You Must Be Somewhere

It’s 2008 and with 2008 comes technology. It’s awkward, I realize, for some small businesses to justify the use of social networks, blogs etc. After all, how can a small business trying to remain profitable encourage employees to waste time on Facebook?

Please Help

We think of companies like Dell and JetBlue as examples of companies that “get it”. Even this weekend at WordCamp where I hammered the ideas of Marketing, Message and Brand, these companies came up as examples of companies engaging in the social space, including blogs.

But these broad examples are still the exception to the rules. Most companies still don’t realize that they need to be in the space, engaging with not only customers but possible customers.

I met one gentleman this weekend who owns a construction business but is an English major. He decided he would start writing DIY and home improvement stories in the form of a blog and is making big waves.

I’d say most home improvement companies don’t blog. They probably aren’t on Facebook. Probably not tweeting on Twitter.

There’s a company here in the Baltimore area that has a radio spot. In the radio spot, the owner says he personally goes to every job site every day until a job is done. When that’s the way most companies operate, it’s easy to think there is no time for social media.

Here’s the secret sauce, though, that many are missing. Your customers are behind the walls of social networks and on blogs talking about you somewhere. Trust me. You can’t afford not to be part of the conversation, and there’s no legitimate excuse not to participate.

With the economy the way it is, it is truly a cheap way to market, do public affairs and drum up business. Why wouldn’t you do it?

Getting Back To Human

Last week, I attended the Vocus users conference here in DC. It was an interesting time for me based on my history with PR both as a blogger who can’t stand PR and a blogger who wants to see PR do well in social media.

There was one session, in particular, where an audience member asked a speaker talking about software that is currently monitoring only main stream media outlets, “What do we do about monitoring and responding to bloggers?”

The response blew me away. “We don’t do anything about bloggers because we haven’t figured them out yet. Until we do, we won’t be doing anything about them.”

The context here being, of course, the software product.

Software developers understand that software is built on complex sets of logic. If this happens, then we do that. If a user clicks here, then this thing is going to happen. The speaker was saying that until bloggers could be broken down into a logical algorithm, the software won’t incorporate blogs.

My snarky response, expressed only in my own mind, is, “We’re human. If you can’t figure out how to approach us as humans instead of machines, maybe you should get out of the public relations business.”

On Friday, Chris Brogan wrote the same thing from the opposite side:

I have an anti-robot stance on Twitter. By that, I mean to say that I don’t want to follow things that aren’t people (with all due respect to Bruce Sterling’s spimes). I just don’t need to add something automated into a place that’s inherently human.

He goes on to say that his anti-robot stance is being challenged because someone who is using an automated posting system is actually offering something of use and now he has a crisis of conscience.

Folks, we’re unnecessarily complicating our lives. Sometimes a bit of common sense is needed to overrule our warped sense of logical rules. PR folks should look at blogger coverage, not in some automated way that has to fit into specific guidelines in order for them to know how to respond. And Chris needs to stop worrying about artificial rules he has created for himself. You made the rule, you can break it.

I have rules on Twitter too. I don’t follow sex-bots. I don’t follow spammy people. I don’t follow people that have disparate ratios of followers-followees. Except for the sexbot rule, I’ve broken every one if I needed to.

I’ve done the same thing with LinkedIn and Facebook.

Rules are made to be broken by sound human rationalization.

6 Steps to Successful Small Business PR

Most of us that have a small business look at PR with either a “I can’t afford a PR firm” or “Why do I need PR in first place” attitude. I am here to show that every business needs some type of PR to make their business a success. It all starts with a plan….

Step 1 – Get Your Action Plan Together

Your PR Action Plan will contain information unique to your business, but here is what you’ll want to include:

– Media venues you’d like to pursue for a story

– Marketing Messages that are short and tell your story

– Events You Are going to be speaking at or have a booth there to promote

– Newsworthy Stuff About Your Firm

– Any Awards you have won and any partners that might be important

– Timeline for Execution

Step 2 – Identify Your Targets

Once you have a PR Plan in place, it’s time to get smart with a good dose of research. In this day and age, the media are constantly bombarded with hundreds of emails, faxes and phone calls. The challenge for you is figuring out how to stand out and get noticed. Before pitching any media member or sending out a single press release, ask yourself:

“œWhy is this reporter going to care about this particular story? Is it really newsworthy?”

Develop a list of media venues and a targeted list of people that are interested or report on your space. By conducting the appropriate research upfront, you’ll avoid wasting time, money and effort later on. Plus, you’ll create valuable relationships with key media members who can help publicize your business.

Step 3 – Build Your Story Idea Library

Once you have your plan in place and know who you are going to target, you really to create a list of story ideas and a library that gives you a schedule of news that keeps the buzz and momentum going about your company. Startup Nation has a great list of 5 Ways to Create Your Own News. Here they are:

1. Take part in a community event, or create your own. Give something back and encourage others to do the same.
2. Create a brief report or “˜top 10 list’ related to a big trend in your industry that will help others solve a problem. Provide your expertise without asking for anything in return.
3. Submit an opinion piece to your local newspaper about a current news item. This can help build awareness for your business.
4. Give a presentation at a local community college, business group or other organization where your target audience attends. Provide valuable information without giving a sales-pitch and invite pertinent reporters. You’ll establish yourself as an expert and meet potential new customers while increasing your chances of obtaining media coverage.
5. Find success stories and promote them.

Step 4 – Create a Media Kit

You have probably heard of one, but what the heck is one and what is in it?

It is a package of information that allows reporters to get the data they need about your business quickly and easily. You want to include facts about the business, business background, bios and news about the company.

Don’t forget to have an online version so that reporters can access the information at all times to meet tight deadlines. This will help you save time and money in printing and shipping fees.

Step 5 – Generate a few Press Releases

You will want to get started writing a few press releases to get the momentum going. Startup Nation has a great write up on places to publish your press releases and tips on writing them. As they state “it should include some kind of business news, announcement or event that you send to targeted media members, partners, customers, investors, sponsors, and other pertinent people. It should be short, truthful, interesting, and easy-to-read.

I have found that it is good to maybe find a freelance writer to help you craft it. This is because you might not be a good a writer as you think you are or don’t have enough time to really write something from the outside looking in.

Another idea is to set up your web site to have your press releases and news in an RSS feed so people can subscribe to in a feed reader and have it delivered directly to them. Just another channel, but a great one nonetheless.

Step 6 – Get Out There and Start Talking

So you have your plan, your target list, your media kit and a few press releases. So what’s next? Get out there and start talking to people. Always be networking to find new resources for your press releases and most importantly, always be available. Being available to answer questions or provide a quick quote when a reporter is on a deadline can get you press you never even expected.