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Stop Trying to Take the Easy Way Out

April 8, 2012

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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

March 29, 2012

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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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How Average Players Use Twitter and a Human Voice to Become Social Media Superstars

February 22, 2012

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Have you heard of Brandon McCarthy, Paul Bissonette, Pat McAfee, and Antonio Brown? If you're like most people, you probably haven't. We're not exactly talking about Kobe Bryant or Derek Jeter here. Why would you know anything about a middle of the road starting pitcher, a left-winger with 5 career goals, a punter, and a wide receiver who has been a starter for exactly one season? If you happen to run an organization or handle public relations for an organization though, you should get to know them because there's plenty you can learn about communications, public relations, and branding from them.

Take a look at their Twitter feeds – they talk about partying, drinking, farts, pranks, and the women they go out with. They make fun of their teammates, curse, and share personal pictures. They're pretty much your typical PR person's worst nightmare. They don't speak in sanitized sports jargon ("we just took it one game at a time out there and gave it all we had"), they don't attempt to drive traffic to the team's website or sell merchandise, and they don't try to cultivate their "personal brands." They are, for better or worse, acting like themselves and talking to their fans on Twitter like they might talk with a group of their friends.

Thing is, they're GOOD at it. And the very reason they're good at it is because of, not in spite of, their complete and total disregard for traditional PR best practices. In the same way the Pittsburgh Penguins have actual players deliver season tickets to their fans, the Green Bay Packers players ride little kids' bikes to practice, or baseball players toss foul balls to their fans in the stands, these players aim to forge a personal connection with their fans. They're good at using Twitter because they're not interested in using it for PR or marketing or branding – they're using it simply because they enjoy interacting with their fans. 

If you've read one of my favorite books, The Cluetrain Manifesto, you'll recognize that this desire to get beyond the marketing and the branding and speak in a human voice is one of the major tenets of the book.

"Markets do not want to talk to flacks and hucksters. They want to participate in the conversations going on behind the corporate firewall."

Though this certainly applies to professional athletes and their fans, the ability to speak in a human voice and forge real relationships with your fans and customers is one that translates easily to the business world as well.

Do yourself a favor and check out the Twitter feeds for some of the less well-known athletes on Twitter and I bet you'll start re-thinking some of those PR and marketing best practices you've read about. What makes them so effective? 

  1. They're honest. [tweet https://twitter.com/BizNasty2point0/status/168081177054412801] Politically correct? Ummm…not exactly. Honest? Definitely.
  2. They're real. [tweet https://twitter.com/Mrs_McCarthy32/status/171452231684591618] This is just one of many conversations between Brandon and his wife. This is a conversation I could totally see myself having with my wife too. Rather than just being some rich ballplayer living a life beyond my imagination, I've gotten a glimpse of him that I'd never get in an interview or on the back of a baseball card.
  3. They put their money where their mouth is. One of my favorite stories of the year was this one where Antonio Brown answered a fan's offer to go out to lunch which then led to an actual friendship. This is a story about a player going above and beyond what's expected of him. He realizes the esteem that his fans hold in him and
  4. They're funny. [tweet https://twitter.com/PatMcAfeeShow/status/166997616498974720] A little humor goes a long way – this particular Tweet was retweeted more than 50 times, but McAfee's feed is filled with funny Tweets like this.
  5. They're random.  [tweet https://twitter.com/BizNasty2point0/status/167862185110941696] Somehow, I don't think this Tweet would have made it past the approval chain in a typical branding campaign. It doesn't direct anyone to a website, it doesn't hawk any merchandise, it's totally random and shows his followers a totally different side of himself.

Now think about your employees. Think about how (or even if) they're communicating with your customers.  Are they allowed, nay, encouraged, to be honest, real, empowered, funny, and random or are they hampered by restrictive policies, approval processes, and message platforms? Instead of worrying about the damage your idiot employees will cause by using social media, maybe you should look into why you've hired and developed idiot employees? Instead of trying to mitigate the trouble they may get into, consider the opportunities that exist. Organizations have become so risk-averse so as to not offend anyone that they end up saying nothing to everyone. 

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More Than Words: How to Really Redefine the Term “Public Relations”

December 8, 2011

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There’s big news in the PR industry as the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) recently announced that they are embarking on an international effort to modernize the definition of public relations. Chartered in 1947, PRSA is the world’s largest and foremost organization of public relations professionals and boasts a community of more than 21,000 members across the U.S. Their current definition of PR – “public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other” was last updated in 1982, before Twitter, before Facebook, hell, even before you had a computer at your desk. Technology has changed a lot over the last 30 years. So to have the ways in which organizations and their publics relate to one another. It’s definitely time for a change.

Adam Lavelle, a member of the board of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and chief strategic officer at the iCrossing unit of Hearst, agrees. In the New York Times article linked above, he says:

“Before the rise of social media, public relations was about trying to manage the message an entity was sharing with its different audiences.” Now, P.R. has to be more about facilitating the ongoing conversation in an always-on world.”

Unfortunately,  ever since the days of Edward Bernays, PR has had its roots in “managing the message.” PR grew out of propaganda, spin, and manipulation – no wonder we’ve had an image problem for the last 100 years! Too many PR practitioners have become so focused on the message that they have totally forgotten the relations part of public relations. As The Cluetrain Manifesto taught us way back in 1999 (also before social media), “public relations does not relate to the public, companies are deeply afraid of their markets.” From press releases that sound like this and media pitches like this, PR practitioners have gotten lazy, hiding behind words and messages instead of building an actual relationships.

PRSA (disclaimer: I’ve been a member of PRSA or PRSSA since 2000) should take this same advice while redefining the definition of PR. The words might end up being totally accurate and insightful, but if PR practitioners don’t also change their actions, the perception of the industry will never change. I hope that all PRSA members would realize the perception of public relations is about more than words – it’s about actions. And with that, here are ten actions that I’d like to become part of the new definition of public relations:

  1. Instead of spamming my email pitches to massive distribution lists, I will put in more than ten seconds of effort and personalize it to the reporter/blogger/writer/anchor/editor I’m contacting
  2. I will stop being a yes-man for my clients and actually provide the expert communications counsel I’m (hopefully) being paid to provide
  3. I will learn how to speak with an actual human voice instead of the voice of mission statements, brochures, and marketing pitches
  4. I will not forget the relations in public relations and will try to develop real relationships with the members of the media I work with instead of treating them like pawns that can be manipulated
  5. I will stop snowing my clients and inflating my value through the use of ambiguous outputs like hits, impressions, and ad equivalency and instead focus on the outcomes that public relations has helped accomplish
  6. I can no longer be the man behind the curtain, ghostwriting messages and press releases while I hide behind my brand or organization. I will take responsibility for my strategies and tactics.
  7. Regardless of my age, I will recognize that keeping up with and understanding technology is now a job requirement
  8. Likewise, I will stop assuming that social media IS public relations and vice versa. Social media is becoming a much larger aspect of PR and present practitioners with new tools to use, but they are not one in the same.
  9. PR cannot exist in a vacuum – I realize that my PR efforts will be more effective if I collaborate and communicate regularly with marketing, advertising, strategy, operations and other groups throughout the organization.
  10. And finally, I will recognize that good public relations isn’t about manipulating media coverage – it’s about helping an organization create and maintain stronger relationships with all of its stakeholders.

Redefining “public relations” is a crucial first step, but changing the perception of public relations will require more than than words – it will require a shift in the thinking and the actions of thousands of PR professionals. Let’s start modeling the behaviors we hope to instill in all PR practitioners and start taking PR from messages to actions.

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