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/).

What Can Advertising Learn From PR When It Comes to Social Media?

Two brothers

Image Courtesy of Flickr user cgallent

Public Relations vs. Advertising. Earned media vs. Paid media. Huge budgets vs. tiny ones.  Advertising and Public Relations have been engaged in a love-hate relationships for decades. What’s more effective? What offers better ROI? How should they work together? Should they work together?

For years, advertising has been the big brother in this often tenuous relationship. Whether it’s the massive budgets or the Super Bowl ad campaigns, or the allure of millions of YouTube views, advertising always seems to receive the most attention from an organization’s executives. Public relations, on the other hand, tends to operate more in the background. Need to make budget cuts? Take it from PR. Need a job for that intern? Just give him to the PR team – anyone can do that stuff anyway.

Things are starting to change though. Google became the dominant search engine yet it didn’t air a single TV ad until last year’s Super Bowl. Product launches are now done via strategic leaks, keynotes, and even by purposely keeping your customers away. For the first time in 20 years, Pepsi ditched the 30 second, $4M Super Bowl ad, and instead sunk $20M into the Pepsi Refresh project. What’s going on here? Is this the beginning of the end for advertising?

Of course not. But social media has forced some changes to the advertising industry, whether the old-school likes it or not. And if advertisers want to keep up, they would do well to take some lessons from their PR brethren. In many ways, PR professionals are better equipped for successfully using social media – whether it’s their ability to build and maintain real relationships or their reliance on plain language instead of marketing fluff, PR pros have largely adapted to social media better than than the advertising industry. Here are a few areas where advertising would do well to follow PR’s lead:

  • Advertising should always be looked at as a means to an end, not the end itself. In some ways, advertising itself is the goal (see USA Today’s Ad Meter or the press releases that companies issue about their ads) and has led to a greater focus on views, friends, and Tweets than on sales, revenue, or market share. Your ad campaign isn’t successful because it had a million YouTube views – it’s successful because it’s led to increased sales or customer loyalty or some other actual business objective.
  • Be honest. Consumer trust in advertising is low and continues to fall. When it comes to your company, I’m more likely to trust, well, anyone, other than you. Stop with the boastful, deceptive marketing messages and be honest about your strengths AND your weaknesses. If something didn’t go right, tell me why and what you’re doing about it. Don’t gloss over it and try to blame someone else.
  • 50% of 10,000 > 1% of 50,000. PR hasn’t had the benefit of massive budgets like advertising does. Bashing the public over the head with your ads and hoping for one and two percent returns doesn’t work anymore. Instead, spend more time crafting messages that relate directly with the audience you’re trying to reach.
  • Speak like a human being. I’ll take a line from one of my favorite books, the Cluetrain Manifesto – “Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.”
  • Show me, don’t tell me. Stop spending millions telling me how fantastic your product or your customer service is and show me. Virgin America’s advertising budget is less than 10% of American Airlines‘ yet Virgin consistently outpaces the traditional carriers in things like customer satisfaction, customer experience, and customer service. I don’t know about you, but I will often pay more money to fly Virgin America, JetBlue, or Southwest just to avoid having to deal with one of the big carriers.

I'll be speaking on a panel on Thursday, Sept. 22nd at Ad Week DC

PR and advertising are going to continue to work together more and more – each would do well to learn from each other. If you’re interested in hearing more about how social media is impacting the PR and advertising industries, I’ll be participating in DC Ad Week where I’ll be joining John Cangany and Karen Untereker for a panel moderated by Robert Udowitz called “What Can Advertising Learn From Public Relations When It Comes To Social Media.”

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Competing on the Field But Cooperating in the Office

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It’s not difficult to find examples of sports teams using social media. From the player (Gilbert Arenas’ landmark blogging in 2006) to the team (the Red Sox using Twitter to give away free tickets during a rain delay) to the league (the NHL’s tweetups), social media has gone from being an innovative marketing tactic to a must-have component of any marketing strategy. League and individual team marketing functions are hard at work thinking up all kinds of new ways to use social media to increase fan loyalty, buy tickets, buy merchandise, and watch/listen to the games via myriad devices. Here’s the rub – in any one league, this brainstorming is happening, sometimes 30 times over, in the league office and in each of the team’s front offices because there’s no single platform where team and league staff are sharing this information.

Enterprise 2.0 conference, Jun 2009 - 26

There are plenty of case studies of sports leagues and teams using social media for marketing purposes - where are the examples of using social media to improve league and team collaboration?

Disappointingly, a search for examples where teams, leagues, or college conferences are using social media to communicate and collaborate internally yields a much shorter, less relevant list. For all of the media attention that’s heaped on these leagues and teams for their use (or lack thereof) of social media to communicate with fans and the media, internal collaboration amongst league and team front office staff is still ruled by phone calls, shared drives, and emails. The personal relationships established among front office staff at games and league functions have become the de facto collaboration mechanism for the PR, customer service, ticket sales, media relations, broadcasting, and other front office staff. Despite all the gains in using social media for marketing, the sports industry, by and large, has failed to capitalize on the opportunities social media can bring them internally.

As I mentioned in a previous post, there are actually a lot of similarities between the sports industry and the government when it comes to using social media. While the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps all maintain fierce loyalty to their respective service branch, they also realize they are all ultimately fighting for the same cause, for the same team, and it’s up to the Department of Defense (DoD) to bring all of these individuals together under one mission.  Similarly, the Penguins, Flyers, Bruins and Capitals are rivals on the ice, yet they all realize that when push comes to shove, they all play in the same league and all need to work together to grow the game. Unfortunately, while the DoD is using wikis to conduct intelligence analysis and social networking to get new employees up to speed more quickly, professional sports leagues continue to rely on tools that are inaccessible, unsearchable, and unorganized to collaborate with one another. By relying on personal relationships instead of using open platforms that connect teams and leagues together, professional sports leagues are missing a golden opportunity to reduce duplication, cut costs, increase morale, and increase employee performance.

What if leagues and conferences were able to create a common platform where all of their teams could collaborate with one another, sharing best practices and lessons learned?
Wouldn’t that be better than relying on phone calls and emails to share this information?

What if each league had an idea generation platform a la Manor Labs where staff could submit ideas that would be discussed and voted upon by their colleagues across the league?
Wouldn’t that be better than sending around “what do you think of this?” emails?

What if each league had one shared platform accessible to all of the communications staff from each of the teams where things like marketing campaigns, communications templates, and results could be uploaded and shared?
Woudn’t that work better than digging through old emails and shared drive files?

What if the league stopped mandating policies and technical platforms on their teams and instead co-created these policies and collaborated on the best technical platforms?
Wouldn’t it be better to be seen as a partner instead of an adversary?

Competition on the field and collaboration in the office isn’t a new idea. This idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts has permeated the sports landscape this year. From revenue sharing across all teams in the NFL’s latest collective bargaining agreement (the teams that bring in more money share revenue with the small market clubs) to the new conference realignments happening in college (Florida and Georgia may be rivals, but you can bet their rooting for each other if they’re both playing teams from the Big Ten), leagues and teams have realized that a healthy league makes for healthy teams. It’s hard for the average fan to understand, but just because Terrell Suggs and Hines Ward may not be the best of friends doesn’t mean that the Steelers communications staff and Ravens communications staff are necessarily at each other throats too.

What if the sports leagues and teams took advantage of these Enterprise 2.0 technologies, learned from what’s been done in other similar organizations and used technology to enable this collaboration to take place not just at the collective bargaining level, but at the day-to-day level?

Perhaps the more important question is…what happens if they don’t?

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Mr. Popularity and Your Enterprise 2.0 Community

Let’s do an experiment. Take five minutes and do a quick search of your organization’s blogs, microblogs, wikis, and forums that are available behind your firewall – and then let me know what the most popular topics are. Do they involve “social media,” “Web 2.0,” “new media,” “mobile,” “enterprise 2.0,” or “collaboration?”

Now, take a look at who is posting and commenting on these topics. Are these the same people who also have the most overall comments, posts, edits, and connections? If so, Mr. Popularity may be taking over your community and the worst part of it all? He may actually think he’s helping you.

Starting and maintaining a vibrant online community behind an organizational firewall is already fraught with challenges – integrating it into the workflow, securing funding, scaling across the organization, developing policies and guidelines, creating rewards structures, identifying active champions – and now I’m here to tell you that those very active champions who are so critical to the early growth of your community may also be the cause of its downfall.

You see, while these active champions are responsible for seeding a majority of the content, answering questions, posting content, editing pages, and creating topics, they can also skew the content to suit their own agenda and create a chilling effect on opposing viewpoints and topics. This makes your communities far more social media and technology-oriented than your organization really is. In the early days of your online community, this may be of little concern to you – content is being created, new members are joining, and discussions are happening. This creates a vibrant community for those employees interested in social media and technology, but unfortunately, further dissuades those interested in other topics from joining. Mr. Popularity, once an ally, now becomes a challenge to be overcome.

I’ve actually experienced the pros and the cons of being Mr. Popularity on our  own hello.bah.com community a few years ago. I was one of the first community managers and was a very visible and active champion for the platform. I became known as the guy who could get conversations started, who could help increase traffic to a post, and who would be willing to give an opinion when no one else would. Our internal communications staff was even pitching me to get me to share official corporate messages because I had built up a decent sized following on my blog. This worked out great in the beginning – I was able to help drive some additional traffic to the platform, increase user adoption, and create a ton of new content that was shared across the firm. The double-edged sword of being Mr. Popularity hit me right in the face though when I got the following email (excerpted below):

“When I ducked into our VP’s blog, I noted you had already jumped in with what appears to be a standard, or getting there, pat on the back and tutorial…  Are you becoming too intrusive beyond cheerleading?  The speed at which you’ve already entered the room is giving me the thought that you are becoming Master Control from the movie Tron. I can’t recall reading anyone’s blog that I can’t remember seeing you there in the first couple of replies.  You write extensive replies very quickly that to me verge on being somewhat inhibiting for others, like me, to weigh in so as to not repeat a point.”

Wow! And here I thought I was being helpful! I thought by commenting on everything I could get to, I could help build and reinforce the collaborative culture we were trying to create. And at first, that’s exactly what I was doing. Little did I know that as the community grew beyond the early adopters, my hyper-activity that was a boon at the start was now becoming a detriment. Instead of a community manager, was I becoming a community bully?

To find out if your Mr. Popularity is negatively impacting your community, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does Mr. Popularity know that he/she is having a negative impact? These active champions probably don’t even know that they’re causing harm. Quite the contrary – they probably believe that they’re helping. Like the email I received above, reach out to them and have a discussion with them about their contributions and show them areas where instead of helping create conversation, they may have inadvertently stopped it.
  2. Who are your most active contributors beyond social media and technology? The best way to lessen the influence of Mr. Popularity is to identify people in other business areas who are willing and able to post and discuss content areas like HR, Legal, and Operations.
  3. What is your role in the community? Do a bit of self-reflection – maybe you are Mr. Popularity. Talk to your colleagues and find out what they really think of your online presence. Do you come across as overbearing? Too focused on one topic? Closed off to other opinions? Publicly, you may be receiving all kinds of positive reinforcement. But what are people saying among themselves that they aren’t sharing publicly?
  4. What other possible reasons exist for the gluttony of social media/tech-related topics? Are community members discouraged from discussing operations? Has the Director of HR banned his staff from participating? Having a few individuals who are hyper-active on your online community and skewing the conversations toward their interests is like having two good quarterbacks and not being able to decide which one to start. It’s usually a good problem to have, and despite some of the challenges identified in this post, they are still likely helping more than they’re hurting your community.

Mr. Popularity isn’t necessarily a detriment to your community. Quite the contrary – they’re likely some of your most valuable members. But, left unchecked, they do have the potential to take over the community – its members, its content, and its discussion. The key is in channeling their energy and enthusiasm and focus it on helping grow the community as a whole, to include topics other than social media and technology.

*This post originally appeared on my AIIM Enterprise 2.0 Community blog.

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Listening for Change in Public Health and Social Marketing

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The ubiquity of social media means that just about every industry, from non-profits to sports to higher education to government – has hundreds of different blogs in each of these industries that are devoted to studying social media’s impact on pretty much everything. Within the organization, we’re seeing this same long tail manifested in the form of hundreds of different corporate social media accounts for individual product lines. To handle this growth, more and more companies are moving toward the Dandelion business model.

Now, as some of you may know, I work at a massive company where we support an enormous range of client needs including Defense, Homeland Security, Intelligence, Commercial, and non-profits. As one of the leads for our Digital Strategy & Social Media capability, I would field calls for social media help from people working on Public Health projects in the morning, followed by Intelligence Analysts in the afternoon, and reviewing a proposal for the Department of Defense that evening. As my team and I were spread thinner and thinner, we decided to instead create smaller teams of individuals who were able to dive deeper into the unique issues of a specific industry and how social media can help address those. One of those teams became our Digital Health team, led by Jacque Myers, Don Jones, and Mike Robert. This team has really dived deeper into how social media and digital technology is impacting public health, military and veteran health,  accessibility, and many other issues unique to the healthcare industry.

"The Health Digital" is a new blog focused on using digital technologies to help health organizations address key issues

I wanted to take this time to introduce their latest initiative, “The Health Digital,” a blog where they will be highlighting current digital health issues and exploring the ways in which technology can help (and sometimes, hinder) social change. If you’re interested in learning more about Jacque, Don, or about digital health issues, Don, as well as several other members from the Booz Allen team, will be participating in CDC’s National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media next week. If you’ll be in Atlanta next week for #hcmmconf, stop by and say hello and learn a little bit more about the work they’ve done with the Real Warriors campaign, the Military Health System, and the Virginia Hospital Center Medical Brigade.

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