Hey Thomas Hawk, tell us how you really feel?

There was a blog post today by Thomas Hawk (echoed by Dave Zatz and TiVoblog.com, and a corresponding thread in the TiVoCommunity forum) about the official TiVo Inc. blog.

I work in Service Operations, not Marketing, and I’m in no way an official TiVo spokesperson for public relations matters. But I am authorized to post at the TiVoCommunity forum (where I help out on issues such as service availability, software releases, activation problems, rebates and other operational issues) and since I’ve got a blog going now, I’m going to respond to Thomas here.

In between the ranting, exclamation points, arm waving and jumping up and down, Thomas makes some valid points in his post:

  • True, the blog was down for 36 hours between yesterday and today. (I’m out on paternity leave for another week, and while I am caught up on my work e-mail, I didn’t see anything about this. If I were in the office, I’d go poke some people for an answer, but for right now I don’t know why it took so long for us to get the blog working again.) But at least the blog is up and running now. I can promise you that when I return next week, I’ll make sure the site is monitored better and that steps are taken that it doesn’t go down for so long again.
  • True, there have been some long gaps between posts. However, there is now a post today about a cool Valentine’s Day Singles Event in the Bay Area. I’m pretty sure Nova’s posts will pick up from here on out. Is it coincidence that a post appeared today after some criticism appeared? I wasn’t there, but I’m pretty sure it’s because we’re doing our best to listen and respond.
  • True, our blog doesn’t feature any non-TiVo employee voices from the blogging community. But I don’t think that’s completely fair — look at (for example) Google’s official company blog. It’s all from internal Google employees, and while it does include trackbacks (ours does too), Google doesn’t allow for comments. I think Google’s corporate blog is useful and interesting. Similarly, I think ours has its role, and the job of an official TiVo company blog is to put a bit of a human spin on our press releases and public happenings, be part of the feed, and let folks comment. Plenty of TiVo employees (me included) post comments on the TiVo Community forum and we have also commented on several of the blogs I link to on the right. In Thomas’s words, “figur[e] out who your influencers are out there and involv[e] them in the conversation” — but we’ve been doing that since 1999. How many other companies have an official presence on their community forum? TiVo has five or more employees who regularly post to the TiVo Community forum. Long before there were blogs, there were Usenet and web forums. We’ve been active in both since our company was born. Could we have started in the blog world earlier? Sure, and we should have. But it’s still a young technology and space. I do agree we could participate and comment more on other people’s blogs in the future — but so often these external blog posts are just recapitulating our press releases or public demos. What place is there for an official comment? “Yup, that’s our press release, all right.” Seriously, does that add value? If it’s a rant or criticism or technical issue, we take it seriously and address it. We can’t always comment, but we do listen and react.
  • Thomas also chides us for not including Alex Raiano’s (unofficial) “TiVo Blog” site in the conversation. First off, I suspect our lawyers may want Alex to use a different URL; I’m not sure if Alex has had any conversations with us or not, but in general we take a dim view of any other site having the word “TiVo” in the URL (with the exception of tivocommunity.com, where an agreement was made) — there are apparently some serious trademark concerns. But secondly, I think Alex is already doing a good job of covering news all by himself. Wouldn’t it marginalize his blog to have it subsumed into ours? If the criticism is that we should comment more on his posts, sure, we could do more of that (and I will personally do so if nothing else), but a lot of times there isn’t much more to say, or if we did have anything to add, we already said it in the TiVoCommunity forum. There are a lot of blogs out there, and only so many TiVo employees with time to read the blogosphere who would not get in trouble for commenting. (It’s not as if the existence of our blog takes away from the other blogs — we’re happy there is so much enthusiastic coverage of TiVo, and there’s more then enough room for all of these blogs to exist side by side.)
  • Thomas says we should link to him and Alex and Dave Zatz and Engadget and other places where bloggers talk about TiVo. I disagree. Marketing 101 teaches you that it’s vital to control your message. In the past, when Thomas Hawk photoshopped our logo to show the TiVo guy with a frowny face, I can tell you there were a few upset people at TiVo HQ. If a prospective customer comes to our official blog, what sense does it make to have links that could lead that prospect to a (possibly misguided) anti-TiVo rant? We do link to the TiVoCommunity forum from our site, and it’s a big job to cover that already. Furthermore, it’s not like Engadget or most of these other sites need extra traffic from TiVo.com; as Thomas points out, Google and the general blogging universe do a good job of promoting these sites already.
  • Thomas has taken us to task for editing the comments that are submitted. I’m not personally involved in the production of the TiVo blog, and I haven’t seen the content of the comments that are rejected. But I can’t disagree with a strategy of removing negative or distracting comments. If you want to rant, do it on your own blog (and we’ll do a better job of responding there), or do it on the TiVoCommunity forum. I don’t think our blog is the place for that; it would just detract from the news that we’re trying to share.
  • Side note: Thomas mentions our lack of e-mail support. That’s a tough one. There are several e-mail addresses on our Contact page, but it’s true that we no longer accept e-mails for customer support. We used to answer c.s. e-mails, but over time, we learned that an average support e-mail took three replies to resolve, since most problems need to have interactive troubleshooting. So, over time, we phased out e-mail support. But there are plenty of ways to reach us — starting with the TiVoCommunity forum.

TiVo is a business. Every one of my co-workers believes we’re working for a great company, and we’re changing the face of entertainment and revolutionizing television. We all work hard — long hours, weekends, you name it. I’ve been there seven years and if anything we’re doing more today, releasing more products, and working harder than we were back at launch. As a business, we want good press (we get beat up plenty already) and we want to succeed and, of course, to improve shareholder value and make money. A corporate blog takes time and resources. It only makes sense to do it if it presents a positive message and adds to the bottom line.

Let me state for the record that for years I’ve been reading the blogs listed in my blogroll. And while I know my blog here is nascent, I have had that blogroll from day one. It’s appropriate for me, in my unofficial personal blog, to link to these sites, but in my opinion it’s not a big deal that the official corporate blog hasn’t done so.
There’s an awful big Web out there. Technorati, Digg, Slashdot, Flickr, Engadget, Rocketboom, and millions more sites. The marketing team at TiVo is not the biggest, and they’re already stretched thin. There’s really only so much one can expect in terms of public commenting. Take my word for it that we do an awful lot of reading and thinking about what we read.

Our blog is new, and it could be improved in some ways, but the extreme language that Thomas uses is not justified. Earlier I drew an analogy between the official Google blog and the official TiVo blog. While our blog could have a better uptime record and it could have more posts, I think those are the only fair criticisms. We offer trackbacks and comments. I think Nova (who’s a relatively new employee) has a good writing style, and her content is good.

So, Thomas — rant read, and points taken. Now, please have an open mind and give us a chance to improve. Let’s do lunch some time — continue the conversation in person as well as in our blogs. How’s Monday for you?

19 Responses to “Hey Thomas Hawk, tell us how you really feel?”

  1. Dave Zatz Says:

    Thanks for taking the time to respond at legnth.

  2. TiVoBlog Says:

    Like Dave said, thanks for responding!

  3. Larry G. Says:

    Very well stated… kudos…

  4. Thomas Hawk Says:

    Thanks Stephen. Hearing from you on the blog does make a huge amount of difference. I’ve posted my response back here:

    http://thomashawk.com/2006/02/well-tivo-blog-sucks-lot-less-than-it.html

    My apologies for my excessive tone in my original rant.

  5. Rob Usdin Says:

    Stephen,

    Good response, but the only thing you don’t really address is the lack of postings on the TIVO blog. Maybe that’s going to change, but I’m a little skeptical. There is so much to post about, about TIVO – everything from the Series 3 announcement to the new features being rolled out all the time. The TIVO fans are chomping at the bit for good info about our TIVOs, and I think that is probably why the blog is so disappointing.

    Good to hear the technical issues were addressed, but content is what will keep people coming back.

    –*Rob

  6. Stephen Says:

    Rob, you’re absolutely right and I think I do mention that I expect more posts in the future. At the very least here if not on the official blog.

  7. David Kline Says:

    Stephen, I hear what you’re saying. But I think it is simply wrong to say, that removing negative comments from TiVo blog readers is a good idea because they can always go rant on their own sites.

    The purpose of a corporate blog should NOT be simply to provide news. It
    should be to engage customers in a conversation and listen to their ideas
    and concerns — positive and negative and everything in between.

    True, Marketing 101 used to be about controlling the message. But not any more — not when consumers have the ability to demand and receive better products and services and punish companies that don’t deliver.

    Now, as marketing leaders frequently point out, Marketing 101 is all about co-creating the message with your customers, who are the ultimate wellspring of the success of your enterprise (and a damn good, direct source of new ideas for improved products and services).

  8. Stephen Says:

    David, we do exactly that in other venues (such as TiVoCommunity.com). But we’re going to have to agree to disagree about negative comments on the TiVo blog.

    Market research, customer research and listening to our customers (via the forums, via support, via in-person meetings, via numerous other channels) is critical to TiVo, and we’ve been doing that since day one.

    Our research shows us that prospects outnumber existing customers when it comes to our web site. Many of these are first-time visitors, and a sizable number don’t even know what a DVR is. I think it would be a distortion and a distraction for the blog to have negative comments when there are so many other venues (such as this one) for unfiltered commentary.

    For experienced bloggers like you, I can see why our blog doesn’t meet your ideals. But I think our blog’s target audience is a bit less experienced than you.

  9. Michael Maggard Says:

    I’m sorry, but you can’t “control the message” and have a “conversation”. One is a monologue and the other is a dialogue.

    If TiVo’s blog is going to be a series of sanitized press releases then why have a blog? You’ve already got a perfectly fine press release area on the TiVo website.

    If you’re looking to engage folks then post substantive material and respect legitimate responses. Yes, that might mean having things posted that aren’t pure adulation.

    Folks are fairly media-savvy and know a conversation when they see it. They also recognize puffery. One inspires trust and respect, the other is the same ole bs.

    “Speed dating” is a priority at TiVo? What next – “Orange Soda is Tasty”? How about giving some context to the company, responding to development of the Galleon tool being dropped, the high call load after Christmas, the saddest TiVo that ever came in for refurbishment, what can owners do to protect their own TiVos, etc.

    But if your corporate blog goes away and nobody notices or cares, well, join the legions of cat blogs on LiveJournal…

  10. Stephen Says:

    Michael, let me start by asking you — what do you think of the Google corporate blog? Is it a conversation, or a monologue? Is it effective? Because that’s the vision that I have of what our blog could be.

  11. Michael Maggard Says:

    So how is your blog model different from press releases?

    Written in first person? Not released to the press but to the public? Somehow magically sexier ’cause it’s a “blog”? (ooooh!)

    It’s the same pap.

    I think you’re entirely missing what has made corporate blogs so successful: They’re a way for a human voice to come out of a corporation, to “talk to the top”, to remove, or at least minimize, the intermediaries between the business speaker and the customer listening, and their responses.

    Sorry, but while you may admire the Google blog you’ve in no way emulated it, or even shown tendencies towards that direction.

    The Google blog has achieved what success it has for three reasons:

    1. Google is the shizizzle these days. They could post their lunch menu and get buzz a marketer soils their shorts to think about.

    2. Google posts interesting material. TiVo posts about sponsoring ‘speed dating’. Think about it: Censorship in China, speed dating.

    3. Google posts about topics most consider to legitimately be part of their internal, or internal/external, discussions. TiVo has done nothing of the kind.

    To sum it up, Google has Larry & Sergey. TiVo has (had) … Shannon? Pony? You?

    A reworded press release blog is not “telling the story”, it’s “more of the same”. You say your customers might be confused with reading honesty on your website, I think you do your customers a disservice.

    We’ve all grown up with glossy media campaigns, “spin”, all know “Joe Isuzu”; it’s the truth that cuts through the clutter and converts prospects these days.

  12. Louie Manno Says:

    Stephen:

    I have an idea for you guys and I think it’s a dandy… More importantly I think it is good for America. I emailed it to your PR Department. Hey look, I know what you guys are doing… I know how you are changing television as we know it. I am a big fan of TiVo and I think my idea has enough merit for consideration. I know you get ideas from subscribers all of the time, and I know you must be very busy… all I am asking is for you to check this one out. I want nothing out of it- Sure I have applied for a few jobs at your company – me and a hundred thousand other people. But if you will take a look at my original email to your PR department I think that you will find an easy to execute slam-dunk feature that your subscribers will love and you guys can make money off of.

    Thanks for your time.

    Louie Manno
    ______________________________________________________________

    Dear TiVo PR Team:

    I have a suggestion. This idea came to me recently while I was watching CNN as they were doing a story about emergency preparedness. I thought, “I am watching TiVo recorded shows about 75% of the time and if there were an emergency or important news bulletin I would miss it”. Perhaps TiVo could partner with one of the networks and offer “TiVo News Alert”. This could be a user-selected option that would display a popup alerting the viewer in the event of a “Special Report”. The popup might give a network-generated headline and offer viewers a chance to be directed to the news network for additional details. Furthermore TiVo could seek the endorsement of the Department of Homeland Security. From a PR standpoint a press release announcing this new service would surely get the attention of the media. It would send the message that TiVo is in such wide use that this feature has become necessary. When a News Director or Editor makes the call to break into regular programming with a “Special Report” the same criteria could be used to trigger the TiVo News Alert. I am sure that your code writers and system architects could find a way to pull this off. As a TiVo subscriber I would love to have this feature which would make me feel even better about my TiVo. I understand that any and all correspondence that you receive is the property of TiVo and I wave any rights to this suggestion. In other words I expect no compensation… but a thank you note would be nice.

    In general I feel that TiVo is currently under utilized and see a great future for the service. That’s why I applied for a job in your marketing department. But, gig or no gig, I will always be a friend of TiVo and will always spread the good word.

    Three thumbs up,

    Louie Manno

  13. Michael Maggard Says:

    It’s been a year, and I happened to stumble across the still fetid TiVo blog.

    Stephen–proud of it?

    Has anyone ever linked to it?

    Does it have more then a few dozen subscribers?

    Has anyone ever approached you outside TiVo and said “Hey, I was reading the TiVo blog and …”?

    I’m guessing not.

    (Indeed from “TrackBack: 0” below every entry I know nobody cares enough to link back to it. Pretty telling, huh?)

    It’s still not a “conversation”, it’s still just regurgitated PR puffery.

    Everyone who happens upon it doubtless reads the first few lines, thinks “Gack!–who gives a warm soft one?” and moves on, disappointed to find drivel more appropriate to a MySpace page.

    Wow–a company that helped pioneer an entirely new consumer product, whose brand defines it’s category, trying to get it’s message out, and this is the best you folks can do? Your opportunity to engage with customers, to “tell your story”, and it is so wasted?!

    Was this your vision? Is this in any way Google-blog-like (your model)?

    Own up that the TiVo blog has been a thorough failure, a missed opportunity, a waste of whatever minimal effort has been put into it. Mercifully shut down the embarrassment or actually commit to it in a real way, but don’t leave that horrid wan imitation of a blog putrefying on TiVo.com, it’s just too sad & ugly.

  14. Stephen Says:

    I have to agree. Even I can’t defend the blog at this point, in its current state.

    I can’t talk about personnel matters, but I would point to this piece of detective work by MegaZone.

    If I were in charge, the blog would either have a new blogger writing frequent content, or it would be removed. It’s not my call, however, and I’ve given my feedback to the powers that be.

    So, your comments are right on the money.

    I have high hopes. I think a TiVo corporate blog is a valuable thing to have, and we could get there some day. We sure are very far from there today.

    In the meantime, I’ll do what I can here, although I have a full-time job already at TiVo, and so most of what I write here is about what I work on, which is TiVoCast.

  15. Stephen Says:

    Oh, by the way, don’t get fooled by the “trackbacks: 0” thing — plenty of people linked to it. Seriously. There were some bugs that never got fixed, and that was one of them.

  16. Louie Manno Says:

    Hey:

    I am a happy subscriber who went out of his way to supply you with an excellent suggestion about a year ago. I have not received a response or any acknowledgement at all. Your corporate culture projects an image of friendliness and accessibility.. It would behoove you to promulgate that image with this blog.

    Disappointed but still happy

    Louie
    http://www.zeigen.com/blog/?p=44#comment-4118

  17. Stephen Says:

    Hey Louie, sorry I didn’t acknowledge your idea previously. It’s definitely something worth considering. I have passed that idea on in the past (we’ve heard it before), but will see where it stands.

  18. Louie Says:

    Thank you, I appreciate the consideration

  19. Louie Manno Says:

    Stephen:

    Are there any plans in the works to add the function of a full blown web browser to TiVo. It seems to me the gaming industry as been trying to make their boxes the appliance that marries your TV set and computer. TiVo is in the best position to be the appliance that blurs the line between the web and television.

    Subscribers could then download all types of content directly to their TV. I realize that there is already some limited ability to do that. But it would be valuable to subscribers to use their TV to do it all.
    All you would need is a wireless keyboard.

    TiVo could then set up credit card accounts allowing subscribers to make purchases and pay bills while watching TV. Additionally with bluetooth technology TiVo could eventually operate smart appliances all over the home and therefor function as the brain for the smart house. The simple friendly interface that subscribers are familiar with would make the transition extremely easy.

    As an armchair TiVo executive my perspective is that the more things TiVo can do to enhance the subscribers quality of life, the more reasons people will have to subscribe and retain their subscription.

    I am interested in hearing your thoughts,

    Louie Manno

Leave a Reply

AVATAR: Sign up for a free avatar with Gravatar.
CLICK FOR COMMENT XHTML TAG HELP