SMS: Chris, welcome. 10e20 was founded in 2001 operating out of a Brooklyn apartment with a grand total of $425 in the bank and is now an extremely successful company with offices in New York and Florida. How did you come up with the idea for the name “10e20″?
Chris: We get asked this question A LOT. It goes back to where we started and the programming blood in us. 10e20 is shorthand for the number 10 times 10 raised to the 20th power. But more importantly, my wife and I came up with the name when we were working in a building at 915 Broadway in Manhattan. The side entrance was on 10 East 21st Street and “10e20″ sounded better than “10e21.” This was also back in the days when directories could actually drive traffic to you and numbers came before letters – so every little bit helped. The interesting thing is now we are usually at the top of blogrolls due to the same logic.
SMS: 10e20′s scope is pretty wide. You do website design, search engine optimization, PPC ad management, and a whole bunch of other things. How did you reach the conclusion that public relations is key to online success?
Chris: Well, with everything we do, it has to be something we have done for our own company and has been successful for us. For me, it was seeing how powerful the media was in driving qualified leads to my own business. Any time that we got featured in a good article, it would lead to tremendous leads, many of whom became excellent clients. To me, public relations has always been such a natural complement to any online marketing and so many of the tactics are exactly the same. It’s all about targeting the right people (journalists, bloggers, etc.) and building relationships.
SMS: Many companies are still having trouble coming up with an integrated approach to search and online PR. How can a company make sure their PR and SEM staff work closely together?
Chris: Just as with so many things, it’s all about defining goals and working together. The PR staff has to understand what the SEM people are doing and what they want to achieve and vice-versa. I think that so many times companies let them work completely independently of each other without any interaction and then wonder why they aren’t on the same page. I’m a big believer in everything being on the table and people working together (as hard as it is sometimes).
SMS: Search engine reputation management is becoming more and more important. Do you think most companies look at SERPs and social media defensively, trying to bar negative publicity, instead of taking a proactive approach? If so, what is a more proactive approach?
Chris: As big of a buzzword that “reputation management” is in our industry, I still don’t feel that even close to “most” companies are paying enough attention to it. I’ll give you a good example. A few weeks ago, I was at a conference at Goldman Sachs and one of their star analysts was questioning one of the biggest CEOs in the world. So I am sitting in the audience and like I usually do – I went on my Blackberry and Googled this analyst’s name. I was shocked to see the first two results for his name were extremely negative. Now, this is a guy who is a very, very public face for Goldman Sachs. Those two results probably wind up costing GS millions of dollars per year. Later, at lunch, I asked a woman who works with him about it and she was shocked. It turned out that he had never bothered to search for his name (neither had anyone at the company).
I am a big believer in proactive SEO for reputation management. Have a good plan there and you won’t have to get involved in scenarios such as I just described. Wikipedia, personal websites, every single social network, etc. – they are all there to make this easier.
SMS: What affordable resources are available for smaller companies to help manage the task of reputation management?
Chris: There are actually some really good free tools they can use (lots of them). One that I love is Google Alerts (www.google.com/alerts) – set to “comprehensive” and “as it happens.” This way, as soon as there is something said about you in the news or the blogosphere, you’ll get an email about it. Another great one is Serph (www.serph.com), which will search through blogs, forums, and social networks to find if people are talking about you.
SMS: There is no doubt there is a difference between popularity and influence online. What strategies can you employ to help recognize influencers in a given niche?
Chris: Offline press mentions are a pretty good indicator. If a prominent blogger is also frequently quoted in major newspapers or magazines, it’s usually a pretty good sign that they are quite influential. You can also look at things like Technorati’s most popular blogs (http://technorati.com/pop/) or perhaps even a better indicator for influence is Techmeme’s new leader board (http://www.techmeme.com/lb).
SMS: Should a company actively participate in online conversations about themselves or just stick to listening? Is a presence on social networks like MySpace and Facebook appropriate for business? Under what circumstances?
Chris: This really depends on the company. I am a big believer that every company should at least stake their claim on the major social networks (the same way that you would register your own domain name), but whether or not they participate depends on the company and what they can expect to get out of it. Are your customers on MySpace or Facebook? If so, then you should be as well.
SMS: How does one measure the success of an online PR campaign? It seems to me this would be very difficult to quantify.
Chris: Just like anything, it comes down to ROI. You should be determining what you want to get out of the campaign ahead of time and then measure the results closely. Are you looking to get links? Traffic? Sales? Brand exposure? The first three are quite easy, but the brand exposure and mindshare one gets tricky. At the end of the day, it comes down to tracking and sales. Online or offline PR shouldn’t be any different than any other part of marketing.
SMS: Should every company with an online presence consider adding a blog to their site? For those that do, what characteristics are most important to look for in those who will be the company’s blogger(s)?
Chris: I am a big believer in blogs, but at the same time, I don’t think they are appropriate for every company. To have a good blog that is going to return value to you (and your customers) you have to have something to say and it has to be interesting. Not every company is suited for a blog, and they simply won’t get a good enough return on it to justify the time/cost.
On the other hand, for a company that embraces blogging and is the right fit – the return and dialogue that they can open up with their customers and potential customers is amazing.
You want someone who knows your company really well (that’s why it’s tricky hiring a PR or SEO company to write your posts for you) and who can write. The second part might sound silly, but in order for the blog to keep people coming back, you need a good writer and – even better – someone with a distinct personality. People have so many different outlets vying for their attention – so if you’re going to blog, make sure your company is saying something interesting and unique.
SMS: A company’s worst nightmare – their blogger says something they shouldn’t, be it revealing company secrets or seriously slandering a competitor. What can you do to guard against this? If the worst happens, what are the best ways to deal with this problem?
Chris: The easiest way to guard against this is to put controls in place that prevent this, so that your blogger can’t go live without approval. Most blogging software has different levels of access and privileges which can help prevent this. But for the company that doesn’t have time to check each post, this might not be a reality.
So, if this happens, the best way is to confront the issue head-on. On your turf. Use your blog as a communication vehicle to address the mistake that was made and to let people know that you are responsible and not hiding from the problem. The worst thing you can usually do is to try to ignore it and hope everyone else does. They won’t …