Thursday, May 23, 2013

How Twitter transformed customer service

Technology support is notorious for its poor quality. Early on in the history of the Internet management decided that customer relations was not a core function of a company and that it could be outsourced. The consequence of this was that customer service was reduced to statistics, how many calls were handled and how quickly were issues resolved. Much hung upon the definition of resolved.

Whether technical support of billing issues, customers were confronted with telephone trees that were as time consuming as they were confusing. Technical support became the subject of bitter humor. Everybody knew it was bad, but since everyone had horrible customer support companies could get away with it.

Until Twitter.

All of a sudden your company's horrible customer service became a public embarrassment. At first PR people where hired to handle customer service issues on Twitter, until companies figured out that Twitter had to be integrated into their customer service response.

But what companies have still failed to comprehend is that customer service is a core function of any company. Customer service is public relations, it is how your company relates to the public and how the public experiences your brand. If customer service is poor your brand suffers.

When your company outsources customer service, and makes clear that customer service is a dead end job for employees with no future in the company, you are saying that customers are not important. The larger implications of Twitter customer service issues have yet to be understood.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Behind the scenes at Metro Connection

May's NetSquared meeting was a behind the scenes look at WAMU's Metro Connecton. Producer Tara Boyle and host Rebecca Sheir explained how they and their team of freelance reporters put together they show. A theme is chosen and they work up a series of stories connected to that theme.

For sources they use the Public Insight Network, a database of individuals who are available to be sources. Anyone can list themselves. In the past they have used sources like Help A Reporter Out, but found it unwieldy. As a flack, I too have found it unwieldy.

They also spoke about their use of their website and social media. Their website has evolved and continues to do so. They now want it to be a news source as well as hosting a mix of audio, text, and videos. While most of their audience continues to be on the air, they are pleased with the growth of their online audience. They have a Facebook page and a Twitter feed. It seems that the Facebook page is more for audience engagement while Twitter is also used for research and identifying possible sources. Sheir described Twitter as more diverse because it is all public. She noted with some displeasure that Facebook wants you to pay just to reach out to your subscribers. I share her displeasure.

Edit -
Joe Logon writes his account of the evening: So That's What They Look Like: Behind the Scenes of WAMU's Metro Connection (NetSquared DC Meetup)

Elijah's blog at NetSquared

Thursday, May 16, 2013

To Facebook or not to Facebook

Judging from the results of my survey every business should be on Facebook. It is by far the largest social network. So why do I continue to stay away from Facebook except for personal use? I just don't think that it is the correct venue. Selling software on Facebook would be a little like selling software at the dog park. The decision makers may all be there, but the atmosphere just is not right.

Not a single respondent named Facebook as a source of tech news, while both Twitter and LinkedIn were. This reflects my own view that business conversations take place on Twitter and LinkedIn, not Facebook.

If you are a politician, celebrity, or non-profit, you do need to be on Facebook. People like to discuss and promote their favorite causes on Facebook. The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center is a great example of the effective use of Facebook by a non-profit. Gorgeous pictures of wildflowers help promote the use of native species of plants.

The other problem with Facebook is that they want you to pay for access to your subscribers. It is not enough that users subscribe to your feed, Facebook has a weird algorithm that determines what users actually see. In order to get past that algorithm, you have to pay. That might be worth it for a non-profit or politician, but not a technology company. You are better off using Twitter and LinkedIn to push out content.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Survey Results: What Tech Washington Reads

Given the small number of responses (fewer than 50), I cannot regard my survey as statistically significant. Having said that, the results are not without interest.

Most of the respondents were commercial sector, only one civil servant, a retired civil servant, a writer, a political activist, and two journalists. This is not surprising given that I aimed the survey at small entrepreneurs.

By far the most popular source of tech news is corporate web sites. This is in line with previous surveys and is a result that never ceases to amaze me. Clearly it behooves companies to pay attention to their website as people look to it as their preferred source of news. Close behind is the Google News Alert. Clearly everyone is their own executive editor. Subject matter rules, if you have the correct key words in your copy, you will get the traffic. We pay attention to SEO for a reason.

The remaining preferred sources of news, in descending order:
Federal Computer Week
New York Times
Wall Street Journal
Government Computer News
Wired Magazine
Washington Post
USA Today
Government Technology Magazine
Federal Times
CIO Magazine
Google Tech News
PC Magazine
The Economist
Washington Business Journal
Financial Times
Public CIO
Defense News
MIT Tech Review
CNN Tech
Inc Magazine
The Pew Internet & American Life Project
Potomac Tech Wire
PC World
Amtower Federal Direct
Dorobek Insider
Corporate Press Releases

I also asked respondents to volunteer other sources of news which I had not listed and received the following replies:
Industry Analyst
The Verge, Ars Technica, Twitter
Too many left off the list to specify here. Essentially, the list needs to be upgraded to include many more web-based sources. For me, as a developer, Smashing Magazine would rank high on the list.
And finally:
None of the above, they are useless for my business. I had to create custom Google Alerts, and even those miss the mark. Creative Cow,, Redshark News, the NAB show, and newsletters from various sites with products I am interested in.

I always find the "other" responses the most useful in my work as a PR practitioner. 

No surprises in the section on favorite business and tech blogs, Slashdot and Tech Crunch were the overwhelming favorites. Other favorites in descending order:
Ars Technica
Tech Dirt
Boing Boing
Read/Write Web
Joel on Software
None - that is don't read blogs
CMS Wire
Schneier on Security
Coding Horror
and, pleasantly enough, one respondent reads Presto Vivace Blog
Other blogs that were mentioned:
Bill Salm, Gizmodo, and Hacker News (YC)

I just put a space for respondents to lists their favorite business and technology podcasts, as I don't listen to podcasts. Responses included CNN, Paul Castain, and In Beta. One respondent said, "Those related to tutorials for the software that I use, but even those are rare. Podcasts are otherwise a waste of time, since you can't "speed read" and skip the jabber fluff, ads and jingles, or go straight to what you want to know very easily. News podcasts are too long, with too many stories. Each story should be a single file, so we can cut to the chase what we want to know without having to waste with the useless stuff."

Most respondents don't like aggregators, None was the most popular response, closely followed by Reddit. Clearly Reddit has arrived. PR practitioners must pay attention to Reddit, but be very careful. I am going to write a post about how to handle Reddit. The other poplar aggregators in descending order:
The Federal Contractor Network
In "other", I received the following responses:
and "More time wasting fluff sites."

Facebook is by far the most popular social network. Although, had I included LinkedIn as a choice it might have been the favorite. As it is, it was volunteered by two respondents, and mentioned in the "other" choice throughout this survey. LinkedIn is the community where people talk about their work. Govloop the other network marked by respondents.

In discussion groups by far the most popular choice was None. However, in the "other" section respondents mentioned P4hotel, LinkedIn, XML-Dev XSLT DITA, "Yahoogroups for specific industry issues and software" and, "LinkedIn and Ohio University/Vanderbilt University alumni discussion groups."

The biggest change from previous years is the shift away from the Washington Post. Now that Rob Pegoraro and other reporters have left, their readers have moved to other sources of tech news.

There were far too few respondents for this survey to be statistically significant. Some news sites are conspicuous by their absence in the responses. The only thing I would read into that is that this survey had too small a sample to be considered as serious market research. But it is not without interest.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

What Washington reads, preliminary survey results

I am still collecting responses to my survey of What Tech Washington Reads; but I thought that one response was worth sharing. I asked which social networks respondents preferred, Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus (I foolishly left out LinkedIn). One responded thus:

All the above have been taken over by ads and internet marketers. They are no longer social sites, but anti-social ad networks. Farcebook is the biggest farce of the bunch with impossible clutter to wade through, and Twitter is stuffed with compulsive twits. No thanks!
Clearly it behooves marketers to tread lightly. I am still collecting responses, you can participate here.

Monday, May 06, 2013

What is the best source of tech news?

Every year Presto Vivace conducts a survey of local technology entrepreneurs about their preferred source of technology news. The results of this survey will be posted on this blog.. This survey is not just helpful to me, but to the entire community in understanding where the technology conversation is taking place.

Here is a link to the survey: What Tech Washington Reads

Thanks for your participation!

Friday, May 03, 2013

How to creat viral content for social media

Judging from my Facebook feed, the chances of a business creating viral content are not good. People are interested in promoting their causes, political, social, cultural, and religious. They are not interested in promoting brands.

It is far more realistic to use your social channels, Facebook, YouTube, etc., as a way to strengthen existing relationships and give prospects a low pressure way to get to know you. You want your social media campaign to help with customer retention and lead generation. If you achieve these goals you have succeeded.

However, if you are determined to see your content on the front page of the Intenet as it were, there are ways to increase the possibility of that happening; go cute, go for humor, or go for inspiration.

 Adopting a cute mascot is a great way to gain attention, the Linux Penguin is an excellent example of this. Stay away from the obscure and difficult to pronounce. Free software's Gnu has never had the same box office appeal.

Humor is an excellent way to get attention, if you remember the golden rule of humor: good humor invites people in. It is good to laugh at yourself; it is never acceptable to laugh at others. Leave that to comedians and cartoonists. The classic Joe Izuzu commercial poked fun at the exaggerated claims of car salesmen while at the same time communicating that Izuzu offers excellent value for the price.

Inspiration is a great approach if you can get it right. Avoid empty inspirational proverbs that can make you look presumptuous and ridiculous. The recent Dove real beauty ad is an excellent example of appealing to inspiration. The commercial says that women are more beautiful than they give themselves credit for, which is a wonderful message. This commercial has over two million views on YouTube, an outstanding success.

It is better to set realistic goals for your social media campaign to build community and generate leads. But it is possible to create a viral campaign.

You can't manufacture back links

Recently, this blogger has received requests to run guest posts. Clearly, marketers have read all the SEO literature, attended the webinars, gone to the conferences, and are ready to manufacture back links. I don't think this is possible.

None of the blogs I read, and I read a great many, have guest posts. This indicates to me that bloggers are not interested in running guest posts. There are online publications that consist entirely of marketer's donated work. I am not enthusiastic about these. I am also concerned that Google's new algorithm will punish promiscuous back links.

When SEO advice contradicts your experience of the web, trust your experience.

There is a way to drive traffic to your site, buy it. You can purchase online advertising at the news publication  your prospects read. If you don't know what they read, ask them. Send out a survey. A survey is a great way to learn more about your customers and prospects. People like it when you ask for their opinion.

You could purchase a sponsored link on the homepage of their user group or trade association. That way you could get their attention in a way that builds community.

Or if cash flow is a problem, you could purchase a sponsored link at Reddit for as little as $20.

Advertising is SEO neutral, but it drives traffic to your site and generates leads, and that was the object wasn't it?

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Twitter is the new RSS

Gone are the days when we eagerly read each others blogs. People, at least tech people in the Potomac area, seem more focused in their reading. Twitter appears to be where engagement is taking place.

Subscribing to someone's twitter feed is such a tiny commitment that people are more likely to make it. Therefore, a Twitter account becomes a crucial tool for engaging prospects and building community. Use your Twitter account to promote your blog posts and other content.

Twitter is the online version of the pre-meeting social. It is a chance to meet people in a relaxed setting. Your Twitter content should mirror your pre-meeting chatter; it is OK to complain about the traffic, but you want to maintain a professional tone.

I like agricultural metaphors, and if you think of blog posts as seeds, then Twitter is the watering can.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Media relations in hard times

Rob Pegoraro has heard about a disturbing trend:
I learned a few things, none more disturbing than this: That some journalists--mostly tech freelancers, I was told--now regularly ask publicists to tweet out links to their work, noting that they get paid by how much traffic their stories generate.
Not a proud moment for the reporter, but as Pegoraro suggests, perfectly predictable. For the record, no one has asked me to do this.

A healthy news industry is in the interest of flacks. Therefore, we would be well advised to promote links to reporters in our respective fields whether or not they have written favorably about our clients. At a time when more and more positions are being cut, it is in our interest to demonstrate the news value of our practice area by driving up traffic to those stories.

And let us be realistic, reporters and editors are human. They are far more likely to open the email from someone who consistently promotes their work.

However, the practice of paying reporters based on page views is a poisonous one. It is not simply that the skills of reporting a story are different from the skills of promotion. It is only a question of time before some PR firm writes a bot that will artificially boost page views. It would work like a slow motion denial of service attack, boosting pages views without crashing the server. Measuring reporters by page views is simply asking for trouble.