Mark Ragan: Lessons From the King of Content

Mark RaganEverything PR News’ ongoing talks with industry leaders continues today with Mark Ragan. Publisher and Executive Editor at PR Daily, Ragan is one of the world’s most prolific digital evangelists, and a “go to” resource for all things internet communications. (See the images and video at article end)

Insights From Mark Ragan

If the world ever needed a “pinup” to brand communicators, Mark Ragan would have to be one candidate for poster boy of the type. To be honest, there are not many people out there in the social or traditional media spheres I can think of who are more “connected” into what’s going on on the www. And believe me, this is not an accolade I offer up so easily – there are, after all, a great many brilliant PR’s and marketers out there. Mark is, however, different in many ways.

Our interview offers some interesting insights, and a look at what it takes to – shall we say, “optimize” human energy and enthusiasm. Let’s get to the talk.

Q & A: Mark Ragan + Everything PR News

EPR – I just happened to notice a G + post by you to the effect that “more executives should value negative feedback in social media.” You are one of the world’s social media gurus, is it ego that gets in these business people’s way. Or, do most executives really not understand negative criticism?

Mark Ragan – I don’t think it’s ego that gets in the way. It’s fear. Executives are afraid of customer criticism, and they’re particularly afraid of it being spread through social media. What they don’t realize is that criticism can not only help their companies by pointing out weaknesses but that responding to critics makes them look better. When I teach my workshops I always ask, “would you rather have your critics in your front yard where you can go and meet them and show them you’re willing to listen, or would you prefer that take their complaints to a third party like Yelp?

Or even worse, would you prefer they begin a web site devoted to attacking you?

EPR – Are you tired of there being a so-called “engaged social media expert” behind every bush and tree? I mean, this game is not that complicated is it? We’ve been around this for some time, you much more prominently than I, aren’t we basically talking about reciprocity and organized communications when it comes down to it?

Mark Ragan – You’re right in thinking that social media experts are behind every tree, and you’re also correct that none of this is rocket science. And yet, I have found that our customers need to be constantly learning best practices from their colleagues in other organizations. Our conferences, for example, thrive on the notion that a typical communicator or marketer needs to be constantly taking stock of where other companies are at in social media. Social media gurus and experts often play the role of facilitating that information exchange. They are inside dozens of companies so they can see first hand what’s working and what isn’t.

EPR – Is Google + going to take the place of Twitter and Facebook out of sheer necessity? What I mean is (and you discuss this a lot on PR Daily and others of your publications) will people consolidate to Google + to save time and energy?

Mark Ragan – I love Google+ but I doubt it will overtake Facebook or Twitter. If Google+ had been first to market, it’s interface might have been just as popular as these other sites. But it will be hard — and maybe even impossible — to persuade people to replace their other networks with something unfamiliar. None of my customers wake up in the morning saying, ‘boy, what I need is another social network.'” What they are saying is, ‘why should I jump to this new site when Facebook has been working fine for me?'”

I just came back from teaching a Social Media Bootcamp in Calgary. No one in that room was excited about having to learn and administer another major social network. Don’t get me wrong — they are interested, but no passionately so. If they jump, it will be because they feel they have to because it’s their job to stay in touch.

EPR – Mark, you give a lot of good advice for PR and marketing types about using social networks for communicating. I have a personal story I hope you can elaborate on, and possibly help me with too. A week or so ago, I sent a message to a rather high profile journalist (no names) whom I had interacted with quite a few times with. Sometimes in fun, a few times about media outreach, just talk mostly. All of a sudden, I get the “Do not pitch me on Facebook!” – what I called PR enraged, angry driver, finger thingy? Sorry, I am always familiar with people, is that a flaw, was I wrong to even message this guy?

Mark Ragan – No, I don’t think you were wrong to approach the journalist on Facebook, assuming it was a casual, conversational approach. You probably caught this reporter on a bad day. I think the indirect approach always works with reporters when using Twitter or Facebook. Sending them tips or links to information they can use on their beat, for example, particularly when it’s not promoting your company. But different reporters have different attitudes toward the approach. The NYT’s David Pogue actually invites people to pitch him on Twitter. “Hey if they can get across their idea in 140 characters, that saves me time,” he’ll say.

EPR – I have asked most of the PR industry executives in this series about where they (their company’s) draw the line at accepting controversial clients. Most drew the line somewhere before Gaddafi. Where should the line be? Or rather, where would your line be if you had clients in PR or consulting?

Mark Ragan – If we did have clients, I think the line would be very distinct. I would have a hard time representing businesses who’ve ripped off their customers or unsavory people. If the client isn’t willing to tell the truth, then nothing good can come from PR. The best thing any client can do is come clean. Honesty and admitting one’s failings are the quickest way back to public rehabilitation.

EPR – My perception of you Mark has always been that you have boundless energy. I mean, you have so much content and communication going on, day in, day out. My question is, how do you keep up with all the channels? What are some of your favorite tools?

Mark Ragan – Thanks for the compliment. I do have a lot of energy and entrepreneurial energy, but I am often exhausted because of it. If I didn’t have to be everywhere at once, I wouldn’t be. But these are hard times and one must stay on top of the business to remain competitive. Necessity really does drive innovation and one’s work ethic.

As for social media channels, mine are limited to Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. Our big surprise this year is how effective LinkedIn has been in driving traffic to our sites and spreading our brand far and wide. I believe LinkedIn is the best-kept secret in the social media world. It is now the second biggest source of our traffic.

I believe it’s important to learn about the new channels that emerge every week, but one has to pick and choose. Which one serves your strategy the best. Then you have to measure and test your hunch. Nothing has done more for my company than Twitter in the relationships it has forged—real relationships that can be tied to the bottom line.

EPR – I hate to be cliché once again, but who were the most influential people in your life and successes Mark? Heroes, mentors?

Mark Ragan – My father was by far my biggest influence. He was a brilliant man and writer, and an exemplary human being. He was generous with his staff and customers, funny in his presentational style and madly irreverent to a communication audience that didn’t always appreciate his razor-sharp wit.

I have also admired many of the journalists I have worked with over the years. When all is said and done, I will always be a reporter and editor at heart. Content is what I know, so my heros are those people who have done it well. In the social media sphere, I admire my friend Shel Holtz greatly and stand in awe at his ability to grasp so much information, process it and apply it in his teachings.

I am also a history buff and am ceaselessly amazed at their discipline and the work that goes into each book. I just read Stacy Schiff’s biography of Cleopatra and added her to my list of great writers. And of course there is the biggest hero of them all — William Shakespeare. All of life can be found in the plays and I continually mine them for insights on the human condition.

EPR – Mark, if anyone has a new vision of what online engagement will look like next year, it seems likely it would be you. What is on the horizon? Are people going to refine their channels in ways we cannot envision now? Can you elaborate some?

Mark Ragan – I continue to believe that companies will become their own media outlets, practicing what I call Brand Journalism. The PR professional of the future will be publishing news, feature articles and all manner of content for their clients, but it will come to resemble what we think of as general circulation media. Intel is doing this with it’s online newsroom, The Free Press; and Cisco recently launched The Network, a daily online publication that covers the IT hardware industry. As traditional media continues to decline, brands will step up as publishers of niche content. They will hire traditional reporters and approach content in a more unbiased, less propagandistic manner.

We’re seeing a lot of this in health care today, which is teaming with stories that are every bit as good as what media publishes. On the social media front, I think we’ll see everything settling down into the big four: Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. There will be other niched networks but none that are so integrated into people’s work and lives. I’ve already seen a clear trend toward social media exhaustion. People have simply run out of time. There is only so many networks they can manage.

EPR – I have also asked other industry leaders about their best advice for the budding PR professional, but if I may Mark, can I change that to “your best advice for the budding digital company” – what’s your advice for companies wanting to evangelize via SM?

Mark Ragan – My best advice is focus on content. The budding PR professional needs to know video, text, a little bit of tech, and have a presence on all of the major social media sites. But without great content, no amount of social media bells and whistles will win the day. Ironically, despite all of our gadgets and platforms, being a great writer and understanding what your audience wants to read or watch, is still THE indispensable tool.

EPR – Mark, is there a client out there you (or anyone perhaps) would love to represent? What I am asking is, do you have a so called “dream client” or company in mind?

Mark Ragan – I have been toying with accepting a project right now that may answer your question. I have always wanted to oversee the launch a great brand journalism site, and there’s a huge hospital in the Midwest that wants me to build it. Healthcare is where all the great stories are today. If you give me a large hospital packed with intelligent researchers, scientists and doctors, I could build a really kick-ass brand journalism site, integrate it with social media and make it the envy of the world. It’s just finding the time to do this AND keep my eyes trained on my own company.

EPR – Mark, I appreciate personally you taking your valuable time (what little there is left of it) to talk to us.

Mark Ragan – Thanks you Phil, for the opportunity.

Mark Ragan

Mark Ragan – King of Communicators

There’s nothing more rewarding than actually finding out about people. Anyone would think of Ragan as intelligent and energetic, just reading his work – seeing his brand footprint across the web. PR Daily, Healthcare Marketing and Communication News, My Ragan TV, Ragan Conferences, Ragan.com, even LinkedIn, and, and, and. However, as you may be able to tell, Mark’s scribbling on the web (unlike a throng of others) bears a bit more fruit for those interested. I am talking about more than his journalistic skill.

Just looking at questions 8 and 9, anyone can glean a morsel of genius from Ragan in his crystal ball vision for the future of business on the web. If you have never imagined Nike or Apple having their own “news” network – well, it’s not because you are not a genius, but maybe your genius is not aligned with digital communications? I know you see the point. My revelation’s about Mark Ragan is crystal, as well. In my world (yeah I am a digital evangelist too) there are charlatans galore, armies of marketers, and like anywhere else – an elite group of true visionaries. This is normal.

Mark Regan falls into the last category. This is so cool, but not nearly as cool as the fact he is one hell of a nice guy. Thanks for the talk Mark, and for your G + profile, where I scraped the images.

As a last note, I will let my readers in on a secret. Unlike Mark Regan (and 100 other reporter friends) I do not “read” anyone. This is a sad truth, I won’t explain or make excuses. But, I will say this. Ragan will now be my coffee warmed morning read from now on – even gurus need gurus. I leave you with just one video from the score of fantastic ones on Ragan dot com. For “how to’s” on going digital, there’s no comparable resource.

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