Category Archives: Online PR

Developing IBM’s largest Twitter profile: grassroots marketing the @developerWorks way

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Frank Carlos, a grassroots marketing expert on the IBM developerWorks team. Among his many accomplishments has been the development of the @developerWorks Twitter profile which has amassed a princely 33,000 followers.

@developerWorks on Twitter

In my mind, this makes Frank something close to the Ashton Kutcher of the B2B tech world.

So, how did he do it? A few lessons came out of the conversation with Frank.

Curation is the key

The @developerWorks twitter account works as a syndication channel: posting links to content from across the developerWorks site. However, rather than just automatically spewing out the contents of an RSS feed, Frank takes the role of editor, curating the content and only posting the pieces he thinks make most sense. This resonates with Paul Gillin’s claim in B2B Magazine that curation is the new creation and as the amount of information out there on the web grows exponentially, we find real value from those who can pick through the haystack and just hand us the needles.

Let’s be clear though, the role of curator involves some serious graft. Frank points out that he posts over 20 tweets a day. Every day. Obviously, in order to do this you need a large network of content to pick from.

Focus on the audience

developerWorks is an IBM resource for developers and IT professionals, allowing them to build skills around the gamut of technologies that IBM solutions touch. It covers IBM’s own platforms and tools such as WebSphere, Rational, Tivoli and Information Management. There is also a mass of content on popular programming languages and applications, including PHP, Java, Ruby, Android and HTML5, and it is in these areas where the @developerWorks account is focused. (As an aside, a recent developerWorks study shows just how important these technologies are to the developerWorks audience).

Going after popular topics is a shrewd play that has obviously paid off for the @developerWorks account. Just picking a random selection from today:

@developerWorks tweet sample

Here you can see posts covering Cloud, JavaServer, Ubuntu, RedHat, Scala.

Sure, many of the tweets are related to IBM solutions, but the relationship is made with popular tech topics of the day. The message here is if you know there is a popular theme related to your offerings, exploit that relationship!

Let folks know you’re out there

There are a few attention-grabbing tactics that have been employed to publicize the @developerWorks account: none of which have cost a dime to implement (well, beyond the internal resource).

The first, is the choice of a somewhat unusual URL shortener to post links: StumbleUpon. The advantage of this service over other shorteners such as bit.ly or the newer goo.gl is that the links are automatically added to the StumbleUpon network and Frank points out that his links receive a good chunk of traffic directly from the StumbleUpon channel.

Another technique used by @developerWorks is that of following people in the networks where you want prominence. Using the Android example, you can search on people using the ‘#android’ hashtag and follow those that appear to be tweeting on-topic. Following them also puts you on their radar. If you’re putting out quality content in that area, there’s a good chance they will follow you back.

The use of hashtags in tweets is a great way of associating your content with topics/subjects. How do you find the right hashtag? One way is just a simple search on Twitter, such as this one for ‘#android‘. What you are looking for is a hashtag with a hive of existing conversation around it. And, yep, the mighty Mashable has a primer if you want to know more on making the most of hashtags.

Prove the results of your work

Syndication is the core objective of the @developerWorks account. Frank keeps detailed records on each tweet and how many clicks it receives. As well as knowing that he drives 200,000 clickthroughs a month, he also can break that down by topic and IBM technology. All through the clever use of spreadsheets!

Much is talked about the ROI of social media. For syndication you can go beyond counting clicks and approximate the value of the channel by looking at how much it costs you to attract visitors using other channels. For instance, you can take your hashtags and find out how much it would cost you to get traffic for those terms through paid search on Google. You can take this a step further if you have a good connection between your web analytics and your CRM and calculate how many of these clicks have turned into customers.

Although I bring this up last, tracking the value of your work can be the most important piece. As you’re probably aware, if you can’t find a way to express the value of your efforts, you may find your management pulling the rug from under your campaign.

I should come clean and point out that one of the motivating factors in my decision to move to the developerWorks organization was wanting to be a part of a team that is making excellent use of social media in innovative and effective ways. Frank’s use of Twitter to build the @developerWorks profile is an excellent example of this.

Twitter profiles: what brands can learn from celebs like Khloe Kardashian

I better get the disclaimer out of the way first. I have no idea how I came across this. I checked into my personal computer around 11 yesterday morning to find this page staring me down on my browser:

If you must, check out this brazen masterpiece for yourself.

It could be I inadvertently clicked on some banner ad, or maybe in a semi-conscious flurry of activity, serendipitous surfing delivered me here, but for the sake of posterity, I’d like to blame my wife.

I actually had no idea who Khloe Kardashian was (honestly) and still only vaguely know: I understand she’s married to a renowned baller and comes with a pedigree only achievable from having a glamour model sister. The fact that she has a million and a half followers on Twitter makes me believe I live in a media-starved pit and need to get out more.

But that’s not why I’m writing. What caught my attention is how she deals with her fawning Twitterati. The esteemed Global Grind online gossip-mart hold her up as a paragon of tweeting. And this is where I realize I need to get off my lofty (read snobby) high horse and pay this article some attention. The report is crude and to the point, but I believe their analysis is fundamentally sound and bears some relation to the not-so-steamy world of big B2B business.

Let’s run through their criteria point-by-point, and draw comparisons with the B2B world:

Khloe responds to her fans. Do we, as B2B marketers monitor our Twitter @profiles and associated #hashtags for relevant queries and mentions with the same veracity? Or are we just seeing Twitter as another marketing broadcast channel?

Khloe sends pictures. Twitter is much more than a 140-character medium thanks to the humble ‘link’ which can grace any Tweet: a Twitter account is a showcase for your noteworthy content,  whether it be articles, audio, video or pictures (you may want to favor descriptive product screenshots over floss-bikini pool scenes).

Khloe chats with her family. Do you have an open conversation with your ecosystem, eg. suppliers, or even better, business partners? Show some of this intimacy on Twitter. You’ll display a strength that goes beyond your company walls, and also build the reputation of those nearest to you.

Khloe allows the world into her amazing life. This is pretty wide generalization, but there are a couple of takeaways here. Look over your Twitter channel and see if it gives a good representation of your brand: your personality, thoughts, aspirations and beliefs. Does the rich fabric of the life of your firm come across? Or do you appear as little more than a stream of press releases and marketing brochures?

Now I bring this up in light of a recent report by Wildfire, a UK PR agency, claiming that many companies are not as clued up as Khloe when it comes to Twitter:

“… only 3% of the tweets in the study were retweets and just 12% were replies. Shockingly, 43% of brands with a Twitter account had never replied to a tweet.”

The study they are referring to, believe it or not, consists of a sample of the fastest growing UK tech companies.

It looks like we as marketers have some way to go to really understand the rules of engagement on these emerging channels. The most clued-up celebs have realized that they need to break down the walls of PR agents and marketing hype and talk directly to their followers. How long will it take for us in the B2B tech industry to follow suit?

Blogging: the Google way (webcast with Karen Wickre)

The SES team in conjunction with Hubspot recently hosted an excellent presentation by Karen Wikre, Google’s Senior Manager of Corporate Communications. Karen has been at Google for over 7 years and in that time has played a prominent part in bringing blogs into the center of Google’s communication strategy. In the presentation she goes into details of Google’s philosophy of using blogs for corporate communication, focusing on blogging announcements, but also covering other topics such as blog post frequency and the factors in the decision of whether or not to start a blog for a given product.

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Blogging: the Google way (webcast with Karen Wickre)

Those SES guys in conjunction with Hubspot just hosted an excellent presentation by Karen Wikre, Google’s Senior Manager of Corporate Communications. Karen has been at Google for over 7 years and in that time has played a prominent part in bringing blogs into the center of Google’s communication strategy.

Why the empasis on blogs?

As Karen points out, blogs allow you to reach customers, those who know nothing about you, critics and the press all through a single post. In some ways blogs can be thought of as surrogates for newsletters, where you don’t have to wait to collect 16 articles before publishing. She also points out that posts serve well as your statement on an issue that can exist for years. She draws on the Googlebomb example, where the original post served them well years later when the issue arose again. There is a downside to this approach: especially if you are in an industry/organization where the viewpoint can shift over time. A blog post has a serious shelf life so be prepared to stand by what you say for months, if not years.

Blogs also allow you to put out information that you wouldn’t consider for a press release. Think about the back story into how a product came to life. You can also go further and integrate customer stories, video footage and geeky stuff about what’s going on under the hood. There can be an audience for all of this, but the traditional press release really doesn’t offer the breadth.

As an aside, I’m you’re probably aware that Google owns the Blogger platform so it makes sense for them to adopt this tool for company communications.

Just how many official blogs does Google have?

Karen mentions that currently Google has more than 150 product-related blogs (with over 10 million unique visitors a month). supplement that with around 80 Twitter accounts reaching 2.3 million followers and you get some idea for the scope of this effort and the payback in terms of visibility. There are Facebook pages for the consumer products, however these are a newer addition.

What should you consider when starting a blog?

I think Karen gives as good a criteria checklist as I’ve seen:

  • Do you have a lot of regular announcements?
  • Are you in a busy area with a lot of activity?
  • Do you have a lot of customers (eg. Gmail)?
  • Do you have a strong community of developers (maybe around an API)?

Karen also points out the notable exceptions where blogs can make sense. If you have an area where less frequent detailed stories may exist, this can still make sense for a blog. For instance a research department, or security team. In this case the content does not appear very often, but when it does, it tends to be deep. An external example of this is Clay Shirky. His posts are infrequent, but read like book chapters.

What are key parts of the content strategy?

While Karen points out her team tends to take a light touch approach and isn’t in the business of editing posts, she does give some content pointers that are used in training:

  • A good title is very important: especially as more people consume information on mobile devices and through channels other than directly visiting your web site
  • Use a consistent style (eg. around capitalization)
  • A post should have one designated author, even if it has been worked on by a team
  • If the message is global, think about translating the content
  • For product announcements, specify the availability
  • Offer the most useful links
  • Clearly mark any updates you make and don’t alter either the title or the timestamp

Closely related is the voice with which you write. Google relies on an informal tone (one person talking to another, rather than a company broadcast). The language should be clear and direct, peppered with examples and understandable real-world examples. If humor is used, make sure it is appropriate.

When should a blog be terminated?

Occasionally, it may not make sense to continue with a blog. It could be that the blog is not being updated, there is a new related blog that is more relevant, visitors have stopped coming or a project has been terminated. In these cases the blog should be shut down: a final post should be written as explanation, the blog removed from the public directory, but importantly, the blog should not be deleted. The posts should still be available on the web.

Do Google have official bloggers?

Whilst there are some in the organization who blog frequently (such as Matt Cutts), Google does not have official bloggers. Blogging is a part of the job description of some employees and others may be asked to create a blog post (a product engineer that comes up with a new gadget). Google prefers to go to the source of the story and have that person tell it, rather than have official blogger/journalist types.

Karen provided a great insight into how one of the world’s most successful companies makes blogging a cornerstone to its communications strategy.

More on this topic:

Create an online newsroom with attractive social media content

News evolves. We’ve gone from print to radio, TV and wait for it… the internet. The humble press release has had to evolve too. As an in-depth piece in Econsultancy points out about the emergence of TV:

Companies sprang up to service this need and PR people had to learn a new skill – video news.

So why is the Internet and the social media news release any different? It’s not a case of killing the press release. It’s just presenting your news in the format that gets the best results.

After all, from the position of a hard-pressed journalist, the easier a story is to construct, the greater the chance that it will make it to publication. As I’ve said earlier, the blog format works well as the canvas on which you can paint your story.

The entrance or portal into your news stories is equally important. On a quick scan of all the usual suspects in the tech field, I’d agree with Econsultancy that Cisco have done a neat job with their news room:

Journalists are spoilt with links to both the blog post AND press release on major stories. Both formats have heavy doses of videos and photos. The homepage has links to all the major networks: Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube et al. RSS feeds abound. As do embed scripts so you can pick up the content yourself. You can even personalize the experience so you only see the news most relevant to you (ideal for any company with a wide portfolio).

One thing strikes me about this Cisco example: what they have come up with looks suspiciously like a reputable publication’s online outlet. For instance, here is the current homepage of the BBC (a traditional UK TV/Radio outlet):

Similarities include the heavy treatment of a featured news story, powerful use of images, prominent display of video content.

So is this just an evolution in the humble press release?

One key difference with online news is that people are consuming news from beyond the traditional news outlets. So beyond attracting the press industry (I include bloggers/analysts here) with a rich newsroom, companies have a greater chance of going that step further and getting their message out directly to their target audience, bypassing journalists completely.

Still not convinced there is value in creating social media-rich online newsrooms?

Link journalism and the no-follow tag

It appears there is a whole discipline around how journalists use links in posts: link journalism. This is a thorny subject as it involves passing authority onto a third party over who you may have no control.

Ryan Thornburg offers a cheat sheet on curating links to his journalism students. Items covered include verifying the accuracy of any links you refer to, in addition to making sure links are as relevant and specific as possible. Links can give background, technical information, audio, video, the list goes on. This makes them a significant tool in online journalism.

One thing Ryan doesn’t touch on is the importance of the link to search engines. Google helped make search an integral part of the web experience for most of us. Their secret sauce to finding the ideal results to list involved looking at the link structure between pages (often termed pageRank). Pages that have more links flowing in are considered authorities. These pages confer some of that authority down to other sites when they link to them.

This particularly favors large encyclopedic sites. And that seems to work for us. What better source to find information on Neanderthal Man than Wikipedia? (Yes, Wikipedia is the number one link in Google). University sites and news sites also fare well under this system. So if a news site passes a link on to another site, it helps the destination site gain prominence in search (nothing to be scoffed at: I’ve seen traffic increase ten-fold for long periods of time – all due to high rankings in search thanks to a single link from a high authority site.)

In most cases this is all good. The problem comes when you are writing about something on the web in a negative light and want to link to that page to highlight your point. In the world of search, your link is taken as a positive referral – so a damning report in a reputable news source can work wonders for your search engine optimization (SEO).

To get around this (and help combat the growing problem of comment spam), the search engines got together in 2005 and created the ‘no-follow’ attribute. Add this to your link and the search engines would take it that you want to make a link for explanatory sake but you do not want to pass on that all-important link juice to the destination.

Funny thing is, it is still rarely used in the media. Case in point: take the recent gripe from the UK’s Telegraph that the Wikileaks showed political bias in distributing key information on the war in Afghanistan to to the left-leaning press (including its competitor, The Guardian):

See the link on the first instance of ‘Wikileaks’? It’s a straight link not including the ‘no-follow’ attribute.

So while Will Heaven, the Deputy Blogs Editor is lambasting Wikileaks, he’s also providing the site with a valuable link that will help it grow in prominence. I’m somehow not convinced this is the desired effect of his vitriol.

I’d call on journalists to make better use of the no-follow tag. New journalists coming through the ranks should be made aware. ‘Think before you link’ should be an integral part of link journalism education. The link is a powerful tool and should be handled with wisely and responsibly to maintain the integrity of the web.