Next move in the social business game?

Last night I attended a panel event on the use of social tools in the workplace organised by head of digital and social for Fishburn Hegdes (@fishburnhedges) (and fellow Gooner) Chris Reed (@chris_reed) . The panel consisted of Andrew Grill (@andrewGrill) partner at IBM Interactive and renowned social business thought-leader, Miguel Garcia (@MiguelAngelo) Customer Success Manager for Yammer in London, Ben Matthews (@Benmatthe) Head of strategic communications for eBay in Europe) and Jacobina Plummer (@jacobinaplummer) Global Change & Communications Manager, Agile Working for Unilever.

With the debate on the terminology around what social business is and if it means anything at all to the all important C-Suite, it was really interesting getting the views, real use cases and personal anecdotes of the panel session.

Key takeaways for me:

  • In a global organisation with thousands of staff, the use of an internal social network is essentially a ‘can’t live without’ particularly in the modern age of distributed work forces
  • The use (or in some cases misuse) of social tools with any organisation relies on those at the very top setting an example
  • What qualifies as success differs from organisation to organisation as expectations are very different (obvious but worth stressing)
  • Social networks within the firewall should not replace the role of line managers to instilling a sense of purpose for employees but instead serve to augment the organisational culture.
  • Agencies and consultancies (thankfully) have a role to play in helping organisations implement best in class practices but need to be able to demonstrate they can ‘walk the walk’ and not just ‘talk the talk’

As organisations  continually look to transform themselves in digital age, I suspect we will see these discussions ramp up further on this side of the pond over the next 2 to 3 years. Interesting times as they say.

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Resetting the ‘PR’ button?

I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad sign but the conversation on the future of the PR industry seems to have kicked up a notch in the last few months. The PRCA in collaboration with Ketchum have been leading the debate/discussion on this.

This is a debate that’s always been around but appears to have more people soul searching than I can remember.

As the whole ‘social media thing’ seems to be entering into the trough of disillusionment, PR firms and practitioners are starting to wonder what value they truly offer clients and organisations. It appears the PR industry is going through a trough of disillusionment.

Something I haven’t seen by way of debate from the PRCA though (which given what the acronym stands for, we should) is the notion of ‘consultancy’ versus ‘agency’ thinking. This is an area I’ve been fascinated with for a while now in particular as the consultancy industry as we know is going through a shake up of its own.

For too long those working in PR have adopted an agency mentality – we’ll do what you want for a retained fee and provide you with the results on a regular basis. The main reason you hire us is because you probably don’t have the time or resource to do it yourself. 

PR, sadly, in most circles has become synonymous with media coverage and relationship building with stakeholders of varying degrees. Agencies are relied upon to ‘oil the wheels of this process’. There are obviously exceptions but in the main this is how things play out. And it works. In fact, it still works for many.

Then however there’s the consulting approach. This is more about businesses having a problem they don’t know how to solve. In most cases it’s not about throwing bodies at a problem. An organisation has already thought through a problem and are stumped. So they’ll call in consultants to help work through how to solve this. Typically this function fell to management consultants who employed very smart people to come up with solutions to specific problems. Again that works. And still works for many.

But the landscape of online behaviour is changing things. Running businesses where the expectations of customers, potential customers, employees, shareholders and competitors are changing by the minute means for those in PR specific functions, areas that might have required an ‘agency’ offering means they now need a ‘consultancy’ solution.

It’s only a subtle difference. But a difference none the less. Setting the expectation and delivering on it are real business issues now because the expectation being set externally by industry-agonistic leaders who’s work is viewed in public forums.

In essence, the communications function is now inadvertently more strategic and thought through than ever before. Governments and public bodies have long realised this. Social networking software has pretty much forced businesses to catch up.

So what does that mean for the the PR industry?

In my view, if you’re in the strategic space you need to follow the consulting methodology. In all likelihood this means project work, developing analytically derived insights,  outcomes based results and pretty much staking your reputation on your recommendations.

As ever, all views and counter points welcome.