Friday, January 12, 2007

Shark Bait, Social Media, and PR

Last evening I spoke at a gathering of the Social Media Club (Boston chapter), about a new area on Computerworld that I helped develop and launch this week: Shark Bait.

Shark Bait is a place where visitors to can talk about IT in a freewheeling atmosphere. Registered or anonymous users submit "baits", which might be an anecdote, question, or comment that relates to technology. Other users can react to the bait by rating it, or leaving a comment. There is a points-based system to encourage participation -- registered users get 1000 points for registering, 500 for leaving a valid bait (i.e., relates to IT, encourages discussion, is not spam, etc.) and 100 for leaving a valid comment. Part of the points system is intended to appeal to "nerd cred", but there are lots of possibilities to tie this into promotions.

Shark Bait also leverages an existing part of Computerworld that has been a fan favorite for years: Shark Tank. Shark Tank contains anecdotes about IT and tech support that are sent in by readers, but are rewritten by "Sharky" (a Computerworld writer who shall remain anonymous). Part of the challenge of launching Shark Bait was letting users know that it's a spinoff of Shark Tank, rather than a copy -- unlike Shark Tank, which consists of rewritten and condensed user submissions, the Shark baits" are pretty much written by users; if we do any editing at all, it's just to correct grammar or punctuation, or make the headline more appealing (I've seen one bait that was simply "Shark Bait submission"). We also open up the funnel for Shark Bait: Almost anything relating to IT that prompts a discussion can be submitted, not just tech support tales.

The baits we've received thus far run the gamut from pleas for advice to Shark Tankish recollections. I've also created a few news-based baits. Here's a list of some of the more interesting baits, that either received high ratings or a relatively high number of comments:
  • Female tech workers, negative stereotypes
  • Apple's mobile phone: A must-have product, or will it go the way of the Newton?
  • The Four Curses of the IT Biz
  • A networking tech confirms: Miracles can - and will - happen!
A few bloggers have figured out that they can submit baits that link back to their blogs. For now, we're OK with that as long as it has the IT tie-in, prompts a discussion, and is not spam or otherwise offensive (see the Shark Bait FAQ for more information). The group at the Social Media Club event -- almost all of whom were public relations or marketing pros -- was very receptive and asked a lot of good questions. You can hear the discussion here. I was also impressed by the other speakers, and some of the audience members who are really using some cutting-edge Internet technologies. Journalists, including myself, often gripe about PR and PR promotions. I've specifically criticized the PR community for relentlessly pushing events in Second Life, but the flip side of this is the people in public relations get these technologies. Oftentimes when I speak about the work I do with blogs, podcasts, "feeds", user-generated content, et cetera, I have to explain what these media are and how they are used. Not so with PR folks. They know what they are, what they can do, and, importantly, are ready to try them out.

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