Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Is PR giving ‘Social Media’ a bad name?

Here is my article that was published in the December / January issue of Marketing Magazine.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts!

The bell has rung: social media play time is over.
Digital media is now a way of life for most, becoming a fundamental element of brand reputation management, yet the PR industry is still having trouble getting to grips with some of the fundamental basics. Play time is over and the industry needs to recognize the importance of digital communications.

Given that PR people have always been experts at building advocates, much more so than other disciplines, this creates a huge opportunity for PR agencies. However, agencies must upgrade their staff skill sets if they are to capitalize and survive in the future. Agency bosses must take digital communications seriously by investing in the right staff and training existing staff so that social media is ingrained into the fabric of the agency.

The social media pie is still relatively small in terms of revenue, but the pie is growing and clients are seeing it as a priority. A recent Forrester study, entitled ‘Global Social Media Planning Survey’, found that 53 per cent of marketing managers globally plan to increase their investment in social media. Bear in mind this was during a recession year! Furthermore, research conducted by Weber Shandwick across six major European markets, entitled ‘INLINE Communications’, found that online advocacy – defined as online user reviews and recommendations – has replaced recommendations from friends and family as the most influential source of information. Anectodal research confirms that Asian audiences are also relying more and more on internet dialogue for their information(while this isn’t Asian focused research, Weber Shandwick is working on this!). Therefore, creating an environment where conversations about your brand is encouraged and rewarded can play a key role in building your brand reputations.

Social media smoke and mirrors?
There is a great deal of hype without any real social media proof points within the industry. Part of the blame lies with those agencies that have no expertise but pretend they do. Sadly, social media expertise is increasingly being ridiculed coming a bit of a joke as so- called ‘experts’ do not understand the relationship between social media and a brand’s business outcome. The ‘fakers’ are making money consulting brands about engaging customers and brandishing buzzwords like ‘transparency’, ‘authenticity’ and ‘blogger engagement’. But they are failing to demonstrate how social media channels can really help businesses achieve theirits goals, and as a result, causeing serious damage to the reputation of our industry.

In addition, advertising, digital, media purchasing and PR agencies are all vying for ownership of the space. Of course, different disciplines will approach social media from different angles, but we need to consider which tactic/tool/platform/application in our toolbox will best help the client achieve its objectives. Agencies from different disciplines need to work better together to clearly define the use of social media for different objectives – whether it is to drive brand awareness, build communities of advocates, internal communications or to drive sales. By ceasing the bombardment of noise about social media and better aligning it to the overall strategy, clients will be clearer about how it will benefit them.

Digital communications should not be about campaigns or projects, but an approach that requires long- term planning and commitment. The real benefit of digital communications is that you can build communities of advocates that genuinely like a brand. These advocates have their own network of communities that in turn learn about a brand in an organic way, which may influence them to become customers and advocates themselves. Most importantly, as advocates for a brand, they are engaged and are not just viewers.

Social media in PR
From a PR standpoint, social media should not be considered in a silo, but rather an additional weapon tool in our PR arsenalkit. We should not be talking about an online or offline approach, but rather an inline approach; a strategy that utilizes tools and tactics that best helps a business achieve its goals, whether it is online or offline. By adopting a response-oriented and lead generation approach to social media, we can help brands build communities of advocates, increase their customer/follower database, increase search traffic and, thus create more brand awareness, thought leadership, and all those things that help make brands exceptional.

However, to do this, the PR industry as a whole, needs to build its own credibility to convincingly own its share of the pie. Agencies must develop expertise in PR and Digital – they are not mutually exclusive.! This year saw PR agencies taking the first step on the ladder by recruiting digital specialists. But this is just the first step. Agency bosses must continue to embed digital communication skills into the fabric of the agency, ensuring PR consultants are sufficiently trained in the new skills available to them and helping them to consider integrating digital channels as part of the work they are already doing. For example, let’s say a team is working on crisis communications on behalf of a client. Rather than just using traditional methods, they should also be thinking about the impact of online media and how social media channels can be used strategically.

To all those PR agency heads, here are three suggestions you may wish to adopt as your New Year’s Resolutions:
- Eat more pie: Build the agency’s digital communications expertise to better consult clients
- Be more truthful to clients: Don’t be a social media faker. It harms the credibility of the industry as a whole, not just your agency
- Invest in staffHelp my staff more: PR as it was will be no longer.! Arm employees with the knowledge and skill- sets they need to consult clients in this ever evolvinge new world of communication

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