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I’ve moved

If you’re checking in and wondering why this blog is looking dusty, as mentioned in my last post, I’m now blogging from The Foundry House and tweeting from @thefoundryhouse.  You’ll find posts on PR, business etc there from now on although I’m going to keep this live for a little longer.

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Why I think Social PR as a ‘label’ won’t stick

A few weeks ago I went to an Influence People conference in London focused on Social PR.  IP’s conferences (now under the ‘Our Social Times’ banner) are always time well spent and I found this one particularly constructive.  But it triggered something of a re-think.

Like many PR’s I have embraced the ‘Social PR’ label, feeling that it was a useful way to explain the point at which PR and the social web converge.  Indeed I have blogged and tweeted from ‘Social PR blog’ for a while now.  But the various panel discussions which included the likes of KD Paine (always good on measurement), Katy Howell (a breath of fresh air – even with a cold!), Jane Wilson (first time I’d seen her speak but I was impressed) and Philip Sheldrake (always v engaging), got me thinking.  Here’s why Social PR blog has gone a bit quiet of late…

Although ‘Social PR’ is a term I’m hearing more of now, I wonder if this is driven more by the technologists than the PR practitioners?  Yes, social media is maturing and more PR’s are embracing it by the day.  But many are embracing it as an integral part of what they are doing.  Not a separate discipline.

I’m speaking as someone running a small B2B agency.  The big ones have dedicated digital media specialists with team structures that reflect this.  Nonetheless, unless I’ve missed it, I am not aware of any agency opting for a ‘Social PR team or division’.

To my mind, PR is PR.  The way we deliver results is changing dramatically but that doesn’t necessarily mean PR needs a new label.  I am unlikely to describe myself as a ‘Social PR’ just because the social web features in my tool box.  It smacks of trying a bit too hard.

In short, I am not convinced that ‘Social PR’ as a term will stick.  Maybe I will be proved wrong. Time will tell. But in the meantime, I have decided to put all my eggs in one basket and co-locate my Social PR blog posts alongside news and other content on The Foundry House website.  This is partly because of my view on the durability of ‘Social PR’ as a term and partly to allow me to join up my Social PR posts better with the work I do with my Associates.

I will still blog about (Social) PR but I’ll blog about other stuff too.  And because of the joys of WordPress (and some clever web development thanks to @maltpress), it’ll be clear which posts fall into which category.  The great thing about all this is that there is flexibility.  The road I took wasn’t working for me.  This one feels much clearer and more manageable.  To me at least!  Call me tidy minded but ultimately it’ll be easier having everything under one roof.  For the time being, I will continue to post here (duplicating these posts on The Foundry House blog) and keep an eye on the analytics.

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A different kind of conference

My day at TEDxGranta has now had time to sink in properly.  Lots of food for thought on so many levels, as highlighted by Cambridge Network.  It was a very different kind of conference.  There was something about it that felt a tiny bit indulgent. Maybe it was the long ‘conversation breaks’ or, more likely, the fact that the content wasn’t focused on a single issue or sector.  But that’s just what made it so interesting.  These days we are all so focused on value for money in the context of events and conferences that we tend to stick to what we know. TEDxGranta was a chance – an excuse perhaps – to think about different stuff and meet different people.  Each talk tapped into an issue that touches all our lives one way or another. It was a fascinating mix of content drawn from TED Women in Washington (streamed content) and ‘local’ speakers.

As I said in last week’s post, TED just makes you want to share.  It epitomises the ’social brand’.  So, in that spirit of sharing, here are the talks that struck a chord for me and why:

STREAMED

Hans Rosling – the BEST way to start the day.  He’s a statistician with a twist as he has an uncanny ability to bring global issues into the living room – or in this instance, the laundry room.  This talk is about world poverty – a brilliant, graphic illustration of life ‘below the washing line’ i.e. life for all the millions who can’t afford a washing machine.

Liza Donnelly – talented, funny, meaningful cartoonist – brilliant talk!  And how right she is when says “Women have amazing antennae.”

Tony Porter - loved his portrayal of “The Man Box” and how society defines what it is to be a man – and a woman for that matter. He took us from laughter to hard-to-contain horror in 18 very compelling minutes.

LOCAL/CAMBRIDGE (UK) SPEAKERS (sorry – couldn’t find videos of the talks online but I’ll add them if I do)

Julie Barnes got us all thinking about the fragility of our health and how important it is to play a role in the work to find cures and strategies for preventing serious/terminal illness.  ”Health is an enigma – we never know when it’ll fail.”

Donna Lynas – I am ashamed to say, I had no idea how big Wysing Arts was or how much fascinating work they do there. Fantastic stories of engaging communities in ground-breaking projects e.g. the world’s first walking house – designed and built by/with travellers and the (totally) recycled building, created at absolutely NO cost.  It’ll be interesting to see how far their community engagement evolves as social media does away with the boundaries of location. Virtual engagement in art…boundless opportunity.

Sarah Outen captured the auditorium with the story behind her epic row – solo – across the Indian Ocean. A passionate story delivered with honesty.  And barefoot!  Sarah took inspiration from Andre Gide who said “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has courage to lose sight of the shore.” A quote that must surely resonate for all of us when faced with risk.

Ian Price’s talk about the ‘cult of busyness’ that pervades our lives, thanks to mobile technologies, was followed by Renny Gleeson’s, featuring some very funny photos to illustrate how mobile communication prevails over human interaction when it shouldn’t.  

If you are ever guilty of being more responsive to technology than the person you are meant to be talking to, take 3 minutes out to watch this.  It closes with this plea:  ”Please let’s make technology that makes us MORE human, not less.” Here here.

One last thing… in Johanna Blakley’s streamed talk, her point about women driving the social media revolution interested me. I’m not sure what stats Johanna was basing her assertion on but when I last looked at social media usage by gender, the split was pretty much 50:50.   Of course adoption and usage are just one aspect of this debate.  The revolution will be driven by the innovators.  So what do you reckon?  Will it be men or women that will steer our course online in the future?  Does it matter?

PS if you want the team to repeat/develop TEDxGranta, get following, tweeting, blogging and evangelising about TEDxGranta in any way that takes your fancy.  @HilaryGoldsmith @VandyMassey @Sookio (Sue Keogh) @camassey (Chris Massey) and @JoRichesltd

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Four things that make TED truly Social

I spent most of Tuesday soaking up the wonders of TED at TEDxGranta, right on my doorstep in Cambridge (UK).  If you don’t know TED, think global ’social’ brand and large video archive of inspirational, thought provoking talks about stuff that matters by extraordinary people.

For the uninitiated, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.  Strapline: ‘Ideas worth spreading’.  And they truly are.

As a brand, TED seems to have grown on the back of invitation only events (in the US only initially) for people of note.  For a long time I saw it as a bit of a Davos without the politics and with FAR more creativity and expression but I’m sure it is different things to different people.  Whatever, TED just seems to keep on growing as more and more people discover the wealth of amazing online content is spawns.  And now it’s adopted a local persona and come to Cambridge.  Great news.

I will blog again about TEDxGranta (great day) specifically but in the meantime, I got thinking about how TED epitomises the ‘Social’ world we now inhabit. Whether the founders contrived it that way or not, it is Social with a capital ‘S’ for four main reasons:

  • It’s social in the traditional meaning of the word: talks at the events themselves are short (no more than 18 mins with no Q & A) but breaks are long – lots of time to seek out speakers, chat and get to know people
  • It’s easy and accessible: LOADS of TED videos (over 800 of the best) accessible to all, FREE
  • It’s viral: you can pretty much guarantee that a talk in TED’s video archive will leave you in awe, deep in thought or prodded into action – and therefore compelled to share (the social networks are regularly buzzing with someone’s lists of favourite TED talks, themed or otherwise)
  • It’s not for profit - no speaker fees and no cash benefit for the people who make it happen.  Anyone who choses to deliver a ‘local TED’ does so (mostly) for love (and yes, for the kudos of being the one/s that took ownership of TED at a local level)

So did the founders plan it this way?  My guess is they did.  They are visionaries.  But the really clever trick was to grow the brand on an event for the elite whilst making the content accessible and appealing to all, and then let the rest just happen.  I can’t imagine they need to set aside any budget for PR. TED’s followers (the videos have IRO 290m viewers) tick that box for them. That’s what makes it truly Social.

TEDxGranta post to follow but for now, thank you to the team for being the brave and generous souls that took the bit between the teeth for those of us in Cambridge and the surrounding area.  Yesterday gave me bucket fulls of food for thought.

In the meantime, I can’t (of course) blog about TED without sharing one of the talks from Tuesday’s programme. What this short (3 mins) video of Renny Gleeson talking about our ‘obligation to availability’ thanks to mobile technology. Funny but a serious underlying message.

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A blog about how it feels to… not blog

Today was one of those ‘Four Wedding and a Funeral’ days (know what I mean?!) when time got the better of me.  I didn’t oversleep and miss a wedding (or a funeral). Nor did I forget a meeting or overshoot a deadline.  But I felt like either was possible all day.  And yes, expletives were a feature.  Thankfully the day is near an end, for me at least.  But as I try to coax my brain into a more leisurely state, I hear a voice nagging “What about your blog?  You haven’t blogged for three weeks.”

This time I can’t ignore it.  So back to the keyboard I go.

I’m typically someone for whom blog writing is an iterative process.  A theme or angle germinates for a few days before it makes it to a live post.  I tip a few paragraphs onto a page and keep coming back to it as other thoughts occur to me.  I know that’s not the way it’s meant to be done – blog writing is supposed to be a spontaneous thing – but each to his own, I say.  Well this post will be different.  I am going to finish it and make it live in 20 minutes.  At least I’m going to try.

No careful thought into links.  No wrestling with the words.  Just a ‘from the heart’ blog post about how it feels to…not blog.

Answer:

Uncomfortable – blogging should be a regular thing.  A 3 week gap gives me a conscience.

Vulnerable – who’s taking advantage in the search rankings while I snooze?

Disorganised – I’m a list person and ‘blog’ has languished on the list for too long this time.

Perhaps more interesting though, I’ve missed it.  The writing, that is.  Burbling away in the ether is fun!  And I enjoy writing.  But I always vowed I wouldn’t clog up the blogosphere for the sake of it.  There’s enough noise out there without Marcie Bell adding to it with ill-conceived thoughts on Social PR and all its innuendos.  So I guess I’ve stayed true to that pledge.

My problem is that as a hands-on consultant I often err into delivery, because I enjoy it.  But more hands-on work means less time for blogging.  I often wonder how the seasoned bloggers keep it up?  It seems effortless for the likes of Chris Brogan and Neville Hobson. Second nature even.  Still, my blog is young and all is certainly not lost. There are lessons to learn from this period of inactivity.  And some quick and easy fixes.   I need to:

  • refresh my blog schedule AND STICK TO IT!
  • get comfortable with shorter, more ad hoc posts
  • line up more guest posts to liven things up and relieve the pressure
  • stop worrying

Any other thoughts?  I wonder how you other bloggers cope with the expectations of the blogosphere?  Is it full on, unbridled enjoyment all the way?  Or does it sometimes feel like a chore?  Will I get any honest answers, I wonder…?

PS I met my challenge and wrote this post in 20 minutes. :) Made two v small changes the following morning (including this comment) but heh! I did say my blogging was an iterative process.  Old habits die hard.

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12 ways for small biz to create social company culture

So, my last post talked about the challenges faced by larger companies in maximising social media, particularly location networks.  It sprang from discussion on Quora about the ownership of social media. Then I read Dave Briggs’ post ‘Doing away with social media officers’ (follow the links in it to get full value) in which he pushes back on the need for a dedicated social media function. And all this got me thinking… Like all things in life there are winners and losers and this time I think it’s the little guys that have an opportunity to steal a march.

Unburdened by the big unwieldy infrastructure that comes with large numbers and multiple premises, start-ups and small businesses have agility on their side.  They have a golden opportunity to create/build a ‘social company culture’ from the centre out, using social media as an integral part of day-to-day business before the company gets too big.

I fear cries of utopian thinking!  After all, entrepreneurs and small business owners are typically very busy people who are more pre-occupied with their innovation and funding their growth than aspiring to create any kind of corporate culture.  And many harbour a fear of the unknown where social media is concerned.  How practical is it to expect them to follow my advice?  And why should they?  Well, don’t shoot the messenger but as I’ve said before, the social web is here to stay.   Tuning in to it is a way to future proof a business but it does require a different mindset.  So, entrepreneurs and small business owners/managers, here are my 10 common sense tips to help you create a ‘social company culture’:

  1. If you’re not already tuned into the social web, make a start now; get comfortable and lead by example
  2. Get help to orientate you and understand the options – blogging, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc – you can waste lots of time getting started on your own
  3. If you’re recruiting, keep social media ‘savviness’ in mind as a criteria (this applies to all recruitment – not just marketing)
  4. Avoid imposing social media engagement on someone who doesn’t want it – it won’t work
  5. Aim to have a number of people championing the cause online – preferably people from different departments (if relevant)
  6. Remember this stuff is personal – a corporate profile in the networks will be useful but having your colleagues post news/info/comment related to your sector and your business from their individual profiles occasionally will be invaluable
  7. As your business grows, don’t under-estimate the need to keep your staff happy, valued and fulfilled – inspire loyalty and they will be more reliable champions
  8. Keep your social media policy light touch – people need to understand the boundaries but make it too heavy handed and the voice will be stifled
  9. If you are big enough to have an HR function, involve them; hopefully they will never need to step in in a disciplinary capacity but they need to understand the issues and potential risks.  The (social media savvy) guys at Keeping HR Simple have some useful advice for SME’s on this stuff
  10. Think social content, to augment what you have to offer in social networks (beyond your website) e.g. video, podcasts, presentations etc
  11. Don’t view the social web as the be all and end all – it needs to join up with your wider PR/marketing effort when you ramp it up but if you get it right, Social PR will evolve naturally
  12. Last but not least, view the social web as an opportunity for the business – it’s a valuable new business tool – not a chore

Other thoughts on creating the culture?  Who is getting it right?

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Location networks force marketers into different mindset

I got involved in my first discussion on Quora last week – about the ownership of social media.

The discussion involved a bit too much of what is now a rather tired and largely irrelevant PR vs marketing debate but interesting stuff nonetheless.  Despite my allegiance to Social PR, like a number of others who commented, I felt the discussion needed to move beyond PR and marketing.   Now that it is established (albeit continuously developing), social media is becoming more about people and less about the technology.  It has an impact (or should) on all aspects of business, particularly for large companies/brands.

Take location marketing.  Still relatively new.  Companies are feeling their way but effective use of networks such as Foursquare and Facebook Places requires a joined approach.  It’s the companies that navigate and connect all the necessary departments effectively around social media activity that will be the winners.

Aside from Marketing and PR, B2C location marketing imposes demands on Internal Comms, HR, Production and Sales.  There have been some great examples – B2C – including Fresh Networks’ Foursquare campaign for Jimmy Choo’s new trainers last year – well documented (probably because it was one of the first in the UK).  Macdonald’s experimental campaign (US) drew criticism for lack of measurement but fair cop, they did say they were only putting a toe in the water.

Marketing may push a message out about a discount, new store opening or happy hour but the whole thing could backfire if the outlet concerned is not prepared for the increased custom that results from an attractive offer that spreads virally.  Enough staff (HR), fully briefed on the offer (marketing/internal comms) and equipped with enough product (production/supply chain) calls for a highly co-ordinated approach. And then there’s the measurement (back to marketing).

This is particularly challenging for companies that are still scratching their heads about whether PR or Marketing should lead.  Given the pressing need to grasp the nettle I’m amazed these debates still rage but the larger the company, the longer decisions take.

So, no matter who ‘owns’ social media, comms strategy now demands better interdisciplinary communication than ever. Whether it is customers or colleagues, you name it, social media touches every part of business in one way or another and Social PR needs to respond accordingly with ever more robust planning and timelines.

Who else is using location networks effectively?  They are naturally a more B2C tool but B2B users can also reap the benefits, by weaving them into SEO strategies and using them to enhance/support networking.

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The social power of trivia

2011 kicks off with a post from Dave Briggs about the importance of personal/human relationships in social networks. Btw he writes a great blog about ‘technology, culture and the bits in between’.

When Marcie and I are talking to clients about how they can better use the social web – tools like Twitter, Facebook, blogging and so forth – one of the biggest hurdles we face is in convincing people that they have something worthwhile and valuable to say.

No matter whether we are talking with small business owners, communications professionals in large organisations or those involve in public sector projects, the fear of not having anything worthwhile to talk about seems to be a major blocking point.

‘After all,’ people say. ‘Nobody wants to hear about what I had for breakfast, or where I walked my dog at the weekend!’

The thing is, they probably do want to hear about just that.

The trick here is understanding the medium. Social media is not your company newsletter, or your newspaper advertising campaign. It’s closer to chats in the pub with your mates than traditional communications activity. With that in mind, it’s a different kind of message you’re trying to get across.

Social media and networking is above all about human beings and human relationships. It’s about building engagement with customers and prospective customers – and the way you do that is not by banging on and on about your company and what you do.

Think about it – if you’re at a party and all you talk about is work, it won’t be long before you’re left alone in the corner, examining the host’s CD collection.

Instead, the really successful users of tools like Twitter and Facebook build relationships with others online. These people tend to be just like popular people in real life: helpful, funny, generous and open.

So don’t be afraid to post what might seem at first to be trivial, or of limited interest. Much of the power of social media lies in serendipity - which probably drives people who like measuring stuff mad – and so by describing your dog walking route in one tweet might forge a link with a fellow dog walker who ends up being a vital business connection. It sounds vague and fluffy but it happens every single day.

This also has an impact on what persona you use to be active on the web.

It’s common sense to register your business name with all the popular social sites, for brand protection purposes, and by all means use this channel for publishing specific company related news or engaging around a specific topic. But remember, social networking is personal; folk are more inclined to become friends with people than companies.

So, to really maximise these tools, start tweeting or blogging in your own name, with your own photo on the account. Let people find the human being behind your organisation – what you’re interested in, what makes you tick, and yes, occasionally, what was in your sandwich this lunchtime.

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A to Z of social web game changers

So, for my last post in 2010 I thought I’d put an idea out there that’s been germinating for a while.   How about an A to Z of social web game changers?  The thought evolved from a recent brainstorm with a bunch of media/creative/web people. We were supposed to be talking about something altogether different but got side-tracked to thinking about how certain people/innovations have been instrumental in driving the social web agenda.  Of course in the brief time we allowed ourselves to get carried away (that is, after all, what brainstorms are about, we told ourselves!) we all had different views on who or what had had the biggest impact.

It struck me that we had the makings of an A to Z; a living document that would, with ongoing contributions from readers, grow organically to become a record of the people that have driven such change in our lives online.  Most of the people listed are social web technology innovators but we’ve included the key players that made the web possible in the first place.  That might be going back a way now but we’d be nowhere online without them.  So, here it is.  A starter for 10.  Plugin by Adam Maltpress.  Initial content by various.  A mixture of household names and unsung heroes.  What do you think?  Who have we missed? Can you help us plug the gaps (we struggled, not surprisingly, to come up with game changers for a few letters)?  Who gets your vote for most significant web pioneer of all time?

View by letter or view the whole shabang at a glance.  Leave ideas/comments below and feel free to ping us alternative or better links.  I won’t be updating it over the holiday period but will catch up as soon as I’m back on track after the New Year. Remember – we know it’s neither comprehensive nor perfect!  We could have carried on adding and tweaking links ad infinitum but hey, this is the collaborative web – it”ll be much fun with your input!

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z |

View results

Michael Arrington

The founder and co-editor of TechCrunch. Follow Michael on Techcrunch!

John Barger

Coined the term "weblog", which later became the widely used term "blog".
Tweets from John!

Tim Berners-Lee

Inventor of the Web - what more can we say? Follow Tim on Twitter!

Jeff Bezos

Andrew Black

Co-founder of internet phenomenon Betfair, the world's first and largest bet exchange. If you're into racing check out Andrew's 'Bert's Horseracing Blog'!

Sergey Brin

Google Pioneer. If you're not already familiar with the story here's an interesting article on Sergey and Google.

Chris Brogan

Author and consultant on the future of business communications. Visit Chris's site here.

Stewart Butterfield

Co-founder of Flickr - we're loving their picture Blog. See Stewart's own photos on Flickr!

Robert Cailliau

First web surfer working with Tim Berners-Lee on the World Wide Web project.
Take a look at Robert's 'dabblings on the web'.

Jason Calacanis

Entrepreneur, blogger and founder of the Open Angel Forum, which gives businesses access to angel investors.

Steve Case

Co-founder of AOL. Interesting Mashable interview with Steve.

Vinton G. Cerf

Computer scientist known as "Father of the Internet" and a primary force behind it's development

Steve Chen

One half of the YouTube equation. Steve on YouTube talking about the acquisition by Google.

Dennis Crowley

Co-founder of Foursquare, a mobile application location-based social networking website

Chris DeWolfe

Co-creator of MySpace. Become a friend of Chris on MySpace.

Jack Dorsey

Inspired the idea of Twitter and sent the first Tweet in 2006. Jack on Twitter!

Doug Engelbart

A legend in the computer world.  Inventor of many common devices and ideas used in computing today, including "word processing", "outline processing", "screen windows", the mouse, and the text link. Connect with the Doug Engelbart Institute.

Caterina Fake

Co-founder of Flickr. Browse Caterina's Blog!

Shawn Fanning

Pioneer of digital music - creator of Napster. Become a friend of Shawn on Facebook.

David Filo

One of two developers of Yahoo!

Janus Friis

Co-founder of Skype, Kazaa and Joost (the Internet TV service). Visit Janus' personal site.

Bill Gates

Microsoft genius and philanthropist extraordinaire - check out Gate's notes!

Mark Getty

Co-founder of Getty Images (which owns istockphoto.com)

Rob Glaser

Founder and former CEO of Real Networks, leader in Internet streaming technology for video and audio. The first RealPlayer was released in 1995.  Join Rob's Twitter following.

Seth Godin

Author and public speaker and credited as inventing permission marketing. Read Seth's blog here!

Scott Heiferman

Co-founder of Fotolog, Meetup and i-traffic. Read some interesting notes from Scott.

Steve Huffman

Co-founder of Reddit.

Chad Hurley

Joint founder of YouTubeChad's website.

I

OK - you got us. We don't have anyone for the letter I just yet. Got an idea? Leave a comment below!

Cameron Christopher Jaeb

Founder of  Audionet, which went on to become Broadcast.com.  Follow Chris Jaeb on Twitter!

Steve Jobs

Seemingly inexhaustive pioneer of all things Apple.  Up to date news about Steve from Apple.

Jawed Karim

Co founder of YouTube and person who appeared in the first video on YouTube!  Check out Jawed's other Software!

L

OK - you got us. We don't have anyone for the letter L just yet.  Got an idea? Leave a comment below!

Ken McCarthy

First introduced the concept of a clickable/trackable ad. See Ken's informative website on Marketing.

Matt Mullenweg

Creator of Wordpress. Great stuff on Matt's website!

Craig Newmark

Creator of Craigslist - a local classifieds and forums - community moderated, largely free - and highly used in the United States. Craig indulges himself.

Alexis Ohanian

Co-founder of RedditCatch up daily with Alexis here.

Pierre Omidyar

Founder and creator of eBay.  Excellent work being done by Pierre.

Larry Page

Co-founder of Google

Mark Pesce & Tony Parisi

Both created VRML in 1994 in a San Francisco coffeehouse.  Visit Mark's website or Tony's blog.

Q

OK - you got us. We don't have anyone for the letter Q just yet.  Got an idea? Leave a comment below!

Kevin Rose

Founder of Digg.com and co-founder of Revision3, Pownce, WeFollow. Take a look at Kevin's website!

Joshua Schachter

Founder of del.icio.us, the link and bookmark sharing site. Check out Joshua's Blog!

Naveen Selvadurai

Co-founder of Foursquare, a mobile application friend-finder, a social city guide and a game

Brian Solis

Founder of FutureWorks and coined the term PR 2.0 in the 1990s. Visit Brian's site here.

Isaac 'Biz' Stone

U

OK - you got us. We don't have anyone for the letter U just yet.  Got an idea? Leave a comment below!

V

OK - you got us. We don't have anyone for the letter V just yet.  Got an idea? Leave a comment below!

Jimmy Wales

Founder of Wikipedia.  Keep up-to-date with Jimmy on Twitter!

X

OK - you got us. We don't have anyone for the letter X just yet.  Got an idea? Leave a comment below!

Jerry Yang

One of two of the original developers of Yahoo!

Niklas Zennström

Co-founder of Skype, Kazaa and Joost. CEO and Founding Partner at Atomico.

Mark Zuckerberg

Founder of Facebook. "I'm trying to make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share". Join Mark on Facebook!

View results

  • Michael Arrington
  • John Barger
  • Tim Berners-Lee
  • Jeff Bezos
  • Andrew Black
  • Sergey Brin
  • Chris Brogan
  • Stewart Butterfield
  • Robert Cailliau
  • Jason Calacanis
  • Steve Case
  • Vinton G. Cerf
  • Steve Chen
  • Dennis Crowley
  • Chris DeWolfe
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The personal touch is great but a website is a must

I tweeted last week about a garden supplier who was doing a door-to-door leaflet drop in our village the other day.  His approach to drumming up new business got me thinking…

He was a lovely, smiley man.  Very chatty and keen to sell me his wares.   Unfortunately for him, I, like many of his customers no doubt, was too busy to tune in.  I smiled and listened briefly saying (as kindly as I could) that I didn’t have time to stop right now.  But I did think I might be interested in future.  Do you have a website?  I asked.  No, was the answer.  It’s been a tough year, he said (i.e. no money in the coffers for creating one).

So, I was left with a piece of paper (plain white – easily lost in my burgeoning pile of admin), a tacit interest and a suspicion that I was unlikely to follow up since my brain had failed to retain even half of the long and distinguished list of products he professed to sell, many of which did not feature on the leaflet.

There’s a bit of me that wishes the personal, door-by-door approach was enough.  That we didn’t need all the ‘noise’ that goes with life online.  But those that bury their heads in the sand (knowingly or otherwise) will be the losers in the long term.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure ‘my’ garden supplier won some new customers doing the rounds.  For a while at least, he will continue to strike a chord with those amongst the older generation who have not felt the need to embrace the web.  And the personal touch will always be appreciated (I hope).  But if he wants to future-proof his business, a website is a must.

My ramblings on this also remind me of a conversation at a meeting recently when a group of us were debating how we  search for stuff these days – information, products, telephone numbers etc.  Dave Briggs gave an example of his recent need to rent a van.  Rather than reaching for the yellow pages (sorry yell.com) he went straight to Google.  And he chose the company with what he felt was the most professional website (having visited a few that failed to inspire him with the confidence that his rent-a-van would even start!).

Now van hire is obviously a different business from garden supplies.  Few, if any, one man rent-a-van enterprises can surely have survived recent times.  But if ‘garden supplier’ had been Dave’s mission on this occasion, my chap wouldn’t have got a look in.  A website is the online shop window and every business intent on hanging around needs one.

In this instance I’m not advocating a wholesale shift to online sales.  That wouldn’t feel right for my door-to-door man.  But say he wanted to build a family business for the next generation to inherit.  How much better would it be for him and his children if the business had moved with the times?  He (and his leaflets) could signpost people to the website for a full list of products on offer and with the right (optimised) content, he could find himself attracting new customers online to support his face to face efforts.  Free of charge too!  From there, once he is comfortable with an online presence he might tune in to some of the local listing sites like Best of but all the other stuff – YouTube, Twitter, Facebook – etc could come in time, most likely driven by or with the help of the next generation.  Or the additional resource he can afford once the business has grown!

But he can’t afford a website!  I hear you cry.  Well:

a) the kind of website he needs shouldn’t cost the earth.  In fact I spotted this offer from a fellow tweeter a while back  - I’ve checked. Mark is thoroughly trustworthy and the offer still stands


b) if he pitched the cost of a website against the cost of time, petrol and wear and tear on his car, I know which would get a tick in the box for sustainability in every sense.

Having written this I now feel a moral obligation to share my thoughts with the garden supplier.  Small businesses are the glue for life in local communities.  I want him to succeed and I reckon those of us who are comfortable with life online have a moral responsibility to help others along.  Not to impose our will but to guide when appropriate.  My gut tells me he won’t be receptive; his fear of the unknown will get in the way. Should I let that deter me?

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