Tag Archives: social

You Become What You Measure

January 6, 2014

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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

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Why I Hate the Word “Pitching”

July 4, 2012

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I've grown increasingly frustrated when I hear my PR colleagues tell me they're going to "pitch the media." Maybe it's because my non-PR friends look at the term so pejoratively. Maybe it's because it implies a certain level of salesmanship. Maybe it's because it erodes my own idealistic view of the media as the fourth estate and that I hate seeing so much of it be controlled by pitchmen who take advantage of lazy journalists. Maybe it's all of the above. For me, it's almost as bad as our industry's most hated word – "spin." Then I read Amber Mac's excellent piece on Fast Company about how social media can help save the PR industry from bad pitches as well as Gini Dietrich's follow-up post on Spin Sucks, and I got all riled up again how PR people rely on blind pitching instead of focusing on the "relations" part of public relations.

When someone tells me that they're pitching something to the media, the default image in my head has sadly become this –

From spamming thousands of reporters and bloggers at a time in the hopes of getting 1% of them to cover your "news," to copying and pasting entire pitches and only changing the name, to using outdated information, PR people have become used car salesmen, interested more in making the sale than on building an honest relationship. At some point, it became acceptable to send an awful pitch out to 10,000 people and hope that 1% would cover it instead of crafting customized pitches that go to 200 people with the expectation that 50% would cover it. Wonderful. Glad to see that we're modeling our pitching approach after Nigerian email scams. Aren't we better than this? PR people have to stop trying to take the easy way out. Stop being lazy and start taking pride in each and every pitch you make. It is YOUR name after all that will be tied to that pitch. It's YOUR agency's name that may end up on a blog somewhere as an example of a bad pitch.  Act like every pitch you make is a reflection of you and your agency…because it is.

One of the things I've told my teams over the years is that the best media pitch is usually pretty simple. It's usually something along the lines of "hey man – just read your latest post and wanted to clue in on a client of mine who's got a cool new product that I think you'd like. Check it out and let me know what you think." While the "pitch" is surprisingly simple, the reason it works is because of all the work that's required to get to that point. For it to work, it assumes that you've established a relationship with this person, that they trust you, that you only share things like this that they are truly be interested in, that you've interacted with them before when you weren't pitching him on something, and that the link they click will give them everything they need to know – photos, videos, quotes, contact information, research, etc. In other words, there's no need to worry about crafting a perfect pitch if you've already laid the groundwork – at that point, it's just two people talking with one another.

Let's all work together to change the connotation of the word pitch and agree that we should aspire to be better than used car salesmen and spammers.  Let's make pitching less about trying to sell the media on something and focusing on providing them with what they need – good stories to tell that will be interesting to their readers. Let's pledge to:

  • Get to know the people covering our clients before we start pitching them
  • Read at least three different stories/articles/posts they've written before reaching out to them
  • Know if my contact prefers to be contacted via Twitter, email, Facebook, phone, or carrier pigeon
  • Avoid making our first contact with the blogger/reporter our pitch email – Retweet them, comment on a blog post, answer a question they have
  • Help the media do their job even if there's no direct benefit for me
  • Pitch fewer people but aim for a higher success rate
  • Stop blindly "trying to create more buzz" and instead be more of a PR consultant to my client
  • Write my pitches in actual English like I'm talking to a person instead of my client's key messages
  • Refrain from spamming dozens of reporters with the same email
  • Never ever send an email with any form of the words – "just checking to see if you got my email" (because they did, and then they deleted it)
  • Validate everything that I find out about a reporter/blogger from a PR database
  • Clearly identify the "what's in it for me?" for everyone I contact
  • Include my name, contact information, and links to more information
  • Stop overselling our pitches – when everything is ground-breaking, innovative, and the first-of-its-kind, nothing is
  • Coordinate our pitches with our clients so that they aren't surprised by questions from the media
  • Realize that no one likes to feel like they're being pitched, but they do enjoy hearing a good story
  • Read and proofread and read and proofread everything before I hit send

These are just off the top of my head – I'm sure there are plenty of others. If you're a PR pro, what other tips would you add here? If you're a reporter/blogger, what do you wish PR people would do better when pitching you? 

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A Community of Practice Is More Than a Website

November 1, 2011

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A community of practice (CoP) is, according to cognitive anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, a group of people who share an interest, a craft, and/or a profession.

Over the last year or so, the term communities of practice has entered the social media buzzword lexicon along with virtual collaboration, engagement, platforms, and Enterprise 2.0. Senior leaders want to establish them, new employees are being told to join them, and middle managers are being told to support them, but what, exactly are they?

Nowhere in the definition above does it mention the words website, wiki, blog, or social network. Nowhere does it say that it has to be virtual or physical or even either/or. There is no reference to the tools that are used to facilitate the communication and collaboration, nor is there a defined set of characteristics that define how a community of practice works or what topics they discuss.

A group of people who share an interest, a craft and/or a profession. Sounds pretty simple, right? Sounds like we might already be members of dozens of communities of practice – at work, at church, at school, etc. It’s just a group of people communicating and collaborating openly around a topic that they all care about. CoPs have existed for as long as people have had a desire to learn from each other.

Whether your organization knows it or not, your company/government agency is already filled with CoPs. Just because all of their communication and collaboration doesn’t happen to occur on your designated SharePoint site doesn’t mean that people aren’t already communicating and collaborating around a shared topic of interest. Whether it’s the group of new hires who coordinate the monthly happy hours or the new parents who get together over lunch to discuss work/life balance, communities of practice are alive and well within most organizations. They just might not be the ones with a unique URL on the Intranet.

Are you creating a community of practice or are you just creating another website? How does your CoP stack up to some of these statements?

  • People voluntarily spend time helping others in a community of practice. People visit a website to download what they need.
  • CoPs focus on adding value to their members. Websites focus on getting new users.
  • The success of a CoP is measured in anecdotes, efficiencies, and employee satisfaction. The success of a website is measured by hits, visits, and referrals.
  • The members of a CoP volunteer their expertise to create new tech features. A website has paid developers who add new features.
  • A CoP is built around conversation. A website is built around content.

Communities of practice have been around for decades, and for decades, they’ve helped countless organizations navigate major changes, increase productivity, cut duplication, and make work more enjoyable. In many cases, the use of social media has enhanced these CoPs by providing more tools and opportunities for people to connect with other people. Unfortunately, social media has also given rise to zombie communities filled with content on blogs, forums, and wikis, but which lack any actual human interaction. What are you building?

For more about Communities of Practice, check out Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge, Harvard Business School Press, 2002 by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, and William M. Snyder.

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I Didn’t Fail the Test, I Just Found 100 Ways to Do It Wrong

June 22, 2011

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I like failures. I like hearing about failures and learning from them. I like hearing that other people have made the same mistakes I have and succeeded in spite of (in some cases, because of) those mistakes. I like hearing how one social strategy fails miserably in one organization yet thrives in another. Sure, I enjoy talking with my counterparts in other organizations about their successes, but I almost enjoy hearing about the failures more. At least then we get to talk about some real honest stories instead of an endless of marketing-speak talking about engagement, authenticity, and community.

I’ve written before about the need to start talking about failures at conferences so that others may learn, so that’s why I was excited to attend Kevin Jones‘ presentation, “Enterprise 2.0 Failures – And What We Learn From Them,” yesterday at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference here in Boston. Kevin is a Social Media & Network Strategist/Manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and he gave us several “ways to fail” at Enterprise 2.0 based on his experiences at NASA. Update: Make sure you check out Kevin’s post on his presentation as well as his slides/video that he used.

Here are ten that I particularly liked:

How to Fail at Enterprise 2.0

  1. Work in a Culture of Low Trust – Kevin said he was talking to one manager who said, “I just don’t trust my people. “If they bash another group, I don’t want that group to see it. Their English is really horrible – I don’t want anyone else in the organization to know that my people are idiots.”  You could have the greatest tools in the world, but no blog or wiki is going to work if this is the culture in which it’s implemented.
  2. Rely on Stats – Trotting all of the latest industry stats on Enterprise 2.0 adoption and spending is great, but nothing resonates as well with a senior leader as actually getting them to sit down and use the tools until they have that “ah-ha” moment for themselves.
  3. Underestimate the Political Landscape – Kevin had “a NASA employee assigned to watch over me to keep me out of trouble, but I still got my hand slapped multiple times.”  He was told by the CIO to let him know if he encounters any problems, but then another senior leader told him that he wasn’t allowed to speak to the CIO unless he was accompanied by this other leader. Not understanding the unique office politics at play and how to make them work for you is a recurring theme in Enterprise 2.0 failures.
  4. Ignore people who have done this before – This is the “but I’m unique!” argument. Everyone thinks their organization is unique and different from everyone else that they ignore the lessons learned and best practices of others in their organization and assume that they know best. Unfortunately, they usually don’t.
  5. Treat this as YOUR project – At first, Kevin thought of himself as the Head of All Things Social. He soon realized that he was spinning his wheels as others weren’t buying into his vision. Not until he gave others ownership over certain parts of the strategy did he start to garner support.
  6. Treat this as an IT project – In Enterprise 2.0 implementations, the money often comes from the IT department, and unfortunately, that means that these initiatives are often implemented like an IT project. “Let’s just get the tools up and running – we’ll worry about the people later!” Enterprise 2.0 has to be treated like people project with an IT component, not the other way around.
  7. Go Cheap – You get what you pay for, in terms of hardware, software, and people. Kevin mentioned that he led this huge promotional push to get people to log into the platform and it worked! Unfortunately, it worked much better than the IT people thought it would, and they didn’t have the right server space/bandwidth in place to handle the influx of people. So instead of a good news story about user adoption, it turned into people logging into a new collaboration site, only to receive a 404 error. You can’t commit halfway to Enterprise 2.0 – you can’t say, “well, we can afford the tools, but not the community managers” or vice versa.
  8. Assume this is about collaboration, being social – Enterprise 2.0 isn’t about creating a Facebook behind the firewall or giving people a way to collaborate. It’s about using technology to help employees do their work. The ability to create a blog that your co-workers can read is meaningless to most people. The ability to easily update and share your weekly status report with your entire project team without having to sift through multiple versions in your inbox? Now that’s something they can get on board with.
  9. Make Policy Ugly – Forcing your people to read and agree to a lengthy document filled with do not do this, do not do that legal-ese is akin to putting up a “Beware of Dog! No Trespassing!” sign on your front gate. That doesn’t say come on in and collaborate – that says, we’re protecting our butt because we don’t trust you.
  10. Forget that you’re working with humans – These aren’t “users” or “visitors” you’re dealing with. These are people. These are your colleagues. They want to feel like they’re joining a community of other people who can help them, not using some impersonal tool with strict rules and policies governing their every move.

*The title is a quote from Ben Franklin

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