Creating categories and definitions by doing, not debating

I just read a post by Peep Laja which talked about the old advice of inventing a new category to be able to charge more for your products than just slotting into a predefined definition, followed by a post by Neville Hobson on an attempt to redefine what PR means. And both have reinforced my belief that you only create new categories and redefine existing ones by actually going out and doing stuff.

As much as I can have respect for the people who get caught up in debates about what PR, Social Media Marketing, Content Marketing, Transmedia, SEO, etc all should mean exactly, the simple fact is that noone cares. Seth Godin talked about successful modern marketing beginning with product planning and development, but still many businesses and consumers see marketing as part of advertising.

When I try and define what I do for people, it comes out as:

  • I write for my own projects
  • I write for other people’s projects
  • I market my own projects
  • I market other people’s projects
  • I run training courses in writing and marketing
  • I run training courses in writing and marketing for other people
  • I provide research for my own projects
  • I provide research for other people
  • I host my own websites
  • I provide hosting for other people
  • I manage my own paid advertising campaigns
  • I manage paid advertising campaigns for other people
  • I manage affiliate campaigns for other people
  • Or I do: Writing, Journalism, Blogging, Natural SEO, Paid SEO, PPC, Content Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Training, Tutoring, Affiliate Management, Community Management, Analytics,

Either way, it means I should need the world’s biggest business cards. I don’t.

Dan Thornton business card - AKA TheWayoftheWeb.net and HotModMedia.com

It's me. And a quick meeting or search tells you more...

 

But actually, what tends to happen is that my client list has grown from referrals from existing clients or from people finding out about me for one area of what I do, and those that are more rewarding for me in terms of enjoyment and financial rewards grow more quickly than areas that I might not favour, so over time my reputation in some areas will naturally build and lead to more focus.

 

Defining what you and your brand do:

Rather than worrying too much about an exact definition, it’s better to have an idea which you and any employees can broadly follow, but also be flexible within. I always loved the idea of my former employers at Absolute Radio, which was that we were ‘a digital entertainment company with audio at it’s core’, and targetted ‘reluctant adults’. That meant we always focused on sound and sound quality first, and always prioritised those people who were incredibly passionate about their interest (music, comedy, sport), but it didn’t matter whether we had an idea for a website, mobile app, radio station, or anything else, as long as it involved the best possible audio and delighted the right people. And in a challenging market for all broadcasters, it seems like they’re doing better than ever.

But noone ever tuned in because of those definitions – they tuned in because they liked what they heard as a result.

Too often I speak to companies who declare that ‘their customers don’t do it that way’ – and it turns out that actually it’s because they don’t allow customers to interact that way for some reason.

Or that customers ‘just don’t get what we’re trying to do’. Or that ‘clients just don’t understand’.

 

Building brands – do stuff, monitor, do more stuff:

You don’t build a brand simply by having logos or mission statements. Those are brand assets. What builds a brand is making stuff available, seeing how people respond and then building on it. Google didn’t define itself as a search engine, it set out to index the world’s information. Apple didn’t say it only made personal computers – it put design into technology, whether it’s a Mac, iPhone or iPad. The legendary production line methods of Ford went from one colour of car to over 1000 different variations for the Ford Transit van alone.

Geek Pride

Obviously to be successful, it’s not enough to be different – the recent demise of Saab is one example of how you can be known for being unusual but still fail due to not managing sales and costs effectively. But that name will still stand out for many years for a lot of people, and it’s easier to optimise a supply chain than to become known for brilliance and character.

Look at Amazon – offering web servers, books and Kindles. Artists such as Hugh McLeod, Tom Fishbourne, or Penny Arcade. Authors like William Gibson. Musicians from Robert Johnson to Hendrix to Skrillex. 37Signals and Wunderlist are as much about design as project management. I’m already incredibly excited about HiutDenim because I know Howies and The Do Lectures.

Put stuff out there and look at the response, using the wealth of data that is available and complimenting it with the right research.

 

Industries and reputations:

Some industries stuggle with their reputation. Obviously banks and bankers aren’t particularly well respected at the moment, and neither are journalists.

At the same time, SEO and Social Media ‘snake oil salesman’ has become a common criticism for digital marketing.

And yet I know brilliant journalists, SEOs and Social Media specialists who are incredibly well-respected and constantly in-demand because they do brilliant things consistently well. I’ve also had meetings with top marketing and SEO agencies which ended in disaster because they seemed to spend all their time talking a good game in public, but not delivering on it directly in a client meeting.

I actually have a couple of lists which are close to my heart – one is a list of companies I’d love to work with, whether as a freelancer or even possibly as a full-time employee because over the years I’ve known them, they always done things brilliantly (I also have a list of companies who seem to squander their potential and wish they’d let me help sort it out).

And I have another list of individuals I’d love to work with on a project at some point – it’s grown to quite a size over the years, with everyone from creative talents to hard-headed business people. And pretty much everyone on the list has worked on multiple projects, sometimes concurrently, but what they’ve done is always interesting or exciting or innovative or profitable – often all four.

The simple fact is that I don’t worry about crap definitions of the industries I nominally work in. And I’ve stopped worrying about being painted with the same brush as the snake oil salesman. If a million people see a great example of content marketing, or social media, or SEO that I’ve been involved in, then that’s far better mechanism for change than debating definitions.

A vitally important law for business communications

I neglected to write about my fellow speakers at the ALPSP event, mainly because I was enjoying a bit of time off for the last week.

There were great presentations from Ros Lawler of Random House, Phil Archer from the W3C Mobile Web Initiative, Steve Paxhia of Beacon Hill Strategic Solutions (With whom I got absolute soaked in the storms that hit en route to the station), and Gail Robinson from TSL Education Ltd.

But the one presentation that really kept me thinking was by Alex Evans from MediaMolecule (The developers of LittleBigPlanet for the PS3). It was interesting as a videogamer, someone interested in game theory, someone interested in encouraging user generated content, and someone interested in developing business and revenues in the changing economy.

But he also highlighted a very important law – one which was applied to programming, but in my mind applies equally to marketing, PR, and to almost every aspect of a business.

It is:

…organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations

Conways Law was originally introduced in 1968, by Melvin Conway. And for me it encapsulates a lot of the challenges I’ve encountered, whether it’s been for a large company, a group of volunteers, or in my current role.

As much as a system designed may mirror communication structures – communications will mirror them just as much. That’s why things tended to be more rigid and evolve more slowly in a larger, more traditional company which was constructed around a defined hierachy.

It’s also why a flat structure of volunteers led to challenges that seem to have proved even more insurmoutable since I left – trying to encourage business attributes from non-businesslike creative people.

And it’s why I relish my new challenge – listening and engaging with a team packed full of ideas, and then herding those cats into the most effective order.

The top 10 UK PR blogs – TheWayoftheWeb #4

Apparently TheWayoftheWeb has been listed as one of Cision’s Top 10 UK PR blogs.

I picked up on the list from the #1 blog, the excellent NevilleHobson.com, and all ten blogs are definitely worth reading. It’s interesting to be included as the preface to the list reads:

‘Covering the latest developments in communications technology, the impact of the web on political dialogue and the convergence of PR with other communications activity, the blogs listed below represent the most visible, engaged and social of the UK PR blogosphere.’

It’s interesting because I’m a marketeer, journalist and blogger, but I’ve never officially been in PR – although obviously I’ve worked closely with a large number of PR agencies and people over the years.And I’ve helped out with writing the occasional press release.

But I am interested in where it’s possible to distinguish between PR and Marketing, and the methods and effects of good and bad PR, as it’s a huge element of success in my marketing role. And I’m learning as much from the incredibly talented PR team at Absolute Radio as hopefully I’m able to share with them.

What’s interesting has been discussing how the methods they’ve used for great success with mainstream print and digitial media are pretty much identical to the methods I use for non-mainstream digital media (blogs, forums, social networks etc).

It’s also why I’ve thought for a while about the simplest way to describe what I do as a whole, including both my professional career, and my independant digital endeavours, and it basically comes down to specialising in ‘content creation and distribution’, which sounds far less sexy than PR, Marketing, or Social Media. But basically I enjoy coming up with ideas for content (text, audio, video), putting it together (writing, recording, editing, crowdsourcing, implementing ways for UGC to be encouraged), and then getting it to relevant people (digital publishing, SEO, blogger and forum relations, linking, seeding, etc).

It’s not the tightest definition, considering the amount of roles and workload that it covers, but it seems to be the one that works as I look at my skills and interests.

Soon everyone will have basic marketing and management skills

A bit of a half-formed thought I needed to share whilst spending some time removing a shockingly large amount of unused applications from my PC and trying to rationalise my ever-increasing collection of email addresses and online identities.

When it comes to introducing social media marketing and building content and community at Bauer Media, it isn’t a simple case of just deciding every brand should be on Facebook, for example, and it magically happening. A large part of the work is deciding and clarifying the objectives of using a new channel, and also looking at the benefits in terms of allocating resources, whether financial or human.

Hence why I spend a reasonable amount of time looking at work flows, and working out how we can most effectively work across various channels, and which elements of content work best when shared across various places.

In plain English, it means working out which content we should import into Facebook, or whether we should automate updates to Twitter for certain things, and which location makes most sense for teams to manually update etc.

The irony being that my own profiles and workflows for my two blogs, Twitter profile etc etc have been done on such an ad hoc basis, I really need to sit down and work out a workflow for my personal online world.

And I don’t think I’m the only one.

Which started me thinking about which specialist skills in content, marketing, strategy and management are going to increasingly become things that most people will be using:

  • For instance, when it comes to attention-grabbing headlines, how many people are learing how to craft effective content in their Facebook status or tweets on a daily basis, without even consciously thinking about it.
  • How many people are starting to think about which sites they want to use, and how to effectively update them efficiently?
  • How many people are starting to learn about sharing content and marketing it via social networks and social bookmarking sites simply because they want to be more popular, without ever realising they’re marketing themselves?
  • Are people doing their own personal PR, emailing and following people who might repeat their content?

I don’t mean this in terms of people using buzzwords like ‘personal brands‘ – that’s for marketing and aspiring marketing people to make it sound more glamourous and exciting.

I mean this in terms of someone who could come from any walk of life, using the internet, and almost subconsciously incorporating various skills because they want people to see their Youtube video, or to get more friends on Facebook or Myspace.

There’s an understandable backlash from experienced digital marketing people against the growing number of ‘social media experts’ who have a personal Twitter account but haven’t demonstrated their work for their own company or anyone elses. And I’m certainly not saying that this means anyone could run a marketing campaign without any experience or training.

But I just wonder, in addition to the rise of amateurs who are uploading great photography or editing videos etc, whether there is the same blurring of lines between professional management skillsets and what everyone is starting to do as a normal part of their internet life.

So help me out: What traditional management, marketing, publishing, strategy type skills do you see becoming used by everyone, even on a basic level – and what implications do you think it has for the future? Will everyone be more aware of what goes on within a company? And is that a good thing?

Is any publicity good publicity for Ryanair?

You may have already seen the blog outcry regarding comments made by a Ryanair employee after Jason Roe claimed to have found a bug in the Ryanair site.

The comments on his blog included the gem: “what self respecting developer uses a crappy CMS such as word press anyway” – which got picked up by a certain Matt Mullenweg, and a lot of other WordPress users (Guess which CMS I use and recommend!)

Then the official response from Ryanair poured petrol on the fire:

(From Travolution) Stephen McNamara from Ryanair said:

“Ryanair can confirm that a Ryanair staff member did engage in a blog discussion.

“It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won’t be happening again.

“Lunatic bloggers can have the blog sphere all to themselves as our people are far too busy driving down the cost of air travel”

Now both Ryanair and boss Michael O’Leary are not afraid of controvery or picking a fight.

But…

Google blog search for Ryanair Feb 24, 2009

Google blog search for Ryanair Feb 24, 2009. Top blog is Matt Mullenwegs

Then comes….

Google News search for Ryanair Feb 24

Google News search for Ryanair Feb 24

Resulting in:

Normal Google Search: Feb 25 - Idiot Bloggers in at #4

Normal Google Search: Feb 25 - Idiot Bloggers in at #4

What is interesting is that Ryanair currently has a fairly strong position in terms of competitors (It’s them and Easyjet, really), and it’s unlikely to see any strong rivals enter the market in the current economic climate.

And certainly previous controversies, or plans just announced to increase charges for luggage etc, haven’t hurt them too much in the old media world.  They had cheap prices and some name awareness.

But there’s no guarantee someone couldn’t arrive with a difference approach if the market is viable – for instance Jetblue or Southwest?

And funniest of all:

Imagine any other company actively courting negative publicity and high ranking negative search returns on the same day as it’s revealed Ryanair plan to keep customer costs down by selling advertising on their booking website.

And Brand Republic also says: ‘Nearly all of Ryanair’s flights are booked online, which the airline plans to use to bring in advertising from non-travel and FMCG brands.’

In summary:

They’ve gone out of their way to guarantee prominent negative results on a major source of almost all of their revenue, on which they are building plans to advertise irrelevant companies which will surround a site on which people want to complete a purchase quickly and efficiently, and on which a confusing bug/anomaly has been discovered.

Bonus extras:

Compare that to Richard Branson phoning someone who complained about Virgin airline food.

Suddenly that cheap flight might not seem worth the saving, particularly when a sandwich, crisps and a drink can cost £10, a mobile phone call is £3 per minute, and it costs you £10 each way to check your luggage, which is likely to rise shortly.

Would anyone now believe;

““Overpriced retailers like Stansted have conspired with the airlines to get passengers to show up three hours early to spend money in their overpriced shops,” Mr O’Leary said. (The Times).

Or:

‘Ryanair critic called ‘idiot blogger’ by staff member. After flying with them last month, I feel like one too’ (The Telegraph)

Listening pleasure and Twitter earnings…

I received a good response after yesterday post on Virgin Radio becoming Absolute Radio…thanks to everyone that Stumbled, Dugg, or Twittered it, or came along and had a look.

I must have audio on my mind, because although I’m not a huge fan of podcasts, there are a couple I felt I should mention.  I’ve never been a fan of talk radio, so I never really gave podcasts as much of a chance as I probably should have done – especially with a commute that’s done in about 20 minutes.

But maybe that’s partly down to hearing subjects I want to actually listen to – until podcasts it was reserved for the vary occasional audio biography or documentary about my favourite musicians.

Now I’m spending a lot of time walking around comforting a young child, podcasts make a lot of sense – and the fact they’re devoted to technology, social media, public relations, or any interest I want to indulge unsurprisingly makes them rather enjoyable.

They aren’t exactly unknown, but I’ll recommend the collection of series at Twit.tv and For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz report as two I’ve been enjoying immensely. Twit (This Week In Tech) is an enjoyable round table around whatver has cropped up in the course of the week – and after a couple of weeks I’ve even warmed to the constantly grumpy John C Dvorak.

Meanwhile, For Immediate Release (FIR) is far more focused on the likes of Public Relations and Technology. It also features a Transatlantic partnership between two people I’ve followed in text for a while, Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson.

The irony being that there’s a huge, huge difference between the style of Twit and FIR. Twit host Leo Laporte is far more…’American’ in his presenting style (not saying that’s good or bad), whereas FIR is far more relaxed and akin to a Radio 4 programme. I’m becoming a big fan of both shows – but I can’t imagine any analogue, or even digital radio station likely to play two shows at such stylistic difference to each other – let alone one after the other as I sometimes do!

(Bearing in mind I use my laptop for listening to more and more Podcasts, anyone with autoplaying music, or any video or advert that autoplays on your website or blog is instantly registered as annoying… please don’t. And in case someone spots that type of advert on a Bauer Media site – I don’t book the adverts, I’ve registered my feelings strongly on several occasions, and I don’t pretend to speak for everyone!)

I doubt I’ll be making the jump to audio any time soon – my last foray into video was shamefully wooden.But I am continuing to balance two blogs on top of my day job. You can see my latest thoughts on microblogging – particularly the new Twitter advertising site, Twittads.

Sharing the music: The spread of the Web 2.0 rock stars

Two months ago, my colleague David Cushman and I started compiling a list of ‘Web 2.0 rock stars‘. It was partly a bit of fun, but also to see if it might bring some attention to www.ditto.net (disclosure: Both David and I work at Bauer Media, who own Ditto, and know/work with the Ditto team). We also though it would be fun to see a public vote, rather than one created either by Google page rank, Technorati, or by a small group of people on an editorial team.

But there have been some really fascinating outcomes:

  • Being able to watch how people are using the voting tool on Ditto – some vote for their single favourite/some re-order the entire list.
  • Adding people that David and myself hadn’t encountered and discovering some cool people we might have missed. And we’re still adding more (Suggest someone/yourself in the comments, or email daniel dot thornton at bauermedia.co.uk)
  • And seeing how a list with minimal promotion (Mentioned only on this blog and Faster Future) has been picked up by lots of people, including several of the notables on the voting list.
  • And also turning it into a bit of a resource after David added videos to almost every rock star. It’s a good example of what the Ditto team are trying to achieve (You can see and hear one of the founders, Colin Kennedy via Dave’s writing on /Message)

So where did it spread to?

Blogs:

AFP Mediawatch

Doc Searls

Euan Semple

Joseph Jaffe

Jason Calacanis (in the comments of Rich Millington’s post)

Stowe Boyd (written by David Cushman)

Jonathan MacDonald

Wikinomics

Comments:

Shel Israel, Corvida, JP Rangaswami, Veronica Belmont and Doc Searls all appeared in my blog comments (which I suspect wouldn’t have otherwise happened!), or contacted me via Facebook. As did Jonathan Yarmis, Stephanie Frasco, Josh Bernoff, Brian Solis and The Kaiser via email. (Jonathan’s inclusion apparently made his mother very proud!)

And it also created even more debate and mentions on Twitter and Pownce:

ciaranj

enikao

Ditto

waynesutton

stoweboyd

technofeliz

jasonrysavy

askfrasco

j_mac

(At which point Twitter Search broke)

And despite a relatively ‘niche’ subject compared to ‘The Best Movies of All Time‘, it’s still ranking as one of the most popular lists on the site!

All this was possible for two reasons:

1. Cush, myself, and the Ditto team (Especially John!). Between the three of us, it probably took 1-2 days to have the list at the stage it is now.

2. The desire of people to discover, share, link and contribute. From the first post I made, people were contributing great suggestions (I forgot to include Cory Doctorow, for example) And even though no-one was taking it seriously with a title like ‘The Rock Stars of Web 2.0’, almost everyone was happy to be included, supply pictures, correct information, and link back (even if they were embarrassed to be included, eh Euan?). And it was a pleasant surprise to find a namecheck from Doc Searls today.

And none of this was broadcast to anyone. As David examines in more detail, we didn’t email anyone to publicise the list. We didn’t prepare a press release, or even use Bauer Media’s global brands. We both blogged and tweeted about it in an honest and fun way, and waited to see who discovered and contributed to it. And all the rest of it occurred naturally, as people self selected whether they wanted to be involved, and whether they wanted to encourage voting from others. It didn’t make Techcrunch or Slashdot, or the front page of Digg. And judging by the timing and tone of many of the posts, people were discovering it individually, and passing it around their social networks, but it hasn’t been bridging the gap across them as you might imagine. (See Slide 4 in Cush’s excellent presentation on the future of PR)

And the great thing is that it’s an ongoing thing. We’re still adding more and more people – and the voting never ends. Unfortunately submissions are via a slightly clunky ’email daniel dot thornton at bauermedia dot co dot uk with name, details and a headshot’ method but we’ll work to get everyone online as soon as is possible. Voting is rather slicker! At regular intervals we’ll keep everyone up to date with the results at the time, further learnings, and how we’re continuing to be surprised by the wonderful thing which is humans interacting.

Oh, and if you’ve contributed/suggest for the list, or allowed the use of your photo via Creative Commoncs, then many, many thanks. It’ll take me some time to list everyone that contributed via me, but I’ll happily list anyone as they remind me (or whinge in EaonP’s case!)

Case Study: Qik using Twitter

We’ve got a new section to highlight and collate all of the best case studies of business and enterprise using microblogging in one place, as well as in individual blog posts. As the list fills up, you’ll be able to see it all, here.

Starting off is an example of customer service on Twitter as David Cushman recently posted.

David tweeted about his problem signing up to Qik on his Nokia N73. He didn’t contact the company directly, and probably would have just given up if left to his own devices. But Jackie Danicki, Director of Marketing at Qik was monitoring what was being said, found the tweet, and also located David’s email address to contact him directly, as well as sending him an SMS with a relevant link. Which led to him posting in praise of the company even before a solution was provided to his problem.

One happy advocate blogging about his experience and sharing his recommendations on and offline before he’s even tried the product!

The first important question for modern marketing/PR

Before you start on Facebook or Twitter, and when you’re coming up with your strategy, there’s one important question to ask yourself.

Who’s more important – your boss or your consumers?

I’ll expand more on this shortly – but the answer isn’t as obvious as you might think…

Conversation about definition: Marketing, Blog, Bloggers, Public Relations (PR)

Aside from an exponential increase in my involvement on Twitter, and setting up FriendFeed on an experimental basis, probably my most interesting discussion at the moment is with Brendan Cooper, the creator of the PR Friendly Index.

Having submitted this blog, I was curious whether it’s non-appearance was down to performance, or definition (I promise I was curious, rather than complaining!). Which led onto an interesting and good natured discussion about the definition of blogs, bloggers, PR and influence. I doubt there will ever be an exact definition for any of those terms which won’t cause disagreement in one quarter or another, but I thought Brendan’s views were pretty interesting, and wanted to post my latest response here, to hopefully get some other feedback on my own attempts to define the indefinable.

So, here’s my own humble take on blogs, bloggers, influence and PR. Which does raise the question for me of whether marketing and PR co-exist any more, or whether it’s an artificial split in the business of building relationships and conversations around a specific brand/topic/product:

Influence: Interestingly, I’m very deep in researching the usage of Net Promoter scores, Buzz Monitoring etc, to look at how to track influence and engagement as far as is currently possible (Nothing will ever be close to 100%!). I do know from discussions with some firms that they’ll be providing some limited free tools in the future, which may help track influence above and beyond popularity and linking. I’m influenced by a lot of things that I don’t end up linking from my blog due to time, effort etc.

Blogs: For me, it’s any site which is updated chronologically in one ‘flow’. Any news site is chronological, but articles etc will be spread across sections. A blog can cover numerous areas of interest, but everything is covered in one main stream of information which can then be split out. Rather than a homepage aggregating from the various sections. If that makes sense!

Bloggers: Anyone publishing a blog, whether paid/unpaid, corporate or not. And certainly a journalist can also be a blogger and vice versa. For me, the definition seems to come from what, where and how their content is displayed. Again, going back to my definition of a blog (which is very much a work in progress). I’d hesitate to define it by technical functionality, such as RSS, and certainly look to define it more by form (Any definition of over 100 million examples is going to be fuzzy in some way…)

PR: Definitely the trickiest one. Should it be classed with Marketing/Customer Retention? Is there even a place for it now? I’d argue that to define a discipline by the fact it doesn’t analyse as deeply as another is probably doing it a disservice, but it’s difficult not to. Certainly journalism, PR, marketing, advertising etc are all increasingly about relationships and conversations rather than purely broadcasting. I’m still stunned by at least one PR company I deal with banning employees from using Facebook for example, rather than encouraging the use of every tool to target press releases as accurately and individually as possible. But where the line comes between targetting press releases to journalists and bloggers, and marketing something to bloggers and consumers, for example, is very, very fuzzy. Maybe the terms for PR and Marketing should be merged and then discarded. Engagement and communication? Enunication? Communigagement?


I’m expecting some Entrecarders (I know you’re out there) to weigh in on Blogs and Blogging! And I hope Communigagement and the like don’t take off…but if they do, I want credit! Engagication?

Any comments I do get, I’ll aggregate and combine with the conversation with Brendan.