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December 3, 2009

Six Questions with Andy Beal

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I just got off the phone with the one and only Andy Beal. Andy is an author, a tech-company founder and CEO, and an all-around expert of online public relations and reputation management. In his more than ten years as an Internet marketer and PR professional, Andy founded the social media monitoring solution Trackur, co-authored Radically Transparent: Monitoring & Managing Reputations Online and launched, edits and writes for MarketingPilgrim. You can follow him on Twitter, @AndyBeal.

Next week Andy will be sharing his expertise with attendees of Search Engine Strategies Chicago. But just now over the phone, Andy gave me the inside scoop on his presentations and what he’ll be talking about at the show. Transcribed for your reading enjoyment, here are six questions with Andy Beal.

1. One of the sessions you’ll be speaking on is “PR, Social Media and Search”, which will focus on integrating search and social media platforms into a PR strategy. What’s the biggest missed opportunity you’ve seen so far with regards to public relations and search and social media? What seems to give brands more trouble: proactive engagement with the community or reactive rep management issues?

I see a lot of, especially traditional public relations experts, looking at social media and search as just another distribution channel for them, and not realizing, especially with social media, that this is an opportunity for them to engage and to join a community. So a lot of their strategies will be along the lines of, “Let’s tweet our latest press release.” You know, that’s not going to get you too far if you’ve not built a community and you’re not opening a dialogue and starting a conversation surrounding the news that you’re launching.

So I think that it’s to be expected considering that we’re still in the very early stages of trying to figure out how to use social media as PR professionals. But I think that one of the things we’ll see in the future is public relations firms moving beyond simply using Twitter or Facebook or blogs as a distribution channel, and really diving in and engaging and building a community and having conversations with the company stakeholders.

I think right now what you see is a lot of companies responding to reputation management issues because they’ve not been proactive in their engagement. So you tend to see companies almost being dragged kicking and screaming into certain social media channels because they face a crisis on Twitter or a video of their employees at their pizza chain gets posted to YouTube and that kind of causes them to wake up and realize that they need to be involved in these channels.

And unfortunately they get thrown into the deep end because it’s usually a reputation crisis. Those companies then tend to realize the importance of those channels and start being proactive. And you can look at, for example, Dell as being a poster child of a company that went through a crisis and then became very proactive in social media.

I think that those companies that have gone through that trial by fire are becoming case studies for other companies and certainly for marketing professionals, PR professionals to say to their clients, to their employer, “Look, we don’t want this to happen to us. We’ve got two choices. We can wait until our reputation comes under attack and we can respond then. Or, much better is to be proactive, build a community, open up the lines of communication so that we are less likely to face a similar attack on our own reputation.”

2. You authored Radically Transparent, a book about online reputation management trends and tactics and tools for monitoring and engaging through social media. Before the Web exploded onto the scene, public relations (and business in general) followed a slightly slower pace. How has the PR community embraced the granular tracking and instant information tools like Trackur required of a professional today?

I think right now the majority of public relation firms that are using Trackur — which is our reputation monitoring tool — are using it along the lines of the traditional press clipping services that they offer their clients. And that is, they’re simply sending to their clients any instances that the client’s brand has been mentioned or a press release has been picked up, or a blogger or a journalist has written about an announcement.

And they’re using Trackur as an online version of the traditional press clipping service where — traditional PR folks will know all about this — and they send actual clippings to their client of here’s the story that ran in the Wall Street Journal. They send that to their clients on a regular basis. So they’re using Trackur merely as an accountability tool, just to demonstrate that it’s worth continuing to pay their retainer each month.

I think, though, as we move forward we’re going to see public relation firms and companies and marketing firms being a lot more intelligent with their use of social media monitoring. They’re going to start doing research to see what are the buzz terms, what are people talking about, what product features do they like, what don’t they like, and getting a better idea of how well received a particular announcement was so that they can maybe make improvements to their next product launch. And I think that we’re starting to see a few companies that are getting smart like that.

3. A highly debated topic in Internet marketing is that of “ghost” representatives on social networks. You’ll be speaking on the panel “Ghost Blogging, Tweeting, Content Production – Ethical? Does It Matter?” Can you give us a sneak peak of your views? What recommendations would you give to an organization interested in outsourcing their social media efforts?

I think that a lot of people will assume that having written a book titled Radically Transparent that my opinion’s going to be very much against ghost blogging. But the presentation that I’m giving is actually just a very practical, balanced look at the pros and the cons of ghost blogging and ghost tweeting. I still believe that the majority of companies should definitely look at being transparent with their efforts and, if possible, having their actual CEO or senior executive be the one that writes the blog post and updates the Twitter account.

But there are going to be times where that’s just not practical. I’m going to look at situations where you have a CEO that’s just not able to get in front of a computer — maybe they’re not tech savvy or maybe they’re just too busy. You’ve got the CEOs that are, really, if you put them in front of a camera or in front of a keyboard they’re kind of, dare I say, bumbling idiots. And you really don’t want them putting together the post and so it’s better that they get written for them and maybe approved by the CEO.

And then we’ll even look at the black hat side of things, or the dark side of things, and that is truly just pretending that it’s being written by somebody. And what are the risks involved with that and what could be the downfall if you’re discovered, and we’ll look at some examples. But my plan is, I’ve only got ten minutes to make a presentation so I’m going to basically open up the topic and talk about some different things, but look at it from a practical point of view.

My opinion is that I would prefer people be open and honest about this but I do realize that there are going to be many instances where you’re going to take a ghost blogging approach.

4. During the panel “Online PR: Where to Next?” you’re going to look at how social media and search will impact public relations in five years. The last five years saw quite a bit of change on that front. Do you think the next five will be as revolutionary or are the major shifts behind us?

My focus of that panel is going to be on monitoring and measurement. I’m going to take a look at the different things that have materialized over the last five years that really allow you to analyze the reach of your press release, the audience share of the influences, and really help you fine tune your PR message, and to make sure that you’re not just sending out a blast press release and hoping that you’re going to get picked up by a popular newspaper or blogger.

I look at that and then looking forward to the future, I think we are going to see technology playing a major role. We will see PR firms learning to have this dialogue, which we’ve already discussed, but I think technology is going to be just as equally important over the next five years. And we’re going to perhaps see things such as greater use of URL shorteners to make it easier for content to be distributed and tracked.

One of the things that I talk about is setting your content free. So forget the old way of hosting a press room or a media room on your site. By distributing that content to Flickr or SlideShare or YouTube you’re going to get a lot better idea of the reach of that, the popularity of it. A lot of these sites have great metrics that they’ll share with you if you post your content with them.

Then even looking at maybe the future of press releases themselves. Dynamic content you can change on the fly. So maybe multivariate testing with your press release headlines. Or perhaps you find a typo in your press release and you’re able to update it two hours after you’ve issued it and it gets updated across all of the different news wires. And then maybe even an opportunity to better track those press releases.

Who knows, we may even see performance-based pricing for press releases. Not just, here’s a flat fee, but if this press release gets picked up by X number of bloggers or gets featured in this particular news publication maybe you’ll pay on a performance basis. So there’s lots of different interesting things that we can only predict at this point, but who knows what will come in the future.

5. What should brand managers know about the reputation risks of emerging new technologies like SideWiki, Twitter Lists and tweets in SERPs? Do these formats raise any new concerns for ORM?

It is still very early days. The thing with SideWiki is that it’s still very new. Not a lot of people are familiar with it or are using it, so any reputational impact is going to be very limited at this stage, but that’s not to say that it won’t be important in the future.

Twitter Lists are useful because they’re great for helping you to identify influential Twitter users. So for example, if you know that there’s a technology writer that’s got 100,000 followers and they create a list of the technology writers that they admire and they follow, that’s a pretty good list, as a PR professional or as a marketer, to follow and to kind of dissect and to get an idea of who’s influential in the space. So those are all things that are going to empower us to really fine-tune our targeting of where we’re sending this message.

I think the biggest change for PR is going to be that it’s not just a case of, “Let’s craft a real catchy press release. Let’s send it off through our news wire. And then let’s just follow up with the most influential newspaper journalists.” I think you’re going to see that we’re going to get more granular.

And it may well be that the next time you break a story, let’s say we have a new product that we’re launching, it may be that we just give the exclusive to a particular person that has a huge following on Twitter because we know that we can reach our target audience a lot faster if we give them the scoop, as opposed to sending out a press release. So there’s a lot of interesting things to come.

6. Are there any sessions you’re looking forward to at the show? Where can people find you to chat while in Chicago?

I’m going to be busy with my own sessions, I think, so I’ve got a lot that I’m going to be doing. But for me, SES and any of these conferences are about the networking. So I’m looking forward to catching up with people, I’m looking forward to meeting new folks that are doing interesting things that I’m not personally involved with, or people that I’ve heard about that I’ve not met. So for me the networking is going to be a key thing.

I am doing a lunch thing on Tuesday. I believe they have a thing for authors and speakers where you can kind of find your favorite author or speaker and kind of sit down, have lunch and chat. So I’m hoping people will come out and find me for that. I’m happy to talk about anything from blogging to search to reputation management, or anything that comes up over lunch.

Considering how awesome it’s been having you answer all my questions, I think that’s an opportunity SES goers should definitely take advantage of. Thanks, Andy, for taking the time out for this interview. Have an awesome time in Chicago!

If you like what you read here, remember this is just a taste of what you’ll takeaway from being at the real thing. Plus, get 20 percent off the cost of the conference (good for the show and for Bruce Clay’s SEO training course Friday) with the discount code 20BCLAY.

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2 responses to “Six Questions with Andy Beal”

  1. Andy Beal writes:

    You’re a fast transcriber! :-)

    Thanks Virginia, it was a pleasure chatting with you!

  2. branding firms writes:

    great interview :)



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