Interview: Joel Postman

Joel Postman, EVP of emerging media at Eastwick Communications, is a veteran of social media. He was previously the director of executive communications for the worldwide enterprise business group at Hewlett Packard. Prior to HP, he was the senior speechwriter for then-CEO and chairman of Sun Microsystems, Scott McNealy.

Joel Postman, EVP of emerging media at Eastwick Communications, is a veteran of social media. He was previously the director of executive communications for the worldwide enterprise business group at Hewlett Packard. Prior to HP, he was the senior speechwriter for then-CEO and chairman of Sun Microsystems, Scott McNealy.

Postman discussed his new role and social media trends with PRWeek.

PRWeek: Can you tell me what your responsibilities are?

Joel Postman: We use emerging media interchangeably with social media. So my responsibilities are for developing client offerings for Eastwick in the areas of blogging, podcasting, viral video, wikis and online communities.

PRWeek: As long as we're talking about podcasting, what's the best length for a podcast? Do you have a certain length that just keeps people's attention?

Postman: That really depends, but typically the longest a podcast should be is 15 minutes. A podcast with a particularly engaging interviewee -- and I won't make any assumptions about myself here - could go 10 to 15 minutes. If the podcast is going to be more of an audio blog, it might be shorter, five or six minutes tops.

PRWeek: You came to Eastwick from HP. Tell me about your transition.

Postman: At Hewlett Packard I ran executive communications for the enterprise business. So I had a team of eight to 12 people who wrote presentations, speeches and editorials for the executives at HP's enterprise businesses. Part of our job was to find additional visibility opportunities for our executives.

In late 2004 and early 2005, we started to see a lot of interest in blogging at the corporate level, podcasting as well. One of the things I was involved with at HP was something we called Nora Denzel's Agility Radio: Nora Denzell, a senior software executive, doing a podcast on the software business and her views on the world. This was considered by a number of people as one of the first podcasts by a senior tech executive.

My view on all the social media, blogging and podcasting in particular, is from an executive perspective. I see it as a way to amplify the executives' voices in the company. When I heard about the opportunity at Eastwick, I wasn't full time on social media. There were very few social media full time positions in the largest companies, and Eastwick had such a great client mix; from Fortune 500 companies to security firewall companies, and a number of Web 2.0 companies in various phases of their start-ups. There was a great opportunity here to help clients with social media at every level.

PRWeek: You have said social media should not be viewed in isolation. Could you elaborate on that?

Postman: One of the things I advise clients is not to think about a social media strategy, per se, but to look at social media in a broader communications strategy. Look at how social media integrates with web marketing, advertising, sales, even RMD to some extent. Then beyond that, the communications strategy in turn should (and this is business 101) meet those objectives.

For example, if one of your objectives is to diversify in to the financial services market, then one of your strategies should reflect that, and your social media strategy should reflect that. To simplify, one way you might do that is to look [within] your company for an expert on financial services to do blogging or podcasting. The person doesn't necessarily have to be a C-level executive; in fact, in the larger companies we are not seeing that many C-level executives blogging or podcasting. But if you have got somebody who is an authority, then that person becomes an excellent spokesperson on financial media.

PRWeek: Do PR agencies encounter any resistance from executives? How do you get people in a company enthusiastic about something they haven't done before?

Postman: That's one of the biggest challenges with social media. Most of us are in corporate communications and PR in the business five, ten, or fifteen years. One thing we do is try to control the message, and try to keep that renegade executive on message. Social media is the antithesis of that. That is one area you get a lot of resistance, particularly at the larger companies.

When we talk to start-ups, smaller companies, especially Web 2.0 companies, they are less resistant. They are less risk-averse. They are like kids who grew up with iPods and tech around them, these are companies that grew up with social media around them so they are less afraid of it. Of course, they are also less beholden to stockholders.

There are also issues with social media in general at publicly held companies, [and with] corporate communications professionals or people who work in marketing organizations. [There are] concerns, not only that executives will go off message, but that they might say things that put the company up for legal risk. Those situations have to be mitigated. We do a lot of training, help companies put up blogging policies, codes of ethics, [and] remind people that for a publicly held company, they still have a standard of business conduct that doesn't go away simply because someone is blogging.

PRWeek: Something that has come up lately are the rights of employees at large corporations to blog on their own time using their own names that will reflect the company is a negative way. Do you have any policies for your company or clients about blogging on their own time?

Postman: I am not aware of any of our clients that have such a policy. But we have a policy at our agency that employees are free to engage in social media on their own time. They can have their own blogs, have a MySpace page, whatever they would like to do. But when they identify themselves as employees of Eastwick, they are representing the agency and its clients; the same rules apply. When they are talking about IT, PR or anything that relates to their work, [they have] to be in full disclosure about who they are to avoid a conflict of interest.

PRWeek: What do you see coming a year from now in emerging media?

Postman: I see blogging becoming more commoditized. Blogging is going to be on your Windows Vista start menu, or on your Apple start menu at the bottom of your laptop, where you just click a button and hit post and then you're done. There is going to be the opportunity for PR agencies, communications consultants, and so on to work with clients on the message, but the mystery of the technology is going to start to go away.

The other thing that is going to happen is with the increasing richness of media comes more interest from readers. So if you move to audio, you tend to get more downloads from people and more visitors on the site than people reading text-based blogs. So if you move to video, there is even more interest and more pass-along factor with audio and video. So I think you will see blogs becoming a very standard part of corporate communications and agency communications, for that matter.

What is really important for companies looking at social media is to be authentic. I won't go in to the high-profile failures, like Edelman-WalMart and Sony PlayStation's Christmas flog. Those are the obvious mistakes companies can make. But there is a more subtle mistake companies can make - letting inside and outside factors have too much of an influence on the blogs. We talked about executives going off message and professional communicators being concerned in this area, but there is a backlash that happens when they place too much control on the executive message. This is just as bad as not having a blogger; having someone who blogs or podcasts or [uses] other social media and having too much marketing spin. My recommendation is to let go a little bit of the brand and give people room to be credible and authentic.

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