February 14, 2007

Cutting Through the Noise -- You Don't Do It By Making More Noise.

Seems to me Robert is asking as much a marketing and PR question (how can companies cut through the roar of noise on the net) as he is a personal time management question. Surprisingly (heh), I have an answer:

Engage a Marketing/PR person who lives, breathes, and sleeps online like you do. BUT: Make sure they're actually smart, not just off their Ritalin.

The right person will watch for opportunities -- much the same way you read feeds, but with different glasses on -- to enable people who are gathered around a common interest or passion, one your company's product/service addresses. This person understands that an opportunity isn't a chance to spam influencers. It's a chance to help people accomplish something they can't accomplish at that moment. It's two, two, two mints in one: engage and enable.

It's helping the market help itself.

Using your company's passion and people, you help real people (in old-school language, your user base; in new-school language, communities) solve a challenge--not necessarily a challenge that has anything to do with your product or service.

A snapshot that Robert was involved in-- CES 2005. There was a room shortage--no one could find rooms anywhere near CES in Vegas because of a collision of shows and events. Bloggers started saying, Oh crap, I can't find a room at CES. WTF? Big names and not-so-big names were told there was no room at the inn. Technorati ranking didn't matter to the reservations people.

At that time, I was working with BubbleShare, who was also going to CES without dollars to spend but with the hope of connecting with bloggers and others. What did we do? We saw this context-based need and realized an opportunity to help solve a problem. We didn't pull some obvious, goofy PR stunt: Hey, let's take photos of people out on the street and have a contest! We engaged people and helped solve a problem.

In one night (we started around 11 p.m. I think), we built, populated and got the word out about the CES Wiki, which was designed to connect folks who were looking for roommates, places to stay, rides, etc., at CES. By the next morning, everyone was talking about it.

We followed the conversation like bloodhounds trying to help people hook up, matching needs with solutions. Calling hotels and getting information on who had rooms and who didn't. And once everyone was situated, we used the wiki to update that same community during the show. Charlene Li told people where they could rent bikes to get around. Doc debated a star-watching excursion. And we held an "Unconference/Unshow" during the show to connect bloggers and companies realtime.

Yes, we encouraged photo sharing on the wiki, but the POINT of the wiki was that we were providing a way for the people to accomplish something. And we were doing so without spending money on hot air balloons or limos.

Now if we had had money..... well, never mind. The cost was virtually nothing. The reputation gain was huge. If I had my way, that wiki would still be up and active, and would have morphed into something larger in its own right, continuing and facilitating relevant conversations and connections around events.

So, yes, while tools and processes can help Robert and the rest of us cut through the noise, smart people who understand the net are what help companies cut through the noise.

Okay, Ritalin helps too.