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Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: how tech companies can cut through passive-aggressive media

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Entrepreneurs make for easy targets. Whatever your business is doing, it’s guaranteed to ruffle some feathers. But don’t be quick to blame the public. Most times, being sceptical of change is only logical.

Even those who buy into your product will probably expect it to fail. 20% of businesses shut their doors during their first year, and less then half survive for more than five. We may not know these numbers, but we know it from experience — most of them overpromise, underdeliver and ultimately disappoint.

As such, it’s no surprise that the internet is full of passive-aggressive tech coverage. No matter what you do, your business is going to be attacked and demeaned. No one is immune.

Look no further than the original iPhone’s early reviews. It generated a lot of negative coverage for the sake of negative coverage. CNET’s main complaints revolved over a lack of physical buttons, completely missing the entire point of having a touchscreen. A Techcrunch columnist went even further and outright damned it to failure. Sounds funny now, but 14 years ago these people were dead serious.

Of course, these days everyone is an expert and the comment sections matter more than the articles they follow. Unlike traditionally restrained media professionals, the overconfident amateurs on popular UGC platforms openly take pleasure in attacking whatever they come across. It might be their way of letting off steam from being bullied at work or having financial difficulties, but no matter the reason, you still have to deal with a bunch of people trying to paint you in a negative light. And that’s not easy.

Pic by Ajay Murthy / Unsplash.com
Pic by Ajay Murthy / Unsplash.com

Bad news travel fast

Negative content brings in the clicks. Tech publishers are always on the lookout for drama and shocking news. A negative comment thread you instigated can be picked up by a “reputable” news source and explode overnight. This combination works well for everyone but you. People are outraged, the publication gets the ad revenue, and you alone get to suffer the consequences of this nightmare.

Some try to extinguish this fire with money, which just lights the money on fire. Some go silent on social in an attempt to wait this out, which only makes them look guilty. Some start policing their content so much it becomes generic. Instead of taking advantage of contemporary audience engagement tools and nurturing their corporate culture, most brands and tech companies choose to effectively do nothing.

And nothing is what they get. When the game is rigged against you, you quit playing.

Just accept it — you can’t beat the news media on their home field. Of course, there are notable exceptions to the rule. Oreo’s “Dunk In The Dark” tweet during the 2013 SuperBowl blackout was a massive real-time marketing success. It was novel, witty, and, most of all, well-timed. But for each such campaign that succeeds, thousands fail terribly and go unnoticed. Many tried to replicate Oreo’s success, only to spend absurd amounts of money and get nothing in return. Your best bet is to steer clear of these gimmicks and win your customers over with genuine substance. Play your own game. Here’s how.

Master the right tools

The invasion of blockchain startups set the content marketing industry a few years back. In a Swiss Army Man sort of moment, they puppeteered the press-release back to life, and it smells worse than ever. When blockchain project X hires someone from blockchain project Y, they publish a monster of a press release on Medium. It is usually so useless you might as well be reading it in a foreign language.

These freaks of nature are frankensteined together by traditional PR agencies. They are products of wilful ignorance, prime examples of people’s inability to adapt to a new set of content-marketing tools and resources. That’s why you need to study the available UGC platforms and use them as intended, not as dumping grounds for your press-releases. People at the ballpark expect baseball, not opera.

Share your expertise

You’re a brand, not a news source. You should share the things that make you unique rather than compete with established publications. You’ve got expertise, you’ve got experience, you can solve your clients’ problems. Write about it. Your corporate life is unique. Write about it.

Pic by Tima Miroshnichenko / Pexels.com
Pic by Tima Miroshnichenko / Pexels.com

That way you’ll be able to focus on your strengths. Moreover, exposing your creative process makes you more interesting, transparent and easy to relate to. The readers can see what motivates you and how you came to build the product they are reading about. They get to know the people behind the product.

It’s a much more substantial sort of engagement. You will connect to your clients on a more meaningful level and they will ask you more meaningful questions in return.

Radio silence is no longer a viable option, you really need to put yourself out there. It’s, in a way, what makes you ‘real’ in your customers’ eyes. More than an online reseller of Chinese knockoffs.

Tell them about the way you work, your employees’ lives, show them around your office!

Even if your competitor finds fault with this content and capitalises on it — in the end, you will have created a platform of your own. Your private media sphere without hostility and negativity.

Break through the noise

In the oversaturated media market of today this is the only sure way to break through the noise. Yes, it requires resources — you can’t do this without an editorial team, but it’s substantially cheaper than doing PR the old way. Here, repackaging content at scale is one of the best things it can do.

Turning podcasts into transcripts and later into articles. And it’s more than a publicity strategy. It’s a real opportunity to topple the old giants and rise to the top of your particular industry.


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