So. There I was, in Belgrade, attending a press function. As you do. It was a CSR affair, so there was the usual smattering of government officials, intellectual elite and the odd random performance artist. Unfortunately, that very morning, the Serbian government had called a press conference to unleash the latest war on, and I quote, (a quotation from one of the intellectuals there), ‘the mob’. Thus, all things being equal, war on the mob vs CSR, there weren’t any TV crews. Oh – and the centre of Belgrade was gridlock, probably because of all the TV crews trying to get pictures of dubious men (and possibly women) in dark glasses.
Be that as it may, as the event wound down, I got into conversation (over a complimentary glass of the local hooch, which appeared to be – to all intents and purposes – peach flavoured meths) with a lady from the PR agency who’d organised the whole shindig. Having ascertained that she’d been in the business we call spin for some five years, I asked her what she considered her speciality and she told me that she mainly practised digital PR, on behalf of a number of hi-tech clients. She also said – and here I had to question whether I’m actually wasting the money I give to that nice Mr Clinique and his wonderful male grooming range – that I would probably hate digital. The words ‘because you’re a bit old’ were left, politely, hanging unsaid.
And maybe it’s because I’m a bit old, or maybe it’s because I feel the Emperor is slightly bereft in the vestements department, or maybe (altogether) it’s because I’m a Londoner, I rose, snapping, to the bait and developed the fish theorem of social media. Or maybe it’s because of the peach flavoured meths, which, I have to admit, is the only drink in recent times that I have had to put down unfinished. If you ever find yourself in Belgrade – well, don’t. Just don’t.
So I asked the nice young lady how she measured her work in the digital field. How she could actually deliver a sensible measure of ROI to her client. What she felt was achieved by the whole social media effort. Whether, in point of fact, there were any tangible results at all. And we progressed to the big debate around social media (in its ‘real’ sense) vs the commercial aims of a comms practitioner’s clients and, further, the raison d’etre of a comms practitioner period. After all, what do we, the benighted few, actually do – if it’s not sell our clients products through image and reputation creation?
The stark fact is that, with social media, the only way to achieve an end is to produce something that people want to read or view and that they then want to re-post or circulate to their friends. It’s all a bit Ronseal – social media. Does exactly what it says………… The other unavoidable deal about social media is that it is completely uncontrolled. To quote Will Smith in Shark Tale – you may think you know, but you have no idea.
No – until someone can actually measure social media and tell you (or your client) exactly what you’re getting for your investment (financial or opportunity) then it must remain second string to traditional media.
You see, going after social media as a comms tool is like fly fishing. You cast your fly and you watch as all the little fishes gather round it. All the little fishes are thinking “oooooo – look at this, something new, are we going to like it?” But to hook them, you’ve got to be oh so careful. Adding a commercial message at the wrong time is like striking too soon – you rip back the rod and all the wee fishies scatter, never to be seen again. And unlike fish, which are renowned for being stupid, your social media audience will never come back. However, even if you get it right, and you strike at the right time, then your reward is one fish or, possibly, if you’ve got a few hooks, several fish. OK, so they’re yours to do what you will with, but it’s still just a few fish.
Traditional media is like a stick of dynamite. Get the story right, get the mass coverage – BOOM. Fish everywhere. OK, they may not all be the right fish, but amongst your gasping, flapping haul, there’s going to be a great deal of the right fish.
And, not that I’ve ever bought a stick of dynamite, but it’s got to be cheaper than a couple of days fly fishing on a decent stretch of river. And that’s the deal – working against social media is disproportionately expensive, especially as you – no matter what anyone says – cannot measure the results.