I am an avid iGoogle user and like the ability to browse headlines and get a quick grasp of the top stories from around the world. I see this as akin to walking around the corner to the newsstand and reviewing the cover stories and newspaper headlines to determine what to buy. The beauty of the web is most of the content is free and I can click through to as many stories as I have time to read.

A recent report from research firm Outsell says that 44% of Google News visitors never click on a headline to read further. Typically, people have Google News or iGoogle (substitute your site as needed) customized to the topics they are most interested in. If people are not clicking through on stories relevant to their interest, does that mean headlines aren’t interesting enough for today’s digital society or they do not have the time to read more? Either way, reading headlines does not equate to reading the articles. Hopefully this does not lead to headlines that are more sensational just to get people to click through.

Another development this week comes from the New York Times Company. Not too long ago, my boss Steve McAbee wrote about the a Forrester report, Publishers Need Multichannel Subscription Models, which concluded a majority of people view the web as a free service and are unwilling to pay for online content. Well, it appears NYTimes.com will give it a go in 2011 with a metered approach. It will be quite interesting to see how successful this is and if more news organizations implement a similar model.

I often wonder who really follows technology reporters on Twitter. Is it just a bunch of PR folks like myself, end users and decision makers, or other journalists and analysts? Not too long ago, Denise Dubie, senior editor at Network World, brought this question to the forefront when she twittered the following.

New to me: The Followers pitch. PR saying I should cover their client’s news because my ‘followers’ need this info.

Was that accurate? Who is following Denise these days? Well, we did some research and it turns out:

  • 26% are end users, developers or enterprise decision makers
  • 25% are in a marketing role at a vendor
  • 16% are at a PR agency
  • 4% are other journalists
  • 3% are analysts
  • 17% are either spammers or other non-related organizations
  • 9% have been inactive for at least 3 months

Over the past week we researched 10 technology journalists to find out who is following them. In the end we sampled 2,262 of 14,492 followers. Thanks to straining our eyes to the point of blindness, this leaves us with a margin of error of just +/- 2 points. Our goal was to try to research 15% of followers. To accomplish this, we researched the 2nd, 6th, and 16th follower in each page of 20 followers. For those with 3,000+ followers, we thank you and so does our vision insurance provider!

Enough of the how, what did the research uncover?

Breakdown by Profile

One of the most interesting facts about this research was the insight into the progression of the type of follower. Twitter’s follower listings are in order of when they clicked the ‘follow’ button from newest to oldest. As we first started our research, we noticed an extremely high number of marketing and vendor profiles. At times these reached 70% of followers. As we hit the half-way point the follower profile shifted toward the end-user. This suggests that early followers of tech journalists were directly in IT, seeking a way to connect with peers to discuss technology related issues. As the popularity of Twitter grew, companies began to take notice and the corporate Twitter account was born. That gives me an idea – who is following corporate Twitter accounts….? Wait…they should pay for that research :-)

End User Percent

Some highlights:

  • Larry Dignan, editor-in-chief at ZDNet, and Jessica Tsai of CRM Magazine take the prize for most end-user followers at 33%, Thomas Wailgum of CIO comes in a close second at 32%
  • Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky has more press following him, 15%, than anyone else in our group
  • As a percentage, more analysts follow Mary Hayes Weier of InformationWeek, 6%, followed by Rich Tehrani of TMCNet at 4%
  • More than 50% of followers are on the corporate side, not a member of the influence audience (press, analysts, PR)
  • 22% of all followers are completely irrelevant comprising spammers, inactive accounts and some that we just can’t explain on a company-sponsored blog

Our research shows this group of technology journalists has a broad Twitter following mostly comprised of enterprise users. Does it mean the pitch to Denise was accurate and her followers do indeed need to know the information? I am not sure because it depends on many factors, the least of which are newsworthiness and relevancy. It is one thing to say 26% of her followers are end users and it is another to say 10% of her followers are end users of VMWare and are interested in virtual and remote setups (hypothetically of course). Just like in any other area of PR and press/analyst interaction, you have to know more about the audience you are pitching and explain how it is relevant.

Percent of Followers

Who we researched:

  • Adam Lashinsky, Fortune
  • Denise Dubie, Network World
  • Jessica Tsai, CRM Magazine
  • Joe McKendrick, ZDNet SOA blog
  • Larry Dignan, ZDNet
  • Larry Walsh, Channel Insider
  • Mary Hayes Weier, InformationWeek
  • Rich Tehrani, TMCNet
  • Sid Hill, Manufacturing Business Technology
  • Thomas Wailgum, CIO

Recent tweet (or twitter if you like) from @twailgum:Caution Blogger

  • Why are so many tech PR folks (not @mprosceno) disdainful of blogs and bloggers? Reminds of The Jerk: “He HATES these CANS!”

I follow Thomas Wailgum, senior editor at CIO Online, on Twitter and was a little taken back when I read this tweet last week. I enjoy public relations, am passionate about it and take offense to generalized comments about the industry, and my gut reaction was to fire off a reply. Luckily my logical side grabbed control and I sat on it.

Do PR people really have disdain for blogs and bloggers?

The answer (purely speculative and based upon my vast knowledge of everything) is no. However, for some of my counterparts, social media is uncharted territory and probably appears to be confusing. So while some will make mistakes, others of us, while not experts, have applied ourselves to learning and engaging with bloggers in an effort to realize what works best for them – and for our clients. One needs to ask themselves, is a blogger the same as a print writer? How do the rules differ, if at all? Does social media change agency/client interaction?

To respond to @twailgum, I do not think tech PR folks have a disdain for bloggers.  In fact, many in tech PR probably wish they could blog as successfully as you tech insiders. You likely came in contact with a few that just don’t understand blogging, bloggers, or the reach the medium has—especially in tech. Please don’t judge the many from the mistakes of a few.

As a side note, @twailgum followed that tweet with a retweet of Denise Dubie, senior editor at Network World:

  • RT @DDubie: New to me: The Followers pitch. PR saying I should cover their client’s news because my ‘followers’ need this info. >>yikes!

This got me wondering…who really follows the technology media on Twitter? Stay tuned because we’re about to do some digging and the results may surprise you.

question-confusionIn conversations with many of my contacts in the media, they express frustration with the meaningless news that crosses the wires and floods their inboxes every day. Why is it that so many companies distribute press releases with little to no value to them? Even in today’s world of social media, the press release remains a viable and important tool to deliver quality news that will generate interest from the media.

Some companies use press releases as a sales tool, some even set quotas for the number of releases a month or quarter in hopes of increasing brand awareness. This is not a good PR strategy. This practice may have started during the dotcom boom, when companies flooded the market with so-called news in an effort to influence venture capitalists and other stakeholders. But these are different times that call for a more strategic approach to PR initiatives.

It may seem basic, but it’s called a press release because it is designed to communicate directly to the press, specifically, relevant, timely, and exciting news. The media doesn’t cover tradeshow participation, every new hire and the smallest update to a product, even though those activities are important to the company and its business objectives. If a company wants to tout a new product capability that is important to a handful of customers but not likely to generate media interest, it is much more effective to develop a marketing program that highlights it directly to those customers.

Here are two simple suggestions for companies who want an effective press release program.

Steady Pipeline: You want to have a steady flow of news that fits the size of your company and the business you are in. This also means, when available, you should space out your news so you do not have lulls that can create speculation.

News Value: Ask yourself what you are announcing and if the media will care. Have you ever read a story on your topic in that publication? Editors are not interested in your tradeshow participation. If you are launching a new product, make sure your announcement is more than just a user interface enhancement and talks about tangible benefits a reporter can wrap a story around.

Remember, just because a company issues a lot of news does not mean the press is paying attention, brand recognition is increasing, or customer confidence is improving. There is a lot of noise out there and press releases need to cut through that clutter and stand out—make it memorable.