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How do you get press attention for your startup? How do you get any attention for your startup? Those are the two main questions Chapter 6 of my new book, The Web Startup Success Guide answers and you can get that chapter right now from Apress.
Social Media – Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest – have reshaped what it takes for startups (and microISVs) to win attention, connect with customers, and succeed. In this chapter I cover:

  • Setting up your Social Media Basic Radar.
  • How to build a successful blog as your home base in the Social world.
  • How to use Twitter to connect with your market.

As important as Social Media is to startups, getting trade and mainstream media attention matters. So how do you get coverage? I asked that question and more of Mike Gunderloy (formerly lead writer at Web Worker Daily), Marshall Kirkpatrick (Lead Writer, ReadWriteWeb), Rafe Needleman (Editor, CNET Webware), Al Harberg (President, DP Directory) and Leslie Suzukamo, (St. Paul Pioneer Press technology reporter). The answers were candid and enlightening.

<shameless plug>The Web Startup Success Guide will start shipping from Amazon July 22nd. If you’re planning to get my book, please pre-order now! Other booksellers – from the big chains to the independent booksellers – look closely at these pre-order numbers when deciding how many copies to stock. Your pre-order today means this book will be on their shelves.</shameless plug>

So what does the rise of Social Media mean for startups and microISVs? A new hat to add: the role of Chief Community Officer. When you add blogging + Twitter + Facebook + GetSatisfaction.com + traditional/online media relations you get something new: the person responsible for creating, nurturing and growing the Online Community that is part and parcel of your startup’s offering. In this chapter, I talk to three Community Managers who describe what it takes to do the job right, and I talk to Maria Sipka, one of the foremost experts on online community building.
To wrap up this first excerpt post and give you a quick taste of what this 60-page free chapter is about, here’s my interview with Rafe Needleman on what he looks for when writing up startups:
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Rafe’s both a writer and the managing editor of Webware: setting the tone, managing about a dozen CNET and freelance bloggers, and deciding what gets covered.
Bob: What would be your dream day, as far as the startups that you would see and how they came to you? In other words, what should a startup be doing that’s smart, rather than some of the less intelligent approaches that you’ve seen?
Rafe: Well, you know it’s the product that matters. When I hear about a new product ahead of anybody else in a way that makes me sit up and take notice, that’s good. I love hearing from people who are passionate about a product, and that’s generally a founder or CEO of a company. That’s ideal.
Bob: Is it better if they talk to you directly? What about the various PR firms that are out there that get into the mix?
Rafe: I think PR has a lot of value. There are some PR people who I really do like to hear from. But, like I said, when I get a personal pitch from somebody who’s actually built a product and wants to talk to me about it, that means more to me than getting what I know is probably a pitch that’s going out to 100 people or more at the same time.
Bob: Should these CEOs of startups introduce themselves before they have something really to say? Or should they just knock on your door when they’re ready?
Rafe: Well, ready is a relative term. I like talking to companies at all stages, and the earlier the better. If we’re going to be reviewing a product, then of course the product should be something that’s in a reviewable state and something that’s close to availability. But when is the right time to talk to me depends on the company, the technology, what they’re trying to do, and what I’m trying to write about.
Bob: What sort of things do you like to hear about? Is there any particular type of startups that will really get your attention?
Rafe: Well, if I knew that, I would be building it myself.
Bob: [laughs]
Rafe: I’m always looking to have my eyes opened.
Bob: So it’s sort of the new and novel and different effect that matters? Is it harder to generate much excitement over yet another CRM system?
Rafe: Fair to say, yeah. Difficult, but there is innovation in every category. It’s possible to knock my socks off with a CRM. It’s also quite likely that there is a product that you might think that I would find tedious. Then three people who are unaware of each other are announcing similar things at the same time, and boom! I’ve got a trend. Now it’s interesting.
Bob: Where do you find new things to write about? Besides the people coming to you, where do you go look for them?
Rafe: I have a pretty extensive collection of contacts, entrepreneurs, investors, and funders. You’d be surprised how many readers reach out to me saying that they’ve seen something. I scour a lot of sources, a lot of feeds, and a lot of aggregation sites. I go to events and parties. This stuff comes in all the time from everywhere.
Bob: Do you find that Twitter is a useful way for people to contact you? Or is that not a good way to try to pitch you on a story idea?
Rafe: No. I don’t like Twitter as a way to try to contact me for a pitch. I don’t think it’s very effective for that. I like to control my incoming information through e-mail, just because it’s easier to file, keep track of, and respond to. However, I find Twitter extremely valuable as a way to reach out to people en masse. I monitor Twitter all the time. When there’s an interesting trend or something that’s very timely, I set up a filter in Twitter — a search field — and I watch to see what’s happening there. So I find Twitter extremely valuable.
I do get a lot of tips from it, and I do get a lot of feedback from it, from readers and things. But I don’t think it’s appropriate to pitch someone. Well, it’s not appropriate to pitch me on Twitter. Other people do like it. I don’t.
Bob: How about Facebook?
Rafe: Well, you know I’m not very active on Facebook, except through Twitter. My Twitter feed goes into Facebook, and I see a lot of replies to it on Facebook. But I’m not particularly active on Facebook. People do, occasionally, pitch me on Facebook, which is a really bad idea. I don’t like being pitched on Facebook, because it’s not in my e-mail system.
Bob: These are good things to know. A while back, you put together a blog, and actually it continues to this day, Pro PR Tips [http://proprtips.com]. Why do you do this?
Rafe: [laughs] Because it’s fun. Honestly, I like what I do, and I find it sometimes amusing, the bonehead moves that PR people make in trying to get their story out. I don’t think that PR people are evil. I don’t think they’re stupid. But every now and then, somebody makes an interesting blunder. I thought it would be both funny and educational to chronicle it as it went. I’m going to do more with Pro PR Tips in the future, because I think it’s a good way to get the word out and for everybody to learn.
Bob: You’ve been in the journalism business now for a long time. Has what PR firms done changed that much in the last few years? Or is it pretty much what they’ve been doing all along?
Rafe: The fundamentals of public relations and of any kind of communications have not changed, which is this: The best way to communicate with somebody is to know them and to tell them something that is personally relevant to them, either because it’s something that they find personally interesting or because it’s related to the work that they do. Everybody does different work. So the blanket pitch is generally pretty ineffective, except when it’s not. Except when you’re Google or Microsoft, and you have a story that you want to tell to everybody at the same time.
The tools and the technologies have made a big difference, as witnessed by your questions when you were asking me about people trying to reach me on Twitter or Facebook.
The ways to get a hold of people, the number of people who are trying to get a hold of people, and the number of people who are there to be got hold of have all increased dramatically. There is a lot of noise, and there’s a lot of information flying around.
The fundamentals are the direct connection. When Joe, the entrepreneur, says, “Hey, I’ve got this incredible, cool new product, new web service that will automatically make your food taste better at restaurants,” I’m going to pay attention. He sends it to me, and he says, “I know that you like eating, let me show this to you before anybody else,” I’m going to notice. That has not changed.
Bob: So that really comes under the heading of PR firms that know what interests journalists.
Rafe: Yeah. I think there’s a big value in PR. I think that some companies overuse it and use PR as their mouthpieces. I don’t always think that’s wise. Sometimes it is, but in many cases it’s not. Most companies trying to get noticed could use professional PR counsel. That doesn’t mean that they should give the PR company the microphone and have them speak on their behalf. The demo and the pitch are always more effective coming from the person who built the product, the person who started the company, or the person who’s passionate about it.
How that person gets in touch with people, how he crafts his message, and who he talks to, that is advice that a PR person can give them. But, it doesn’t mean that the PR person has to be front and center in the communications, in the dialogue.
Bob: So you see more of the value PR people as advisors rather than mouthpieces.
Rafe: Yes, although I’m talking about in an ideal world. I realize that it isn’t.
Bob: OK, any advice to startups?
Rafe: Yeah. My best advice for startups is to build a good product and don’t fall back on PR to make a sucky product good. If the product is good, then you need good PR to support it. If the product is not good, no amount of PR is going to make it succeed. The journalists will find out. The bloggers will find out. People will find out, and the product will die. If the product is good, you want it to get out to as many people as possible.
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