Lies, Damn’ Lies and Social Media Statistics

Another day, another hefty dollop of horseshit about how the social media conversation is changing, irrevocably, life as we know it. (While I’m here, big up to Danny Rogers, the ‘editor’ of PR Week, for this phrase ‘Increasingly one hears that ‘PR is the new advertising’ or ‘conversational content is now king”. On so many different levels, blog trotters mine, on so many different levels. He goes on to say that we need some stats to confirm what we suspected – don’t tar me with your cavalier ‘we’, Danny – as if stats could actually prove that ‘conversational content’, whatever the living crap that is when it’s at home, is indeed ‘king’, another nebulous and completely immeasurable concept. Anyway, the whole stats thing is what’s driving this post, so let’s proceed, shall we?)

Today’s merde de cheval du jour is from the Not PR Week (some may say that this is a good thing),  Communicate Magazine – you may visit its hallowed portal here – swish and flick – crucio!

Anyhoo, it’s an article entitled Fit to Print (which is, indeed, in the print version of the magazine but not, strangely, available online) and it’s about how ‘social media has fundamentally changed online communications over the last few years.’ Backed up by a wodge of statistics – here’s a few examples:

  • 90% more journalists use social media than in 2010
  • Tumblr’s referrals to news sites increase 350% in past year
  • The Independent has seen referrals from Facebook grown (sic) 680% year on year, whilst Twitter referrals have increased 250%

The problem – obviously, I don’t have to point this out, I know, but let’s pretend that there’s one lone blog snorkeller out there who’s maybe just a soupcon less incandescently bright than the rest of us – is that the stats are meaningless. An increase of 350%? Enormous! Unless your starting point was one, or two. In which case it would be up to three and a half, or seven. (I think. Maths never was my forte.) You see, without hard numbers, it’s impossible to tell. And if people are making it difficult for me to see the full picture well – forgive me – I get a little suspicious.

Even when the stats are reasonably clear cut, there’s something not right about it. Read!

“Visits to news and media sites from social networks have increased by 80% in three years up to March 2011, and in that period social networks have gone from providing6.26% of total traffic to news and media sites to providing 11.33%.”

Great! My comment would be that news and media sites are on t’internet, and part of t’digital age. Thus, really, you got to expect that a proportion of their traffic would come from social media, which are also internet-based and part of the much-vaunted digital age. In fact, you’d be forgiven for expecting that the proportion of traffic provided by social networks – if they’re the phenomena everyone says they are – would be CONSIDERABLY FUCKING MORE THAN A MANGY 11.33%. Just sayin’.

Thank God, however, that Communicate magazine got digital content agency Zone to ‘dramatise the findings’.  Interesting choice of words. ‘Dramatise’. Implies making a story out of something. A fiction.

Which is exactly what I remain convinced the hype around social media actually is.

Public Relations – Crisis Management And Paying By Results

Just a brief post to keep the blog fresh – I’m off to the former Yugoslav Republic for a spot of light media training, so – oh faithful blog snorkellers – you’ll have to do without your daily fix for a while. But, and well, here’s a thing.

It’s PR Week! The industry bible (cover price £9,674.32, at a quality newsagent near you).

No, I’m not having a pop. Not this week, anyway. Nope, I want to say – hoorah! Well done! Valuable stuff, delivered in an interesting fashion, the sort of content that I would recommend any young practitioner hoover up and keep on file for future reference. I am, of course, talking about their bit on ‘Five Steps to Better Crisis Management’. Have a click, enjoy.

Mind, I was properly pissed orf by the news article on page 2. ‘Payment by results criticised’. By the PRCA. You get the feeling that the industry bodies don’t want us to drag ourselves out of the dark ages. Payment by results is the way forward. As long as you’ve agreed what success and failure looks like and how over-achievemnt will be rewarded. It already happens in the heady world of M&A financial PR – no result, no payment – but the Tulchans and Finsburys and Brunswicks of this world make bloody sure that no matter what happens, a success is seen to have been achieved – triggering the success fees.

In the case of Cadbury-Kraft, that was a share of £240m. That’s what I call payment by results.

Public Relations – A Question Of Ethics

Credit where credit is due – good feature in last week’s PR Week (probably still on sale at a newsstand near you, this week’s cover price £53.47) on the subject of Professional Ethics: Should You Promote These Products?

And it was a good piece – not only did it address the issue of whether who you work for and what you stand for are, possibly, different things – it also rounded up some decent spokespeople. I’m not saying it wasn’t flawed – have a quick shufti here – but it was thought-provoking and it did address one of the big industry issues.

It was particularly resonant for me because it’s an issue that I had a quick go at, some time ago, here on this very blog. If you fancy it, you can have a quick scan here.

In brief, I said that I didn’t care very much – I’m a smoker, I drink, I’ve been known to eat chips and fatty foods and, as someone has to defend the reputation of the arms industry, then it might as well be me.

I should qualify it, however, and in the light of the PR Week article, by saying that while I (obviously) have the life principles and overall standards of a weasel, I would not consider, on behalf of any client, running a communications strategy that was illegal, unethical or harmful. I think this is where the confusion lies – just because a company’s products may have the potential to be harmful (alcohol, tobacco, guns), doesn’t mean that the comms strategy has, or needs, to be.

(And yes, within my own moral code, lying on behalf of my employer is allowed – where the greater good of that employer and its stakeholders would be compromised by my not so doing. Which is a very rare occurrence.)

So was there anything that I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole? Well, yes. And this is why the PR Week article struck a chord. Very topical.

It was the thing that (I think) the PR Week article missed out. Forget guns, booze, fags, porn and fried food. It’s much worse than that. It’s something on which – I think – we can all agree.

It’s Nick Griffin and the horrible wingnuts over at the BNP.

Corporate Communications – Trends for 2010

Following on from the piece in PR Week (issue dated January 29, probably still on sale, this week’s cover price – oooooo – £12.34, or nearest offer – or just click here) about the latest Edelman Trust Barometer (well done the Week – a genuinely useful news piece – I have high hopes of you for the future), I came across this, an article from Entrepreneur magazine.

(Before I go on, I should also say that the author of the article, one Susan Gunelius, also features regularly in Communicate Magazine’s ‘Who’s Blogging What’ section. So do I, actually, so it’s no guarantee of quality.)

Anyhoo – yesterday, btw, was Groundhog Day and the wee critter duly came out of his quarters, saw his shadow and condemned us to six more weeks’ winter. Or maybe it’s just the States. Small creature’s vermin, in any case. The article in Entrepreneur magazine provides – for discussion, obviously – 10 marketing trends for 2010. I have to say that my initial instinct was to discard it as hippy nonsense (and some of it I still do) but in the light of what Messrs Edelman had to say, I can’t help but thinking it needs a further examination, especially in terms of how some of the 10 might affect the corporate communicator.

Thinking caps on, then, chaps – eyes down, here are the trends that we should be pondering:

  • Transparency and trust are paramount (Edelman go as far as to propose that trust and transparency rank higher than product quality – I’m summarising – and that financial return is one of the least important factors in driving corporate reputation)
  • Less interruption, more enhancement and value-add – don’t go disturbing people with your messages (unless you’re Mr T and Snickers) – give them something they can use
  • People want value – sometimes as simply as making their disposable incomes go further with discounts and free stuff – give them that and they’ll love you
  • Show, don’t tell – actions speak louder than words, so demonstrate what the benefit of your stuff is – what will the audience actually get if they give you their hard-earned
  • Peace of mind is the new black – your audiences want reassurance, because they’re hurting right now, and they want to hear it in your marketing and communications messages

OK – I’ve paraphrased it, and I’ve not included all of the 10 Marketing Trends for 2010 – because I still don’t believe in the ‘global conversation’ voodoo, and I do think that there is still an outside chance that social media as marketing, comms and sales tools may still be exposed for the valueless charades that they are. (Oooops – did I say that out loud?)

(Back to Edelman briefly – their study shows that traditional media are still more highly trusted that social media, blogs or websites – so there, social media evangelists and gurus! Eh?)

Finally, and it’s not new, but maybe we can make it work this time round – ‘integrated marketing trumps standalone tactics’. This means a new era of co-operation between sales, marketing and comms, if we are to get it right.

(Less sniggering at the back, please.)

Social Media ‘Face Comms Defiance’

Once more, dear B-snorkellers, into the breach of all that’s rationale, sane and – well, normal – that is PRWeek. What’s the Industry’s Bible been up to now, I hear you moan in a gibbering, tortured fashion, that implies you’ve been scalded by the Week’s toxic nonsense before.

Well, in this post, I was going to reference this story from the Bible (issue dated January 22 2010), which carried the headline ‘Blogs and webcasts face comms defiance’. The story is about in-house comms professionals ‘steadfastly resisting the temptation to use blogs or webcasts as the main channel to communicate with staff’ and cites ‘new research’ from Melcrum Publishing which seems to back up their interpretation of the story.

So I thought I’d do a bit on internal comms and digital communications (not necessarily social media, but probably touching on the subject) and how, actually, I’m a great advocate of adopting digital tools in the controlled and clearly-defined arena that is the internal comms space. Like shooting fish in a barrel – if you look on your employees as fish, the workplace as a barrel and you’re in the habit of taking a gun to work. So not an altogether apposite metaphor, perhaps.

Be that as it may, just to reassure myself – why is it that I simply cannot bring myself to trust t’Week – I though I’d track down the Melcrum Publishing research and see if there were any further insights to be gained. And I came across this. For those snorkellettes who cannot be bothered wid de clickery, it’s a blog post, from Melcrum, entitled ‘Research reveals widespread adoption of social media inside the firewall’. I think you can probably already see where this is going.

Yes – it appears to be almost wholly contradictory to the wee story in the Bible. Now, either Melcrum did two pieces of research, the findings of which are completely opposed, and the laddie or lassie writing for the Bible picked on the wrong one – or, once again, PR Week has screwed it up. You decide.

Anyway, because simply having a go at the industry’s mouthpiece is a) too easy and b) not a good enough foundation for a whole post, here’s a few thoughts about digital comms in the workplace. (All of which come from, sometimes bitter, experience.)

  • Don’t, as Melcrum and PR Week seem to have done, confuse digital comms and social media communication. The two things are very different – blogs, pod and vodcasts, webstreaming – these are digital tools – social is Twitter, Facebook et al which arguably have no place in a work environment. There is, of course, Yammer, which is a social media tool for internal communications, but is something of a resource-sharing, experience-tapping, project-co-ordinating tool. Social media is social – does what it says on the tin. Work is not social – work is something you do, sometimes to the best of your ability, to earn money.
  • Digital tools are only as effective as the number of people who can access them and actually do access them on a regular basis. Encouraging participation is another factor. No point having a spanking intranet – with feedback forms, fora and comment boards – if only half your work force can access it and only five per cent use the tools. Do your research, before you commit time, resource and cash in creating stuff that adds no value.
  • Do not treat digital in isolation. It’s a mix – face-to-face, small groups, large groups, print, advertising, exhibitions and events – all of these are also part of the internal comms toolkit.
  • If you do decide to get all social on your employees’ asses, then you’re going to need a social media policy – because, as we all know (don’t we, kids?) social media will bite you on the bum as soon as lick your face. The Coca-Cola Company (who’d have thought it?) have a great – and recent – social media policy which I’ve mentioned in a previous post. Go and have a look at it, and then rip it off mercilessly, twisting it to your own ends. Go on.

Social Media – Think Of A Topic, Any Topic……

Today, blog snorkellers mine, we roll our eyes skywards in reaction to the latest piece of misengendered and spurious horsehit to grace the pages of the ‘industry’s bible’, the toilet-tissue-esque PRWeek. (Hello, PRWeek, hope you’re well.) This week’s issue has a story which you can find here, on the Week’s website, entitled “Comms Chiefs Predict First ‘Internet Election’ in The UK” (their inverted commas, not mine.)

All well and good, you might say, heaving a sigh of relief that the ‘bible’ has refrained from printing pictures of drunken consultants baring their bottoms out of hotel bedroom windows following yet another product launch and nine-hour lunch.

Unfortunately though, it’s neither well, nor good. Let’s face it, the next general election is not going to be an internet election, not by any stretch of the imagination, if only for the simple reason that only 59% of the UK population have internet access. The first shots in this election have already been fired and they were fired via outdoor. No, I’m not going to ignore the government’s Twitter Czar and the fact that social media and the wider web will be addenda to the main marketing agenda, but it’s not going to be an internet election. IT’S NOT.

And guess what? When you read the ‘story’ in the ‘bible’, you find that the ‘Comms Chiefs’ of the headline, who have, apparently, predicted the first ‘internet election’, have actually DONE NO SUCH THING. In fact, they could hardly be less predictory.

Once again, it’s a simple case of being so over-awed by social media, and so sucked up by the hype, as to try and shoehorn the miserable stuff into anything and everything that has even the smallest communication element.

Once and for all. The Emperor has no clothes on. Social media is not the dawn of a brave new world. It will not replace (although it may add to) more traditional and more direct comms tools. Social media does not affect everyone. Its coverage is by no means blanket. Some people don’t understand it, some people don’t like it. Not everything has to have, or needs, or requires, a social media element.

So please, don’t try to roll everything in social media in the hope that some of it will stick. And don’t make baseless claims.


PR Week – With Friends Like These………..

Another week (PR Week, in fact) another nail in the industry’s coffin. OK, it’s more of a thumbtack, really, but the fact is that it’s being pushed inexorably into the pine by the very publication that should be levering the nails out. PR Week describes itself as ‘the industry’s bible’ (stop sniggering at the back, Communicator Minor!) and yet, every week, without fail, it appears to do its level best to suck value out of the industry and hack away at those vestiges of corporate reputation that may remain to it.

A couple of things I’ve said before, and, just to be quite clear, I’ll say them again. As the ‘industry’s bible’ (Matron! The side-stapler!) surely PR Week should be filling its pages with stuff that is both interesting and useful – it should be promoting best practice, nurturing talent and supporting industry education. It should also be aware of the responsibility that comes with being the ‘industry’s bible’ (no, no, stop, please) – a responsibility to portray our profession in the best possible light because, despite its best attempts, people read it. And sometimes – I have to assume – they are people outside of the industry, whose opinions of our profession might actually matter.

So this week (issue dated December 4 2009, probably still on sale somewhere for £7.23, which I believe is this issue’s random and spurious cover price) PR Week lets us all down with a three-page piece about evaluation.

Why has it let us down, I can hear you cry, what’s so wrong with that? Isn’t evaluation one of the hottest topics in the business currently? Isn’t it something that should be debated? Isn’t it something on which we need opinions, and suggestions and solutions? Do we not, as an industry, need an evaluation standard? And, you will ask ( and rightly), is not the ‘industry’s bible’ (etc etc etc) in the best place to address all of this?

Yes, yes and yes thrice more. But no. The Week manages to turn their three page opportunity into a lightweight discussion around whether AVE is good or bad, a bit of a moan about budgets and the suggestion that attitudinal research might be a good thing. No guidance, no solutions, no real debate and – my apologies to those who took part – no real seniority. Where were the industry leaders? And who the hell is Waggener Edstrom?

That would be bad enough, dear blog snorkellers, but it gets worse. This three page flit above the surface of the evaluation issue was accompanied by a picture of the participants in the ‘round table’. Not a very good picture. However, it was a picture of the participants in front of a table. A lunch table, Clearly laid for a three-course lunch, with both red and white wine glasses.

Not really reinforcing the stereotype then, PR Week? Not really confirming the preconceptions?

Anyway, two related questions.

Did no-one think about this when the picture was taken? And why, oh why didn’t someone crop the picture?

In my opinion – and feel free to disagree – I believe this to be negligent and damaging to the reputation of the industry. Such as it is.

Social Media – Nothing More To Be Said

“Fry warns on social media” – yes, it’s PRWeek again. (Or, if you’re in the States, it’s PRWeek – but monthly. Of course.)

Englands most treasured national treasure, the warm, mellow, avuncular and perhaps, even, a little tweedy, Stephen Fry (for all those of my faithful blog snorkellers who are not familiar with this afternoon-tea-and-crumpet of a man – he’s a middle-aged, rather camp, comedian) has pronounced on social media. This is the same man who made a complete Twit of himself – he had a Call-me-Dave moment with a surfeit of Tweets – not many weeks ago, so I suppose he has the experience to back his pronouncements up. Anyway PRWeek pounced on the pronouncement (I’m channelling the spirit of Stephen here) and published it (issue dated November 27 2009 – if you haven’t seen it, go out and buy one for £4.22, or whatever spurious cover price they’re featuring this week, it’s a collector’s item, in that there’s not going to be a print version for much longer). (Apparently.)

Anyway, summarising wildly, dear old baggy, arch, loveable Stephen has (apparently, again) ‘warned communicators of the risks inherent in using social media as a new type of PR channel’. (Welcome to the party Stephen! Better late than never, I suppose.) He went on to say (according to t’Week) “All new means of communication have been derided and decried because they are seen as encouraging demagoguery of the worst kind. It may be that there will be dark days when social media are seen to cause genuine damage and even death by inflaming people wrongly.’

By which I think he means that every new type of communication that comes along gets hi-jacked by the snake oil salesmen and the charlatans, and, if a majority of people continue to insist on using social media as an extension of the nasty, murky dark bit in their heads, then there could be fisticuffs.

And it’s not that he’s wrong – rather that what he’s saying is so dreadfully obvious and has been done to death on fora around the world. As Mr Fry is an enormously clever man, I can only take from this that there is nothing more interesting, relevant or current to be said about social media.

The conversation – which, after all, is what social media is all about – appears to be over.

So, Farewell Then, PRWeek


Morbid fascination, that’s what it is. Anyway, there I am flicking through November 20th’s offering, doing my best to suck what little value I can from the less-than-compelling mix of not-news, hagiography and terrifying light-weightedness (tell me it’s not so) and my eye is grabbed by the ‘From The Editor Column’.

“Striking a Balance Between Print and Web” is its title. It goes on to inform me that I will be noticing a few changes to the ‘Week – cutting news pages and and adding extra space for analysis. (Of what, exactly, pray?) They’re also going to dedicate a page in the magazine to content featured online – which has to imply that there’s not that much news or analysis to fill the pages that they have.

In fairness – it all makes sense. The website is rapid reaction, more easily updated and attracts far more viewers. The print version is out-of-date by the time it’s published and has never really contained the sort of thought-provoking, enduring, educational and value-providing content that would justify its existence.

What all this is clearly leading to – especially given Haymarket’s current title rationalisation – is the closure of the print version of PRWeek, although the editorial team are doing their utmost to hide it behind the smoke and mirrors of increased analysis and assertions that the ‘industry’s bible’, which has ‘enjoyed a major redesign’ is and ‘remains the mainstay of our offering’.

Well, no it won’t, beyond, I’d say, January 2010 – unless it genuinely can reinvent itself and become the ‘industry’s bible’ – and by this I mean something that sets standards, leads the way and provides the industry (at all levels) with stuff we can use.

For example, recently it was reported that very few European businesses had crisis management plans in place. In this very issue of PRWeek, there’s four pages dedicated to ‘crisis comms’ -case histories and commentary from industry pundits. Good start. But.

Wouldn’t it have been a better idea to create a guide to creating a crisis plan? Outline the basics, so that everyone knows where to start? Show the differences between plans for global organisations and local organisations? Demonstrate the potential consequences, the signs to look out for and how to counter them? Suggest a process for employing a crisis consultant? Provide examples of best practice desk-top exercises and full-blown crisis plan trials?

Wouldn’t this be significantly more useful? More useful than yet another Thought Leader supplement, but probably attracting a similar amount of advertising? Useful enough to merit a print version, and useful enough to motivate people to keep it on file and share it with others? Hmmmm?

I don’t want to see any print media disappear as a consequence of the rise of the internet and online content. I do understand, however – and PRWeek almost certainly does as well – that unless print media offers something that t’internet can’t (and I’m guessing that this includes in-depth consideration of topics and issues) then disappear it will.

Luckily, the communications industry has a myriad topics and issues that are ripe for this sort of treatment.

Corporate Communications – Make Dictionaries Mandatory

Opinion piece in PRWeek, issue dated November 13, by Robert Phillips, UK CEO of Edelman. He uses the word ‘mandate’ twice, both times incorrectly.

Is it just me, or is the word ‘mandate’ getting an increasing amount of use amongst communicators currently? Often, as far as I can see, being used to supplant the tried and tested ‘brief’ or ‘account’ or, heaven forbid, ‘service contract’.

Well – here’s the news. It’s an incorrect usage. Getting a mandate does not mean being contracted to provide a service (PR or otherwise) for money. Just a quick look at t’internet reveals the definition here reproduced:


n [ˈmændeɪt -dɪt]

1. an official or authoritative instruction or command

2. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) Politics the support or commission given to a government and its policies or an elected representative and his policies through an electoral victory

3. (Historical Terms) (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) (often capital) Also called mandated territory (formerly) any of the territories under the trusteeship of the League of Nations administered by one of its member states

4. (Law)

a.  Roman law a contract by which one person commissions another to act for him gratuitously and the other accepts the commission

b.  Contract law a contract of bailment under which the party entrusted with goods undertakes to perform gratuitously some service in respect of such goods

c.  Scots law a contract by which a person is engaged to act in the management of the affairs of another

vb [ˈmændeɪt] (tr)

1. (Law) International law to assign (territory) to a nation under a mandate

2. to delegate authority to

3. Obsolete to give a command to

[from Latin mandātum something commanded, from mandāre to command, perhaps from manus hand + dāre to give]

mandator  n

Collins Essential English Dictionary, 2nd Edition 2006 © HarperCollins Publishers 2004, 2006

Nowhere in the definition can I see the meaning that Phillips and others within the industry would attribute to the word mandate.

Doesn’t make us, as communicators, look very clever, does it.

And as for the rest of Phillips’ article – well, I’ll post some comments when I’m feeling slightly more objective.