Friday, June 27, 2008

Why content is king

We've all heard it and can sing it by heart: content is king in the online world. But why? I believe it's so we have something to talk about. It's like going into a cocktail party without a story to tell or comment to make. You stand around the edges and hope no one approaches you. You have nothing to say. When we come to the party with a story, we welcome interaction. We want to share what we know and solicit the feedback of those who converse with us.

If it's important at a cocktail party, it's even more important when a business wants to interact with customers online. Even so, I see company's making two primary mistakes over and over again, they try to tell the perfect corporate story and they only tell stories about their products and services.

When it comes to the company line, marketing executives have become expert at getting the story down and policing company leaders to read their lines correctly. When these firms go online, they take that perfected story with them, creating websites and online content that's just...well, boring. It's like you're being forced to listen to one of those little, website talking cartoon heads that only spouts company information as if it was preparing a recording for the music-on-hold system. Doesn't work.

Even if you copy all of your written material to the Web perfectly it won't be received by your audience in the same way it would in print. As Patrick Tucker points out in the current issue of The Futurist, the 21st century writer is using an entirely different toolkit, that includes multimedia and a whole lot of "reader" input. This is being driven by the 21st century reader.

And that's fine. Company stories don't have to be told the same way every time. They can be rewritten, reworked and sometimes even messed up. The sooner companies realize they aren't in control of every aspect of their story anyway, the better off they'll be. See this great blog entry from Liz Straus for more on being effective by not being perfect.

The other mistake companies make is acting like all their customers could ever want is embodied in their products or services. That's never true. Prospects may come to your site because they are seeking a solution, but if they stay its because they've found something that interests them.

Here's a great example from National Mortgage News, my old employer. This company is in the business of providing mortgage industry information, perhaps not the most exciting offering for most folks, but they realize that the people they serve are real people. This column from editorial director Mark Fogarty, which has nothing to do with the mortgage business and everything to do with what turns on real music lovers who also happen to be in the mortgage business, is a great example of what content can do to enhance relationships.

Content is king because it opens up a communication channel to those people you need to communicate with. So quit scanning in the corporate brochures and post some material that will attract folks, then talk to the people that show up.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New podcast for real estate agents

If you're in the real estate business and you're not deep into Web 2.0 there's a new podcast that can get you started. Real Estate 2.0 is now a featured podcast on Lenderama.

The show provides a quick and lively discussion of New Media tools that can benefit real estate agents. The hosts are great and the information is useful. Recommended!

A Powerful Example

New Media will give us the power to change the way we communicate. In fact, by adopting the new tools made available in Web 2.0 and those that will come in Web 3.0, we will be forced to change the way the send and receive information in the business world. It's not just that companies will find it more difficult to lie with impunity. It's more than a change from one-way to two-way, from enabling an outdated one-to-many to evolve into a one-to-one or many-to-one model. It's about finally being able to be authentic as we relate to the people we serve and those we hope to serve.

This is a wonderful example of that. Without any words or even description, Matt Harding showed us how easy it is interact in a meaningful way with people from anywhere in the world. Music and dance have fairly universal meanings for humans and so it they were good choices for his interactions, which, for a few minutes, make it more difficult for us to see the differences between us. How much easier will it be for companies that have spent millions researching everything about their target markets to communicate authentically with them? Probably not as easy as it should, but that's where we're going.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Speaking (or tweeting) up during a conference

One of the things I always do when I moderate a panel at a conference is encourage, in the strongest possible language, the audience to break in with their questions anytime during the presentation. It's the very best way to make sure that you're providing the exact information that attendees want. Even so, it is rare that people speak up. That may be because I work in the financial services industry and bankers tend to be more conservative, but it still makes it more difficult to gage whether the audience is getting what they came for.

Now, New Media tools are making it easier for conference attendees to be part of the conversation without actually saying anything. While this is prevalent now only at technology- or New Media-focused conferences, many execs are now using Twitter to make comments during the session. A person provided by the conference or the session moderator monitors the tweets during the session and passes the comments and questions through to the panelists.

It may take a while for this to filter down to non-tech-related conferences, but it's already becoming prevalent for online event, such as webinars. In fact, one company, Radian6, has launched a series of twebinars (twitter mashed up with a webinar) hosted by Chris Brogan that allows attendees to discuss the event in real time before during and after the session.

I expect these tools to become mainstream for all conferences relatively quickly, perhaps as early as next year. I base that on my experience at last week's 2008 Predictive Methods Conference in San Diego where attendees were asked to interact with conference speakers by keying in answers to questions on a Funnies-Home-Videos-style keypad. The results were displayed graphically for the forum in a matter of seconds.

People love to interact and when technology makes it easy to do so without saying a word or drawing any attention, it's going to enjoy rapid adoption.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Radio, like Newspapers, must reinvent itself

Arbitron ratings indicate that fewer educated listeners are tuning into broadcast radio at work. Podcasting News ran the story I found and pointed out that those listeners using the Internet for music at work has risen from 12 percent to 20 percent in a single year.

I recently posted about how one newspaper's efforts to go hyperlocal were failing because it had not taken the time to intimately know the market in which it was competing. This is less of a problem for broadcast radio stations, which generally have local personalities hosting their shows. In addition, radio stations have done a better job of moving online. The question is, can they provide enough local information to keep people tuned in.

Local traffic reports and lack of true Internet radio in cars, will keep those without satellite radio tuned in over the short term, but at work, where people want music as background noise and don't (or shouldn't) pay that much attention to the personalities, will be a much bigger challenge.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Washing Post: having problems with hyperlocal site

The Wall Street Journal carried the story today that the Washington Post's website, a site designed to provide hyperlocal coverage of Loudoun County, Va., has lost its chief web architect and much of its tech team.

"Like hundreds of other hyperlocal sites launched in the past few years, reflects a basic premise: Metro newspapers probably can't compete with the Internet or cable TV in covering breaking national or international news, but they can dominate what happens in their backyards," wrote the Journal's Russell Adams.

The problem is that the site has yet to find its audience. Adams says one reason for that is because "the team of outsiders didn't do enough to familiarize itself with Loudoun County or engage its 270,000 residents." He's exactly right.

This is a mistake corporate marketers are making more often as they attempt to move their companies closer to the prospects they sell to without changing the perspective on the lens they use to study them. Hyperlocal coverage requires traditional newspapers to do more than just tell the same old stories to an audience of people that all happen to be listening from the same county. It requires them tell stories that really matter to them.

I've seen something similar happen when companies start podcasting. As soon as the marketing department realizes that podcasts are a great new way to allow its prospects to hear the ideas that set the company apart directly from a top executive, they hand the CEO a corporate brochure to use as a script. But that's not the point. It's not that people are suddenly listening to podcasts instead of the radio, it's that they listen to get new insight.

People who listen to corporate podcasts do it to find out more about the people who are behind the brands they love, not to hear the same brand messaging in a new way. That's like a child coming in from outside and not remembering to switch to his "inside voice."

Getting closer to your customers via New Media communication tools requires companies to set aside the marketing collateral and bullhorns and enter a dialog with their customers and prospects. Those that don't will suffer the same fate as the Washington Post, an otherwise fantastic journalistic enterprise that forgot that getting closer to its readers required than just saying the same old things louder.