Social Media – Examples – Good And….Not Good

Here’s a couple of examples of what you can do with social media, dependent on who and what you are. My loyal blog snorkellers will be fully HP with my point of view (that social media is not a valid business communications, marketing or sales tool) but you’ll also know that I’m nothing if not open to new ideas. Unless those new ideas are genuinely pants or threaten the way I think the world should be. Obviously.

So – here we are from BMW, a luvverly film (and it IS a luvverly film) around some motorbike product or other. Obviously aimed at wealthy young (or not so young) men with a need for speed and a bad taste in trousers, beanie hats and friends. You’d need to be careful – this to my male snorkellers – quite how old you were buying one of these. Don’t want to look like a midlfecrisesian, now do we?

On the other hand, here’s a Twit feed from the British Armed Force, which links to this blog, again from the British Armed Forces. I would like to say – although I have no particular feelings about the conflict in Afghanistan (no-one asked me, d’you see) – that I think this is genuinely excellent and I am – deeply – in awe of the men and women who are out there, doing what they do. If you read anything today, click on the links herewith, and absorb the content. Amazing.

Anyway, conclusions. Look at the commentary stream following the BMW video. Are they going to buy a bike? No. Has BMW built a relationship with them? No. These people are all too macho and self-absorbed and – let’s be honest – a bit fricking thick. So – sorry BMW – it’s a waste of money. You’d be better off with experiential. (Oh, and, fair cop – the video is a little bit too fake, sadly.)

Meanwhile, Major Paul Smyth over at t’Army in Afghanistan. It’s genius. It’s compelling. It’s very scary and it’s shocking to read of the deaths of soldiers in what is, effectively, real time. (For what its worth, my thoughts are with their families.) Someone needs to re-think this whole war thing. Someone without their head up America’s bottom.

Summary – social media exists. It’s a great information-sharer. It’s brilliant for those without an axe to grind and with an interesting (perhaps shocking) story to tell. When it comes to branded stuff however – are you listening, blue propeller? – it’s a waste of money and it sucks.

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.

Social Media – Fact Or Facebo**o*ks?

Today, blog snorkellers mine, I is mostly having difficulty getting my head round this. I’m not saying it’s not true, mind, simply that I am having difficulty getting my head round it. It’s called ‘Visualising Six Years of Facebook’ (it’s actually called ‘Visualizing 6 Years of Facebook’, but this title, as it stands, is ugly, depressing and incorrect) and it shows – pictorially – salient statistics illustrating the rise and rise of this social media phenomenon. And, as I’ve said, I’m having difficulty getting me ‘ead around it.

Listen, right. The global population, according to the United States Census Bureau, is estimated to be in the region of 6.8bn. (Obviously, the USCB counts some US citizens twice, because they’re so gosh-darned saturatedly fat, but even so, it’s a pretty accurate and informed stab at the number.) According to the ‘Book, it now has 400 million users. That’s (for the sake of argument) 4% of the world’s population. Which means that four in every hundred people have – at some point – logged on and registered themselves wiv da Face’. Then, further to that, it appears that 200 million of these users log in every day.

Every day. 2% of the global population log in every day. Two people in every hundred, everywhere, log in to their Facebook account. Is it just me – or does this seem just a little far-fetched, especially given that global internet penetration stands at 25.6%? I mean – here are the actual figures – population 6.8bn, internet users 1.7 bn. This implies that 25% of internet users are on Facebook and 12.5% of them log in to the ‘Book every day. Sorry, as I say, I’m having difficulty wiv me ‘ead.

Further than that, even, this piece of work says that the ‘average Facebook user’ (they don’t define what they mean by ‘average’) spends 55 minutes every day (every day!) on the site. It’s one of those stats that seems faintly plausible – just so long as you don’t look at it too hard, or think about it too much.

No – I’m sorry. I don’t buy it. I don’t know where the data is coming from. My suspicion is that someone is feeding it into the marketplace and there are enough gullible souls and snakeoil salesmen preying on the gullibility that it gets picked up and touted around and then becomes fact. I feel a conspiracy theory coming on – after all, usage data should be very simple to get from a site like Facebook – but it just seems too high.

Anyway, I am probably completely wrong and the world is, indeed, being smothered by da Face’. Sooner or later, it’ll achieve sentience and then we’ll be properly f*cked.

In the meantime, despite this data being used to big the ‘Book up and point out how great it is, and how it’s changing the face of our society as we know it (eating it from the inside, more like), it still remains true to say that no-one has found a way of harnessing it for a commercial end. Social media as a business marketing or communications tool still doesn’t work. The feral communities that these sites create simply will not be leveraged, herded, corralled or targeted.

Say this data’s true. Say that 200 million people do log in each day. That’s an enormous amount. Should be like shooting fish in a barrel. But I’d say that if big business can’t get a result with these sorts of numbers – well – doesn’t matter how big it is, it’s still a white elephant.

Social Media – Good, Bad and Ugly

Very brief post – just to keep everyone thinking. So Twitter right, it’s all about stuff and conversations and motivation and – sometimes – some primeval horsesh*t from those who should know better – check this out (and no, I don’t care that it’s out of context, it’s frightening nonsense from a grown – well – human – I presume):

“More PR hip shooting I see.

 The empirical research show us that it is about commonly held and and understood values.

 I thought that was what Bruno Amaral showed at Bled.

His work is not based on counting fairies on a pin head it accesses tens of thousands of discourse items analyses them and identifies relationships.

It can be about ‘me’ but unless me is part of ‘me and me look alikes’ it will fail.”

This is a comment on a post found here – it’s not about Twitter, mind, per se, it’s about scial media. It’s a shocker. Enjoy.

Anyway, Twitter. Here’s a couple of things.

First, here’s the Williams Formula 1 twitter feed from the daughter of the team principal (Sir Frank), which has been posting interesting updates on pre-season testing over the last week. If you’re an F1 fan ( and I am, I am), you can dip in and out of this for news and views, without compromising your integrity and without – I have to say – a single brand mention. Works for me. Other teams are doing it as well.

And this is how Twitter – if it does have any use – actually serves a purpose. Distributing ‘what are you doing now’ posts for those who have an interest. When are the social media gurus going to realise that this is not an answer to the marketing ill – it’s merely another tool in the marketing toolbox and (if I can mix a metaphor) in the toolbox it is at best a signpost. Not a megaphone. (Yes, of course I have a megaphone in my toolbox. Don’t you?)

It doesn’t sell product, it doesn’t change opinion, except on an oily tanker sort of basis. (That’s an opinion turning circle of several hundred miles.)

To back this up, I present this. This is Advertising Age ‘Top 10 Most Tweeted Brands” survey from last week. Have a look and shudder with the realisation that it’s all – without exception – stuff that people have learnt about elsewhere.

Don’t know about you, but if I was a marketer, or a comms professional – oh! I am. If it was me, unless I had unlimited budget, Twiiter is the last place I’d be allocating time, resource or cash.

What some of F1 is doing is good. What overzealous, over-funded and overpaid marketers are trying to do is bad. The reality of Twitter is ugly.

Go figure.

Social Media – Handling Online Criticism

Once again, dear blog snorkellers, never let it be said that I don’t give you anything of any value. Here’s a piece which I came across recently, which is entitled “For Nonprofit Organizations: How To Handle Online Criticism” (As you can see from the errant and offensive ‘z’, it’s an American post.) Don’t be put off by the whole ‘Nonprofit’ bit (if you’re not a nonprofit), the meat of the article applies across the board. It is a long and lengthy piece, stuffed full of links, so it takes a bit of time, but it contains good thinking on the topic.

For the sake of clarity, I am not a fan of social media as a commercial marketing or communications tool. I think it is overrated and overvalued, and that far too much is being made of it by people who do not understand (for who can) where it is going, how it will develop and what effects (if any) it will have on the way people make purchasing decisions.

The one thing that I am certain of, however, is that social media will cause and trigger more problems than it solves. The very fact that anyone, anywhere – if they have internet access – can post anything is going to lead to trouble. It’s the whole ‘infinite number of monkeys, with an infinite number of typewriters’ deal, only in this case an infinite number of surfers with an infinite number of fora are unlikely to produce the complete works of Shakespeare – more likely the sort of chaos that is created by the complete works of any local council’s department of works.

But what is guaranteed is that with complete freedom of expression comes a complete range of opinion – including the bitter, twisted, isolated and disturbing – and some of that opinion will be critical. And if that critical opinion gains critical mass – rightly or wrongly – very quickly (very quickly indeed) it will be everywhere.

How you deal with that criticism – the speed with which you do so, the manner in which you do so, the content that you use – will reflect upon your enterprise, business, organisation or brand and – in fact – offers an opportunity to amass valuable reputational credits.

Public Relations – Owning The Media Agenda?

Here’s an interesting piece from O’Leary Analytics in Ireland, who’ve done some work on the media profile, and the coverage achieved by, Ryanair – purveyor of ostensibly cheap, yet somehow slightly threatening, airline travel to the masses.

Their conclusion is that the team at Ryanair, love ‘em or loathe ‘em, actually ‘own’ the media agenda – by which I understand that they manipulate it to their own ends.

Which is fair, and probably true – but what is genuinely interesting here and a real lesson for all communicators is not that Ryanair own the media agenda, but how they have achieved that ownership.

Until I saw O’Leary’s work on this, I presumed that it was the force of personality of (Wee Angry) Michael O’Leary, the airline’s head honcho, a man with a real flair for charm, diplomacy and stakeholder relations. (No, of course he hasn’t.)

But it’s not. What it is, is the company’s fearless willingness to court controversy and – most importantly – to isolate the stories (or make them up, if necessary) that are certain to create that controversy. There’s also no doubt that success and profitability are key imperatives that run throughout the business and occupy everyone’s mind. (Take the case of the Ryanair ‘we’ll make people pay for using the toilet’ story – started as a PR stunt, now seems set to become a reality, presumably because there’s a few euro to be had out of it.)

If you look at the peaks of Ryanair coverage, they’re mostly around stories that are completely calculated to grab media attention – and they’re not all positive. A set of bad results? Discount fares some more! Halve your order for new aircraft? Give some money back to shareholders! Even if it’s bad news, Ryanair do not seek to hide it – no! It’s just another opportunity to court controversy – to take control of the media agenda.

No – lest I be pilloried here – I’m not saying that this works for all companies in the same way it works for Ryanair. Ryanair is happy to have a devil-may-care, abrasive, unsympathetic, non-customer-centric image – O’Leary (Michael, not Analytics) would be the first to say it’s all about keeping prices down – that’s all that matters (in tandem with making some money for the shareholders, obviously). Not all companies – in fact very few companies – would wish to be seen in the same way.

But that’s not to say that we can’t all learn something from the Ryanair example – adapt their mindset and way of doing things to suit our own set-up, and our own corporate culture. And in so doing, maybe get a greater level of control over our media’s agenda.

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.

Social Media – PR ‘Students’ And Twitter

You couldn’t make it up. This is another one of those jaw-dropping, what-the-f*ck moments. A moment when – for someone who’s spent the best part of two decades in the corporate communications business – I actually begin to question why I’m here and why the industry exists.

Here is a link to a post on the Teaching PR blog (May 2009), from Grady College, University of Georgia. I can only presume that this is a seat of learning with the same level of gravitas and respect that is accorded to Keele here in the UK.

It provides some hints and tips to PR students on ‘what not to tweet’. I’m not going to paraphrase it here. Trust me, you need to read it in all its truly frightening originality.

Without beating about the bush, the hints about ‘what not to tweet’ are not bad. Basic, but good guidelines for those embarking on a Twitter feed. But they’re all about image and communication – things that, arguably, a student of PR should have a natural feel for.

Personally, if I came across a potential communications practitioner making any of these mistakes, I would advise them that perhaps they have made the wrong career choice and that they should f*ck off and trouble some other industry with their ridiculous and naïve viewpoints and attitudes. (Hey – call me harsh.)

On top of that, if Grady College feel the need to give these hints and tips to their students, then they have wholly failed to engender any sort of PR sense into them – thus, arguably, their course should be shut down.

It’s this sort of misunderstanding, naivety and ill-informed behaviour that will provide the comms industry with the next generation of PR lovelies – all blonde hair and parties – that will perpetuate the crass mythology of PR as a business of fluff and spin and will continue to deny the industry its seat at the top table.

My faithful blog snorkellers will know my feelings on social media. This scary nonsense does nothing to change my opinions, or give me any faith in the future of our profession. I’ll leave you with the following:

“Earlier this semester, @BarbaraNixon tweeted a wise suggestion to her students: go to the Web and look at your last page of tweets. Is that really how you want to represent yourself to the world?

If not, it’s time to rethink your twitter strategy.”

No, it’s time to rethink your life.

Corporate Communications – Power Of The People, Not Power Of The Media

Recently I posted about Starbucks and its amazing transformation – a 200% rise in profits over a three-month period – and how it appeared to be driven by a) the return of Howard Schultz (undoubtedly) and b) an emphasis on great, best-in-class, employee and customer relations. True, S-Bux has more than five million Facebook fans and 700k Twitter followers, but the reality is that the ‘conversations’ that are taking place there – while no doubt translating into some level of sales – are in no way responsible for the dramatic turnaround in Big Coffee’s fortunes.

No, they are not. But it didn’t take very long before some socmed evangelista leaps on the bandwagon and attempts to imply that they are and – more – that Howard Schultz prefers social media over other marketing channels. I was alerted to this frightening opportunism by this post on Steve Virgin’s blog, which directs you to the piece in question – here – at BrandRepublic.

The argument, which is used to engender and foment one of my least favourite discussions (‘Why do some people get it, and others don’t?’ – more of it later), is based on an interview that Schultz gave to Marketing Magazine – which you can read here.

(Sorry, dearest blog snorkellers mine, I know this is a lot to be dumping on you, late on a Wednesday afternoon, but it is important in our crusade against the spurious lionisation of social media as a tool for business benefit.)

In the interview, Mr Schultz was asked ‘Which one (marketing) channel will take precedence?” – a leading question, of ever there was one – and his answer was really quite clever. He said “I think social media is a natural exten­sion of our brand because we want to do things that are unexpected, and to speak to all sorts of people who are engaged in social media. It’s tough to measure but there is an incremental benefit to sales.”

And he’s right, there is an incremental benefit to sales – but notice he’s careful not to go overboard in terms of what that incremental benefit is. He also, tellingly, qualifies his answer by saying that social media ‘is a natural extension of (the Starbucks) brand’ – ie it is suited to the Starbucks brand, but not necessarily suited to other brands. He also, even more tellingly, doesn’t actually answer the question – he doesn’t say that social media is the channel that ‘will take precedence’. To put those words in his mouth is careless misinterpretation.

And, as promised – here’s a thought on that ‘getting it’ question. (Apparently, according to an Internet Advertising Bureau study, only a fifth of marketers see social as core to their marketing strategy.) Some brands, businesses or corporations don’t seem to ‘get it’ because they don’t need to. It is not right for their brand or business. It is not – in Mr Schultz’s words – ‘a natural extension.’ It really is as simple as that.

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.)