Social Media – Another Case of ‘Shiny Object Syndrome’

Oooh, ooh! Look! It’s new! It’s exciting! I’ve got to have one! What if everyone else has one and I don’t?

Yes, it’s Shiny Object Syndrome again. Further proof that the communications/marketing world is in danger of drowning – despite the stuff it’s drowning in being so incredibly, indescribably shallow.

Today, gentle communicatorists, the Shiny Object of our Syndrome is apps. iPhone Apps in particular, but please take it to mean any app that can be downloaded or installed on your device of choice.

There I was, ghosting around the net (I think that’s a splendid term and perfectly describes the squillions of people, moving around the netosphere at any one time, leaving no trace save for a record of their IP address and clickety proclivities – both bits of information that are of no use at all to the ‘social media marketer’), and I found someone pleading for an answer to the question:

“How are you using iPhone Apps in your marketing and PR plans?”

Virals, anyone? (ie a useless waste of money that achieves little cut through and no tangible ROI.) Luckily, in amongst the ‘social media marketing experts’, who were gushing about how the design and production of bespoke branded iPhone Apps  represents the future of marketing and communications (or, at least, will keep them employed when Twitter and FaceBook inevitably turn to dust in their hands), there were one or two brave souls who simply said ‘what’s the point?’ Just another fad in the making and one that our experience should tell us is likely to be simply an expensive chimaera.

As ideas go – well, you cannot polish a turd. Seemingly, however, you CAN roll it in glitter.

Oh – and virals. As if further proof were needed of what an incredible waste of time, effort, technology and budget they are, have a look at this:

Great film. Turns out it’s a ‘carefully crafted viral ad for Microsoft’s Office suite’. So carefully crafted, in fact, that the result is promotionally homeopathic. The brand message has been diluted so much that it is no longer there.

How can anyone see any value in this? Or is it that the executives who commissioned it have a particularly bad case of SOS?

Canny Tweeters – Gotta be Rhyming Slang, Right?

Today, I is mostly loving PR Week.

(Oooh, oooh – and its £3.70 cover price. Why £3.70? Why not £3.50? Or, for the amount of bearing that it actually has on reality, why not £763.27? These are the people after whom ‘Twitter’ was named.)

Which segues me, more smoothly than a freshly-oiled smarmoset, into my subject matter. PR Week and a small ‘news’ story about how Twitter saved the day for Boris Johnson. (For those of you not of a London persuasion, Boris is the rather shambolic chap who spends some of his time as Mayor.)

The first para of this ‘story’ reads “London Mayor Boris Johnson has won plaudits from PR professionals for apparently using Twitter to deal with roasting hot buses last week.” Implication – Boris was replying to tweets about the hot bus situation. Read on, young Paduan learner, and discover that the Mayor was ‘inundated’ by tweets (although how many is not revealed) and then that ‘after a number of days of tweets and  re-tweets’ he went to see his transport adviser and asked him about it. After a number of days? Isn’t Twitter supposed to be about what you’re doing NOW?

Oh, yeah – and then the Mayor’s transport adviser (and I quote) – wait for this – “I immediately fired off a letter to transport for London.” Sent second-class, one can only presume. Yes, the world may be changing, we may be in the digital age, we may be able to IM and Skype, but thanks to the civil service, the time-honoured tradition of ‘firing off a letter’ is still alive and well. Brilliant.

So all in all, Twitter didn’t really save the day for Boris. It was one more medium of communication that alerted him to a situation which it took him a number of days to resolve. Let us reflect on the fact that it took him days to resolve an issue as serious as the heating being switched ‘on’ on London’s buses. How long do we think it would take him to resolve an issue like – ooooh – the pollution of the Thames by an antiquated sewage processing system? (Hint – it’s a couple of years, so far.) Going  back to hot buses, Boris did (finally) respond to the heeted tweeters, but you can bet your bottom that other communications media were used more widely to disseminate the action that was taken.

The story was illustrated – presumably to illustrate how effective Twitter is in saving the day – with some figures for Twitter usage. I’ll repeat them here, for your delight and amazement:

900 tweets per week – Innocent Drinks

100% – Hyatt Concierge’s engagement with followers

738 – people following Asda

226 – number of updates by Boris Johnson

14m – total number of Twitter users

Now is it me, or are these statistics – while on the face of it quite impressive, even compelling – on closer inspection, in one way or another, wholly meaningless? 900 tweets – what about and why? 100% engagement – in what way and to what benefit? 738 followers – Asda’s got more stores than that, hasn’t it?

It gets better. Underneath the Boris story was a small piece with the head “Dell, Innocent and Kodak named as canny tweeters”. I’m not going to bore you with the whole thing – you can do your own clickery and find it should you so wish (or you can go and buy a copy of PR Week for $547.32) – but here’s an excerpt. Dell claims to have made more than $3m (the price of a copy of PR Week) worth of sales since 2007 via its @DellOutlet Twitter stream. That’s $1.5m a year. Loose change. Probably cost them more than that to activate and maintain the Twitter stream.

It’s not really compelling, is it? You know, I think a lot of the chasing around after the social media of the moment and the breathless reportage on how it is changing our lives irrevocably is down to the fact that – deep down – everyone loves science fiction. Everyone wants to be part of a Star Trek world. Which is great.

But to be part of the Star Trek world, it isn’t enough to know what a tweet is and to be able to throw the names of a couple of social networks into conversation. Or even to be part of an MMOG, like W0W or Second Life.

No. You see Star Trek world exists and deals with ddos attacks (which are real) and botnets (which are also real – and huge). Read this – it’s better than William Gibson.

The Social Media Engagement Continuum – Apparently

An attempt to make sense of something that isn't actually happening?

An attempt to make sense of something that isn't actually happening?

Here’s an attempt to describe and segment the social media ‘journey of discovery’ (if you will). Clearly, a great deal of thought has gone into it and, when I happened upon it, I could not but be impressed by the sheer quantity of commentary (from people with idents like @bigweevil and @hellbelly) on the diagram and accompanying explanation. There are enormous amounts of people out there who think this work is very important. Unfortunately, I suspect it’s because, in creating categories of social media user, it gives them an identity and legitimises the hours they spend staring at their screens and engaging in exchanges with other like-minded souls.

You see, there aren’t really enormous amounts of people out there. Millions, yes (of users of social media) but in the great scheme of things, that’s not very many. And we also know (for a fact, folks) that 90% of Tweets are generated by 10% of Twitterers. The point being that of those millions of users of social media, a good whack aren’t actually using it at all. They signed up because it was fashionable, couldn’t figure it out or got bored with the spamphish, and just drifted away.

Thus, it is slightly presumptuous, and every so slightly pointless, to divide the world into types of social media user, according to where they are on their social media journey. I would suggest that the majority of people are firmly in category one and, actually, don’t really give a hoot about moving along the scale.

The lie is further given to this when you look at the Immersed category, which contains people who are utilising four or five different social media for work and enjoyment. Shoot me down if you like, but I would guess that the amount of people who are a) aware of four or five social media and b) capable of using them could probably be easily entertained in a small garden shed.

The other thing that this hierarchy fails to incorporate or acknowledge is the companies/brands/organisations that are desperately attempting to harness social media for their own ends – doing so not because they are interested in what social media does per se, but because they are interested in selling more stuff in whatever way possible. It also fails to take into account the natural lifespan of a social network (Friends Reunited, anyone? Bebo?).

No matter how many users (and actually, the more users, the more likely it is to happen) and how careful, diligent and well-behaved they are, a network has a cycle. It will evolve, mature, become decadent and wither – a succesful network will attract the many-too-many, those at point one in the hierarchy, who don’t care about it, don’t want to progress within it or any other social medium and will, sooner or later, kill it off.

Internal Comms – Under-Evaluated or Not Fully Understood?

Just a word of warning – this post is not wholly about the evaluation of internal comms, whether it is possible and whether those that advocate defined metrics and methodology are not, in fact, missing the point, and in so doing, possibly damaging the very activity they’re attempting to report on.

No, as an added bonus you’re getting the input of one of the multitudinous host of hapless charlatans who, having done a bit of communicating here and there, choose a niche for themselves and then, with staggering, and misplaced, arrogance, start dispensing counsel to anyone who’ll listen. The rise of the internet, the growth of social media and the advent of web 3.0 have – amongst the pile of other sins that can be laid at their doors – given these mountebanks free rein. Without any form of regulation, they can set up anywhere and anytime, claim anything and everything and (potentially) cause untold damage through the advice they give.

I will admit to quite enjoying the sensation of pleasurable horror that comes from reading their stuff, I definitely get a kick out of pointing it out and passing it on and I can also claim something of a public service. If but one person takes a learning from it, maybe passes it on to a Communications Paduan Learner – then my job is done. 

Anyhoo, without further ado, here’s a question that I read recently and to which, because I thought it threw up a whole bunch of issues, I was motivated to post a response:

With matrix structures and overlapping target audience (employees) for many functions what would be the metrics to measure effective internal communications?

I saw this as a very difficult question. The problem lies in the whole debate over measurement of communications, full stop. For years (and years) the Communications industry has struggled with a method of effectively measuring ROI for external and internal comms, in order that the two disciplines could be stacked up against, for example, advertising and direct marketing and thus compete for share of budget.

Internal comms is the thorniest of  issues. For example, what is it you want your internal comms to achieve? Increased productivity per employee? A reduction in staff turnover? First place in the Sunday Times Top 100 Places to Work? A greater employee understanding of corporate vision and values, objectives and strategy? Employee buy-in to merger, acquisition, re-structure or redundancy?

Each case would require a different measurement and a different set of metrics. Personally, I’ve always found that, in terms of internal comms, you cannot do better than – firstly – send out ‘ambassadors’ into your workforce to talk to their peers and report back on the groundswell of employee opinion. That way you know whether your internal comms actually having any sort of effect at all.

If, as a result of those report-backs, you are having an effect – then’s the time to try and decide how you’re going to measure it.

And that was pretty much my answer. OK, I know it’s roundabout and I know I didn’t give any examples (I will, if you like) and I didn’t go in to any sort of discussion around ROI for IC (eg whether your ROI should be measured in financial terms). (The answer’s ‘no’, by the way.) Anyway, what I wasn’t expecting, was a response to my answer which I reproduce here:

“While I agree with the examples Mr. Probert sites, I must completely disagree with his closing remark: *If you are having an effect – then’s the time to try and decide how you’re going to measure it.*

IMHO, it is unprofessional to move the bull’s-eye once the arrow has flown. It is standard procedure to work with the client (beit client or department) and jointly set the measures of success. Otherwise, how do you objectively measure effect?

Since every client (communications) situation is different by objective and circumstance, do not be surprised that the measures vary but the effect of communication will report back to a financial goal. The debate of whether or not accurate measurement can be achieved in communications is a little self-serving bumfuzzle, IMHO. The metrics of success are clear cut for each individual client intervention: are the client objectives being met by communications strategy and by the fulfillment of that strategy? “

This came from a bloke called Whipple. Richard Whipple. Based in Poland, he styles himself as some sort of metrics guru. He quite obviously, however, does not have a clue about internal communications and his general grasp of communication itself (especially written) seems to be somewhat lacking. I thought, therefore, with your indulgence (dear readers) that I’d address him (and his ‘points’ such as they are) directly.

Mr Whipple – if you’re having no effect, why would you expend time, effort and resource on evaluation? My comment was specifically made about internal communications, where gauging whether you are having a effect or not is as simple as having a few one-to-ones with your employees.

I am scared senseless by the implication that communications measurement will always “report back to a financial goal.” If we are talking internal communications, and bearing in mind the examples I have cited, then we are dealing with people – who are soft and cuddly and easily damaged. This is why the bean counters, and to a lesser extent, HR, should NEVER be involved in internal comms – if you attempt to put a hard financial value on your internal comms, then you run the risk of undermining its very essence and raison d’etre.

And Mr Whipple, Mr Whipple – self-serving bumfuzzle? Your choice of words makes you sound all tweedy and pre-historic, but if you WERE that old, you’d know quite well that the debate over how to measure communications in a meaningful sense has been raging for at least 20 years (which is how long I’ve been a practising communicator).

Oh – and I notice that your last sentence contains a lot of words, but no recommendations for, or concrete examples of, metrics or evaluation techniques. ‘Bumfuzzle’ indeed.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the Whipplester who isn’t seeing the nuances here – and by that I mean that evaluation, especially in the Communications Field, is not always about financial measurements and direct ROI. Well-planned and well-executed comms strategies achieve results on all sorts of different levels and it this is exactly why the effects are so difficult to measure in a way that makes sense to the other marketing disciplines and the budget controllers, who are perhaps more Whipplesque in their views. This is why the only real way to evaluate or measure comms strategies, either external or internal, is via attitudinal research. Which – of course – is expensive. Which – of course – is why people aren’t doing it.

So, in brief – internal comms – under-evaluated or not fully understood? Both, I’m afraid.

But at least the world of The Wordmonger is safe from the Whipple threat – as, indeed and by association, are you, dear reader.

Social Media – So Now They’re Trying To Evaluate It?

Oh dear. Words cannot express adequately quite how miserable this makes me.

As a corporate communications professional – with some 20 years’ experience – robust evaluation of PR and corporate communications activities is something of a hobby-horse of mine. The industry was talking about it when I began my career, and the debate has not moved on in those 20 years. There is nothing robust, nothing that makes sense and people are still not only using Advertising Value Equivalent, but actually advocating it. It makes me, at times, ashamed.

In recent times, I’ve been banging on about the lack of robust evaluation for social media activities, but at least – until now – no-one had tried to invent a ‘quick fix’ – hokum, smoke and mirrors – which can be used against clients in a feeble attempt to justify this current hysteria around what is laughingly termed ‘social media strategy’.  But, hey, why let a small issue like the impossibility of adequately evaluating the effect of social media activity get in the way of inventing a nice on-line tool with the usefulness of a chocolate teapot and the value of a spent match.

(By the way – there IS a way of evaluating PR and Corp Comms and social media. It’s called in-depth attitudinal research amongst your key target audiences. And it’s very expensive. Which is why no-one does it.)

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:

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.

Advertising Value Equivalent – oh, no. Not again.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. PR Week has its pages to fill after all and there is only a finite amount of stuff going on in the PR industry that’s even interesting, never mind newsworthy. So, to bulk the magazine up last week, some bright spark (yes, that’s sarcasm – not irony, for my US readers, sarcasm) has decided to re-ignite (as far as you can re-ignite something that has the flammability of a wet blanket in the rain) the old debate over AVE. I genuinely cannot believe that there are still people out there both using and justifying it. WAKE UP! It’s pants! Always has been, always will be.

Anyway, for those of you who can be bothered to lift your fingers for a spot of clickery, here’s the link to the article. Marvel at the cretins that call themselves PR professionals! Gasp in wonder at the rubbish that gets printed in what passes for the voice of the industry. If PR Week is the voice of the industry, then, my dears, we are well and truly banjaxed.

That is all for now.

(Two minutes later)

Aaaaagh. Now you actually have to subscribe to PR Week to read the drivel that graces its pages. This has to be worth a rant in itself. Magazine readerships and revenues are suffering – Haymarket, the illustrious publishers of PR Weak (not to be confused with Haymeerkat, which I believe is some kind of new media agency) have been bombarding me with emails recently, asking me to perform clickicity on links to receive free subscriptions to at least three of their magazines. Well, Haymarket, if you’re listening, the way to tempt people in would be TO LET THEM READ THE ARTICLES ON THE MAGAZINE’S WEBSITE WITHOUT HAVING TO SUBSCRIBE FIRST, YOU HORRIBLE BUNCH OF NUMPTIES.

I would suggest that most people just don’t care enough about you or your publications to subscribe – let them read the stuff and at least you can claim some sort of readership. And who knows, someone – one of the soap-spined, meaningless la-las that populate the vale of tears that we call PR, most likely – might even subscribe at the end of it.

And, clearly, it would make it easier for me to post stuff and take the mick.

As you were.

(If anyone does, by any strange mischance, want to read the PR Week rubbish about AVE, then visit and search for ‘AVE’. And then subscribe. Heaven help you.)