Atomic interviewed about LinkedIn Webby Award Win and impact of Web 2.0 on PR

Bulldog Reporter
Atomic interviewed about LinkedIn Webby Award Win and impact of Web 2.0 on PR

Are You Connected? Atomic Exec Says LinkedIn, Web 2.0 Signal New PR Paradigm

"We're all playing in 3D space now with a reply button. PR in this type of online universe is an exchange-it's not one way anymore," says Andy Getsey, cofounder and CEO of San Francisco-based Atomic Public Relations, agency of record for LinkedIn, the professional online network that won Webby Awards in both the Services and Social Networking categories two weeks ago. "Traditional PR has come to basically mean 'media relations.' Many people think that's all it is. But social media tools and even networks like LinkedIn reject that one-way model. They operate instead under the idea that to engage a community-you must also contribute to it."

"This is part of what makes LinkedIn so special," Getsey says of the site, which allows its 10 million users to leverage trusted contacts for making business connections, career-building, checking references, finding a professional service provider and more. "They know it's a participatory tool and they live up to its participatory nature."

For example: "When LinkedIn won its awards, they posted a question onsite asking members what they should say at the Webby gala in June. That's a great example of getting feedback directly from your constituency," Getsey says. "They're also reluctant to introduce features or ads that would erode the site's pragmatism. LinkedIn is a transactional and participatory tool for professionals-and they're staying true to that brand promise within the group."

What does this mean to you and the rest of the PR business? "LinkedIn is a great illustration for us all about how we can engage with our publics these days. There's a lot we can learn-from the way LinkedIn harnesses the power of the Internet as an application or business tool, to the way it communicates with its community." Read on for specifics-along with an intriguing look into how Web 2.0 paradigms such as "zooming" threat to change PR (for the better):

What was Atomic PR's involvement in LinkedIn's Webby wins?

We were the ones who suggested they enter and we handled all of the submissions. We were listed in the Webby awards simply because we submitted it as the agency of record. While we do site design, we didn't do theirs. In this case, the involvement came down to seeing and implementing the Webby submissions as a PR effort. Beyond that, we're their PR firm. So we handle their campaigns. We manage all aspects of their program-everything from research and strategic counsel to handling all their press releases processes and media relations.

What does a Webby say about you-what can it do for a company?

The Webbies are the Oscars of the Internet. I was at the first one more than ten years ago, and the program has only grown in stature since then. It's a great validation for a company that is doing something relevant and valuable online. I think it's fair to say that winning a Webby is the pinnacle of recognition for an online business. They're covered by a wide array of media and bloggers, too.

It's good for LinkedIn because all of this recognition reaches their members through outlets as varied as Reuters, AP, CNET, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Hollywood Reporter and even USA Today. The broad consumer media covers this, and so do the tech blog sites like BoingBoing and TechCrunch. You also get a lot of reaching into the advertising and marketing spaces. Overall, it basically says the company is successful and on the cutting edge. It also helps a company earn credibility.

What does it do for you as an agency?

It shows we're savvy enough to recommend to our clients that they should participate in the Webbies. Most companies are too busy doing what they're doing to throw the net out across the market like this to generate buzz and excitement. Awards do that-they're part of what a company should be considering in its PR outreach.

Have we gotten any business from our Webbies mention? We get a lot of inbound calls and emails-but we don't ask where they heard our name. However, one contact did come in only yesterday from a nominee in one of the Webby categories. They contacted us after seeing recent media coverage about the awards. So if anything, it shows that we are legitimate part of the online community. It's a distinction for us. There are traditional PR firms just like there are traditional media outlets. In our case, we've always been part of the online community. It's one of our areas of expertise and we run our business like an Internet company. In that sense, the awards mention communicates that brand and specialty. It also says we practice what we preach.

What makes LinkedIn a good fit for the agency?

We're lucky because we get to work with a lot of people we admire. We admired them before we started working with them. In particular, they're a great fit because they live and breathe the brand. The founders are pragmatic, straightforward and efficient-just like the service. They're geared toward getting useful things accomplished. That's always what they expect from us, so that's another reason it's a great fit. Their brand promise is, "Where busy professional business people go to get things done." That's what they are online and within the business itself.

They were up against and Yahoo's in the services category. They were up against Digg and Facebook in the social networking category. LinkedIn won because they have a true brand mission and they deliver on it. That kind of alignment helps out a lot on the PR side of things. There's no inconsistency.

Of course, we also like that they consider our advice carefully. They have their own informed opinions, but they let us run with it after things are discussed. We've worked with them for two quarters now. The best part is we've seen their media coverage increase 300 percent over the previous baseline. Their positioning has expanded and word has spread, in large part because they're a transactional site. Many social networks are purely entertainment. But this is a tool. That gives us a more compelling story to tell.

You mentioned some positive implications of social media or networking tools for PR earlier-what are some of the negatives?

It goes back to the fact that these tools put you into a direct exchange with the communities you want to reach. Again, it's not about spamming them. It's not one way. And you really have to be transparent. You have to contribute to the community instead of just taking from it or "pitching" it. Anything less won't be tolerated.

Astroturfing and flogging are examples of what to avoid. Astroturfing is basically the deceptive creation of the perception that what you're doing is a grassroots effort, when it's actually sponsored by an individual with a commercial aim. Flogging is an utterly false blog entry or something like the Wal-Mart blogs of last year. A corollary on LinkedIn might be someone pretending to post a real question on the site for other members to answer-when the question really is just a veiled advertisement. LinkedIn has a way to flag those, so the larger idea here comes back to transparency.

If you're not transparent in this new online world, the audience will detect your fakery instantly. Authenticity is the paramount measure of success online now. Because your publics are out there contributing through things like blogs, message boards and social networks-there is no more "control" for PR in the traditional sense. You can't control the message anymore. That's gone. You have to be authentic and the message must be aligned with the interests of your public.

Then how can LinkedIn be used as a PR tool?

First, it's a business tool. It's not a communications forum. So it's useful in your day to day work-things like HR and hiring. LinkedIn actually hired its CEO using the site, for example. In our case, we use it to check references for recruiting. Interestingly, a lot of journalists are using the site. They use it for interviews and for checking profiles of sources. They're also increasingly using LinkedIn as a tool for cutting past the PR department to get straight to CEOs for interviews.

What can readers do about journalists using LinkedIn to access CEOs?

I think it starts with making sure the CEO understands this can happen, and to be prepared for it. If they get a contact from the media through LinkedIn, they should treat it the same way as if the query came through an agency or PR department.

Do you think high tech threatens PR's "high touch" bedrock of relationship building?

No, I don't. This is probably a philosophical point on which Atomic PR disagrees with the industry. We think the story is king-and with the right story, we will build any relationship with any journalist, instantly. If anything, technology tools enhance relationships with journalists-if they're used properly.

For example, if technology is used to first educate yourself and align your story with the needs of the reporter so it's relevant, and then employed to deliver that story to the set of journalists or bloggers who will care about it-then it enhances relationships greatly.

What about email blasts to the media-doesn't that fly in face of "relationship" building?

That's not using high-tech as a PR tool. That's an issue of email as spam. The future of PR lies in using technology and processes that allow you to see what's happening in a 360-degree communications environment with a high degree of accuracy so you have prior knowledge and alignment when you engage in dialog with people or audiences. That's using technology to give people something that is tailored. That's the right way to use technology.

It all has to do with personalization and micro content. It's all about letting me drill down to my finite interests and needs instead of forcing me to read 17 pages intended for other people. Tools like keywords are a part of this-they let us drill down to exactly what we want.

Isn't there a danger to that type of "self validating" information consumption?

Well, it's all about choice. People sometimes want micro content, sometimes they want macro content. Web 2.0 is good at allowing people to zero in on what they want. It's called "zooming." That metaphor works really well because the truth is people don't just zoom in-they also zoom out. They'll read through general news at one moment and then dig deeper into something about their favorite food or dog's name the next. Micro and macro content aren't mutually exclusive.

What gets your adrenaline pumping at work-what are you passionate about in PR?

My adrenaline has always pumped in this business. I like the constant learning. Every day is kind of like grad school with pay. For example, two of my clients entered into acquisition talks last week and we helped get them there. Then LinkedIn won its Webbies. And this morning, I was at Bram Cohen's house playing with a Twisty Puzzle. He's the CEO of BitTorrent. I got an in-depth education on Rubik's Cubes. He solved one in sixty seconds. So it all comes back to exposure to a lot of new things and constantly learning.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I am a DJ and electronic musician. I've been doing it for a long time. They're independent efforts. The last one sold a few thousand copies. It got airplay on a lot of the bigger college campuses on their dance radio stations.

How does that relate to PR-does it?

Electronic music is a combo of things you find and things you make. You can put them together in interesting sequences. You sometimes can't plan them. Sometimes, they're cooler than you thought they'd be. With electronic music, you're sequencing things when you're making tracks. It's technical and involves a lot of editing. Similarly, PR can be pretty analytical and strategic. It's also creativity aimed at specific goals. I think what the music has done for me is it has kept me open to creative solutions that might seem to come out of nowhere. Those things can be batter than things or campaigns you've been working on for weeks. So I guess the common thread there is creativity coupled with strategy.

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