Sorting out your reality problem – the crux of social business

Every now and again you come across a piece of writing that hits the nail squarely on the head. An article that resonates so strongly with you that you find yourself nodding furiously in agreement as you read it.

This is one such article. Alistair Campbell who most will know from New Labour has written a brilliant piece on why the world of PR is changing – It’s a must read piece for anyone working in the practice of communications.

There are a couple of key points that stand out for me but the one that really struck a chord was this:

I get calls from people out of the blue – again the new world. I am on Facebook, Twitter and people can email me direct on my website. Helps me cut out middle men and agents and get better deals for what I do. Makes people feel you are accessible – which I am. But when a government or company or a big brand comes on, I always assume two things – they have a problem, and they think it is about the communications. They think they need a spin doctor.

So I go and see them and the first thing I do is say who are your key people, and I ask to see them too, at the same time. And I get out some plain white postcards.

And on each one is written the words ‘The main objective of our organization is…’ and I ask them to end that sentence. Then I ask them to turn over the postcard, and it says ‘The strategy to meet our objective is…’ and I ask them to fill that out too. Then I gather them in. And nine times out of 10, I gather in a stack of different objectives, strategies which are tactics, or strategies which are objectives, and I say to them… you don’t have a spin problem, you have a reality problem. And I say if you are not aligned on strategy, you the key people running the show, why should the public be expected to know and hear what you are trying to say or sell to them, and why should the media not take every chance it can get to make your life more difficult, pore over your errors, ignore your successes?

So good public affairs is not about spin; it is about strategy, and reputation.

Spot on.

However, how does a PR manager or agency partner even begin to address this? As Campbell rightly points out the role of communications within many organisations is treated as a luxury. Very few in the industry are able to command the level of trust and respect required to get senior executives to ‘align on strategy’. I daresay you need to be an old, white man with grey hair which knocks out a lot of those currently working in the profession.

There are ways and means though. And I believe this is where the notion of social business can really come into it’s own (and by social business I mean something akin to this definition).

One of the best ways of helping a company sort out its reality problem is to objectively show it what its community thinks of it (and by that I don’t mean Facebook fans. I mean customers, employees, partners, suppliers, shareholders, competitors and pretty much anyone with someone to gain or lose by that company).

Knowing what your stakeholders think of you has always been good business. The beauty of the technological world we live in means we now have the tools to cost effectively capture that intelligence and then analyse it and work it into a strategic approach (and no I’m not just talking about social listening. I mean in-depth community analysis both inside and outside an organisation).

Taking this one step further, those in PR/comms advisory roles should add running strategic workshops to their offerings as well as tactical creative implementations (I highly recommend this book called Gamestorming as a good place to start). Then they need to start speaking the language of business (ie how can I help you make money or how can I help you save money).

I’ve long believed the world of PR goes further than press, media and spin. It’s good to read the alleged king of spin echo that sentiment.

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Thinking about social, luxury and China

I attended a fascinating conference in Paris a few weeks ago. (I meant to publish this then but work and child got in the way). It was the L2 thinktank. A research firm I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of before particularly because of the quality (and honesty) of the research work they produce is really insightful.

The crux of the conference was about how luxury brands could take advantage of markets like China where the online world is vast compared to Blighty or the good ol US of A. I was even allowed to throw in my two penith in about what to consider when building an integrated global campaign.

I’m not going to lie. It was a stats fest but in a good way. Here’s some of the key nuggets that I jotted down.

  • Only 8% of luxury companies localise their social presences for language
  • Household incomes of over $30k is considered luxury in China
  • Russians spend on average 10 hours per month on social networks compared to a global average of 4.5 globally

Other things I was impressed by:

  • The presenter of the Digital IQ stats ability to deliver a great presentation despite someone snoring, very loudly, in the audience. (I believe he took advantage of the ‘drink wine with lunch’ policy).
  • The cookies served in the coffee break
  • Me spilling an entire cup of coffee but managing to miss the lady I was speaking to

If you’re into the luxury market scene, I’d highly recommend checking out the L2 guys

What is influence?

What is influence and how do you measure it? It’s the eternal question that PR and marketing types constantly ask themselves. A case in point comes from the guys at the Brass who’ve created a Twitter influence measurement tool not too dissimilar to our own Chatterscope and are experimenting with it as part of Social Media Week London (#SMWLdn)

For those whom social media is very much part of their day job, measuring influence from an analytical standpoint is, has been and will continue to be a challenge. And that’s because it’s inherently not something that can be measured. Influence on someone else comes down to the sum of a person’s right and left-brained take on things. Of course, we can track specific metrics on campaigns (and this is where PR professionals need to embrace analytics) but it’s important to place as much weight on the irrational, fuzzy, element in campaigns as well.

My approach on how PR and social media people can report on or track influence for clients comes down to balance. Companies and brands should have a pretty good idea of what influence they wield offline and then seek to replicate this online. The two should exist in tandem otherwise you end up with a well-known brand name that gets exploited online or more commonly an online sensation that gets forgotten about when next week’s hype comes along.

Can sports and social media mix?

Social media and sport are two things that play some part in most of my days. One from a professional standpoint and one for personal reasons (I don’t need to say which is which).

It’s therefore very interesting for me when the two collide. Like Man U deciding to discourage it’s players from using social networking sites. Seems crazy. For a team that boosts about its overseas support, you’d think it would encourage its players to engage with the fans.

On the other hand, I was very impressed to see an Arsenal blogger I follow make the step into live blogging sphere. For me this is the future of community communications where people with shared interests converse openly and in real time. Critics will say these platforms are open to abuse by those with extreme views. True they can. But I’m of the opinion that a warts and all view of human beings in their natural element is one of the most enlighting things to behold.

(Disclaimer: I’m an Arsenal fan so apologies for the bias of this post)

Social media: Keeping things local and global

Earlier this week, I chaired the latest instalment in the LEWIS digital dinner series held at the Great John Street Hotel in Manchester. The forum allows us to explore ideas and views from business local business leaders and influencers on how social media affects them. The discussions tend to be a mix of personal opinion, professional curiosity and stimulating thought. And this discussion was no different. One of the hot topics of debate was how social media really does allow the local element of a community feel local. As observed by one attendee, social media can really help a community retain its essence particularly in an age where news and the flow of information is global.

In a week where the antics of the BNP and Question Time dominated the headlines and thoughts of the nation, I believe social media affords the chance for everyone to have a say and have their say counted irrespective of where they live or from what background they are from.

Cutting through the ‘vapour ware’ of social media

Social-media-tagsLast Wednesday saw LEWIS London host its second digital dinner – a session where we invite a mixture of clients, journalists, bloggers and PR people to share their thoughts and views on all things digital.

The dinner was particularly exquisite and the discussion offered plenty of food for thought. Fitting that as the Telegraph ran a piece on London being the social media capital of the world, the group discussion took on a different approach to the usual conversations that come with talking about social media such as “Will Twitter replace email?” and “What’s the best social network to sign up to?”

It appears that as a consequence of the avalanche of slides, tweets, LinkedIn groups, blogs etc about social media, there is a growing concern that much of what is said amounts to ‘vapour ware’ (the corporate way of saying hot air).

The last eighteen months have seen such an explosion in what people hear about social media, it is easy to forget that its adoption is still relatively low in the vast majority of businesses out there. By and large companies are still unsure about how social media will actually help them over and above just having 1,000 followers on Twitter or a Facebook fanpage. While there are currently hundreds of PR firms offering to help companies talk the social media talk, judging by the discussion many are fed up of hearing the talk and now want to start walking the walk.

(This post also appears on the LEWIS 360 blog)

Social media isn’t about the tech

Last week I had the privilege of chairing a discussion on what social media means to businesses with my Bristol-based colleages.fridge-twitter

Now usually such discussions tend to focus on Twitter and Facebook – and we did discuss both in earnest. However, this time conversation turned into more of a philosophical, and at times ethical, dimension on how people communicate. (Well aside from the fridge twitter talk. Thanks to Marc Cooper of the Bristol Evening Post for remembering this bit).

Although there was some sceptism on what the future holds for the likes of Twitter, a point we all agreed on was that irrespective of the technology, people will always be interested in knowing what others are up to and people will always want to tell others what they’re up to. In my opinion, this is why a Twitter-esq service will always be around even if the technology that facilitates it changes.

140 characters – what’s the worst that could happen?

At a recent event organised by my agency (LEWIS Social Media summit) I got into a debate with a client and a colleague about whether it was right for a company to trust its agency to run its Twitter stream.

On one hand, my colleague didn’t feel this was right and the agency was overstepping the mark.

“It would be a logistical nightmare having to get tweets approved,” he argued.

Taking another stance, my client didn’t think it was in the spirit of Twitter for a PR agency to take this role.

I’m a bit uncertain about this one. I speak to journalists, analysts and other influencers all the time explaining to them what my clients do and stand for in my own words (of course this will largely incorporate the client’s messaging and principles).

I agree in the case of an official statement being made, it should be the official spokesperson for the company speaking, tweeting, blogging or providing the comment.

But for casual industry observations, can a PR person really do that much damage with 140 characters at their disposal?

If they can, maybe they’re the wrong agency.

Can social media turn PR from dark art to science?

There’s no denying social media has bought a level of science to the somewhat dark art that is PR. A recent (and excellent post) by Dave Fleet offers some really good examples of how and why PRs need to stop hiding behind the ‘creatively’ banner and get to grips with numbers.

I have to agree.

(Disclaimer: My grounding is in engineering of which mathematics played a huge part). That said, throughout my PR career I’ve listened to arguments about measuring the value of PR and anyone who has spent any length of time in the industry will have dealt with the dreaded AVE metrics.

An old colleague of mine once said to me, “What’s the point of trying to measure PR? You can’t measure influence”. I had to agree with him to a point as the metrics we had at our disposal seemed largely irrelevant to our clients business.

This has changed now. Using tools such as bit.ly means we can provide some level of quantitative analysis to the ‘conversation’ or ‘influence’ we’re paid to generate.

We PR types always complain that we aren’t taken seriously enough at board level. Social media and, more importantly the analysis of how it impacts a business, will at least allow us to make some inroads.

Socking it to soc med

Every now and again you read an article that makes you laugh out loud (no I’m not going to use LOL for reasons that will become clear).

I recently had a social media detox for a week – an order from my wife for our honeymoon. On return to the UK, one of the first articles I read was Paul Carr’s write up of his trip to Butlins. I strongly recommend it to anyone working as a ‘social media guru’ or in corporate communications.

For someone who works and constantly waxes lyrical about the benefits of social media, I have to admit there are some companies for which soc med just isn’t the answer. On first inspection, I thought Butlins attempts were a perfect example of a company that doesn’t quite get social media (we’ll just invite some social media experts on a weekend and everyone will see us as down with the kids).

But do they really need to? Sometimes a company can get so caught up in the hype, it loses all its self-awareness (PRs are notorious for this crime).

As Paul and his Butlin cronies concluded, it struck me that at times and for some social media isn’t the magic bullet. Just stick to what you do best and play on it.

That said, Butlins will have undoubteldy got a huge amount of hits from the piece so maybe they know more about social media than many of the experts….