Archive for July, 2009

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.

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.

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.

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.

How to convince internal stakeholders that your company should be blogging

1 Emphasise the risks of blogging and what it will cost the company if you do not start blogging soon.

2 If your company does not blog, you will not be part of the conversation in the blogosphere.

3 Bloggers may be saying damaging things about your company and if you are not listening to the conversation you have no way to respond quickly and appropriately.

4 You are missing out on a fast, efficient communications channel with
your customers, the media, investors and other important constituencies.

5 If you don’t blog, your company web site will be left behind and start to look very 1990s.

6 Blogs give you the opportunity to communicate with key customers in
real-time.

7 You can get positive and negative feedback from key constituencies.

8 You achieve high search engine rankings without having to spend a
fortune on search engine optimisation.

UK government: “use of Twitter out of keeping with the ethos of the platform…”

News that the UK government has published its “Twitter strategy for government departments” highlights how Twitter has crossed well and truly over into the mainstream.

However, the government paper is twenty pages (5382 words) long. As Alan Travis of the Guardian points out, this would equate to 259 tweets!

At ItsOpen we recommend that our clients create and publish social media guidelines and policies for communicators and staff in general. However… twenty pages on Twitter seems a little like overkill to me!

Twitter for businesses

Twitter has obvious applications for ordinary folk, as we know from its burgeoning popularity in the past twelve months. But what are the uses for businesses?

Twitter itself has now addressed itself to this question, with a new website called Twitter 101 that explains how it is being used for marketing and customer service purposes.

The site kicks off with some nice examples:

‘When people working in the Empire State Building twittered that they were craving ice cream delivery, New York local chain Tasti D Lite was there to listen and meet their need. When electronics buyers look for good deals, the Dell Outlet Twitter account helps them save money with exclusive coupons. When Houston’s coffee drinkers decide where to get their daily dose, many choose Coffee Groundz, which lets them order via Twitter.’

It then gives tips as to how businesses can use Twitter.

cycling-in-the-alps‘For example, let’s say you work for a custom bike company. If you run a search for your brand, you may find people posting messages about how happy they are that your bike lets them ride in the French Alps-giving you a chance to share tips about cyclist-friendly cafes along their route.

‘Others may post minor equipment complaints or desired features that they would never bother to contact you about-providing you with invaluable customer feedback that you can respond to right away or use for future planning. Still others may twitter about serious problems with your bikes-letting you offer customer service that can turn around a bad situation.’

There’s a glossary of Twitter-related terms, case studies and lists of recommended books and blogs relating to Twitter marketing. It’s not just about Twitter: the site also talks about how blogging can help businesses, with tips for beginners and examples of best practice.

A thoughtful touch: marketers can download a slideshow of all the information on the site so that they can easily share it with colleagues.

How is a blog different from a conventional web site?

A lot of people out there are getting frustrated with their web sites.

They are too clunky; getting through them is like wading through soup and they are not fast and responsive.

Which is why people are turning to blogs. But how is a blog so different
from a conventional web site?

1 It is interactive (people can post comments, and you can reply).

2 It is typically written in a conversational voice. (It is more personal than a dry, official-sounding corporate web site).

3 It is an efficient way to alert interested reader every time something new is added, without using email. (People can use RSS to easily subscribe to blogs and they will then know if a new post has been added).

4 Blogs are typically frequently updated, which  means they can get higher in search engine results than they can with a static site.

5 Blogs can act as a form of viral marketing.

The future of newspapers in the social media age

Here’s a really interesting post about the future of newspapers and whether or not they should charge. Mark Potts clearly feels that newspapers cannot charge for content because they are not unique enough. He takes issue with the views of the editor of the FT.

In this post there are some fascinating views that are equally applicable to company web sites and online content in the social media age. Companies are no longer entitled to audiences. There really needs to be a lot of thought put into the kind of web site your company wants to have and the kind of content you are going to offer. There is so much competition out there which is just a click away.

You are the Media

The people who were the audience now have access to their own media. People who were restricted to reading articles in papers or watching TV programmes or listening to the radio, can now blog, publish their own videos and create their own podcasts. The fact that these new tools are easy to use and highly accessible is driving the increase in usage of social media.

For some communications professionals, this is a daunting challenge. However the main opportunity for communications teams is to create their own social media distribution platforms.

By creating your own blogs, Twitter channels, YouTube channels, Flickr groups and so on, you can by-pass the traditional gatekeepers (editors/correspondents) you had to deal with in the past and communicate directly with your stakeholders.

Losing control of your messaging is not an issue so much when you develop your own platforms with your own stakeholders because this will give you influence with them and the opportunity to provide a more rounded picture of your organisation; you can rebut/correct stories; you can link to interesting articles; highlight videos worth watching and you can publish content which normally would not get coverage through traditional media due to lack of space, etc.

A number of our clients have picked up on this opportunity which is why they are now developing their own blogs. This is enabling them to join in relevant conversations with their stakeholders, reaching their stakeholders where they are now, as opposed to where they used to be (through traditional media formats).