high tech industry

My turn for being pissy

A comment on an earlier post today stated that there were few journalists sitting in the technical sessions of ISSCC because the "lacked the technical depth" to be able to competently report on the subject matter.  Frankly, that kind of attitude really honks me off.  So just for the heck of it, I took 5 minutes looking up the bios of a handful of journalists that cover EDA and semiconductors.

Nic Mokhoff of EE Times has a BSEE and has been covering computer technology and research since 1985.

Paul Dempsey of EDA Tech Forum has twenty years as a technology and financial journalist and is the main US correspondent for for UK’s Institution of Engineering & Technology 

Ronald Wilson of EDN was a design engineer for Tektronix, Inc. developing bus interfaces and participating in processor- and graphics-engine architecture and design, as well as evaluation engineering and software-driver development. He's been covering technology for more than 20 years.

There is more technical depth in that group alone than in a lot of startups.  Maybe most startups.  If they are not sitting in a particular session at a trade show, it's because it either has no importance, or they cannot be in more than one place at a time.  I sure ain't because they lack "technical depth." That's all I have to say about that.   For now...

Rewrite = Edit = Improve

OK, so my last post kicked up a lot of dust over my comment about rewriting press releases.  See the above headline.

When I rewrite something for a client, I intend to make it better, clearer, less fluffy.  I learned to do that kind of writing/editing from 10 years as a daily journalist.  When a traditional journalist rewrites a press release, he screens out as much crap as he can before publishing it in a very abbreviated form.  Usually that includes erasing the quote from a CEO saying how "pleased" he is.  When a blogger rewrites a press release, he does the same editing as a traditional journalist, and then adds perspective, which is what traditional journalists used to be able to do.

Then there are traditional journalists and bloggers who don't even look at press releases before the write a story.  They do research and interviews to get a broad picture and write in-depth articles for major national publications.  We call those journalists, "unemployed."

Sorry if that offends anyone.

Uncomfortable conversations is what we need

Reading a story in the SF Chron about the ongoing battle over Gay rights I saw a phrase from the late Harvey Milk that really caught my imagination.  

Uncomfortable conversations.

My dust-up over the fate of DATE last week is finally petering out, but what I ended up getting out of it is that we are still trying to avoid the truly uncomfortable conversation in the semiconductor industry.  We still want to pursue a philosophical discussion about how important our technologies are but we don't want to talk about what our fiscal responsibility is to expand that discussion beyond our little coffee klatch. 

10 years ago we didn't want to discuss the fact that our media was dying from lack of proper investment from the industry.  Now we don't want to discuss the fact that lack of investment will probably kill the last form of industry forum (trade shows and technical conferences) for the same reason.  We are still holding on to the false belief that the existence of our technologies is enough for them to succeed.

I've said it before and I'll keep saying it:  If you do not understand, invest in and execute effective communications efforts it doesn't matter how effective, exciting or important your technology is.  Until we start putting serious effort into that, we will continue in this recession.  The only survivors will be those who are making that kind of investment and effort.  This is true for start-ups, established private and public companies, industry forums and, maybe more importantly, the investment community.

This is the uncomfortable conversation that needs to begin and begin in earnest.

Ok, then how much does it cost?

Interesting tweet to day on Karen Bartelson's Twitter page.  She ponders a survey's question on how much Synopsys will spend on social media this year.  She calls the question a "non sequitur since most of social media is free?"

That is a common misconception, but mostly because most people discount the human cost of social media AND they have a limited understanding of what social media actually is.  Let's deal with that last one first.  

Social media is any medium that elicits a response from the audience through the medium.  Funny thing is, if a newspaper publishes a letter to the editor on a topic that paper covered, that means the newspaper is a non-electronic social medium.  Radio and television call-in shows also qualify.  Take another step up to email.  If you respond to a piece of spam -- even if it's to pass it on to someone else -- that makes your email a social medium.  Your website is a social medium if you put contact information on it and someone responds to it.

But here's a real interesting question:  If you have a blog that no one ever comments on, is that blog a social medium or a public personal diary?  That's a parallel to koan "if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound if nothing is there to hear it?"

So let's go back to the question of cost.

How much time are you spending on social media as described above including email, blogging,reading and responding to blogs, Twittering ... chatting, telephone conversations and texting (yessss, that qualifies)?  How much do you get paid?  What is the percentage of your time spent on those activities?  That percentage of your paycheck is an investment in social media.

Beyond that, how much are you spending on web/blog design and maintenance?  How much on server time and equipment? How much on connections?  When you stop to think about it, in today's age, everyone makes some sort of investment in social media in either time or resources, not just cash outlays.  And when all these social media companies realize that advertising is not paying the bills, they only choice they have is to start charging for their services, so as far as what you are going to invest in social media, the only answer is -- more than you are now.

There is a relevant question in all of this, however, that is not being asked.  What is really the return on investment in all of this social media activity?  That's something only you can answer because you have to determine what is really valuable.  And once you have that figured out, you are going to have to figure out how to measure that value.  That's where most people fall down because they really don't know what is valuable.

Some companies say they are looking for leads out of their social media investment, but then they say that about all their marketing efforts.  The sad thing is that 99 percent of those companies never follow up on the leads they gather, so the leads have no real value.  A sliver of the remaining 1 percent actually use the leads and track them through to sales, so they can apply a dollar amount to their efforts.

The real value of social media, however, is influence and that is much more difficult to measure.  Companies like Xilinx and Cadence who have hired experienced journalists to participate in their communications programs, understand the value of influence and even the impression of objectivity. 

In the end, what you have to realize is social media is about people and what you are investing in relationships.  You get nothing out of it until you actually get some sort of dialog going.  For example, right now I am managing four different blogs: this one, New Tech Press, one on local politics and one on theology.  That doesn't include what I do on Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn and Plaxo.  Which one do you think brings in more potential business?  You might be surprised at the answer.

All of them are equally productive.  The relationships I build in each tend to migrate into what could be professionally advantageous.  I've been able to discover markets outside of EDA and semiconductors that my skills and expertise migrate easily too.  I'm talking with green construction companies, investment firms, real estate brokers, biomedical firms, graphic acceleration software... all kinds of interesting companies, all of them from one or more of those blogs.  Can I state that ROI is clear dollar amounts? Nope.  But I will be able to by the end of this year.

And by expanding my circle, so to speak, I've found out that the world economy is not quite as bad as CNN wants to report it to be.  There is innovation and invention and ... investment happening all over the place, even if it isn't in the little corner I've been inhabiting for the past 10 years.

So what's the ROI of social media?  Maybe a greater perspective and greater opportunity than with how it all used to be done.  That's worth putting some money into the mix.  If your manager asks how much you think you should be investing in social media, the answer should be, "A lot more than we are now."

But what does it do? Part 3

Spent the day yesterday at the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose and got some input that make s a fitting conclusion to my three parter on what social media does.

As I said before, social media, in itself, does nothing.  Its components are just mediums like a piece of paper is a medium.  You decide what to do with it.  That confuses a lot of people because newspapers, radio, TV and even the internet to some degree just seems to "magically" appear with information and little or no cost to us, 24 hours a day.  We're used to getting our information however we want it.  What is happening, though, is that magical, free flow of real information is being overtaken by poorly produced marketing crap and we are losing the ability to parse what is real and what is hype.

In talking with a dozen media people yesterday, I see a definite trend.  Those who continue to work in advertising-supported media are depressed and worried.  Those who are trying to break the mold are optimistic and excited about the time.  I ran across the eternally optimistic Alix Paultre of Advantage Media in the first part of the day and he stated, categorically, "No one knows what media is going to look like in two years.  No one.  The only people that will survive are the ones keeping moving, like you and me, Lou."

That conversation, and several others during the course of the day galvanized a thought I had a couple of weeks ago.  It's time for communication professionals to take back our livelihoods from the incompetent marketers that have been running the show.

I've been trying to tell people for a couple of years that the media they were used to working with is going away.  Events yesterday made that so clear.  I sat with Mike Santarini, formerly of EE Times and EDN, during the ESC keynote.  Mike is now working internally in Xilinx.  Richard Goering, formerly of SCD Source and EE Times, just announced he got a job in Cadence.  Dave Bursky, formerly of EE Times and Electronic Design, is now working in Maxim.  Mike Markowitz, formerly Editorial Director of EDN, was in the ST Micro booth.  These are great journalists, forced into the position of advocate within a single corporation because of the traditional media's addiction to advertising and the budgets controlled by engineers cum marketers with no training in communication or media.  That's not a good thing.

On the other hand, you have people like Alix, Paul Miller at Techinsights, John Blyler and Ed Sperling at Extension Media, Jason McDonald at Eg3 and the now free-lance Brian Fuller experimenting, reorganizing, re-visioning how information is gathered, distributed and funded.  Are any of them the right way to do it?  Who knows?  But at least they are trying something different.  Something is going to stick and it's going to be done by people who understand how people communicated, not by people who make electronics products.

I've been trying to teach engineers how to communicate for almost three decades now.  I don't think it can be done.  There are a few that get it, but most still get bogged down in the mechanisms of communications, not the process, because the mechanism is what they are good at.  They really don't want to learn to communicate.  They need someone to do that for them.  

So let's bring it all back to the question: What does social media do? It is a mechanism developed by engineers for a purpose they don't understand, but that real communicators do.  The engineers have created the mechanism we need.  Their job is done. It's time for all journalist, public relations professionals and media mavens to take back our profession and not let the amateurs run the show. It's time for the engineers to back off and let us do our jobs ... and pay us for what we know how to do.  

Changes at Techinsights and the DesignLines, redux

I did a couple of blips on the EE Times DesignLine changes
earlier this week and today got my hand slapped, not entirely inappropriately,
by Patrick Mannion and Rich Nass. 
I didn't say report anything wrong, per se, but it wasn't the whole
story.  After Rich and I made nice
over the phone, I got more detail. 
But there is more to consider. 
First let's look at how this whole thing is breaking down.

Techinsights has acquired and developed a lot of media
properties in the past decade, but hasn't really done a good job at integrating
them, which I reported in an interview with Paul Miller a couple of months
ago.  The move to replace the
contract editors on the DesignLines with staff editors is a step toward that

Patrick has actually been in charge of the DesignLines for
almost three years, but they were allowed to operate fairly independently.  By putting the staffers in charge of
the sites EETimes print and online now becomes the "heads up" (big
picture) view of what's happening in electronics and Techonline and the
DesignLines take the "heads down" view,
or looking at the detail and
how-to aspects of the industry. 
Here's how the responsibilities break down now.

Nic Mokhoff adds the EDA and Power Management DesignLines to
his responsibilities for the Design+Products Section, Research and Test.  Washington DC guru George Leopold takes
the Automotive DesignLine.  Dylan
McGrath runs Programmable Logic DesignLine as well as serving as West Coast
Editor. Business editor Bolaji Ojo is managing the EETimes Supply Network and Bill
Schweber doubles up on Planet Analog, RF DesignLine.  As reported, Patrick Mannion now handles both DSPDesignLine
and editorial direction of Techonline.

The guys with time on their hands (just kidding) are Allan
Yogasingam for the GreenSupplyLine, Steve Bitton on the Industrial Control
DesignLine, and Bernard Cole at Embedded.com.  The rest of the staff can be found at
the EE Times mast head.

The good news is that now you don't have to guess at who
handles what.  We have a designated
editor for both the subject and the DesignLine.  The bad news is pretty much what I reported earlier this
week.  The "EETimers"
didn't know that the PR community got used to the idea that if an EE Times
staff editor didn't have time to take a meeting or write a story on a bit of
news, they could approach the DesignLiners and at least get a meeting with
them.  Kenton Williston, for
example met with a ton of people at trade shows he attended and while he may
not have written much, the publicists got credit for a meeting at least.

The changes at EE Times/Techonline/DesignLine means there is
less manpower available for traditional publicity… or what some people call
PR.  And that's the point of
everything I have been saying for some time.  The way we do things has to change.  It's not 1999 anymore.  You can't expect EE Times or any other
publication to fall all over themselves to talk to you about your latest
partnership deal.  The resources
just are not there.  If you still
insist on following the old paradigm of cranking out self-serving news
releases, setting up meetings to talk about incremental improvements to your
products or have your CEO pontificate about his limited view of reality, you're
not going to get much.  You have to
do something different. 

And I've given you plenty of ideas about what that means.

However, if you really want to talk to the EE Times folks,
make sure you sign up for ESC. 
They will all be there and I'm sure they will be interested in talking
to some of you.  Just don't waste their time.  They are busy people.

David Maliniak splits his time

Dave Maliniak, one of the workhorses at Electronic Design, dropped us a line today to point out that he actually took over the Test and Measurement beat at the magazine back in January.  Totally missed that one.  

While I know that means the perennially swamped Maliniak didn't need another bit of work to do (he also covers EDA), the combination actually makes some sense.  Design automation is becoming more of a backend issue and there are some technologies coming down the pike, outside of both T&M and EDA that are going to dramatically alter those industry landscapes.  This makes ED a good bet for seeing the bigger picture.  That, is if Dave can survive the load and ED can start boosting revenue.

I'm working on it, Dave.

Changes at Techinsights and the DesignLines

A couple of days ago I mentioned that Kenton Williston had his contract cancelled to edit the DSP DesignLine at the EE Times supersite.  What I didn't know, until today, is that all of the editors of the DesignLines were dismissed.

The DL program was manned by freelancers, including Kenton, Clive Maxfield, and Gabe Moretti, but the work on those pages is now to be brought in house completely.  We can probably expect some significant changes in the format and content, but I am assuming that with Patrick Mannion taking charge, there will be some redesign of Techonline as well.

This is significant because the DesignLines had become not only a repository of contributed content, but for ongoing coverage of certain niches, like DSPs and EDA.  Without those freelancers the electronics industries has lost more than a dozen journalists to take meetings and receive news releases.

New Tech Press is looking better all the time.

RCR Wireless closes down. What about EDN?

Just heard that RCR Wireless shut down last week and that Reed Business is closing the San Jose office with all the editors now working from home.  That's been the case for the most part anyway with, I believe, Ron Wilson being the only editor still working out of that office.  But it's a sign of the times that the Silicon Valley is no longer considered worthy of a significant office for Reed.

Extroverts, introverts and social media

Last week I posted a tweet stating I thought social media was more "attuned to introverts."  As one might expect, introverts agreed and extroverts disagreed.  (For the record I also posted I had had a lot of wine, which is what happens when you spend two R&R days in the wine country.)

I thought, it might be worth taking a few moments to explain myself.  I didn't mean to say that extroverts couldn't use social media effectively.  What I'm saying is that social media is more valuable to introverts.  To be clearer, extroverts don't need social media to communicate in this world.  It's just another tool for them.  For introverts, social media levels the playing field for them with extroverts.

Let's set the table on this discussion.  I'm an introvert.  When I go into a large social setting and talk with a lot of people, it drains me.  What I really like to do in those settings is find an interesting person or two and talk, in depth, about stuff.  Mostly politics, religion and all those things you're told not to discuss in polite company.  Introverts love that stuff and generally don't get pissed off when discussing it.  That kind of social setting energizes me.

When a basic extrovert goes into those social situations, they end the evening with a fist full of business cards, have talked to almost every person in the room at least 30 seconds and made the people they talked to believe they were the most important person in the room. And when they leave, they will be ready to hit the clubs.  But put them in a room with a couple of introverts really getting into a subject, and the extrovert will be ready to hit the pillow.

(It's actually scary to see three introverts hit some clubs.  I did it with two introverted ladies during a trade show in Washington DC several years ago and we terrorized a bar.  It was pretty funny.  But I digress.)

The point is, extroverts are energized by large social settings and introverts are drained by them.  So things like trade shows, traveling, presenting to groups, etc. is really hard for introverts but is mother's milk to extroverts.  Social media changes that for introverts.

I've been predicting the collapse of traditional media since the turn of the century, but no one really listened.  I even said exactly when it was going to happen, almost down to the month.  The reason no one listened was because I was seen as a basic PR hack.  No one knew my background as a journalist, freelance writer, historian and communications theorist. But two years ago I dove into social media ina big way.  Now I regularly have visits from the corporate headquarters of Time Warner and Newscorp to this blog, not to mention the marketing departments and CFOs of major corporations.  Social media gave me street cred on this issue.

On the other side of the coin, you have people like Karen Bartelson, blog wunderkinde of Synopsys who is a quintessential extrovert.  Karen is very well known in the EDA industry and has been well before the term social media was coined.  People read her blog because they know who she is, but she would be no less respected if she did nothing in social media.  She could function very well without social media.  Heck, she'd thrive if media didn't exist.  Why?  Because she is a very smart, well connected extrovert.

I'm not a dim bulb.  I know how to act like an extrovert in busy social situations, but I don't do it really well and it wipes me out.  But right now, I run blogs on the state of the media and communications strategy, theology, local politics, and startup technology.  I participate in discussions on multiple social media sites and my circle of regular contacts is well over a thousand people around the world.  That's what social media does for me and why I say: social media is attuned to introverts.

Changes at the DesignLines

Kenton Williston dropped me a note this week to let me know that he's left TechInsights as editor of the DSP DesignLine.  Kenton did a pretty good job as a contractor for that site from my perspective and I'm sorry to see him go.  Patrick Mannion is taking over (gee, Patrick, what are you going to do with your free time) along with his duties running Techonline.

Kenton doesn't have a line on what's next for him but I recommend him for freelance work.

A ray of light...

I've mentioned our VComm event from last January a couple of times and the results are still emerging.  Today, however, I got an unsolicited response from one of the Scottish companies that participated.  Actually got a little teary reading it.

"VComm represented an excellent introduction to the American venture capital scene. Not only was the room filled with the right people – they were warmed up, welcoming and ready to invest. The online training from the organizers was fantastic for the novice presenter and seasoned campaigner alike. Your YouTube and New Tech Press videos concisely focused on the key message and importantly only took ten minutes out of the viewer's day. 

"By following your hints and tips on successful presenting we have been approached by 5 VC’s with an interest in investing. In turn the venture community is now talking about us and we have seen an uplift in our web traffic stateside as a direct result. The most significant development has actually happened 6 weeks after the event via a referral from one VC to another – that result is one of the largest venture capital funds in the world have requested a conference call with us and want to go to the next level.


"The American culture is aligned with ours, but at the same time - totally different! They want to invest and make decent returns – but are far more willing to invest larger sums with a higher risk – and ultimately net higher yields.


"VComm is an ideal opportunity to enter the “get to know you” phase of that relationship and represents a golden opportunity for any Scottish Company wishing to go down this path. VComm opened the door and enabled that process. Follow the advice and you can’t go far wrong!"

I told you I know what I'm doing.

Answering questions for a friend

One of the first interviews I did on State of the Media was with my old friend, Marty Weybret, publisher of the Lodi News Sentinel (which is one of the oldest family-owned daily newspapers left in America).  At the time, the LNS was still doing well but Marty saw the handwriting on the wall.  I've been pushing my friend to get more involved with social media and he finally got onto Facebook and is getting pretty active.  He wrote a note with 10 questions on the future on journalism and asked for my input.  I'm putting it up on his notes, but I thought it would be good for fodder here as well.

Does "free on the Internet" mean news now has no economic value?
The only reason free content is on the internet is because the people placing it there have not assigned value to it.  Case in point is the Wall Street Journal.  They still charge a subscription to see much of their content.  They got a lot of flack at the beginning of Web 2.0 for doing that, but they are still standing and doing well relative to everyone else.  The journalism industry has made it's own bed by not charging something for their online content and some are beginning to wake up.  Even EE Times is planning on launching some level of payment for their content.  In some cases it is as simple as detailed information on the reader that can be resold as marketing data to other organizations.  It will be a painful transition for some people, but content can no longer be free.  Someone has to pay and it is up the the journalism world to figure out what that price is.

Does the symbiosis between advertising and news mean it never had the value
most journalists assumed it had?
The problem with advertising is that the journalism world have been telling advertising people that advertising increases sales.  It doesn't and never has.  The discussion of issues and concerns is what drives sales and advertising provides a suggestion about how to deal with them.  Advertising only validates a decision to buy or having bought so it minimizes buyer remorse and encourages continued patronage.  That is the byproduct of advertising.  The PURPOSE of advertising is to fund the discussion.  Journalism screwed up the relationship between ads and content and they are going to have to fix it by re-establishing a the value proposition.

Will user generated content replace a great deal of journalism?
Already has.  Take a look at most trade journals and at least 50 percent is vendor-generated.  Techonline is pretty much all user generated.  And that's why most people are turning to social media because user/vendor-generated content is little more than marketing crap.  It had it's place as a counterpoint to objective coverage, but as it continues, people are losing trust in media.  Social media is becoming a replacement but only as far as it is a trusted source.  But social media will die if it doesn't find a revenue source that at least covers its cost.

Will the "mainstream media," fade away or do they stand a chance of transforming themselves and becoming valuable again?
Yes, but it has to recognize the true value and purpose of the revenue stream and not set unrealistic expectations.

Given that people are paying more and more for entertainment & communication (cable TV, cell phones, online & video games, Internet connections, etc.) and less for journalism, can journalism change to the point it earns substantial revenue and still be journalism?
When Facebook, Technorati, Twitter and all these other collapse financially, there will be an enormous vacuum that will need to be filled.  The weakness of socially driven media is already becoming apparent as people take civil action against social media organizations, so they will have to clean up their act.  But the most important lesson to learn is that the old way of earning revenue is not going to come back.  The content itself has to be directly sponsored and become the reason people contact businesses for goods and services.

Why is Internet advertising cheaper than print advertising — does it work less well or is abundance driving the price down?
It's cheaper because the journalism industry priced it cheaper.  The industry thought, "Gee we don't need paper or printing presses or layout teams. Let's price it at 10 cents on the dollar and tell the advertisers the same thing: that it will drive sales."  But they didn't consider server costs, or computer science gurus in the cost, and they didn't know that people could more easily ignore ads on the screen than they could on paper.  Online advertising is not a bad thing, but like traditional advertising, it doesn't perform as advertised.

Is the audience for TV news declining as rapidly as newspaper circulation? If not, is the bigger audience due more to the fact that TV news is free or due to its user-friendly video-audio form?
The audience isn't declining.  The availability of fee content online is driving up audiences.  More people are consuming news than ever before.  They just don't have to pay for it.  Most of the print pubs I work with are cutting print runs not because people aren't reading, but because they can't afford to print as many copies.

Newspaper circulation is declining for many reasons — free news on the 'Net, increasing immigration from countries with poor public education, anger at the bias and ethical failings of journalism, a lack of drama and a wishy-washy focus of most news writing, America's "video generation"  finds papers less user-friendly, more people are "bowling alone" & commuting more so they are less involved in community affairs. There are probably other reasons as well. In what order would you rank these causes for the decline of circulation and why?
1. Declining advertising revenue is causing cutbacks in the quality of content which causes people to not want to read certain publications.
2. Poor reading skills make podcasting a better vehicle.
3. Poor education in history and civics make news incomprehensible

Can democracy survive a contraction of the mainstream media and an expansion of politician's Web sites and amateur blogging? Can the people influence big government armed with limited journalism?

What we call journalism today has only existed for about 50-70 years.  What came before it was anything but unbiased.  Andrew Jackson, for example, oversaw the operations of the Washington Globe established to promote his administrations policies to the people.  What we see in social media today is not unlike what media once was.  I'd like to point out that democracy was in place in many cultures long before there was a print media.  What our society looks like in 20 years may  be completely different than what it is now, but whether democracy survives is not based on what our media looks like.  Democracy drives what media looks like and it is the peoples' decision on whether they want it.

Good things come in small packages

With the news that the General Assembly of Maryland is banning Facebook and Myspace connections, we have an interesting issue before us regarding social media.  Is "big" a good thing or do good things really come in small packages?

Some people think Facebook, growing at millions of people every month, is a good place to build your community, but when you have a widespread network, hacker bozos like messing with you.  The reason Mac's are generally immune to computer viruses is that there are not enough people using them for malware hackers to cause the mayhem they like to do.  Facebook and Myspace present the kind of playground the web-vandals like to ransack.

But so far, the smaller, more focused players in social media, like Linkedin and Plaxo have been fairly immune to malware.  So what I am wondering is, have we gone past the time of importance for mass media?  Are we, as Seth Godin sees it, becoming a planet of tribes again?   I'm no longer sure social media is a replacement for traditional media,, but a means to reconnect on a more personal level, so applying massive scale to an approach may not be the best.

I'm going to be looking in this more.

Time magazine weighs in on the business model for journalism

Time Magazine had an article this week on "How to save your newspaper" and guess what?  They said dependence on advertising is a stupid way to run a newspaper.


So someone else is going to have to foot the bill for real news.  It may be the reader, or it could be sponsored, objective content.  What part of this are we not getting?

The death of a PR agency

Last year I wrote that I'm totally committed to the concept of social media especially as it relates to technology startups.  I said then that I had not taken a traditional PR client in a year and could not recommend anyone hire anyone else to do traditional PR anymore.  Some readers gave me a thumbs up and others asked if I was feverish.  It is a significant step forward for a former traditional journalist turned PR pro to take, especially one who can smell the social security checks coming over the hill, but I meant it.

Sometimes you have to be careful what you say because you will often be asked to back it up at some point. That happened to me and my little PR firm, VitalCom, this week.  As of 4:30 p.m. Pacific time, VitalCom's vital signs ceased after a lengthy illness.  One client has changed it's commitment to traditional PR and is considering a social media platform at a significantly lower cost, and the one client we had that was still operating in a traditional PR program, cancelled their contract.

What was even more interesting is before the last bit of news, I was in a new business meeting with a potential client who wanted to know what kind of PR program I could offer.  I said I don't do PR.

That doesn't mean I'm out of business.  The potential that came out of VComm last week is tremendous.  We have found a vibrant audience in the VC community who, in stark contrast to conventional wisdom, are very anxious to invest in real innovation.  there are companies who have compelling stories and realize that what everyone knows as PR no longer works.

VitalCom was good to me.  I'll have fond memories.  And after a period of mourning, I'll move on.  Anyone coming with me?

The game is now changed


I've been writing and posting for a long time that media and marketing as we know it will come to and end for a LOOOONG time.  Like about 10 years.  Bit by bit more and more people have come to agree that what I predicted has come to pass.  The big question was: What are we going to do about it? I've proposed a lot of ideas but the ideas -- including sponsored content, highly targeted audience, abandoning traditional public relations and advertising for an organized social media approach -- received about as much early support as my predictions.

Wednesday, however, everything talked about in this blog was justified with the conclusion of the VComm Venture Faire.  A project 2 years in the making last only 8 hours, but brought together a dozen established and newly funded investment firms with nine innovative technology companies out of Scotland.  You can see some of the reaction to the event here, but the reaction does not indicate fully what made the event successful.  That success was due to...

Sponsored content, highly targeted audience, abandoning traditional public relations and advertising for an organized social media approach.


The next few posts will outline more specifically what happened and the extremely positive blowback of the effort, but let me conclude by saying:  I know - not think or believe - what it will take to make companies and investors successful in the next three years.  I have never been more sure.

What it will take for social media to become journalism

One of the things that really irk traditional journalists bout social media is the protection from libel and slander that many in the blogosphere enjoy.  Since bloggers and posters can maintain anonymity, and because US law protects social media sites against libel posted by individual posters, people can say pretty much what they like.

But a story today in the SF Chron shows that protection may be showing a few cracks.  A Foster City dentist is suing both Yelp, an online reviewing site, and a poster that gave a negative review that the dentist says in untrue in large part and libelous.

That's good news to me.  As I said, up to now, bloggers and commenters did not have to be responsible in their postings except according the the limits of their own consciences.  Journalists, on the other hand, can be dragged into court unless they can prove their content.  But once our law system starts holding the blogosphere responsible for what is reported, we will have a renaissance of journalism on the web.

Yin and Yang of Social Media

(NOTE: I just finished a post that tries to put to an end the bickering over whether blogging is journalism.  The following was written on a plane a couple of weeks ago on the way to Scotland to begin gathering material for a social media experiement.  When I wrote it I had a hard time with the context.  It works much better now that I did the post this morning, so I deleted the previous version and have replaced it with this one.

There has been a lot of discussion about where media is going in this country, not just on the B2B space.  Things seem to be changing faster than anyone can keep up and being a journalist just isn't much of a career choice anymore… or some people think.

There are some who think print is completely dead, but that's only true in major cities.  If you look between San Francisco and San Jose, you'll find a very lively and profitable bunch of local papers.  They don't pay their reporters jack, but they are surviving nicely.  Go into less populated areas of the US and you still find local press covering local and national news.  Go into India and you'll find a major new publication popping up almost every month.  People all around the world are reading more than ever before.

Here in the US we are spoiled by a glut of media.  We have newspapers, magazines, multiple broadcast formats (satellite, TV, radio, cable) and, of course, the Internet.  If you come up with a new way of communicating, a lot of people will rush to it… for a while.  Then they will declare it, "so yesterday." we got used to have free access to information, or rather, what we call information because, after all, we live in a free society.  But that is going away because the people who use to subsidize that flow of information have decided to stop paying for it.

I blame MTV for that.  MTV used to be about rock and alternative music, but over the past 20 years it has turned into a marketing machine.  It finds out whatever happens to be just new enough to look shiny to young people and then it crams it down young America's throat, be it the latest pop star, clothing, gadgets, vernacularisms or entertainment.  MTV is nothing but a big informercial, interrupted by traditional commercials.  But it makes a lot of money.  And it is shiny. 

Real information – stuff that makes a difference – isn't shiny.  It makes your head hurt and your eyes burn.  It makes you want to do your own research and find out more.  The Internet used to be good for that, but it gets clogged with opinion and experimentation now so it's hard to sift through.  That's what social media is supposed to do, and it will… eventually.  But first, we have to learn how to communicate, or at least start valuing those who can.

See, the problem is, and I've said this many times, is that corporate America use to find the communications ability of journalists valuable and were willing to pay large sums of money to media to get people to read, watch and listen to objective information.  They don't value that anymore.  They don't want you to have objective information.  They would rather control it completely, like MTV, MSNBC or Fox does, and make you think it's objective.

They also want you to believe that everyone in your community knows exactly what is really going on, so you only need to listen to people in your community.  That's what social media is being used for now.  Many tech companies are creating online communities and tons of blogs that only reach their customer base, and they are directing the conversation to keep that community within their small circle.  It is working to an extent, because it is limiting the flow of information.  It's serving as a valve on the data fire hose we know as the Internet.  However, it is anything but objective.  And the larger companies need it to be very partisan.

That is not good for small, innovative companies, however.  Innovation is good for industry, but not good for big companies.  So it is important for big companies to control the market conversation.  They will choke off any discussion that might help an innovator succeed. 

And that's the yin and yang of social media.  It is good for filtering information, but it is bad for information.  It is good for making a company successful, but it can be used to kill competition and growth.  So like everyone else, I'm telling everyone to get on board and get into social media. That brings us back to figuring out what good journalism looks like.