The silly season starts
Yes, folks, it's that time of year again: Back to School Season.
This is NOT an excuse for linking any and every product to school-age children. So PR person who was about to press <send> on a mass email to parents... STOP IT! RIGHT NOW! [GO TO YOUR ROOM!]
Re-read your pitch and make sure there really is a link to getting kids ready for back-to-school. And please be age appropriate. I'm still laughing at the one forwarded by a friend today that urged parents to make sure their college-bound kids know how to use their cell phones.
Yes, you read that right. Don't believe me? Here it is:
While I am all for parents discussing safety risks with their children -- including young adults off to college, I don't know a single college-age person who wouldn't be insulted being referred to as a child. I'm insulted on their behalf just reading this pitch.
And of course, as my friend wrote when she forwarded the pitch, eight-year olds know how to use cell phones. The idea that an 18-year old needs help using one is just bizarre.
The other two points are more relevant to the young adult away at school for the first time, but that brings up the other problem with this pitch, all of which I've included above except the signoff with the rep's phone number.
It's a stealth pitch. I've written about this before, but your pitch should always be clear about who and what you represent. Hiding the client, not being clear about your agenda is dishonest. Don't do it.
Another form of stealth pitch is the fake comment or user testimonial. This tactic is often referred to as astroturfing. On consumer sites, it typically takes the form of a glowing testimonial, purportedly from a happy customer. How can you spot this? Look for the message points. Most people don't write that way. PR people do. As the saying goes, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...
It is perfectly okay to leave a comment about a product if it is in direct response to a query and you clearly identify your interest. It is not okay to hide your interest or leave unsolicited pitches in the comments on a blog. If you think the blogger might be interested in your product, service or idea, send an email first.
Honesty really is the best policy.
UPDATE 8/19: As some of you know, I used to work for an Internet filtering company. It turns out that the PR agency that sent the stealth pitch I commented on above represents a company that recently acquired one of the brands I worked for. I discovered this fact when my friend forwarded me another pitch she received today from the same rep that did name the product. While strictly speaking, I was never an employee of this new company, I do have a general policy of not commenting on former employers, and this is close enough for me. I also have a soft spot for this brand, since it was my baby for a very long time, and would never criticize it publicly. But in a roundabout way, I did.
Stealth pitching is a BAD idea. Don't do it.
Tags: blogger relations
Cleaning out the cupboards
I really do have some awesome posts planned, just no time to write this week. So instead, I thought I'd clean out my virtual cupboards of some goodies for you. Don't look for a theme, these truly are "small pieces very loosely joined" (nod to David Weinberger.)
First, some science fiction. Torchwood begins its second season on 1/26 on BBC America, and a few more trailers have surfaced. Official trailer. Two scenes from the first episode. Warning: As Twitter pal Dave Parmet and I discussed yesterday, Torchwood is DoctorWho with the naughty bits (his words) and without the most annoying David Tennant (mine). In other words, expect to see some adult relationships of all sorts in the show. And on these clips.
Battlestar Galactica is (finally) due back in April, and spoilery bits are starting to surface on YouTube. Here's the latest one.
Now, unfortunately, I will not be able to watch Torchwood on the 26th because I will be at the Sundance Film Festival. Tough break, huh. I'll have more information for you on Monday, but the short version is, I have a new client who is premiering a film during the Festival and I will be going out for the launch party on January 25th.
Speaking of Sundance, be sure to check out HP's Backstage At Sundance blog. Longtime readers will recall that I helped develop this blog two years ago. Last year, they started featuring videos of impromptu performances by musicians attending the festival, a tradition I believe they plan to continue this year.
BlogHer Business and New Comm Forum are both fast approaching. At BlogHer, I will be speaking, including a case study from a client project. More on that when the agenda is published. At New Comm Forum, I will be moderating an "Alumni" Panel during lunch on the first day. We are inviting attendees from previous years to share a social media/ new communications project or campaign that applied the knowledge they acquired at New Comm Forum. The criteria are pretty simple:
- you attended a previous New Comm Forum;
- your project was done sometime in the past 18 months and you are free to share information about it;
- you've never spoken at a previous New Comm Forum.
If this sounds like you, contact me at email@example.com or twitter.com/sgetgood.
Finally, colleague and friend Kami Watson Huyse has a great post today -- an interview with John "Pat" Philbin, the senior communications person who took the heat for FEMA's fake press conference last fall. You can read it on her blog or listen to the full interview at For Immediate Release.
My virtual cupboard is now pretty bare. Meatier posts next week. Promise!
A new low for the email scammers
Well, it looks like the email scammers have moved on from dead Nigerian dictators to dead Iraqi ones. From today's inbox:
Good day. My name is XXXXX XXXXXXX, I am with the US amry and I am serving in the military of the 1st Armored Division in Iraq. my partner and I moved funds belonging to Saddam Hussein, the total is $25,000,000.00 (Twenty Five million US dollars) this money is being kept safe. Click on this link to read about events that took place here
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2988455.stm [link deactivated]
Basically since we are working for the American government we cannot keep these funds, but we want to transfer and move the funds to you, so that you can keep it for us in your safe account or an offshore account.
We will divide the total funds in three ways, since we are 2 that is involved.
This means that you will take 30%, I will take 30%, and my partner will take 30%. 10% will be kept aside for expenses.
This business is confidential, and it should not be discussed with anyone. There is no risk involved whatsoever. If you are interested I will send you the full details, my job is to find a good partner that we can trust and that will assist us.
Can I trust you? When you receive this letter, kindly send me an e-mail signifying your interest including your most.
confidential telephone/fax numbers for quick communication, also our contact details. This business is risk free.
Awaiting your prompt reply urgently.
Miss Xxxxx Xxxxxxx
Tags: email scams
Social Media Club Boston: Fake Steve, Wal-Mart and Forrester Research
Moderator Monika Maeckle, VP Southwest Region, Business Wire (sponsor of the evening) A delightful and charming woman who did a great job moving the conversation along, involving the audience, but never losing control of the session.
And the esteemed panel:
As John Cass reported, Dan Lyons was the hit of the evening. Some of his bon mots:
On his Attack of the Blogs article: "I wished I had a do-over."
On Valleywag: "Valleywag sucks."
As John reported in his post, Dan said many people knew who FSJ was well before the New York Times exposed the secret. In a brief conversation after the panel, Dan said he was impressed that they were all able to keep the secret. He said a few of them even helped mess with Valleywag on who FSJ was. Gotta love it. Unless you are Owen Thomas I suppose.
Josh Bernoff was polished and articulate. I really liked his comment that starting a "social media" project by picking a technology is ass-backward. The POST model he shared really resonated:
First: PROFILE your customer.
Second: Define your OBJECTIVES.
Third: Develop a STRATEGY -- how do you want to change people
Then, and only then, decide on the TECHNOLOGY.
Another great quote from Josh: "Only one group of people that this (social media) is really bad for -- liars."
Steve Restivo from Wal-Mart did a great job representing his company, although it was clear that he was constrained by a corporate role, unlike the other panelists, who are encouraged (and compensated I am sure) to have strong public personas. Nevertheless I was impressed by both his acknowledgment of past mistakes like RV-ing Across America and his frank statement that competitor Target does a great job online.
The Social Media Club has chapters in a number of cities; check it out. And if you are in Boston, see you next time.
Not So Random Observations: Nikon and alli
I've been thinking quite a bit about Nikon and alli. Not because I am considering becoming a customer of either because, in order, not now and not likely.
Because the blog campaigns of both have taken a few hits lately. Some deserved and some not so.
Let's start with Nikon, which loaned expensive digital SLR cameras to about 50 marketing and PR bloggers this spring. No obligation to write, and a promise of a discount if they decided to keep the camera after the review period. Doesn't sound like a bad program, does it? Seems to respect the bloggers. Not that different from other sampling programs the company has done.
Many bloggers, myself included, didn't have any major problems with the campaign. The outreach was well within recommended guidelines, and the recipients of the loaner cameras all disclosed their participation in everything they wrote about the camera.
Well, Chicken Little, get out of the way and NEVER underestimate our collective ability to navel gaze. In the eyes of some marketing bloggers, there were serious flaws with the program, and recipients of the loaners couldn't be objective about the program, let alone the camera. [Note: I am not a camera recipient.]
Did the value of the camera, far more than the usual product sample, create the problem? Perhaps, but readers are smart enough to filter what they read, provided there is full disclosure. Which there was.
Another criticism was that the 50 or so chosen participants were people with whom Nikon's agency already had relationships. Uhmm. This is one of the key recommendations we make in blogger relations -- know your customers. If marketing types are likely prospects for a product, which in this case they are, why shouldn't you reach out to them? If your goal is to get people talking about your product, why wouldn't you select a group that would be highly likely to try the camera and then tell others?
Some bloggers felt strongly that blogger relations programs should always benefit the larger community, not just those selected to participate. They asked, how does giving cameras to some benefit all? This is a lovely thought, but not terribly practical, and not really necessary. We cannot expect every outreach, from every company, to benefit every member of the community. It's nice when they do, and I am a firm believer in companies giving back. But sometimes, they just want a little talk about their products, so they reach out to influencers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The one thing I would fault Nikon on is not getting more involved with the people trying the camera. Hands off is one thing. No engagement is another. If the recipients are part of a community you want to reach, you ought to at least talk with them....Doesn't have to be a focus group or even structured feedback. I'd also like to see the company do some sampling programs with other bloggers that would be equally interested in Nikon cameras. Not just this group of marketers.
But these are quibbles. Overall, I still put the Nikon campaign into the "good" column.
Was asking for comments wrong? Maybe. But that's not what I want to talk about, and that horse is pretty dead anyway.
It was the wrong question. The right question, as I left in a comment on Debbie's blog, was Why wasn't the blog getting comments? If Debbie had asked this question, the response would have been far different.
I don't think the alli blog and bloggers are fake in their concern or desire to help people lose weight. Sure, they have commercial imperatives, but they really seem to believe in their product. So why no comments?
Quite literally, because nobody wants to talk about this shit.
I commend the folks at GSK for their frankness about the side effects of alli. But, let's face it, how many people want to read about "treatment effects?" Or write about their own, assuming that is even allowed. When we keep reading about how potential employers are googling us to find out about our pasts, who would want to admit that they depend on Depends?
The problem with the alli blog, and the conversation or lack thereof, is that it focuses on the product, not on people. And that's the wrong focus.
People may consider taking this drug, but not because they want to be alli users. Not because there is any cachet in being an alli user. I think we are all quite clear on that. They'll consider this drug because they want to lose weight and other alternatives either haven't worked or don't appeal.
That's your community: people who want to lose weight. So if you want to serve the community, you provide information and resources that meet the needs of the community. Sure, you can provide information on your product. It would be silly not to. But everything can't be branded, sanitized, corporate-approved alli content. That's a bit dull. And doesn't inspire comments.
So let me step into my monday-morning-quarterback chair and share some thoughts on what I think might work better. And perhaps start a little conversation.
A big part of the alli message is that you have to change your lifestyle, not just pop a pill. Exercise more. Eat better. So, find some experts, preferably people who are already blogging on these topics, and ask them to write for you. Find a food blogger who writes about low fat cooking and ask her to write a food column. I am certain that a major worry for many considering alli is how they can continue to eat well with their families. Offer a recipe makeover that takes a family favorite down to reasonable fat levels.
In other words, give back to the community before you ask them to buy from you. And make sure that what you are offering is useful whether a person ever takes the drug or not.
Link out to other reputable weight loss sites and resources. Do you run the risk that the dieter might go with South Beach instead of alli? Sure, but you run that risk anyway. By being open, by providing access to alternatives, you move away from simply being a corporate product site to becoming a real resource for the community.
And that's how you become part of the community.
Now, a company, GSK or any other, doesn't have to do any of this. In which case, I'm not sure it really needs a blog.
If all you want to do is push information out, stick to a Web site. Nobody really expects to talk to you there.
The Bad Blogger Relations Game
Regular readers of this blog will recall my April 24 post in which I promised to start "outing" bad blogger relations practitioners using a simple metric.
After May 1st, once I have been spammed three times by the same PR spammer, I will share information about it on this blog. My own small version of the Bad Pitch Blog.
The good news: So far nobody has qualified for this dubious honor.
The bad news: Two firms that have spammed me many times in the life of this blog have indeed sent one spam each since May 1. And I've received a few more from new folks.
So stay tuned. At this rate we should be naming names by the end of June....
Badges, get your badges
Be sure to get yours today.
On badges for blogs
I was going to write this post last week, but ran out of time before the holiday weekend. And today, thanks to today's page one NY Times story, A Call for Manners in the World of Nasty Blogs, it is even more relevant.
Synopsis of the situation, and do read the article: following the Kathy Sierra/meankids situation, Tim O'Reilly called for a code of blogger conduct. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales also stepped in. Currently on the "table" is a loose proposal for a universal but voluntary blogger code of conduct with various levels and badges that folks can place on their sites to indicate what sort of policies their blog/site allows. The proposed code is based on the code of ethics established by the BlogHer network, and there is a great picture of BlogHer founders Jory Des Jardins, Lisa Stone and Elisa Camahort in the article.
From the NYT article:
"Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Wales talk about creating several sets of guidelines for conduct and seals of approval represented by logos. For example, anonymous writing might be acceptable in one set; in another, it would be discouraged. Under a third set of guidelines, bloggers would pledge to get a second source for any gossip or breaking news they write about.
Bloggers could then pick a set of principles and post the corresponding badge on their page, to indicate to readers what kind of behavior and dialogue they will engage in and tolerate. The whole system would be voluntary, relying on the community to police itself."
"Most are common-sense items about removing abusive comments, not baiting the trolls, not publishing anything you wouldn’t say in person, etc. leaving the level of tolerance to individual bloggers. But one suggestion is disturbing: creating some “easily deployed badges pointing to a common set of guidelines.”
She goes on to describe the slippery slope of censorship that such a system of badges might provoke, and while agreeing with the concept of guidelines, she flat out rejects the idea of the badges.
I agree. A Code of Ethics on a blog is a great idea. And this is certainly not the first time that the topic has been raised in the blogosphere. I wrote mine in September 2005.
A community like BlogHer is well advised to have guidelines that match its ethos. It is what the members expect.
But... badges are a bad idea. The Internet is not a single community.
I don't know how you can come up with a set of badges, or labels, that really works. You either have to operate at a gross, overly broad level or get so specific that the thing gets big and complicated. Unusable either way.
Who is in charge? The idea of the collective exercising its power to create a democratic labeling system that can guide our blog reading choices to those that share our values sounds good. Doesn't work. Human nature suggests that some groups, some ratings, some badges become somehow "better" than others.
And the most damaging potential consequence. The label, or its absence, becomes more important than the content itself.
Sure, it will have been our choice, but we are just as likely to end up on Animal Farm as in the utopia we imagined.
So, post your code of ethics. Commit to a more civil level of discourse. Use a little more deliberation in response. Stop blogwars and flamewars by thinking first, writing second, and taking it offline if necessary. It's as simple as when you see the tinder crackling, don't throw another match on the fire. Don't be a bully.
But "Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!"
UPDATE 4/10: Apparently folks have gotten confused about BlogHer's role in this push for a blogger's code of conduct. No doubt because the NYT story was about Tim O'Reilly and Jimmy Wales, but featured a photo of the BlogHer founders. The short answer is: it doesn't have one. The BlogHer guidelines were used as a model by O'Reilly and Wales, but BlogHer is not involved in the effort at all. Read more at Elisa Camahort's Worker Bees blog.
Pay Per Post now requires disclosure
BIG NEWS <snark> from Pay Per Post today. It now requires disclosure by participants that the postings are sponsored postings.
Umm, that's great, but how come that wasn't in place from the beginning?
I still do not think this is a good alternative to an ongoing blogger relations program. It might be a useful supplement, but it cannot replace something that comes from the heart or the mind, not the pocketbook.
Disclosure notice: This post is sponsored by nobody.
The Ethics Lesson from the Wal-Mart/Edelman flog fiasco
You know, we all learned pretty much everything we need to know to avoid a similar ethical foul up by the time we reached first grade.
Tell the truth.
And here's the truth. The failure in the Wal-Mart Edelman fiasco wasn't simply a lack of understanding of how blogs and social media worked. That may have been part of it, but it wasn't the root problem.
It was an ethical failure, full stop.
Here's the lesson, and let's be crystal clear. It is not okay to cloak your interests or advocate without honesty. Sure, people do it all the time. We call them liars. It doesn't matter whether it is explicit or by omission. It is still a lie.
And here's the other part of today's lesson: this mess does not mean that companies shouldn't blog, or sponsor blogs, or reach out to bloggers. The Wal-Gate mess was a lapse of ethics, not an indictment of social media. Social media can be excellent vehicles for reaching out to and talking with customers, but we have to do it honestly. Your customer knows you have an agenda. EVERYONE has an agenda of some sort. Be honest about your goals, disclose your interests, tell the truth,
It may not set you free, but when you tell the truth, you don't have to remember what you told the last person.
Words to live by.
Bye the bye, the latest word from Edelman on this --
He recently gave an interview to IT World (Japan). When asked what happened, he says: "We were insufficiently transparent about the identity of one of the two bloggers who went on that RV tour. And in a certain way, it's not a failure of new media; it was a failure in all media. Which is to say, if they were talking to you in your IDG mainstream media hat, you would want to know the name of the spokesperson and what his background was and what his credentials were and we failed that basic test." He goes on to once again accept full responsibility as the boss and reiterate what they intend to do to prevent future occurences. I wish them luck. Thanks to Shel Holtz for the link.
UPDATE 11/3/06: Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) puts Edelman membership under 90-day review. See also WOMMA's 20 Ethics Questions and discussion draft of guidelines for contacting bloggers.