The rise of keyboard warriors

August 1st, 2012

Be it a family outing, quarterly vacations, weekend parties, birthdays and mundans, thread ceremonies to kitty parties, we simply can’t stop ourselves from sharing an update on the social networking site of choice.

Watch The Dark Knight Rises, upload your show timings on Facebook, post the check-in update while entering the movie theatre, send some tweets expressing views on the film, come back and post some more after-party pictures and food that was eaten. Probably tag the friends in the photos (who were a part of outing) and then eagerly check the smartphone for responses from friends. A few hits on the ‘Like’ button or comment after your tweets and that’s enough for us to call it a day.

The cycle is near identical for nearly the whole lot of 50 million-plus Indians on Facebook and 13 million-plus users in India on Twitter. There’s no defined boundary as to how much information one should share, as long as they are comfortable sharing it with the world wide web.

But it really grates on my nerves when people start counting their virtual activism as action.

It goes this way. Have a problem with government, politicians or a local civic issue, take it up on Twitter. You WILL get a few blokes to re-tweet, agree or add their own views. Or post a poignant status update on Facebook about corruption or power failure and you have done your bit. More recently, want to spread a word about a particular animal shelter, social cause, or re-post a picture of some lost kid you yourself have never seen or verified — get on Facebook, tag friends and get a discussion started. Job done and satisfaction earned. This is Gen X’s way to feel as if they’re making a difference — without having to go to any trouble at all.

A survey conducted by Pew involving 895 Internet experts revealed the Internet can lead to people “coming out of the closet” about subjects they might have stayed quiet about before. Yes, I can see that it is happening. People are comfortable voicing opinions on marital abuse, child exploitation etc but does that mean they have changed in real? I know a ‘socially active’ person who I remember re-posted messages/pictures and news items on her Facebook page supporting education for under age child workers in small scale factories. Naturally, it came as a shock to me when I saw a 13-14 year old girl employed as her son’s caretaker. “Oh, I teach her English and Maths on weekends. And we keep her really well. She even comes to the restaurants with us when we go out as my son cannot stay away from her,” was the response. Right.

If you haven’t noticed yet then do go to Twitter and check out some of the tweets from film celebrities, industrialists, sports stars, random media personnel or budding entrepreneurs on Anna Hazare and his movement. Read the 140 characters some of the who’s-who have posted and you would wonder how patriotic the views are. It’s hard to not re-tweet. Also, while you admire them (virtually) do spare a thought about how much these ‘names’ have actually done OFFLINE to support Hazare and his cause. Did they use their public position to help Hazare, beyond the online medium? Did they join the movement physically? Or was it just about posting some thoughtful sentiments on his fast unto death, corrupt politicos and a smart ridicule on the PM from their smartphones and tablet PCs?

The people who are sitting & fasting at Jantar Mantar are doing not because they want to ‘trend’ on Twitter or be ‘shared’ on Facebook but because of real grievances, because of years of outrage and because for them, enough is enough. The digerati need to accept the fact that there is a class of social problems for which there is no easy technological solution. If they want civic change then they will have to get their hands dirty. Some genius has already scripted the term, Slactivism, which comes from the combination of “activist” and “slacker” and used for the online supporters who actually do nothing constructive for the causes they claim to support.

I find it hard to disagree with bestselling author of The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell who says, “Technology does not and cannot change the underlying dynamics of ‘human’ problems: it does not make it easier to love or to motivate or to dream or convince.” I am all for social media to be used as means of sharing personal tid-bits, life events, jokes etc. But don’t prescribe it to an apathetic populace that convinces itself that they have in some way ‘done their bit’, and soothes consciences. Worse, it conditions the young and/or gullible into thinking that Slactivism is acceptable.

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Why should you read Google’s new privacy policy?

January 27th, 2012

Instead of having several privacy policies for multiple products Google (YouTube to Orkut), users’ data will now be governed with just one policy across its products.

In a company blog post, Google privacy director Alma Whitten writes, “If you’re signed in, we may combine information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.”

The point that is underlined by Google is that for all those who want to use Google’s services, (which are free), it will be mandatory to accept the new guidelines. Google collects user’s information in 2 ways: details that user reveals while signing up for an account and how user uses Google services everyday. So, if you spend an hour signed in to a Google account searching the web for diets and weight loss programmes, the next time you log into YouTube or Google+, you might see recommendations for videos, ads, links etc featuring local gymming centres, dieticians, along with ads for weight loss merchandise and the nearest place to buy them. In short, Google collected your details and web habits, streamlined it for the marketers and sold it to relevant bidders who want you as their customers.

And it is not just Google. Facebook and every other popular internet service stores as much information as possible about their users so they can sell more advertising at higher rates to marketers looking to target people interested in specific products.

All signs point towards the fact that Google wants to compete with Facebook that already uses targeted recommendations on its sidebar advertisements. Ever wonder why after you “liked” that rock band’s fan page, ads began popping up with every log-in about their concerts and band t-shirts? The network is closely watching your interests.

When Google says — “Our new Privacy Policy makes clear that, if you’re signed in, we may combine information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience ” — users should read it as is that come March, what they do on one Google-owned site will affect what content they see on another Google-owned site.

Privacy advocates argue that if Google is meant to be a service designed to help users then why doesn’t it include a choice to opt out? Others point that user data, which sell for up to $5,000 (nearly Rs 2.5 lakh) a head to marketers, is critical for Google that missed earnings expectations for the fourth quarter.

For now, Google refuses to react on the backlash it has been gathering with its new privacy policies.

PS: Those who are wondering what is the closest thing to opt-out? Answer is, remain logged off from a particular account while browsing the web, or in extreme case, cancel the account.

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Jobs and his impact on Indian CEOs

October 7th, 2011

Sitting in Cupertino, he visualized how people across the globe would alter their gadget habits and predicted what they would appreciate. That was Steve Jobs. Mass-market was a term he did not live by and we’re glad he chose quality over everything else.

Even though we may argue that India never became that “consumption market” for Apple devices, the 56-year old visionary sure made an impact that multiplied virally among the young consumers and got our globe-trotting Indian CEOs hooked to the brand.

Here are some voices that you would be glad you read.

***
Raj Nayak
CEO, Colors

I woke up this morning to see an email from my daughter in Los Angeles letting me know that Steve Jobs had died. My twitter was abuzz with tributes to the man who some say was the greatest visionary of our time. It occurred to me that even though I had never met the man, he influenced me and so many others in a profound way that I cannot fully express with words. Jobs, and by default, Apple revolutionized technology as we know it. From the iPod that changed the way we listen to music, to the iPad that changed the way we live our lives, his creations were the stepping stone to technological advancement. He made computers user-friendly to the point where everyone from the age of 4 can now skill fully use one making even a person like me feel tech savvy.

I don’t think there is any place one can travel on the face of the earth that has not been touched by Jobs and his work. Although Jobs was primarily known for Apple, he was also the creator of Pixar, an animation company that gave us Toy Story and Finding Nemo, movies that played a pivotal role in the lives of so many of our children. In India too, he was the icon of the educated young generation.

However, Steve Jobs will stay with me forever not because of the achievements he made in his career, but rather because of the philosophy that he preached, one that we can all learn from. His 2005 Stanford commencement speech is perhaps one of the most eloquent and meaningful speeches I have ever heard.

When addressing the question of death, he simply stated “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

“There are many people who get recognition when they are alive, only a few get recognition in death & those who do, become immortal. Steve jobs is one of them, as someone said on twitter today, he will trend forever.” I may not have known Steve Jobs, but I do know that he is one of the few great men who had the courage and conviction to follow his heart and for that he will always be an inspiration to me.

***

Alok Kejriwal
CEO & founder, Games2Win

I have had some amazing experiences at the Apple iStore:

Once, when I was looking for an iPhone accessory, the usual friendly ‘Blue Tee’ Apple store employee came up to me and asked me what I wanted. Before I answered, I felt a little uncomfortable – he was not looking at me while speaking but rather to the side. In the another second, a large Labrador dog brushed passed me and that’s when I realized that the employee was sight impaired and the dog was his guide. The person helped me like any other employee did and I was stunned – because this taught me that the world’s greatest tech companies puts what matters first – people

In most Apple stores, I had got used to standing quietly in queues and then approaching the counter for the product and making payments etc. In the Santa Monica store, the store assistant asked if I would like to ‘pay’. I bit confused I said ‘yes’ and gave her my credit card. She swiped it on her iPhone there and then (using Square -https://squareup.com/) and then came the best part – the small invoice (which also now I only request via e-mail) printed under the table via ‘hidden’ printers. So, this store had NO ‘cashier’ counters – no real estate that had nothing to do with the product!

What I like about Apple Stores the most is their ability to surprise. Once I returned a pair of earphones whose side ‘rubber’ rim had worn off. The employee took the ear phone inside, and then returned saying ‘Sir, these are 1.6 years old – they are beyond the guarantee period but here is a new pair just because we love you.

***

Jaspreet Bindra
Regional Director: Retail, Entertainment & Devices: India at Microsoft

Steve Jobs was a visionary – he rewrote the rules of the music and the communication business, and helped shape the PC and technology industry to what it is today. To me personally, his biggest impact was to bring a sense of product design and aesthetics to what were considered as ‘industrial’ products. This is reflected in the almost austere simplicity he brought to technology – his products look good and work well. His famous Stanford address encouraging people to ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish’ has inspired me not to be afraid to challenge the status quo, to think out of the box, and celebrate creativity and innovation.

To quote Bill Gates, “The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had…for those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it’s been an insanely great honor.” For those who were not lucky enough to work with him to, it was an insanely great honour too.

***

Devita Saraf
CEO, Vu Technologies

We lived in the time of Steve Jobs. Great human beings go down history when their actions have a profound impact on the lives of the people in that era. Steve Jobs’ products, through which
he expressed his creativity and leadership, are about complex technology that have been made simple. Simplicity itself it’s a great challenge. Two weeks ago I was in a restaurant in Lower Parel where the waiters were taking the orders on an iPad. None of them seemed computer literate but the ease with which their fingers tapped away just showed the brilliance of Apple’s products. I hope that schools and colleges will be inspired by Jobs’ style of creative leadership and pass it down to their students, and say that its ok to be different. The path to succeed is not only about being the best, but also being comfortable in being different.

Thank you, Steve for your living example.

***

Nishant Verman
Associate at Canaan Partners India

Here’s an easy exercise. Think of a CEO who is more worried about delighting his customers than pleasing Wall Street. A leader bold enough to reinvent established markets because he truly understands what his customer wants. A founder forced out of his own company, but his passion for his ‘baby’ brought him back, and led him to greatness. I am sure there’s only one person that comes to mind – Steve Jobs.

For me, Jobs embodies the most important characteristic of a leader, founder and CEO – the almost maniacal focus and drive to rally his team around understanding and fulfilling customer needs. From my iPod to the iPad, each device is testament to Jobs’ vision to make my experiences as a consumer rich and enjoyable. Many years ago when I first heard of the iPod, I never realized how deliberate the “i” was in the branding. Today I look back and the vision is simple and clear, each promise that was made has been fulfilled. I start my day jogging with Apple, at work call using Apple, and at night browse in my bed using Apple. I am a fulfilled customer.

For India and Indian companies, Steve Jobs holds an even more important aspirational role. At a time when we are transitioning from services to products, he is our guiding light for what a customer driven process should look like. That KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is not a bad thing. That your product can have all the bells and whistles, but not everything needs to be poking the user in the face. And of course, the importance of generating passion for your offering – can you get your customer to wait in the freezing cold overnight just to get their hands on your product?
I will miss you, Steve Jobs – as your loyal customer and ardent admirer. But you will live on forever in your products, and in the millions of products that you inspired. RIP.

***
Salil Bhargava
CEO, Zeebo Interactive Studios

I read about the passing of Steve Jobs on my iMac. As I think of the impact Jobs has had on me as a person, my 5-year-old daughter is doodling on the iPad and my 2½ year old son is playing angry birds on my iPhone. The beauty of his genius lies in the simplicity of the products he designed. If you can create a device that a 2½ year old to an 80 year old can use instinctively, then the people in between are merely a cake-walk.

It was his genius, which revolutionized the music industry with the iPod, and then again the gaming industry with the iPhone, iPad and the iTunes store. He gave a new lease of life to the mobile games industry and inspired a lot of us in the business to stay the course.

He was often quoted as saying, “We’re here to put a dent in the universe.” I think he created a new universe. He was obsessive about product quality and built things to delight a consumer and empower actual users. The success of kids apps on the iPad made me believe that there is a huge untapped market for this space in India and led me to my current gig at Zeebo. One of the greatest joys in my career was to once be named by Mobile Entertainment magazine on a list of ’50 most influential people in mobile entertainment ’- simply because the list was topped by Steve Jobs. To my mind he was the greatest entrepreneur of our generation.

Shine on you crazy diamond. Ad-iOS

***

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A new Apple?

August 25th, 2011

56-year-old Steve Jobs’ resignation is not shocking. Most of the financial world (even the competition) has been expecting it for years now. Although Apple’s stock is feeling the effects, most analysts aren’t overly concerned.

Reputed analyst like Michael Gartenberg from research firm, Gartner has billed Jobs’ resignation “the end of an era in many ways,” but adds that this won’t shake up the company since Jobs has primed his management team and the board for this transition. “At the end of the day there’s much more to Apple than any one individual,” Gartenberg states. “It’s likely to be business as usual in Cupertino tomorrow.”

I disagree.

Everyone knows how anticipated his keynote speeches were when he would mesmerizingly unveil his latest creation, dressed in turtle neck black tee and blue jeans (iconic). He was also known for being a ruthless manager, always demanding perfection. He reportedly ordered designers at Apple to give customers a magical experience when opening a box – which should explain the simple yet elegant packaging that welcomes Apple owners when they lift the lid off their devices.

Jobs would be missed. While Tim Cook, the ex-COO and now the CEO of Apple is seen as a competent replacement, he doesn’t bring the charisma that Jobs did. But he does bring efficiency to table. Cook is credited with pulling Apple out of manufacturing by closing factories and warehouses around the world. This has helped the company reduce inventory levels and streamline its supply chain, dramatically increasing margins. In fact, it would be obvious to race back to 2009 (when Jobs went away for a medical emergency) and see Apple’s performance with Cook at the helm. The stock had rallied from $80 to $200 a share range without Jobs.

Speaking purely as an Apple fan and an ardent follower of “everything that comes with Steve Jobs tag,” it’s going to be hard to sit through a new Apple device launch without Jobs giving the keynote speech (for which I have logged in to web telecasts at late nights and early mornings, seen a zillion re-runs later and marveled every time Jobs unveiled a new feature). Cook simply doesn’t have the power to hold me glued.

Statistically speaking, in the quarter until the end of June, Apple posted a profit of $7.3 billion from revenues of $28.6 billion. That’s a great number. The company even sold 20 million iPhones in the period, as well as 9.25 million iPad –a feat that competition hopes to replicate in its sales books some day. There’s another thing that competition strives to achieve – Apple’s positioning of its devices as a status symbol of social standing. The fact that Apple believes in charging a premium for its well-designed products, only adds to its brand.

While there’s no denying that Apple’s forthcoming product-line has been already well-conceived and approved by Steve Jobs but he would be missed. Meanwhile, I believe we are going to have a period where anything that goes wrong with the company/products will be quickly attributed to the lack of Steve Jobs.

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Google’s +1 — hit or miss?

June 21st, 2011

On June 1 2011, Google released the +1 Button for the whole web. In its official blog, Google writes, “+1—the digital shorthand for ‘this is pretty cool.’ To recommend something, all you have to do is click +1 on a webpage or ad you find useful. These +1’s will then start appearing in Google’s search results.”

This should be seen as a social recommender built-into web and search, sort of a cross between Facebook Like (which only shows up in Facebook) and Social Bookmarkers such as Digg, Delicious etc (which only shows up in their respective systems). Google’s +1 would be deeper integrated in web and search, making it more universal. So far so good.

But Google’s latest social feature, similar to Facebook’s ‘like’ button, will only work for Google if it can manage to import data from Facebook, Twitter and similar sites, into the individuals’ Google Profile thereby making Google, the gatekeeper of social interactions.

While there is probably a need for this as there are too many points of interaction – SMS, Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Hotmail, Messenger, etc, we do know that Facebook has made it fairly clear to allow Google to access data it holds.

+1 could work for advertisers online. Let’s say you’re a big Google AdWords advertiser. You pay 25 cents a click. Now you start using +1 and your users drive up your ranking for all the keywords you are relevant for. This way your noticeability goes up and drives more organic clicks. So you pay less as your organic SEO is improved (non-paid traffic) and your ads convert better (paid traffic that converts better is cheaper in the AdWords algorithm).

In short, with +1 the ability for users to recommend paid search ads to their friends will potentially increase CTRs and thus lower overall advertiser costs. Currently, every user now sees different ads based on their search history whether they are signed in or not, but this is now a step further into personalising the ads a user sees.

Another plus for Google is that it owns search engine referral traffic, which is the primary traffic driver for websites. So if +1 recommendations can influence your page rank then its a wise thing to have on your website.

What I am wondering is that since ‘Like’ and ‘Tweet’ buttons have been around much longer, it is only natural that they have cultivated their follower habits. So will we take to another social sharing tool? And really, will we have the faith to try +1 out after the dismal social tools –Wave, Buzz etc — that Google dished out earlier?

Of course it might be too early to write off +1 Button. But given the string of failed attempts from Google in social media, there’s always going to be skepticism. And the odd thing with social media is that trying too hard is not quite cool. And if you are not quite cool, you can’t tell people “this is pretty cool”.

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Facebook’s insecurities vs Google’s woes

May 12th, 2011

Google knows what you search, when you search, what video you watched & shared and possibly from where you logged on. On the other hand, Facebook knows who your friends are, what you did in that weekend party, what news or information you shared between your friends and what apps you frequented on the social media site.

In short, between the two companies, each knows a good deal about you and your life online. But each company wants to control more and that’s what is causing the new digital age war.

And the bone of contention is who should get the lion’s share of online advertising (that will be targeted at you). Facebook’s 600 million members give the social media website ample data on what an user is looking for online and this allows Facebook to sell targeted advertising. It also makes Facebook a huge rival to Google who makes its livelihood from selling advertising.

Now, Facebook’s collection of data is commonly labeled as the “social graph.” And now Google wants to create its own social graph from its users. It is this social graph that is the crux of a social web presence. Consumers are and will continue to dominate what has value online as they choose where to spend money and time.

Google is desperate to break into the social platform. Remember Orkut where Google wanted us to “make friends” or Picasa where it wanted us to “share albums” or Wave or more recently Buzz where no one knew what Google meant. None made any sense, since people continued to prefer Facebook for all the different products that Google launched. In its latest effort to enter the social space, Google’s +1, which is a button next to the blue links on Google Search results, allows users to say — in Google marketing’s words — “this is something you should check out.” When you click the button, Google tells your friends, family, and the rest of the world that you recommended the link. (Sounds uncannily like Facebook’s ‘Like button?’)
When you +1 something, your recommendation is not only noted under that specific search result, but also with your Google Profile. But my problem here is that not many people probably are even aware that they have a Google Profile already if they are using Gmail, Youtube, personalised Google search, Buzz or Orkut.
If Google manages to position its +1 as a new social voting mechanism that will impact search results for users, there’s no doubt that publishers will want implement it. But what good will it do to users? In the meantime, Facebook reigns as the king of social and more importantly the “Like” button.

But something is making Facebook uneasy too. Newsweek reveals in its blogs that, “somebody [Facebook] hired Burson-Marsteller, a top public-relations firm, to pitch anti-Google stories to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy. Burson even offered to help an influential blogger write a Google-bashing op-ed, which it promised it could place in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, and The Huffington Post.” The blog post further reveals, “Last month, Google CEO and co-founder Larry Page sent out a memo telling everyone at Google that social networking was a top priority for Google—so much so that 25 per cent of every Googler’s bonus this year will be based on how well Google does in social.” That’s desperate.

Various estimates suggest that last year, Facebook raked in $1.86 billion in advertising dollars, accounting for 4.7 per cent of total digital ad spend and will take in an estimated $4 billion for 2011. And, while Facebook has a 23.1 per cent share of display ads, Google Sites have just 2.7 per cent. All this because Facebook can promise better targeted advertisements to its advertisers and serves about 39 billion impressions each month.

Facebook’s ’social search’ was approved in February of 2010, after seven years in the US patent office — allowing users to access data from Facebook home pages. (They already have a search engine partnership with Bing, but it only shows links that users share on Facebook.) And, as seems to be the general trend with the web, search will probably become more social.

Personally, I am convinced that Facebook will add features that will let me search the web while staying on Facebook and at the same time, Google will multiply the features that will help me connect to friends online with just a click. That said, there do appear to be a lot of “misses” when it comes to Google coming out with innovative products – have they lost touch with what we’d want in a social network?

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Brush your communication skills before mailing that pitch

April 27th, 2011

I often get into Twitter arguments – all of 140 characters – with a few followers who think I am being unreasonable when I talk about the state of Public Relations’ (PR) industry. But after 8 years in journalism, I can safely conclude that I know how a Public Relation firm works, what the clients expect from them month after month and how they struggle to deliver the same.

Now, before I am lynched by an angry mob of PR or communication professionals, I must declare that both journalism and PR industry need to uplift their morals and way of doing things. While there are hundreds of poorly qualified journalists thriving, it definitely does not justify the increasing amount of ‘pile-on’ PR we see nowadays.

My past blogs have generated myriad responses that includes statements like “journalists are hoity-toity breeds who cannot think beyond their bylines” to “journalists are equally deluded about the subjects they cover.” But dear PR, does that mean it’s all right to be a sub-standard, pushy-salesman-like representative of a company that is paying you to get their views to media?

***

Everyone who is in PR and media knows that there is no guarantee of how your client’s press release (or news) will appear, or where your message will appear. When a reporter agrees to interview your client, there WILL NEVER be any guarantee of how or when the matter will be used. I believe that there’s a skinny difference in pushing your story and turning into an unbearable pain in the a**. I know that it’s extremely unpleasant to be rejected (there are times, when I have been told that company does not wish to be a part of my story and it really kicks me hard), but that’s a part of media relations.

So, when your story idea is flat-out rejected then opt out of it graciously – better revise your pitch for someone who will write it — before it gets mucky.

***

There are dozens of PR agencies, marketing or communication executives who want their executives featured in media. But do you know why they never make it to newspages? There’s this key rule that goes for any journalist – they like to talk to somebody people who have been quoted by other reporters, simply because it reduces the risk of getting any misleading information.

No matter how you draw the line between media and public relations, I believe that both these jobs require a great deal of skill in mass communication. I can only hope that professionals in these positions learn to anticipate what information will be in demand, and know how to access it quickly.

***

I like to get as much information about a new product or services as possible in one go without having to jump through hoops to get it. But trust me this happens so rarely that I have almost given up. PRs can do themselves a great favor here by sending out as many resources as possible in the first instance. This includes: press release in plain text (not attached as no one bothers with attachments), at least one low resolution image of product/screenshot, web links to more information, price and availability and direct contact info for someone dealing with the account who understands the subject well beyond the press release. Is that too much to ask? Perhaps.

***

The fastest route to failure is calling up a reporter without reading up on what you are pitching for. Just yesterday, I got a call from a PR agency that was pitching a social media story to me. When I asked, “Do you know how many users use social media in India?” I got silence and mumbles for an answer. I added, “How many users use this social media app that you are pitching to me?” Silence. “When did it launch and why is it different from the others?” Silence. You can take a guess if that ever appeared on newspages.

I guess the job is to put a story to the journalist briefly and compellingly that will link your publicity needs with the reporter’s rational self-interest.

Remember, journalist writing — the kind necessary to write a proper news release — can be taught (thanks, AP Stylebook.) But the ability to identify a compelling story and then retell it in a way that compels others is a gift that only the best PR pros possess. Alas, the number of such PRs is on the decline.

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An Emerging Economy Of Peeping Tom’s

January 24th, 2011

The other day, I was at Taj (Bandra) attending a summit and tweeted about the session to my Twitter timeline (in simple words, it went to everyone who reads my updates on the micro-blogging site) and geo-tagged my location (with the in-built GPS function in my iPhone, I can add my location to every tweet/image/Facebook post). By the end of the summit, I got a tweet from 2 followers that they were in the same vicinity (in effect, complete strangers, who subscribed to my Twitter feeds and known to me just digitally). They had seen my location on their handsets! While in theory, I knew this happens but when it actually happened – tracing someone through geo-taging via a tweet — I have to admit it was a bit alarming to introduce myself to two strangers (who by the way turned out to be speakers from the summit I was attending).

And then some more startling conversation followed. One of the strangers, let’s call him Mr A, asked me about MY trip on a yacht that I had tweeted about, asked me questions on my recent experience as a panel moderator that I had shared on Facebook, and also discussed my story that I had shared on LinkedIn. He knew and remembered my digital updates. The second person, Mr B too enquired about a recent trip that I had shared on Twitter and pointed out what I should have included in my itinerary.

If you’ve been spending the past year or longer on the most popular social networking sites – Twitter and Facebook – then probably the above incidents have occurred in your life too. People like me log on every day, obsessively share updates on Facebook profiles and make it a point to check the status updates, tweets and what their online friends have been upto. In many ways, this is like reversing the peepholes on our apartment doors and inviting the world to see us in our natural habitat.

And I am not alone. Facebook is the 3rd most visited website in India, representing 5.26 per cent of all Indian Internet visits (according to Experian metrics). With search engines, social networks and email services clocking top ranks on the internet, it’s safe to conclude that most internet-savvy Indians spend a good amount of time reading up on what their friends are chatting, tweeting, scribbling, uploading, viewing and recommending on the web.Social networks have evolved is a classic example of how voyeuristic we have become (and there’s scope for more with 3G with people expected to start sharing videos etc on handsets).

Our every move, latest connections and most current whereabouts are up for everyone to see. And if you ever convince yourself that people aren’t paying attention to you simply because you don’t see a comment on your updates or photos of that party you attended, then please don’t fool yourself. When you comment on someone else’s photo or update, sites generate an email to let everyone else in your network know what you just scribbled. You “poke” a friend, take a quiz or survey and compare the results with your friends or upload a photo of your new car and wait for your friends to compliment you on your choice. You reach out to the site and it reaches out to you — keeping you glued.

The question I ask myself — can I stop social networking today? The answer stares right back at me.

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Change would be good for us too!

September 29th, 2010

Humbled by reader feedback that my previous blog post generated — both positive and some not so positive — I had to write another one to finish what I started. Just to reiterate, I began with how PR executives can best use technology available to establish good media relations and how emails to social media platforms are abused by a large section.Even after reading my post, a few who sent me positive feedback continue to cold call me during peak rush hours (and some even SMSed me Monday meeting reminders on Sunday afternoon), pitch for non-existent news/feature sections over chat, call at least a 100 times in a day (with introductions that last over 2 minutes) to check on emails and press releases (most of which are not even my interest areas). And then I’m branded ‘rude’ by peers in the industry.

Beginning with the general assumption that (bulk of) journalists seem to treat public relations and its practitioners with contempt, I have to admit that I’m guilty too. But listening to 25-odd cold calls from trainee PRs to check if “a particular column was still carried in paper” or “to confirm if I have received the email they sent,” pardon me if I lose my calm.

But really, I (and many many journos) don’t treat all PRs with contempt. It’s not sustainable for us to ignore this category of media personnel. There are at least 100 fabulous PR professionals whom I respect, listen to and even call in case I have not understood a particular section in press releases. The reason: they know their client. They know what press release is saying (and often what press release refrains from saying). They understand if I’m a reporter from a business daily, then what kind of data and deadlines we work for. These will be the signs of a good PR. I have had healthy discussions arguments

I admit that not all PRs and journos can be generalized in good or bad category but if you want to keep a client/brand (who pays you the retainer fees) featured on any newspaper/magazine, then please take the time out to read the daily at least once in your life. Figure out if the magazine/daily/TV channel presents any scope for your client and how it would interest the audience of that news medium. Is it too much to ask? Perhaps yes, but if you want to be a PR professional who is respected for his/her insight about a newspaper/news medium then it’s a small homework to do.

Journalists, I have seen, tend to take the presence of PRs for granted. There are journos who care two cents about media ethics when they interact with PRs — they call up PRs/corporate communications expecting instant gratification or sometimes even threaten with zero publicity if contact details of company executives are not shared. Here’s where we go wrong. While there is a sliver of chance that a PR might disclose his client contacts to a journos (usually a friend/confidante) but really if we expect instant gratification then it’s time to step out of our AC offices and meet all companies (a journo tracks or writes) in person. This way you develop contacts and establish a rapport on your own.

The job of the media is (in theory) is to tell the stories (based on facts & figures) to its audience that PR people sometimes don’t want told. Here’s where the fine line is. There are journos who take “telling stories” literally and then there are journalists who will think and check twice before they add their bylines to a speculative article. It is open to argument what breed of journos you deal with on a day to day basis but as PR professional you are required to have answers and deal with uncomfortable situations, or just have non-answers that work well enough that people forget what they are asking. It is akin to the situation where we are expected to have working knowledge and insights on every subject (even the ones we have no clue about).

Public Relations has to be much more than press releases and pitching. Yes, I have never been on the other side of the fence and I really don’t understand what pressures a PR deals with. But I know that if they have to interface with journos and editors on a daily basis, there are some lessons to be learnt the right way.

Just as any journo sends his/her “questionnaire” with unrealistic deadlines that your client cannot abide by, the behavior is mirrored by PR professionals too. Spam blast emails and broadcasting “messages” at “audiences,” contacting reporters without reading their work only means sacrificing the investment in relationships for the gamble of percentages, hoping to turn big campaigns into measurable pockets of coverage and visibility.

For argument sake, if bylines are sacred to a journalist a PR professional’s career is defined by hits and coverage & whether the published stories were “on message.” So, no one can point fingers at any one.

But the one thing that we can do is adapt so that each tribe thrives in peace.

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Change is good

September 15th, 2010

Seven years back when I started my career as a reporter, journalism was different and so was the  way it was done.

Just to speak of the basics — internet was a dial-up connection (which took annoyingly long minutes to connect) and filing stories from anywhere but office meant an extra dent to your pocket (if you take in to account the cost to log on from an internet café or home). Most Press Releases were usually faxed or delivered physically (in case the email was not read by the recipient or worse got lost in the world wide web!) Mobile phones were catching on but there weren’t any SMS reminders sent in bulk for press events.

Today, both journalists and the industry have adapted itself around technology. Emails have become a part of life and emails on mobile phones are even more critical. International corporates are just a call or a video-conference away and filing news reports is possible from any corner of the country as long as it has a mobile cell tower or a data signal connectivity.
Yet when I look at corporate Public Relations (PR) executives – an important part of any journalist’s life – sending ‘bulk’ emails that make no sense, doing follow-ups of press releases (usually the junior most PR colleague is assigned this task) on ‘deadline’ hours, and off late pitching for clients on social media sites, it just makes me cringe.
Why can’t PR executives use technology efficiently? And this brings me to the question, how exactly should a PR professional function? Here are a few things that come to my mind:

Use social media responsibly: If you have managed to get on to a journalist’s Facebook friend list or have been following his Twitter updates, then use this carefully. For me, it seems okay to talk about a prospective client/story on these sites, but remember not every journo takes to such invasion spiritedly.

Also, it’s unfair to post good story ideas on an open forum as might attract attention from other journalist colleagues.

After you friend a journalist, engage regularly and most importantly read their stories, post comments, share their stories with your friends and colleagues, and ask people in your company to make comments and share the stories further. To the journalist, that’s a huge win, and he or she will feel like they owe you one back, so to speak.

Use Chat Messengers, even more carefully: My personal rule is not to add any more PR guys to my web chat list (unless I have met them in person), primarily because it can become a nuisance. Some of them of try to behave like my long lost buddies and it is really irksome since most of the time I haven’t even seen their faces in real-time.

But if you are on a journalist’s chat messenger, then don’t try to use it as a tool to follow-up on press releases, or mail pitches. And if you have to, then don’t push it beyond one reminder on chat window as that will surely lead to blocking you on the chat.

And lastly, it is not cool to keep pinging on chat to ask whereabouts or designations or profile checks of colleagues of the journalist. Do that homework on your own.

Vow to never send attachments in Email. Ever: Imagine this – most journalists are on the road for a good part of the day and there’s nothing more frustrating than wasting time waiting for emails to download (on smartphones where data charges matter) because some PR chap attached four MB worth of photos that you never asked for in the first place.

Easier way would be to include a simple link in your email for the Press Release from where the writer can grab, download and get anything additional they want. If the journalist needs any details like photos, white papers, or whatever, they will revert to you (for sure!).

CAPS LOCK IN SUBJECT LINES? WRITING SUBJECT LINES AND HEADLINES IN CAPITALS DOESN’T MAKE THEM ANY EASIER TO READ AND IT SOUNDS AS IF YOU ARE SHOUTING AT THE JOURNO.
See what I mean about readability?

Know your journo: Make sure that you have an updated media list on your mobile phone. If you are calling a journalist for the first time, please do read his/her articles, blogs etc. It will only help in utilising time better.

When you don’t hear back after the press release/SMS blasts: If the writer is interested in your press release/story pitch/client, be assured that they will reach out to you (they need to show their bylines to bosses after all). Even if your email might have been flagged by their spam filter, they will eventually find it and decide if your pitch is worthwhile to them. If they don’t respond to your first attempt, take that as a sign of not being interested.

And please, don’t lurk during meetings: As a PR, when you sit in on conference calls or interviews then please remember who the journalist is trying to interview (clue: it isn’t you). PRs, who try to step in, once too often, not only deviate the course of the interview but also create a lot of irritation.

Wouldn’t it be easier if you briefed your clients beforehand and gave them – and the journalist – the space to have a proper, uninterrupted conversation?

In a nutshell, for me a good PR is the one who makes things easy for journalists. They coordinate things efficiently keeping the deadlines in mind and understand how journalist or publication plays its part in communicating news to wider audience. A bad PR is ill-informed, demanding, haughty, deceptive, intrusive, and sometimes plain idiotic.


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