Talking Sense About Social Media

Today, lovely blog snorkellers mine, I’m going to get all volte face on your asses.

Today, I would like to say that I am prepared to accept that social media can be a force for good – in a commercial communications, sales and marketing context. I am prepared to go as far as to say that interacting with them might even add measurable value to the bottom line of a company, brand or organisation. In short, I am ready to say that such a company, brand or organisation should have a social media strategy in place to capitalise on the opportunities that social media present.

The one thing that I am waiting for, in order to make my conversion complete, is some proof that all of this is – in fact – correct. Suffice it to say that in the course of a recent conversation, I was given hope that at least one organisation is actually measuring and evaluating the ROI of its social media strategy. If this is the case, and the results speak for themselves, then I will be a convert. I look forward to sharing more with you.

In the meantime – if anyone already has concrete examples of tangible ROI delivered by social media activity, then I would be genuinely fascinated to hear them.

In the meantime (2), I would like to draw your attention to this. It is a collection of ‘insights from a lively morning panel discussion’ entitled ‘Social Media For Corporates – essential channel or unecessary distraction’, which was held by CorpComms magazine and was a Precise.exchange.

Please, lazy, lazy blog snorkellers, do clickery on the link, and read the comments of Peter Morgan, Director of Communications, Rolls Royce. A case of genuine insght, cutting through the quagmire with the laser scalpel of clarity, or one of old dogs not being able to get their heads around new tricks? I leave it to you to decide.

(Personally, I agree with him wholeheartedly.)

Brand Standards? Be Tolerant Of Social Media

A word of warning. I’m posting this link in the spirit of acknowledging my sources and admitting that I have plagiarised content, rather than letting you, faithful blog snorkellers mine, believe that it’s all a product of my fevered imagination – however, for once, I strongly advise that you do NOT click on it. (Not that there was ever much chance, you lazy bunch of surfers, but just in case.) If you do click on it, you will find yourself transported to the homepage of Digital Transactions magazine, a wilderness in which your horrified screams will never, ever be heard.

Suffice it to say, it’s a publication that services the needs of the digital transactor, those involved in online payments – banks and so forth. And it is a sign of the malign growth of the social media cancer that even this benighted outpost on the media frontier has been tainted by it. Here’s a quotation:

“Banks and others scratching their heads over the exploding popularity of social networking and its close cousin, social gaming, can harness the online phenomenon for payments but will likely have to jettison decades of settled thinking, experts say.”

I know – sounds like the sort of thinking that was doing the rounds 18 months ago – but it was published yesterday. Welcome to today’s horrifying reality, banks and others!

Anyway, I didn’t come here to poke fun at the financial services industry, easy though that would be. No I come here to highlight an opinion provided in this piece which, for me, sums up the insanity and inanity of the whole social media thing and how it is supposed to work (to our benefit, apparently). Have a read:

“For example, people who use social media are accustomed to changing things on the sites in ways that suit them individually – and that can include corporate designs, said George Warfel at Fiserv Inc. He advised banks to be tolerant of this, even if it horrifies marketing officers. ‘Let people on MySpace change the color of your logo,’ he advised. ‘That’s not vandalism. It’s customer acceptance.”

What George is blithely advocating is ceding control of your brand identity to any Tim, Darko or Barry who wants to appropriate it for his or her own ends. Apparently customers will be more accepting of your expensive, hard-won identity if they are free to do what they like with it. Who knows, maybe they won’t just stop at changing the colour. Maybe they’ll include a couple of rude words and a lewd illustration and then post it on a Facebook page entitled “(your name here) Sucks!” Or maybe they’ll just change the colour of your logo, print it out and stick it on a counterfeit product.

This is, and remains, the problem with social media. From a commercial point of view, it cannot provide the reassurance and control that is necessary to make it a valid comms, marketing or sales tool.

And as for the bankers – well, I sincerely hope their attitude to looking after my money is slightly less laissez-faire than their attitude to their own brand identity.

Serving Mammon In His Communications Department

Yesterday I praised Lucas van Praag, Spinmeister-General at the Vampire Squid, for his audacious strategy of actually instigating an FSA investigation to shift the focus from the bank’s nausea-inducing profits and bonuses.

I was wrong – according to this piece by Jason Karpf (a four-time champion on the game show ‘Jeopardy!’) (which is, I can only presume, where the hapless contestants have to escape from a cage full of hungry jeopards? No?), this truly epoch-making piece of lateral communications thinking comes from Texas-based PR firm, Public Strategies.

So well done to them.

Mind, lest Mr van Praag be diminished in our eyes, here’s a piece from something called New York Magazine which compiled a list of the Praagster’s best rebuttals. I will leave the last word to @manic_impressive, who commented on the article:

“Dude, Goldman is just so much better than all of us.”

Doing God’s Work – And Serving Mammon

Goldman Sachs, after a bit of a PR disaster last year (‘doing God’s work’, they were, apparently, according to that nice, humble and eminently charming Mr Blankfein) has taken what I consider to be the correct course of communications action – kept its head down, kept schtum and got on with its raison d’etre, which is the making of frankly obscene amounts of wonga. I’m not going to talk about its first quarter results – do the light clickdango here – but suffice it to say that amongst other little frissons was the figure of $5.5bn that they’ve given to their staff. Equivalenting to some $100k per employee, including the blokes who clean the loos. (No of course they didn’t – you figure it out.)

One of the recipients of some of the Goldman’s cash fallout – quite a lot, I am told by unreliable sources – is one Lucas van Praag (apologies to Mr vaan Prag if I got his name wrong), Director of Corporate Communications of the Sachs Parish. It should be said that, following last year’s PR shambles, some did wonder whether he’d actually earned his money.

So did I – until I read this. It takes a genuinely skilled exponent of the spinmeister’s art to come up with the idea of leaking the suspicion of fraud in order not only to initiate an investigation by the FSA, but also get none other than Gordon ‘Wingnut’ Brown lobbying for it.

It’s a stroke of genius. So Goldman Sachs gets investigated – worse, it’s found guilty of misleading investors in the area of toxic stocks. It gets fined. It has to lose the middle-ranking member of staff that (apparently) landed it in the mess in the first place.

But – but. The fine will be but a fraction of its profits. One gets the feeling that the middle-ranking member of staff is persona non grata anyway and is already washed and in the laundry basket waiting to be hung out to dry. The loser in the whole toxic stocks issue was RBS – hardly the most popular or stainless of financial institutions.

No. On balance, all this investigation will succeed in doing is making people see that nice Goldman Sachs as the underdog, unfairly pursued – nay, scapegoated – for something that could have happenend to anyone. And while people are thinking this, they won’t be thinking about the telephone number profits and fat bonuses that have never stopped being a part of the Goldman’s culture.

Mr van Praag – there’s another big sack of money waiting in your office for you. Enjoy.

CIPR Fail

Before anyone has a pop – while, yes, I am having a rant and poking fun at the expense of the industry (specifically the CIPR – of which I am a member), there is also a very serious message underpinning this post. And why – blog snorkellers mine – would I waste time in delivering the message? So here it is.

We, sad sailors on this ship of fools that we call communications, are supposed to be sensitive to shit. With me so far? Part of our function, and a part that fills the fee coffers of so many of of our finest agency purveyors, is counselling clients (internal and external) on how to present themselves. What to say. What not to say. What to align with. What not to align with. What to embrace. What not to embrace. We are supposed to point out the pitfalls of courses of communications action and – most importantly – recognise when it is best to keep your head down and just say nowt.

So it is with mouth-dropping incredulity that I read this. For you lazy bastards who never click on a single link I post, it’s a story about the Northumbria Police Force who entered the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) PRide Awards (even the name makes my skin crawl), and won an award, with their handling of the fallout from a fatal crash in which one of its officers drove into, and killed, a 16-year old child. The officer was doing 94mph in a 30mph zone without lights or a siren, and he was jailed for three years.

Now. Where to start. CIPR PRide Awards judges – what made you think that it was a good idea to consider this for an award, never mind actually naming it a winner? Northumbria Police Force – who amongst your communicators was so thick-skinned, blind and self-centred as to think that a pathetic PR award was more important than the feelings, grief and privacy of a family missing a daughter? Did no-one involved in this predict the (yes, inevitable) fallout?

Once again, the PR industry gets a shoeing in the national media and the stereotype of the airheaded, oblivious PR practitioner gets a bit of reinforcing.

We’re our own worst enemies. Let’s try and tighten things up shall we, and bring the same rigour that we claim to apply to our client work to bear on the communications we do on our own behalf. Let’s try and be – genuinely – a profession.

And not just a cheap fucking joke.

Facebook And The Daily Mail – Two Of My Favourite Things

As you may know, the Daily Mail is having a go at Facebook for leaving its younger members open to abuse by older – how shall we say – more predatory members. The gist of the story was that someone posed as a 14-year-old girl, and, “within 90 seconds, a middle-aged man wanted to perform a sex act in front of me”.

Now, as this piece from a BBC blog rightly says, there are a number of issues with the story. First, because of the way Facebook works, it’s practically impossible for it to have happened. Second, the someone who posed as the girl a) didn’t write the piece b) sent in corrections to the piece which were ignored and c) was using another social medium anyway.

Daily Mail issues an apology – but the paper being what it is, it was small and on page 4. But an apology nonetheless.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs, however, the story does throw up (yet another) issue with social media. It’s open to abuse. We’ve all heard stories about various people’s Twitter feeds being hi-jacked and messages sent to all their followers, proposing the sale of under-the-counter medications or the perusal of overly-endowed women with no clothes on. It started with spam, and now this stuff is becoming more insidious. It simply underlines the complete lack of any sort of control or regulation – which is what you get (or don’t get) when you’re dealing with media that can be accessed and utilised by absolutely anyone, regardless of proclivity or state of mind.

I suppose it’s a question of what sorts the wheat from the chaff? And if you’re a large brand or big organisation looking to leverage a social media strategy for a commercial end – you may think that you’re wheat, but how are you going to prevent someone turning you to chaff? You won’t know about it until it’s happened, at great cost to your corporate reputation. Is it, after all, a risk worth taking?

But back to the Facebook/Daily Mail standoff – I do think the paper has a nerve. Complaining about the danger posed by things presenting themselves as things they are not. I mean – I read the Daily Mail once, and was completely taken in by the way it presented itself as serious journalism. It was only much later that I realised I’d been conned, and that it was simply trying to take advantage of my naivety.

Social Media – Thoughts For The Day

(N.B. dear blog snorkellers, there will be no links in the copy today. This is because I can’t be bothered to tell you where I’ve been and also it’s a test of faith. Like so many of the social media posts and threads that I stumble upon, today I am going to say ‘trust me’. Take what I say as read. Don’t ask for proof. For once in your lives, believe in something. Me.)

Facebook, apparently, has 400 million users, half of which log in every single day. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t think is true. Today I ran across a reasonably authoritative article that quoted a figure of 160 million logging in every day. But hey, what’s 40 million users per day between friends?

I’ve also made a big point of my belief that no brand, business or organisation is yet to make a significant commercial return on their investment in social media. This has got me into a lot of trouble – but I stick by it – every time I scratch the surface, the same old names crop up – Starbucks, BestBuy, Amazon, Dell, Coke, Ford. I gave myself into the gentle embrace of that most Googlicious of search engines and tried variations along the lines of ‘big brands social media’ and ‘brands social media success’. I know this isn’t scientific, but I couldn’t find any list of branded social media successes more recent than July/August last year. Not terribly reassuring, is it?

Mashable.com – useful blog, but hideously heavy going – published a list of Top 10 Twitter trends for last week. Tell, just who in the hell is Justin Bieber? I’m guessing here, but I’d imagine he’s got the same level of social and cultural significance as The Jonas Brothers, Tiger Woods, Super Junior, Lil Wayne and American Idol. I don’t think anyone’s in danger of drowning in this particular knowledge pool.

And, finally, I had a quick skim round the various Twitter feeds belonging to some of the bigger brands, just to reassure myself that the ‘Big Conversation’ hadn’t somehow become more valid and meaningful over the weekend. It hadn’t. Here’s where we’re at with corporate tweeting: “Woo-hoo! Just launched! check out the brand new http://www.starbucks.com/” (It’s the least I could do – give them a bit of a plug. Apparently, the fact that Mr Bux has got some social media icons on the home page, that’s enough to make the average punter believe they’re soc-med savvy. All smoke and mirrors.)

(B*gger – there’s a link in my copy.)

Anyway – conclusion for the day? Social media is obfuscation, flim-flam and chiffon gauze. (Sort of.) It still does not represent a route to market. An ROI cannot be extrapolated from social media. All business is about sales, and the value that those sales deliver to the brand, business or organisation – social media do not sell, nor can the effects that they may have on an audience be defined or evaluated. At best, social media raises awareness – but not of overtly branded messages because if you break the unwritten rules of the feral community, its members run back into the shadows, yelping abuse.

By all means – experiment. But don’t waste too much time, resource or money on it.