Social Media Press-Releases – part 2

Earlier I’d written on the social media press release – essentially a site designed as a repository for sharable clips, images and story components that can be used by journalists and bloggers.

A few days ago Maggie Fox released her company’s version, providing details of the internal lay out and the elements that should be included. That engendered quite a bit of insightful discussion (here, and here).

As a template Digital Snippets hit all the right core content notes – it includes extensive RRS feeds for easy dissemination of updated information, and interestingly includes embeddable widgets for the true fans to add to their sites. Each page includes contact information to corporate communication people giving story writers the contacts if they want to expand a story through a specific line of questions.

All this is good – but at I can’t help thinking that while this makes corporate PR more effective – it still treats PR as a separate part of communication strategy – at the very time that consumers are integrating messages where ever they find them – sometimes across brands. Just look at what is happening with Unilever over its AXE and Dove brands. (here and here)

It also doesn’t appear to leverage the knowledge of social media firms to design creative that builds on their understanding of viral transmission and social sharing. While it’s fine to centralize creative developed elsewhere for social media use I believe that the true value will emerge when social media releases can create their own creative to both tell the story and encourage viral spread.

While not developed as PR its hard not to think that creative like the Travelers IQ Challenge developed by Ottawa’s TravelPod (and seen on hundreds of blogs, papers and social network sites) hasn’t been contributed to stories about the company (it has) or driven traffic to both their brands.

It also would be nice to see these sites more fully integrated into the sponsor’s web properties – rather than echoing them as they do now.  Social media sites should also being promoted with conventional promotion techniques.

Finally having real time components such as live conference or video calls included would add to the immediacy of a release and creating urgency around spreading the news.

All of this is to say that by dealing with media releases as system – which the social media release and Digital Snippets does is an important step. The real value though is going to come from building the specific skills of social media experts into corporate communications – and empowering them with the tools and creative to tell the story in new ways and across more platforms.

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Voice Mash-ups – Imagination is the biggest barrier

I’ve been watching the growth of Iotum’s Free Conference calling service because conferencing is the perfect voice service for social media. So it was that last Friday I sat in on Alec Saunders Voice Mash-up conference call (download podcast) to learn where he, and a number of voice evangelists (Thomas Howe, Jim Courtney, Andy Abramson)  think drives voice web integration.  

It was an interesting discussion that got me thinking more about voice as an interface, and mash-ups as a business model.

First voice as an interface is overlooked. The phone is ubiquitous. Everyone knows how to use them – and how to interact with automated voice applications. As well applications like speech recognition (ASR) and Text to Speech (TTS) are robust enough to make voice a reliable option for both control and data delivery for any application. Combine this with web development approaches, which have proven architectures to deliver a seamless user experience by coordinated multiple services and opportunity for new voice applications is apparent.

Still all development depends on having both users and a business case. By using data from multiple sources, delivering them through existing services and by focusing on a relatively small feature set mash-ups make it easy to solve issues that might be ignored with other paradigms.

In a business environment this means it’s possible to eliminate delays, increase efficiency and customer satisfaction by connecting people and information all without worrying about breaching the firewall. It’s meant delivery companies can confirm you’re home even before the truck rolls – saving you the inconvenience of a missed parcel and them the cost. It also means that subjects in a drug trial you can phone information in anytime making reporting both easier and cheaper.

These same approaches can be applied to social sites – linking users anonymously to explore common interests – such as on shopping, dating and fan sites. These services raise the forum (often associated with these sites) to a whole new level because voice adds emotional content that can be misconstrued otherwise.

In all these cases the number of users required to justify deployment are relatively small – because most of the cost of development is the professional services to understand and architect the services that need to be connected. And that gets to the core rub with voice mash-ups – they may provide a lot of business value but no-one is going to get rich developing them.

In large part that’s because mash-up are in my mind the component phase for a new type of voice development. Every technology moves through phases from componentization which flourishes during times of experimentation to vertical integration when costs, reliability or long term ownership issues override. Right now companies and sites need to understand the competitive advantages of using these services, and will not alter their processes much to implement them. That means a component and professional services business model. As soon as the value is proven – and the feature set across an industry understood look for vertically integrated products and services to emerge.

That said now is the ideal time to jump in and experiment because you’ll get a level of service and application exactly tailored to your needs. It’s only the ability to imagine how these services can affect your bottom line that stand between you and a new class of customer engagement tools.

If you’d like to see what people are doing with voice mash-ups drop by Ottawa’s next DemoCamp (http://www.barcamp.org/DemoCampOttawa7) as two of the demos are voice mash-ups, or drop me a line.

Social Media as the new marketing and advertising

On Monday I attended Joseph Thornley’s Ottawa Third Tuesday Social Media Meet-up. As usual it did not disappoint.

Richard Binhammer, Dell’s Senior Manager of Public Affairs took us through the process that took Dell from ‘Dell Hell’ to ’Dell Swell’ and everything in between.. Along the way he provided remarkable insight into the way that social media could change corporate America.

First the background way back in July of 2005 Jeff Jarvis took Dell to task for its customer service – and most importantly not paying attention to what their customers were saying (on blogs)  about their products. 

Now as I’ve commented elsewhere Jeff’s comment was a perfect storm for Dell. An influential and highly media savvy blogger takes the company to task, taps into an underlying sentiment that is accentuated by Google’s page rank algorithm at the time (which favoured blogs) and press coverage of the emerging blog medium which connected with the broader public.  It was impossible to miss – and damaging to Dell.

Fast forward to Mr. Binhammer’s presentation and you’d be forgiven for thinking the pendulum had swung the other way.

Dell now scans blogs for any mention of Dell and swoops in with support if the customer is dissatisfied. It’s got a team of top tier customer support and technical specialists to deal with nothing but blogger complaints. In a sense it’s a re-architected customer support strategy that recognizes the importance of influence on the buying habits of others.

What was most interesting to me is where Dell is taking this. Mr. Binhammer outlined an experimental concierge program to take customer service to a whole new level (for some customers) helping them expand their use of the product and answering all manner of questions related to use (how to up load pictures, choosing photo manipulation software etc). He also talked about Idea Storm – Dells Digg like service to uncover product desires and rank and validate them. He also hinted at custom applications they are developing to better understand how these direct media influence each other and overall buying patterns.

In the end one couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that while Dell misses the importance of social media initially they are at their heart innovators and that these initial forays are part of a larger process that will see a re-alignment of advertising, customer support and market research budgets – with a large proportion shifted to social media interaction and relationship building with thought leaders in targeted segments. 

Possibly this was Jeff’s intention all along – because if anyone was going to lead corporate America into social media it would be Dell.

It would be ok to leave the story there – but it would be wrong because you’re all thinking – well Dell can do it but my company never could because we don’t have those resources’.  Look no further than Alec Saunders excellent post on how he, and his small company, track and influence the issues in their world.

 It’s an inspiration – and an argument to look at how you allocate those budgets.

Social Media Press Releases

Maggie Fox asks whether a site for social media sharing makes a good press release (here). The idea is that making images and video available for sharing enables traditional press and well as bloggers to spread the news – and that is after all the purpose of a press release.

Conceptually it’s a great idea.

What’s needed to make it successful is content that evokes sharing. While it’s possible that that includes traditional marketing materials – too often those tell us the product attributes but don’t engage an emotional reaction.

In the Focus’s case if the one of the attributes is the (optional I’m sure) voice recognition – shoot a custom video that highlights the feature in a way that’s funny or tragic but that tells a story that engages ones emotion – while highlighting the product.  That’s more likely to be shared than an instructional video on the features use.

By way of example my friends at RaceDV have just done a series of in car videos for the North American launch of a performance car. The video speaks directly to the value proposition of the vehicle – performance – and more importantly puts the viewer in the driver’s seat.  After watching the video I expect prospective buyers will be in a quandry – do they take the time to share the video – or just find a dealer.

Same goes for photos. It’s certainly less expensive to re-use the photos shot for the brochure on the web – but one of the things about images is that they tell stories. By the time that someone arrives at a dealership they shouldn’t be bored with the images– but see a fresh story about Fords respect for the car the dealer and the buyer. 

Social media press releases have a much more diverse audience than traditional releases – and the motives for using the material are more diverse. Traditional press, and tier one auto bloggers are at some level interested in advertising – so discontinuities in visual style may not be wanted. The same cannot be said for the blog community below them which may be offering traditional reviews – but more likely is telling a story as they discuss the product.

The idea of making material available for sharing is a good one. Placing it in a site where one can track use and referrers is also good (that’s what Dove did with its Onslaught campaign).

In the end though sharing depends on the story that one can build around the content.

The Psychology of Participation

This slideshow is a good overview of the psychological approaches that apply to the design of social media sites.

At its heart it’s an eloquent argument for building on the millions of hours of social science research to design sites that motivate and engage. It also is chock full of thought provoking insights like the illustration of social engagement tools on an Amazon page or the observation that:

Personal Value Precedes Network (Social) Value!

And that design has to be both personally useful while enhancing ones social status, reputation or knowledge.

It’s a set of themes that I hope to explore during the upcoming BarCampOttawa4 in November.

Onslaught – Dove Evolution Follow-up

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A year after the Evolution Ad was released Dove releases the second installment – Onslaught.

Some interesting features – clickable web link at the end of the movie tied of a social and informational site. That’s great. The link should be more prominent though – and stay on at the end of the video.

There are some things that are different too. They’ve chosen to use a private hosting facility – instead of public site like YouTube or GoogleVideo. Presumably this gives them more information on which sites drive awareness. On the other it will likely slow the embedding as platforms like WordPress are optimized for the former platforms but have a slightly more convoluted method to load video form other sites.

The social / informational site seems active already – and the study – looks interesting.

Personally I’m not sure if the video is as compelling as the Evolution video – but it’s pretty clear that everything else associated with the campaign has gotten a lot more sophisticated. 

Is FaceBook a Gossip?

Yesterday Maggie Fox wrote about FaceBook’s walled garden approach to user data.

Today I fianlly catch up on Alice Taylors wonderful blog – Wonderland and find her linking to an animation on FaceBook’s privacy policy – What Happens in the Facebook …

Both Maggie and “What Happens …” raise interesting questions about who owns our information and what can they do with it.

In a sense social sites become one our friends – and few of us choose to hang around with gossips especially ones that systematically gather, parse and repackage what we think is both ours and semi-private.