Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Why I’m keeping my mouth shut

In my early days as a tech journo I was news editor of Computerworld Aus and then edited Network World Aus. In both those roles my constant frustration was trying to get CIOs/IT & Network Managers to talk about their really shit hot projects – the one’s that were really business shaping. Of course, no one wanted to talk about those because they were commercially sensitive. Even though it would have been good for their careers to do so, they had big, scary comms departments standing behind them with a whopping big stick should they ever overstep the mark.
I was then asked to take over IDG Australia’s channel title. Based on my previous experiences, I was expecting to be constantly knocking my head against a brick wall trying to get these IT resellers to open up about how they were making money. After all, why would you tell your opposition what you’re doing better than they are.

However, much to my surprise, these guys were open books. Firstly, they were fiercely proud of their businesses and by god if someone was willing to give them a platform to boast about it then they weren’t going to knock that back. Secondly getting a profile meant that it became easier to do deals/get credit terms/etc with distributors and vendors.

So it’s with a distinct feeling of deja vu that I look around the Web 2.0 blogosphere (which let’s face it, is mainly made up of people in the industry writing for other people in the industry) where every company has a blog and they’re remarkably open about talking up what their company is doing, even though much of the information I’d consider commercially sensitive.

It’s almost certainly for exactly the same reasons I discovered when channel reporting. 1) People are very proud of their creations and 2) Getting a name in the industry helps (except in this case it’s primarily with an eye to a flip).

The interactive nature of blogs, does lend itself to another potential benefit – feedback. If you can nurture feedback through this process, that of course is invaluable.

And btw, I include the whole beta phase within this concept. I see companies opening up their services long before they’re ready. Or else, not opening up their services, when in fact they should be ready to go public (Newsvine). I don’t understand either strategy. If you show off all your goodies before you’re ready to go large, then you’ve only got yourself to blame if someone else mimicks it and can put it into action before you do. If you go live but invite only and then someone steals your strategy and gets critical mass before you can, likewise.

Paul Montgomery, who actually inspired me to to have a crack at this when he wrote in a comment on one of my armchair critic posts something along the lines of ‘you’re all talk, no action’ has to be the master of using his blog and blog activity to promote himself and Tinfinger. Paul has been talking up Tinfinger long before he recently opened it up, ironically under the guise of being in ‘stealth mode’. His knack is to constantly reference Tinfinger, but primarily he does so in more general, thoughtful posts about the aggregator business, so it’s very subtle but effective.
The fact that Tinfinger recieved a pretty reasonable acquisition offer even before launch is proof of how well he’s done it.
All that said, I don’t buy into it. There’s a reason those big companies are so loathe to talk about the really good parts of their business. Time matters. It’s the one commodity you can’t buy. In particular, in the dot com business, time to critical mass is everything. And as far as I’m concerned every time you lift your skirt, you’re making your time to critical mass that much harder while making it easier for the other guy.

So I’m afraid, you’re not going to get a lot out of me, on the subject of aggregators, for instance. My recent post, Why Google News if Fatally Flawed is about as insightful as Squash will get on that topic. Which is hard because that post generated more traffic than any other post I’ve ever written, and I could quite easily write a series along the lines of Why Newsvine is Fatally Flawed, Why x.aggregator is Fatally Flawed.

Instead, I’ll be putting all of that reasoning and thought into our aggregator project and hopefully on launch it’ll do all the talking for me.

Filed under: Blogs, Corporate Comms

Google need to moving beyond Blog PR

Those couple of people in the world who understand what my day gig is about (and if you’re one of them, would you mind trying to explain it to my mum) know that it’s a freaky, little corner of the world where technology, media and corporate communications intersect.

So one issue I’ve found intriguing to watch of late has been Google’s PR efforts. Google’s PR is kind of a paradox. Google probably only rival Apple in terms of how “closed” they are to media, yet they make pretty fair and open use of blogs, via their official Blog, the various product-focused blogs they operate plus the individual blogs of various Google developers and staffers.

The most recent blog on the Official Google Blog notes that having completed its first full year of blogging, the Google Blog team have “published 38 how-to tips, announced 77 new products and services, and addressed policy questions and legal matters 17 times. We’ve featured 11 guest bloggers. Forty posts have illuminated something about day to day life at Google; 19 have offered some international perspective.”

All very well and good, but does being a good corporate blogger, eradicate the requirement for good, traditional corporate communications management?

The “Blog PR” route that Google has used, and very successfully to date, goes something like this:
1. Google announce new service on Google Blog
2. Google Bloggers jump on announcement, delivered to them via RSS. Many early posts come from Google ‘enthusiasts’ who jump on any new announcement quickly and generally positive in their early analysis. Generates initial positive buzz
3. Big Media get hold of story – seldom have much to go on aside from official Google blog and analysis from blog community. Journalists often forced to speculate, due to lack of access to Google executives.
4. Speculation generally drives another round of blogging analysis. Builds on buzz
5. If need be, Google then has the opportunity to respond to blogs via its only blog again. In exceptional circumstances will allow someone like Marissa Mayer out into the wild to talk to press and prominent bloggers

Google’s traditional PR then is, pretty much, done by exception. It jumps in, in crisis situations but otherwise it’s pretty happy to do Blog PR.

This has worked for Google because for the most part, alot of the people who blog about the company, like – no, make that love – Google and what it does. Google has been the big, fluffy, teddy bear of the Internet that everyone has wanted to just cuddle up to. But Google’s corporate comms masters, will have almost certainly picked up a very distinct shift of late in public sentiment, especially, informed public sentiment. There are people out there who now view Google as just another, big, corporate monolith, who wants to rule the world like every other corporate monolith and who will pretty much do what it has to do to get there. Google the words ‘Google Evil‘ and see just how many hits you get!

Pretty much everything Google does now, will be viewed with increasing scepticism. And because of that I think it ignores traditional PR approaches at its peril.

We need look no further than the recent AOL announcement to see why. On this occassion, Google got steps 1 and 2 cut out from underneath it, because Big Media outlets scooped the story. This is only going to happen more often in the future as journalists increasingly fix their stare on the company as its stature grows. Big Media speculation fueled the ‘Google is Evil’ flames in the blogosphere and by the time the official announcement came out, a lot of damage had already been done. But rather than get out there and do immediate damage control, it took another 2 days before Mayer’s Official Google Blog post attempted to hose down some of the controversy. Even that, though, only fueled more blogosphere speculation and confusion and it wasn’t until Mayer got out and actually spoke to outlets like CNET and bloggers like John Batelle that Google really started managing the message at all.

A lot of companies can learn a thing or two about Google’s ‘Blog PR’ but Google has got to realise that tried-and-true PR methodologies exist because they’ve been proven to be effective ways of managing your message delivery and external communications. You can hide behind a blog as much as you like, but until you start talking to journalists, bloggers and opinion influencers, you’ll never be in control of the process and you’ve only got yourself to blame when miscommunication happens and inaccurate information propogates.

For the most part blogging complements traditional corporate communications practices, it doesn’t replace them. It’d be nice if Google talk wasn’t just a product name.

P.S. If you’re asking yourself why I’m blogging when I’m supposed to be on holidays, bushfires are currently sweeping across the central coast of Sydney and my path North is currently blocked. Me thinks there is a conspiracy happening somewhere to keep me working and blogging.

Filed under: Blogs, Corporate Comms, Google

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