Organizational Evangelism

(Or, “Darwin’s Bulldog 2.0”)

Thomas Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog”

Recently I’ve been talking with my friends about an idea that business guru Guy Kawasaki has been at the forefront of for many years, the idea of “product evangelism” or utilizing your biggest supporters to positively promote a product or organization (i.e. Apple’s iCabal).

Following up on this thought, you should look at how to develop your company’s/industry’s supporters into a cohesive “pack” (for lack of a better word) that is willing to support and defend your company.  Non-profit coalitions have been doing this for quite a while, and businesses can learn quite a bit from these organizations.  Many non-profits, if not almost all of them, have spent decades doing more with less when it comes to communications and coalition-building.  What these groups lacked in financial strength, they made up for in passion, perseverance, strategy and volunteerism.

What social media tools then did was lower the bar for strong content creation by these groups.  Once the bar was lowered these groups were able to produce their message cheaper and for a potentially larger audience.  This content creation then works hand-in-hand with social networking to build a larger base of volunteers, or as they tend to be called in a business setting, “evangelists.”

I call this idea “Darwin’s Bulldog 2.0″. (but I didn’t create this idea, it’s been out there for a while, but I wanted to look at how to use evangelists to passionately support and bolster your organization.)  A quick history lesson for y’all:

Thomas Huxley was a 19th century biologist from England.  He was a fierce proponent of this burgeoning scientific theory called “evolution” at a time when evolution was still being derided by many intellectual elites in England.  It was because of this devotion to his cause that he became known as “Darwin’s Bulldog.”

Huxley was groomed by Darwin and for a time became the face of public debate in favor of evolution.  He was known for his spirited debate about evolution with Samuel Wilberforce in 1860.  After this debate he served notice to the forces of traditional orthodoxy that evolution would not be easily pushed aside.  He stood in the face of this adversity for much of his career after the Wilberforce debate, giving as good as he got.

What does this have to do with public relations in the Web 2.0 world?  Quite a bit actually, especially when you advocate for your position or organization.

You can see much of the same kind of fervor online today, usually in political partisans (see Hugh Hewitt, Michelle Malkin, Daily Kos, Eschaton, etc.)  since blogging entered the political realm back in the wee early 2000s.

While not all organizations or industries would need someone to vigorously defend them, as your organization moves into the social media realm, or develops a social network of allies (on Facebook or Ning, which I recommend) you can start to “feel out” if there are any of your online evangelists that could/would serve as your fervent supporters or defenders.

Trying to put together a “viral” social media campaign will not be successful without some level of separate, independent evangelism from your supporters.  (see “Walmarting Across America” or the definition of “greenwashing.”) This is where working with Ning, Awareness Inc., a site like My Barack Obama, or Facebook can help with creating a community for your supporters.  Giving them a chance to interact with each other, sharing and improving on ideas for your organization or product.

Suffice it to say, you will need to monitor and nurture this potentially burgeoning community.  As your community grows, you’ll get opponents signing on to keep track of what your organization is doing, and potentially flaming your community and sabotaging your efforts in growing the community.  You need to have a member of your social media team, probably one of your bloggers (if you have the luxury of hiring more than one person to take care of your social media creation needs) also oversee the community and interact with your evangelists in it.  Check out Dell’s IdeaStorm site for ideas to build on.

It’s important that these people be organically independent of your business.  You don’t want to be caught in the position of “paying” for support,” and the following blogstorm that will ensue. (see “Walmarting Across America” for an example of what not to do)

If your evangelists do work for your organization, they have to be up front about it – and then go the extra steps to prove that they mean what they advocate, and aren’t just cashing a paycheck. As long as they own up to working for the company, they aren’t disqualified for representing their company with passion.

To my PR readers out there, what do you think?  Should your organization have a “bulldog,” someone who is out there passionately defending your brand?  What do you think the downside is?  Can they be seen as a “loose cannon” who can do more damage to your brand?  Should you let one of your internal defenders speak out for you, or do you think that will cause more damage to your organization’s brand?

From the Archives – “Bigger Boobs Through Social Media?”

If you are interested in social media, and learning how to get started or engage more in this burgeoning online media-sphere, then you have probably run across quite a few stories/blogpieces/ads pimping how “You Can Get 10,000 Twitter Followers in 30 Days!” or “You Too Can Become a Facebook Gawd!!1!!” and other such nonsense.  To me these are nothing more than just the latest “How To Get Bigger Boobs Through Social Media”-esque BS lures to remove you from your money or time (both of which are important).

A lot of these try to latch onto our need to be recognized, to be acknowledged quickly for our brilliance – and claim to provide a quick, “gimme gimme gimme now” fix to achieving this. Like most things in life and business, working in social media is going to require a lot of patience, time, strategic planning and hard work.

One of the big ideas these “plans” leave out – especially important if you are a business owner or corporate type – is the need for some kind of merging of your strategy between social media and communications. Social media are great tools for building additional communications and increasing your community outreach/developing a community relations platform, but they will never really replace your communications/pr strategy.  They can help augment it, but your social media outlets are really one more avenue to communicate with people, and need their own strategy to . But you need to have a firm strategy in place before you really jump in and drown in all the noise out there.

At the end of the day you’re not going to land 10,000 followers in a month, nor are you going to achieve deitific bliss on Facebook or – Buddha forgive – MySpace. As with most things in life, you need to work at it and show patience. Engage with your target audiences, look at the strategy you have developed – what do you want to say to them? What goals are you hoping to achieve? Why are you writing or recording?

From the Archives – PR Firms as “News Stations?”

(Originally written March 10, 2010 – crossposted at PR Open Mic)
Why aren’t Public Relations firms more effectively using new media tools to create their own “news stations,” reporting on what their clients are doing? As long as those firms fulfill government requirements for disclosure regarding clients/freebies/etc., it makes sense to create content to their client’s advantage.

Now this might seem to run counter to what I’ve said recently about the importance of companies taking control of their own social media messaging. It is important for your organization to create its own social media content, especially blogging and video work. But if you have a PR firm on contract, then you should let the firm showcase its content on their own blog.  It not only promotes the firm (and you as a client of the firm), it’s additional information about your organization that can be picked up by Google searches.

Why and how should a firm set up an online newsroom?

  • It’s like setting up any other blog, with categories and/or pages for each client, and using tags for subcategories.
  • With a WordPress theme like Thesis, and/or an SEO plug in like you’re posts about each client will also appear in an SEO-friendly format
  • Firms usually give the responsibility of creating basic content (press releases, story pitches, etc) to younger assistant account executives. Also put them in charge of creating the social media content as it relates to your clients.
  • Give these junior AE’s ownership of promoting their client on your Firm’s News Blog. This helps them to develop the needed social media skills for the changing PR sphere.
  • Firms should let their Account Executives promote this material to the media, especially the media in smaller communities where local news outlets might have suffered most from the recent economic crunch.

And as long as they follow some SEO rules (keeping in mind that SEO might become secondary from this point on, falling to more organic social connections) PR firms will be able to drive more online searches not just to their client’s site, but to their own as well, which can help in getting more business. (Since the firm can show potential new clients that they are able to work outside the traditional media, or even the recurring idea of “blogger relations”)

Now what do you think? Should more firms take the lead in developing their own news outlet for client and firm news? Or should they spend more time working with the traditional media?

From the Archives – How do you nurture your audience?

Ok, this is a quick note to remember that social media should be primarily about the content you create and how it helps your organization to develop an audience. That’s one of the first questions you need to ask when you’re coming up with your social media strategy, where am I? Who in the hell do I want to talk to? And what do I want to tell them?

Is it an internal audience? Shareholders?  Customers?

Look, you need to connect with your interested audience via social networking (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and develop your community there, but it should always have the goal of bringing people back to your blog, your online home where you bring your social media elements together. You can show off other elements people won’t see on Facebook or Twitter, but you always have to keep in mind the goal of bringing them back to your site.

And with this, I have to disagree with the idea being floated around out there of some kind of “site-less Internet” future. This is asinine. Dude, you don’t want to keep a lot of exclusive content on Facebook or other external networks because you never know when Facebook is going to turn into the next Friendster and fall apart, which is possible if Facebook keeps screwing around with their privacy settings and not telling anyone about it, or pissing off their users.

It’s not about the “supremacy” of Facebook, or Twitter. It’s not even about SEO when you think about it. It’s about using these social networking elements to engage your potential audience on a more neutral field and then bringing them back to your site where you have your kick ass content.

How do you do this? A lot of this is social media 101 but it’s always good for a refresher.

  • Pre-load your site with content before you start reaching out – you want to have a lot of good stuff up before you start engaging with people
  • Listen before you leap – Monitor what people in your industry are saying before you start reaching out to them
  • Engage people – Once you start getting people commenting on your site, respond to them. Don’t ever develop the mentality that you are too important to talk with people who take the time to read what you’re saying.
  • Focus, Daniel-San – Remember that you need to dedicate time to working in social media.
  • Wash, Rinse, Repeat – Keep cranking out interesting content, depending on the social media vehicles you are using.

After checking out your content, continuing to give them additional great content should keep them coming back to your site. This will start to, if it’s not already, replace SEO. If you want to bring SEO into your strategy, look at making every third or fourth post an SEO focused post.  This just means you need to build up content faster.

These are just a few of my ideas, what do you look for when thinking about how to add social media to your mix?

From the Archives – Don’t Overthink The Little Things

Don’t overthink how you connect and help develop community with people, especially your online community. This is a card I received in the mail today from Artbeats, a company that sells royalty-free video footage. I’ve written about them before on Twitter and Facebook when they were giving away free weekly video clips last year.

Unlike most cards, it wasn’t a preprinted message. It was handwritten by one of Artbeats’ employees, thanking me for picking up a piece of footage that was insanely cheap and asked me if I enjoyed using the footage and to provide them with any feedback, with the letter writer’s card inside.

Now I know they might have people writing these cards every so often to customers, but to hit me up with a personal note, someone who might only pick up one or two pieces of video a year, depending on how much cash I have to spend, that gave me a warm fuzzy the rest of the afternoon. And someone who has never spoken with an Artbeats rep on the phone, much less ever met one face to face.

And something else it did was help convince me that when I finally start shooting my first documentary, any budget we get for extra footage might end up in their bank account.

People too often end up forgetting about the small things that touch people. Writing this card might have taken a few minutes more than sending out a quick email or hitting me up on Twitter, but you know something? This handwritten note made an impact on me, more than any email or Facebook hit. Don’t put too much thought into how to reach potential customers only online, sometimes something as simple as a note will have more of an impact.

Random Thoughts

These are some random thoughts that hit me when I was walking the dog last night.  I hope you find some of them useful.  I’m pondering which of them to expand on as upcoming blogs posts.

  1. “Fact Vomit” stories
    1. For Buddha’s sake, New Media and social media outlets have given you the opportunity to write and present your information creatively and with conviction. Take advantage of it!  Don’t just regurgitate stale talking points, tell a compelling story in video, text, audio, images, whatever you can think of!
      Continue reading “Random Thoughts”

Turning Up the Voltage

I was reading Chris Brogan’s blog this afternoon (where anyone interested in getting better with social media should go) and found this post interesting.  Chris talks about ratcheting up your ability to get through information, especially when dealing with social media, faster and faster (think Ben Johnson on steroids, then crystal meth fast).

The problem starts up when you don’t know where to look for information.  Like me, sometimes I finally find out what’s going on only to turn around, write a brilliant masterpiece you have all come to know and love ( 😉 ), get something online and find out I’m still behind the curve.  It’s like the saying goes, sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you.  It’s just a matter of not getting caught off guard too often.  Two questions are, how can you get the information synthesized fast enough, and in this day and age of instant online media, how can you get faster?

P.S. Chris, if you have any ideas on staying up to speed, I’d love to hear them. 😉