Here is the transcript from the Gnomedex conference where I was doing a PodTech.net InfoTalk Show... Steve is a guru when it comes down to marketing and PR in the blog and podcast scene. Steve is a great guy.
Here's the transcript from my conversation with Steve at Gnomedex...
John Furrier, founder of PodTech.net: Welcome to the PodTech.net InfoTalk Series with Steve Rubel. Very famous marketing expert and great blog Micropersuasions.com. Steve, welcome to the PodCast.
Steve Rubel: Thank you very much.
JF: Steve, you’ve been doing some amazing work in helping companies understand the blogosphere, also a very famous blogger doing a lot of work, now doing PodCasting, we’re doing PodCasts. A lot of companies – public relations firms, marketers – are looking at this digital evolution of content distribution. People are using blogs for marketing. What are you seeing right now with companies, the challenges they’ve had, the things that you’ve learned, that you can share with the folks out there listening.
SR: I think that a lot of companies are… I think that for a while there was an awareness factor – there wasn’t a great awareness of this - it was very concentrated in the tech industry for a while, particularly in 2004. In the beginning of this year started a shift, started to go more mainstream, particularly with moves like GM, with their move getting involved with the blogosphere. There has also been so much press – the Business Week cover story, Fortune had a cover story. There is so much interest in it now, but still not a lot of action yet. But you know what? I think it’s part of a process that has to take place, because this is a very scary thing for a lot of corporations, to say, “Do we really want to be involved in this conversation, or do we just want to listen to it?” Because for years corporations have thrived and lived on the controlled message. We hold on to this for the last moment. We saw that today with Microsoft. I mean, it’s been in the works for a long time and it was held until the last minute.
JF: You refer, obviously, to the fact that we’re at Gnomedex here, time shifted live, and Microsoft just announced their huge support for RSS, handing out great jackets, which, by the way, looks great on you.
SR: Thank you.
JF: How about this control thing, because this is really the big point, because controlled messaging has really been the traditional model for marketing, public relations, messaging. With the blogosphere it’s not a broadcast and reaction, it’s a conversation. So if a company is just listening, what does that buy them? They have to take some actions about sharing, right, isn’t communication important?
SR: Well, at Cooper-Katz, which is my employer, the public relations firm, we have a practice called Micropersuasions now. Funny story how my blog evolved into a whole business for us.
JF: A practice.
SR: It’s been an amazing year. We say that we take a four-fold approach. We tell companies to find their evangelists and vigilantes. They’ve gotta know who’s out there, who the players are, where the power networks are, just know. So, number one is fine. Two: listen. Actively. Really listen to what people are saying, take it seriously. I wrote recently the ten commandments of public relations in the new era, and I forget which commandment it was, but I said, “All creatures, great and small are holy.” So it doesn’t matter if it’s The New York Times that’s calling you, or it’s Hacking NetFlix, who’s a popular blogger, or whoever it is that’s calling you, pay attention to it. So find and listen. Now, listening takes different approaches. It could just be hey, we go and subscribe to feeds, or we have a blog and we’re using it like the IE team is to listen to feedback. The third step is to listen to feedback. And again, that can be a semi-transparent dialogue when you’re emailing with a blogger, again, but the best case is to get out there and have your own blog, and get into the conversation that way.
JF: It’s scary, though, to me, that companies just don’t get the facts of life in the classic off line sense, or in the real world. I mean, people have conversations. If you say something stupid, you’re stupid. You say something good, you’re good. You can’t control what they say.
SR: I get questions all the time: Steve, what’s the risks? And I say the greatest risk to you as a corporation is absence.
SR: So actually I want to just finish the last point that it’s fine to listen and engage. And the last one, and this one is really the golden ring, I think, for companies that choose to grab it, is empower. And what I mean by that, is empower people, and it can be blogging people or just anybody, to do things they may not have accomplished before. And I’ll give you some examples. The State Tourism Board for Pennsylvania – this is actually not one of our projects – but gopa.com. They found four families from across the country, and they sent them on trips around Pennsylvania , and these folks blogged about their experience of the trip. It was authentic, it was real, it was empowering to those people.
JF: It’s like their own Zagat’s Guide.
SR: But it wasn’t controlled. It was empowering in the sense because it empowered people to do something. When I say empowered I mean empowered in the sense of empowering people to be marketers for you.
JF: So, in that case of Pennsylvania, this is a really great topic, they felt confident about their own product, hence their state, that they basically rolled the dice and said we want to send these families out there to report on it.
SR: That’s right.
JF: And if it’s good, then they’ll say good things. So in a way, if you’re good, you shouldn’t be afraid of the blogosphere. So for me, I almost say to marketers, if you’re not participating, you’re scared. And that means are either not good….?
SR: It’s not that black and white…
JF: You’re afraid?
SR: It’s not that black and white, though, I’ll say. In some regards it is, you’re right. Cream is going to rise to the top.
JF: Why not show off your good products?
SR: Why not show off? But you have to… what you’re not accounting for, though, is years of an ingrained process and fear and corporate cultures that are predicated on controlling messages. So, you know, it’s going to take time… You know, when democracy came a long it took a long time to seep in, and it obviously hasn’t reached all corners of the world yet, and that’s, you know…
JF: Well I want to get the voice out through you – you’re doing great work. Can you give me an example of a client you’ve worked with or a case that you’ve seen that is a great success story in terms of how they’re approaching it, whether it’s a product marketing example or a consumer marketing example?
SR: Sure. I’ll give you two, actually, because one we’re going to talk about tomorrow, and that’s why I’m here, and it’s for Weather Bug. Weather Bug is an online service that streams weather to your desktop. Great product. They have 100 broadcast partners around the network they feed their data to, millions of users. But I’ll be frank, very frank: they have an image problem. And their image problem is that people think they are SpyWare users because they made one bad move several years ago that they quickly got out of.
JF: But it tainted them.
SR: It’s hanging around their necks. They now have a blog, and they blog very openly. You know, “Hey, this is who we are, here’s how we got here, and we’re now going to show you that this is not who we are. We are not SpyWare. And what are we doing to show that?” And the blog is helping them do that – they’ve been invited to speak at this conference in front of a very cynical group here. So that’s a success story on one front. Now the other success story that we haven’t quite launched yet, but it’s going to launch next week, is Vespa. Vespa makes these very popular Italian scooters that everyone covets, they run a few thousand dollars. In that case we’re doing a full fine listening engagement on a power program, in the sense that we are taking four people who have blogs, who are Vespa owners, and giving them blogs on the Vespa site. We are not paying them. We are giving them full access, though, and we’re giving them some goodies, and they are going to blog on different subjects. They are very excited about it and we are, too. It’s like a grand experiment.
JF: It’s like a testimonial. I mean, people quote customers all of the time in their literature.
SR: But it’s uncontrolled – we’re letting them go. We’re not telling them: you must blog on these six things a week. Or, you know, here’s your editorial calendar, you know. We’re not doing that. And actually we were very careful to announce this way before we hired the bloggers – well, we didn’t actually hire the bloggers, we recruited them – because we wanted people to know that this was a transparent process. This is not something like we found these bloggers and we’re faking it. Very authentic.
JF: It’s real.
SR: It’s real, and the companies are willing to take a chance and do that because they’re a young company, they’re Italian, they’re not publicly trading here in the U.S. in a very active way, and they can take chances, okay. I don’t know if a big company with 50,000 employees that have lived a certain way -
JF: They may be public, and we can’t say this…
SR: Exactly, which is a law that governs how companies need to communicate. So, they’re able to take that risk. We’re taking on another project: we’re launching another company called Simple Human. They make – get this – they make $200 garbage cans for your home that people can’t get enough of, because they spend a lot of money to remodel their homes and they don’t want just any old Rubbermaid garbage can. They want a very nice, elegant –
JF: They want a high-end garbage can.
SR: A high-end garbage can, and literally the lid will close like a Lexus – it’s very silent, the bag doesn’t show the outside. And if you want any of these home improvement shows you know people go nuts over this stuff.
JF: Yeah, and hauling all this trash to the curb…
SR: Actually this is all on the inside – kitchen garbage cans and other household accessories.
JF: Oh, yeah, yeah.
SR: So they approached us and said, “You know, we want a blog, and we want feedback for our products. We’re going to see product out to bloggers to try and use in their own homes and blog about it.”
JF: Yeah, that’s a good point. I get approached by marketers all the time with this PodCasting show that’s become really popular, and I’m excited by that, but they say, “John, we want to do this. What do we do? What’s the marketing strategy? And we want to do a blog because we know you, John, that you have a blog.” Help me talk about that. What are the major benefits, one, and how do they get started? How should we advise clients, potential customers who are listening, what do they need to do?
SR: I think that they have to study first. I think the risk in not studying is that you can fail miserably, and what does failure mean? Well, failure… Well, you can look at it one way – people don’t read your blog. But that’s not failure to me. Failure to me is you get ridiculed. So I think you need to take it –
JF: You need to take it seriously.
SR: You need to take it seriously and study it, or have your – and I’m biased to the insanest - or have the smarts of some sort of consultants to help you so you can understand and because you can navigate that more quickly and they have the learning and the resources and also the relationships. I mean, blogger relationships are really important, as well.
JF: It’s like a whole new business title.
SR: It is a whole new business title, although I do think that it’s something that, in the end, in the best world, is integrated with PR because it’s another media channel. A very different media channel, but it’s another media channel in the same sense.
JF: We’re on a roll here and I want to talk about a post you wrote which I think is fantastic about the roll of PR. I think that was your post. I think you wrote that – about agencies and PR firms?
SR: Yes, yes.
JF: I’ve met with a variety of PR firms in San Francisco, and I agree with you. I mean, don’t you think this elevates the role of the PR firm? Because now with real time web they have to be more actively engaged and there’s now media buy in the blogosphere.
SR: Well, there is, and there are people like BlogAds, so I think that there is media in the blogosphere, but I think that’s – it’s almost like there’s two different channels there. There is almost like a space race going on with the PR firms and the ad agencies, and the ad agencies are kind of saying hey, and they’re doing more kind of fun stuff – and if they’re events, that works – but in the end, this is a communications vehicle. It’s not uni-directional. It’s bi-directional. And PR is also bi-directional, or multi-directional, if you think about it. It’s client-to-media, media-to-client, it’s public-to-client, it’s public-to-media-to-client.
JF: It’s multi-fold.
SR: Yeah, now that’s the traditional mold. You know when you look at blogs it’s even worse –
JF: It’s more complex.
SR: It’s more complex: it’s even more fragmented. So I think that public relations professionals are in a very good place to grab this ring and run with it, in the sense that we understand, and the best practitioners understand, what makes the public tick, what the public wants, what the company wants, what the media wants, and mesh that all together, and that’s another element to that. Know what bloggers want, know who they are, and why they’re important and take them seriously and figure out, where do you bring them into the process? We have a client, http://www.topics.net a very popular new site. They announced a very big deal with Night Raider and some other newspaper chains and we brought bloggers into the process. Our team briefed the bloggers with the press, and also brought the bloggers into the announcement. We put them on the same plane.
JF: That’s exactly the way it needs to get done, and I think what you’re saying, too, is that with communication, if we talk about PR for a second, back to that, they are experts at communication. The good practitioners, as you said, are seeing these new tools, and it’s a channel, so they – all to them is simply a new way and they have to adjust.
SR: But there’s fear. There’s fear in the sense that these are people who are not trained journalists – some of them are, some of them aren’t – the vast majority are not. This is their night job, or their fun thing, and I think that’s what’s threatening. Because, if a journalist wrongs us, there is recourse. We can write a letter to an editor, we can complain to the editor, we can complain loudly, we can pull advertising in some cases – you know there are many different avenues of recourse and we can get it. With a blogger, we may not get recourse. And I tell people to be very careful emailing bloggers because I do believe that a vast majority of them want to do right, they want to tell the truth. There are some who have agendas. Years ago my mentor taught me a great bit. She said, “Never send an email to any reporter you wouldn’t want in The New York Times on the front page the next day.” So if you’re pissed at a reporter, don’t flame them, because you could end up in the paper the next day.
JF: Great point.
SR: And that is a great point that was made to me over ten years ago. Now I say the same thing but I have a new way to look at it. Never send an email to a blogger that you wouldn’t want stamped on your forehead for the rest of your life because a blogger can do copy-paste-publish with your email and that stuff shows up in Google. You go to get a job, you go to get a girlfriend, whatever, so you need to take the care. But I think with that, “But, what if?” Or it comes down to good people skills. Treat them with respect, listen to what they have to say, take them seriously, listen to what they have to say to you. And it’s a new world that a lot of PR professionals aren’t trained how to manage, and I can’t necessarily say that I’m trained or my team is trained because we learn every day, too, because it changes.
JF: Get started, learn, study, great point. Well, we’re coming up on our maximum segment limit. Steve Rubel, you’ve got a great blog, Micropersuasions, you’re a great practitioner I’ll see in the PR world, and you’re showing a lot of people how to do it, thanks so much for the PodCast!
SR: Thank you for having me!