A contributed article to Harvard Business Review’s blog says that it’s easier than ever for companies to go global. The Web has closed distances and influenced tastes on everything from Burberry raincoats to iPads.
“In today’s digital age, people in faraway places can find your website, learn about your company, and have an experience with your brand,” writes Nataly Kelly, vice president of market development at Smartling.
True, but is it the right strategy for your professional practice? If you are an attorney in Palm Beach Gardens, should you think more about Tianjin, Tijuana or Tequesta? You may not be able – or want – to serve many of the people and businesses that contact you online.
Consider this: Because your website has a high ranking in Google, you receive an inquiry via your website from a potential client in Montana. In all likelihood, the best you can do is refer the case to an attorney in that state.
Or, an individual in Pensacola contacts you. Is it worth your time to drive eight hours if the client won’t pay for travel? Probably not. Again, you’ll send business to a local attorney.
That raises the question: Is your online marketing helping you practice law or play legal matchmaker? You’ll have more inquiries from Palm Beach County if you focus your online presence about the area you serve.
Correspondingly, you should direct your social media messaging to the best prospects for your practice area. That way, you’ll spend little time responding to inquiries about wills and trusts when your area is immigration law.
It may be cool to tell your friends and colleagues that your website is in Mandarin and Portuguese. And it’s flattering to Google your type of law practice and find that you’re one of the top three results. However, you’ll enjoy greater financial rewards when you attract the clients you want and can advise.
The New York Times reports that of the 500 million-plus Twitter accounts, “some researchers estimate that only 35 percent of the average Twitter user’s followers are real people.”
How do you know if a follower is a real person? The Times says that the bots “have sleep-wake cycles so their fakery is more convincing, making them less prone to repetitive patterns that flag them as mere programs. Some have even been souped up by so-called persona management software.”
Fake people with seemingly real lives. Crazy and creepy.
I decided to inspect my Twitter follower list. The process is simple. Log into your Twitter account, go to the “Me” page and click on Followers. My list breaks down into groups for which I am certain the people or organizations exist:
- Former journalism colleagues. Robert Barba (@Barba_AB) and Mike Graham (@TCPalmMGraham) are two of the people in the largest group. I broke bread with these people.
- Current colleagues. Boardroom Communications (@boardroompr), the best PR firm in South Florida, and Raul Reis (@raulreis2001), the dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at FIU. I have been to their offices.
- Former students. Mariella Roque @___mella), a recent FIU graduate, and Betsy Soler (@bsoler), a social media maven in her own right, are just two examples. I know they exist because I taught them at FIU.
- Journalists. They include Brian Bandell (@BrianBandell) of the South Florida Business Journal and Julie Pearl (@juliepearl920) of WPTV-TV. Her husband is a White Sox fan, but I like him anyway.
It’s clear from scanning the list several times that I am not being stalked by social bots. That’s good; it’s better to have an honest number of followers than an inflated figure that’s a third junk.
Keep that in mind when building your Twitter list. Bots are there to use you: to build their following; to support a cause that you may oppose; to sabotage discussion of public issues; to steal money from you; or some other underhanded purpose.
Keep your list of followers clean and you’ll have more success with Twitter.
When Publicis Groupe and Omnicon Group announced in late July that they were merging, they also publicized the launch of a division that turns brands into publishers.
“‘We will be looking to help brands produce content to put on their own channels,’ like a Web site or social media,” division chief Mark Himmelsbach told the New York Times. “‘Instagram, Vine, Twitter, Facebook, each channel requires something different that must resonate with consumers.’”
The idea is hardly new. A PBS blog post from Jan. 25, 2012, labeled the phrase “We’re all publishers now” a cliché.
Let’s turn the clock back further to Jan. 6, 1963, when “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” first aired. “Wild Kingdom viewers witnessed exciting stories and learned about wildlife and conservation,” according to the show’s website. The show aired until 1987, first on NBC and then in syndication.
Marlin Perkins, the best-known host, was a zoologist, not an insurance salesman. Mutual of Omaha also created interactive — another cliché — elements such as a kids summit, an adventure tour, and personal appearances by hosts.
Other brand-publishing successes include “Maxwell House Coffee Time,” a comedy-entertainment radio show from 1937 and 1949, and “Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre,” a variety TV show in the 1960s.
Today’s most successful publisher is probably Red Bull, which has social media, an action-driven magazine and an adrenaline-driven TV channel. And that’s not much different from producing a TV show about wild animals or a radio show with George Burns and Gracie Allen.
Tiger Woods. Lance Armstrong. Ryan Braun. We know what they have in common: scripted apologies to the public.
Ryan Braun issued his last week and Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal brilliantly dissected it. “Almost all of these “apologies” are terrible, seemingly lawyered to the limit, muddied with vague language and half-truths,” Gay wrote.
Gay identified the seven elements of the athlete apology; they apply to all transgressors thrust into the spotlight, whether they be rogue securities traders or convicted CEOs:
- Admit you are “not perfect,” and have “made mistakes.”
- Be murky with details about the transgression.
- Act like this all happened 2,000 years ago.
- Say it’s been hard for you, too.
- Find a co-signer who says you are doing the right thing.
- Act like it’s weird anyone would be upset.
- Declare it over!
The right steps, the ones that can truly rehabilitate an image, maybe even the individual, were identified in another Journal article, this one by John Kador, author of the business book “Effective Apology: Mending Fences, Building Bridges, and Restoring Trust.” He critiqued Lance Armstrong’s apology on Oprah’s show.
- Recognition: State the specific offenses for which you are apologizing.
- Responsibility: Accept full responsibility for the offenses. No excuses.
- Remorse: Use the words “I apologize” or “I’m sorry.”
- Restitution: Identify concrete steps you will take to reverse some of the damage inflicted.
- Repetition: Reassure victims that you will not repeat the offending behavior.
We could delve into Tiger Woods, but the staging speaks for itself. He addressed 40 friends and family members in person, with no questions from the news media. Time summarized the speech: “Woods issued a carefully worded apology that admits nothing, only his regret that he ‘let [his] family down.’ Indeed, most of the statement is devoted to excoriating the media for creating the firestorm that now surrounds him and his family.”
That’s right, when the truth is incontrovertible, blame the media.
Do companies still need to be on the 6 o’clock news?
Two tech firms are delving further into the news business, creating an opportunity for any corporation to reach its audience.
On July 16, Yahoo! released its earnings over the Web from a news studio at company headquarters.
On July 22, Netflix’s CEO and CFO logged in for a video chat on second-quarter earnings.
In the old, old media model, analysts and reporters gathered in a room to listen to the numbers and ask questions of corporate executives. They migrated to conference calls that, after regulators insisted, were opened to the public. Business news networks joined the game, which has now moved to the Web.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Yahoo! broadcast was well-received. Forbes was more enthusiastic, with contributor Mark Rogowsky writing, “So let’s give Yahoo! credit for livestreaming its earnings conference call. It’s new and fresh and it brought a chance to see the expressions on the faces of CEO Marissa Mayer and CFO Ken Goldman. That adds color the typical call lacks and should provide some fodder for analysts and investors in the months ahead.”
Netflix generates revenue by streaming content, so it is seems appropriate that it does the rest of its business there.
Technology is cool, but what does this mean for a company’s public relations? There are a number of benefits:
- Direct, unfiltered communication with investors, customers, suppliers and employees. No more talking heads getting in the way of a CEO’s message.
- No jockeying for air time on news networks. Earnings might be announced before or after the bell, but not when a network says it can seat the CEO in its studio.
- Direct interaction with a broad audience. A CNBC newscaster and a financial analyst moderated the Nextflix video chat; they prepared questions from the public.
- The ability to reach a younger audience that is accustomed to digesting information via the Web.
For companies interested in gaining attention and having more control over how their information is disseminated, this is an excellent opportunity. Studios can be rented and the technology to live stream is inexpensive.
Can something go wrong? Of course. Just as it can on any live, aired event, whether it be in a TV newsroom or a conference call.
What’s the next step? Talk to a public relations person who understands how to use online technology. And start practicing in front of a camera. TV isn’t as easy as it looks.