Social Media – A Bit More Insanity

Here we go, something else to clutter up your desktop and waste your (or your clients’) valuable time. Just in case you’re not ‘hip’ – ladies and gents – I give you:

http://friendfeed.com/

It’s simple! It’s comversational! It’s open!

It’s just like a hundred other f*cking social media apps. Get a life. Do some work.

Social Media – So Many Pundits, So Little Understanding

What is wrong with this sentence:

“No surprise, by social networking the panel meant the Big Three: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. But it also includes other web 2.0 tools, including blogging and YouTube. In fact, the first question asked of the group was about how a small business can experience the viral video phenomenon a la Susan Boyle, Britain’s overnight singing sensation. The answer: ‘be careful what you wish for’.”

If your answer is ‘nothing’ or ‘not much’ or – heaven help us – ‘actually, that’s quite interesting, I’d like to know more’ then you might find what follows a little dull and probably not to your taste. When I ask what’s wrong with the sentence, of course, I’m not referring to the appalling grammar and syntax (I’d be here all day), or indeed to the fact that it’s breathless, pseudo-tabloid, poorly-informed journalism of the first water.

No, what astounds me is the simply incredible lack of knowledge that is implied both on the part of the panel and the audience (who probably paid to be there). Lest you think that I’ve chosen a particularly naff paragraph, let me share a little more. (Whoever this guy is, I’m sure he’d forgive me for repeating what he said. He’s in no real danger, mind, as this is, after all, the Blog That Nobody Reads.)

“The world of marketing has changed forever” said John Jantsch, who wrote ‘Duct Tape Marketing: The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide’, during an engagement forum about how social media can transform the way small businesses do business. “There’s no more hunting for customers. It’s about putting informational content out there to be found and to engage in meaningful ways.”

This is so wrong, on so many different levels, that I have difficulty actually getting my head round it. What is he talking about “there’s no more hunting for customers”? This is dangerous, irresponsible tosh which implies that once you’ve got a social media presence, you’re made for life. And all for the price of a bit of ‘informational content’. And “putting it out there to be found” – hey, I’ve been putting this blog (which is arguably considerably more informational and engaging than Mr Jantsch’s sodden meanderings) ‘out there to be found’ for months now and – guess what? – no-one’s found it! No sh*t, Holmes.

But let’s return to the first sentence. People wanting to experience the viral video sensation ‘a la Susan Boyle’. And the answer from the panel? “If your video goes viral, it can hurt you if you’re not prepared to meet demand – if you can’t, you’ve blown it.” No. The only thing you’ll have blown, as an SME trying to make a ‘viral’, is your marketing budget for the next decade. Again, this is frightening, dangerous, irresponsible nonsense. As I’ve said before – viral is something that happens, not something you can plan for. It needs luck and timing, as well as judgement and creativity, and it needs a sponsor (brand or organisation) that is able to use its equity/reputation in a lateral and sometimes “off the wall” fashion, without risking damage. And how many organisations can you think of that can do that? Remember, for ever single example of a truly viral video clip, there are hundreds, if not thousands, that sank traceless.

All of this stuff came out of the US National Small Business Week Conference, and it is genuinely shocking to know that there are so-called serious media professionals recommending Facebook and Twitter to SMEs. SMEs – it’s a fact of life – need to draw customers in and sell stuff, not spend a massive amount of time and effort posting informational content and having meaningful, individual ‘quality’ conversations.

I know this was a conference about social media and thus, unsurprisingly, that was the topic – but nowhere, as far as I can see, did the panel talk about the importance of having a web presence (not expensive) that you can manage yourself (not difficult), on which you can post the stuff that matters to you (not time-consuming). They didn’t talk about enetring a dialogue with your customers through the medium of email and building email databases – don’t post content and wait for people to come to you – draw them in through your web presence (have a ‘for further information’ form) and don’t forget traditional mail-outs and small ads that point people at your web presence and encourage them to register. Bribe them! People who register their details get put into a draw to win a voucher for a restaurant or a shop! Again, I know you’re in the realms of sales promotion and data protection, and that there’s a whole set of rules that go round this – but, trust me on this one, it’s a better use of your time than being a face on the book or a bit of a Twit.

The National Small Business Week panel did have some sensible stuff to say though – set up your Google Profile. Absolutely – do it, you’d be mad not to. (It’s not social media, mind.) And they also said that one should add social media to one’s existing marketing arsenal – and I think what they meant is ‘don’t focus on social media to the exclusion of everything else’. Don’t ignore social media, but remember you’re likely to get better results from other forms of marketing activity.

But on the whole, reading the write up of this session/discussion was a depressing business. There’s too many people who’ve jumped the social media bandwagon, and now believe themselves somehow qualified to dispense advice to the other group of people who do not understand at all, but are frightened of missing something. And they listen to the advice, and they go off and waste their time. Seriously, how many businesses will go down the pan because their owners are spending too much time/budget on trying to reap an – at best – non-existent social media whirlwind.

But, just so I don’t come across as a churl – here’s some buzzwords to throw in at your next SM session – audioboo, brightkite, maycontain and unhub. New things that look surprisingly like – well, the old things, actually.

Social Media – the Emperor is Dead! Long Live the Emperor!

Previously, on The Wordmonger’s Blog. (This is a knowing, and thus highly irritating, nod in the general direction of ER. Sorry.)

I posted a link to an article from Marketing Week which, in essence, gave the lie to the whole social media thing, by providing user and audience figures for the more popular social networking sites. Which, unsurprisingly, showed that even at their height, these media actually reach very small numbers of people. I know that people will make the point that it’s about quality, not quantity (of your conversations), but I’d respond by saying that all too often you don’t know who you’re talking to so how can you be sure you’re having a quality conversation?

Anyway, as I was exploring some dusty corners of t’internet (trying to skip to the last page and find out what happens in the end) I came across a blog post that explored the whole nature of social networks – specifically LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter – and their lifecycle and thus their usefulness and value. The basic conclusion reached was that social networks are like any other fad – they’re cyclical, they come and go and no matter how exciting they seem at the time, they’re replaced by something else. This to me links in with the piece about social media being overhyped in terms of reach and influence and – to clarify things – I posted this reply:

“Refreshingly, I find the conclusion to be – and I hope I’ve not got the sticky end of the stick – that social networks are like any other fad. They start ‘underground’, there are ‘early adopters’ (who get some real benefit), there are those who arrive before the peak (if you like)and mop up the remaining spilled drops of value, and there are those who pile in too late, play with it for a bit and then discard it.

 And – another nail in the coffin of social media (if you like) – the audience figures at the time of implosion are not, I’m afraid, terribly sizeable. So if you’re someone who’s thinking of using social media as a marketing tool, a) you’re probably too late and b) you’d be better off with a proper strategy.”

Of course, what this means – if you follow it to its logical conclusion, is that we are about due another next big thing. Twitter is already outliving its usefulness – and that’s another point – once the ‘fad cycle’ starts, it just gets quicker and quicker and quicker – and there’s a gap in the market for something new for the masses and the marketers to leap on to.

So I was delighted to find this on msn today:

http://tech.uk.msn.com/features/article.aspx?cp-documentid=147624831

Which tells me the future is AudioBoo! Embrace AudioBoo everyone!

Oh no……………too late. The very fact that I know about it means it’s already yesterday’s medium.

Social Media – The Irony is Not Lost on Me

Now, as those of you who are avid followers of my blog will know (obviously, there aren’t any avid followers of my blog, this is the original Blog That Nobody Reads, proving, once and for all that, despite all this hype about t’internet being the gateway to the world it is, in reality, wholly possible to launch yourself into cyberspace without anyone, not a single solitary soul, noticing that you have done so) I’ve got a thing about social media. In fact, my aim with this blog was to post and post and post without attracting anyone’s attention. Well, actually, my REAL aim with this blog was to provide some pithy comment on and (who knows?) insight into corporate communications – the good, the bad and the really unpleasant-looking. This may still happen, but, as I said, those of you who are avid followers will know that my REAL aim got de-railed and I found a cause. Yes, the Emperor of Social Media hasnae clothes on and it is my duty (well, it isn’t, but it passes the time) to play the little boy and shout, as loudly as possible, ‘Naked! Naked!’ And there is so much stuff out there, I haven’t even scrtached the surface, remind me to tell you about the American ‘National Small Business Week’ conference and its take on social media (oh, we laughed – well, I did) – but of course, the whole original aim of this blog was NOT to attract anyone’s attention, so shouting as loudly as possible ‘Naked! Naked!’ goes against the whole principle of the thing. So you can see my dilemma. Is it a dichotomy? (Probably not. Note to self, do not use word ‘dichotomy’ without knowing what it means.)

Anyway, this morning I logged on and found that I have failed. People have been viewing my blog. People have been reading the dangerous and subversive anti-social media stuff that I’ve been posting. And, in the most delicious of ironies, someone has been twittering about it, and that tweet or tweets has caused another someone to come and read the dangerous and subversive etc etc.

Yes, dear friends, through the power of social media, the anti-social media lobby has found its voice! I tell you, I love this social media lark.

Social Media – Not the Same as Digital Communication

This is genuinely the most uninspired title that I’ve ever read and it’s here on my blog. The shame. But – hey – it does what it says on the packet and here’s a brief sorta ‘clarification’ post, which came out of an email I received this morning.

Here I’ve been, for some considerable time now – although you’d never know by the number of posts, I am a slowcoach – airing my views on social media and why it’s not everything it’s cracked up to be (without, it might be said, providing any solutions and I promise I’ll come to those soon, just not in this post) and it occured to me that I’ve never drawn the parameters for my views. I’ve never defined what, for me, social media is, and where exactly, for me,  its usefulness begins and ends.

Most importantly, I don’t want anyone to think that in shouting ‘no clothes, no clothes’ at the body of social media, I am implying a disdain for all things digital and netty. I’m not, no way.

I was reminded of this this morning, by an email that talked about (and I’m paraphrasing) permission-based marketing through email being highly powerful. Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more. If you’ve managed to get people to give you their email address, and perhaps a few snippets of information about who they are too, then – as long as you don’t abuse it – this is an incredibly potent opportunity. Tailor individual content (and there’s software that’ll manage this for you), intrigue them, give them stuff they need/want and they’re yours for life. Cannot argue with it.

Likewise – have you got a web presence? Probably – hey, what am I thinking – definitely! Is it any good? Hmmm? Are you certain it’s any good? If you can’t answer that last question, please drop everything you are doing and get on and do something about it. Work night and day until your web presence is the very best it can be, You don’t need me to tell you how to do this, and – no – it doesn’t have to be very costly. (Incidentally, my web presence is not everything I’d like it to be, thus I’m something of a hypocrite, but I’ll plead poverty and an unsuitable skillset for this state of affairs, and apologise. I will sort it out.) If you have a great web presence, full of interesting stuff that appeals to your target audience, then you may – if you’re lucky – build a community around your product, service or organisation. Your e-marketing dovetails with this.

However – and here’s the big however – the community that you may build if you’re very careful (very, very careful indeed) is made up of people who understand what they’re dealing with (a ‘commercial’ enterprise) and willingly sign up for it. This is the end goal of a digital media strategy.

The term ‘social media strategy’ implies that one can do the same thing through social media and this is where I personally draw the line. The people who sign up to be become part of social media networks are neither expecting nor – most importantly – do they want  to deal with a ‘commercial’ enterprise. There’s no denying that some brands/organisations/products HAVE gate-crashed these worlds, but I’d hazard it’s more by luck that judgement. For every videoclip or flash game that’s gone viral there are hundreds and thousands that have sunk without a trace taking the marketing budget with them.

Social media is not (necessarily) digital media – that’s my point for today. I fully support digital marketing and communications and investment in same – I don’t think one should expend too much effort on social media. If it happens, great – but don’t go chasing the impossible dream.

Social Media – Quality, not Quantity?

Got into an (online) debate with a guy in Australia, who runs a company called eNova Communications, providing PR/Media services for the health fitness and wellbeing industries – with the aim of assisting emerging brands in understanding and utilising the power of Social Media and Social Networks (combined with traditonal marketing) to build tribes. (I am paraphrasing.)

I gave him my usual spiel – social media: massive hype, limited reach, no control – and he responded by saying ‘it’s the quality, not the quantity…..the conversation, not just the medium.”

(This was after I’d pointed out that, in terms of users and reach, the following statistics speak for themselves – LinkedIn 12m users per calendar month, Plaxo 4m, Twitter 10m and Facebook with 75m registered users – of which I am one, but I’ve never used it.)

Which made me think – and I’ll throw it out there – what’s better (in terms of brand-building, reputation enhancement and sales promotion), is it a quality conversation with very few people, or quantity communication with millions?

Clearly, if your aims ARE brand, reputation and sales and you want to achieve against those aims, then quantity communication is the way forward. Quality conversation with the few – which is highly desirable and undoubtedly of value – is something you do in your spare time when you’re not (metaphorically speaking) shouting your message from the rooftops. Except, of course, in times of issue or crisis, when your quality conversation can become the keystone of your containment campaign. But if you keep your eye on the ball and do things by the book, then your times of issue and crisis should be few and far between. (Cross fingers and touch wood.)

The point here is – and it’s nicely illustrated by eNova’s ‘mission’ (‘build tribes’) – is that far too many people seem to believe that social media and social networks are/can/will/have replacing/replace/replaced all the other forms of marketing and communication that have gone before.

Who needs print ads and media relations when you’ve got a ‘tribe’. I honestly believe – and it scares the living sh*t out of me – that there are people out there who, in their mind’s eye, see their brand/organisation’s ‘tribe’ sweeping down from the hills, carrying all before them on a wave of social network, word-of-blog evangelism.

Hello! They won’t. ‘Tribes’ don’t exist – or rather they do, but they’re not created by commercial marketing. If they can be harnessed, it will always be but briefly, and they will only stand in line if the reward is compelling enough – and even then, you never know when they will turn and bite you – seemingly for no reason. This much is obvious.

Oh yes – one more thing. Now the word ‘tribe’ is out there in the blogosphere, recognised as a ‘marketing term’ – no social networketeer worth his or her salt will want to be part of one. Yes, my friends, in trying to harness the power of social media and social networks, those very same networks have helped destroy your chances of doing so.

It’s just SO Alanis Morissette – don’t you think?

Corporate Communications Professionals – Why are we Here?

All a bit zen, perhaps, but a germane question nonetheless. For almost all of my lengthy journey through this vale of tears that we call Public Relations, and sometimes Corporate Affairs, and at other times, Corporate Relations and, mostly, Corporate Communications, I have been plagued with doubts. (And if this sounds kinda religious, well, it is – remind me to give you my views on Corporate Religion sometime soon.) Doubts about why our profession (for such it is) actually exists, about the value it adds and about why, in effect, we are here.

And I know that there are myriad answers. Protecting reputation, supporting sales, influencing behaviour, building relationships, limiting issues – all these things can be laid at our door, but still the HR professional on my shoulder says ‘If you weren’t there, would it matter? And look at how much money we’d save!’ OK, that last phrase is what I imagine a small HR Professional might say, once he/she realised that perhaps the Communications function doesn’t add as much as maybe it would have the rest of the company believe.

Don’t get me wrong, generally I brush off these doubts – I am a firm believer in the visible and tangible benefits of good communications – and if I weren’t, I wouldn’t be doing it – but every now and then, one comes across an example that puts it all into context. An example that demonstrates exactly why we’re here and what our role is. What I would like to call the ‘No F***ing Way’ skill set.

Today, therefore, I offer you two examples for your delight and delectation. One extremely high profile, one that I came across by accident.

Example 1. All I really need say is ‘Gordon Brown’ and ‘YouTube’. Who thought it was a good idea for Gordon Brown to appear in a videoclip, gurning like an idiot? Not that the gurning was the worst of it. No, the worst of it was that someone thought it was a good idea, the same someone – or a different someone – actually went out and made the videoclip and then the same someones – or a third someone – approved it for posting on YouTube. Cue global merriment and further damage to an already tarnished reputation.

Where was the communicator whose job it is to say ‘No F***ing Way’? Come on people, that’s our role! This is why we exist! To stop those in our care making really, really stupid communications mistakes. Oh – this, of course, pre-supposes that you can spot the mistakes before it’s too late. And if you can’t, well, you might wish to consider an alternative career. Something with numbers, perhaps?

Example 2. A long story which I will cut short. Starbucks. Big global brand, interacts with millions of people each day. Divides opinion. Those who use its facilities develop – weirdly – a sense of ‘ownership’. Set up blogs and online fora to discuss it. One such forum is here, and here’s the example I’m talking about:

http://starbucksgossip.typepad.com/_/2007/01/starbucks_exec_.html

Yes, Matt Murray (sorry Matt, if you’re still there, name and shame, name and shame) a self-styled communications specialist with Starbucks, responded to a thread about a Frappuccino (is that how you spell it?) price increase. Nothing wrong with that. What was wrong – so, so wrong – was his use of language. He even wrote “on behalf of Starbucks, I wanted to reach out to you….” – no, no and thrice no, Matt. The phrase “reach out” is hardly acceptable within the confines of a big corporate’s marketing department and wholly – wholly – unacceptable in everyday conversation (for that is what an online forum is) with normal people.

I personally don’t think Matt is terribly senior. But I am presuming that his response is part of Starbucks’ digital media strategy, and thus it was approved by someone. And that someone, clearly, was lacking the essential ‘No F***ing Way’ skillset.

While there are examples of sheer numptiness like this still going on, there will always be a valuable and value-adding role for the corporate communications professional. And as one, I shall continue to point them out when I find them. It is my duty – nay it is OUR duty – to keep saying ‘No F***ing Way’.

This is one of the ways that our profession will get the recognition it deserves and the all-important seat at the top table. Oh, and it might deflect the attentions of the HR Professionals, in these tough times, as well.