Technology Roundtable: Part of the community

Rose Gordon traveled to Austin, TX, ahead of the South by Southwest festival to hear what some of the leaders in the tech comms sector were buzzing about for this Airfoil Public Relations-sponsored roundtable.

Rose Gordon traveled to Austin, TX, ahead of the South by Southwest festival to hear what some of the leaders in the tech comms sector were buzzing about for this Airfoil Public Relations-sponsored roundtable.

Amy Crow, director of marcomms, Mutual Mobile
JJ Davis, executive director, global consumer, SMB (small and medium business) communications, Dell
Kyle Flaherty, director of marketing, BreakingPoint
Joel Frey, director of PR, Travelocity
Brad McCormick, principal, 10 Louder Strategies
Bob Pearson, president, W2O Group
Jon Peters, social media strategist, AMD
Lisa Vallee-Smith, CEO, Airfoil Public Relations
Deirdre Walsh, senior social media manager, Jive Software

Balanced message
Rose Gordon (PRWeek): Tech is a highly competitive sector. How do you create the right mix of brand and corporate marcomms versus directly confronting competitors?

Amy Crow (Mutual Mobile): It is all about understanding your brand, what you stand for, and how you measure it. It's always better to stand for something, rather than against someone, in your pitch and storytelling. Your competitive differentiation will come into there. That being said, you do have to understand at what point you're willing to take the gloves off.

Bob Pearson (W20 Group): Consumers aren't looking for companies to go after each other. They want to see exactly what the feature is. If you look at the explosion of search, it's basically people asking questions to get answers, right? Customers are continually telling us, “Please feed us with what we want and stop talking to each other about each other.”

Lisa Vallee-Smith (Airfoil): With the improving economy, marcomms and branding will heat up big time. Microsoft set the tone recently with the Smoked by Windows Phone campaign at CES. As [its communications head] Frank Shaw said, “If we have something to say to the competition, we're going to say it.”

Kyle Flaherty (BreakingPoint): As long as you stick to the truth, that will win in the end.

JJ Davis (Dell): We as communicators understand our brand story and how we differ from the competition. We focus on our strengths and try to communicate them, but how do we have a consistent message? Our employee base is increasingly important. We spend a lot of time doing trainings and making sure we're all delivering that consistent message to the market.

Deidre Walsh (Jive Software): Competition is good for the marketplace. It made technology better. It makes us better marketers. I focus on building really strong communities and bridging the conversations regardless of where they're happening.

If someone has a negative experience and bashes us on Twitter, but I then point them to a support community where they have a really good experience, then they're able to say, “Actually, you know, I made this mistake,” or “I had really good support.” Or the community can become that front line of defense.

Gordon (PRWeek): Community is huge in tech PR. Who thinks they have a strong community that will jump to their defense? How have you fostered those communities?

Davis (Dell): Dell has had communities from the beginning of time – and they've grown. We have Dell Community Rockstars who we have incorporated into our influencer programs. We're seeding them now with our new XPS 13 Ultrabooks. By giving them a unit, we're empowering them with products and other things to be able to promote the brand even more.

Joel Frey (Travelocity): What you said about the community coming to your defense, that's pretty rarified. You've got to be hitting on a bunch of different levers to really get to that point.

Jon Peters (AMD): Dell also has DellCAP. It's a customer advisory panel. They invite detractors and [supporters]. We will follow that same model once we become mature enough to invite both the positive and negative to learn from each. We have about 600,000 social engagers across our various platforms and 80% are truly enthusiasts and gamers, so we have a built-in community.

There's an AMD and Intel war that goes on similar to the old HP and Dell war. If a statement comes up on the monitoring board, we wait, have a bit of patience, and then our community comes to the defense.

Walsh (Jive): We make community software, so there is a lot of pressure to be successful. One of my strategies from the very start is taking a step back and instead of looking at what does the business want to accomplish, I ask, “What do we expect the audience to get by participating in this community?” We redesigned the programs so that they're very audience-centric. It makes it even easier for us to listen in, engage, build and add value, as opposed to more noise, and make sure we're measuring all of that so we know if this is successful.

Customer service
Gordon (PRWeek): How integrated are your communications teams with customer service?

Frey (Travelocity): I talk to our customer service team every day. I take great pride in the fact I've gotten to help a lot of customers by putting them in touch with the people who can actually solve their problems. A lot of us in our PR hats say, “That's for the customer service team to deal with; I'm not getting my hands dirty,” but you become a better communicator, a better advocate for your brand, and a more well-rounded employee.

Walsh (Jive): The challenge is how do you scale it without recreating a whole separate support organization? It's the two-minute rule. If you can answer a customer's question on that platform in two minutes or less, you answer it there. Otherwise, you point them to the traditional support channel. I don't want to just build teams of social support people.

Brad McCormick (10 Louder Strategies): We have a global CPG client where customer service was physically in a different building than marketing. They went so far as to take that entire unit and put it on the exact same floor. They saw it as a research tool to understand what people are saying and it's starting to be reflective in product design.

Pearson (W20): The way we're trained creates the biggest obstacles for our success. We've been trained to think by country when we do things, which doesn't necessarily make sense online. There are 53 countries where English is a primary, secondary, or tertiary language. Ten languages reach 82% of people online, so why would we not think of language for some things and then local for when we actually want to drive sales to a store? They're not necessarily the same thing.

Davis (Dell): We have created an @DellCares team. We have an active Twitter hashtag. The team resolves tens of thousands of issues every week. It's part of the support organization, but sits with the social media team. Customers are delighted we respond so quickly. You can turn the detractor into a promoter over time, or at least neutralize the situation. We have found tremendous success in leveraging social for customer service.

Peters (AMD): It's much more difficult to be angry at an individual. It's a lot easier to be angry at a company.

The savvy stakeholder
Gordon (PRWeek): Your stakeholders – the consumer or whoever your stakeholders are – are much more tech savvy now. How has that impacted your role as communicators?

McCormick (10 Louder): Anyone with a computer can be an influencer. Technology has changed the whole media landscape. It's leveled the playing field for who can influence what people think.

Davis (Dell): We've trained thousands of employees to be social-media certified. When you think about 110,000 employees as influencers, if we can fully look to them as brand advocates to extend our voice with their customers and beyond, that's something we can do very well through communications in social.

IT is kind of like the new HR. Digital natives, the younger employees, make decisions on where to work based on the tech and social policies of the company.

Crow (Mutual Mobile): The internal piece is key be-cause employees are engaging everywhere. I do see [the practice of] one person owning social media going away. Social media folks, as they are moved out of owning it, transition into thought-leadership roles. They tend to have their finger on what's hot in the market.

McCormick (10 Louder): Social media is making the organization realize that anyone that touches stakeholders needs to have a consistent voice.

Gordon (PRWeek): Has the growing importance of social media impacted your internal reporting structures?

Peters (AMD): We're organizing our content from the visual tone and the vocal tone, distributing that to our regions. We're still the organic nature right now from a social perspective, but we are transitioning very quickly to hub-and-spoke or Dandelion model, and with that the upstream and downstream loader will remain very consistent based upon the guidelines that we provide. We'll provide KPIs on the front end from headquarters to go downstream out to the regions or the countries. We'll work with the individual regions, monitor their KPIs, and feed those back up so we can transition lessons going back and forth upstream and downstream.

Vallee-Smith (Airfoil): From an agency perspective, especially if you're a midsize firm as we are, you're somewhat resource constrained. We're piloting what's called an Agency Resource Expert Model. We're having people self-select and/or identifying individuals who are, in a sense, industry analysts for a particular area of tech, a particular area of social media.

Frey (Travelocity): We've seen it go from “We're going to rely on the PR team to explain it to us and help us take those first baby steps into it,” to a firmer foundation. The challenge is making sure – because social touches every piece of the marketing pie – they are integrated. It's also helped break down barriers.

Flaherty (BreakingPoint): The marketing teams are talking to the IT folks much more than they ever did. That's critical because we're all using this technology so much more. It's leveled off those walls between marketing, IT, HR, sales. But I also wonder if it's introducing an element of stupidity. Are we forgetting about a lot of the great stuff we always used to do? We're in the business of making great products that make great money. We figured out that email was still the best way to do that. I'm seeing way too many people say, “We'll just use Twitter to build these relationships,” [but] get on the phone, build that relationship, get on e-mail.

As we flattened out in terms of the organization, I've seen a flattening out of skill sets. That worries me a little for the new generation.

McCormick (10 Louder): One of the keys is how do you mix all of those – e-mail, social, events – all together? Social works best when it is integrated with non-social things.

Walsh (Jive): We take something such as a technical white paper, chunk it up, and now we have a series of blog posts. We promote those blog posts on Facebook and Twitter. We do a quick video interview with the author of the white paper and now we have a YouTube video. So you take something that is very traditional, such as a white paper, that we know has value – especially with the sales force – and we repurpose that for social.

Peters (AMD): Our CEO Rory Read met with Secretary of Energy Dr. Steven Chu. We really had to go from the interview to the Web in about two hours. In the background we've been working on processes for that given the nature of social, which is instantaneous. Had we waited until tomorrow, it would have been too late. Those processes are instrumental to the ability to take the activity or the content and get it up to the Web, to your consumer, or to your audience.

McCormick (10 Louder): It's interesting how important coordination has become as a skill set. It's not just having the idea, but also coordinating the film crew and the editing.

The right talent
Gordon (PRWeek): So this new world requires different types of talent. What types of people are you looking to add?

Pearson (W2O): I look at talent and say, “Give me raw clay.” Give me someone who's a craftsman, is really smart, and we can mold into the right person. We're all at a stage where we have to keep evolving.

Vallee-Smith (Airfoil): A PR person today has to be a hybrid. You want somebody who is teachable and will learn this stuff very quickly. They also need to have the tactical basics, talent, and technical skills – not just the communications basics, but give me somebody who knows a little HTML, who can do A/B testing, who can figure out how SEO relates to everything that they're doing.

Peters (AMD): We just brought on a social media coordinator five weeks ago. She recently graduated from Texas Tech with a PR major and social media minor. We intentionally brought in someone younger because that's a whole other consumer that falls in line with our business objectives. It's great for her to say, “This is what we're doing on Pinterest,” as one example.

Walsh (Jive): It's important we hire people in these roles that understand business objectives because social is only successful if it's meeting core business KPIs. I look for people who understand data and analytics and don't just spend all their time on Facebook.

Flaherty (BreakingPoint): Business acumen is huge. It is very difficult to find good marketing communications talent because you might have the great roll-up-your-sleeves HTML 5, CSS3 kind of person, you might have the great analytics person, and you might have the awesome social person. As a tech startup in b-to-b, I need all of them. I need that five-tool player.

Frey (Travelocity): I'll add maturity and having a thick skin. As someone who is on our Twitter and Facebook feeds every day, your initial reaction is to fire right back, [but] you don't want to be in one of those situations that the national press picks up. Just because you see a tweet or a Facebook posting pop up, you can give it an hour.

Peters (AMD): We had a recent situation where a new coordinator said, “I really need to respond to these people” and this was in German. I said, “No, we just need to be patient. Our community will come to our rescue just as they have in the past.” Sure enough, the community started to respond and things mellowed down. Identifying influencers
Gordon (PRWeek): Tech media continues to evolve, consolidate, and yet constantly introduce new influencers. How do you manage it?

Frey (Travelocity): It's like any other relationship. Regardless of whether it's print or broadcast, it's taking the time to get to know them, their work, and going back to just some of the basics. Figure out who the good ones are and who are the ones you really want to invest time in.

Pearson (W20): We build algorithms where we look at people's influence across all channels online. There's never more than 50 people who matter to a brand. From there it's about who you spend your time with. We're doing the same thing as a firm to know who we should talk to and who it would be nice to talk to. That doesn't mean you don't build friendships.

Frey (Travelocity): Is 50 enough to move the dial?

Pearson (W20): Yes. When we look at brands of any size anywhere in the world, from Japan to here, we've never had a case where there's more than 50 people who drive the majority share of conversation for a brand. It goes by country, by language.

McCormick (10 Louder): It's less the number of influencers and more how you engage them. If you have the right strategy and the right holistic engagement that can do wonders. If you have 500 influencers and engage them the wrong way, it won't matter. Influencer identification is just the first step.

Crow (Mutual Mobile): Put measuring and monitoring first and just stay on top of what's really driving results for you. Treat everyone as an influencer. It's really not about media versus blogger. Your employees, your partners, everyone is an advocate. At the end of the day, all communicators need to be masterful storytellers.

Vallee-Smith (Airfoil): What's wonderful for tech marketers and communicators now is that technology cuts across so many categories. You don't have to rely on the David Pouges and the Walt Mossbergs like you did before. You've got this whole landscape of wonderful media to choose from now.

Flaherty (BreakingPoint): Maybe others have felt this, but TechCrunch doesn't cover tech. It covers websites, communications, stuff like that. Network World covers technology. So does InformationWeek. Remember PC Week? In my business, we lost a lot of publications.

I was recently at the RSA Conference. In years past, I'd have a meeting every hour with someone in the press. Now there are five bloggers that pretty much cover the whole thing. The guy at Cisco who might be head of R&D. You want to get to him because he is an influencer. He blogs all of the time. That's been a huge shift for us. It's no longer about media. It's no longer about publications. It's all about individuals in a lot of cases.

Walsh (Jive): One thing that helps combat that is to take these influencers and make them heroes. We had a guy in our community who created home automation from his computer so he could control his sprinkler. His wife and kids didn't care, but we made him a hero, not only with traditional press, but in the community.

Then all these other people said, “Oh, I can do that.” We had people do things such as create an app to remote control a car with your iPhone. You can syndicate their content and invite them into a special blog that you promote through more traditional channels. It's really just finding those people and not only building relationships with them, but amplifying their voices.

Davis (Dell): The story starts with defining the business problem you are trying to solve. What is going on in the person's life where technology is really having a big impact? Then you back into the product stories. Even the technology reporters want to know the solution that we're there to talk about. What is it really doing for companies?

We have a better opportunity now, more than ever, to make the stories we're trying to tell super relevant because of technology, the consumerization of IT, and how much it really is impacting people. It actually could work to our advantage.

Lessons from Washington
Gordon (PRWeek): Anti-SOPA protests showed the power the Internet wields. What should the tech sector take away from this?

Vallee-Smith (Airfoil): Technology companies, particularly the Fab Four of tech, have invested significantly in Washington, DC, and the investment needs to continue. That's one key takeaway. The other one is how easy and quickly an advocacy campaign can come to life. As was said after the Arab Spring, the power of the people is much greater than the people in power.

Pearson (W20): That wasn't the best piece of legislation ever crafted, so that was part of it. There are four drivers I see causing this focus on a government role. One is security, second is privacy, the third is bandwidth, and the fourth is IP. The problem is that these four issues don't really matter to the voters, but do matter to companies and Congress. This is going be an ongoing battle.

McCormick (10 Louder): On privacy, consumers are becoming more sophisticated with personal data and so forth. Privacy is not a black and white issue. On the one hand, we all like personalization. We like Amazon recommending books and so forth. The tech industry has an opportunity to create some trust here and be very proactive and accessible about their privacy policies.

Gordon (PRWeek): In terms of KPIs and ROI on social media, what are you measuring? How are you communicating that data and those findings up the chain?

Davis (Dell): We have a number of tools in place. We report on both social and traditional. We also report out every week on stories that are coming or are in play. We have a daily update from the social team. What are the hot stories? What is the sentiment? We have a monthly review where we go really deep with the data and try to understand what's going on with us versus our competition. People don't want to wait to see what the traditional coverage was. They want to know hours after the announcement what the uptick is in social and what conversation we're driving.

McCormick (10 Louder): It's very rare that a single social media metric or Web metric will tell us a whole story. That's one of the challenges. You have to piece it all together and understand the larger narrative of the sale cycle. A lot of times, as the PR agency, we only have access to certain data. It's getting access to in-store traffic, retail traffic, understanding those metrics, and being able to equate them to Twitter traffic or other events.

Walsh (Jive): This is one of my favorite things to think about and try to tweak. Across the board, I look at how social impacts areas of the business. How many support questions are answered by our community versus our support engineers? How many product features are implemented based on community ideas versus our own? How many leads are generated every month through social?

If I look at social in particular, I'd bucket my metrics to four key areas. One is around activity. What's our outbound official channel activity?

Buzz. What is our sentiment like and what's our volume like, especially in comparison to competitors?

Reach, so how many fans, followers, impressions, potential impressions do we have.

Then it's engagement. Engagement could mean your traditional social engagement, things such as click-throughs, re-tweets. But where I really like to focus is around engagement in terms of customer loyalty. We've found the more active someone is in our community, the more likely they are to recommend to a colleague, to repeat purchase, and to purchase new products from us. That's a direct correlation between our social channels and loyal, satisfied customers.

Pearson (W20): What we're really getting into is behavioral analytics. What we're finding is just measuring what's happened is – who cares? It's looking at whether or not you are shaping the market and are you in the right area. The next step for us is to get into quantization and predictive modeling. We're sort of becoming market researchers as a result of all of this quantitative data – another wonderful opportunity for the communications industry.

Davis (Dell): You're even seeing insights teams and social media teams under the same leader because they're so intertwined. That's how we do it.

Vallee-Smith (Airfoil):
What we're seeing, especially with larger clients, is that they are developing proprietary methodologies for measurement. So, Microsoft has Prime, which we must adhere to, and eBay is developing its own proprietary model for measurement now. So, it's a little bit of a challenge, but it does make it kind of easier in some ways.

The other really great thing for the PR industry is that technology is finally serving us. PR as an industry – because it was small and not very data- nor analytics-driven has really been overlooked and underserved by technology for decades. At least as long as I've been in PR. It's great that we have all of these tools now – finally.

Flaherty (BreakingPoint): The predictive analytics is something we've been dabbling with. Coming from a very small team with a very limited budget – Google Analytics is free. There's a lot of free stuff out there. 

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