Monday, June 16, 2008

Christopher Barger, GM's Social Media Rock Star


Like most rock stars, Christopher Barger—who along with GM vice chairman Bob Lutz has transformed the image of GM from stodgy 20th-century manufacturer into Web 2.0-savvy innovator—is even better live than recorded. If you get the opportunity to hear him speak (an increasingly likely scenario as he expands his activity on the circuit), go for it. Here are a few highlights from his presentation at the recent Blogging for Business conference.

Blogging is (officially) no longer new. 90% of Internet users in the 25-34 year-old group are familiar with blogs. 60% of those under the age of 21 belong to a (online) social network. Blogs now rival traditional media for reach.

Blogging is a PR activity—a tool to build image and credibility—not marketing. In Barger's words, it belongs at the top of the sales funnel.

Social media has given every consumer the opportunity to reach millions of others with his or her opinion of a brand or product. And it's given every consumer access to the experience of millions of other actual product buyers. Meanwhile, what several hot products—iPods, DVRs and satellite radio—have in common is that they enable consumers to avoid commercials. In other words, technology has enabled your "market" to avoid your message and get information straight from your customers. Social media enables you, as a marketing or PR professional, to participate in the conversion—but no longer to control it.

Here's an approximation of Barger's excellent "New Communications Paradigm" slide:



Only journalists and PR people still draw lines between professional and amateur online writers; if the content seems credible, the audience doesn't care about the pedigree of the source. "Traditional" media now follows the blogosphere at least as often as it leads it.

That means PR pros have to treat bloggers (somewhat) like traditional journalists: invite them to events, give them special treatment, and provide them with access to key executives.

A key reason Barger has been so successful in his role is that he understands that "community" isn't only online. While blogging and social networks are a large part of his role, he also invites influential bloggers to GM events and serves as the company's presence at blogging events, such as the Manic Mommies Escape Weekend in late 2007, an appearance that generated coverage in both blogs and traditional media.

And finally, a few points that should be universally understood, but, judging from some of the pitches I receive, still aren't:
  • Bloggers want a dialog, not traditional PR outreach.
  • PR can influence opinion, but not control it.
  • Bloggers write (in almost all cases) for passion, not money.
  • Bloggers care about their own and their readers' interests—not the corporate story.
Rock on.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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