Why PR isn’t working

We are being approached by heads of communications who are finding that their retained traditional PR agencies cannot help them  successfully adjust to the world of social media.

Traditional PR isn’t working for the following reasons:

1 Traditional PR agencies don’t understand social media technology

2 Traditional PR agencies have not been properly trained on how to communicate with bloggers or social media

3 Traditional PR agencies tend to prefer to work with a few big traditional media outlets instead of lots of smaller online media and online channels

4 Traditional PR agencies don’t understand SEO (search engine optimisation), blogs, Twitter, Digg, widgets,  or social networks

5 Most traditional PR agencies have not plugged into the evolution of communications and have not adjusted to the  fundamental change in the media landscape where journalists and people blog

6 Most traditional PR agencies are in a ‘one size fits all’ mentality and broadcast out messages for campaigns in a top down way. This approach does not work with individual bloggers or people using social networks. To reach these new influencers a quite different engagement approach is required which is sensitive to individual social media network cultures and communities.

7 Most PR agencies don’t appreciate the difference  between dialogue and monologue. Markets are now conversations. Simply pushing out press releases full of facts with no attempt to engage sensitively with online communities in a personal way is not going to work.

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Top ten issues in engaging with social media

ZDNet’s Dion Hinchcliffe picks up on the recent report I mentioned here last week that claims a positive correlation between a business’s social media engagement and its bottom line.

Hinchcliffe is among the sceptics who doubt whether there’s enough data as yet to go this far. “Despite an growing body of encouraging case studies, evidence, and research,” he says, “the jury is still out on total impact social computing will have on businesses.

“At present, the uncertainty is simply because that there are not enough organizations that have incorporated social computing approaches (which encompasses the full range of social software as applied to business that include social networks and Enterprise 2.0 to things like crowdsourcing and social CRM) across their lines of business for us to get a complete enough picture. Even the ones that have done it, haven’t done it long enough to see what the results actually are.”

But he adds that by now there is plenty of indication from company pilots and initiatives of what the issues are as the larger cultural, IT, and business impact of social tools begins to be felt. He has come up with a list of the top ten issues which he thinks are representative of where we are right now.

1. Lack of social media literacy amongst workers
2. A perception that social tools won’t work well in a particular industry
3. Social software is still perceived as too risky to use for core business activities
4. Can’t get enough senior executives engaged with social tools
5. The divide between IT and the social computing initiative
6. The need to prove ROI first
7. Security concerns
8. The needs around community management
9. Difficulties sustaining external engagement.
10. Struggling to survive due to unexpected success

Hinchcliffe goes into a bit of detail about these, and his analysis is worth a look. He emphasises that they are by no means insurmountable obstacles; they merely represent a cross section of what early adopters typically encounter as they begin climbing the social computing adoption curve.

The last one on the list is especially interesting. More and more frequently lately, Hinchcliffe says he has been coming across enterprise social computing stories that had considerable and unexpected early success. “This led to attention and scrutiny from across the organization and a subsequent struggle to fund a fast growing venture amid internecine turf wars, battles over control, and the battles with competing efforts,” he notes.

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Coming clean about compensation

There’s a new school of bloggers on the block, according to Lee Woodruff. In an article in the Huffington Post, Woodruff writes that old-school bloggers are  “writers, journalists, experts in their field and authors.” The new-school bloggers, however, are “former marketers whose product review blogs are very attractive to brands.”

Woodruff sees a clash of cultures between the two groups. Bloggers have traditionally written about whatever takes their fancy – whether it’s bringing up their children, their views on political developments or an account of their surfing holiday. But now, she says, some of the newer breed of bloggers aren’t always honest about being compensated for what they do.

So what might look like another Mummy blogger posting an enthusiastic review of a new make of pushchair on her site might actually be a hard-nosed businesswoman taking money from a company to promote the product.

In the US, the Federal Trade Commission is planning, as part of its review of its own advertising guidelines, to extend its remit to social media. It may well come down hard on this kind of dubious practice.

Getting to know the most influential bloggers in your particular market is always a good idea. But dishonesty is not. Woodruff argues that it’s OK for bloggers to be paid by companies if they’re open about it – but this clearly means that any positive review will be taken with a pinch of salt. Much better, in our view, to form a good relationship with bloggers and let them review your product impartially. If the review’s good, you get the benefit of positive advertising, and if it’s bad – well, it’s a risk you take, but it might generate debate, and it might also give you the feedback you need to improve the product in future.

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Consumers are now the media

Jeff Jarvis, the famous blogger who took on Dell, is now challenging his cable company Cablevision.  He is using his blog to attack their standards of customer service .

Clearly Cablevision does not have a social media strategy for its customer service, and so it is highly vulnerable. It is interesting to read what Jarvis is doing, as it highlights how companies need to prepare themselves so they are not the victims of blogging attacks.

Jarvis relates back to how he originally took on Dell and the letters he wrote to Michael Dell, and how this was covered in Business Week magazine.

Dell has since changed dramatically, and has an extensive social media strategy which encompasses blogging and Twitter channels. Markets are now conversations, and Jarvis points out that Microsoft, Dell, Sun and Comcast have all been enrichened by enabling their people to talk with us as people, using social media.  He argues that customer service, using social media, is the best form of advertising possible.

The crucial point to take from all of this is that the people formerly known as consumers are now media. Your consumers are now media. Of course directors of companies are going to be concerned about what the traditional media such as  The Financial Times says about the business.  But what consumers and key stakeholders are saying through social media is going to increasingly shape how companies perform and impact upon their reputations and news announcements.

If companies want everything to remain the same, if they want to continue to enjoy influence and a good reputation, then they are going to have to change.  A lot of companies we are working with at ItsOpen understand this important point and we are helping them to evolve strategies to put them in a successful position to be masters of the future.

However there are still plenty of organisations who do not fully accept that the people formerly known as their stakeholders are now the media. Like Cablevision they are highly vulnerable to attacks from bloggers, and they could be soon led in directions they do not want to go, because they have not implemented social media strategies early enough.

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