August 01, 2005
Blogs, podcasts, and RSS feeds are getting heaps of buzz as cool marketing tactics ... but we seldom hear truly practical advice on using them. So, we interviewed David Lawrence, a hands-on expert who's been running ads in all three media longer than most. He spoke on the topic at Ad:Tech in Chicago in July. If you missed his speech, here's the best seven nuggets of practical advice from it:
Podcasting, RSS feeds, blogs... David Lawrence, host of Online Tonight with David Lawrence has experimented with them all to extend the reach of his radio show, which has 4 million regular listeners.
Lawrence was one of the first broadcasters to put daily audio newscasts online, which he delivered via email.
"I knew that the attachment limit on most ISP's was one megabyte, so I figured out how long I could talk and it was 10 minutes and 40-some seconds, so every morning, people would get GeekSpeak and Tech News in their in-boxes."
Incidentally, that's about the same amount of time you get a listener's attention on a podcast, he says.
Lawrence shared his thoughts on some of the new advertising models: how to advertise within them and how to use them successfully without branding yourself clueless.
Three Podcast hints
#1. Keep 'em short
Years ago, when Lawrence worked at AOL, "We had done some studies as to how long it takes people before they're interrupted on a computer or electronic device," he says.
The answer: Seven to 10 minutes. Lawrence keeps his own podcasts to that length. "I'm hearing, 'It's nice of you to do a shorter podcast. I don't have to interrupt you or cut you off,'" he says. "You're competing for people's time." Content should be short enough to be listened to in a single chunk, so think "short-commute-to-work."
For podcasts from Lawrence's show, he chooses a particularly relevant 10-minute segment from the show's three-hour broadcast.
#2. Don't be cute
iTunes gives you 255 characters to use in the summary that announces your podcast. That's almost 100 characters more than you get in an SMS message -- but it still isn't a lot of space.
"You need to master the art of microcontent," Lawrence says. So, can you use SMS abbreviations, like "CU L8ER" (translated: See you later)?
"Absolutely not," he says. Be as clear as you can, and as intriguing as you can, but don't get cute. The topic of the broadcast should be absorbing in and of itself. If you have trouble summarizing your content, think again about its appropriateness for the medium.
For example, Lawrence says, on a recent show he had talked with a BBC spokesman about the London bombings. "That's all you have to say, that's intriguing in itself. Don't beat them over the head."
#3. Get training
Podcasts are rather like blogs in that they are seen by the people who listen to them -- at least for now -- as less commercial, and therefore less slick. However, that doesn't mean you can create a podcast totally on your own, unless you want to sound like an idiot.
"In marketing it's hard to find someone who *isn't* effusive," says Lawrence. "But the technology and business space is filled with quiet, reserved people who need a little nudge. Get training in being clear-spoken and enthusiastic."
Two RSS Marketing Tips
#1. Don't give it all away
Whether you're promoting in a third-party RSS feed or using a feed yourself to get content from your site to users, the rules should be the same: entice them just enough to lure them to your site.
If your entire goal is to get people simply to read your feed, then fill it up with as much copy as you want, Lawrence says. But if you're interested in actually driving traffic to your site, give just enough content to draw them further in.
#2. Be aware of bandwidth
Frequent "requests" from newsreaders -- the applications that aggregate feeds -- can strain the resources of the RSS publisher, resulting in a loss of processing capabilities.
That's particularly a problem for smaller sites and companies. Lawrence uses Coral, a project put together by a bunch of computer scientists from New York University, to remedy the situation. Coral distributes the server load across many nodes on the Internet, allowing a Web site to deal easily with sudden spikes in demand. (See link below.)
Two blog marketing tips
#1. Remember your audience
Blog readers are generally influential, early adapters who tend to network with their peers, and they're touchy when they think they're being over-marketed to on their favorite blog.
The ads that are winning are the ads that are authentic, Lawrence says. "You don't want to hit them over the head with [your message]," but you don't want them to have to try to figure out if you're trying to sell them, either.
The best ad is one that fits the blog topic so neatly that it seems to join in a conversation rather than being above or outside of it.
#2. Existing ads probably won't work
It's all about informing and entertaining, says Lawrence. Offering benefits and features is not going to cut it, unless you can fit it in a conversational way.
You're best off writing a new ad (BlogAds allows up to 300 characters).
4 Useful links related to this article
Coral, the NYU Distribution Network http://www.coralcdn.org/
BlogAds - a blog advertising network Lawrence belongs to http://www.blogads.com/advertiser_html
The David Lawrence Show http://onlinetonight.com/