Q&A with Social Media Guru Ron Ploof 6

In June, we had the opportunity to hear Ron Ploof speak at the Digital Impact Conference, and recently caught up with him to talk about new media strategies, corporate micro-blogging, PR social media best practices, and his new book about practical B2B uses for New Media.

As a New Media Evangelist, Ron has worked with a $1.2 billion Fortune 1000 company to adopt New Media technologies, launch eight blogs, produce audio programming, and integrate corporate video with traditional marketing and public relations vehicles.

Q: What are a few social media sites and resources you would recommend for someone looking to get their feet wet in the new media space?

By “getting their feet wet,” I’m going to assume that they’re new to the New/Social Media/Web 2.0 space. If that’s true, then by far the most important concept they need to wrap their heads around is RSS. I’m sure there are lots of people who read the RaceTalk blog who may consider RSS passé, but RSS is the building block of New Media. It’s what connects the new publishers with the new listeners. So, even if you understand and use a RSS regularly, consider revisiting it as a “back to the basics” activity.

RSS represents the ultimate form of “opt-in,” because a subscriber willingly opens up a line of communication with you — on their terms not yours. This is markedly different from traditional marketing techniques because in the old days, marketers controlled the distribution. With an email list, if I wanted to “opt-out” of your list, I was at your mercy. RSS reverses the polarity. If I want to “opt-out” of your RSS feed, I can do so swiftly and easily — and there’s nothing you can do about it. Therefore, with the control placed into the consumer’s hands as opposed to the marketer’s, a new form of content needs to be created. One that is so valuable that content consumers stay subscribed.

Q: Where do you feel most companies currently stand when it comes to successfully leveraging social media? How can they improve?

We haven’t even scratched the surface yet. When I speak before mainstream business people, I give them a little test. I’ll ask them to define “blog” or identify symbols such as RSS. My unofficial findings are a bit humbling. Most have heard of blogs, but very few know what they are. Two months ago I was presenting before a group of business executives. After staring blankly at the RSS Symbol (the orange box with the dot and two curvy lines) for a few moments, someone piped in, “Is that the WiFi symbol?” they asked. And as for discussing services like Twitter? That just blows their minds.

We’re still in the early-adopter phase described in Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm. The innovators and early adopters are using these new tools in groundbreaking ways. But mainstream business still has a long way to go.

As for those who’ve started using the technology, the way to improve is to focus on three things: Content, Content, and Content. People love stories. People love to be entertained. Become a storyteller and use all of the technologies at your disposal to tell your stories, whether it be in text, audio, video, or a combination thereof.

Q: As an active member of the Twitter community, what are your thoughts on companies/brands micro-blogging?

I prefer following people as opposed to brands. With that being said, I like time-sensitive or event-specific communications applications of Twitter. Live updates from a company or brand-sponsored event can give non-attendees an “insider’s feel” to the event. At the same time, conference attendees can use it to communicate back to the event organizers, who in turn can make changes on the fly. Then, after the conference is finished, a company/brand has access to a time-stamped database of conference topics that can be used for future event-planning or even the creation of new content.

Lastly, people get so caught up in “micro-blogging” that they forget that Twitter is also a listening device. Companies/brands should be using Twitter for ‘Micro-listening.” They should be firing up tools such as search.twitter.com. twitscoop.com, or tweetscan.com to see what people are saying about them.

Twitter and Tweetscan offer RSS feeds of their searches. Therefore, create a micro-listening strategy. Create a set of feeds that search for your brand, your competition, your industry. Gather the data. Look for trends. See where the conversation is leading. And lastly, don’t be afraid to engage the people who talk about you and your brand. Most people are pleasantly surprised when they throw something out into the ether and someone from the company in question writes back.

Q: What are some best practices tips you would offer for a PR person engaging in social media conversations for their client?

“…engaging…for the client?” I’m not a big fan of having conversations for other people. Whenever I hear this, I conjure this mental image of Cyrano de Bergerac hiding in the bushes and talking to Roxane through the handsome guy. It’s got the trappings of comedy written all over it! Conversations are between people — not firms talking to people, or firms talking to firms. The “social” in Social Media means exactly that.

I believe that PR professionals can be great Social Media coaches, though, helping their clients choose timely conversation topics. By using listening technologies and performing analysis on what they find, PR can guide clients on where to best spend their conversational time. They can recommend which communities to engage with and provide valuable editing services, to help the client become a better communicator.

Q: We read that you are working on your second book, which will discuss practical B2B uses for new media. Do you have any insider tips/thoughts you can share?

When Gutenberg invented the printing press, he unknowingly set a business model into motion that has been the defacto standard for over 500 years. Since only those with vast financial resources could own a printing press, a small number of people had incredible influence over a large number of people.

Business communications were built around this “Economics of Influence.” We developed advertising, so that businesses could buy their way into that influence. We invented Public Relations so that business could sell (convince journalists to write about them for free) their way into the influence.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the office. With the invention of free blogging software combined with RSS, anyone could own a printing press — for free. With Apple’s iTunes and a nominal hosting charge, anyone could own a radio station (podcast). And with YouTube, anyone could own a television station for free. The old Economics of Influence has been turned upside down.

Today, companies, competitors, customers, and investors can become their own publishers. All can deliver timely content directly to their constituencies, without their messages being filtered through a third party. It’s a different game. The rules are still evolving. Opportunities abound for those who are willing to play and challenges lurk for those who won’t.

Nobody knows exactly how this new game is going to play out. But we do know that the decisions that we make today will have a lasting impact on the future of communications. It’s a challenge that I’m up for. How about you?


Thank you to Ron for taking the time to speak with us.

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