Author Archives | sradick

About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

PR Pros and Wikipedia: Can They Ever Get Along?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user bitjungle

All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view. This means that editors should avoid stating opinions as facts, avoid stating seriously contested assertions as facts, avoid presenting uncontested assertions as mere opinion, use non-judgmental language, and accurately indicate the relative prominence of opposing views.

One can easily see how these five attributes may be in conflict with the way many PR professionals do their jobs. Whether it's cranking out news releases (where "news" is obviously very loosely defined) or getting paid for covert smear campaigns, the PR industry isn't exactly known for being a bastion of authenticity and impartiality. It's no wonder Wikipedia has advised against PR pros editing articles directly. There seems to be a pretty clear conflict of interest that exists. Paid advocates making edits that are supposed to be impartial, fair, and balanced? Would you want a judge presiding over a hearing where his/her son is the defendant? Would you want to read a restaurant review from a reporter who is also part owner of said restaurant?

That's a big reason why most PR professionals have avoided Wikipedia for so long, fearful of the wrath of the editing community. Even if their edits were truthful and impartial, many would think they weren't, citing their conflict of interest. That's the thing with conflicts of interest – often, the mere perception of a conflict of interest is almost as bad as an actual conflict.

Unfortunately, Wikipedia is now experiencing the unintended consequences of locking out PR pros. According to a study conducted by Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D., co-chair of PRSA's National Research Committee and an assistant professor of public relations at Penn State University, 60% of Wikipedia articles about companies contain factual errors. Moreover, when asked how long it took respondents to actually engage with one of Wikipedia's editors via the respective Talk pages, 40% said it took "days" to receive a response, 12% indicated "weeks," while 24% never received any type of response. A recent infographic by David King further illustrates Wikipedia's problem with keeping company Wikipedia pages up to date – according to his research, 86% of company pages are incomplete and 56% of the article tags are flagged as needing better citations.

Here's the problem. PR pros, the people who often have the most accurate and up-to-date information about these companies, are advised against sharing it directly with the Wikipedia community and subsequently improving the quality of these pages. Are our only options to ban PR pros from editing Wikipedia pages, accepting incomplete, inaccurate information OR concede impartiality and allow the rampant addition of puffery and marketing-speak? I don't think allowing PR pros to edit Wikipedia directly and preserving impartiality and factual information have to be mutually exclusive. Just like other industries have created extensive processes and policies to mitigate potential conflicts of interest, so too should public relations.

This year, at least two separate groups have been created to help improve the relationship between the public relations industry and Wikipedia. The Corporate Representatives for Ethical Wikipedia Engagement (CREWE), started by Phil Gomes, and the WikiProject Cooperation, started by David King, are taking the first step in bridging this gap. PRSA itself has also weighed in on the subject, with PRSA Chair and CEO Gerard F. Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA saying,

"The issue over edits made on Wikipedia is one that affects more than just the public relations profession. It has implications for every business, organization and institution around the world, given Wikipedia’s widespread use as an information resource. We believe there is a case to be made for PR professionals to responsibly edit client Wikipedia entries in an ethical and transparent manner. At its most basic level, it is a matter of serving the public interest.”

There's clearly a need to transfer the knowledge that PR professionals into the largest encyclopedia in the world. There are too many incorrect and incomplete entries that could easily be fixed and made more valuable for the community if the people with this information could more easily edit and add it. However, I don't think this is Wikipedia's problem as much as I think it's the PR industry's problem. Even if what a PR person says is completely true, there's a perception that it's propaganda and that we're hiding the actual truth. For years, PR pros have been caught in scandals, lies, and unethical practices. Just like when we were in school and a few bad kids ruined it for the rest of us, so too have a few unscrupulous PR firms and people ruined the public perception of our industry. The dishonesty of a few has burned too much trust with the public, the media, our clients, and within our own organizations. We have to earn back this trust as an industry before we can expect other people and organizations to trust us to be impartial, transparent, and honest with anything, much less Wikipedia.

Corbett says that PRSA wants to work with Wikipedia to develop rigorous and explicit editing guidelines that can be used throughout the profession. That's great, but unfortunately doesn't help address the thousands of alleged "PR professionals" who aren't, never were, and never will be, members of PRSA. We can't disbar unethical practitioners like lawyers can. We can't take their license away like doctors. We can't even take their medallion like taxi drivers. As long as anyone can practice public relations and call themselves a PR pro, we will always suffer for the sins of a few unscrupulous ones. That's why I think the relationship between the PR profession and Wikipedia will always been adversarial.

The real opportunity for initiatives like CREWE and the WikiProject Cooperation lies not in lobbying for the profession as a whole, but in working hand-in-hand with Wikipedia to create higher (not lower) barriers to entry for PR professionals. ALL PR professionals shouldn't be able to edit Wikipedia – I would instead prefer to know that those who do have been vetted, trained, and advised by the community. This "Wikipedia Editor License" for PR pros would serve as a clearinghouse for Wikipedia to ensure these select few individuals would understand how to properly disclose and mitigate any potential conflicts of interest and edit according to the community standards. In short, this issue may present us with opportunity to bring some regulation to a profession sorely in need of it.

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Public Relations Isn’t the Cherry on Top

Photo courtesy of Flickr user SeRVe Photography

"Let's bring PR in so they'll get us some media coverage for the new launch!"

"Let's make sure we have PR look this over to make us sound better."

"Can you have PR develop a plan to make sure the public thinks we're awesome?"

"Our customers keep complaining about our product – can we get PR in here to help drown that out with good stuff instead?" 

"No one is following our Twitter/Facebook/YouTube/Pinterest/LinkedIn/Foursquare account – can PR go get us more fans/followers/likes/subscribers/friends?"

We've all heard these things at one point or another in our career because people continue to misunderstand what public relations is. Despite coming up with new definitions, there continues to be a lack of awareness on the part of our clients, colleagues, and friends about what we actually do and the value that we bring to a business. PR isn't:

  • Some transactional activity that's thought about only after the advertising campaign is created.
  • Something that's brought in after the product is completed and you're gearing up for launch.
  • About getting media coverage.
  • About making the public think your product is the best or that your company is awesome
  • About generating "buzz"
  • Something that's going to cover up bigger issues like customer service or product quality

Public Relations is much deeper than all of this. Public Relations is about – you guessed it – building and maintaining relationships with the public, the very public buying your products, walking into your stores, writing about your company, and telling their friends about their experiences. Those users, demographics, markets, and audiences that you and your analysts always talk about? They're actual human beings. Human beings with very loud voices who can, at moment's notice, make or break your business. Your brand isn't determined by what you say you are, but by what you actually do. It's determined by what your customers see and hear from you every day.

The general public has never had more power than they do right now. Yet, businesses continue to try to take the easy way out clumsily advertising, optimizing, and marketing to these people like they're switches that can be turned on and off if we hit the right levers. What most companies don't realize is that not only is the public more powerful than ever, they are also smarter than ever too. Your customers, employees, and partners want require more than a company talking at them – they want a company that talks with them. They want to talk to actual people. They want companies who care about more than selling more widgets. They want companies who think about something other than their own bottom line. 

Paradoxically, organizations continue to look at public relations practitioners – the very people trained in developing and maintaining these relationships that are more important than ever – as little more than an afterthought. "Oh yeah – we're going to need PR to drum up some media coverage too!" Smart organizations are realizing that marketing and advertising can only take them so far. As my favorite book, the Cluetrain Manifesto says –

"We have real power and we know it. If you don't quite see the light, some other outfit will come along that's more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with."

Successful organizations are integrating public relations earlier and deeper than ever before. Instead of being a key component of their marketing campaigns, PR is now becoming an integral part of their business plans. This integration, while more time-consuming, has many benefits:

  • Online communities of advocates who promote your brand not because they're being paid or because they have to, but because they truly love your brand
  • Consumers who are more likely to forgive when you inevitably make a mistake
  • Employees who truly love your brand and who act as an extension of your marketing department through their everyday work
  • People who will pay a little more for your product because they trust you
  • Reporters who call you asking for story ideas instead of the other way around
  • Organizations who voluntarily cross-promote your products/services because they trust and respect you
  • People who will leap to your defense in the face of attacks and criticism
  • A corporate voice that sounds authentically human instead of stiff, hollow, and fake
  • Content that is entertaining, informative, and/or useful instead of screaming BUY OUR STUFF NOW!!!!
  • Issues that never become full-blown crises because of the relationships that have been built with employees, customers, media, and partners
  • Corporate counsel that represents the public, not just the bottom line or the shareholder

The public is more powerful now than ever before and good public relations has never been important for your brand. Shouldn't PR become more than a bullet point at the end of the agenda, more than last department to get budget allocations, more than the cherry on top of the sundae? Shouldn't your relationships with the public be a key component of everything you do?

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Stop Trying to Take the Easy Way Out

Lazy Peep by Flickr user [F]oxymoron

I attended the PRSA Digital Impact Conference last week, and like many PR events, it had a mix of really great presentations but I also noticed the continuation of a disturbing trend throughout our profession – laziness. Laziness disguised as "social media best practices" and cool new tools. 

Don't get me wrong – I don't think people are actively trying to be lazy. I don't think most people even realize that they're trying to take the easy way out. I think they view it as becoming more efficient or effective. And while many of these tools and practices may help someone increase their reach or save them some time, they are also making social media a hell of a lot less social. Why are marketers and PR pros doing everything they can to eliminate the most beneficial part of social media – the people? We are taking what should be a boon to our industry – social media – and making the exact same mistakes we've been making for years with other media. We're reducing relationships to impressions. We're eliminating conversations in favor of automated Tweets. Auto-DMs have replaced actual introductions. Hell, ghost-tweeters even allow you to remove completely  yourself from the equation altogether. People, relationships, and feelings are complicated – metrics, statistics, and tools are a lot easier to deal with. 

Imagine if we could do the same in the real world. Tired of going on all those dates without that…ahem…"payoff" you're looking for? Here's a tool that will let you isolate the targets most likely to deliver said payoff. Tired of all those boring conversations with your wife about how her day went? Here's a tool that will play auto-responses from you so that you can focus on watching the game instead.  I'll just use this app to create a hologram to sit at my desk even when I'm not there and auto-talk with the people I work with. That way, I can be "interacting" with my co-workers 24 hours a day!! 

Dan Perez wrote a post a few months ago – "The Bastardization of Pinterest Has Begun: A Rant" – where he noticed how marketers, advertisers, and PR people have flocked to Pinterest, crowding out actual conversation in favor of more and more content, infographics, and promotions. Social media used to be about people connecting with other people. Forming and strengthening actual relationships. Sadly, it hasn't taken long for people to figure out how to game the systems, how to eliminate actual conversations (those take time, you know) and minimize actual relationships (those can get messy). 

Like the kid scoring 10 goals on wraparound goals on NHL '94 (seriously, if you played that game, you know what I'm talking about – that play was unstoppable) or blocking extra points with Lawrence Taylor on Tecmo Bowl, people are sucking all of the fun and authenticity out of our social media platforms via tools and practices that promote automation and efficiency over relationships and conversation. 

Integrating social media into your public relations and marketing strategies can be difficult and if you haven't already done it, it's only going to get harder. There are a lot of PR professionals out there who think it's going to get easier – there's going to be some new tool that will automate everything, some new "best practices" that they can copy, or that some social media playbook is just going to appear that gives them the step-by-step of how to "do social media." There will always be people claiming to have tools and methodologies that will maximize your time in social media or to eliminate the time you spend Tweeting with only one person (if you would just Tweet between the hours of 3 and 4 on Tuesdays, you'll maximize your reach!!). 

Don't be one of those guys. Be the guy who values actual relationships and conversations over likes, impressions, and followers. Instead of trying to game the system, take some time and actually enjoy the people you're getting to know. Being able to blast your generic press releases out to 10,000 more people isn't a good thing. Focus on sending it to the right 1,000 people instead. Talk with a reporter about the stuff he's writing before you need something from him. Instead of measuring your success by how much stuff you put out and how many people it may have reached, measure your success by how many people actually read it, shared it, and did something with it. Just like playing Tecmo Bowl or NHL '94, gaming social media is easy, fast and unfulfilling. Building actual relationships and talking with people takes time, can be messy, and isn't real efficient, but it's much more rewarding. 

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Identify the Right People to Manage Your Social Media Initiatives

A version of this post originally appeared on this blog last year. I'm re-posting it with a few minor modifications because I just gave a presentation based on this content at PRSA's Digital Impact Conference. The full presentation is embedded below and available here.

Who leads your organization's social media initiatives? Is it someone who rose up and took the role or is is someone who was assigned that role?

Social media isn't something that can just be assigned to someone any more than you can just assign someone to be the homecoming king. Adding "social media" to that junior public affairs officer's job description isn't suddenly going to turn your organization into the next Zappo's. While you're at it, you might as well add "organizational budgeting" and "legal review" to his job description too – those are two other things that he/she might be able to do well, but would you really entrust those duties to them?

This is why so many social media initiatives fail – not because of technology or policy, but because of people.  We talk often about what department should lead social media, how to get leadership buy-in for social media, or what technology should be used, and while those are important discussions to have, you should be focused on identifying WHO should be leading the social media initiatives.  Not whether that's the Chief Marketing Officer or the Director of Public Affairs or the Community Relations Lead, but actual names of people.  Remember, social media is driven by the person, not the position.

The best person right now might be Joe over in Marketing, but what if Joe leaves the organization?  Who leads the social media initiatives then?  The answer isn't necessarily Joe's replacement.  It might be Kim over in HR. It might be that new guy over in community relations, or maybe it's your webmaster.  The point is that social media doesn't fit nicely into just one job description.  There's a very real human element to it, and identifying the wrong person, even if it is the right position is often the biggest determination in the success or failure of your social media initiatives.

To find the right person to handle social media for your organization, look for people who:

  • LOVE your organization and really understand its mission – first and foremost, find the people who love their jobs and believe in your mission. This isn't a job for the person interested in just the paycheck.
  • Believe in the transformative power of social media – it's not about applying the same old processes to new tools. It's about fundamentally transforming the way your organization interacts with the public, your customers and with each other.
  • You enjoy being around – If a person is a real butthead in real-life, he's going to be that way online too, and you can't afford to have someone like that representing you or your organization
  • Have little fear of failure – Early in my career, a client pulled me aside after they shot down 3 straight ideas I had and told me, "I want to make sure that you understand we WANT you to continue bringing those off-the-wall ideas because it forces us to think of things we never thought of and even if we don't take your suggestions now, they all become building blocks for future ideas."
  • Enjoy working in teams – Social media is "social" – you have to enjoy working with a diverse group of people
  • Are responsive – There is no 24 hour news cycle any more. It's real-time baby. You need people who you KNOW will reply to emails, tweets, texts, etc. quickly and thoroughly. Interestingly, these are also often the people who are the most ambitious and passionate about your organization too.  (*note – these are also the people who may take longer lunches or come in a little late because they don't just "shut off" at 5:00 PM)
  • Can speak like a human being – Corporate marketing speak, statistics, facts, and figures are good, but when was the last time you got inspired by a pie chart? Find people who can connect with their colleagues/customers/clients on a personal level
  • Are very aware of their strengths and weaknesses and are open about them – One of the first things I tell new employees is to find out what you're good at and find out what you're not good at, and then find people who are good at those things and make friends with them. In social media, you're going to come across issues regarding privacy, IT, legal, communications, and HR, not to mention specific functional areas of your organization. You can't know it all – know what you don't know, and know who to contact for help.
  • Are humble -People mess up in social media. A lot.  It's ok.  Admit you're wrong, fix what you messed up and move on. Not everyone can do this, and very few can do it well.
  • Are diplomatic – The point of social media isn't just to get more followers and friends. It's to help your organization reach its communications, marketing, and sales goals. That's why social media managers need to know how to educate others across the organization and demonstrate how social media can help their business.
  • Are dedicated to building a scalable, sustainable team – People go on vacation. People take other jobs. People get transferred. Make sure that your social media manager has the organization's long-term interests in mind and isn't just focused on raising his or her profile.

Now that I think about it,these are many of the same qualities that exist in any leader, right?  So, what other qualities would you look for when trying to identify someone to head up a social media initiative?

This post was inspired by Andrew Wilson's "Innovation Lab | Who Should Be At The Table" post and Lovisa Williams' "The Intersection" post. Fantastic stuff (as usual) by the both of them.

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