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Technology PR for $100/month Part III – aka Put Your PR Firm on Sabbatical

December 20th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted in Product Management, Social Media

In Part I of this series we shared one of the better primers on social media so that you could develop a basic understanding and vocabulary.  According to this Google search there are over 594,000 social media primers on the Web right now so just about anyone can get a good, quick education.  In Part II we had a little fun recounting the 20 signs you don’t want that social media project” as well as the famous article by SpatiallyRelevant on MBIFM (Management by In-Flight Magazine.)

In this third post we’ll actually talk about something pragmatic.  The first thing you should do on any social media initiative is put your PR firm on sabbatical for at least as long as Chrysler and Cerberus Capital Management have put their workers on sabbatical

If you are a technology firm generating less than $200 million in revenue a year you are probably using at least one or potentially more PR firms.  Odds are that you are dissatisfied with the firm and the investment you make in their services every month.  While this is not a universal condition – there are many companies that are getting tremendous value from their PR investments – the vast majority of companies are not.  Over the past 11 years I have done a lot of merger and acquisitions work.  I’ve had the chance to engage and evaluate over 300 companies.  Out of those 300 companies I can recall precisely 4 that had a PR program that worked.  I’m willing to bet that your company is like the other 296 in my sample set.

When it comes to launching a social media program many CEOs, CMOs or SVPs of Marketing turn to their PR firm and say “GMOOT” (Get Me One of Those).  What these executives should be doing is telling their PR firms to take a hike for a while.  If the PR firm had not been prescient enough to present a credible social media program to your firm by now, the likelihood that they are going to do a good job now is pretty slim.  PR Firms sometimes can be excellent enablers – and not in a positive sense.  They can insulate your internal marketing and sales people from having to be responsible for understanding the dynamics of your firm’s customers, prospects, and most importantly buyers.  Many technology companies simply outsource building relationships and communicating with participants in their ecosystem (customers, prospects, partners, media influencers, journalists, analysts, etc.) to their PR firm.  When your company does not get the press or buzz you legitimately feel you are entitled to the natural reaction is to blame it on the PR firm.  How many times does a technology company change their PR firm when a new marketing leader arrives on the scene?  It’s almost a 95%+ certainty to occur.

Highly effective social media programs are predicated on the development, evolution, and support of a community.  This community contains your employees, customers, prospects, buyers, partners, suppliers, industry analysts, traditional and new media influencers, and even your competitors.  Yet if you were to ask your PR firm to produce a set of demographic profiles for your firm’s new social media community the first thing they would probably do is call up your marketing team and say “Can we have a meeting to go over your customer and market profile again?”

So a logical first step in a new social media program would be to make your marketing and sales resources directly accountable for understanding who these people are, what are their likes and dislikes, where do they live, what media sources do they regularly read and trust, what Web 2.0 technologies do they use or have an interest in, etc.  Building a set of demographic profiles is critical and is not something you should ever outsource to a third party.  If your firm’s own marketing and sales team cannot do it then who do you think ever could?

Here’s a seven step action plan that can be completed in six weeks for you to consider:

  1. Put Your PR firm on Sabbatical for Six Weeks. Just like Chrysler/Cerberus is doing to their workers put your not-quite-100%-effective PR firm on leave for six weeks while you execute the rest of this program. In the worst case you’ll miss out on six weeks of average performance. In the best case you might actually end up with a viable social media program that can help grow your business.
  2. Form a Six Person Internal Team. This team should include two marketing people, two sales people, one from customer support/service, and one from I.T. The I.T. person needs to be technical and have the ability to support the team’s overall development and use of technology (more on that later). It is important to have a cross organization feel to this team as well as people that actually have experience engaging with customers, buyers, partners, etc. The formal ‘marketing’ resources should always be less than one third of team. Pick some up and comers with great attitudes and potential. Keep anyone with a title of director, senior director, vice president or CxO off of the team. Ideally this team should report to the CEO or COO for the duration of the project to ensure that whatever messages come out of this exercise go right to the top and don’t get ‘filtered’ by some other executive that has a vested interest in defending the status quo.
  3. Get Educated. Social media is not rocket science – anyone can learn it and apply it successfully in their world. As noted earlier in this post Google alone cites 594,000+ primers on social media. The team should spend a few days reviewing the materials and perhaps talking with a few of the authors. A Google search for “Social Media Gurus” returns 3.8 million results – I am sure you can find a few folks in your own town that would be glad to share a cup of coffee or let you buy them lunch. Just remember not to fall under the spell of any particular guru – the whole point of this exercise is for your team to become the experts and not to outsource that responsibility to someone else. The ‘education process’ should take no more than a week.
  4. Get Some Experience. Once the team has a basic education under their belt they should get some practical experience in using social media technologies. This is not a pilot or a prototype – it is simply an exercise to build a deeper understanding of social media technologies. The team should create a blog-centric website. For less than $100 you can build an extremely modern and sophisticated website and blog using WordPress and WordPress Themes. You would be amazed at what a non-technical person can produce in an afternoon. The team should blog about their project and activities. Additionally the team should establish identities and practice using some of the most common social media technologies – Twitter, del.icio.us, Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg, Flickr, SlideShare, etc. Once again the team’s social media activities should not be focused on your company – instead this is just a learning experience that will be used later when you launch your formal social media program. Again, this ‘Experience’ process should take no more than a week.
  5. Engage With Your Company’s ‘Ecosystem’. This is the most important part of this initial project. Your project team should go out and engage with as many employees, customers, prospects, buyers, partners, media influencers as possible. The objective of these discussions is to learn as much as possible about each member in your company’s ecosystem so that later the team can build accurate and comprehensive demographic profiles. What are their backgrounds?, what do they do for a living?, how do they use the web?, what things on the web do they read regularly? How do they find things on the web?, what challenges do they have in today’s economy?, what opportunities do they see?, do they use any social media technologies today on either a personal or professional basis? The goal is to have as many discussions as possible. An aggressive, but realistic goal is to have 500 discussions over a three week period. These discussions can be email based or they could be on the phone or even in person. It is extremely important to emphasize that this is NOT a sales or marketing project – you are not trying to generate leads or seed messages into the marketplace. Instead you are simply trying to learn about the people in your company’s ecosystem.
  6. Build Demographic Profiles. The next step in the project is to analyze the information gathered during your discussions and develop a set of demographic profiles of the members of your company’s ecosystem. This is one part of the project where the marketing team members should take the lead. Demographic profiling is a core part of every college Marketing B.A. and MBA program. If your marketing people can’t do this then you need to get some new marketing people. The demographic profiles will be the foundation of your formal social media program. They will describe, in precise detail, the characteristics, interests, and behaviors of people you want to attract to your social media endeavors and who will eventually want to buy more products and services from you. With this information in hand your team will either be able to develop and launch their own social media program or hire a qualified firm to assist you. This time, however, you will actually be able to guide a consultant based on your team’s first hand experiences. As a bonus you will be able to seed your formal social media program will all of the contacts you made. The demographic profiling process should take no more than a week to complete.
  7. Develop Recommendations and Present Your Results. The last step of the project is to bundle up all of the information and experiences the team has garnered during this project and present it to the CEO or COO. The team should honestly assess whether a formal social media program would generate an appropriate ROI for your company. If so, they should develop formal recommendations on how a formal social media program should be structured and launched. The meeting with the CEO or CFO should be a one on one affair so that this key decision maker can get an unbiased and unfiltered review. The team should leverage the various technologies they’ve utilized during the project. Later, the team can brief in other interested constituencies and get their input and feedback.

Good luck and if you try this program I would be interested in how it goes and what the results are.  Drop me a note here or simply send me a direct message on twitter @devcorporporate.

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  1. Marketing Materials Says:

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