Tag Archives: pr

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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Seven Things About Social Media That You’re Not Going to Learn in College

I talk a lot about the need to do a better job of integrating social media into the world of higher education. That’s why when my my alma mater asked me to speak at their annual Communication Week this year, I jumped at the opportunity (well, that and I was able to take my daughter to see her grandparents for the weekend). Because these students are already learning the basics of social media in their core communication classes, I didn’t want to do yet another Social Media 101 type presentation. Instead, I wanted to help them understand that even though they may learn what Twitter is, how to use it, and some case studies, there’s nothing like doing it in the real world. That’s why I gave a presentation last Friday titled “The 7 Things About Social Media That You’re Not Going to Learn in College.”

Here’s the presentation I gave, with the key takeaways below:

1. I am not an audience, a public, a viewer, a demographic or a user – I am an actual PERSON with a VOICE
Throw out what you learned in Mass Communications 101 and instead focus on what you learned in Human Communications or Interpersonal Communications. You’re better off knowing and understanding the fundamental principles behind communicating with someone face-to-face than trying to replicate the influence that the War of the Worlds broadcast had on the American public. The megaphone approach doesn’t work when everyone has a megaphone. Learn to interact with actual human beings instead of nameless audiences and users.

2. I don’t care how many friends, followers, likes, or blog comments you have
I really don’t, not when anyone can go and game the system by buying thousands of Twitter followers or Facebook fans. Whether you have 100 or 10,000 followers is irrelevant to me. I want to know that you’ve at least tried to use Twitter/Facebook/blogs/Foursquare for a purpose other than getting more people at your Edward Forty-hands parties. Having demonstrated social media experience on your resume is great, but not because I care about the numbers, but because it shows me that you’re willing and able to try something new. It shows me you’re willing to take a risk and follow through. So don’t tell me that you have 10,000 Facebook likes, tell me how you used Facebook to increase the donations to a local animal shelter. Using social media in a professional context is hard, especially if you’re not learning it in class. I understand that – that’s why I care more about the effort than the numbers.

3. “Social Media” is not a career option
The New Media Director is just a means to an end.  Sure, there’s lots of demand now, but what happens when social media is no longer the new hot thing? You can’t JUST be a social media specialist. That’s a short-term role, much like the “email consultants” that sprouted up 15 years ago. I always tell people that I’m not a social media consultant – I’m a communications consultant who knows how to use social media.

4. Some people just aren’t cut out for the job
Not everyone has the personality or interpersonal communications skills to take full advantage of the full potential of social media. Are you comfortable introducing yourself to new people? Telling someone you really liked their work? Building a relationship with someone without having an ulterior motive? Disagreeing with someone in a very public way without offending them? Knowing how to apologize? Comfortable with having every aspect of your professional life available for public criticism?  It takes a special kind of self-confidence and self-awareness to be really good at using social media to effect some sort of impact. I can teach someone how to tweet, but it’s much more difficult to teach someone how to really enjoy getting to know other people.

5. Your innovative, awesome, ground-breaking, and cutting edge ideas aren’t as innovative, awesome, ground-breaking, and cutting edge  as you think
Most of corporate America has VERY little knowledge of social media for business purposes, so by simply proposing that you use Twitter as part of your marketing plan during your internship, you may end up becoming THE social media subject matter expert. Here’s a news flash – you’re not.  Senior leadership, your boss, your peers – they may very well start referring to you as a guru, ninja, SME, etc. but just because you know the basics doesn’t mean you’re an expert. In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell defines an “Expert” as someone with ten years or 10,000 hours of experience. Twitter just turned five years old. You do the math. You MUST continue to learn, to network, to read, to listen because that’s the only way you’re going to keep up.

6. You’re always on and everything is public
Your day will not end just because it’s 5:00 PM. That picture of you doing bodyshots off that waitress? Your boss, your clients, your peers – assume they’ll all see it. It doesn’t matter that it’s up there on your “personal” account or because it happened while you were on vacation. Your online life is your online life, both professional and personal. Your name and face will be freely available to everyone online – are you comfortable with a client recognizing you at the bar on Saturday night?

7. You’re going to come across a lot of jerks – don’t be one of them
Ever meet someone and the first thing they do is tell you all about how they graduated magna cum laude from Harvard or Yale? Or, they throw around their job title? Or, how much money they have? Or how they’ve got this great idea you have to invest in? Maybe you have a friend who never has money and needs you to spot him when you guys go out?  How about that guy who always seems to have an ulterior motive – he always needs a favor, some money, a ride, a recommendation? Do you LIKE being around them? Do you WANT to do them any favors? You can’t hide anymore – you can’t lie, you can’t be a jerk. People talk….about you, about your work, about how you talk about them.  Everyone is connected – that guy whose blog post you stole last week?  He’s probably in a Facebook group with your client, and guess who’s going to see him complaining about you?

Ultimately though, none of this matters because you’re not going to have a choice. While the tools that we talk about will change over time, the kinds of communication that social media enables isn’t going away. As communications students, you can either start learning about social media now and be a forward-thinker or be forced to learn it later on the job where you’re expected to know it already.

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Who Owns Social Media? Everyone and No One

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been involved in a number of meetings both within Booz Allen and with my clients to discuss social media, and I’ve noticed that more and more organizations are moving beyond the social media experimentation stage. I’m finding that I’m no longer justifying the use of social media, but helping develop the processes, policies, and personnel that will move the use of social media from interesting experiment to a long-term way of doing business.

While your organization’s initial foray into social media may have started with a junior public affairs professional, some webmaster in the IT department, more and more organizations are now trying to figure out how to integrate these social media “pilots” into their long-term strategies and plans.

In one case, I met with a room full of information security professionals. In another, it was a public affairs office. In another, I met with the recruiting office of an agency. In still another, it was a mish-mash of people including public affairs officers, project managers, internal communications, privacy specialists, records management professionals, and senior leadership. Everyone viewed “ownership” of social media differently. Some thought their team should control social media for the entire organization while others felt a more decentralized approach would be more effective. Others wanted to create an integrated process team with representatives from across the organization. The only thing that everyone had in common is the view that their perspective and concerns weren’t getting the attention they thought they deserved.

Internally, we’re going through a similar evolution – in a firm with 20,000+ employees spread across the world and dozens of different business lines and market areas, there’s no shortage of people now looking for ways that social media can help them and their clients. In talking with one of our Vice Presidents the other day, he asked me, “in your opinion, who should own social media here?”  Who was going to be THE person he could reach to with questions? The first answer that came to mind was “well, no one should own it, but there are a lot of people who need to be involved in owning it.”

Then yesterday, I came across this post by Rick Alcantara, “Who Should Control Social Media Within a Company?,” and I couldn’t help thinking that we’re asking the wrong question. If the use of social media is so transformative and paradigm-shifting, and we agree that there needs to be new processes and policies in place to deal with it, then shouldn’t we also be looking at new governance models as well? Why do we assume that social media should (or can) fit into our existing buckets?

The Problem

Organizations traditionally consist of distinct lines of business, teams, branches, divisions, service offerings, etc. This model works great when these teams don’t have to work with one another – IT is responsible for protecting the network, public affairs is responsible for communicating with the public. Great.  But what happens when these teams need to work with one another, need to collaborate with each other?

In some cases, these teams work well together, not because of some formal charter or governance process, but because of the personal relationships that have been made. My team and Walton’s (my counterpart on our IT team) team work well together not because we were told to, but because he and I have a relationship built on trust and mutual respect for each other’s strengths and weaknesses. In other cases, one team works on something and then sends it on to the other team for a formal “chop.” That’s not collaboration – that’s an approval chain. Sometimes, an Integrated Process Team (IPT) is formed to facilitate this collaboration, but those too often devolve into screaming matches or passive aggressive maneuvering, and most IPTs don’t get any real power beyond “making recommendations” anyway.

Just as social media has fundamentally changed the way organizations communicate and collaborate internally, it is also forcing us to rethink the way we govern its use. Maybe social media shouldn’t be “owned” by anyone? Maybe it should be governed in a similarly transformative way?

The Solution

I like what Jocelyn Canfield, owner of Communication Results, has to say at the end of Rick’s post:

“Organizations are best served by collaboration, not control. PR, Marketing, HR, IR, Corp Communications all have a vested interest in effective social media activities, while IT and graphic design can be an important allies in seamless execution. If everyone feels ownership, everyone benefits.”

Emphasis above was added by me – I think everyone has to feel ownership, but they shouldn’t necessarily have ownership. Organizational use of social media impacts everyone across the organization in different ways, from IT security to HR to legal to marketing and ceding “control” to just one of these groups seems to be both short-sighted and unrealistic. What happens when you say that Public Affairs has control of social media, but then IT decides to block all access, citing security concerns? Who resolves that issue? Do the Directors of IT and Public Affairs arm-wrestle? Steel cage death match? Frank and thoughtful discussion?

The answer to who should control social media is everyone and no one. Here at Booz Allen, we’re bringing together both social media leaders and select representatives from across our various teams to form a committee, primarily to ensure that open, cross-team collaboration becomes the norm, not the exception. One of the primary roles for this committee will be to ensure that everyone feels ownership, but that no one is actually given ownership.

How’s this different from an IPT? Well, for starters, I’m proposing that all committee meetings be livestreamed internally where anyone from any team may watch/submit questions. We’ll be blogging internally about what we talk about. Meeting agendas and minutes will be posted to our internal wiki. Everything will be done in the open, encouraging participation, contribution, and truthfulness and discouraging passive-aggressive behavior, back channel discussions, and hidden agendas. The committee’s goal isn’t to determine who owns what; rather, it’s to ensure that everyone understands that no one owns anything.

Organizations should look at social media governance as a way to re-think traditional ownership roles in their organization. When this type of governance is based on open discussion and mutual respect instead of turf-protecting and power grabs, who owns what becomes less important and who KNOWS what becomes more important.

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Grading Social Media

Later this week, I’m giving the keynote address at the University of Southern Indiana’s Communications Symposium, and while I’m there, I’ll be meeting with a number of their communications classes, including Intro to Interpersonal Communications, Special Events Promotions, Internet Communications, and several others. If you’ve kept up with this blog, you know that I’m really interested in the intersection of social media and education, and my old Public Relations 101 professor now teaches in the USI communications department, so I’m particularly excited for this opportunity.

While I’m sure I’ll be having a ton of conversations with both students and faculty, about a lot of different topics, one of the things that I’m interested in learning more about is how (and if) social media has had any impact where it really matters at the collegiate level – student grades. In last week’s #SMCEDU chat, we discussed the issue of grading students in classes that teach social media. If you’re teaching social media, how do you grade your students on how well they’re using it? What about those classes that aren’t teaching social media, is there a place for social media in those classes too? How should social media fit into the world of academia? What’s the real-life impact of social media on the integrity of the academic process?

I remember back when I was in college, social media wasn’t really used yet – the closest we had was AOL Instant Messenger and Wikipedia. My campus didn’t even have cell phone coverage until after I graduated so no one had cell phones either. Grading the use of social media was a non-issue. But now, with social media such a huge part of public relations, advertising, marketing, sociology, and even biology, it’s becoming even more important that the next generation not only understands how to use social media, but how to use it for more than just organizing fraternity mixers or keeping in touch with your classmates.

The question then becomes – how do we teach our students to use social media? Do we even need to, or is this a case of the students knowing more than the teacher? Is it better to have a separate “Social Media 101” class, or to integrate it into existing classes? Do you teach all students, or just those in particular disciplines? And then, how do we grade them? What makes one better at using social media than another – more fans/followers? Higher quality posts? Greater engagement?

I tend to subscribe to the theory that social media should be:

  1. Weaved into how the students work – More and more professors are starting blogs, using YouTube in the classroom, and even tweeting.  When students see their professor using social media tools as part of the normal day-to-day way of doing things, it makes the students look at these tools not as “cool new things,” but a normal part of doing business. When email first came into vogue, how did students learn how to use it? They learned it from their professors – they knew that the professor was going to be using email throughout the class and unless you used it as well, you weren’t going to get a good grade. The use of email itself wasn’t graded, but you were at a severe disadvantage if you didn’t use it.
  2. Integrated into the class rather than as a separate class unto itself – If you’re a communications major, I think you should learn about social media’s impact to communications. If you’re a biology major, you should learn about social media’s impact on biology. I don’t see a need for a “Social Media 101” course, primarily because everyone will use it differently, especially across disciplines. Would you have a Social Media and Communications 101, a Biology and Social Media 101 course, etc.? It’s just not scalable. No, I’d rather see social media taught as it’s applicable to the individual classes, not as a one-size fits all approach to learning how to tweet or blog.

Grading social media then, becomes not so much an issue of identifying if or how well students are using social media, but of integrating social media into the curriculum where it makes sense for your class, of integrating it into the way the teacher teaches, and then just grading as you always have. Because if a student gets an “A” in my PR 101 class, that would mean that they’ve read my blog posts, that they’ve taken my quizzes on books like Brian Solis’ “Putting the Public Back into Public Relations,” that they’ve completed the class assignment where they had to write a collaborative paper using a wiki, that they had to create a relationship with an external blogger and write a guest post for them, and that they’ve participated in class discussion, either in person, or via our closed Yammer network.

How would you grade the use of social media in today’s college environment?

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