What’s a Facebook user to do? Acknowledge the reality of a flawed platform that we’re still going to use

By Steve Bell and Allie Friedman

Google [itself a provider of opportunities for intrusion] the phrase “What should people do about Facebook now?” and the first page of responses is all about getting off Facebook.

None are from this month, or recent days, however, when the revelations about Cambridge Analytical stealing your data emerged.

So, don’t say you weren’t warned. It’s called Facebook. Its DNA doesn’t have a privacy gene. And since it first appeared, critics of all persuasions warned it was a deal with the devil.

But, indeed, what do businesses and individuals do now?

Facebook rushed out new options to provide “more” control over privacy, and make it easier to find them. An NPR story from March 28 also notes that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg solemnly promised improved privacy options – in 2010. How’d that work out for you?

Face reality here. No one’s putting the Facebook genie back in the bottle. We may worry about air pollution and global warming, but most of us still drive a car. We know running will lead to injuries, but we still run. We may not love our jobs, but we need the money.

Point is, even if you’re not on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and LinkedIn, even if you don’t have a smartphone and stay off the internet, your information is still out there for the plundering.

If you are a company or a non-profit, a school or college, your information is available in public. What can you do? Be smart, careful and thoughtful about what you share.

The lawyer and PR person’s admonition goes like this: “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.” And former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer added “never put it in email” – advice he apparently could not follow.

NPR reported that Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan and Deputy General Counsel Ashlie Beringer said: “We’ve heard loud and clear that privacy settings and other important tools are too hard to find and that we must do more to keep people informed.”

The changes make it easier for users to see what information they’ve shared, delete certain personal information and control ads that they see, according to NPR.

In the end, will businesses leave Facebook in any meaningful numbers? Not likely. Nor will individuals. The very currency Facebook prints its billions on is your information. It’s not going to stop mining that data. To expect otherwise is like telling a tobacco company to sell a healthy cigarette. A business or a person can limit access, but it’s counter-intuitive to think for a moment that you could stay private and stay on Facebook.

Or, that if you were to leave Facebook that your information would somehow migrate to a vault only you can open.

Facebook started and spread like the flu with the idea of sharing. We share where and what we eat; what we buy; where we vacation; what our children do; what we think today; what we love and what angers us.

Expecting Facebook not to share this information is like waiting for a subway train with no other passengers. Not going to happen.

In 2015, the Pew Research Center found that 83 percent of mothers and 74 percent of fathers say they agree or strongly agree that they get parenting information from social media. Where is Amazon, Kimberly-Clark, Earth’s Best, Baby Bjorn and Beech-Nut going to seek and find these parents?

What’s the key to the success of Amazon and Google? Data. How did Spotify turn the music business upside down? Data. All of these global companies that attract millions of users leverage the information they get from them, whether it’s the products they buy, the songs they listen to or the places for which they search.

That’s not a secret. And it’s most certainly not stopping people from online shopping. It’s part of what you sign up for when you download an app, create an email account or type “where to eat dinner downtown.” Whether you like or it not, it’s the world we live in today and we can’t place all of the blame on the company.

Even the supposed solution to, or inoculation against, Facebook’s sharing too much information is #deleteFacebook. It’s a hashtag, people. You’re sharing a decision on social media about leaving social media?

We know soft drinks are unhealthy; we know too much beer or wine is dangerous; we know cars crash and household cleaners are fatal if swallowed.

Reforms are needed in Facebook’s operations. Social – there’s that word again – pressure will drive change. The Federal Trade Commission may institute new rules and protections. And, Facebook itself, having lost almost $50 billion in market capitalization on paper in two days last week, will adjust.

Be wary, however, not of Facebook today, but what’s next. You can start your car with a phone app; you have a Google Home or Amazon Alexa at your house or Apple’s Siri on your phone and in your car; you may even have a camera in your refrigerator so you can see from the supermarket aisle if you need milk.

What’s next should be the bigger concern.

For more information:

https://digiday.com/media/facebook-has-a-real-problem-nbcuniversal-ceo-steve-burke/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=digidaydis&utm_source=publishing&utm_content=180328

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/28/technology/personaltech/social-media-timeline.html

Community Building 101: The Acid Test Every Message, Blog Post, Tweet and Idea Must Pass

If you’re in business, you understand value. You ensure every action adds value to your business goals or bottom line. But do you evaluate your community-building initiatives as stringently?

Why social communities are important

Social communities can make or break your business. Whether you’re in B2B or B2C, there’s no better way to “cut through the clutter” than having a community of customers, prospects and influencers that has your back.

Social communities are valuable and can be your brand’s strongest advocates. They can also be a big driver for bringing in new customers. CrossFit and SoulCycle are both great example of using the social aspect of their brands to differentiate themselves in an otherwise crowded market.

But social communities don’t happen overnight.

First, choose the right audience for your specific cause or topic. This is where customer service is crucial, no matter the business or industry. This is the group that should remain at the center of all your marketing and community initiatives. Some quick, but important, questions to ask include:

  • Is the audience appropriate for your business?
  • Has your audience changed since you first started building a community?

Keep in mind that irrelevant, legacy audiences can be a source of blind headaches when they voice their disappointment in the way the company has changed. On the flip side, relevant legacy audiences can be your best friends – especially in times of trouble.

Once you’ve nailed down your audience, you’re ready to nurture your budding community with these four methods:

Listen

If you’re not engaged in social media listening, you’re missing out on tons of insights about the people who are actively talking about your industry and brand. Keep track of what the top influencers and prospects in your industry are reading and sharing. What hashtags are they using? What types of content are they sharing? What do their bios look like? What are their pain points?

Autonomy

While you want to control every aspect of the community-building efforts, you can’t. Control what you can and act responsibly, but know that at time you need to let your community develop organically. Allow your newfound audience to build its own momentum.

Engagement

Once you’ve kept an eye on the pulse of activity within the community, opportunities to engage will present themselves. Ask and answer questions, comment on their posts, like their activities, share their content and follow them back. Over time, they’ll notice your engagement and appreciate it – and they will likely return the favor.

Reward

People love rewards and they love validation of their actions. Go ahead and thank people for sharing your content. Invite them to company events and webinars. Use your social platforms to maximize brand loyalty by first engaging your social community. Let them be the first to know about your brand’s news, rewards programs and more. This creates an exclusivity that people naturally crave. In turn, you can make your social media platforms the place customers are encouraged to refer your business through different contents, recognition and more.

Great! Now What?

It’s easy to forget that your business is not the center of your customers’ universe. Their lives are filled with experiences, information, relationships and stories that have nothing to do with you.

To them, you are an occasional blip on a crowded radar screen — and if you can maintain some frequency to your blip and some relevance to the audience’s radar screen, you’ve done more than most.

Focus on how well you engage those you attract.

Maintain awareness of your audience and how you want it to change over time as you continue to engage your social community.

To do this, we believe every social initiative, down to each tweet, should pass a quick “acid test” to evaluate its strength.

The Community Acid Test Every Message, Blog Post, Tweet and Idea Must Pass

  • Do we believe it?
  • Will it interest at least 50 percent of our target audience members?
  • Will they believe it?
  • Does it in any way risk making an audience member feel disrespected?
  • Will they feel good passing it along?
  • Does it build on themes our audience has already discussed?
  • Do we mind if the audience runs with it?
  • Can it impact the company in any negative way?
  • Does it add value to our audience’s life?
  • Does it help advance our cause or mission?
  • Does it help audience members feel good about their relationship with us?
  • Does it help build positive bias towards our brand in some way?

Depending on the answers to these questions, teams can easily decide whether to move forward with a specific tactical initiative, such as a particular blog post or tweet.

For example, suppose you sell energy recovery ventilation (ERV) technology for HVAC systems. Over time, you’ve built a social community of salespeople, facilities managers, HVAC equipment suppliers and commercial real-estate owners. For these audiences, you can offer tremendous expertise about HVAC, ERV and a host of associated benefits and opinions. You can start discussions about technology, help your audiences understand the competitive landscape and trade-offs, and opine about a wealth of topics ranging from clean-energy installations to various energy efficiency strategies.

As you can imagine, such an acid test varies from industry to industry. Creating and using your own acid test to evaluate your social content will ensure that you add value to the all-important intersection of your organization and your audiences’ lives.

In return, the community will add value to your business for the long term.

You’ve Cat to be Kitten Me: A Quick Lesson on Cats in the Media

I recently switched desks, moving to another section of the office.

As I broke a sweat hauling a bookshelf, client folders, pictures and knick-knacks to my new space, I realized how much of my stuff is cat-related.

Cards.
Cat butt magnets.
My day-by-day tear-off calendar.
A sticky note dispenser.

(Mind you, these things were given to me. Okay, except the cat butt magnets.) But it isn’t just the tangible “stuff” that’s cat related, it’s also my social media feeds, news sites, emails, TV news segments, GIFs and more.

We all know that dogs are America’s favorite pet. But, IMHO, cats are the ones that are dominating digital media… search algorithms and Google crawlers aside. Nearly two million cat videos were posted to YouTube in 2014 alone, resulting in almost 26 billion views. That year, cat videos received more views per video than any other content category.

For example, since being posted in 2007, Keyboard Cat has received more than 48 million views (and counting) on YouTube. These countless hours of watching cat videos have led to some interesting research.

In a survey of nearly 7,000 people, the Indiana University Media School measured the relationship between watching cat videos and mood. Overall, participants reported fewer negative emotions such as anxiety, annoyance and sadness after watching cat-related online media than before. They also felt more energetic, and the pleasure they got from watching cat videos outweighed the guilt they felt about procrastinating (#preach).

These views, videos and memes eventually led to the world’ first CatCon, held in Los Angeles in June 2015. Modeled after ComicCon, the “cat convention” attracted 12,000 people that year. This year, the crowd topped 30,000, plus 162 cats.

In the media, cat-related stories tend to go viral. Per BuzzFeed’s “Beastmaster,” the average feline story gets almost four times the viral views as canine. That’s not even going into the social media behind it.

Hashtagify reports #cat having a popularity score of 76.2 (never fear, #dog is right up there at 75) on Twitter. However, it looks like cats aren’t spending as much time on Instagram. On the platform, #cat has a mere 124 million posts, compared to #dog’s 147 million.

hashtags data by hashtagify.me

So, what’s a marketer to do with all of this information?

  1. Cat content works – well, really anything furry and cute works. Users can’t resist liking and sharing animals on the internet. Even in terms of B2B social media, don’t be afraid to break through the clutter with furry content. A cat GIF is sure to spark more engagement and produce more smiles.

  1. Cats are your competition – there are thousands of memes, GIFs and videos out there competing for attention. Use this as a way to challenge yourself to think outside the box when it comes to your strategy. At EMA Boston, we do our best to surprise people. This GIF was sent agency-wide to express this idea… it’s the perfect example.
    1. Animals trigger the emotional appeal of your brand and there is a direct connection between sales volume and the emotional connection your consumers have toward a brand. Build a friendship with your audience by using good humor or a soft story – remember this Super Bowl commercial?

     

     

    1. Millennials love cats (or cat content). If your brand is looking for a way to reach millennials, a good cat-themed campaign may do the trick. According to a survey by Mintel, 51 percent of Americans in their 20s and 30s have cats. Just sayin’.

     

    1. Marketing can be fun, people. Do we need another super-serious graphic filled with stats about the user journey or decline in white paper consumption? If you enjoy your own company’s marketing, guess what? Others probably will too.

     

    1. As the winter grows darker and colder, and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder – Google it) begins to kick in, start watching cat videos. It’s cheap therapy. In the meantime, enjoy this cute picture of my feline friend.

     

The Reason Why No One Follows You

Social media is not that different from dating. The reason why you have no followers (or start losing followers) is the same reason you’re not getting a second date. You’re selfish.

OK, not everyone reading this falls into the self-serving category, but take a moment to think about your social presence. Be honest about how your content reflects you and your brand. Is it all about you?

I shared some tips on LinkedIn about how to make your social strategy effective by balancing you with your audience. Check it out and share what you think in the comments below or on LinkedIn.

H2H PR – Haven’t We Always Been Doing It?

shutterstock_142034836Recently, B2B and B2C public relations have had some human company. Human-to-human (H2H), lately one of the industry’s favorite phrases, is now everywhere and it’s gotten there fast. But how people are using it and what it really means don’t seem to be in line.

The two main public relations categories, B2B and B2C, serve to create specificity and clarity when PR professionals describe their tasks and responsibilities. Each segment has its own audience, goals and messaging; differentiating between them allows for more efficient communication between professionals, their potential clients, and their client’s potential clients. In other words, B2B and B2C have their own distinct significations, and this is where H2H differs.

H2H is intended to help focus communicators on the people behind the companies, not on the companies themselves. The idea holds that all interactions are personal, even when executed in a business setting. In this context, for instance, a PR professional for a software security company needs to think about the IT manager as a person in its B2B communications plans, not the general role of the IT manager.

I’ve read and heard many communicators claim that they partake in authentic, feeling, H2H communications. A B2B agency can say they deal in human-to-human communications, just as a B2C agency can – the phrase itself does not speak to the kind of PR or branding being done, but rather to how it’s done. It’s a philosophy behind a practice, rather than the practice itself.

As a philosophy, H2H has become a diluted buzz-phrase, and, on some level, this is understandable. H2H has no alternative. There is nothing to distinguish it by. What would the opposite of H2H communication be? Has there ever been a situation in which we’re not trying to market to other people? The answer is most likely no. In the end, communicators have always been focused on people.

So if PR and creative communications are innately a human exchange, then why is this aspect such a popular topic right now?

shutterstock_113242627

Well, public relations used to be a very linear process, but today it’s not linear at all. PR is merging different outlets and means of accessing information into a single, tailored and aligned communications plan. It reaches beyond creating content or pushing out press releases to creating your own content outlets and nurturing lasting engagement.

Additionally, audiences are more nuanced than ever before. People have more options and outlets to find and express their opinions. While it has always been important for businesses to engage in these conversations, the explosion of communication platforms and communicators has made audience engagement a more challenging task that can’t be ignored.

But we all know this already. It’s this very challenge that invigorates us to strive for success every day. Each era before ours has faced their version of the almighty communications hurdle, and each one after our own will do the same. What we may not be so aware of are the secondary ways in which the hurdles we face influence our communications strategies. Terms like human-to-human and integrated marketing communications are phrases we drew up and then popularized as a way to try to define and somehow harness the hurdles we’re facing. In other words, they’re direct products of our challenges and not necessarily terms for our solutions.

Human-to-human is to business practices as integrated marketing communications is to just plain communications – it’s a method, it’s intuitive, and nobody knows precisely what it means. When you say you’re communicating to humans, what you’re really saying is that you’re doing what you should be doing. When you say you’re deploying an “integrated marketing communications campaign,” what you’re really saying is that you’re doing what you should be doing. These terms aren’t special anymore – they simply identify part of the very fabric of how we exchange news and information for action and reaction.

So, let’s let B2B and B2C delineate the spaces in which communications professionals play and let’s give H2H a break.

 

This post originally appeared on the PRSA Boston blog on July 10, 2014: https://prsaboston.org/blog.php?id=58&reset=1

Justine Sacco Will Make a 2014 Comeback

Justine Sacco's Notorious Tweet

Courtesy of Twitter via The Guardian

Shortly before Christmas, PR executive Justine Sacco sent out a tweet to her couple of hundred followers, then jumped on a flight to South Africa.

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

While she spent the next 16 hours offline flying from London to Cape Town, where she planned to see her family and spend a bit of vacation, her tweet sped around the globe. A horrified population jumped on the callous racism of it.

Articles were written, pundits weighed in, her name became a domain that redirected to AIDS charities, her own bosses denounced her actions, the hashtag #hasjustinelandedyet began trending on Twitter, just entering her name into Google brought up her flight information and one guy even interviewed Justine’s dad at the airport as he was waiting for her to arrive.

Sacco, meanwhile, had no idea any of this was happening. That is, until she turned on her phone and walked off the plane. Soon she was out of a job and the poster child for “how to mishandle your social media presence.”

Her career, however, must go on. She’s a relatively young woman who left a large scar on the internet. Will this very public, very despicable action cause Sacco to lose her public relations career? If she takes the right actions, probably not.

Sacco isn’t the first PR “princess” to find herself in a public mess. Remember Lizzie Grubman? Back in 2001 Grubman backed her Mercedes SUV into a group of people outside of a club in the Hamptons, injuring 16 people. Grubman earned herself 26 felony charges, including DWI, and caused almost $100 million in lawsuits as a result of her actions that night. Years later, Grubman retained her career and even got herself an MTV reality show.

PR executives need to be their own PR representatives, at all times. Like our clients, nobody is perfect. Some make inexcusable mistakes, like Sacco. While others perform less scandalous acts that can still cost them their jobs.

Here are some New Year’s resolutions Justine Sacco might want think about for 2014:

Apologize, apologize, apologize – and mean it

Justine Sacco did issue an apology over the weekend of the incident, albeit a weak one. Would she have issued a Twitter apology had her tweet gone unnoticed by the world? Probably not. If Justine Sacco really wants to apologize, she needs to do it with her actions and her words. Perhaps she should spend some of her newly freed time volunteering with a nonprofit to help them in their crusade to abolish AIDS. Maybe she needs sensitivity training. She might consider volunteering at an orphanage in South Africa where children affected by AIDS could use her help.

Since she doesn’t need to remind the public about her huge mistake, she can do this without telling the world. She should do it quietly and shared only with her inner circle, potential clients and employers. She needs to get on the road to public and private recovery and her actions will speak louder than words.

Use social media responsibly

There is nothing wrong with being edgy. I do it all the time, and overall have a very positive return from the technology community I work with every day. If you are not sure you can handle the responsibility of social media, you need to get out of PR. You are making the rest of us look bad.

Some things to consider when using social media:

• The internet is forever – Sacco quickly deleted her Twitter account, but that didn’t make a tweet go away. If you are saying it online, you are saying it for the world to hear and you better be comfortable with that. If you do something offline or even online privately, it can still find its way online. Act in accordance with what you want your public persona to be, for at some point the world may see it.
• Listen after you post – Posting on social media encourages engagement. When you are not online to monitor responses to your post you miss a potential opportunity. Imagine how different Sacco’s situation might be had she monitored her Twitter account for even 30 minutes after posting.
• Use the “Would my boss be upset at this?” rule when posting on your social media properties. If the answer is “maybe” or “yes” then do not post it. Is your online social network really going to lose out because they didn’t see your “awesome” drunk post from last night?

Remember your future employer

Public relations professionals know that some organizations and industries are more conservative than others. If a PR executive wants to work at a large, global company or a more reserved organization, like a school system or a political organization, then taking risky actions, whether they be on or offline, is a definite “no.” If someone wants more control over a risky public persona, they should work for an organization that will not be as affected should negative publicity hit their PR representative.

Worth noting: hateful, racist comments will put you out of a job at some point.

Find empathetic people and work with them

There are people out there who empathize with Sacco. I’m not one of them but certainly they exist. Sacco should consider keeping a list of those people and start to rebuild her tarnished reputation with the people who will give her the opportunity to do so.

Celebrities, athletes, politicians and other people of notoriety bounce back after public debacles. If Justine Sacco executes her 2014 comeback carefully, she will too.

Who’s to Blame When PR Practitioners Spam?

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 3.14.25 PMDavid Segal usually keeps his magnifying glass trained on big consumer brands, frauds, rip-offs, deceptive practices and other complaints from his readers. But two weeks ago, he turned his attention to a very different beast: PR spam.

The Haggler, it seems, had reason to complain himself: he was getting way too many unsolicited and grossly off-target email pitches. As he put it:

The odds of the Haggler writing about any of these topics could safely be described as nil. Yet some company hired a public relations firm to send the Haggler, and presumably countless other reporters, the same information. This seemed like a waste of energy and money, so the Haggler decided to find out what was behind this antiquated attempt to win media attention — who was paying for it, and why?

The Haggler started by emailing the P.R. reps whose names were attached to these emails, posing a simple question: Where did you get the Haggler’s address? One answer came up time and again: Vocus, a publicly traded company based in Beltsville, Md. Among its products is access to a database of reporters’ email addresses.

So the Haggler set out to get removed from these lists, curated by companies like Vocus, Cision, MyMediaInfo, Meltwater and the popular PR wire services. One less media contact in our databases, but hundreds fewer bits of email spam in his inbox. His gain, but our loss. My loss, to be exact. When other irresponsible PR practitioners make my life more difficult, I take it personally. Or, am I wrong? Perhaps it is his loss, and maybe not as much of a loss for us as I thought?

Does It Work?

The PR world wasted no time in commenting on this. While most trashed the practice of “shotgun PR,” at least one observer noted that [emphasis mine]

as a result of [the agency’s] scattershot, “let’s see what sticks” media outreach tactics, Soireehome [the company called out in The Haggler’s article] and its product received a mention in the New York Times. I’d be curious to see what Google could tell us about upticks in searches for that drinking glass. Something tells me volume is probably up. I admit it: As someone who likes his martinis bone cold, I thought about googling it myself!

While Eric Starkman, the author of those words, quickly goes on to distance himself from the practice, he in turn points to the reason why spray and pray PR might be more effective now than ever before:

Journalism’s “standard operating procedures” have plummeted to such a low level that increasingly what Mr. Segal decries as PR spam finds its way into the blogosphere and ultimately into mainstream newspapers. Gawker in its “PR Dummies” column once decried a PR firm for sending out a staged photo of an actress purchasing some orange juice, but the image – and the Gawker column – actually garnered some pick up…. Granted, not all the mentions were positive, but there is a school of thought (which I don’t subscribe to) that all PR is ultimately good PR. In the client’s eyes, the “buzz” could very well have been a perceived win. (For what it’s worth, I hadn’t heard of that brand of orange juice until I read about it on Gawker, but now I know it has 50 percent less calories than that company’s other orange juice products!)

Opt Out or Blacklist?

So what to do about this quandary?

When I read this story, I hearkened back to the last major flare-up around PR spam: the one that led LifeHacker‘s Gina Trapani to create and curate the PR Spammers Wiki. And my immediate thought was maybe we should reinstate the PR spammer blacklist. After all, surely it has to be better than the alternative — losing valuable contact information from good editorial contacts. But then I remember how relieved I was that my company wasn’t on the list of PR spammers, and how many good companies were on that list, usually because of one or two bad eggs out of dozens or hundreds of PR people and thousands of pitches.

So, torn and indecisive as I was, I tweeted my frustration:

Both Meltwater and Cision got back to me quickly. Perhaps it will be no surprise that I’m a customer of both.

Cision connected me with Heidi Sullivan, who in fact spent a good deal of time speaking with John Cass and Jason Falls back in 2008 when the first flare-up happened. I spent some time getting her perspective on the issue as it reemerges in 2013.

Accidentally on Purpose?

“We do still run into situations where people who are abusing our database,” Heidi said. “If they use our distribution service, we have limits in place to prevent abuse. If they export our data, we have to rely on abuse reports from journalists. Once we get these, we ask people to stop. If they don’t, we shut them off.”

Heidi is convinced that in most cases, it’s a matter of poor training, rather than deliberate abuse. “Spray and pray PR doesn’t work, and we spend a lot of time helping our PR clients better focus their pitches,” she told me. “More often than not, these abuses come from young, poorly-trained, well-intentioned PR practitioners under pressure to get more hits. Correct that and you fix most of the problem areas.”

Training is a big part of Heidi’s job at Cision. She organizes three to four webinars per month focused on topics like pitching the media, content marketing and other areas. The Cision Blog is another resource that offers tips on doing great PR.

Cision has also tweaked the tools and services it offers to help address this. I mentioned earlier the distribution limits it put in place. The product now offers an influencer search to find what journalists are tweeting about, so you can get much more specific with your searches.

Who Needs Who?

Let’s take a moment to explore why Cision and other media databases exist. Like media query services such as HARO and Profnet, they don’t just help the PR professionals; they also help the reporters out. While a reasonable case could be made that David Segal is an exception to this, since his sources are almost exclusively emails from concerned consumers, he is in the minority. Most journalists need PR people as much as PR people need journalists. Today, perhaps more than ever.

As an illustration of this fact, I asked Heidi how many journalists took up The Haggler’s mantle and removed themselves from Cision’s databases. The answer? “We had fewer than five removal requests after the Haggler’s article. We spoke with each of them, and ultimately removed fewer than half of them from our database. In fact, we got way more emails from conscientious clients than reporters.”

Oh, and yes, David Segal was among the one or two media contacts that the PR world lost. But was it much of a loss?

Skeptics or Believers?

David Segal is a skeptic not only of PR, but social media as well — I can’t find a Twitter handle for him or his pseudonym. In both social media and email, he appears to be among a dwindling number of professional journalists able to exist without these channels of communication.

Heidi gave me a preview of some research conducted by Cision on trends in journalists’ use of social media. The number of journalists who classify themselves as social media skeptics dropped from 31% in 2012 to 9% in 2013 according to the company’s soon-to-be-released survey data.

socialjournalism

What Next?

Back in 2008, Jason and John put the onus of responsibility on the media database companies, urging them to develop an industry protocol for gathering and managing contact information, tracking the history of contact changes, fact checking and permission seeking with each contact, the creation of a media hotline for each database company, and the creation of a “community taskforce to stop bad pitches.”

Progress has been made toward those goals, but more progress must be made. My final thoughts go to the parties involved:

To David Segal, I say: “While I think removing yourself from the list was an overreaction, it’s one I entirely understand. But every once in a while, a journalist is thankful for a PR person ignoring the ‘not a media contact’ warning that I think would have been a better solution for all.”

To the surprised CEO who had no idea what his agency was doing with the $1500 a month they were being paid, I say: “Sorry, but you get what you pay for. Spend more money on PR, but demand accountability from your (no doubt new) agency as a consequence, as David rightly suggests.”

To the agency involved in this, I say: “Sorry you lost that client. Train your younger associates better. Find better ways to measure your efforts than the number of pitches sent. And avoid phrases like ’email blast’ around the office.”

And to my fellow PR professionals, I say: “The biggest lessons here may be about setting expectations and learning to say no to smaller budgets. The sweet spot for effective and profitable PR will be different for every agency, but make sure you know what that number is and try not to go under it. Smaller budgets lead to lower margins and unhappy (and surprised) clients.”

Building Social Community Around Clean-Tech Initiatives – The Social Tactic Acid Test

Note: this was first published by AgencyPost and can be found here.

If you’re in business, you understand the concept of adding value. You evaluate every action in terms of whether it adds value to your business’ goals or bottom line. So how do you evaluate community-building initiatives?

The Conundrum of Social Community

In our business, we regularly hear from companies that built strong Facebook followings only to realize that they can’t figure out how the “community” adds to their bottom line. Yet they are deeply aware of how communities could take away from the bottom line and how a single bad experience could lead to a brand-destroying social media explosion.

Yet social communities cannot be avoided. Whether you’re in B2B or B2C, your customers and prospects want to know more about you and want to connect with others in your circles. And while the challenge used to be around which tools to use, now it’s about how you make the community valuable. We believe the question should be turned around: Ask not how your community adds value to your business, but how your business can add value to your community.

This is where clean-tech companies have a great advantage. Unlike many businesses that leverage subjective values for differentiation, clean-tech companies can leverage in-house expertise and experience to make a material difference to their communities. For example, apparel companies such as Lululemon and Life Is Good create communities around corporate social responsibility initiatives. Yet what they do best is make clothes and selling those clothes is how they make money. In essence, they run two businesses to make the apparel business successful: a clothing business and a social business. For a clean-tech company, the relationship between what makes money and what adds value to the customer is naturally much closer. [Read more…]

Media Relationships Don't Matter, and Other PR Fairy Tales

CatCountless times I’ve sat in the office of a potential client. We’re having a great conversation, exploring strategies and messaging. We’re talking about where their company is headed and how PR can help get them there.

And then it happens: “Do you have connections?”

The inference is immediate – “Do you have connections that can quickly get me onto the front page of <CEOs favorite publication>?”

Have you ever sat on either side of that table before? If you have, then you know that this part of the conversation gets, well – weird. So, how do you answer the question?

My short answer: Of course connections with journalists and other influencers matter. But it’s not just about the relationships. The reality is a little more complicated than that. Connections matter, but so does context. As a client, it’s important to understand why you are interested in a PR professional’s influencer network. You may be using it as a yardstick to help gauge her ability and track record. Perhaps you want to leverage her connections for greater visibility on social media. Or maybe you are hoping that her connections will bust open a door to a huge media hit.

There are a million reasons why you want to know if a PR person has connections. While connections are useful, most of the time there are many other more important factors that will determine the success of your campaign. If a PR person selling your services tries to convince you that relationships don’t matter, it’s probably because she doesn’t have any to brag about, and she probably isn’t the right PR person for you.

Where’s Waldo?

Relationships do matter, and I’ll explain more on that later. But let’s tackle the three biggest arguments typically made for why relationships don’t matter. The first one is the shrinking newsroom: how important is it to try to maintain relationships with journalists when they might be gone six months from now? The answer, of course, is that it is doubly important to maintain strong relationships with the media in today’s market, because they’ll remember you (and all the help you gave them) at the next outlet they go to. And if they end up on their own? Then they can still be a great resource for you and your clients, for writing, sanity checks, etc. And the fact that you maintained your relationship through thick and thin will mean a lot to them down the road.

The Story Sells It

The next argument typically made against the value of relationships is the importance of having a great story. Great stories are, after all, what interest reporters, readers and other influencers. If there’s no news, no trend, nothing of interest to the greater community – then it doesn’t matter how many connections a PR person has. The result will be the same. And let’s get real, a stale story like that sounds like a bad advertorial. But a good story that lands in the inbox of an editor from an email address she doesn’t recognize may never see the light of day (or of her computer screen at least).

Hard Work Pays Off

The final argument is that an aggressive PR pro, regardless of the story or the connections, can sell anything. It is certainly true that there are many capable, talented PR professionals who don’t have a stellar book of A-list tech celebrities on speed dial. That doesn’t mean their success rate for generating coverage on behalf of clients isn’t high. They have the secret PR sauce: diligence, and most likely a talent for storytelling.

These people work hard for their clients. They may not be the person to spend a ton of time networking outside of office hours, but it doesn’t mean they’re not generating ink for their clients. I know many of PR professionals that fit into this category. So what if they don’t have a huge social graph? If you’re a company with news to share, these PR people can usually get the job done well.

Can You Handle the (Nuanced) Truth?

Yes, a good story matters. No reputable influencer will want to cover something that has no apparent value to her audience. She will lose credibility, and consequently her network and clout. Before looking at whether a PR person has connections, the company hiring a PR firm first needs to examine their own stories. Do they have something interesting to say? Are they even ready for PR?

But the story isn’t everything. Having the right connections might make the difference between an opened email and a discarded one, regardless of how compelling the subject line was. Diligent professionals will follow up appropriately when they don’t hear back – and this can pay off in droves.

For Clients – Connections are a Nice to Have, Not a Need to Have

“Do you have connections?” is a loaded question. Sure you don’t necessarily need connections to successfully execute a solid PR campaign. But they can certainly help.

Connections, and particularly a PR person’s online social graph, can prove useful to her client. And there are many reasons why they help. Let me share a few scenarios.

Let’s say a company wants to be covered in a specific publication. Even with a great story, sometimes other factors beyond the control of PR can impact whether it ever gets the ink. This is when having a connection on the inside helps. You can’t guarantee ink, but you do have a much better shot at some feedback. This can be invaluable in helping deliver the story that publication needs to finally cover your client.

Or perhaps your client is trying to reach a certain group of influencers online. If the PR professional already has a solid network in place, it shouldn’t take long to further cultivate those specific connections with whom the client is trying to engage. Additionally, having this tight social graph helps when sharing client news with the goal of getting it to the right people via social media.

Connections can also help the PR team keep lines of communication open when they might have otherwise been damaged by a client. Imagine the client decides last-minute to back out of the news you were pitching under embargo. Unfortunately for you, it is the first piece of news you ever pitched for that client. Reporters who already know you will know that they can still trust you, so the next time you approach them with news from that company they are much more likely to respond to your pitch.

For PR Professionals – Connections are a Must

Clients come and go, much more often than not completely independent of the PR firm’s results. What does remain are the PR person’s connections – her social graph.

Let’s go back to that scenario in the office. Can I favorably answer the question “Do you have connections?”

Of course I can. But will I sacrifice them by trying to sell something that’s not newsworthy with the hope of possibly getting the front page of <CEO’s favorite publication>? No way.

Where’s the long-term ROI for anybody in that?