SEO and Personal Brand is not dead. If you innovate.

Two very close friends of mine have made blanket statements stating that SEO is Dead and that, in essence, so is personal brand.

Though I understand the sentiment expressed in both posts, it is still misinformation and very debunk-able. Micah Baldwin, who thinks SEO is dead, also happens to be my boss at Lijit. Geoff Livingston, happens to be my roommate. So I tread lightly in both cases.

Let’s go back to prohibition where, unlike today, companies were not simply told to adjust how they do things or risk a failure – they were told that they could not do their business.

Big beer companies like Yuengling and Anheuser-Busch were faced with traumatic decisions that demanded them to adjust to a changed landscape. Much like the SEO business and Personal Brand in a down economy, people can either fail or adapt.

In the case of Yuengling, they brewed near-beers (beers under the minimum alcohol by volume (ABV) levels that would be considered non-alcoholic beer today) and provided ingredients and instructions for mail-order home brews. When prohibition was repealed by the 24th Amendment, these companies who adapted were positioned best to move in and dominate the landscape.

While personal brand can certainly be a bugaboo and is certainly not something that anyone should assume will be an easy coat-tail ride, personal brand does not guarantee anything.

However, the reputation that someone with personal brand can leverage is extremely important. That ability to negotiate, converse, discuss and work on deals on an individual level is something that can position a person to rebound fairly quickly in a down economy.

As in any market, there are corrections. Maybe the personal branding “market” or the SEO industry as it is today is a little hyperinflated. A correction is certainly in order. However, that correction brings out the best in those areas and those who survive are positioned best at the end.

I will agree with Geoff that having intrinsic value to backup personal brand is extremely important for survival. Talkers are important though, as they are the ideas people. Eliminating talkers is a sure fire way to squelch innovation during a down economy – exactly the wrong thing to do.

Intrinsically, there is still a high premium on personal brand. Likewise, SEO is very important for marketing. In both cases, these things probably need a correction to procure a more pure form of business though. Those who adapt will survive. Those who do not and continue to try to live life as normal… Well, see ya later, alligator.

Confirmed: Livingston Communications Acquired by Social Media Group

smglc.pngThere’s been a few rumors floating around the past few days and over the weekend. We can confirm that Livingston Communications, a boutique social PR firm based in the DC-area and owned by Geoff Livingston (also my cohost on The District of Corruption), has been acquired by Toronto-based Social Media Group headed by rockstar CEO Maggie Fox. The financial terms have not been disclosed.

Notably, as part of this acquisition, SMG is also acquiring the property rights for Blog Potomac driving those of us who are looking for community events free of Public Relations batty, and not in a Christian Bale sort of way.

Geoff will become the Executive Vice President, Americas for SMG and continue to run operations out of Washington D.C.

As a past frequent traveller, I can make recommendations for hotels in the Toronto area. I’m presuming, Geoff, you’ll be making many trips.

BlogPotomac Registration Open

BlogPotomac is coming to Northern Virginia on June 13th and now registration is open. I will be there live blogging the event for District of Corruption and the price is reasonable for the speakers you’re getting. Lionel Menchaca from Direct2Dell, Dell’s social media outlet, will be keynoting and other known names (and friends of mine) are Frank Gruber from AOL and POP! PR Jots. You might miss Jeremy, if you didn’t know he was there, because he’s, like, 3′ tall. :-)

At any rate, this event is shaping up to be pretty good. It is focused around marketing and social media so it will attract those types, I believe. It’s a nice supplement to the social media community that is already here. I would like to see a major destination event similar to Gnomedex in the Greater Washington area though. This is not it, but it still looks very good.

District of Corruption

Hey everyone, I want to invite you to listen in (and take part with your phone calls, emails, etc) tomorrow and every Tuesday at 4pm EST. Geoff Livingston and I are hosting a live show on Blog Talk Radio called “District of Corruption”. Yes, we are going to be irreverently looking at social media and where it’s crossing over into Washington area life. Obviously, we’ll probably send our share of barbs over to the other coast as well.

It’s a 30 minute live show every Tuesday at 4pm EST and we’ll be taking calls at (646) 378-1677. Indulge us. :)

Now is Gone is Here

Good friend of mine and sometimes-columnist here at Technosailor, Geoff Livingston, is celebrating the launch of Now is Gone, the book he’s been working on for quite some time (it also has a blog associated with it as any good new media book does). Now is Gone is described as a “Primer on New Media for Executives and Entrepreneurs” based on his own knowledge and experience running a social media-oriented PR firm.

So, Geoff is a friend of mine but I told him I’d give him an honest review of this book, and honest review I will do. Overall, the book is brilliant. I’m glad this is not “yet another book on blogging”. It doesn’t provide a how to. It doesn’t provide options for choosing your platform or describe how to subscribe to RSS.

It’s obvious that this book was written mostly for executives. This is not a bad thing as Executives are the ones steering companies and the reality is that if companies don’t embrace social media, they will be left behind. It is presented in a very philosophical way, describing the challenges that companies face today when it comes to the social media landscape, brand management and public relations. The simple message is, “Hey guys, you need to get what is going on today and you need to do it fast because Now is Gone”.

The book starts with an intro from Brian Solis who you may remember was a member of the PR Roundtable discussion hosted here in November, 2007. I love Brian, but the foreword was too lengthy and off-putting. As a reader, I wanted to get into the meat of the book and it seemed to take awhile to get to that point.

Geoff makes some common sense analogies between social media mirroring real life. It stood out to me that people do not like to be controlled but they will allow themselves to be influenced – as long as you don’t try to control them! His 5 steps to the basis of an effective social media message could probably be broken out further, but were effective for the book:

  1. Giving Up Control of the Message
  2. Participating in a Community
  3. Is Your Community Social Media Savvy?
  4. Dedicating the Resources
  5. Ethics and Transparency

This book as a whole is a slam dunk, effectively communicating a message that is very much needed and, is very timely at a time where companies are embarrassing themselves more than ever in their engagement with social media. In that way, this book could not be more timely.

I would suggest for the next book, however, (There will be another one, right Geoff? :) ) that fewer callouts be used. It seems that call outs were half the book and if that was the intention, you might as well have made them part of the book. :) That’s a minor point though.

Bottom line… 4 out of 5 stars (does that mean anything anymore?). Job well done. Go buy Now is Gone (aff) today.

When a Brand Fades

 Today is the New, New Internet Conference, the biggest web 2.0 conference on the Eastern Seaboard this fall. More than 800 attendees are expected. The roster of speakers is impressive. The conference will focus on the larger business aspects of the new Internet economy.

Though I am one of the speakers, I will be in the lobby working during the opening keynote (as well as the first session).  Why?

aol_logo1) I need to get some work done. And 2) the opening keynote is AOL’s Vice Chair Ted Leonsis. And I just don’t think he or the AOL brand is that relevant anymore.  In short, this was one of the sessions I could most afford to miss.

Look, AOL does have some great things going on. My fellow panelist Frank Gruber for one. And no one can deny how powerful TMZ is in the gossip side of things.

But at the same time AOL the brand has faded, it’s lost its luster. And that’s because it’s not really dominating much, and its leadership — like Leonsis — seem to be following, not creating earth shaking vision.

For many, including me, AOL just means dial-up.  And that’s because the brand promise was safe, easy dial up access for so long it’s permanently etched into my brain. This is in spite of the many things AOL is doing in 2.0. And is it any coincidence that one of its most successful efforts is branded TMZ and not AOL?

Perhaps it is me, but wouldn’t all of AOL’s current social media efforts benefit from a re-brand.  I just think the dial-up legacy kills it. As a result the company seems to be fading. What do you think about AOL’s efforts?

Rant: Silicon Valley Fenetics

Yes, intentionally misspelled. Phonetics.

Phonetics and mashup are all the rage in Silicon Valley web 2.0 start-up naming conventions right now.  When it was Digg, FaceBook and Skype, this was different.  It was cool, fresh and neat.  You could not help but ask yourself, what’s that?!?

Now, it’s not cute anymore (‘sup Pownce and Jaiku!). Instead it signals, “Oh, another 2 dot-bomb.” OK, maybe we’re not there yet, but you get the point.

Branding gurus are charging clients tens, hundreds of thousands for not-so-cheeky plays on phonetics or slamming two words together.  Read TechCrunch, and you’ll find posts littered with examples:

Out of the three of these, there’s only one I like: TasteBook. Why?  Because it tells you or at least gives you an idea of what it does.  TasteBook allows Shazam-Poster-C10097475users to create and order custom hardback cookbooks (“tastebooks”). BTW, that’s what a company name is supposed to do. Tell potential buyers, partners and investors what kind of business it is.

One must wonder how much longer this latest naming fad will continue.  And if you don’t think it’s a fad, how many eGoofy cos and .bombs can you name in five seconds? Pets.com, eHarmony, eLuminant, etc., etc.

P.S. As a result of this rant and as a tribute to Doug Haslam, I’ve decided to rename my PR firm Shazaaamr.

Down with the Press Release!!

First of all, thank you, Aaron, for asking me to contribute to Technosailor. It’s great to be here, and also serving a readership that’s not in the insular marketing blogosphere bubble.

The best thing about writing for you (as opposed to communicators) is that you already understand that PR and marketing sucks. I don’t need to argue that point. You know what it’s like to get a ridiculous press release, have a flack ask you to write up their product on the blog, sit through ridiculous ads, or suffer through another BS webinar. You’ve been on the receiving end”¦ and hate it.

The great hope of folks like Shel Israel, Brian Solis, Todd Defren, Kami Huyse, Toby Bloomberg, Chris Heuer and other advanced marketing minds is that social media can correct the wayward ways of this backwards industry. We want to refocus it on the actual community. Marketing and PR should not be about leads, but about serving a community and building good will between an organization and its stakeholders (note this word is not Audience).

Social Media Releases

Let’s start with a simple example.

Nothing stinks more than the inexcusable press release ““ a.k.a. the mindless drivel — that marketing departments use to spam news reporters, bloggers, analysts and their stakeholders. The press release was a mass communication tool, blasted out over a wire mechanism to media outlets. It soon lose it its value to news organizations.

Why? As PR became a popular marketing tool in the 80s and 90s, businesses and organizations filled their news releases with positioning statements, posturing to the media and their target audiences.

News releases are a very self centered activity, and rarely offers actual news, mostly because companies and PR pros don’t understand what media outlets considered news to be, and the news needs of companies’ communities. As a result, press releases usually have no real news value to the media or associated communities. News is something that’s new, and as media are dedicated to business trends or events of significance that their communities care about ““ just like any decent blogger — they ignore news releases.

Though the press release does have some search engine optimization and secondary direct community outreach value, it’s not optimized for ultimate results. Thus the diminished value of news releases.

Enter Social Media Releases

News documents do have value. According to Outsell, Inc. in November 2006, 51% of information technologists (IT) source their news from press releases found on Yahoo or Google News over traditional trade journals (via Brian Solis). To better talk with an organization’s community, releases need to be re-engineered to better serve them.

SMRtemplate Originally created by Todd Defren of SHIFT Media, the social media release combines the best elements of new media and significantly streamlines the valuable elements of the news release. The social media release provides new media community members dynamic information, including a bulleted statements of value, additional sources, multimedia content (podcast, video, graphics, etc.).

Readers are provided social media methods of publishing via network tags ( a la Digg, Reddit, etc.), and can use these elements independently or as a whole, really to their tastes. And media members like them, too.

Why? Much less BS. When executed correctly, bulleted facts replace spin (a possible acronym: stupid PR imitating news). Concise readable documents create multiple paths for community members, bloggers and journalists alike to enage in more information.

Coca-Cola entered by taking an approach other than buying real estate and creating a store. Working with the crayon agency, Coca-Cola opted to break into the 3D metaverse by getting out amongst the population. During the Second Life launch event, one blogger in attendance told crayon agency team member Shel Holz that that the event was like a class in “How to do social media right.” Shel’s very successful blog details the results to date, which have already been significant, in turn validating the experimental social media release.

Other examples:

What It Means

The combination of outbound promotion and social network attraction creates a new dynamic marketing mechanism. This next generation press release is much more valuable to its audiences, is community centric, and enables widespread dissemination. It creates multiple methods of pulling in community members who may be interested in your service, product or ideas.

This does not mean all social media releases will succeed. Here are the facts. Over spun BS won’t work whether its bulleted or parenthetical; social media-enabled or plain text. Find in this October, 2006 Buzz Bin entry on what I believe to be the content benchmarks of a media-attention-worthy news release. But if you’re on either the giving or receiving side of promotion, then the social media release tactic should be considered a better vehicle for organizations to communicate with their communities.

If you’d like to learn more, visit Chris Heuer’s Elements of a Social Media Release.