The Tech Industry’s PR Problem

I love working with tech entrepreneurs. Their enthusiasm, innovative minds and passion for what they’re doing is infectious. But ask many of them what their business does, or their cool new product or service is all about, and you’re likely to get a variety of nonsensical answers rooted in geek speak:

“Well, we’re like Foursquare in that we allow people to check into their favorite restaurants, but we give them more social engagement options because our service places a box around their most frequently checked-in spots,” I actually heard one neophyte tech CEO say recently at the fantastic and very informative New York Tech Meetup.


The tech industry has a big problem that seemingly few PR consultants or their clients want to address: tech people have no clue how to talk like normal humans when describing the value of their products or services.

That’s a generalization, of course, but it’s not without merit. A recent New York Times “Week in Review” article by Joshua Brustein examined some of the issues tech and social media companies, such as Foursquare, Gowalla, et al., are having in getting regular, non-tech enthusiasts to sign up for their services.

Even Gowalla co-founder Josh Williams admits that tech companies are completely off-point in their consumer messaging, saying in The Times article that the way location-based services (such as Gowalla) are pitched is “nerdy and often off-putting,” and that, “as an industry, it behooves ourselves to look for more human ways to explain what we’re doing.”

Ouch. Not exactly the two phrases a PR consultant for “the next big thing” wants to hear.

When I worked with tech clients in the past, often one of the first things I would tell them is “stop comparing your product or service to a well-known competitor.”

For some, this is blasphemy. “But Twitter created the model for my entire company’s success!” That’s great, I would say, but no one cares, and especially not your potential investors or users. Otherwise, why would they abandon Twitter (or whomever is the well-known competitor being referenced) for your product or service?

Great public relations encompasses many things, including providing effective counsel for clients in areas where their company is not yet fully developed. For tech companies, this often involves influencing key audiences about differentiators between their company and competitors.

And comparing a rising social media service as an off-shoot of Facebook’s Places, or a newly imagined form of Foursquare, does little to persuade and influence investors, early-adopters or others who might be instrumental in building a company’s early reputation and brand affinity.

Otherwise, as PR professionals, we will continue to artificially raise the profiles of rising tech stars that continue to struggle to match investor lust with consumer interest.

It’s time for the tech industry, and PR professionals who counsel them, to address its PR problem. And that starts with messaging that normal folks use.

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(CC) Image courtesy teamtraveller