tool to search for content relevant to your audience needs. As Jon mentioned, I’m using Visible Technologies. Staying customer centric is the key. I always ask myself, how does this benefit my customer? Am I relevant? If so it’s the right thing. If not, it’s spam.

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