I have given a few times in the recent months a presentation,how to launch a product with a community that starts as a first slide with “PR, Marketing and Advertising suck”, and I gave it a few times in front of PR and marketing professionals who obviously enjoyed the slide so much that the most recent versions of my slide deck had “matter less than word of mouth” instead of “suck”. Anyway, having a panel dedicated to it in front of PR and Marketing professionals and I am staying here today with Guy Kawasaki, Louis Gray, Renee Blodgett and Steve Patrizi from LinkedIn trying to summarize my thoughts.
Of course I like to catch the attention of audiences I get to speak to at the beginning of my presentations and I am on purpose pushing the envelope a little, but not only.
Why Marketing, PR and Advertising suck for me
-I do not trust any advertising message or press release, they are generally fake.They are all designed to tell a story about a product or a company which is one sided, it only has the good aspects and they are not neutral. They can be interesting at times when there is news obviously, but even then, much less than what your friends think about it or what the sources you trust, which includes the press and blogs, say about it.
-many bad practice examples that I experienced myself made me not trust many people working as so called PR experts
Only in the recent weeks there were plenty of examples of PR firms cheating by writing fake iphone apps reviews paying interns to leave them, or sending stupid pitches. Most of them are basically standard messages and one time I even got one where they sent an email to me instead of a Wired reporter, with the Dear <insert the name of the wired reporter here> instead of mine. I have stopped working with a PR agency and manage the relationships with the bloggers and the press myself. The last PR agency that worked for me ended in a very bad situation where thanks to their advise and “carefully” distributed embargo we ended up being in the broken embargoes section of valleywag with all the serious press and bloggers laughing at us. I never want to see this happen again.
-online if the product is good you simply do not need them
Have you ever seen an ad for Twitter, Facebook or Google? Actually that is inaccurate I recently saw a few ads about Google adsense and sure, Google does now lots of marketing in different forms but you get the point, during years those companies spread and got millions of users only based on the word of mouth they got. If people like your product, it spreads on its own in many cases, at least for anything on the Internets.
What is the alternative?
Social software and the web have made word of mouth global and extremely fast and efficient, in a positive or a negative way. If your product is good or bad, people will talk about it if it matters to them. My presentation is all around why brands (which can be personal brands) need to create a community around themselves rather than focus on that NY Times article or that Techcrunch post that will get them millions of users. The best PR in the World gets you a little bump during a few days but it dies very fast and very few users remain and keep using your products. Of course it looks good to have half a page in a national newspaper or featured on TV, but it has nowhere the effect of a real community of fans.
Find an empty space.
If the product is good it will find its users or customersMy conference LeWeb in Paris gathers every year 2,000 people from 35 countries and never got any PR, advertising or marketing. There was a need for it, an empty space, and we executed as best as we could. It became a little brand in the world of internet events and did not need any pushing or faking. Our Seesmic Desktop Twitter and Facebook application got 2.5 million downloads without any PR or advertising.
Ship as soon as you can
Online users are used to unfinished beta products and actually enjoy playing with them even though they are still being created. If they understand that you are building them and iterating fast a little community will rapidly gather around your brand, it happened very quickly for Seesmic.
Listen to every single piece of feedback you get
Brands used to have to make focus groups and expensive testing or even test markets launches before they could know anything people would think about the products. Just search your brand on Twitter and follow what people are saying, if they say nothing it means they do not care or that your brand is not born yet, or worse, it is already dead. React quickly, make your product evolve or launch another one as soon as you can until you get attention. Note that I have not said press attention, I am talking about getting the first fans of your products here.
Answer especially if it’s negative
We get feedback about our products every minute or so and of course there is negative feedback. I enjoy it too and rush answering that feedback, it means people care, even if sometimes they are very brutal in public. At Seesmic we have a full time community evangelist, John Yamasaki, answering with me sometimes as many tweets as he can. An angry user who gets a problem solved often becomes your best friend after that and will start telling your friends how cool you behaved because you helped instead of hiding in an office.
Use all the tools available to filter the feedback
I am making one of those tools, but a Twitter client is not enough, feedback comes in multiple forms, I really like Uservoice and Getsatisfaction who let the users vote on the features they would like the most.
Most important, create a long term community
Seth Godin in tribes that I really advise you to read, quotes “1,000 true fans” explaining that having 1,000 real fans around your product helping you and telling their friends is more important than any PR you can get because they are here with you for the long term. They do not come for free and in a few weeks, it may take years and constant attention to create that community around you and your brand, it will come at a cost of lots of sharing and generosity. Share first, help them first, do not ask anything, long term you will get real fans if you are honest and prove you deserve trust. My friend Chris Brogan has just written a great book about how to get Trust Agents. Go and read it.
Why traditional PR and marketing does not work to build a community
Generally the effort is short term, often done with a supplier that can change, on a few months mission or goal, for a product launch, and that does not build trust. Everybody in the company and the PR firm focus on how to get attention for that product launch and press release and do not care a few weeks or even a few days after. There is nobody after the “marketing push” available and in constant touch with the first real fans that could gather around the product. They feel unheard, not taken care of sometimes betrayed when the ad was so over promising compared to the reality of the quality of that product that they are lost forever for that brand. You can hang that NY Times article on your office wall but it did not help much in the long term
Where do we go from there?
I am not trying to insult marketing professionals here far from it, and many get what I am describing here very well and some even use Seesmic. But I feel there is a very long way to go and a deep reboot must happen for brands and people helping them to become more trusted, transparent and in constant touch. A friend at a PR agency recently told me that most brands that get it now usually got a deep online PR issue first that forced them to react. Many remember the Dell hell blog controversy years ago, well Dell is now quoted everywhere as one of the brands that gets it the best, in constant online a click a away in touch with you thanks to Richard Binhammer @RichardatDell and his team who constantly monitor online sources and of course answer actively on Twitter. Many brands read what is being said about them, very few actually answer even negative requests the way Dell does.
There are amazing teams behind brands and amazing PR professionals such as Brian Solis (even if we fight sometimes, I respect him and would work with him anytime), who really get it, but I do not have a feeling that it is a majority yet and I am confident it will change. It will take time though, judging by the crap I am still getting daily in my email boxes.
Oh and of course, there are brands people just do not care much about, such as your toothpaste brand (nothing against toothpaste brands, we just do not talk about them that much) in which case there aren’t many solutions left outside of mass advertising which, yes, has still lots of future.