Making the news before the press

by Santosh

In the art of defensive blogging on Rough Type, Nicholas Carr summarizes AOL’s CEO Ted Leonsis’ strategy to control the message that Google conveyed when folks searched his name on the search engine. At some point, when Ted typed his name in Google’s search box, the results were a hodgepodge of news stories. Ted wanted to be the top result for that search. On his blog, Nicholas asserts that this is great business strategy. I agree, I cannot think of anything more important than being the foremost authority – on your self.

To begin with, Ted started up his own blog – Ted’s Take. Over a few months, the blog garnered sufficient page rank – it helped that Ted was in touch with several celebrities. Other A-List bloggers who hold quite a bit of Google juice began to link back to Ted’s blog. In the end, he was the top result for his own name. To reiterate Nic Carr’s analysis – Ted successfully narrowed down the information (about himself) for his own professional benefit. Nicholas concludes,

The best defense may be a good blog.

At lunch, a friend of mine mentioned how the Ambani’s made the news in India. The context was – they hardly needed to read the news on a daily basis (like ordinary folks) they were the news. If they wanted the news to read one way or the other, they could do so with ease. Forgive the slight hyperbole, but start-ups are not as lucky as the Ambani’s. Both Anil and Mukesh Ambani happen to be the two of Forbes’ richest Indians. For a consumer facing web start-up, a poor review could be more than simply negative press. It could instead lay waste to months of hard work and discourage user adoption.

For demonstration, execute a Google search for “seventymm”. Of results returned – the first is the Bangalore based DVD rental start-up SeventyMM.com, and the second is a scathing review of the same service and the business model. This has been the case for at least the last 6 months and is still the case as I write. SeventyMM had responded to one of the review comments by revising their terms of service (a serious one) but they were have not yet responded to the others (it is not clear why).

Consumers of Internet-based services and products in India are evolving as a positively web-friendly group. They can avail of two effective and popular avenues to voice their discontent – online review communities or customer-centric forums like MouthShut.com, or their own pages and blogs. For instance, I purchased my last car only after having read several reviews of the model and the manufacturer. There was a wealth of customer feedback available online to help guide me.

Start-ups must adopt similar means to compose an effective response. Founders of start-ups are known to troll forums for messages from dissatisfied customers and assure them that their concerns would be addressed. If several customers have similar pain-points when using the product or service, the issue definitely demands the attention of the start-up. Another way to address the user community is to update a product blog regularly. WordPress.com (my publishing provider) do a great job of keeping their user community abreast of the new features offered by their blogging service through their own blog. Their blog and forums are also hot zones for discussions revolving around bugs found by users, feature requests and general feedback on the quality of the service. WordPress have successfully promoted their own forums as the first place to look for information on their product. It is hard to displace their own pages from the top 10 search results for wordpress.com on Google.

As the company grows out of the start-up phase the stakes only get higher as the company impacts a wider audience. Reaching out to users first is critical. Companies need to work hard to ensure that users don’t treat the companies corporate news source in a discretionary manner for news related to your own company and products. Perhaps controlling news and information is rather far away. In contrast, it is now cheap to publish online in terms of time and money.

The original story on Ted was featured on the Washington Post (for Ted Leonsis, a Quest to find himself faster).