Sunday, February 26, 2006

What Makes Podcasts Work?

I love podcasts.

While my iPod is great for music, I'm not always a music kind of guy. In fact, I like a lot of NPR shows, but have always found myself frustrated by missing them since I don't usually have the radio on around the house. With three kids, finding time to just sit, listen and/or read is just impossible.

But podcasts fill that void perfectly, and I subscribe to many. In fact, podcasts have made walking the dog in the dead of winter a much more palatable task. Why bring this up? Because I'm fascinated by how some are being used and how many people just don't seem to fully understand the medium.

Over the next few posts I'm going to talk a bit about things that work and things that don't. Let me start with one of my favorites: Cinecast, a movie review program broadcast out of Chicago.

Unlike many movie reviewers, hosts Adam Kempendaar and Sam Hallgren need to pay for their tickets. That changes things a bit. One is a father and must take time away from his family to see films, so this increases his commitment even more. In fact, the hosts readily admit that they only review movies that they are interested in seeing. Since they're both pretty big film buffs, this list is pretty long. Still, you're not going to find quickie reviews for Big Mamma's House II on this show.

I don't get out to films as much as I like, but I love hearing their reviews. They're intelligent and give a great synopisis of the film. It's like being back in college and discussing film as art, not just as eyecandy.

But here's the best part: they're sponsored by Peerflix. It's not that they went out looking for sponsors, though they often joked about wanting one on the show, but doing the show takes up enough time, getting out to sell it would take even more. No, the sponsor came from a listener who thought that the two lined up perfectly and connected them. Talk about a loyal audience!

So, what works here? First is the hosts. They are wonderfully smooth, understand their subject matter (Adam has a degree in film), have a passion for their subject, and have used the podcast and the show blog to create a strong community of listeners (1662 according to Frappr). They regularly read feedback representative of the audience, offer up polls on the show blog and take listener suggestions seriously. One listener suggestion about creating a top five list of "man crushes" brought in weeks of emails and voicemails on the topic.

Also, the show notes that appear on my iPod give me timecodes for everything, so if I just want to hear listener feedback, that's all I have to hear. They also have a solid schedule that they follow to the letter, keep shows from getting too long and don't go off too far on tangents. I don't know their political views and frankly, I don't care. I'm here for movie talk and that's what they give.

Would this work as a radio show? Perhaps, but then they'd have to worry about ratings. Because this is a labor of love and not tied down to any concrete geographic area, the right listeners can find them from anywhere in the world. If Adam and Sam found themselves on NPR and saw blips in the ratings each time they talked about a particular type of movie, they'd start to gravitate in a particular direction.

For now, this is perfect the way it is. And my dog is just grateful to Adam and Sam that I'm giving him a little more time on his walk.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Call it what you want...

But the concept is the same.

I call it Open Communications, Charlene Li of Forrester calls it Social Computing, but at the center it's all the same. It's about the level playing field created by new technologies. It's about opening up the communications channels and giving up on control.

This comes back to the reason I keep pushing back on the term "Blogger Relations. Says Charlene: " I often stress, it's not about the technologies but about the new relationships that users will form. Technologies will come and go, but the power built on the relationships created by social computing will endure."

She continues in her post on the subject:

To fully appreciate the value of social computing, companies have to let go of control. That means letting customers control the brand if you're a marketer, and it means enabling new enterprise tools that IT can't easily control to attract and support employees with high social computing needs. In many ways, this is the source of the great distress that I routinely hear from corporate managers.
I'd like to take a look at the report, but I'm not sure it's in my personal budget right now.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Trend v. Hype

I was catching up on my reading tonight when I came across a post on Micro Persuasion in which Steve Rubel writes about how blogging may die, but the concept will always survive.

I find myself agreeing completely. This is why I believe that blogger relations is just part of a larger puzzle... one that is about Open Communications.

Also, not long ago I came across a post on Shel Holtz' blog that I hadn't seen, in reaction to my original post on Open Communications. He believes all this talk about names is a non-starter and that we are just splitting hairs. Though, he seems to agree that "blogger relations" as a field is probably just temporary.

While he has a point, I think the debate over names is important. When we go to sell "blogger relations" to the broader audience, they're going to be left thinking we're just talking about blogs, when those in the industry realize that it's much larger. I find this in my own firm where people look to me as the "blog guy" or even "Mr. Blog." But they're not necessarily interested in the broader impact of it all. Part of this is my own fault, having spent the better part of two years trying to get everyone on board the blog train. But now that they are (as are our clients) getting them to see the broader impact is another large hill to climb.

The fact is, the concept of sharing ideas with the entire world by using simple publishing tools is still in its infancy. When my mother starts doing it, when my uncle starts doing it and when the most non-tech savvy people I know start doing it, then it will be maturing.

But it will also no longer be about technology. The idea of a "blog" will just be one part of it. Who knows what form it will take, who knows where control will lie?

I think if we change the nomenclature we'll change how we look at the idea of what is going on, and only then can we truly understand the impact these technologies can have.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Investment: Why Citizen Journalism is the Future

Dan Kennedy has a great article in Commonwealth this month about citizen journalism and in particular. You may recall that on this blog Kennedy pointed out how Lisa Williams is not a journalist but practices journalism. He expands on that idea a little in this piece.

But in the middle is a great quote from a local official. You see, like many small cities and towns, Watertown used to have two publications: the Sun and the Press. Through consolidation they were eventually bought by CNC media (now owned by the Boston Herald) and combined into the Watertown Tab and Press. My home city of Newton had a similar issue where two local papers became one.

The papers are stepping stones toward larger and better jobs. And locals do, in fact, notice:

Among those lamenting these developments is Bill Oates, a veteran Watertown community leader currently serving on the school committee. "“When you would read the stories, you would get the context," he says of the Sun and the Press. In contrast, he says, reporters at the Tab tend to be young and unfamiliar with Watertown--and they quickly move on. "“I think a lot of them do a nice job, but they never get the depth of understanding,"” Oates says.
I spent a very short time in Binghamton, N.Y. as a TV producer. In order to better understand my environment, I spent weekends in the local libraries reading past newspapers, histories of the city and even sifting through census data. I also talked to police officers and others. My wife was back in Boston, but I spent many weekends away from her.

About a year later I was a producer in Boston when one of my writers got a job in New Haven. My advice to him was to spend time there, learn the landscape, and remember that while it's not his home, it is to his viewers.

He called me a short time later to tell me that he didn't need to bother, an anchor told promised to guide him through the stories. I felt like I just hadn't gotten through.

Without an investment in the local landscape it's almost impossible to cover an area properly. Every community has people who show up at every key board meeting just because they want to be involved. Many end up running for local office, but some are just concerned over a topic. I know a woman here in town who grew up in Newton, has run for office several times (and lost) and is very active in civic life. She knows everyone and everyone knows her. This is the kind of person who should have a blog. I can't wait for the day that all those people I used to see in village and town board meetings back when I was a cub reporter in Rockland County get their own blogs.

It's also why I like people like Brian Stuy, he brings perspective and history to the discussion about Chinese adoption, something that a reporter from evpublicationction like the New York Times could never do.

Yes, specialized publications have long existed, but the low cost of publishing, ease with which a "publication" can be created,infiniteinate reach of the Internet bring this idea to an entirely new level.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Thoughts on TV

I didn't get a chance to watch as many Superbowl commercials as I usually like. Mostly because I was at a party with a lot of noisy kids running around, and the other grownups in the room were not nearly as interested in the little films between plays as I was.

Still, I ended up seeing most (both on TV and online) and of those I saw I was pretty unimpressed. The worst of the bunch, I felt, was the overblown, over-the-top and not-nearly -campy-enough Burger King Wopperettes commercial. You know, the one that so many others seemed to love?

Frankly, my opinions don't matter too much. But what I have found interesting in reading the post Superbowl commercial writeups (and I've read too many to even remember what I've read) is that no one seems to agree on which commercials came out on top. In this very unscientific way, I'm wondering if TV is now so fragmented that it's almost impossible to please even a solid majority of the people with a simple ad. What this means for the advertising industry is anyone's guess, but given everything else going on in the media world, it makes complete sense.

Then there is TiVo. I know, non-sequitur, but go with me on it. I've run into a number of friends recently who keep telling me to get one. It's not that I don't want one, I just can't figure out a good reason to spend money on one. They use phrases like "change your life." But if a device that lets you watch TV differently is "life changing," then our priorities are mixed up.

If the TiVo can sense intent, then we may have something. I want it to assess my viewing choices for the REASONS that I view something, then feed me shows that I may never have thought of that are intelligent, well written, insightful and cause me to think.

But my guess is that if I tell it I like Battlestar Galactica, it'll just feed me more science fiction. I like some scifi, but I don't watch the show for that reason.

So for now, I'll just stick to my current method: leaving the TV off unless something worthwhile is on. Then maybe I won't have to watch that horrid Wopperettes commercial again.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Unusual Death... and the Afterlife

It's not often that an entire way of communicating goes away. Especially one that was well into its second century.

So it's both notable and inevitable that Western Union ended its telegram service. I'm amazed that it lasted this long. I don't think I have ever, in my life, received or sent a telegram. In fact, I thought it had died a long time ago.

No, Western Union told Computerworld, 20,000 telegrams were sent in 2005, certainly off its peak in the 30s and 40s. I also recall that when Britain handed Hong Kong back to the Chinese, the exiting Governor sent a "cable" back to the Queen. I remember thinking "how quaint!"

One of my former clients used to work on telco hotels, those main switching stations that major telecommunications companies use to route voice and data traffic. The guy in charge pointed out to us that most of the voice and data traffic in New England travels through one building in downtown Boston, the one that used to be the Western Union building.

Why? Because the original telegraph lines all fed into there, and those became the backbone for faster and more efficient cables, essentially acting as the information superhighway with an exit in downtown Boston. While WU used to send out telegram delivery boys, now it's up to us to use a PC and a broadband Internet connection to access those main trunks directly.

So the telegram may be dead, but the ghost lives on.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Biting the Hand, Then Soothing It

Every PR person has been there. You work like crazy to get your client into an article in top publication, only to have the client fly off the handle at something small and want a full retraction. You calmly try to tell your client all the ways this is a positive story, then finally, after some browbeating, you apologetically call the reporter and get some information to bring back to your client that you hope soothes the situation, all while trying not to piss off a very important reporter you'll need again, even after this client is long gone.

So, what happens when you can't put a lid on your client? What happens when they have their own very public avenue to criticize a reporter before you can stop them?

For that check out reporter Tom Taulli's reaction to being criticized by PubSub. He wrote a blogging article for and then got slammed by the company, even when the article was positive. He also talks about his interactions with the PR person.

To PubSub's credit, the co-founder quickly called and apologized for it, which Taulli also wrote about, calling him a "smart guy." I'd bet the PR and communications folks had a hand in pushing for that apology. That one action managed to turn a very negative situation into a positive one. A very good move.

But the idea of publicly reacting without thinking isn't a new concept. In fact, I've written about it before. But it shows how important a strong PR presence is in order to maintain a positive image in this new media landscape.