Seth Godin's post today on tiny media is spot-on. It reminded me of a social media panel I sat on a couple of years ago with the two people who respectively ran John McCain and Hilary Clinton's e-campaigns in the 2007/8 primaries and general election.
Despite having polarized political views, they were totally aligned on web2.0. Paraphrasing: "Everyone needs to jump on social media and web2.0 - if you're not in, you'll be left behind. This is the cheapest and easiest way for you to get the word out - if you post a video on YouTube that doesn't work, it's OK - you didn't lose anything by trying."
My argument: "Marketing is marketing, YouTube, Twitter, newspapers, TV, radio, etc. - are just channels. If your marketing fundamentals aren't strong, you will fail. The advantage of social media is that the channels have fewer gatekeepers. The disadvantage of social media is that the channels have fewer gatekeepers. The impact of social media is that anyone has a voice, and at any point in time, any voice can rise above the fray."
Seth's point - these "tiny media" voices, unlike mainstream press or traditional advertising, are not susceptible to conventional corporate PR machines and can't be bought. While corporations might be used to buying advertising and even editorial, it is impossible to manipulate "any" voice because you have to manipulate every voice. In his words:
If you're hoping that this now important form of media is going to sit there and promote your average stuff for average people made in bulk but pretty cheap product merely because you're used to paying media companies to run ads... I think you're wasting a lot of time and money.
This goes deeper than that. You'll need to take that money and change the product and the service instead.
I agree but I don't think Seth took it far enough. More than product and service, you also have to evaluate your philosophy for the intent to deceive will out. I wrote this last fall in response to a NY Times post about Apple's voice in media:
The reason Apple dominates is that they have no interest in PR per se vs. a fundamental desire to create and achieve incredible and inspiring consumer experiences. Their integrity and authenticity in this is obvious and undisputed. While there are product hiccups (recent iPhone 4 antenna issue), they weather these by staying true to their mission vs. via a well-crafted PR strategy.
Microsoft, Google, etc. on the other hand invest in efforts whose sole or overarching purpose is to drive PR and coverage; ironically making the message the medium. I don’t believe this is authentically who they are, but it is how they act.
Their (MSFT/GOOG, etc.) target audiences and the press can smell this, and obligatorily cover them vs. wanting to be a part of their world because of their products' compelling, profound, and far-reaching implications.
Your organization's purpose is to become a trusted adviser to your customers – a powerful mission to be sure. I wonder sometimes if proactive PR helps or hinders? If your greatest and most visible business successes are measured mostly on PR metrics, you run the risk of pursuing the wrong things, and diminishing your genuine and authentic commitment to the premise that technology can help achieve profound, pervasive, and sustainable improvement.
It’s the difference between doing things that happen to be coverage worthy vs. doing things because they are coverage-worthy…
Tiny media's advantage vs. conventional PR and media: their ONLY currency is integrity and authenticity; the "conventionals" can be bought. Since the former is by definition "any" voice, you can't find it, or buy it, or manipulate it - you don't know which one(s) will surface and be heard. We are increasingly more likely to seek out and believe tiny media because we're tired of the bias and lack of discipline and integrity of conventional media (witness Fox and MSNBC) - this is why I read Yelp reviews.
For "old-school" organizations that count on their secrets remaining intact, and on owning and controlling their image, beware. If your fundamentals aren't sound, and your beliefs and practices can't stand up to external scrutiny, you will be found out. But you won't realize it until it's too late - unbeknownst to you, your own marketing and PR people and agencies are now spending more time spinning you than spinning the market.