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The Transformation of Corporate Communication

Shel Israel serves as CEO of It Seems to Me. Greg Jarboe is president and cofounder of SEO-PR. Jamie O’Donnell cofounded SEO-PR. Buzz Bruggeman is cofounder and CEO of ActiveWords. At BlogOn, they discussed how social media can improve corporate communications with customers, as well as — interestingly — the mainstream media.

Shel Israel serves as CEO of It Seems to Me. Greg Jarboe is president and cofounder of SEO-PR. Jamie O’Donnell cofounded SEO-PR. Buzz Bruggeman is cofounder and CEO of ActiveWords. At BlogOn, they discussed how social media can improve corporate communications with customers, as well as — interestingly — the mainstream media. What follows is a partial transcript of their panel:

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Shel Israel: When I started 25 years ago, two of these panelists were already in the business. Greg Jarboe helped launch Lotus Notes as the corporate communications guy. Back then, the business was a little easier. There were maybe 25 peers, editors, you needed to rub elbows with. And there was the simple press release, which you’d write using a typewriter. That went away, and we could fax the press release to the editor and then call to see if they got the fax. Then there were people who were influencers, or analysts. Then the Web came along and there were even more outlets and people claiming to be influencers of the press. When I got out of PR three years ago, it wasn’t at all clear who the press were. These guys stuck with it and seem to have an answer to my questions.

Greb Jarboe: This is the 100th birthday of public relations. It was started in 1904. We’re talking about the invention of a new medium, and we’re building it on top of something that’s 100 years old. Something’s got to give. 72,000 media jobs have been lost in the U.S. over the last four years. That’s 720,000 stories a month that aren’t being written. That leaves a vacuum. The old media is dying rapidly.

What’s taking its place? Over 27 million Americans used news search engines in June 2004. Is anyone here an editor for Yahoo News? Thats because they don’t have editors. They have algorithms. Same with Google News. Editors are being replaced with algorithms. I did a search for “social media.” The No. 1 listing is not from the Washington Post, it’s a press release from the BlogOn people. It’s ranked by relevance, and it’s at the top.

Who uses news search engines? They’re used by prospects as well as the press. More people use search engines than those who look for news. 98% of journalists go online daily. What do they do when they get assigned a story? They go online. 73% are looking for press releases. Press releases?

How do you do something with this that’s concrete? We work with Southwest Airlines. We did a news release on a $29 airfare to Philadelphia. 29 days later, the No. 1 ranking was still the press release. The relevance has time shifted. For a month, consumers could find the news, and the optimized press release generated $80,000-plus in advance ticket sales. Unique tracking links only appeared in the press release. Unique landing pages enabled Southwest to track clickthroughs.

Jamie O’Donnell: This doesn’t work just in the products category. If you take a look at the political campaigns right now, I have my Google and Yahoo news keywords set to track Kerry and Edwards. Some come from the newspapers. But some comes from the campaigns themselves. There’s a broad array of topics and markets in which you can talk directly to consumers without going to the press. It’s not that this will preclude the press. It’s not that you don’t need the press. But online news releases can help increase media inquiries.

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Buzz Bruggeman: They say that timing is everything. We launched our first product in 1999, just before Y2K. We didn’t sell a thing for nine months. Then we got hit by the dotcom crash, and we didn’t sell a thing for nine more months. So I had to figure out how these things work. I read a little book called the Cluetrain Manifesto. If a market is a conversation, what if a product was a conversation? How could I get bloggers to engage in a conversation about our product?

I found who the really smart bloggers were, sent them our software, and they began writing about our product. More than half of our downloads came about because of people blogging about ActiveWords. If it’s about making it easier, making it better, and participating in this dialogue, it’s extremely important. We got a four-star review in a major publication that has a circulation of 2.3 millions. They said, “Get ready. And brace yourselves for the onslaught.” We got 32 downloads. Later, Robert Scoble blogged about our stuff, and we got 400 downloads. We need to learn how to leverage this stuff.