Journalists Prefer Traditional Comms – Pope Has Balcony Etc Etc

From the hallowed pages of PR Week (issue dated July 22, cover price £57.32) comes this story – and story it is, for no – disbelievers all – the Week has not made it up, oh no, they let Broadgate Mainland(*) make it up for them – t’Week has simply reported it. They’ll make journalists yet.

(* Meisters of Financial Spin of the parish of Old London Town.)

Anyway, before I got so wildly carried away, I meant, bloggy snorkellers mine, to post the link. No, of course you won’t. You’ll simply see if you can make head or tail of the post without going anywhere near the colourful linkey of doom. Wet, is what you are. That being said, maybe there is an Arthurian trotter amongst you and for that brave Templar I provide this – the Holy Link of Har Megiddo. Carefully now – swish and click – obliviate!

(Warning. I am sorry, faithful followers, but in an almost Murdockian stylee, PR Week will wish you to subscribe before you read the article. You may not wish for PR Week to be your horcrux, however, at least, not while there are still pesky kids around.)

So, the article. In brief, it says that while UK corporates are doing more social, a survey of financial journalists (and I think we can take that to mean journalists, period) reveals traditional comms channels remain the more important media relations tools. That’s what it says – ‘more important tools’. With 81% of the 100 surveyed saying that they prefer to receive stories via email, I’d say ‘most important tools’, wouldn’t you?

In other bears-defecating-in-the-woods- type revelations, only 11% thought Facebook was an appropriate corporate comms channel and 97% researched companies via their corporate websites. (Incidentally, a truly spiffing photocaption for the article’s illustration of Zuckerberg’s monster – “‘Inappropriate’ Facebook”.)

So, it’s official. Journalists prefer to get their stories off real people, in real time, via targetted communication. Unsurprisingly.

Other stats in the article included the 38% of FTSE100 companies signing up to Facebook (up from 25% six months ago) and the 56% running a corporate Twitter account (up from 40% in December). And we know why they’re doing this. Mostly peer pressure and a misguided desire to be ‘down with the kids’ and to have their very own shiny object. And, as I’ve said before – if you’re an airline, then Twitter is useful for updating your customers. If you’re a firm of management consultants it is wholly inappropriate (like Facebook). In the case of most of the FTSE100, it is wholly inappropriate.

Just sayin’.

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.

Twitter – Are You Sure You Want To Be Involved? Certain?

Today, dearest blog snorkellers, more light is shed on the essentially trivial, vapid and meaningless nature of Twitter. For yesterday INQ Mobile – a purveyor of social media-friendly mobile devices to those with too much time and too little life – released its Twitterati List. This list – which you can find here, clickety-click – purports to rank the most influential celebrities using Twitter – not the most well-known, or those with the most followers, but the most influential. (No, I’m not sure how they did it. Stop asking silly questions.)

Pleasingly, because it saves a little effort, there is a UK and a US list. What it shows, I guess you could infer, is the level and depth of influence that Twitter has. Put another way, it gives an insight into the average Twitterist, if the average Twitterist is genuinely ‘influenced’ by the celebs on the list. (And before some pedant says – ah, but it’s celebrities, isn’t it, what did you expect – may I point out that it appears, because it includes politicians and business people, it might also have included authors and intellectuals. Tellingly, it didn’t.)

You can read it yourself and draw your own conclusions. And I acknowledge that the US list contains Al Gore and Barack Obama. However, seriously, what value do you put on a medium that has, amongst its most influential users, the likes of Russell Brand, Peter Andre and two members of McFly (in the UK) and P Diddy, Ashton Kutcher and Mariah Carey (in the US).

I ‘umbly submit, yer honours, that Twitter is no more valuable – in terms of an information-sharing medium that may have an impact on the future of communications – than an issue of Grazia magazine, received on your mobile device of choice, in instalments of 140 characters.

Tell me it’s not so.

Social Media, Social Commentary

“Meanwhile Professor Henry Brubaker, of the Institute for Studies, said the latest Fry-related Twitter slaying strengthened his theory that social networking was steadily turning everyone into a clinically insane 14 year-old girl.”

From The Daily Mash – read the full article (if you wish) here.

Social Media – What Comes After Twitter?

This was a question asked on LinkedIn some hours ago. Well, I’m a sucker for these things, so I did the whole clicketry bit on it, well expecting to find – two things, actually.

First, an entire bunch of new social media gubbins, none of which I had heard of, and none of which would actually make any sense.

Second, a wave of new age fullshump (copyright P Mandelson 2009) talking about how this stuff would change the worl..zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….wha’? Who? Eh? Oh….yes. Change the world.

But no! Wonder of wonders! There are people who don’t believe! I thought I was on my own! Welcome! Welcome!

Actually, commentary was divided, not equally, into three bits. Those who don’t necessarily see the point of Twitter to start with, those who are promoting the next big thing (Google Wave, apparently) and those who are citing various, what-can-only-be-described-as, minor players.

So – here you are. Have a look. See what you think. MOOs, Aardvark, foursquare, and ning.

Frankly, it’s all a bit bobbins. But you may disagree. I suppose the point, if anyone cared, is that already Twitter is being seen as yesterday’s news. It is approaching the end of its sell-by.

So what of all the Twitter gurus who are busy trying to tell us that a) we’re antediluvian and, actually, quite stupid  if we don’t take part in Twitter and b) Twitter is going to change the face of business practice as we know it? Will they keep bleating, as it all swirls down the twitter?

I often think the problem is the massive disconnect between US-driven communications and communicators and communications and communicators from the rest of the world. Two (roughly) halves of a world separated by fundamental world-view issues. I’m not even going to bother to explain this. If you don’t know what I mean – then ask.

Social media suits the States ( as a generalisation). The rest of the world is not so accommodating (as another generalisation). The one thing that’s certain is that what we see currently – current thinking – will be very different tomorrow.

Social Media – The ‘Meatloaf Equation’

Sorry. It’s very easy to poke fun and, as I’m the sort of guy who likes ‘easy’, if I get the opportunity, then I will seize it with both hands.

Today I’d like to draw your attention to mashable.com and an article that was published in January this year entitled ’40 of the best Twitter brands and the people behind them’. You can read it if you like – never say I don’t give you anything.

To cut a long story short because, for some reason, I’m just not that into it today, it doesn’t make edifying reading. In fact, if you look behind the breathless and rather candyfloss tone of the article and examine the numbers, you’ll see that the quantity of followers for each of these brands (the 40 best Twitter brands, mind) is minute. And undoubtedly, there’s quite a lot of effort (even if it’s by one person, in their spare time) going into serving this audience – effort which, simply by the laws of math, isn’t making much in the way of a difference.

Anyway, I recognise that eight months is a long time in social media and there’s been a lot of growth, so – and it’s all my inherent laziness would allow – I picked on one of the 40 best Twitterers (Scott Monty at Ford) and compared followers now, with followers then. Mr Monty is now up to over 25,000 followers, compared to 8,500 in January. Which is roughly a three-fold increase and – on that basis – pretty impressive.

However – and anyone who’s been here before will know that there is always an ‘however’.  Current data says there are 45 million registered Twitter users globally. 10% of that would be 4.5 million. 1% would be 450,000. 0.1% would be 45,000. Ford – and a fair number of the other 40 best – have approximately 0.05% of the available audience. Factor in the statistics for Twitter account usage and attrition and it’s a very, very small number indeed.

It’s an example of the ‘Meatloaf Equation’, which goes something like “Two outta three ain’t bad.” “Yes it is. It’s 66%. It’s crap. A ‘B’ grade at best. Must try harder, boy.”

What’s my point? All that effort put into social media strategies for a possible audience of 25,000. Most of whom are untraceable and leave you with no information about themselves. Many of whom don’t actually exist (in that their accounts lapse as soon as they start them up – the average account, total number of tweets from which is one). And very, very few of whom are going to repay you – for these are brands after all – with a purchase.

’40 of the best Twitter brands and the people behind them’? Self-congratulatory back-slapping for those in the gang. Otherwise – vapid and meaningless.

Internal Communications – Freedom of Speech? You Cannot Be Serious – Part 2

In a recent post, I suggested that allowing employees to post to social networking sites without checking what they’re posting first (which is, pretty much, what Ford and Coke are planning to do) was just on the howling-at-the-moon side of psychotic insanity. For the record, I blame the inappropriate and unmerited levels of influence ascribed to the rash of self-styled ‘social media strategists’ that are oozing out of the woodwork wherever you look these days.

I got a response. Here it is:

“I completely agree! That’s why it’s so important to make sure your employees are all always well-briefed. That goes for every single employee throughout the company. John C. Havens and Shel Holtz give several good examples of the importance of internal transperancy in their book, Tactical Transperancy.

Good, up-to-the-minute internal communications will make sure your employees are always on-message and well-briefed. Asking them to recommend the brand to friends in person is no different than asking them to do so online, except that online their voices can be heard by a lot more people.

Your point is well-made for employers that urge their employees to go out into cyberspace (and the real world) and promote the brand. That’s why a good social media strategy includes a strategy for keeping the employees well-briefed and well-aware of the message.”

Ah – would that it were so easy.

 ‘Internal transparency’ (in one meaning of the term) shouldn’t exist. There is no argument whatsoever for ensuring that everyone knows everything. In fact, it would be dangerous – it’s not that you cannot trust your employees with the information, it’s that you cannot trust their interpretation of the information.

 No matter how good and up-to-the-minute your internal comms is, unless you undertake to brief each employee individually, on a one-to-one basis, then you cannot guarantee understanding and a correct interpretation of the data. Which is why all internal comms messages need to be broad-brush and unambiguous – there is no room for subtlety in internal comms. Because of this, good internal comms does not give you the control you need to allow your people to go off on their own.

 I would never ask an employee to recommend the brand or organisation to their friends – it seems needy and might, in fact, turn that employee against me. I want to capture the hearts and minds of the employee (through broad-brush, unambiguous internal comms) and then I want them to talk to their friends, in their own words, of their own accord, with the unambiguity that I have provided for them. And talking to their friends is very different to them posting online PRECISELY because it can be seen/heard by so many more people.

 I wouldn’t ask my employees to post about my brand or organisation on social networking sites – and if they decided to do so, I would want to see every post before it was posted. There may be a strategy for keeping employees well-briefed (isn’t that simply another reference to our internal comms programme?) but it will – I’m afraid – have the same lack of subtlety that I’ve just mentioned. The added issue with social media is that it’s not just your employees that may misinterpret the message – their misinterpretation will then be freely misinterpreted by an audience that you cannot track or measure.

 It still seems like a recipe for disaster to me.