Thursday, January 27, 2011

Top tech pros discuss fast lane changes in communications [video]

I wish more of my professional conferences would put on panels like this one from the DLD (Digital Life Design) conference. Veteran tech journalist Kara Swisher moderates a panel of top tech communications pros that's worth the half-hour of your time it will take to watch.

Swisher put it together to showcase what she sees as dramatic changes in the communications landscape, particularly for companies whose products go "viral in seconds." Even if you're not a high-tech communicator with viral products, that world has been upending how the rest of us handle communications and media relations, shaping how reporters, bloggers and public audiences react to traditional methods of making announcements--and what they expect from us.

The panel includes Margit Wennmachers, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz; Brooke Hammerling, founder of Brew Media Relations; and Brandee Barker, the first communications executive at Facebook. Swisher does a deft job setting the stage by asking them what kinds of technology they used to do public relations when they first started out, and those descriptions will sound familiar: faxes, press kit stuffing, writing press releases. Barker recalls one job where the CEO required her put out a press release every Monday to pump up the stock price (like that works) and says she was the first person to convince Facebook to put out a press release--but once she went to work at Facebook, never allowed releases to be issued.

As the panel talks about how communications work today and how it's changed, some insights emerge, among them:
  • Communications and marketing play a more central role. Rather than have someone hand you a new product after months of development, communications is included from the start of a venture, and there's more strategizing done directly with the CEO.
  • All the time windows are shorter. You no longer have months to strategize--it's more like minutes or hours. It's become essential and possible to hear feedback from the community quickly, and to move equally quickly to answer them.  CEOs are getting used to not taking criticism personally and even to apologizing to
  • The coverage culture has shifted to accommodate the need for speed, to a write-it-first, correct-it-later approach. That makes it more important for communicators to monitor and correct errors on Twitter and other channels.
  • Communicators need to adjust to the things they can no longer control, widespread embargoes among them. "You're not going to get to control who hears what when" says Wennmachers, who note that tech companies used to be able to brief reporters under an embargo with little to no risk of the story breaking before the designated date and time, but "that doesn't work anymore." That's not to say that embargoes aren't used, but with the decline in reporters' ranks, companies are spending more time on cultivating relationships with top reporters and offering exclusive and early access to a few reporters and influencers who will later blog about it. (The Embargo Watch blog reported on one such influencer's transparency in 'fessing up to his breaking of a tech embargo.) The result, noted Hammerling, is that managing embargoes and advance information has become more complicated than ever--just what you didn't want to hear, time-wise. The panel also has a useful discussion about another inevitable outcome of social media: employee-leaked information.
  • At the same time, going into your cave and refusing to engage just won't work.  The importance of embracing difficult situations and engaging reporters directly during a PR disaster is emphasized.

There's much more in this video, and the teaming of a reporter with top communicators, all of whom share a healthy amount of respect and inside knowledge of how the others work, adds a lot to its appeal for me. What are your reactions?

Related posts: Revisiting corrections on Twitter in the wake of the Arizona shootings

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