3 PR lessons from the recent Ning announcement

Loudcloud Chairman Marc Andreessen Keynote at Oracle Open WorldIn case you missed it, Ning recently announced it will be phasing out its free service to users–one of the core tenets of the platform since it launched years ago. There have a been a few interesting posts about the decision, including a great rant by Shel Holtz.

But, let’s set the actual decision aside for a moment. I’d like to take a closer look at how Ning communicated this key decision. In many ways, they could have improved their approach. But, instead of being critical, I thought we’d look at three PR lessons we can all learn from this experience:

• When making drastic changes, alert your key audiences first. As a Ning creator, I should have been among the first to hear this important news. As it worked out, I heard about it through the social media grapevine. As a company, whenever you are making major changes in policy, direction or strategy that affect your customers or key stakeholders, it’s always a good idea to make an effort to communicate with them first. In this case, a simple email from the CEO would have went a long ways with Ning creators.

Tap into your community early–and often–in the process. The funny thing about the way Ning announced the news: They didn’t even bother to say anything on their blog until the day after the announcement. Wouldn’t you naturally announce the news there *first?* And, if you noticed, the post had a whopping 246 comments. Most of which were fairly long. Clearly, this is a passionate community that cares about the product. Why not take advantage of that passion instead of popping this news on this group suddenly, setting up a situation where people are more frustrated than supportive?

Speak to your audience on their terms, in their environment. If your company operates and makes its living in the social media world, why not include a blogger outreach component to your PR efforts? If you’re Ning and you serve the digitally-savvy, why wouldn’t you attempt to communicate with these folks through the media they use and consume every day (read: blogs, Twitter, etc). Sure, TechCrunch had a post on the day of the announcement, but was there much else? Why not reach out to a handful of key influencers online in advance? Give them access to the new CEO. Give them more behind the rationale. And then look to those blogs as feedback loops on the day of the announcement as the comments start to pour in (and respond to quell rumors, inaccuracies, as appropriate).

What else could we learn from this example? Other lessons to share?

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