Apr 282016
 
facebook-business-likes

It seems Facebook has found its river of gold with the company’s quarterly stock market statement reporting a 57% increase in revenues and a stunning 195% in net profits.

Particularly impressive was mobile sales made over 8o% of the company’s advertising revenue, up from just short of three quarters in the previous years.

For other online services, particularly Google, Facebook’s success on mobile must be galling as they struggle with the shift to smartphones.

How long that growth can continue remains to be seen. For the moment though, Facebook is showing how to make money on the mobile web.

Mar 152016
 
what is the future of journalism

For years I resisted attending the Tech Leaders conference, formerly Kickstart, as I felt a bit of an imposter being invited to attend as a journalist.  As a consequence I missed the peak days of the event.

In the ‘good old days’ dozens of journalists, most in the employ of profitable media companies, would fly to a Queensland resort to wine, dine and debauch themselves as PR agencies who were picking up the tab would try to introduce their clients and pitch to the group of hungover scribes.

Funding these events was relatively straightforward, public relations agencies and their clients were happy to pay substantial sums for access to journalists. In the golden days of technology journalism, large IT supplements were full of lucrative advertising for jobs and products.

That river of advertising gold has long dried up and in the technology industry that shift has been exacerbated by the collapse in IT industry margins which has further hurt advertising budgets.

As the industry has faded so too have the numbers of media professionals, many journalists have either moved into PR roles themselves or are now desperate freelancers.

The industry shift to freelancers has been problematic for the organisers as the remaining staff journalists are chronically time poor so can’t lightly take a day away from the desk and the independent reporters don’t offer direct access into trade journals and general news outlets.

Events like Tech Leaders are giving the PR industry a glimpse of the journalist free media landscape of the near future where the traditional pitching to outlets in the hope of being published is effectively obsolete. Looking at the numbers at Tech Leaders, it’s clear that world is not far off.

The question everyone in the industry has to ask is ‘how do people perceive I add value?’ For many, including myself, the answer is ‘we don’t’.

In an age where there is an almost unlimited supply of information and commentary, journalists and PR people have to find a new way to convince the market they add value.

Feb 292016
 
Santa Claus is largely an invention of the coca-cola corporation

“If you have anything negative to say, please don’t use the hashtag” implored the organiser to her stable of ‘influencers’ ahead of a recent social media campaign.

Like everyone in the PR, marketing and advertising industries, that organiser was desperately keeping a shiny patina on their clients’ brands at a time where they are one tweet away from disaster in today’s world of message obsessed management.

With influencer programs those risks are magnified as marketers co-opt amateurs to promote their clients in return for access and freebies*. Those unpaid posters on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook may be happy to give a positive view to everything but their fans may not be so kind.

Given their clients’ aversion to risk, it’s not unusual to see marketers setting out terms to ‘influencers’ demanding the brand has the right to vet posts – as one telco requested to this site last year – or outright prohibiting anything negative being said about their client.

Happy Shiny People

Perversely, selecting happy shiny people to promote brands on social media while suppressing critical thinking could actually create distrust of brands argues communications consultant Joanne Jacobs who states “this distrust is caused by campaigns of undifferentiated positivity and uncritical thinking.”

A good example of this potential damage is a recent influencer campaign by Chinese telecommunications Huawei where a group of influencers were flown to the 2016 Mobile World Congress to post about their experiences with the brand.

The Facebook post below shows the influencers enjoying the vendor’s hospitality but it also illustrates the lack of diversity in the group, something that was quickly called out in the comments.

huawei-men

For the Huawei influencers who had spent the previous week gushing about the vendor’s products and events this was an opportunity to provide leadership on the lack of diversity in the tech and telco industries..

Instead the critics – some of whom had more influential online audiences than the ‘influencers’ – were dismissed with the passive aggressive accusation of being ‘negative’, the cardinal sin of social media marketing.

For Huawei, there was a real risk their happy shiny influencers clumsy attempts to protect the brand would damage for the company and it was unsurprising the company’s professional PR managers stepped in to defuse the situation which in the hands of amateur ‘brand ambassadors’ threatened to become a self inflicted disaster.

Brittle brands of happiness

Huawei’s experience illustrates a key problem with the happy shiny influencer campaigns in their brittleness when faced with genuine criticism. The happy consumerist gleefully liking Instagram photos of shoes or hamburgers will quickly abandon the product should the brand be perceived as acting dishonestly or unethically.

For those influencers who’ve tied themselves too closely to brands, such a scandal could find their own names tarnished and their hard won audiences and reputation deserting them.

In an age of conversation where critical voices can be heard, the nice shiny facades can easily collapse. The days when the tobacco industry or brands like Coca-Cola could drown out critical voices simply by the weight of their advertising campaigns are long gone.

Struggles with a fragmented media

The struggles for the PR and marketing industries in dealing with today’s fragmented world are not to be underestimated – the old models of broadcast advertising and engaging with journalists and celebrities have lost their effectiveness and the industry is grappling with what works with the new channels.

In a building a brand that will last in today’s media landscape, pandering to shallow thinking consumerists is at best going to be a short term fix. To succeed, building a believable trustworthy name that tolerates dissent, allows complaints and acknowledges informed criticism is much more important and exponentially more valuable.

Shallow thinking and shiny people might have worked for Coca-Cola selling to young baby boomers in 1965 but fifty years later things the critics and deeper thinkers have a voice to. Co-opting those voices will only strengthen the brand.

*Disclaimer: This writer has been on a number of influencer programs and received various degrees of corporate largess including a Huawei smartphone.

Jan 312016
 
Google places is an important service for small business

An ongoing frustrations of this blog is Google’s failure to execute in local business search despite the massive advantage it has in that field.

One notable aspect of Google’s failure is the locksmith problem where thousands of fake businesses have slipped into the company’s database. The result is thousands of consumers being ripped off and honest local businesses being overlooked in search results.

Spam in Google’s local business search is not a new problem, Search Engine Land reported it as being an ongoing issue in 2009 and the New York Times ran a feature on it two years later highlighting how genuine local businesses and consumers suffer.

Now, five years on, the New York Times has revisited the problem of Google business listings and finds the problem hasn’t changed a great deal with locksmiths and other local search engine results being hijacked by scammers filing false listings.

It’s hard not to conclude that the local listing service isn’t really a high priority to Google’s attention deficient managers and it isn’t surprising given maintaining databases is nowhere near as sexy as being involved in moonshots or as lucrative as the company’s core adwords business.

Google’s bureaucrats think so little of the service that they give the task of maintaining its integrity to an army of unpaid volunteers. The New York Times tells the tale of one of these ‘Mappers’, an unemployed truck driver named Dan Austin, who proved so good at the role he was ‘promoted’ – still unpaid of course – and then ‘sacked’ when he demonstrated how easy it was to plant a false listing.

That weakness in Google’s system shows how crowdsourced services can be subject to abuse and how volunteers themselves are abused by companies taking advantage of ‘free’ labour.

Another weakness illustrated in the Locksmith story is the collateral damage of the ‘fail-fast’ mentality where features are released without the developers really understanding the consequences. The cost of failure may be felt by innocent parties more than the company that’s ‘failed’, as Search Engine Land flagged in its 2009 article.

Google has continued to release features into local that are open to abuse. Google has used its release early and iterate tactic to gain market share at the expense of more circumspect competitors and on the fragile incomes of small businesses.

The continued failure of Google’s local business service remains frustrating for small businesses, having destroyed the Yellow Pages and local newspaper advertising models most neighbourhood services have few places to advertise. While Google and the other internet giants remain focused on other matters, local business search remains a great opportunity for a smart entrepreneur.

Dec 222015
 
Local village

Before the web came along, advertising for the local plumber or hairdresser was just a matter of placing an ad in the local newspaper and a listing in the Yellow Pages. Then the internet and smartphones swamped those channels.

One of the greatest missed opportunities has been small business online advertising. With the demise of phone directories, particularly the Yellow Pages, it’s been hard, time consuming and expensive for smaller traders to cut through the online noise.

This market should have been Google’s for the taking however the local search platform has been drifting for years in the face of company apathy, mindless bureaucracy and silly name changes to fit in with the Google Plus distraction.

While Facebook has been playing in the local business space for a while they are now ramping up another service with a new site for local services search.

TechCrunch reports Facebook are experimenting with the local search function and while it isn’t anywhere near as comprehensive as Google’s at present the rich data the social media service has been able to harvest could well make it a far more useful tool.

However it’s not Facebook’s first attempt and Apple too has been playing in this space albeit with little traction.

If Facebook or Apple does usurp Google, the search engine giant will only have itself to blame for missing the opportunity as it was distracted by loss making ventures while letting potentially lucrative services pass.

The local business search market should be a lucrative opportunity for the business that gets it right. It may well be that all the big tech giants are unable to make this market work.

Nov 022015
 
Salesforce Analytics Cloud

The Public Relations industry has been mismeasured and undervalued, believes Rebekah Iliff, the Chief Strategy Officer of PR analytics company AirPR.

San Francisco based AirPR is an analytics company founded in 2011 on technology tracking the performance of PR campaigns. Despite being relatively young, the business counts among its customers Fortune 1000 companies such as Rackspace, Experian and the New York Stock Exchange.

Analysing stories

The idea behind AirPR is by analysing the responses to stories, be they articles in mainstream media sites, social media posts or the client’s own content, PR people are able to get a much better insight into what is working in the marketplace.

“You can no longer just throw out a PR campaign and say ‘oh, we got 200 million impressions.’ No CEO is going to buy that,” says Iliff. “You’re going to have to have deep data that you can dive into and then report the things that are going to work.”

Part of the reason PR is failing, Iliff believes, is because practitioners are only making decisions on ten to twenty per cent of the data they have. To make the most of the information they have available involves a rethink on how companies get their message out to the community.

Shifting PR thinking

“We’re trying to shift people from thinking about PR in a linear fashion to get into thinking about it in a networked fashion. A really good PR strategy or narrative looks like a spider web, there’s all these things connected to each other.”

Making those connections is creating a new set of demands on the PR industry as new tools and communications methods evolve.

“The PR professionals of the future who are be best placed to be successful will be the ones who take an interest in the analytics, who understand how to talk about so they can improve the storytelling.”

Stopping the pitching

In Iliff’s view part of the PR industry’s problems lie with how new entrants are taught is how to pitch to journalists, rather than to evaluate what works for their clients. “The second someone comes into an agency on a green level they should be bought into the analytics conversation and be taught how to measure it.”

“Instead they are taught ‘your job is to create storylines and pitch to journalists’, which by the way ninety percent of what you pitch no-one’s going to return because it’s irrelevant.” She says.

“Journalists give you credibility and they’re a third party endorsement but they can’t tell the story the way you want to tell it. There’s a disconnect between the role of journalist is, the role of the journalist is not to sell to your customers, the role of the journalist is to tell the story from an objective viewpoint that puts you in the context of where you fit in the industry. I don’t think people get that.”

“You should be writing the story, following it through and understanding the metrics around it so you can go back and create a better story. It’s like that connective tissue between parts of PR instead of siloing.”

Breaking the data silos

The siloing of the analytics functions of PR and marketing remains a problem for the industry as well, Iliff stays and her advice to communications professionals entering the fields is to understand the data aspects.

“Get a Google Analytics certification, it’s very simple to do,” she states. “Take a couple of Coursera courses on basic statistics and how to analyse data – what’s the difference between prescriptive, descriptive and predictive data – very simple things that if you know how to talk about so you can have a discussion with the engineers.”

As the media industry evolves as it becomes even harder to pitch to fewer journalists working for a shrinking number of traditional outlets, Iliff thinks the future for the PR industry is with making its own content.

Focusing on owned media

“I think in the next five years a lot of things will change because of a couple of things, one is that we have access to data so owned media programs will become stronger for the people who are focusing on it and it will become a huge component in driving leads and sales. So people will stop spending so much time pitching.”

“Things like owned media will be used in a more comprehensive and compelling manner to offset a lot of the things that aren’t working on the earned marketing side.”

“My hope is that brands just hire an internal storyteller like Dell has done and Adobe has done and HP to tell you the story and connect with their customers. That’s the closest point between A and B.”

Taking PR seriously

Ultimately Iliff believes PRs will be taken more seriously in business is if they show they can use the data they have to show companies how to more effectively communicate.

“The only way you’re going to get a seat at the table, the only way you’re going to be taken seriously, is if you have data and you have the most relevant data.”

With data analytics reshaping most industries, it’s hard to see how the PR sector can resist those fundamental changes. How public relations practitioners apply that knowledge to their work is going to be key to their relevance in the business of the future.