Mario Sundar's Speakeasy

Twitter's 1st evangelism comms guy, Linkedin's 2nd PR guy. These are my thoughts on tech, public relations, and life.

Steve Jobs as Luke Skywalker. Circa 1987.

Rockstars are made, not born. They practice tirelessly; honing their craft at every given opportunity, and with the help of Jobs’ 1987 Playboy interview, I’d like to shed some light on the early stages of Jobs’ communication savvy and the communication consistency that he has now perfected into an art form.

Jobs In 1987. p.s. What’s up with the bow-tie.

Fine tuning the metaphors:

Nobody hits a home run on Day One. Some have an in-born talent but it’s always a work in progress. Steve Jobs’ D8 presentation, his keynotes, his Stanford commencement speech — is the culmination of years of assiduous practice. I’m gonna walk you through three examples of Steve coming up with metaphors to describe nascent technology that most people (at the time of the interview) didn’t grok.

Let’s see how his thinking and his metaphors are fine-tuned over time.

Let’s take his earliest interviews, the Playboy one in 1987 is a great example, and look at his response to what is a computer. I know. Bear with me here. The year is 1987 and people still don’t get the PC revolution that’s gonna hit them. It’s amazing how hard it is to impress upon the reporter what a game changer the Mac is gonna be.

His first attempt to describe computers is kinda rambling:

Computers are actually pretty simple. We’re sitting here on a bench in this café. Let’s assume that you understood only the most rudimentary of directions and you asked how to find the rest room. I would have to describe it to you in very specific and precise instruction. I might say, “Scoot sideways two meters off the bench. Stand erect. Lift left foot. Bend left knee until it is horizontal. Extend left foot and shift weight 300 centimeters forward…” and on and on. If you could interpret all those instructions 100 times faster than any other person in this café, you would appear to be a magician: You could run over and grab a milk shake and bring it back and set it on the table and snap your fingers, and I’d think you made the milk shake appear, because it was so fast relative to my perception. THat’s exactly what a computer does. It takes these very simple-minded instructions––”Go fetch a number, add it to this number, put the result there, perceive if it’s greater than this other number”––but executes them at a rate of , let’s say, 1,000,000 per second. At 1,000,000 per second, the results appear to be magic.

That’s a simple explanation, and the point is that people really don’t need to understand how computers work. Most people have no concept of how an automatic transmission works, yet they know how to drive a car. You don’t have to study physics to understand the laws of motion to drive a car. You don’t have to understand any of this stuff to use Macintosh––but you asked [laughs]

Wow! Quite verbose. It’s got the early stages of his story-telling but it’s definitely too technical for a reporter and not impressive since he asks him again the same question. Steve takes a second shot at it, which goes…

A computer is the most incredible tool we’ve ever seen. It can be a writing tool, a communications center, a supercalculator, a planner, a filer and an artistic instrument all in one, just by being given new instructions, or software, to work from. There are no other tools that have the power and versatility of a computer. We have no idea how far it’s going to go. Right now, computers make our lives easier. They do work for us in fractions of a second that would take us hours. They increase the quality of life, some of that by simply automating drudgery and some of that by broadening our possibilities. As things progress, they’ll be doing more and more for us.

Meh. Kinda there, but he’s hinting at the potential it possesses as a revolutionary, incredible utility. Still not convinced, the journalist asks him a pointed question on computers for business and Steve ends with:

There are different answers for different people. In business, that question is easy to answer: You really can prepare documents much faster and at a higher quality level, and you can do many things to increase office productivity. A computer frees people from much of the menial work. Besides that, you are giving them a tool that encourages them to be creative. Remember, computers are tools. Tools help us do our work better.

Still not there, and as you can see, reporters are always going for the pithy answers that even a 12 year old will understand. But, then in a later interview (video after quote), Jobs gives a far more succinct metaphor to evoke the possibilities of a computer.

One of the things that separates us from primates is that we’re tool builders. I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in a third of the way down the list. But, Scientific American tested the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle.

And, a man on the bicycle blew the condor away; it was completely off the top of the charts. And, that’s what a computer is to me. It is the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.

To me this is one of the early stages where you can see the power of the evocative metaphor being used by Jobs. Fast forward to 2008 where Jobs, yet again, takes a stab at explaining a new product that Apple’s betting on big – the iPad.

I’m trying to think of a good analogy. When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks cos that’s what you needed on the farm. But, as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, and America started to move towards them. Cars got more popular and innovations like power steering, etc. happened.

And, now, maybe 1 in every 25 vehicles is a truck where it used to be like 100%.

PCs are gonna be like trucks.

As you can see, no technicalities on what an iPad does well, no reference to a study by Scientific American, nothing. Just a nuanced metaphor on trucks and cars that everyone in America and the world will understand.

Read the rest of the article here.

Hope you’re having a great Sunday. Say Hi on Twitter!

I’ll leave you behind with a behind the scenes video of a young 23 year old Steve Jobs prepping for a TV interview. Young Luke Skywalker.

Filed under: Best-of, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Steve Jobs,

So, you’re on Live TV! Now what?

I’ve written a couple of posts (just in recent memory) on tips for you to glean some presentation secrets from Steve Jobs. Thought I’d rewire my blog timing with a simple post along similar lines that didn’t garner too many votes on Quora.

I’m sure at some point of time in your lives, you’re probably gonna face a camera to talk about your work. At those times many of us fail to impress, cos it’s not something we practice regularly. So, I thought I’d jot down 3 key tips to really excel in those situations. Hope you find this helpful. And, feel free to share your personal experience either in the comments or @mariosundar.

Live TV interviews can sometimes be like this…

Here’s a couple more thoughts to ponder — this is true for most interviews — but with live TV the challenge is exacerbated since you’ve got to perform flawlessly (in one take; if you will).

1. Take your time to answer: The biggest problem I notice with individuals being interviewed is their urgency to respond to the question and get it over with. So, they blurt out a quick PR planned response only to regret it later.

Steve Jobs is the best at giving a thoughtful, well articulated response that’s both thought provoking and (frankly) entertaining. Here’s how he’d answer difficult (really tough one here) question in front of thousands.

2. Build a rapport with the interviewer beforehand: Establish a camaraderie with journalists and media personalities, way before you have to be interviewed by them.

One of traditional PRs biggest shortcomings is treating journalists as a carefully “managed” entity while keeping CEOs and executives away from them.

Welcome to the new world of social media.

Proactively, find journalists and media personalities and follow them (on Twitter and Quora). And, most importantly engage with them. You’d be surprised to find you share a lot with them in common. And, should an opportunity arise to be interviewed by them — you won’t be tongue tied — because you understand each other well.

3. Practice makes perfect: It’s tough to perform on command. That’s why actors get paid the big bucks. If you don’t wanna suck at interviews, start practicing at events and panel sessions.

Start with panel sessions (easiest) but go with a plan (in terms of what you’d like to communicate). A good way to prep would be to write a blog post about your panel session (before or after) the event. You’ll find that writing a blog post on your upcoming session clears your mind and helps you organize your thoughts. Follow that up with a tweet linking to the post and chances are the journalists you follow or connect to on LinkedIn may read that as well.

Graduate to solo presentations (to audiences of increasing size), and before you know it, you’d have internalized your responses to a degree that will make you sound fluent and sharp when in front of a camera.

And, just practice.

Filed under: Best-of, Leadership Communication, Public Relations, Public Speaking

Zuckerberg ain’t Jobs. 3 Ways to Try.

This post has been a long time coming. As someone who earns a living in the PR space and one who obsessively follows the unique craft of tech CEO presentations, I had to concur with CNN’s recent piece on Mark Zuckerberg’s recent product announcement and why it was a giant FAIL compared to a Jobs presentation!

C’mon. Comparing Zuckerberg to Jobs is like expecting Shia LaBeouf to act like Marlon Brando. While Transformers may sell $750 million in box-office receipts — that doesn’t a Brando make. This seems like a perfect time to finally share my thoughts on Steve Jobs’ virtuoso D8 interview – yet another instance of Jobs’ public speaking savvy.

Here are three of the Jobs’ unique speaking skills that you can glean from his presentations — seemingly simple but tough to emulate:

Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field can be emulated. 3 Simple tricks below.

If you’re telling a story, make it gripping:

There are a million boring ways to tell a story. Just ask Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer (don’t even get me started), but Jobs has a penchant for telling an elegant story that hooks you from the get go.

Juxtaposing Jobs’ d8 presentation with Zuckerberg’s presentation would be interesting, but if you ran a word cloud through Jobs’ presentation, here’s what you’d have seen. It’s all about people.

His very first anecdote about Apple’s resurgence (overtaking the market cap of Microsoft) recounts the bygone days when Apple was down in the dumps to highlight what a glorious triumph this is:

Well, Apple was about 90 days from going bankrupt… (Boom!) in the early days. It was much worse than I thought when I went back.

But there were people there (I’d expected all the good people would have left), and I found these miraculous people, great people and I asked them as tactfully as I could: Why are you still here? And, I’ll never forget. A lot of them had this phrase: because I bleed in six colors. (Note: I remember having a “Apple bleeds six colors” poster on my cubicle wall a few years back)

You know what this reminds me of:

Don Draper, Season 4, Episode 1 (Public Relations). After learning the craft of telling stories to reporters, Don is asked if he’s the definitive entity in his newly formed ad agency. Here’s the story he relates:

Last year, our agency was being swallowed whole. I realized I had two choices: I could die of boredom or holster up my guns. So, I walked into Lane Pryce’s office and I said: Fire us! (Boom!) — Cue Background Music.

Two days later we were up and running at the Pier Hotel, within a year we had taken over two floors of the Time Life Building.

Again, start with the nadir of the story to pique the viewer’s curiosity and build up to the finale. The cadence of story-telling between the two quotes is uncanny but good story-telling always remains the same.

Use evocative metaphors that ring true and wise:

Throughout history, all the great teachers have spoken in parables. More importantly, when asked questions use plain speak metaphors from every day life that each and every one of us can relate to. Before you frame your answer, ask yourself: would a 12 year old understand what I’m about to say? And, go…

Here are a couple of examples from Jobs (from just this interview):

On why they ditched Adobe: Apple is a company that doesn’t have unlimited resources (Reality Distortion Field in effect). They way we do that is by looking at technical vectors that have a future. Different pieces of technology kinda go in cycles: they have their springs and summers and autumns, then they go to the graveyard of technology.

We try to pick things that are in their springs. And, if you choose wisely you can save yourself an enormous amount of work rather than trying to do everything. (true and wise)

To a question on whether the tablet will eventually replace the laptop:

I’m trying to think of a good analogy. When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks cos that’s what you needed on the farm. But, as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, and America started to move towards them. Cars got more popular and innovations like power steering, etc. happened.

And, now, maybe 1 in every 25 vehicles is a truck where it used to be like 100%.

PCs are gonna be like trucks.

Such a nuanced answer that yet again, aims to simplify and would communicate effectively to any 12 year old in the audience.

Here’s one more from the past on how computers are like a bicycle for your mind. Watch the video.

Clarity and consistency in thought and messaging

I recently read an essay on “Politics and the English language” by George Orwell, 1946, that I’d recommend to anyone with a fleeting desire to revisit their usage of the spoken and the written word. The essay culminates in 6 simple rules for clear writing and I think that can be extended to clear speaking as well.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy.

I think Jobs best defines this in every single interview he’s done. I could go on. But, let me pick an example from D8’s interview for his thoughts on privacy – an area where every company from Google to Facebook have had their fair share of stumbles but I think the clarity and simplicity of Jobs’ definition of privacy is startling.

We’ve had a very different view of privacy. We take it very seriously.

Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for… in plain english, and repeatedly.

I’m an optimist and I believe people are smart. Some people want to share more data. Some people more than others do. Ask em. Ask em every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them.

Let them know precisely what you’re gonna do with their data.

And, finally speaking of consistency of values that shines through every single interview Jobs has done, was this quote:

You know (long pause). When this whole Gizmodo incident happened, I got a lot of advice, that said: you’ve got to let it slide. You shouldn’t go after a journalist because they bought stolen property and they tried to extort you.You should let it slide.

And, I thought deeply about this. And, I ended up concluding.

That the worst thing that could possibly happen as we get big and gain a little more influence in this world, is if we change our core values and if we started letting it slide.

I can’t do that. I’d rather quit.

We have the same values now as we had then.

And, that consistency is true of Jobs impeccable communication skills. Watch the entire D8 Jobs interview here.

Filed under: Best-of, Facebook, Leadership Communication, Mark Zuckerberg, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Steve Jobs, , ,

5 ways leaders win tough arguments in public

Being a leader is a tough job (just ask these guys).Often you are facing some really tough questions from a lot of folks — your shareholders, developers, etc. — sometimes that happens in the public limelight. Now, you’ve got three options – fight the good argument and earn respect, spin, or just evade said question.

This past week, a video of Jobs at the 1997 Worldwide Developer conference (h/t: Quora) parrying questions from a mostly receptive developer audience began circulating. Most questions were curious developers as to the direction of Apple, except for one really combative question from a developer (obviously pissed off at what happened to a business division that was likely to be closed).

Mr. Jobs. You’re bright.(Jobs: smiles – here it comes…)

It’s clear you don’t know what you’re talking about. I’d like you (for e.g.) to express in clear terms how (say) Java, in all its incarnations, addresses the ideas embodied in OpenDoc.

And, when you’re finished with that, perhaps you could tell us what you’ve personally been doing for the last 7 years.

(audible gasps from the audience. I’m almost sure I heard someone say: “ouch”)

How do you answer this? Right after the jump.

Viewers: You may wanna skip to the 50:23 mark in the video below for the tough question I’m referring to.

This has got to be one of the toughest questions a CEO could face (see how Carol Bartz handled a similar question). BTW, Jobs was an advisor to Apple when he faced the dev community here but subsequently became CEO.

Lessons from Jobs: 5 ways CEOs can win tough arguments in public

1. Have a sense of humor:

While the questioner was setting up Jobs for the tough question, Jobs senses the tension and starts off by saying: “here it comes” and holding up his chair to playfully indicate he’s deflecting the tough question. Either way, his demeanor changes after he hears the question as he composes his thoughts.

Now what…

2. Breathe. Take your time to answer:

Aight, so now you’ve been asked a really tough question. What next? Yes, a lot of people are waiting for you to answer and the press may pore over your remarks – so there is a lot riding on this – so take time to answer as you collect your thoughts.

How many times have we been in an argument with folks when we’re asked something that could potentially make us look silly. Worse still, if that’s in front of other folks. So, magnify that a thousand times in this situation. A lot of folks come right outta the gates with a quick quip or retort, and then they may try to move past it as quickly as possible. But, if you do brush it aside you don’t earn the respect of the audience.

Jobs (as always) is finely tuned into both the psychological intent of the question and is very empathetic with his answer both of which are essential when you’re responding to someone combative.

But remember to breathe. Or, like Jobs, take a swig off that bottle of water while you compose your thoughts.

3. Frame your answer before you begin:

This is a corollary to the take time to answer suggestion. While you take your time, not only do you build viewer interest, but it also gives you time to frame your answer. It’s the same with writing a blog post. I always remember Jeremiah‘s recommendation to frame your post before you start writing it (since it helps nail the key points as succinctly as possible).

4. Every answer is a story waiting to be told:

Jobs is such a master story-teller. Even with his tough questions he takes the audience on a journey. Not everyone is good at it and frankly, no one comes close to what Jobs does here, while answering (tough) questions.

For e.g. in the above clip (starts at 50:23), Jobs starts off with:

“You can please some of the people, some of the time”, right off the bat setting the stage for context, perspective and drama. But then, he pauses and continues setting the context for his answer.

[LONG PAUSE] but… [PAUSE] One of the hardest things when you’re trying to effect change is that… people like this gentleman…

[PAUSE]

… are RIGHT! [PAUSE. Bam! Storytelling, baby!]… in some areas.

5. Appeal to reason in a smart way:

Let’s not forget, the end result of this speech or any CEO or congressman or public figure is an appeal to a common sense of purpose. Everybody wants a sense of assurance minus-evading, spinning, or flat-out ignoring the questions – since it won’t earn you any respect.

I think the key to the answer was how Jobs not only tried to assuage the gentleman’s concerns (“that there are probably things that OpenDoc does that’s better than anything in the market and stuff that even I don’t get”) but he goes on to explain how critical it is to focus, think big and to realize how every product fits into a cohesive larger vision that allows you to go big ($8 Billion Big).

Also, he explains how when prioritizing a million great products – always start with the customer experience and work backward with the technology

“I’ve made this mistake more than anybody in this room, I’ve got the scar tissue to prove it and I know it’s the case… And, I think that’s the right path to take”.

The Laser printer example narration is priceless. After elaborating on it. He once again says:

“I’m sorry that OpenDoc is a casualty along the way. And, there are many things I don’t have the faintest idea what I’m talking about…”

But, then insists, why it’s important to rally the troops, support them and support Apple in the market. He gives examples of other engineers who are working their butt off on executing around the priorities that have been set by the company.

At the end of the day, the gentleman may not have bought Jobs’ answer no matter how convincing it was, which goes back to the very first thing Jobs began with his answer.

“You can please some of the people, some of the time”.

Bam!

Coda: HOW-TO take tough questions without flinching and earn the audience’s respect.

What Jobs is a master of, is the ability to tell you (in as reasonable a manner as possible) what he think, why he thinks so, and why that’s a great idea. And, he’s been doing that consistently through his career (both when Apple was down right up to this very day). The above video is a perfect example of that mastery.

But still this is a template for answering negative questions, esp. when you’re a CEO or a leader in the spotlight to summarize the above. Here goes…

  1. Acknowledge the negativity / elephant in the room.
  2. Assuage the naysayer’s concerns
  3. Restate it in the right context (user experience first, not tech first)
  4. Be humble (accepts his own failings in that regard, humbly suggests this is just his idea, gives an example “laser printer story” of why user experience matters and show-not-tell)
  5. Straight talk: Mistakes have been made and will be fixed.

So, that’s a quick summary of how I see Jobs deal with questions: good, bad or ugly. Lot of lessons in there. Plus, the most important thing is that — throughout that interview, Jobs kept stressing on focus and this answer too fit within that overarching holistic theme.

And, in the long run Jobs was proven right as he took Apple to unprecedented hights surpassing even Microsoft.

Feel free to share this on your favorite social network. Thanks!

Filed under: Best-of, Crisis Communications, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Steve Jobs,

Why CEOs should break their bad email habits

Update: Brian Chen from Wired writes of Steve Jobs’ “email campaign” with input from Steve Rubel and Brian Solis. My $0.02 per my original blog post below: I think a CEO “email campaign” (if true) sounds a tad manipulative and opportunistic. That said, a consistent Twitter outreach from a CEO seems a more authentic way to reach a far wider audience – and more effective. I can assure you a twitter.com/stevejobs account will rival that of Gizmodo‘s w/ 83K followers and offer an easier way for a CEO to reach fans and media alike. Beg to differ. Please comment away. And, Thanks for reading!

If you like this content, follow me on Twitter!

Turn on Techmeme yesterday and and this is what I saw.

CEO emails were all the rage on TechMeme yesterday!

This is not an isolated occurrence.  I’ve been seeing a lot of emails coming from 1 Infinite Loop in the past 24 hours as well as preceding weeks.

One email to Steve Jobs asked him what he thought of Gizmodo saying Google had leapfrogged Apple with the release of the new Android operating system. Steve’s response,“Not a chance.”

Another emailer (via Mac Rumors) asked if Google was showing up Apple with its developer conference and if Apple had big announcements for WWDC. Steve’s response, “You won’t be disappointed.”

And Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook completed the cycle with his email to Scobleizer, who then proceeded to ask the question: “When do you throw a CEOs privacy under the bus”. Scoble then answered the question with a screenshot of the email string and:

UPDATE: Zuckerberg gave me permission to print this email while I was typing this post.

Cue Seinfeld tone: What’s… the deal… with CEOs and emails these days?!

I constantly review CEOs and their attempts at blogging. I’d have to agree with Steve Jobs’ BFF Larry Ellison that there are far more important issues for a CEO to deal with than to regularly write blog posts.  His exact words were, I quote: “Blogging was a silly diversion” for former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz. Zing. Yes, there’s always the one off crisis management blog post that I believe a CEO can deliver with much impact, but regular blogging is overkill.

That said, since my last post on this topic, the landscape for corporate communication has been radically transformed thanks to Twitter and its ability to offer anybody (even CEOs) a chance to communicate to their audience (maybe peers, employees, customers or the media) in an authentic manner with a minimal investment of time.

CEO Twittering is easier than CEO blogging but still an investment of time

A twitter account is a perfect way to strike the right balance (I’ve said it before). Plus, for any CEO (especially, a celebrity like Steve Jobs) the sky is the limit when it comes to the following he can gather should he choose to tweet on a regular basis. I’m just saying, cos he’s been emailing a lot lately. With that in mind, I wrote down 5 questions for a CEO or executive to consider before choosing to start with social media. Print this out and share it with your CEO, in case of an emergency.

1. First ask yourself: “Do I have something interesting to say?”

And, is that on behalf of my company’s brand or my own. Most of the executives who blog have a great personality in front of the social media camera and are comfortable playing the role of a celebrity. But, if you’re camera shy and would rather just get the job done and move on (like HPs Mark Hurd), forget about it.

Check out other executives who tweet. Is this something you’d be comfortable doing?

  • Former GE rockstar CEO, Jack Welch (1.2M followers). Topics: Sports talk. Lots of it. (I predicted he would tweet. Sorta)
  • Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh (1.6M followers). Topics: Pithy, inspirational quotes.
  • Cisco’s CTO Padmasree (1.4M followers). Topics: Tech, music, weekends and lots of engagement with followers.
  • Express’ CMO Lisa (17K followers). Style: Topics: Yes, she tweets often about Fashion. In many cases Express’.
  • Formerly Kodak’s CMO Jeffrey Hayzlett (21K). Topics: Travel and book related.

And, so many more. Yes, it’s pretty amazing. Also, do you know of any CEOs who have established a presence on Facebook to engage with their “fans”? Sorry. Former Governor Sarah Palin doesn’t count.

2. Does this tie into your branding strategy?

What surprised me most about Steve Jobs’ late night emails (there’s a part of me that still wants to believe it is fake) is that it contradicts the carefully constructed image we have of Apple and by association Steve Jobs. It paints him more Howard Hughes than PT Barnum. Every brand needs to continue that brand imagery on Twitter as well.

In Express Retail’s case, they have an integrated marketing and branding strategy where they aggressively promote their Twitter and Facebook avatars through their packaging, etc. If you consider Twitter a marketing channel, then go all out and try to tie it into the larger marketing / branding efforts of the org.

3. Does this tie in with your communications strategy?

Let’s not forget all of the above CEO emails were with bloggers and journalists. Mostly bloggers. The fact is most bloggers (and increasingly journalists) are on Twitter, plus your conversations are going to be broadcast to millions of other users in addition, making your communication more effective than an email. Plus, you can always DM (private message) a journalist if you want to say: “No“.

Check out a list of bloggers and journalists who are on Twitter already.

4. Have you considered the legal ramifications?

Understand that blogs and Twitter fall under the FTC’s guidelines, so beware of frivolous brand endorsements. And, don’t forget the SEC since that could be a bigger problem for you especially if you’re a publicly traded company. Here are some of the issues they watch out for (Source: BNET).

  • How information posted on a company Web site can be considered “public” and how companies can comply with public disclosure requirements under Regulation FD by posting information on their web sites
  • The liability framework for certain types of electronic disclosure, including:
    • how companies can provide access to historical or archived data without it being considered reissued or republished every time it is accessed
    • how companies can link to third party information or Web sites without having to “adopt” that content for liability purposes
  • clarification of how the anti-fraud provisions apply to statements made by the company (or by a person acting on behalf of the company) in blogs and electronic shareholder forums.

5. Just tweet it

If you’ve answered all the above questions with a “Yes”, then take the tiny little step of actually setting up your Twitter account (which should take all of 2 minutes). And, send out your first “Hello World” tweet for the world to see. Yes, it may seem intimidating now, but the ramifications of a positive engaging conversation with your customers has a positive impact to your brand.

But all of this is valid ONLY if you’re truly interested in having this as an ongoing conversation. With Twitter it’s a small yet considerable investment of your valuable time, so think twice before you jump in. Because if you quit doing it, you’ll be worse off than if you never started twittering. An easier way, would be to establish a presence on LinkedIn. (Disclosure: Yes, I work there).

If you’re interested in these topics, please subscribe to my blog. And, don’t be a stranger. Leave a comment, rant, rave or tweet me @mariosundar.

Filed under: Business Blogging, Leadership Communication, Public Relations,

Top 5 Corporate Blog Apologies

So Google turned all mushy with this “Sweet Lil Apology of Mine” blog post, after Gmail went down for a few hours earlier today. It looks like this was the first time a Gmail downtime impacted so many users. So, it seems worthy of a post that so nails it when it comes to corporate blogging best practices.

While I admire this honest, straight forward post addressed at users’ concerns, let’s see earlier examples of how companies (from start ups to Fortune 500, from product managers to CEOs) have used the corporate blogging pulpit to profoundly apologize.

#5. Amazon – We’re so good; this is unacceptable” post

Though we’re proud of our operational performance in operating Amazon S3 for almost 2.5 years, we know that any downtime is unacceptable and we won’t be satisfied until performance is statistically indistinguishable from perfect. – Anonymous

#4. Twitter – “We’re having issues. Will keep you posted” post

We’ve created a new blog dedicated to status updates regarding Twitter performance and reliability. If something is going on technically, operationally, or otherwise we will put a link in your Twitter home page to a description on this new blog.

This includes good news, bad news, warnings, and miscellaneous heads-up notices. – Biz Stone, Co-founder

#3. Facebook – “We really messed up. Let’s make this right apology

We really messed this one up. When we launched News Feed and Mini-Feed we were trying to provide you with a stream of information about your social world.

Instead, we did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them. I’d like to try to correct those errors now. – Mark Zuckerberg, CEO

#2. Google – Sorry. It’s fixed. Thank You. Did I say ‘Sorry’? apology

Many of you had trouble accessing Gmail for a couple of hours this afternoon, and we’re really sorry. We never take for granted the commitment we’ve made to running an email service that you can count on. We’ve identified the source of this issue and fixed it.

In addition, we’re conducting a full review of what went wrong and moving quickly to update our internal systems and procedures accordingly.

Again, we’re sorry. – Todd Jackson, Product Manager

#1. Apple -“It hurts us that it hurts you” apology

We want to do the right thing for our valued iPhone customers. We apologize for disappointing some of you, and we are doing our best to live up to your high expectations of Apple. – Steve Jobs, CEO

While Google’s recent post just takes my breath away in terms of using exactly the right words in its sincerity, Jobs’ post is so accurate in balancing corporate and customer sentiments as succinctly as possible.

Flawless communications from Apple, as is their wont!

What’s your favorite corporate blog apology? Leave a comment.

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Filed under: Business Blogging, Public Relations

Facebook Beacon lights a firestorm in a teacup?

Summary: Beacon lights a fire storm of privacy issues — Word-of-mouth marketing or misplaced advertising? — Why Matthew Ingram and Justin Smith are wrong on the Beacon issue

Moveon.org is targeting Facebook Beacon as an invasion of privacy — Big Brother style (alright, I’m guilty of the gratuitous Apple reference, the 1984 Mac commercial)

What is Facebook Beacon?
Beacon is a way for businesses to let their customers “share the actions they take on your website with their Facebook friends.” In other words, it’s a new way for Facebook users to log and broadcast their outside-of-Facebook online activity inside Facebook.

Why is it bothering users of Facebook?
The chief privacy concern raised by MoveOn is that Beacon is opt-out, not opt-in. (via Inside Facebook)

What is Matthew Ingram saying?
Matthew Ingram, quotes Justin Smith (Inside Facebook) to make his case that Facebook Beacon’s woes are overstated by Charlene Li and that this one will also pass:

It was almost exactly a year ago that Facebook suddenly allowed everything you did on the site to be published to your news feed so that everyone could see it, and plenty of users went completely apeshit about it being a heinous invasion of privacy, etc. Facebook was excoriated for the way it handled the announcement, and for the fact that it forced people to opt out instead of allowing them to opt in and configure who saw what, and generally it was a tsunami of negative publicity.

As Justin notes, 100 times as many people got upset about the news feed as joined the Moveon protest, and that one blew over eventually.

Now, here’s why I beg to differ:

  1. The furore over Newsfeed did not subside until critical adjustments were made to the newsfeed culminating in an apology by Mark Zuckerberg:

We really messed this one up. When we launched News Feed and Mini-Feed we were trying to provide you with a stream of information about your social world. Instead, we did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them. I’d like to try to correct those errors now.

Somehow we missed this point with News Feed and Mini-Feed and we didn’t build in the proper privacy controls right away. This was a big mistake on our part, and I’m sorry for it. But apologizing isn’t enough. I wanted to make sure we did something about it, and quickly. So we have been coding nonstop for two days to get you better privacy controls. This new privacy page will allow you to choose which types of stories go into your Mini-Feed and your friends’ News Feeds, and it also lists the type of actions Facebook will never let any other person know about. If you have more comments, please send them over.

BTW, the above blog post by Mark is one of the best examples of a CEO responding to user concerns in as timely a manner as possible. Another case in point of such swift response by a CEO would be Steve Jobs apology in response to the furore over the iPhone drop. Now, this is how CEOs should blog; not every day! (Read more of my posts on corporate blogging here)

  1. While the news feed, after above changes turned out to be the “magnetic and social and addictive” as Matthew states, Beacon on the other hand is about monitoring your purchases outside of Facebook and it does so in many cases without your knowledge (Anyone in the know, please correct me if I’m wrong. Dave?). I’ve a strong suspicion that this also depends on the purchase site.

I’ve to state that although it looks like Charlene didn’t notice a msg. when she purchased stuff on Overstock, two other colleagues of mine, noticed a pop-up from Fandango and Overstock respectively saying that this information was going to be passed onto Facebook. What has your experience been?

Finally, what do I think of Beacon personally?

As an avid blogger/social media type, I don’t mind it, as long as I’m aware of it. I just noticed my colleague Steve Ganz had bought tickets to a movie via Fandango and he seemed fine with others on his feed knowing about it. However, I’d agree totally with Charlene Li of Forrester who recently had close encounters of the beacon kind that users need to be aware of such transactions being passed onto Facebook:

But I need to be in control and not get blindsided as I did in the example above. I was seriously wigged out, but wouldn’t have been if Overstock had simply told me that they were inserting a Facebook Beacon and given me the opportunity at that time to opt-in to Beacon.

Having said that let me clarify that both, Steve and I are edge case users/twitterers/bloggers who may not mind such “announcements” but the majority of users may either ruin their Christmas surprise or worse still aggravate their professional relationships (if they have professional contacts on Facebook) by exposing their personal choice/purchases in books (think hot button topics like religion, politics, etc…), and the like.

What do you think of Facebook Beacon? Is it similar to the News feed issue or is it far more of a privacy concern for you? Leave comments.

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Disclosure: For those of you not aware, I work as community evangelist at LinkedIn and these are purely my personal ramblings.

Filed under: Crisis Communications, Facebook, Public Relations