Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Get found when you're down

Just yesterday, the stock market dipped again. You don't need me to tell you this. Even so, I just did. But I want to get it out there that I know you don't need me to.

It's interesting. Given the plunges of Biblical proportions that occurred last month, yesterday's drop didn't seem that bad. Nevertheless, people are hurting, wondering where the economy might be headed, hoping that the destination isn't what it seems.

But here's why I'm telling you all this:

We who operate under the broad umbrella of search engine marketing can take solace. New research strongly suggests that SEM might be the sweet spot poised to weather the gathering economic storm largely unscathed.

Amid adverse economic conditions, SEM is gaining in popularity among businesses seeking an online marketing method that yields "measurable returns," reports Zero Strategy, which cites an ongoing study into the matter by Sempo UK. Natural listings receive the majority of clicks in the search ecosystem, with more than 80 percent of all activity occurring in the natural search space, according to Conductor, Inc., whose recently announced research into Fortune 500 firms revealed that less than 30 percent register any presence in natural search.

In other words, we're in that sweet spot I just mentioned. Companies of all kinds want to try SEM as a marketing tactic at a time when their accountants are scruitinizing the books. This is good news. It means they think their accountants will like the idea. And, with all those large companies failing to take full advantage of natural search, the opportunity is there for smaller players to absorb the real estate for themselves, under the radar.

Plenty of aspiring thought leaders can use natural search to their advantage, as well. A colleague of mine, Susan Friedmann, does so herself. She also hosts her own online radio show. Called "Riches in Niches Radio." Susan's show airs every other Tuesday, at 8pm EST, on Just recently, her guest discussed how she harnessed the power of natural search to catapult her own business into the limelight. You may listen to the recording simply clicking on part one and part two, both archived mp3 files.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Web 0.0

Before Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 entered the lexicon, and before talk surfaced of Web 3.0, we lived in a Web-free world, a world worlds apart from our world today.

During Web 0.0, the Web was only an Internet, and without the pretty pictures, fancy functionalities and august applications. Nobody talked about this Internet. Normal people didn't talk about it, anyway. Most didn't even know about it. The vast majority of us interacted face-to-face or via phones (many of which sported rotary dials). Truckers and other cool people used CB radios. Only geeks and the military found themselves interacting via electronic mail with others from disparate, sometimes remote locations, and only geeks and the military would have understood their lot in this way.

The Internet of yore was serious, solely for the conducting of serious business. And that serious business wasn't even business; it was serious scientific research and the serious matter of national security, both facilitated by real-time communication. Life was slower for everyone else, who also went about their business, commerce or personal, in real-time, but didn't know it was in real-time, or off-line, even though it was.

Sit there. Imagine what this world must have been like. If you're old enough, conserve those creative juices and simply remember. Civilization still managed to advance by leaps and bounds over the many years that predated the Web, and progress progressed at a breakneck pace for the many more years that predated the Internet. We don't need the Web, but it's a blessing to have.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, the Web is becoming more and more like Web 0.0. It's growing ever more organic and natural. Organic is a buzzword, of course, and natural is one of those empty descriptors that annoy professional writers. What I mean is the Web is trying to get back to Web 0.0, but with a twist. Many-to-many communication is slowly but surely achieving the same fluidity that one-to-one communication has always enjoyed without the aid of high technology. The Web is growing ever more efficient.

Think of interaction without the interference of high-tech media. It's natural and effortless. It's organic. Interaction in a Web 0.0 world -- which still exists, by the way -- is efficient, albeit archaic and constrained by inherent limitations of logistics. But the Web has limitations, too: the limitations of technology. As we've striven to render Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and beyond as Web 0.0 as possible, we've been painfully aware of these limitations.

And that's the point. In everything we do online, we pine for the Web to be as natural, effortless and organic as Web 0.0 has always been, but without the limitations that led great minds to lay the groundwork for the Web in the first place. We search for the efficiency we enjoy when we share dinner and a conversation with a friend or colleague, but on a grand scale and with the speed that technology allows.

In our quest to get back to a Web 0.0 world, we look for it within the Web. In our attempt to communicate ever more efficiently online, we create Web 0.0 redux.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Circumvent the news media

Many think of PR as MR—i.e., media relations, and by that, they're thinking of relations with the news media. They're thinking of publicity, really. And this is an attitude that existed when I first entered the business in the late ‘90s, and certainly a long time before that. Furthermore, news media relations is but one piece of the public relations puzzle. So why is it that so many think public relations is at once synonymous with and nothing more than the practice of trying to get publicity?

The problem is that the two were functionally one and the same for a long time. Why? Until recently, the prevailing vehicle for PR practitioners to reach their many publics with a message was the news media, the information brokers and middlemen of communication. And, so, the PR industry built an empire around relationships with these information brokers, and to this day this empire holds tremendous cache in the minds of clients who still see the news media through the lens of awe. Think Walter Cronkite. Think "The Tonight Show." You understand now, don't you? These are icons. They command reverence. Clients want to get on these shows. The PR industry has sold itself well.

But these shows don't deserve all your energy (a highly devoted portion of it, just not all). Any business can now reach its target markets directly. It's just not as sexy. Or is it? Well, that depends on who you ask.

Although the ideas of "getting ink" and "shooting b-roll" are sexy and enamor people with the notion of PR, Web 2.0 is in fact sexier to the person who practices public relations. After all, who in this business wouldn't want to circumvent the news media entirely to reach target audiences directly with unfiltered, highly targeted messages? Not only that, but these target audiences are apt to believe your communication just as much as they would if they were to read it in the paper, hear it on the radio, or see it on television.

I saw evidence for this in my own research while in graduate school. And I'm seeing it now, in practice. I'll talk about all that some more next time. For now, suffice it to say that you used to have to rely on the brand name of a traditional news media outlet to carry your client's brand (or your own brand, if you're doing this yourself) across the finish line; in the new environment, you can take the brand of yourself or client, and rely quite a bit on just that.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Plaster yourself all over the Web with Web 2.0

I won't burden my readers with too many details of the Sunday morning traffic jam I encountered yesterday. Yes, I just wrote Sunday morning. Let's just say one of the two major thruways to Massachusetts from Central South New Hampshire had transformed into a parking lot at a key intersection of highways south of the state border. I use that term, "parking lot," literally: Cars were parked. The guy in front of me opened his door and walked out into the median to survey the situation. The guy in front of him did likewise. They shook hands. I didn't know they knew each other. Maybe they didn't, but I joined them, and we tailgated.

No, we didn't tailgate. I also just lied about joining them. But you get the point, I did get out of my car, and the standstill did last a good 25 minutes. Fortunately, this wasn't long enough to keep me from arriving in Cambridge, Mass., in time for the day's festivities at the Branding & Promotion Lab, an installment in a series of events that the National Speakers Association has produced this year to present ideas on how professional speakers can, well, brand and promote themselves.

A longtime colleague of mine (note: link includes automatic sound generation) was there to give a presentation on his phenomenal success in regularly attracting major news media hits. I was there to co-present, and took the stage at about 10am to share my thoughts on how professional speakers can post high-quality content online to plaster themselves all over the search engine pages, and how this can, in turn, be a powerful pull-marketing tactic to win business.

Later this week I'll share more on the concept of a direct-to-consumer news release campaign, a simple yet effective approach to public relations online that often achieves these very objectives. I'll also take the 50,000-foot view of news media relations vs. public relations. Yes, they're different, and this fact speaks volumes about just about anyone's PR objectives online.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Grab the microphone, or blog?

About a week and a half ago I went to an alumni event at the Boston University College of Communication (COM). Being a graduate of the school and member of its adjunct faculty, I figured I'd better make an appearance, maybe even do some networking. And it wasn't just any COM alumni event, anyway; it was the mother of all COM alumni events, a celebration of 60 years.

"Sixty years of what?" you ask. Sixty years of the world's first graduate degree program in public relations, that's what. You see, COM is the place where that happened, and the main attraction at the event, a spirited debate by a panel of distinguished alumni, quickly justified the reasons why we COM alumni venerate our school with such gusto.

A crowd of nearly 200 gathered to listen to the panel contemplate the event's title: "Progress and Public Relations: A Look at Where We've Been and Where We're Going." The panel's very composition, a coterie of industry luminaries, screamed the depth of COM's longtime influence on the profession of public relations:
  • Harold Burson, founder of PR powerhouse Burson-Marsteller and inspiration for the honorary Chair of Public Relations in his name established at COM in 2002

  • Carol Cone (COM '78), chairman and founder of Cone Communications, Inc. and pioneer in the cause of Cause Branding®

  • Graciously and aptly sitting in on short notice, Paul Rand, president and CEO of Z√≥calo Group, a freestanding division of Omnicom Group subsidiary Ketchum Inc., whose own CEO and Senior Partner Raymond Kotcher (COM '79), the originally scheduled panelist, found himself at a conflicting, last-minute meeting with a client halfway across the globe

Moderator Dr. Donald Wright, professor of public relations at COM, tossed the ball into play and then got out of the way. The panel discussion gave rise to a sprawling yet keen Q&A that meandered, just as any proper discussion of communications these days should, into the topic of online communication's effect on PR.

I found myself casing the many rows, keeping an eye on the guy at such events who mills about the audience as he carries the microphone. Fighting the urge to raise my hand and share my two cents, I ultimately resolved to refrain from speaking -- out of restraint, really. After all, I have this blog for that sort of thing. I'll share with you all some of the topics discussed, and my thoughts on them, over the next few weeks.

Friday, May 2, 2008

This is a test of the blogcasting system. This is only a test.