February 18, 2011

Taking 50 million as seriously as one WSJ reporter

Chris AbrahamI must admit right away that I am a disciple of the seminal book on the Internet revolution and what it means for business, The Cluetrain Manifesto.

The main premise of the manifesto is that markets are conversations and that no matter how ardent and impassioned the man at the lectern may be, the audience now has the power, through the Internet, to compare notes real-time, to heckle and critique without being shushed.

When this was written, there was neither Twitter nor Facebook—and the blog was still in its infancy.

I have been collecting all sort of quotes that I have been wanting to address and believe that I can write 95 posts just based on the Cluetrain’s 95 Theses, but for today I will just focus on number 83: We want you to take 50 million of us as seriously as you take one reporter from The Wall Street Journal.

I returned to the book and read through it until it resonated with me as a social media marketer and digital PR executive. Here’s the theme of this post:

But, of course, the best of the people in PR are not PR Types at all. They understand that they aren’t censors, they’re the company’s best conversationalists. Their job—their craft—is to discern stories the market actually wants to hear, to help journalists write stories that tell the truth, to bring people into conversation rather than protect them from it. Indeed, already some companies are building sites that give journalists comprehensive, unfiltered information about the industry, including unedited material from their competitors. In the age of the Web where hype blows up in your face and spin gets taken as an insult, the real work of PR will be more important than ever.

I have benefited from all of this chaos. I am not a PR type at all, having received my degree in literature and having an early career in web application development and Linux sys admin. I am not a PR type at all and yet here I am, in social media PR and marketing.

What I know that most PR execs can’t accept is that there are 50 million and not just 50 people who write about products, services, experiences, videos, movies, television, music, and politics. Every day I see traditional PR execs re-brand themselves as digital PR execs by simply transferring the old model of reaching out, personally, to just the right reporter with a press release and favor.

Over the last decade, this model has worked in the blogosphere just as long as publicists were able to discover and groom a small cadre of highly-successful and popular bloggers to become the new journalists. These new journalists are professionals, well-versed in how PR works, and fluent in the lingua franca of public relations. Companies such as AllTop, Klout, Compete, Traackr and eCairn specialize in identifying the most influential 25-50 top bloggers and tweeters—catering to this traditional PR model that has yet to be revolutionized away from its obsession with engaging only the top influencers and recognizing that in 2011, there are 50 million potential influentials and not just 50.

In the next post, I will go into specifics as to how this is even possible. And it isn’t. It isn’t possible to engage 50 million bloggers online, but it is surely essential to try—for many reasons.

Why you need to move past the Top 50 Bloggers model

The first reason why it is essential to move past the top-50 bloggers in your industry is churn. Every 18 months, a blog dies. Blogs are hard to keep up. The A-list blogs are like athletes—they’re only eligible or viable for a little while and it is essential to scout community centers, high schools, and colleges to find the next Michael Oher well before anyone else does. Every 6-18 months a blog dies, the A-list changes, the long tail reorganizes, and the blogger you had invested in heavily suddenly decides to stop blogging. It happens all the time.

The second reason to dig deep into the long tail instead of sticking with your A-list is accessibility. A-listers are hard to access. Recently, Audi apparently gave an A8 automobile to everyone who had a Klout score above a 70. Other A-listers demand Morton steaks or nights out on the town, sponsored trips, and even payola from Izea. A-list bloggers are busy and their attention is being spent on national and international brands and agencies such as Edelman and Ogilvy. Most A-list bloggers these days are advanced amateurs; more and more are semi-pro and professional, making a lot of their living from their blogging. The reason it is such a competitive place is because these bloggers are the kings and queens of their high school and you had better be gorgeous and rich and smart and have blue eyes if you want to to gain access. Remember: it is like bidding for keywords on Google or investing like Warren Buffett: buy low, sell high; everyone’s fighting over the same keywords on Google AdWords, the same stocks on Wall Street, and the same bloggers online. If you spend some time looking a little harder, you can really find some amazing content that hasn’t been discovered yet; and, if you’re smart, you’ll help that blogger and that blog take it to the next step. And guess what? You’ll end up being the hero in that scenario. You’ll have 50 million to choose from.

The third reason to spend more time exploring the smaller, newer, less popular blogs is availability. Most bloggers start their blogs out of passion. Others, because they were hoping to get some swag. Still others started it as a way to get a job, to push their agenda forward, to make a little extra cash from Google AdSense and Amazon Associates (good luck on that), to start working towards a future as a journalist, because they hate their jobs, because they’re expressing some pent-up creativity, or because if they don’t get stuff off of their chest they’ll burst. There are a million reasons. The one thing that most of these bloggers winsomely dream is that they’ll be discovered some day. Every day, my agency discovers bloggers. Every campaign we discover several thousand and reach out to them on behalf of high-profile clients and that is generally the very first time that most of them have ever been pitched by an agency—the first time they, as a blogger, have ever been kissed.

The fifth reason to reach out to many more than just the top 50-150 bloggers is impact. No matter how successful an A-list outreach, the total number of blog posts even possible is 50-150. And we all know that even the shiniest of golden PR children don’t do 100%, so we’re talking a fraction of that. Closer to maybe 10-25, tops. When you include everyone—as many of the 50 million as possible who are germane to the campaign—you’re talking between 1,000-5,000 blogs in a typical long-tail blogger outreach, resulting in 50-400 earned media mentions—and I am only going as low as 50 because my Director of Client Services keeps on telling me we need to under-promise and over-perform. We routinely get 200-300 posts and tweets.

The sixth reason why pitching, engaging, and responding to blogs and bloggers nobody has every heard of is to be their first—and this first contact with a brand can be the experience that encourages them to continue blogging. I always use Tina Fey as my analogy because I love her. She’s amazing. But I am pretty sure she’ll never come meet me for coffee. However, if we were chums Freshman year at UVA when she was all frizzy hair, brocade vests, and bolo ties, just getting into comedy—insecure and unsure—and if I was her number one fan, helped get her gigs and exposure, and then kept encouraging her in her passion, then she would indeed be someone who might meet me for a quick joe and a muffin in the morning before work while I’m in town. Same thing with long tail bloggers. Getting pitched by a PR company early on might turn that blogger all Sally Field, “You like me, you really like me!”

The seventh reason is because hundreds of earned media blog posts affect Google differently than a couple dozen. While delivering client message to as many bloggers as possible in order to garner as many earned mentions as possible as quickly and as numerously as possible—for the impact—is always my number-one goal, I have also noticed that the secondary effect of having hundreds of independent, real, true, B-Z-list bloggers suddenly carry my clients’ news is the most powerful organic SEO benefit you can ever imagine, almost overnight. White hat link-farming, if you will—primarily because none of these hundreds of posts are scripted, are paid for, are demanded, are aggregated, are blogged, or are mashed up from RSS feeds, search results, or a hive of link-farmers doing black-hatted sort of things. I mean, in order for any of this to work, the narrative needs to work, the pitch needs to work, the gift and ask need to be compelling. There’s no way to cheat on this—the outreach campaign needs to be absolutely solid, compelling, and generous for it to work, but at the end of the day, hundreds of legit blogs linking a client’s products and services and do the sort of magic that used to be merely the thing of legend.

And finally, the eighth and top reason why a long-tail blogger outreach is so worthwhile and is the future of PR: the power of the Internet is that everyone can participate and that there is zero barrier to entry. Actively ignoring everyone and only putting your attention and time and money and resources on the same old someone—journalists, celebrities, broadcasters, and A-listers—really misses the point of what The Cluetrain Manifesto has to tell us about this new thing. We were—and are currently—able to see the effect that everyone, connected and engaged, had on the the government and leadership of Tunis, Egypt, and the Middle East—and this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you think that it is amazing how a Facebook Page, a flurry of tweets, and the bravery of passionate and dedicated people can take down a 30-year dictator, think what it can do to equalize the business playing field. To be honest, The Cluetrain Manifesto was at least a decade ahead of its time.

There you go—the nuts and bolts as to how to start this long-tail revolution are in the next installment. Thank you for being patient and for spending some time seeing why I am so passionate about the Cluetrain theory of everyone. Let me know if you would like me to spend more time in a future post discussing some of the other 94 of 95 theses. (Via Chris Abraham via the Biznology blog)

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Chris Abraham is a partner in Socialmedia.biz. Contact Chris via email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

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2 thoughts on “Taking 50 million as seriously as one WSJ reporter

  1. Chris, fantastic post. I read Cluetrain years ago and am still friends with David and Doc, and we tend to forget what a seminal, groundbreaking work it was. To apply it to today's fast-changing media/social media world is a brilliant idea, so I for one would be jazzed to see additional riffs on some of the Cluetrain theses.

  2. Excellent article Chris, especially when it's digested from a B-Z list blogger's perspective! Keep up the great work!