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/).

You Become What You Measure

January 6, 2014

7 Comments

As we kick off 2014, we’re awash in PR trends and predictions. Here are six trends to watch in 2014. Here are 20 more. And another 10 more. But let’s look a little further ahead. And let’s start by looking at the implementation of standardized testing in our nation’s schools, the performance reviews of police officers, and the recent financial crisis.

These three seemingly incongruous industries are actually suffering from a situation that will soon face the PR industry as well. They’re all suffering from quant overshoot. It’s one of the four stages of the rise of the quants as described by Felix Salmon in his excellent “Numbed by Numbers: Why Quants Don’t Know Everything” article in January’s WIRED. In the overshoot stage, people stop thinking like people and start thinking like machines.

“On a managerial level, once the quants come into an industry and disrupt it, they often don’t know when to stop. They tend not to have decades of institutional knowledge about the field in which they have found themselves. And once they’re empowered, quants tend to create systems that favor something pretty close to cheating. As soon as managers pick a numerical metric as a way to measure whether they’re achieving their desired outcome, everybody starts maximizing that metrics rather than doing the rest of their job – just as Campbell’s law predicts.”

Salmon points to police departments that judge effectiveness on arrests and schools that focus their efforts on increasing standardized test scores as examples of the unintended consequences of yielding decision-making to quantitative data. What scared me as I read this article is that I see marketing and PR taking the exact same road. Quantitative analysis of big data is thoroughly disrupting our industry – everything we do now can be measured, analyzed and optimized. We use tools like Sysomos and Radian6 to track millions of social media posts. We use sophisticated algorithms to measure the specific level of influence people have among their friends. We use social network analysis to determine how messages flow from one person to another. We can even use cookies and web analytics to optimize the actual content that you see when you visit a site. And we’re only at the beginning. PR is going to get more and more data-driven, allowing us to become more efficient than we’ve ever been.

And that’s what scares me.

Image courtesy of Flickr user themadlolscientist

PR has always been more art than science and for good reason

Just because we can measure and optimize something doesn’t always mean we should. We’re abdicating our relationships and conversations in favor of statistical models and algorithms. Data has undoubtedly made PR more efficient and effective, but I worry that we don’t know when to stop. We’ve already stopped using Twitter to actually talk with people. Instead, we analyze the length, content, and timing of them to optimize their reach and shares. I’ve already seen instances where relationship-building Tweets like “Great article @reporterX – will be sharing that one around the office!” are shunned because they won’t impact engagement numbers. We’ve resorted to sharing “inspirational quotes” not because they do anything for our brand, but because they’ll get us more likes. We ignore reporters and bloggers who don’t measure up to some arbitrary influencer score. Where does it stop? Will it stop? Can we stop? 

PR can and should serve a critical role in the integrated marketing mix. PR should be the ones who help mitigate the impact of the overshoot stage and quickly move organizations into stage four – the synthesis stage, the stage where quantitative data is married with old school subjective experience. PR professionals should be the ones who help bridge this gap, not fall victim to the same over-reliance on data that doomed our financial systems or our schools.

In 2014, let’s make a concerted effort to not be a slave to data. To not let machines and spreadsheets dictate our conversations and relationships. To remember that public relations is still more art than science. To use data to enhance our decision-making, not make decisions for us. Let’s recognize that no matter how advanced the data gets, computers and algorithms will never be able to replace actual human interaction. Hopefully, PR professionals will still be able to do that in between analyzing their graphs and spreadsheets. 

*Image courtesy of Flickr user themadlolscientist

Continue reading...

Before You Commemorate the Anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Ask Yourself These 5 Questions

October 22, 2013

0 Comments

October 28, 2013 satellite image of Hurricane Sandy taken from a NASA satellite

October 28, 2013 satellite image of Hurricane Sandy taken from a NASA satellite

Next week is the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. With all the hype around real-time marketing and newsjacking, community managers may find themselves compelled—by a client or colleague—to contribute to this news-driven conversation in social media.

When brands do this, it can come across as forced, at best, or offensive, at worst. The line between appropriate and inappropriate is a thin one, best evidenced by recaps of brands trying to commemorate 9/11 this year.

Real-time marketing requires a deft hand, balancing the benefits of participating in conversations your customers are having with the potential damage done by content that’s more concerned with the brand than with its audience.

More often than not, saying nothing is the best move. If you feel the need for your brand to say something about a news-driven event, head over to PRDaily to read this post written by a couple of my team members, Scott Smith (@ourmaninchicago) and Jeana Anderson (@jeanaanderson).

Continue reading...

Content Marketing That Wins: Making Brands, Readers AND Google Happy

September 23, 2013

6 Comments

Social Media Week Chicago Scott SmithNick Papagiannis and I had the opportunity to kick off Social Media Week Chicago with a presentation titled “Content Marketing That Wins: Making Brands, Readers, AND Google Happy” to a packed house at Morningstar in Chicago. If you missed it, we’ve created a Storify for the event hashtag and embedded the livestream and presentation below. Thank you to everyone who made it out and/or participated virtually – I’m really looking forward to continuing this conversation because content marketing has a lot of potential…if we don’t screw it up first.

Seemingly everywhere you look, there’s content marketing tips, tricks, and hacks. During Social Media Week Chicago alone, there are at least 16 sessions on the topic. But remember when content marketing consisted of publishing a blog post a week? Now, with consumers constantly bombarded with news and content via an ever-expanding array of media and social platforms, brands have been pressed into a “content arms race” that has them posting to blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. every single day. They’re even using automated content creation and curation platforms to feed the beast and stay at the top of search rankings. But how much of this activity actually serves a brand’s business goals? Or truly engages consumers?

Just like the hammer in search of a nail, marketers are spending more and more of their time and energy reducing every conversation, article, and photo to a piece of data, all in an effort to maximize their ROI and deliver the most eyeballs at the lowest price. Instead of a world where brands are creating content that solves problems, adds value, or creates deeper relationships with customers, we are perilously close to a world where more simply equals better.

Here’s the thing though – we don’t have to do things this way. We have the data and the tools to scale actual conversations and relationships. We have the tools to talk with people directly now. We have the ability to precisely target only those customers who will care about the content. Content marketing gives us the opportunity to rethink marketing – let’s stop trying to game the system and optimize every piece of content and instead think about how to best optimize our relationships with our customers.

The big takeaway from our presentation is that content should be beneficial to your customer, reflective of your brand, and optimized for Google, in that order.

If you don’t want to watch the whole recording, you can check out the slides here.

Continue reading...

Four Ways Brands Can #Unplug

September 4, 2013

0 Comments

Digital Detox camp

Image courtesy of Flickr user davitydave

This post originally appeared in Ragan’s PR Daily. 

One of the world’s most connected men, Baratunde Thurston, recently took a month-long digital detox, chronicled in the July/August issue of Fast Company.

Thurston had grown increasingly exhausted with trying to keep up with all the Tweets, photos, status updates, check-ins, chats, and texts. He realized his always-connected lifestyle just wasn’t sustainable. Technology allowed him to create thousands of virtual relationships and conversations, but instead of adding value, they were actually stressing him out. He was spread a mile wide and an inch deep, connecting with everyone yet not really connecting with anyone.

Chances are, you’ve felt the same way. What once began as an easy way to connect with friends and family, meet new people, and share interesting stories and links has become an overwhelming source of stress. We struggle to keep up with the constant notifications and alerts. We have an irrational fear of missing out (or “FOMO”) on that party, that funny video, that witty comment. We want to be everywhere, but in doing so, we aren’t ever really anywhere.

The good news is the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way. People are now actively avoiding their digital lives in favor of reconnecting offline:

Paradoxically, as people are realizing this always-on, always-connected lifestyle isn’t sustainable, companies and brands seem to be going in the opposite direction. I remember when publishing one blog post a week was considered a best practice for brands. Now brands are expected to post 15 times or more every month, and be present and active on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Soundcloud and Vine. There are even tools that will automate the whole process for you, enabling brands to do away with all those pesky human tasks like researching, thinking and writing.

Content marketing is becoming a numbers game that most brands aren’t going to be able to compete in, much less win.

Rather than trying to keep up with the Joneses and be everywhere (while simultaneously not being anywhere), brands should consider going on a form of digital detox of their own. Quitting everything for a month isn’t really an option, but there are several lessons brands can learn from the trend to help simplify things:

  1. Stop micro-measuring. Instead of focusing on the ROI of every piece of content, spend some time doing things that don’t have an immediate ROI. Ask your customers questions because you’re generally interested in their feedback, not because it will increase your engagement figures. Share something interesting that another brand created. Write a blog post about an employee who did something interesting.
  2. Prune your presence. You probably can’t just up and leave Twitter, but will anyone notice if you shut down your Pinterest page? Close your Vine account? Stop the weekly meeting to discuss your Tumblr editorial calendar? Is every single one of your online properties helping you achieve your business goals? Or is it there because you heard it was the next big thing?
  3. Learn the value of silence. Just because a royal baby was born doesn’t mean you have to offer your congratulations. If there’s a terrible tragedy, don’t feel the need to offer your condolences. Believe it or not, most of your customers aren’t going to get into an uproar because you went a day without a post. If you’re not going to do anything tangible to help, show some respect and be quiet.
  4. Take it offline. Brands should realize their communities live offline as well. Take some of your social media budget and instead of applying it to more content generation, syndication, or promotion, consider sinking it into some good, old-fashioned offline activities. Go to a store and talk with people about your products or your commercials or your ads. Take some of the products you’ve reserved for influencer outreach and give them away to people in the community. Really effective social media goes beyond content and builds real relationships with real people.

Just as a person may have to unplug once in a while to build deeper, more meaningful connections, brands have an opportunity to start doing the same. You may just realize that those clicks, impressions, and likes you’ve spent so much time measuring are actual people who want to talk with you about your brand.

Continue reading...