PR-less launch kicks off a stack overflow of praise

This is the way I love to learn about a company.

No, not from a PR firm.

No, not from a CEO (or anyone else from the company) calling me up or writing me email.

No, not on some junket.

No, not on stage at Techcrunch 50 or Demo or Under the Radar or some other conference.

No, not by reading Mashable.

No, not on Twitter. Or FriendFeed. Or Facebook. Or MySpace. (I really hate direct messages, by the way).

No, not in an advertisement.

“OK, Scoble, knock it off, how did you learn about it?”

A beta tester (a developer I know and trust) came up to me today and said “this is the coolest thing I’ve used in a long time.”

He then gave me a peek at his screen. I agreed after seeing what was on his screen.

But instead of letting the world that, I asked Twitter and FriendFeed if anyone had heard anything about the service yet.

They had. And how.

So, what is it?

It’s StackOverflow. A community knowledge exchange, for programmers, that is being built by Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood (both famous programmers).

It’s in a closed beta so far (you can sign up for the beta on the StackOverflow Blog), but look at the replies I received on Twitter:

Joel Gray: “@Scobleizer As a participant in StackOverflow, I have to say that it is great. Good community of folks so far, quite easy to get answers”

Levi Figueira: “@codinghorror Man, I’m loving stackoverflow!! Great resource and userbase!! Let’s hope it doesn’t get wild after it goes “public”… :)” and “@Scobleizer I’ve been following their podcast since #1 and am part of the beta!! It’s the best thing for developers ever! ”

Phil: “Impressed with StackOverflow. They’ve really thought through usability and trying to create a sticky experience.”

Michael Krakovskiy: “stackoverflow beta rocks!”

Chris Benard: “@Scobleizer Here are a couple of screenshots I just took for you: http://is.gd/1nul and http://is.gd/1nuo ” and “@Scobleizer It’s an experts-exchange for programmers, without all the annoyances. ”

schwarzwald “@Scobleizer furthermore, stack overflow is experts-exchange without blackhat SEO techniques (cloaking) and annoying superfluous graphics.”

If you are exciting your early users like this you will get found. I so wish more companies built their stuff this way. Go slowly. Built PR by building a great service and turn your users into your PR agents. Oh, yeah, and blog and podcast about it to get to this point (but look at how they built a community, they didn’t get all “pushy” about what they were doing — they just were informative and inclusive).

Keep in mind that this is only a few days into beta and they only have a few hundred beta testers, but this is going to get big pretty fast because it is a well-thought-out service that already is getting major praise from developers, who are very hard to get to hype anything.

Believe me, we all will hear about your product if it really does rock. There’s no reason to go crazy with a PR firm if you build something that people want. Atwood and Spolsky are proving that right in front of us.

This got me fired up about the tech industry again. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this kind of user passion.

UPDATE: Jeremy Toeman has a good rebuttal to this post (he’s the guy who first showed me Bug Labs and Sling Box).

133 thoughts on “PR-less launch kicks off a stack overflow of praise

  1. I agree with you Robert when you say you need to personally engage bloggers; not flood them with crappy releases. But as one of the founders of Jellyfish.com (recently sold to Microsoft to launch their cashback service), my experience is that many Tier 1 bloggers like you use good PR firms as gatekeepers. Without an introduction, I’m going to have a much more difficult time getting your attention. That, in my opinion is the lasting value of traditional PR and the method I’m using in my new start up. My full argument is here:
    http://flywheelblog.com/2008/08/the-value-of-traditional-pr/

  2. I agree with you Robert when you say you need to personally engage bloggers; not flood them with crappy releases. But as one of the founders of Jellyfish.com (recently sold to Microsoft to launch their cashback service), my experience is that many Tier 1 bloggers like you use good PR firms as gatekeepers. Without an introduction, I’m going to have a much more difficult time getting your attention. That, in my opinion is the lasting value of traditional PR and the method I’m using in my new start up. My full argument is here:
    http://flywheelblog.com/2008/08/the-value-of-traditional-pr/

  3. I think the value of what a PR firm can do is potentially broader than just pitching – let’s not forget that the world is not yet full of social media and blogging gurus like you, so lots of people need help adapting to the new world.

    I think there are five ways a PR firm can provide value in today’s world:

    1) Research – find good blogs, awards, conferences, dig up info
    2) Training – teach people about PR in a social media world
    3) Create Content – story ideas, writing, video, audio
    4) Pitching / Relationship – maybe more relevant to old media, but it does still work
    5) Monitoring – make sure you comment on the right blogs and don’t miss any news

    Read the full article about the Value of a PR Firm in a Social Media World here:
    http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/4267/The-Role-of-PR-Firms-in-Social-Media-and-Inbound-Marketing.aspx

  4. I think the value of what a PR firm can do is potentially broader than just pitching – let’s not forget that the world is not yet full of social media and blogging gurus like you, so lots of people need help adapting to the new world.

    I think there are five ways a PR firm can provide value in today’s world:

    1) Research – find good blogs, awards, conferences, dig up info
    2) Training – teach people about PR in a social media world
    3) Create Content – story ideas, writing, video, audio
    4) Pitching / Relationship – maybe more relevant to old media, but it does still work
    5) Monitoring – make sure you comment on the right blogs and don’t miss any news

    Read the full article about the Value of a PR Firm in a Social Media World here:
    http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/4267/The-Role-of-PR-Firms-in-Social-Media-and-Inbound-Marketing.aspx

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  6. Finding useful information on your blog is what I really like to read Many people read blogs as myself and has a great return for style and look

  7. Totally agree with the first comment by Jeremy Toeman. And as a popular blogger or journalist, expect to get bombarded by pitches.

  8. Totally agree with the first comment by Jeremy Toeman. And as a popular blogger or journalist, expect to get bombarded by pitches.

  9. There are a lot of bad PR pros out there. But there are a lot of bad journalists too. Many can be brought and paid for. Some are just looking to write controversy and will slam a business for no reason. Others write in only 8 word sound bites. So until Journalists improve, all companies need a PR firm to protect their interests. That’s why we have PR, not to be media hounds, but strategic communicators.

  10. There are a lot of bad PR pros out there. But there are a lot of bad journalists too. Many can be brought and paid for. Some are just looking to write controversy and will slam a business for no reason. Others write in only 8 word sound bites. So until Journalists improve, all companies need a PR firm to protect their interests. That’s why we have PR, not to be media hounds, but strategic communicators.

  11. Pingback: PR 2.0
  12. Oh, Robert – I never knew the only way to get your attention was to drop out of the sky, hand you a beer and mention the latest Victoria’s Secret catalog!

    I was doing this blogging job along side you for some time (all be it not quite as visibly), and I identify with getting 4000 worthless press pitches. I think, in a very significant way, that “word of mouth” is really the best way to get stuff. However, minimalizing or marginalizing a whole sector because you got too famous is hardly a kind thing to do.

    Some of the PR people I got things from are the most courteous and informed people I know. This is not to say it is not frustrating to be spammed. I expected more from you however, in that some time ago I developed a method for prioritizing even the RWW tips mail.

    Since working on our own little PR company here, I have tried to accomplish some of the tasks other PR firms do, and some that they would never attempt. Believe me, their job is not as romantic as you might think. People need people to do things they either do not have the time or expertise to accomplish. Like people who come to blogs to read what smart people like you think.

    So, press releases and endless emails are a diminishing part of PR? Still, if a company created the new wheel and could not translate the news into 10 languages, would you want them to get someone to spread the news? Maybe they could hang out at Robert’s favorite mall and hope he walks by?

    I know, instead of occasionally sending you a news bit (in sincerity), I could find out who your friends are and send them stories that might be interesting? Great technology finding its audience naturally? Hmm….kinda like the aids vaccine being sprayed into the atmosphere where everyone breaths it in and is either cured or immunized? Oh no! That precludes someone actually spraying it into the air doesn’t it? I guess the instructions for creating it can be whispered to Robert at a cocktail party and he can choose whether or not to put it on his blog or twitter?

    Excuse me Robert, I have always liked and respected you, but exactly how how on the mountain of bloggers does one have to get in order to dictate like Mussolini how and when news arrives? I suppose their is a natural friction between outlets and people seeking them, but it is interesting how one blog sees news from a source as BS, while another (and sometimes even more viable) says thanks and does a nice story.

    I know, I should contact the STACK and see if they need a good PR? Consider that, given their evident lack thereof, what could be accomplished for them with more people behind them than Facebook and Twitter! But then, Robert would likely not see them so easily. Don’t climb to high Robert, there is no one else there. You will not see God, but might see yourself as one. Disregarding other people, except friends precludes perhaps meeting the best friend you ever had.

    Always, Phil

  13. Oh, Robert – I never knew the only way to get your attention was to drop out of the sky, hand you a beer and mention the latest Victoria’s Secret catalog!

    I was doing this blogging job along side you for some time (all be it not quite as visibly), and I identify with getting 4000 worthless press pitches. I think, in a very significant way, that “word of mouth” is really the best way to get stuff. However, minimalizing or marginalizing a whole sector because you got too famous is hardly a kind thing to do.

    Some of the PR people I got things from are the most courteous and informed people I know. This is not to say it is not frustrating to be spammed. I expected more from you however, in that some time ago I developed a method for prioritizing even the RWW tips mail.

    Since working on our own little PR company here, I have tried to accomplish some of the tasks other PR firms do, and some that they would never attempt. Believe me, their job is not as romantic as you might think. People need people to do things they either do not have the time or expertise to accomplish. Like people who come to blogs to read what smart people like you think.

    So, press releases and endless emails are a diminishing part of PR? Still, if a company created the new wheel and could not translate the news into 10 languages, would you want them to get someone to spread the news? Maybe they could hang out at Robert’s favorite mall and hope he walks by?

    I know, instead of occasionally sending you a news bit (in sincerity), I could find out who your friends are and send them stories that might be interesting? Great technology finding its audience naturally? Hmm….kinda like the aids vaccine being sprayed into the atmosphere where everyone breaths it in and is either cured or immunized? Oh no! That precludes someone actually spraying it into the air doesn’t it? I guess the instructions for creating it can be whispered to Robert at a cocktail party and he can choose whether or not to put it on his blog or twitter?

    Excuse me Robert, I have always liked and respected you, but exactly how how on the mountain of bloggers does one have to get in order to dictate like Mussolini how and when news arrives? I suppose their is a natural friction between outlets and people seeking them, but it is interesting how one blog sees news from a source as BS, while another (and sometimes even more viable) says thanks and does a nice story.

    I know, I should contact the STACK and see if they need a good PR? Consider that, given their evident lack thereof, what could be accomplished for them with more people behind them than Facebook and Twitter! But then, Robert would likely not see them so easily. Don’t climb to high Robert, there is no one else there. You will not see God, but might see yourself as one. Disregarding other people, except friends precludes perhaps meeting the best friend you ever had.

    Always, Phil

  14. The simple use of Twitter for promoting… anything… is PR. Online PR, but PR nevertheless.

    PR is changing. Sending a press release is no longer as effective as it was 2 years ago. But the “customers” who are supposed to be the “impartial reviewers” of a service/product could as well be “employed” to spread the news in social networks.

    Robert, the minute a blogger with your influence went on twitter asking about StackOverflow… imagine the PR effect… You sent traffic just for mentioning it.

    And what about this entry? You help StackOverflow building up a brand and community. I think it is great they got lucky and they got free PR through you. Accidents do happen every day, but some are not so fortunate. Can a startup really afford to wait to be discovered by accident by Robert Scoble?

    I understand your frustration, but direct approach comes with the territory. You are famous, influential and you are a public person. You cannot blame a PR for direct approaches when your contact information is publicly available. Once you publish your email online you basically set up an “open 24 hours” sign.

  15. The simple use of Twitter for promoting… anything… is PR. Online PR, but PR nevertheless.

    PR is changing. Sending a press release is no longer as effective as it was 2 years ago. But the “customers” who are supposed to be the “impartial reviewers” of a service/product could as well be “employed” to spread the news in social networks.

    Robert, the minute a blogger with your influence went on twitter asking about StackOverflow… imagine the PR effect… You sent traffic just for mentioning it.

    And what about this entry? You help StackOverflow building up a brand and community. I think it is great they got lucky and they got free PR through you. Accidents do happen every day, but some are not so fortunate. Can a startup really afford to wait to be discovered by accident by Robert Scoble?

    I understand your frustration, but direct approach comes with the territory. You are famous, influential and you are a public person. You cannot blame a PR for direct approaches when your contact information is publicly available. Once you publish your email online you basically set up an “open 24 hours” sign.

  16. Not all products are great, but they may serve a need and will find an audience. Not all CEOs are adept at marketing themselves, or have the time to devote to following up on all press inquiries or keeping track of all of the potential venues to get the word out about their product.

    PR is changing. It’s changed many times before. It’s not going to go away. No more than marketing itself is going to go away. Like mainstream media, it’s adapting. Some of the bigger names won’t adapt and will fade away. Some of the smaller names will not be able to provide all of the services companies need, and will go away.

  17. Not all products are great, but they may serve a need and will find an audience. Not all CEOs are adept at marketing themselves, or have the time to devote to following up on all press inquiries or keeping track of all of the potential venues to get the word out about their product.

    PR is changing. It’s changed many times before. It’s not going to go away. No more than marketing itself is going to go away. Like mainstream media, it’s adapting. Some of the bigger names won’t adapt and will fade away. Some of the smaller names will not be able to provide all of the services companies need, and will go away.

  18. Great headline and post Scoble. These types of posts will always stir the pot and get people talking. I love controversy, but I must admit this topic is getting old. It’s as tired as the lame-ass pitches you are bombarded with on a daily basis. But I do feel your pain. Trust me, we turn away more startups than we take on, and even then not all of them get to be first-to-market with the latest and hottest app. But that’s not to say that they can’t carve out their place in the market, with the help of PR, and build a viable business.

    People like Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood, or even Loic for that matter, don’t need PR in the light you’re talking about. I totally agree with you on that! But there’s still a case for PR, as both Francine and Jeremy have already pointed out. And I and others pointed out on Loic’s post a couple months ago where he made an argument for startups not needing PR. http://loiclemeur.com/english/2008/05/pr-secrets-bull.html

  19. Great headline and post Scoble. These types of posts will always stir the pot and get people talking. I love controversy, but I must admit this topic is getting old. It’s as tired as the lame-ass pitches you are bombarded with on a daily basis. But I do feel your pain. Trust me, we turn away more startups than we take on, and even then not all of them get to be first-to-market with the latest and hottest app. But that’s not to say that they can’t carve out their place in the market, with the help of PR, and build a viable business.

    People like Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood, or even Loic for that matter, don’t need PR in the light you’re talking about. I totally agree with you on that! But there’s still a case for PR, as both Francine and Jeremy have already pointed out. And I and others pointed out on Loic’s post a couple months ago where he made an argument for startups not needing PR. http://loiclemeur.com/english/2008/05/pr-secrets-bull.html

  20. I think there’s less disagreement here than it initially seems. Robert, what inspired you about the way you learned about the new site/product was the credibility of the person who shared the information with you. You had trust in the relationship; your buddy wouldn’t say this was cool unless he believed it. That IS the ideal, and it certainly made it special.

    But when PR is done well — however rarely that happens — it achieves the same result. There are PR professionals whom I trust to Not Waste My Time, just as there are flacks who will call me at 7:30am to ask “Did you get my email about the revolutionary new gargleblaster?” The good PR people establish their credibility with me, and if they say it’s cool I can believe them.

    The problem, of course, is that it takes a while to tell the difference. Especially when we know they are being paid to get enthusiastic about their client’s product.

  21. I think there’s less disagreement here than it initially seems. Robert, what inspired you about the way you learned about the new site/product was the credibility of the person who shared the information with you. You had trust in the relationship; your buddy wouldn’t say this was cool unless he believed it. That IS the ideal, and it certainly made it special.

    But when PR is done well — however rarely that happens — it achieves the same result. There are PR professionals whom I trust to Not Waste My Time, just as there are flacks who will call me at 7:30am to ask “Did you get my email about the revolutionary new gargleblaster?” The good PR people establish their credibility with me, and if they say it’s cool I can believe them.

    The problem, of course, is that it takes a while to tell the difference. Especially when we know they are being paid to get enthusiastic about their client’s product.

  22. Beta Testing products usualy have a PR element to them and the PR team are involved in things like the forums and company blogs to Promote the product or service .A Community Eveangelist / Customer Support as yoiu well know Scoble is as much of a PR role as it is a technical role in a company ,

  23. Beta Testing products usualy have a PR element to them and the PR team are involved in things like the forums and company blogs to Promote the product or service .A Community Eveangelist / Customer Support as yoiu well know Scoble is as much of a PR role as it is a technical role in a company ,

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