Saturday, February 24, 2007

Taking stock of what matters

I was packing last night for a business trip. I'm not a good packer, I tend to overpack, and I tend to multi-task as usual. It's just one of those things.

So, sitting down on my computer, uploading more music to the iPod, watching TV and checking email and IMs, I get an IM from a friend from college.

This friend is one of those that likes to IM odd pieces of news to me: hey, so and so got engaged; hey, I quit work; hey, I'm moving out of the country; hey, did you know that C-Pipe died? - I just missed his memorial.


So, a friend in college whom I worked with at the Daily Wildcat - I was a snarky columnist, he was a funny and great photographer - was in a car accident, and killed. Charlie was a great guy, and I kept in touch a little bit post college, but it was more a newspaper type friendship.

But, it still puts things in perspective. First, the memorial page that was put together is touching to see that he touched so many people's lives. Second, he lived his life doing what he loved and being with friends, which is an admirable trait.

Makes you take stock. The 300+ PR bloggers - a list growing more and more every day - blog for various reasons. Some blog to understand, some blog for enjoyment, and there is a clique of a few that blog to be known.

That's just sad.

I hope that I am never on my deathbed thinking - oh, I coulda been blog/Internet famous if I only blogged more. I know that on my deathbed, I will be surrounded by friends and family, and will think of those in the past whom I love and loved.

And, will probably think of the movie After Life because I'll be trying to think of what memory I want to relive over and over. I have a few ideas right now, but hope to have a few more by the time I die.

Too often, I think bloggers forget to live offline, high-touch lives. There is so much out there, and you want to do it before you are too late. Because, well, you never know when it might be too late.

From a rapper comes great wisdom

Gung Hay Fat Chow - happy New Year. It is the year of the boar - flaming boar, to be exact - and that means it is supposed to be a really good year for some people.

Okay, the only connection to this post and the New Year is that it is about Jin, the rapper that had a hit a few years back - Learn Chinese. He is on tour right now, and has come out with a full Cantonese album.

Of course, that also means the usual press tour - and he talked to the Mercury News about the album, and how he left the large label to go out on his own.

But, here's a little dialogue that most PR people should read. Then re-read.

Q: Magazines seem to have trouble targeting Asian-Americans. How do you feel about pinpointing that audience?

A: With every generation, it changes, I feel like -- from mine, to my parents, to the next generation. You don't really know what young Asian-Americans are really digging. I'm starting to get over this. When I first started, I was like young teens -- 16, 17. Then when I got signed -- 19, 20, 21. So now, it's like the next generation that is younger than me -- 14, 15. I don't even feel like I'm in touch with them as I could or should be. It's something that I want to know.

Q:How do you keep a pulse on that?

A: There's always the old-fashioned way of talking to them.

How hard is this? Why has PR forgotten this - actually freakin' talking to people? We put so much value into the high-tech processes, that, to quote one of my favorite interviews with Al Golin - it's about high-touch, not high-tech.

Think about it - PR relies on research firms to find out what people are thinking. It's a psuedo-talking to these people, but it's just psuedo. You are not really getting what they are thinking.

Or, we talk to our interns. And, while I love the interns, those answers are so skewed it's a joke. They are feeding us answers that they (a) think we want to hear, and (b) are so spun from their PR classes that they are unable to think like humans. Plus, let's not forget where they are coming from - usually very sheltered Universities. When I argued this with someone, their response was that they loved their intern ... who came from Yale. Point AND match to me.

A few months back, I did a sounding of the interns I work with and asked that they not feed me the answers they think I want to hear, but to actually be forth right in their answers. What I got was totally different than others, because they knew I wasn't going to dig into the meaning of the answers, but that I just wanted their honest thoughts and feelings.

Now, I am lucky. Every day, I get to talk to college kids via IM because of my relationships with the Auburn bloggers. Now, that might be Southern-skewed information, which at times freaks out this Northern Jew, but it's a great way for me to keep my finger on the pulse of what is being said in colleges, views, etc. I also have other classes reading my blog, and am open (unlike other bloggers I could mention) to always getting contacted by them. All I ask in return is for baseball caps, or long-sleeved T-shirts. So far, two have come through (you rock Erica Elliot and Erin Caldwell).

Think about it - you have the opportunity, most likely, to engage different demographics. Talk. Don't be phone shy (another issue for PR). Actually listen (another issue with humans in general). Be interested in what others have to say.

If we rely less on technology and more on real public relations, we will only improve PR and our own career tracks.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Community Next: Lots of Good Stuff

Community Next was a great event. But, alas, I didn't take notes because I saw that the whole thing was being video taped - and there was no WiFi (stoopid Stanford lock down) so I did not live blog.

Plus, kudos to Noah Kagan, the place was packed and there were barely extra seats to sit down and hash out thoughts.

But, here are some random thoughts from conversations. The people should remain nameless, because I did not ask if it would be okay to blog the conversations (and, I have been cursed with good enough recall on conversations).

"For a conference on community, it is interesting that it is mostly males - if you think about it, communities are built by women. Well, I guess the tools are made by males."

That's when I snickered and said "yes, some of these people are tools.

"Damn, the Threadless presentation was amazing - they really understand this whole community thing."

I guess - it's just not for me, I think.

"Dogster rules."

Go Perry Go.

"Noah, you gotta introduce me to Sean Suicide - that's one of the reasons I came, to meet him and see his panel."

Okay, that was me. And, the last panel was one of the main reasons I came down to the event (I hate driving, and I hate driving in the rain). The panel included James Hong of HotorNot and Drew Curtis of Fark - among others - and was moderated by Guy Kawasaki.

Why was I so stoked to see this panel? Because Suicide Girls is a real live community with message boards, forums, personal pages - it's more than the social networks that we have seen spring up in the Bay Area. And, it does a lot more than the sites here seem to do, but have a lot more buzz in our echo chamber. I wish Guy had talked to Sean more on the panel, but with SG being in LA, I bet there's less mindshare here, even though more of the sites up here should look at SG and realize they are doing right.

Another interesting comment: That's never been a problem for you, Jeremy. What you say about someone is what you say to someone.

My response: would you rather the opposite? That reminds me of Martin Niemoller, and the Web 2.0 community's desire to put its head in the sand and make comments about ideas or people they might disagree with, but do not have the conviction of character to flat out speak out.

I think that's the problem in the Bay Area / Valley. We are so caught up in our own little universe, we forget the real world. While the presentations were great - some a lot better than others, and some just outright boring or abominable - they were very slanted to the audience: Stanford students and Valley people. There is so much more of a real world out there that does not care about online communities, but is doing real stuff in real communities.

I was talking to another person who is launching a social community, and the response was that he wanted to build up in the Web 2.0 community first. My response? Why - they aren't your audience, and do nothing for you. You need to speak to person A, B and C - or you are going to be dead in the water. And, oh, it takes time to build an online community: none of these sites were built overnight, but took a few years to get where they are.

It's about the real world community, and that's something that the Web 2.0 community does not understand. They are not here, but in those disdained fly-over states. Those are the people with purchasing power (I know, how tacky to talk about a business model for Web 2.0, but those that forget the dot-com boom lessons are doomed to relive them). Talk to real people that do not live here. Do not think that the world cares about the product because it is in the Web 2.0 arena. Think of the outside community that is going to use the product, and talk to them. That's why I found it so refreshing to talk to Joy and Izzy from Star Farm Productions - they are in Chicago, and from our conversations, they should have been on stage talking about their work.

For all this talk of social communities, it was funny to see these two posts by Tim O'Reilly and Jon Udell. When do we reach the saturation point for too many online communities? Then again, how do you hold on to your identity, and make it your own? Or, well, control it.

For more good round-ups of Community Next, check out by Tim Johnson, Scott Beale and Rohit Bhagarva (although I disagree on niche).

Another favorite of mine was by Heather Luttrell from Indieclick and 3Jane, whom I have worked with in the past. Heather gets it better than anyone else out there, and it'd be great to see her speaking more often for that token female spot. She's the real deal - and my disclaimer is that I worked with her in the past, and that's when I cemented my view that she got it, and the speech verified it.

photo credit: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

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Friday, February 09, 2007

CommunityNext This Saturday

The always hyper and active Noah Kagan has put together a killer conference this weekend, on the building of online communities. Not surprisingly, it's called CommunityNext and here is the schedule.

I was helping out Kagan a bit - he'd IM me for advice, I would give my two cents, and we would go on our way. Why I was not invited to speak, I don't know (that punk ;) ) ... but, well, another post will go into the fact that too many PR and marketing people are pushing their own agenda to speak rather than their clients ... and it is the clients that pay the bills.

The Present and Future of Online Communities Conference

The one thing that makes me scratch my head, though, is that for a Web 2.0 company, getting them to buy into building online communities using the usual social media tools is a no-brainer. It is about getting the large corporations involved in online communities that make it more interesting. How do you work with a Fortune 100 to become involved with blogs or podcasts or vidcasts? How much do you get them involved, and if they become too involved, are those networks going to fall to the yells of sell-out? One organization that I think has walked the tightrope in a smart way is BlogHer - as I noted in a post about it last year.

I have built communities - for online sites - and worked with offline communities in the past. It's just part of what PR does; well, it's part of what a good PR person does, not just media relations, but community relations and all that goes along with the job. Every client and product has a community that would be interested, and you use different tools to find those communities, work in those communities, reach out to those communities. This is not rocket science, and is actually easier than it was in the past. It's just getting the buy off from large companies.

It will be an interesting conference. I hope some of my questions will be answered, but expect some navel gazing from the speakers. On a high note, though, check out this interview of Noah from Tim Johnson of Jangl.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Wisdom from IM

Okay, in an IM conversation with a friend about astroturfing, smart campaigning, the black and white of the blogosphere, and the lack of grays.

This can be said about any company, but this is just a great example of transparency and astroturfing.

The lesson (via IM): if doing right doesn't motivate you, what about getting caught?

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