Question

Topic: Book Club

Citizen Marketers: Tracking The Blogosphere

Posted by Anonymous on 500 Points
OK, I'm convinced of the power of citizen marketers, but how can a marketer or its public relations person track bloggers and determine which are serious and which are harmless cranks? It seems like keeping track of citizen marketers, for major brands at least, can be a full-time job. Do we need to add a function in the marketing or p.r. department specifically to monitor and engage bloggers, and how can the marketer maintain consistency of position and messaging for his brand?

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Moderator Note: This discussion refers to the book Citizen Marketers by Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell (topic: social media). Click the title to buy the book from Amazon. Then join the conversation. We'd LOVE for you to participate!
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RESPONSES

  • Posted by Mack Collier on Accepted
    David, tracking and determining the 'worth' of a blogger is an inexact science at best. My best advice is to use a blog-search tool such as Technorati, or Google's Blog Search, and based on the content of the blog, judge for yourself whether or not the blog is 'serious'. My advice would be, when in doubt, reach out to the blogger. I cannot think of a single instance when attempting to positively engage bloggers is a BAD thing.

    David I could give you the reasons why I think it's important for companies to monitor what bloggers are saying, but instead I'll give you one of my personal experiences.

    In December of 2005, I wrote a series of posts on the blog Beyond Madison Avenue about how music labels were promoting and marketing female artists. On a whim, I decided that a great follow-up to that series would be to interview marketing execs for a few labels, and post the interviews on BMA.

    I contacted several different labels, as well as the management of several successful female artists. Only one label or artist ever replied, Nettwerk Music. Over the next month, SIX different employees at Nettwerk contacted me and worked with me to set-up and carry out an interview with Nettwerk's Director of Marketing, Erin Kinghorn. That interview ran in Jan. of last year, and remains one of the most popular posts ever on BMA.

    The willingness of Nettwerk to work with me to conduct the interview made quite an impression on me. As a result, I began to search for marketing-related stories involving Nettwerk and its artists, so I could post about them on BMA, and later on my current blog, The Viral Garden. Over the past year, I have written probably over 20 posts on both blogs concerning Nettwerk's marketing efforts. A few months ago, Nettwerk's CEO Terry McBride agreed to let me interview him for The Viral Garden. Then last week, I started a marketing podcast called Mind The Gap. I wanted to feature music as part of the podcast, so I contacted Terry again at Nettwerk and asked him if he had any artists whose music I could promote on my new podcast. Within a day, Terry had sent me a list of music I could use, and had enlisted an additional Nettwerk employee to help me with the process.

    By reaching out to me and simply giving me information to help me blog about them, Nettwerk has effectively turned me into a blogging evangelist for their label, and artists. And the best part for Nettwerk is, as my blog's readership grows, that means that many more people will be exposed to any future blog posts I leave about the label.

    So to make a very long story short, YES you should monitor and engage bloggers. To contrast the Nettwerk example, I also blogged several months ago about a marketing effort that T-Mobile UK made to promote concerts. A few hours after leaving that post, I noticed that someone from T-Mobile UK came to my blog and read my post, but didn't comment on my blog, or email me about it. I then mentioned on my blog that I had noticed they had visited, and I invited them to comment. I noticed the next day that AGAIN someone from T-Mobile UK came to my blog, and this time read my second post where I invited them to comment. They didn't.

    I haven't blogged about T-Mobile since that time. I'm not 'boycotting' them, but I'm also not looking to blog about them as I am Nettwerk.

    All because T-Mobile UK failed to engage with me, and Nettwerk did. Engaging with bloggers is a great way to turn them into evangelists for your company.

  • Posted on Author
    Mack, thanks for this thoughtful response.

    I'm in public relations, so I'm dealing with reporters all the time. I've always tried to respond to every reporter, and with some clients who are high-profile, it gets to be a challenge. But to me it's a just common courtesy. Even if you can't get them what they're looking for, at least a callback let's them know they're not being ignored.

    Your reponse is something that should be seen by young P.R. people at many of the big agencies, where they don't get proper training and are under constant pressure to get placements by any means. It shows that courtesy goes a long way.

    Thanks.
  • Posted on Accepted
    Whether you're in public affairs, communications, marketing, or any other profession and job, it's a good idea to make every inquiry a conversation. We've forgotten that today. We used to live in a more manageable world were we all knew our neighbors and reputation was a product of character display.

    Technology has made the world smaller (Friedman called it "flat") and at the same time bigger (as in daunting). Behind each mention, criticism or not, there's an individual craving for control over their world and connection.

    * Control may mean many different things; it can be seeking opportunities to express an opinion, to lead, or to be led, for example.

    * Connection may mean the desire to count vs. be counted (measured, or whatever you want to call that), and to join a group of like-minded individuals for identity purposes, for example.

    Either way, I recommend doing your best to discover whom those people are and talk with them. Nobody has to change their mind, but it has been demonstrated (neurology), that conversation and contact will change our brains (physiology).
  • Posted on Accepted
    I do think that there is a compelling case to be made today for assigning someone in marketing the specific task of monitoring and responding to citizen marketers. If this book makes no other case, it certainly is a case for that kind of position. Not only does that position serve a monitoring function, but it also allows for having conversations with a very powerful and a very interested group of people dedicated to your product(s).

    I think that more and more as the number of products and product choices continue to grow, the need to converse and pay attention to that smaller niche of dedicated users will become more and more important. This book establishes that need and provides enough examples to make the case for any PR or marketing department to position a "citizen marketing" specialist. Maintaining consistency of position for products today is an increasingly more difficult thing, and dedicating a position to monitoring and conversing with dedicated users who also happen to be dedicated bloggers is an increasingly important task.
  • Posted on Author
    I agree that every query deserves a response and, yes, a conversation can bring about a better understanding on both ends that can be positive.

    For many companies, there probably should be someone assigned to monitor blogs and be responsive. It's really just like P.R., except the filter is a citizen marketer rather than a journalist.
  • Posted on Member
    "Do we need to add a function in the marketing or p.r. department specifically to monitor and engage bloggers, and how can the marketer maintain consistency of position and messaging for his brand?"

    Without question we need to add a function, so my answer is: Yes. Why? Because this is our market and the most important thing is, in fact, our market. But it's easy to forget that when there's so much paperwork between us and them. The great thing about social media? It NEVER lets us forget our market. Cuz they will talk to us if we engage them--and they'll yell at us if we don't.

    How can the marketer maintain consistency of the brand? This one is tougher because co's are going to have to let go of (eek!) CONTROL. Yes we guide our messages. But then we see how the market responds. They're boss now, actually always were. Then we engage their feedback in creating and maintaining brands (that's where the buzzword of "co-creation" comes from). So our job is to continue to ASK and then ACT. It really is a different world, many of my prospects are shaking their heads at me saying it's a phase. They might want to read these convos or the book. Or both ;-).
  • Posted by Mack Collier on Member
    David, it's hard to understand 'what the deal is' about blogging until you are in this space. I honestly bought into every stereotype about blogging before I started in Sept of 2005. Until companies are blogging, they cannot appreciate how quickly ideas move through this space. And the thing about bloggers is, we are SO passionate, and if a company actually takes the time to reach out to them, bloggers will go out of their wat to sing the praises of this company.

    Another example: Chris Thilk runs Movie Marketing Madness, the internet's top blog devoted to movie marketing. He was going to write a post about the marketing for the movie Miami Vice last summer, but before he could, a rep from the movie's studio contacted him and gave him some background on their marketing efforts for the movie. Chris left a small post on MMM simply mentioning that the rep had taken the time to contact him.

    Myself and a few other bloggers thought this was a great move by the studio, and we also mentioned it on our blogs. Within 2-3 days, over FORTY other blogs had picked up on this 'story' and had blogged about how the studio had reached out to Chris. That's plenty of free publicity that was generated for Miami Vice, simply because one rep at one studio took 5 mins out of his day to send one email.

    One of my favorite sayings is that 'Bloggers are evangelists waiting to happen'. All they need is the spark of attention from companies, and then they can create the fire.

  • Posted on Author
    Mack, I wouldn't have believed it either until I started following blogs last spring -- pushed by my pal CK as she started hers, and then looking at some others who periodically respond to her, including you.

    Even when ck told me she was going to start a blog, I said -- why waste the time? I don't say that anymore. The book we all just read only solidified that thinking for me.

    Blog on, my friend.

    (Don't ask when I'm going to start my own. I keep saying I have no time for it, but ck won't accept that answer.)
  • Posted by Mark Goren on Accepted
    Would like to take a crack at addressing this part of your question, David: How can the marketer maintain consistency of position and messaging for his brand?

    I believe companies have a decision to make: guard the consistency of their message or become responsive to their consumers in a human way.

    Maintaining consistency leads to front-line employees blindly supporting ridiculous policies, by-the-book dialog, that frustrate and confuse consumers. Not to mention forests and forests of staid corporate promotional material.

    Companies get stuck behind their branding guidelines because they believe that one message is the safest way to present themselves. In fact, it's the most dangerous. Because when an employee that isn't empowered to think for themselves feels obliged to walk the company line, they aren't able to satisfy the then-and-there problem they are being paid to solve.
  • Posted by Mark Goren on Member
    Actually just read Shel Israel's post today and he addresses your question. I like the approach he's talking about. You can read about it here: http://redcouch.typepad.com/weblog/2007/01/winning_by_join.html

    Hope this helps!
  • Posted on Member
    OK, it's only 1pm and through the various threads I've now hit on about 10 one-liners that I'm going to have to compile after Group Review into a document for everyone (another action point of mine!) as these are too good to forget. Mark Goren: I love this line of yours...

    "I believe companies have a decision to make: guard the consistency of their message or become responsive to their consumers in a human way."

    Profound. Needs a little music behind it.

    As for the comment above regarding pushing this discussion leader (David Reich) to start blogging, I say this: in fact, what you've been doing through this discussion thread IS blogging--so I met my goal! We marketers are particularly goal-oriented, as you know.
  • Posted on Member
    Mark:

    It may be a case of looking at things differently. We think of control as "we" are in control. While our customers think of control as in "I want to understand what's going on here". And there is no us and them, all is left is us -- and I have many years of experience in corporate America.

    Binders with policies and rules are made to be amended -- Jackie and Ben make that point in the book as well -- they (policies/rules) serve us, it's not the other way around. I think what's missing is a little and healthy dose of critical thinking, or thinking on your feet as it may be.

    An employee who isn't empowered is one who hasn't made it their business to find a way to be so. I've worked in 5 different industries for very diverse bosses and companies; you might say I've seen it all. And I never, ever let my boss or anyone else come before the customer -- internal or external. That sometimes may require more diplomacy skills and presence than one is willing to put forth and it's worth it.

    A customer taking the time to write you, personally, an email sent to thank you for what you've done on their behalf is your best ally; and the biggest satisfaction.
  • Posted by Mark Goren on Member
    Valeria:

    Good point. And I agree with what you say about control. You're dead on.

    Problem is, not all companies embrace empowerment and thinking on your feet. It's a culture thing. I don't really believe that all employees who aren't empowered do not make an effort to become so.

    Think about some of the 1-800 customer service lines we call. How often is a concern or problem solved without the person you're talking to putting you on hold to consult with a superior? How many times have we had to talk our way out of a something ridiculous because a rep won't make an intelligent judgment call.

    "Sorry, it's against our policy."

    This happens all the time. And it's not just because they're not trying. Sometimes they're afraid to try due to organizational culture.
  • Posted by Jackie H.(Author/CM) on Member
    There are at least two new roles that would be useful for companies:

    * Online community manager: This person would do some or all of these things: manage and write the company's corporate blog, outreach to bloggers, facilitate the company's online community, participate in outside discussions in other communities or blogs, update corporate Flickr account with photos, etc.

    * Social media analyst: This person crunches numbers on all of the data being generated about the company on social media sites like Technorati, YouTube, etc.. From that analysis would come insight for product development, marketing and other internal functions. A social media analyst could also be responsible for quantifying the effects of social media-driven word of mouth on sales.
  • Posted on Member
    Mark:

    Law of two feet man. If you feel you can't make a contribution, walk away. Of course you have to pay bills, etc. There is only so much one should take at any given point in life.

    And perhaps if we all stood by each other instead of in front/against each other (as in the case of having to ask for permission to think) we would make our customers happier.

    Sometimes thinking on your feet also means understanding why the company cannot make that commitment at that time and knowing how to explain that to your customer in a way that leaves you both whole. One can be hard on the issue, yet soft on the relationship. It can be taught; it should.

    What upsets and frustrates is the emptiness of a statement like "Sorry, it's against our policy". It's akin to "no comment" -- shoot me now!

    How about, "I'm really sorry to say that we cannot do that at this time because we're not outfitted to deliver this kind of service/product. However, so-and-so does and I'll be happy to provide you with contact information," for example. You may lose a customer temporarily, but you're making a friend.

    Or try this; "Our Company is working on a system/process that will allow us to offer you this in x time. Would you like me to make a note of your interest and call you back then?"

    etc. I think you see the point.
  • Posted by Mark Goren on Member
    I'm with you, Valeria. If only more people – i.e. company reps – where too.
  • Posted on Author
    Wow -- I ran out to get an omelette for lunch (I recommend the Comfort Diner on E. 444th St in NY City -- great food, lots of it and cheap, but's that's another thread, sorry) and all hell broke loose here in blogsville.

    Mark G: re. "guard the consistency of their message or become responsive to their consumers in a human way." I don't really see this as an either/or situiation. I do believe, with proper thought and training, and with smart people who CAN think for themselves, companies can guard their message yet still be responsive.

    The example Valeria cites about 800 operators is a situation we've all experienced, but I believe a lot of it comes down to training and good people. I'm pretty sure American Express uses some offshore call centers to handle their 800 calls, yet I've never had a bad experience with them. They resolve problems, listen and support the customer and for AmEx, at least to me, it's all about service since they're hardly the only credit card or travel services company around. So... I see no reason why relations with the online community can't be handled respectfully and responsively, while maintaining the company's positioning - whatever it might be.

    I see author Jackie H. checked in with a good suggestion that I bet we'll be seeing eventually at many companies -- job functions to deal with online communities and also to track and analyze activity in social media. Actually, I'm sure a few companies already have those functions delineated, whether they fall under marketing or P.R. or customer relations.

    But, just like dealing with the press, some good planning, smart thinking and smart people can, I believe, make interaction with citizen marketers work well for the ultimate benefit of the consumers and the company, with neither "side" losing integrity. I can see how it can be of great benefit to the marketer.
  • Posted by Mark Goren on Member
    David:

    I do agree with your counterpoint. But I think we're off track from your original question – and that is all on me.

    Your original question has to do specifically with monitoring and engaging bloggers and how to monitor messaging and positioning consistency in relation. And, to this specific point, my answer is: companies can't.

    Companies can't maintain consistency of their message in an online environment. Maybe they can try, but they should really consider otherwise, because:

    • You never know what a blogger/online content contributor is going to do or say next, so you can't reasonably predict how you should respond

    • If you do try to remain too tied to your messaging, your tone risks coming off as corporate and not human

    • Citizen marketers can come at you with a vengeance if you smell overly corporate

    As someone with years of ad agency experience, I've seen time and time again how unreasonable crafting a message can become. And how someone else's conviction is the next guy's B.S. The web, however, is about being agile, flexible and responsive.

    Maybe this answer is too far to an extreme – I know the real world works somewhere in the middle. But there's no doubt in my mind that we're getting closer to dealing with the extreme than continuing to work down the middle of the spectrum.


  • Posted on Author
    Thanks Mark. I understand 100% your position. As a P.R. professional with almost 35 years of experience, I know firsthand how difficult and tricky it can be to "control" your message through the press. That's why I posed this question in the first place.

    I do think, however, that we can try to maintain some element of control or consistency in our messaging, while being flexible and responsive. If we are honest and flexible, the message can come through to most -- even to bloggers -- as genuine, rather than corporate BS.

    There may always be some hotrod blogger with an agenda, just as there can be journalists who have it in for you. By engaging them, you might have some small chance of getting them to understand the company position, whatever it may be. And, as we've seen in Citizen Marketers, we the marketers can sometimes learn valuable things from our customers, whether it comes to us in a focus group or from the online community.

    I think those of us in the P.R. business WILL have to figure out ways to interact and engage with social media, and if the P.R. profession doesn't do it, then someone else will. To me, it's really a P.R. function, but simply interacting with a different form of media. Many of the basic P.R. principles of information, honesty and integrity should apply nonetheless.

    So I don't think it's impossible. Difficult, yes.
  • Posted on Member
    I would say that social media is most definitely rooted in P.R....it's your public after all. Now they're a strong influencer and taste maker, just like professional media, professional critics and analysts.

    But it's how we engage this audience. When I was at Syndicate '06 (a large seminar on social media), I had scores of bloggers griping that "marketers just keep spamming them with press releases" and didn't work to build a relationship. Running my own blog I must have received 3 press releases (not even personalized) this week from people who've never reached out to me. I just laughed and thought...well, this is why we get the rap we do. Obviously I did not respond nor promote whatever they were selling.

    I'm now understanding the flip side.

    Some agencies already have dedicated resources to manage these relationships; most do not yet. Best to start now as everyone is on a learning curve. Start by targeting a few in your target audience, treat them right and ask for their feedback. Turn the conversation to them. It's amazing what they'll tell you.
  • Posted on Accepted
    To the original question - I believe that fracturing off a job dedicated to 'blog stuff' causes the likelihood (unless internal communications are FANTASTIC), that one hand (the blog-following/participating hand) will be disconnected from the other hand (the 'traditional PR/marketing' hand), and may end up at odds with each other, watering down the blog hand, and irritating/distracting the traditional hand. I doubt there are any hard and fast rules however. That said, if you can sell the idea of dedicating a resource, run with it! Just don't pursue 'faking it' (anonymous blogs run by PR flaks) as the book so aptly described. You will absolutely get killed by the citizens out there who will uncover the farce, and it will likely not end well.

    As far as 'tracking' the blogosphere, this is a huge body of information we're talking about, and while I sincerely hope that humans in your organizations (or your clients, 'natch) are involved in sifting through this, that using something like technorati, pubsub, google alerts, etc. is on your radar, to help call out some of the more relevant information, or something with a bit more 'enterprise strength' to it - such as Nielsen Buzzmetrics (formerly Intelliseek), or others who are coming from a search and/or collaboration background.

    Lastly, while reading this book - and it was a great quick read unlike the Richard Dawkins book I'm reading at the same time (his 1986 'The Blind Watchmaker') - I couldn't help but feel a flashback to The Cluetrain Manifesto (www.cluetrainmanifesto.com for free version) and of course The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, or the earlier work Unleashing the Ideavirus by Gladwell and Seth Godin, Six Degrees by Duncan Watts (GREAT book BTW), or later Godin books like 'All Marketers are Liars' or 'Free Prize Inside.'

    This book is certainly a synthesis and expansion of those prior books (the unique stories/case studies are much appreciated - useful food for thought), but I had the feeling that the bar wasn't being raised high enough to call even more of a 'call to arms' in creating or wielding further Citizen Marketers. Now I read a ton in this sort of space and have been involved in the techology end of solutions in this space for 13 years - so perhaps I've been soaking in it for too long. Is it just me?

    Ah, and I lied - last point. Absolutely, it is very hard for people to 'get' blogging until they are doing it, and even then, very had to get used to the idea of writing with the purpose of starting conversations, linking/pinging/tracking back amongst sources, and wielding a network-based multi-way conversation. It's completely different than the way marketing or communications has worked previously, and getting into the mindset of openness when control and one-way has been the norm is immensely difficult. It took me two years to even convince anyone I was working with (internally) to even look at a blog - as they heard the initial concept and just wrote it off. Experimentation and tenacity are keys, and while not everyone is going to be a superstar blogger, in the 'Long Tail' world (Chris Anderson's book), there is plenty of room to grab a niche and hold it passionately!

    Cheers,
    Dan Keldsen
  • Posted on Author
    Some good points raised in the 3 previous posts...

    Dan, yes it could be difficult to track all blog action for a giant brand with a high profile and enormous following. McDonald's, for example, would probably come up hundreds of time a day on Technorati. (Sorry, don't have time to go check it now for you.) But a giant brand like Mickey D has the resources to have someone (or more than 1 person) have such tracking and reading as their entire job if need be. The real challenge will be for smaller companies with limited resources to afford the manpower to carefully track everything that's out there.

    And "faking it" by posting stuff by anonymous bloggers who are really your corporate P.R. people is wrong and dangerous, as you say and as we saw from examples in Citizen Marketers. Transparency/honesty must be the rule.

    The job description from Muskie is interesting -- a real world example for us. Thanks for that, M.

    Kris' advice is good and it's advice I've heard and given over the years in P.R. Know your media targets, which means you've got to read, watch or listen before you pitch a story. Same goes for dealing with bloggers... see what they're saying so you don't come in from left field with something totally irrelevant or off-target. You'll expose yourself as simply looking to use them.

    Kris is right. Read, read, read. It's a lot of work, but it could pay off.
  • Posted on Author
    Don't worry about naming a name in your example, Muskie. We're just chatting among friends here.

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