David Meerman Scott: Measurement, Press Releases, Social Media And Losing Control

This week, I had the privilege of speaking with David Meerman Scott (@dmscott on Twitter) the author of the #1 bestselling book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR, as well as a number of others that have dispelled traditional notions about public relations and marketing. We talked about the fundamental shifts he’s witnessed over the past 25 years, examined some corollaries to the bond market’s shift to real-time communications and discussed how companies should leverage social and online channels at a time when instant access to information drives news coverage. We also talked about the unravelling of control over corporate brands, and the best ways for companies to become part of online and real-time conversations.

Following is an edited version of our conversation.

BAM: In your 2010 book, Real Time: How Marketing & PR at Speed Drives Measurable Success, you discuss appropriate measurements for online communications and document some interesting findings, including the fact that, as you wrote, “on average the publicly traded Fortune 100 companies that engage in real-time communications beat the S&P 500 stock index while the others, on average, under- performed the index.” For lots of companies still though, online communications programs can have a “hidden value” as you describe it. What kind of measurement system do you recommend for smaller start-ups that frequently look to PR and social media as the first and only marketing expense?

DMS: If you’re using a form of measurement that was devised for an offline world, it will give you false data. For example, lead generation as a strict measurement was developed for things like trade shows and direct mail campaigns. Today, you can measure lots of things. For example, where do you appear in search results? How many people are reaching out to you? How many people follow you on Twitter or like you on Facebook? The most important metric though, is how is business? For startups that live and breathe how business is, you can see an immediate tie to growth and what you are doing online.

Scott’s World Wide Rave Measurement recommendations:

1. How many people are getting exposed to your ideas?

2. How many people are downloading your stuff?

3. How often are bloggers writing about you and your ideas?

4. (And what are those bloggers saying?)

5. Where are you appearing in search results for important phrases?

6. How many people are engaging with you and choosing to speak to you about your offerings?

BAM: It can be easier to convince big companies whose brands are already being discussed through social channels to participate because the conversations are happening with or without them. What do you recommend for smaller companies and startups that are looking to break through with a new idea and are essentially starting from scratch?

DMS: If someone doesn’t know the name of your company it’s harder to get traction in the beginning. But it’s only a small setback at the outset. After that, any organisation can do well. In fact, it’s a lot easier for smaller companies to do well because there’s no baggage – no branding police. Bigger companies have something to lose, so it’s more of a risk. Smaller companies have no reason to play it safe, and a lot of incentive to go big with something more provocative. But be careful not to hang your entire company’s future on coming up with next Old Spice commercial. A viral video, in and of itself, is not a strategy.

BAM: How different is social media and customer outreach for business-to-business, business-to-consumer and other types of companies?

DMS: Online marketing and social networking work for every kind of organisation. There isn’t any difference between B2C, B2B, B2G, B2E or nonprofits. The only differences are fear based.

Every time I give a speech, I ask the audience a series of questions regarding how they have researched information about a product or service within the last year. I ask, how many have answered a direct mail campaign? How many have gone to a trade show as an attendee? How many have used Google? How many have used social media? It’s always 10% or below for first two questions, 100% for Google and 90% for social networks. People are not doing the things they did 20 years ago. Now they go to the Web first.

BAM: In your rules of engagement for the world wide rave you say that, “no one cares about your products (except you).” Why is this so important today for connecting with audiences?

DMS: Nobody gives a sh*t about your products. They care about solving problems and care about themselves. People are selfish. To create great content that has the potential for people to share it – and create a world wide rave – you can’t be talking about your products. You need to think about the information you can create that will help solve the problem your audience cares about. This should be the basis for everything you do on the Web.

BAM: I’d like to hear more about your world wide rave principle of losing control. As you described it, “Make your information on the Web totally free for people to access, with absolutely no virtual strings attached: no electronic gates, no registration requirements, and no email address checking necessary.” Why is ease of access so important?

DMS: Losing control is the toughest principle. You have to let people talk about your organisation in the way that they want to talk about it. You can’t complain that they didn’t use your key words. The second part is that you can’t insist on requiring registration for everything you create – that mentality is a hold over from the offline world. It’s wrong to provide an email address to get great content, and it severely limits the number of people who will download it.

BAM: What is the right balance between sharing information openly and divulging a company’s secret sauce?

DMS: So many people are afraid of giving stuff away. They feel like they can’t give you anything unless you’re engaged in the sales process. This mentality is a hold over from a day when sales people were the most powerful people in an organisation. They controlled access to product information. Today, the best way to access product information is through the Web. If you’re looking to buy a product, for business or for personal use, and you cannot find information on it online, you will treat it as suspect. Keeping information under lock and key is a terrible way to get new business.

BAM: What is your view on the press release today? Should companies use them? Are there better tools?

DMS: Every company should be creating content. The press release as a form of content is pretty easy to execute. Companies should create news about what they are doing – whether the form is the press release or not. Releases are nice baby steps for companies that haven’t dived into the deep end of creating their own content – they don’t have a blog or aren’t creating videos.  Once you’ve done press releases for a while, you realise there are some other things you should be doing. If you do use press releases, aim for ones that are actually written in English, and not gobbledygook. The term “innovate” is the worst one these days.

[BAM Note: see my InkHouse post on the buzzwords that should permanently be retired, which includes “best in breed,” “leading edge” and lots of other tired words that don’t mean anything anymore].

BAM: As you point out, real-time communications have been fuelled by the ever-increasing pace of the media. As traditional newspapers look to new business models, how do you see the news industry shaking out over the next 5 to 10 years?

DMS: Journalism is undergoing the same change I witnessed in the bond markets 25 years ago. When computer technology and real-time information took off on the bond desk, Bloomberg, Reuters and Dow Jones real-time news feeds became important. Bloomberg pioneered ideas around real-time technical and charting analysis. At the time, I worked for a company doing real-time commentary, which looked very much like blogging. When something broke in the bond markets, Lou Crandall, the blogger, would get on the system and offer instant commentary about what just happened.

In the news business today, practically everybody on the planet has access to real-time information, wherever they are. The bond market corollary is this: you can either be a first mover when there is a price change, or you can do thoughtful analysis and look at what’s going to happen in the future. With journalism, instantaneous news will always be here – the MSNBCs, FOXs and Huffington Posts are here to stay. That doesn’t mean that thoughtful analysis is going away – the Rolling Stones or Vanity Fairs of the world will always be there too.

However, marketers and PR people haven’t figured out the awesome competitive advantage that goes to people who are quick. It’s foreign to them. When you see something on Twitter, or on a blog, or in the news, or when there’s a regulatory change in your industry, or your biggest competitor is acquired – there is an incredible opportunity to be very very quick and do something instantaneously. There are almost no organisations that think that way right now.