Social Media – Still, Mostly, A Mystery

Here’s a list from Communicate Magazine – a very useful list actually, of events and training courses of interest to the communications community, taking place over the coming weeks and months.

I say it’s useful, because it works well as a yardstick, with which you can measure what the medium/long-term concerns of the industry are – a lot of these events depend on the attendance of paying punters, so the organisers are clearly not going to bother with content that people are not interested in or concerned by. Creativity is always a big one, as is handling the media.

All that being said, blog snorkellers, you might also find something here that is of use to you – heaven forbid, something that you might want to stump up some of your own (or your employer’s) cash to attend. Never let it be said that I don’t give you anything.

But for the purposes of this post, I want to re-visit the email that I received from Communicate Magazine, alerting me to their list. In the body of the email – I presume to give me a flavour of the richness of content that awaited my link-clickery – they provided some 27 examples of events happening over the next three days. And of those 27 events, 17 had social media as their subject.

That’s a lot – it’s a preponderance actually, given the amount of differing issues and topics that these events might be addressing.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – there’s an entire industry grown up around the chimaerae that are business’ use of social media, and social media marketing. Some of it is well-meaning – I am sure – no, I am – but much of it is cynical profiteering. You wouldn’t provide your bank account details to a Nigerian emailster – why would you pay someone to ask the question “is effective measurement critical to effective marketing strategy”? (This is a genuine example, btw.)

This is phishing, really – caveat emptor.

(I would also like to add that not all of it is, some appears to be very well-meaning. What it does show however, in clear, sharp relief, is that – despite 2009 having been hailed as the year that business ‘got’ social media – none of the big questions (ROI, for example, or how to make social media pay) have been answered. And the tone of the conversation is now sounding ever-so-slightly desperate.)

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 – Best Practice Social Media Policy

This was first posted in 2010. Starbucks are still global coffee shop of choice and divide opinion in much the same way as political allegiance, ‘leave or remain’ and the debate over whether Wonder Woman is really a feminist icon and, if she is, why does she go into battle wearing wedges? And yes, I know the answer, which is ‘because she can and because she wants to’. And who’s arguing with a god?

The Coca-Cola Company are still displaying the document that I found so praiseworthy and, revisiting it, I still find it so.

Two firsts in one week – Starbucks display best practice in reinventing themselves through employee and customer care (yes, I know, I had difficulty as well) and now this.

Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. It is a document entitled ‘Online Social Media Principles’ from The Coca-Cola Company, and it is – dear blog snorkellers mine – as near to a best practice social media policy as you can get.

OK, it’s not quite draconian enough for me – I’d like to see a list of cruel and unusual punishments for those found to be in breach of the policy, but – hey – you can’t have everything.

What I particularly like about it, however, is that it’s not all evangelical. It doesn’t start from the position that social media is the biggest thing since the Bible, and that it is going to transform the world as we know it and everything in it. It is sensible, and considered, and everything I would not necessarily have expected, rightly or wrongly,  from Messrs Coca and Cola.

It also – beautifully – can be easily adapted and plagiarised. These guidelines could be applied to any business or organisation – go ahead, fill your boots. It’s also, as I’ve recommended on this blog before, something of an ’employee benefit’ – in that it advises employees on how to use social media in their personal lives as well as on company time. It demonstrates a duty of care – without ramming it down their throats.

Finally – another big thing of mine – it would sit very nicely in a crisis management plan, and provides a good basis on which to build the social media section of that plan.

It is genuinely brilliant. I’m lovin’ it.

(Oh – hold on……..)

Corporate Communications – The Power Of The People

Last Wednesday, Starbucks, the coffee company, released its first quarter results. They showed a four-fold increase over the same quarter last year against, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, a fairly appalling economic background. You can read the commentary in the New York Times for yourself.

As someone who doesn’t follow the company, I find this renaissance absolutely extraordinary. The two most recent things I recall about Starbucks is the company (falsely) being accused of not supporting American troops in the Gulf, and the furore over wasted water from ‘rinsing’ taps being left permanently ‘on’ in stores.

Obviously, and I’ve done a little light research, there has been stuff going on behind the scenes – and the return of Howard Schultz to the top job has obviously paid dividends – but I find the reasoning laid out in this post (on the Corporate Eye blog) particularly resonant.

In brief, top-line summary, it argues that the Starbucks turnaround has been driven by paying attention to employees. It cites an HR Guru, Kevin Wheeler and his Five Steps to Making Your Company Memorable:

  • Gain perspective and know yourself
  • Define the promise
  • Develop a strategy
  • Create a “buzz” to communicate your brand
  • Measure your progress

More than this – and this where I find myself violently agreeing – it’s about applying these same principles to your customer relations. What works for getting and keeping staff, works for getting and keeping punters.

And as, of course, this wouldn’t be my blog without a quick pop at social media – Starbucks appear to have achieved this dramatic success without too much Facebookishness of Twittery (they have 5.6m fans and 765k followers respectively). Have a look at their Facebook page, and gauge for yourself the quality of the conversation – visit their Twitter feed and (sorry Brad) well, it’s not exactly a marketer’s wet dream.

No – my feeling is that Starbucks has achieved this through good ol’ traditional communication, traditional face-to-face and lashings of loyalty-building.

I never though I’d see the day when Big Coffee would become a case history. An example of best practice ‘how to do it’ des nos jours.

Hats off, blog snorkellers.

Public Relations – All Talk, No Substance?

Thanks to PRWeek for this, which talks about a new piece of research from YouGovStone which (apparently) shows that almost 25% of senior UK professionals (sample size 701 – senior professionals from backgrounds including politics, business, academia and health) believe that PR agencies are ‘all talk and no substance’. Further, only five per cent of those questioned regarded PR and communications agencies as vital.

A sad indictment of the industry,  I am sure you’d agree, even if it is rather ‘one size fits all’. Who are these senior professionals? When they were asked to pronounce on the PR/communications industry, were they asked whether they had any specific agency in mind and, if so, in which sector did that agency practise and what were its areas of expertise? Did their opinions stretch to in-house communicators,  as well as agencies – or just agencies? I’m sure all of this was covered – only, during my brief trawl of the internet, I’ve not been able to find any other reference to this new research.

Anyway, I bet the lovely folk at Finsbury, Brunswick and Edelman are mightily relieved (to the tune of their share of the $240m advisors’ fees) that Kraft and Cadbury are amongst the five percent.

As for the rest of us – I guess we’ve got some work to do.

Social Media – The Next Big Thing For 2010?

Meanwhile, over at the super, soaraway Sunday Business Post (of Ireland), they’ve managed to track down Piaras Kelly (PR consultant of that parish) and teased out some thoughts on what 2010 holds, social-media-wise.

Why, you may well ask, blog snorkellers mine, would I bother with this rag of an Emerald hue, and the slightly-less-than-meaningful musings of one who is, after all, selling himself in the cause of promoting his employer. (Hello there, Edelman – see, Piaras, it works!) (How does one pronounce ‘Piaras’? I’m presuming it’s like other well-known Irish names like Aoife and Siobhan and Saoirse, all of which sound a bit like ‘Bob’.)

Well, two reasons.

One, it’s because Piaras had an attack of the honesties in his commentary, and says ‘people will start to realise that there’s a bit of the Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome associated with social media’. Hallelujah, preacher.

Two, it’s because Piaras’ tips for trends in online PR (communications) in 2010 are Realtime, Lifestreaming, Location-Based Services, Augmented Reality and Segmentation. All of which may have some element of social media but, tellingly, either aren’t social media tools themselves or specifically reliant on social media to function.

I actually believe that what Piaras is trying to say – and, hey, his opinion is as valid as anyone’s – is calm down, social media hysteria has had its day.

In separate news, this post alerted me to research conducted by Cision and Don Bates of The George Washington University’s Master’s Degree Program in Strategic Public Relations (gasp), which shows that 89% of journalists polled turned to blogs for story research, 65% to social media sites (eg Facebook and LinkedIn), and 52% to microblogging services such as Twitter.

The survey then goes on to say that 84% said social media sources were “slightly less” or “much less” reliable than traditional media, and 49% said social media suffers from “lack of fact checking, verification and reporting standards.”  So they then go back to the old staple of calling the company to get the facts.

Social media may well foment a global conversation, where everyone has a voice and everything’s being discussed. But if it’s being discussed with the same depth of knowledge and regard for accuracy that characterised my discussions in the pub late last Saturday evening (yes, very nice, thanks for asking) then it’s of no use to man nor beast.

Social Media – A Definition of Compelling Content? Anyone?

Knock-knock!

Who’s there?

So shall.

So shall who?

So shall media gurus continue to be idiots ripe for poking fun at.

Tell me, why is it so easy? Currently, the case for social has holes in it that James Cameron could fly one of those big helicopter-type things out of Avatar through. Those blog snorkellers who’ve visited me before will be conversant with my take on the whole social media issue, and will know that I remain wholly unconvinced that it is a valid marketing or communications tool. And don’t get me started on the concept of ‘conversation’.

Anyway (he wrote, ever-so-wearily) today’s breath of fresh nonsense is courtesy of Mashable (hi there!) with this piece on ‘How to: take advantage of social media in your email marketing’. Nothing wrong with that per se – if you want to further abuse the database that (I hope) you’ve carefully nurtured and achieved some sort of acquiescence from, (in terms of sending them the occasional piece of marketing collateral), by giving them a link to your utterly pointless social media group – well, that’s your prerogative. Although I think you’ll see a rapid increase in ‘unsubscribes’.

No, the real issue I have with this is contained within the following paragraph, which outlines what you might provide to these hapless punters if they’re stupid enough to follow the links. (I suggest that you don the mental equivalent of a welding helmet before reading this, to avoid serious and permanent damage to your sensibilities.)

“Beyond that, create compelling content that people want to share. While a good promotion might not be as viral as a funny YouTube clip, your business’ fans will be more likely to spread the word if there’s a specific call to action. Moreover, create content that’s not necessarily a direct sell, but provides value to potential customers in the form of information that’s useful to them. Between good content and easy social media sharing options, your e-mail marketing can become a powerful weapon in growing your business.”

Ooooh, compelling content. If I had one of your splendid earth Euros for every time I’d heard that phrase, I could have repaired my spaceship weeks ago. What the f*ck is ‘compelling content’? Anyone? And how does ‘compelling content’ serve the purpose of a business, brand or organisation?

(The purpose of which, contrary to what Richard Lambert might believe ‘is to make money and everything else must be judged against that criterion’.)

And it gets worse. A good promotion is not going to be as viral as a funny YouTube clip – of course it isn’t. The only things that actually achieve true viral status are either video clips of people falling off skateboards and injuring themselves severely, or adverts featuring someone in a gorilla suit, drumming along to Phil Collins, which is so far off brand message as to be ultimately pointless – in terms of product sales. (As an example – a Guinness ad, called ‘Surfers’, won the Big Gold Bastard advertising award (I forget what it was actually called) for being brilliant and popular. Did it sell any beer? No.)

Then. Create content that’s not a direct sell, but provides value to potential customers. Why? Why would you provide value to potential customers (for the hard of thinking, these are people who have not bought from you and may never do so) without some sort of link to your product or service (which constitutes, to my mind, a ‘direct sell’)?

Apparently, between good content and sharing options, your email marketing can become a powerful weapon. Possibly. Or it could transform your perfectly good business, selling products or services, into an entertainment portal, frequented by many, but delivering no value to you whatsoever.

And the moral of this rant?

Email marketing is a good thing. It has a role to play – but don’t be tempted to abuse your database or you’ll lose it – and I would imagine it took you time, effort and investment to build it up. Social media is not (necessarily) a good thing – it is over-hyped and over-valued. ‘Compelling content’ is a buzz phrase – no-one actually knows what compelling content is – most examples of ‘compelling content’ have been generated through pure luck and happenstance. Social media does not, generally, contain compelling content – or rather, it’s only compelling to those who have a specific interest in it. It does not grow your business.

Ultimately, social media marketing, if it exists, is not the same as digital marketing. Social media is simply a small part of the whole digital piece and, potentially and currently, one that can be sidelined.

Social Media – Reinventing Public Relations?

Today’s episode of the popular social media-themed soap opera “You’re ‘Avin a Digital Turkish, Ain’tcha?” revolves around a glorious piece of nonsense from someone who’s made the cut here before – a fond welcome, blog snorkellers, to Brian Solis, Principal at FutureWorks PR, San Francisco Bay Area. (As I may have said before, if you’re the sort of person who enjoys pulling their own ribs out and carving small netsuke figurines from them, then you can enjoy more of Brian here.)

It’s the blurb from his book ‘Putting the Public Back in Public Relations: How Social Media Is Reinventing the Aging Business of PR’ and I reproduce it here in full, so that you too can enjoy the sensation of your brain refusing to believe its eyes and doing its best to hide under its duvet until the bad mojambo goes away.

“Marketing and communications, as is, are dying breeds. They’ve moved away from the public and instead concentrated on broadcasting “top-down,” disconnected messages to as many people as possible.

What we’ve learned and what we know are quickly fading into irrelevance and obscurity.

We now need to expand our scope of participation and outreach by also identifying, understanding, and engaging the everyday people who have plugged-in to a powerful and democratized online platform for creating and distributing information, insight, and opinions – effectively gaining authority in the process.

The very people we had always wished to reach through traditional channels are now the very people we need to convince and inspire directly in order to remain part of industry-defining and market making conversations. This is a new era of influence and in order to participate, we have to rewire our DNA to stop marketing at audiences in order to genuinely and intelligently humanize our story to connect with real people and the online communities they inhabit.

Putting the Public Back in Public Relations is a critical and mandatory process to shine in today’s social economy. It will help businesses forge meaningful relationships with those who will bridge specific benefits to distinct groups of consumers in order to cultivate a loyal, vocal, and hyper-connected community of customers and influencers.”

Did you enjoy that? I particularly liked how we must stop marketing at audiences (did he deliberately use ‘at’ instead of ‘to’ – it’s not clear) and how we must genuinely and intelligently split infinitives and humanise our story. And what (in the name of all that’s holy) is ‘bridging benefits to distinct groups of consumers’?

Obviously, different people, and different schools of thought, will have different takes on Mr Solis’s meanderings. Personally, I’m not a fan of social media evangelism, I don’t regard it as life-changing and I’m not even sure it’s actually – when it comes down to it – very important as a comms tool. Mr Solis seems to be saying that the future is community and collaboration, and that, through social media, the audience will dictate the shape and future strategy of the business.

I’m not saying this is untrue – in fact I think it’s been true for quite some time. I just don’t think that social media invented audience participation, nor do I think it’s the best way of getting the end user involved.

Look at Microsoft (‘I’m a PC’) and RIM (Blackberry ‘All You Need Is Love’) – both campaigns are all about community, but they didn’t need (and in one case, didn’t really use) social media to get where they are. They (sensibly) used market research.

And as for social media reinventing the ‘aging business of PR’. Please. PR (Corporate Communications) is what it is – social media is simply a new channel, and whether it’s good or bad has yet to be seen.

To put it another way, a new type of hammer does not fundamentally reinvent the way you build houses. Nor, usually, does it require the acquisition of a specific hammering skillset, or the hiring of expensive hammering gurus.

This is Shiny Object Syndrome at its worst.

Public Relations – Making News In The Digital Era – Or Any Era

Came across this today, which is a post containing ‘seven strategic steps’ to making news in the digital era. For ease, dear blog snorkellers, I reproduce them here. These steps, according to their author – a communicator of some note – focus the ‘news making’ process to ‘shed old-style communications practices, like press releases, that no longer work’ in order to ‘begin making your own news online in a compelling manner to engage audiences’.

Here they are:

  • Advocate change
  • Avoid compulsively marketing and promoting
  • Start listening and engaging in conversations
  • Embrace storytelling
  • Use plain language
  • Reach out to fewer to achieve more
  • Become the credible voice and face
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new

Initially, I looked at these and thought – here we go again – another set of Utopian guidelines for engaging in the global conversation, where everything goes with the flow and there are no real goals, objectives and outputs; where you’re not supposed to expect anything in return and virtue is its own reward. Not new-style communications, more the absolute antithesis of what lies at the heart of professional business communications.

Then I looked at them again, and realised that these steps are no more or less than a beginner’s guide to media relations. In point of fact, the press release has been dead for 10 years, and these steps are how you develop a relationship with your sector journalists (print, broadcast and online – but mostly print). These steps are your route map to a one-on-one live encounter with a hack who you hope is going to give your business/brand/organisation a good hearing. These are the seven strategic steps to running your conversation over lunch.

As such, they’re very useful.

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.

Thanks.