Some interesting news last night - As reported in IR Web Report and elsewhere, the SEC yesterday has determined that "under certain circumstances, companies can rely on their websites and blogs to meet the public disclosure requirements under Regulation FD, according to new guidance unanimously approved by the US Securities and Exchange Commission today."
This is a big shift, but it is one that recognizes the changing communications landscape and the vehicles that key stakeholders use to research and gather information. One of my clients pointed out to me that Jonathan Schwartz from Sun must be happy, as he has been campaigning for this for a while, and took some pretty dramatic steps.
This is no longer the mid 80s and 90s when I was using my 300 baud modem to dial up to Compuserve for my news, or using an MCIMail account. With the wide availability of the Web, its increasing role in breaking news, and technologies such as RSS and Atom (which the SEC chairman mention), it is high time this change occurred.
This is not carte blanche to post information on the Web site, and this is not the death knell for newswires. There are subtleties to this ruling that I am still parsing (and reading about from others, such as Jennifer Leggio). There are stipulations. I am sure they are going to want to make sure the information is in a visible place and not buried on some obscure page. I would not counsel my public clients to changing things tomorrow - but we all need to read up and learn more about this.
What do you think? Will more companies follow Sun's lead, or is what Sun is doing just the tip of the iceberg? Either way, the next few months are going to see some major shifts in the way people are approaching this, and I look forward to working with my clients and their CFOs and IR firms to navigate this new landscape.
By any traditional measurement Cuil.com saw an amazing PR launch. Positive articles appeared everywhere, traffic came rolling in, people were talking on the boards. Several people IM'd me to try it out, stopping me in the hallway to ask my opinion, etc.
If you're going to try to topple the king of search, which most of the Cuil.com articles suggested is the goal, you need to come with more than just a big library. But that's the search technology and frankly, I'm a not an expert in that area. I do know, however, that challenging Google means getting people to change their habits, and that doesn't happen with a one day boost. You need chatter, interest and a long-term strategy.
When a client comes to us with a consumer launch I usually suggest a relatively long closed beta, something that is at least a few months. Then listen to the feedback they're getting on the blogs and in the discussion board, respond to any issues that come up and be prepared to do the coding necessary to make any fixes.
In many cases this idea gets rejected, not because it's wrong, but because other business factors (such as investors, competition, etc.) force the company to put out the product immediately and not wait for the closed beta. Essentially they've come to us too late, not hiring the PR firm until they needed the coverage.
The closed beta does two things: it helps build viral buzz and it allows the site to get a pretty good test group so it can work out the kinks. The fact that most people chatting about Cuil.com complain that the results just aren't good or accurate is something that could have been fixed during the closed beta. If the bloggers and reporters were briefed, but not put under embargo, then they could have written about it, built the buzz and then general users would have had to wait until launch day to access.
A great example of this is Evernote, which is run by a former client Phil Libin and the marketing is
handled by Andrew Sinkov, one of the best young marketing pros I've ever worked with. I'll write more about them another time. Both came out of Cambridge-based CoreStreet.
Cuil.com has a lot of work to do in order to take on Google. I'm sure they prepared for the long haul, but now they also have a deep hole and will have to climb out.
This week saw two major PR blunders in the online world that are worth noting: Hasbro and Cuil. These are two very different companies and two very different business models, but both made some basic mistakes that could lead to long-term problems. I'll talk about Cuil in another post, but Hasbro is the bigger current problem.
Hasbro is a big name here in New England, especially in Rhode Island where they essentially own the state. One of the biggest attractions on the way to see the Pawtucket Red Sox is the large Hasbro facitlity featuring a statue of Mr. Potato Head.
A major staple of this brand are the board games, an area notorious for its copyright issues. Over the years I've spoken to many people with board game ideas who say they can't sell into Hasbro because games are so easily copied that the company won't even LOOK at outside ideas. So it's no surprise that Hasbro took a page from the RIAA handbook and called in the lawyers to shut down Scrabulous. For the uninitiated, Scrabulous is the Scrabble-like Facebook game that has become an addiction for many.
The problem? Scrabulous infringes on the Scrabble copyright. The other problem? It was written by two brothers in India. More problems? Mattel and Hasbro share copyright, so Hasbro only has it in North America. So what does Hasbro do? It shuts down Scrabulous in North America and releases its own game.
The key problem here is that Scrabulous has a rabid fan-base. Apparently Hasbro tried buying the game, but failed and then turned to lawyers. The results has been a backlash against Hasbro and Scrabble.
Of course, this could have been avoided. Instead of shutting down the game, Hasbro could have started to market its boardgame to the Scrabulous players. Some people have said that playing the online game renewed their interest in playing the board game. They could have used the online game to boost their tournaments and meetups. They could have tried harder to purchase the game or invite the developers to help them create an official version. They could have used the Scrabble brand and extended it to Boggle and Upwards, two other games. They could have developed a series of word and letter-based games on the Scrabble brand, all building on the viral success of a game they didn't create.
All of that would have been a better PR move than shutting down the game, which now has people trying to boycott the company and refusing to buy the board game. Worse, hackers apparently attacked the official version of the game, shutting that down.
What could have been a resurgent interest in an old-standby of a game has, instead, turned into a crisis situation by trying to protect copyright.
This story also shows the true power of social media. A pair of brothers in India managed to create a game that attracted users around the globe, something that the gaming powerhouses Hasbro and their online parnter Electronic Arts failed to do. In this world it's not about size, it's about ideas.
When the Red Sox were in Japan to start the season, thousands of members of Red Sox nation turned on their TVs early in the morning to watch the broadcast from the Far East. Except for many DirectTV subscribers, there was a problem; for whatever reason, the satellite TV service could not deliver the signal.
Fans hit the Internet hard with their complaints, sharing stories and quickly learning that Comcast cable customers were also having trouble receiving the broadcast.
Last night, ABC's World News Tonight aired a segment on how Comcast has quickly realized that the Internet can be a great way to listen to its users; in fact, Comcast employees are on Twitter specifically for the task.
The process is a great example of a consumer company understanding the value of social media. The user profiled in the ABC News piece saw Twitter as a way to vent frustration. This type of "flashpoint" customer service issue is ideal for a service like Twitter.
Comcast, in general, has done a great job of harnessing the Internet to provide better customer support--in ways that make best use of available methods while most certainly reducing Comcast's support costs. For example, Comcast's online presence let's users initiate real-time chats with customer support. Many issues with cable boxes can be fixed simply by restarting the box, and the real-time chat format is great for teaching users how to perform that remedy. (A user might be reluctant to follow an online set of troubleshoot directions if one instruction is "disconnect power to the cable box.")
The real-time chat feature via Comcast's site has been available for some time. More recently, Comcast has realized that Twitter's use as a frustration vent is a newer phenomenon. Users that resort to Twitter to complain about Comcast, it follows logically, may have lost their Internet connection and are using a mobile device to update their Twitter post (the exact example in the ABC News piece).
Comcast's use of Twitter has been well covered in the blogosphere. Of note, well-known blogger Michael Arrington has had very public issues with Comcast, and the cable company dealt with them.
Beyond what has been covered by many other blogs, Comcast's ongoing success hints at some important lessons for B2B companies and their use of social media for customer relations. Since many of Schwartz's work is done in the B2B arena, these lessons are of interest to me. Here is what I have learned:
1) The world *is* listening. Comcast is, and prospective customers are as well. If you are a B2B company, you should add Twitter-watching to your customer support operations, and you should tell your customers that. The added benefit of conversing with your customers via Twitter is that your customer’s colleagues on Twitter--many of whom are likely prospects--will see it.
2) Twitter is the ideal venting medium. As a Twitter user myself, I take satisfaction in using Twitter to simply express frustration. This is both good and bad for B2B companies. It's good because it's a quick way to cool down hot tempers, but it's bad because it means the customer has likely already tried other means to either correct the issue or navigate the vendor's customer support. As some bloggers have stated, Twitter is the last line of defense. It should not be a substitute for other, more proactive, means of keeping customers in the loop.
3) Don't use Twitter unless you are ready to use Twitter. Social media creates new ways to communicate with customers, prospects, and everyone else. Relative to a company's overall communication infrastructure, it may not necessarily introduce new efficiencies. Companies must be prepared to invest when they use Twitter (bear in mind, for example, that Twitter is on 24/7). With the power and viral nature of the Internet, a tweet falling on deaf ears could turn into a PR crisis.
I’ve been having Web 2.0/blogging conference fatigue of late. There are so many conferences where we discuss community, monetization and business models but in the end I don’t feel as though most panels go beyond the obvious to break new ground. In that regard I was both pleased and disappointed at BlogHer ‘08 held in San Francisco last week.
Many of the panels offered the same advice: build a community, monetize that community and keep them engaged. We talked about ad models, social media tools and tips on how to start blogging and stay blogging, but what I found most informative were the smaller break-out sessions where we dove deep into the nitty gritty of what makes bloggers and their audiences tick.
Lesson one: Bloggers blog mainly out of a passion for the topic for which they write. Of course! While obvious to part of my brain, that’s why I’ve been blogging for ten years, it’s not always the first thing we as PR professionals think about when we try to engage bloggers. Personal bloggers, whether they focus on parenting, high tech or gardening, do what they do because they want to. They don’t absolutely need to file a story a day like most journalists. PR and marketing need to understand this difference and approach personal bloggers with highly compelling and targeted information and visuals they can and want to use to tell a personalized version of the story.
Lesson two: A small blog is not an inconsequential blog. Large consumer brands packed small focus group rooms vying for the chance to talk about their products and new media strategies to bloggers with even modest audiences. The brands that get it understand that blogging is the new word of mouth way to reach loyal consumers. And the brands that do this best are willing to provide personal bloggers with press kits, news releases, photos & video as well as the opportunity to interview executives and others at the company that once only spoke to the “established” press.
And finally the cookies: while Sesame Street, one of many sponsors of BlogHer ‘08, isn’t a brand one associates with new media, they understand their audience and demonstrate a strategy that is open to social media. The Sesame Street room at the conference was constructed to resemble the show — both Grover and Abby Cadabby (and their puppeteers) greeted kids and adults, provided professional photo ops and encouraged random photo snapping and blogging and referred parents back to the site and podcast. What about the cookies? At 33 and without children I had no intention of visiting Sesame Street, but once I — and everyone else — saw others with cookies, we all made a beeline to the room and enjoyed the show: a perfect use of online and offline social networking.
It was all change at the All England Championships this year - the annual strawberries, cream and Pimms festival held in Wimbledon. Apparently there was also tennis to watch! For those not engaged in this waistline expansion exercise, being forced to follow the tournament from an office desk was a much more fulfilling experience this year, with both tournament organisers and host broadcaster the BBC offering new and interactive ways of keeping up with the action.
The official website provided not only live scores - as it has for several years - but also supported interaction with social networking sites such as Second Life and Facebook. In a neat PR exercise Second Lifers were able to use their avatar to look around an IBM sponsored virtual Wimbledon world. Meanwhile, the official Slamtracker tool offered up statistics, with wigetised versions available on other social networking sites.
Meanwhile, the Beeb offered live web coverage of the whole tournament, broadcasting up to five matches at a time using the BBC iPlayer application, which almost totally negated the need for evening TV highlights packages. Then there are innovative services such Zattoo, which re-broadcast live TV on the fly for Internet users throughout the whole tournament. They are not productivity tools!
Similar changes have taken place in news media over the past few years of course. Web-based news sites now routinely integrate text, video, reader comment, audio, and blog-style commentary into their coverage of the hour's top stories. Even traditional print titles such as the Telegraph, Guardian and Times in the UK have become multimedia publishers, cannibalising the next day's paper content with up-to-the minute news. The aforementioned BBC offers perhaps the most seamless service, in which heavy - if controversial - investment in the iPlayer technology has blurred the lines between the state-funded broadcaster's multiple online, TV and radio outlets.
The evolution of the media landscape has not come without changes for those on the frontline - add mobile to the list of media outlets and journalists have now become all-round news-gatherers, who provide a combination of services, rather than specialists in any one medium. The days of the old-school hack, stuck behind a typewriter investigating the latest scandal in the White House, are long gone. The here-and-now matters most; print, web and rolling TV compete for the same eye balls and shrinking advertising pot.
Mobile is at the forefront of even more exciting media technologies, which have developed at a rapid pace. During the confusion of the 2005 July 7 bombings in London, passengers with camera phones and an MMS connection were the first to tell the story of what had happened that morning. Later that year, mobile video from the Buncefield Oil Depot fire prompted the BBC to set up its citizen journalism team, which now filters through thousands of pictures and videos sent in by viewers every day. Then there were the first images of the death of baseball star Cory Lidle, who crashed his light aircraft into a New York apartment building, with local residents who were on the scene long before TV crews, able to sell their images to the media.
Today, images and video filter out of every major world event, such as Tibetan peace protesters in New York City, the Chinese Earthquake, or the Burmese Hurricane, for example. Moreover, almost anybody with a 3G connection can now become a live broadcaster, with services such as JuiceCaster and QIK promising to turn every one of us into rolling media. The citizen journalist was not only born but has truly flourished.
The pertinent question for the media is how to compete when, arguably, citizen journalism offers greater insight - not to mention access - into world events?
And for the communications professional - how not only to monitor this community, but influence it too? Some might say it's 15-0 to the citizen journalist, with the ball firmly in the industry's court.
PR is often about 'keeping it local'. Language, local culture and the media agenda, all contribute to a need for 'feet on the street' whenever executing a campaign in a far away land. That's the theme of the London office's webinar on July 17, entitled "Bringing Your PR Campaign to Europe," in which Luke Nava and Ed Barker will offer practical advice for US companies undertaking PR in Europe. There will be hints and tips about tackling cultural differences and language barriers. We'll use real life case studies demonstrating how to leverage customers to best effect or tap into topical media trends and themes.