OBSESSED WITH SOCIAL MEDIA? YOU SHOULD BE OBSESSED WITH SEARCH!

I keep reading about brands that have used social media to reach their audience.  It’s kind of funny when you think about that.  First it’s funny because traditional media is writing about the very media that is killing them.  Second, it’s funny how obsessed we are that social media is ‘different’ from old media.  There seems to be a belief that social is inherently better.  Why is that?  Is it because social is seen as more democratic?  Is it because social is seen as more real?  Or is it because social is just the new way?

Before I go any further let me get one thing off my chest.  While there is some traditional media left, the vast majority of media is now social.  Most of our media has social aspects to it.  We can share it, comment on it, create our own versions of it and directly influence it.  Some purists would say that organizations such as the BBC are traditional media businesses.  Yet if you look at almost all their online content it has a social element to it.  The BBC has made real efforts to embrace social media and social network concepts.  I still feel they could go a lot further but they have come a very long way in the last year.  Organizations such as the New York Times have also taken bold steps as have publications such as Forbes.  Again, there is more they could do but you have to applaud their efforts.  We now follow their editors on Twitter, we get their news in real-time, we see comments from other readers.

So does all this mean that social is now the norm?  I’d say that many aspects of social are the norm.  Publications have realized that the value of content is directly linked to the number of people that share that content.  Sharing an old fashioned print story was hard and rarely happened.  Sharing a news story via twitter, Facebook, email etc is all too easy.  So easy in fact that we are now looking for ways to filter all the content.  When social arrived we all loved the idea that we could effectively let our friends filter the content for us.  If our friends thought it was worth re-tweeting it was probably worth a read.  With thousands of tweets landing on our feeds each day that method is a bust.  We now need tools to filter the filter.

So the challenge for the media isn’t to become more social.  The smart ones have already done that and are now struggling with how to break through all the clutter.  Put another way, social media is starting to deal with the very same challenge most companies have been wrestling with since so much commerce went online.  When people started buying products online search optimization took off.  Now of course most social content has some optimization built in.  But I’d argue that most tweets, blogs and YouTube videos are not that optimized (this blog is a great example).  Indeed it would seem that content optimization is still a huge opportunity for the creators of content.  Indeed I’d argue it is THE opportunity.

I’m sure some of the social media gurus out there will say I have this all wrong but IMHO there is still more talk than action on search from comms staff.  Most comms staff don’t discuss search strategies, they talk about content strategies.  They don’t conduct search audits, they conduct messaging audits.  This is not surprising.  Most of the people in communications have grown up with content as king.  We are trained to find ways to craft messages not optimize for real time search engines.  I’d argue that our obsession with content is a good thing BUT that we need an equal obsession on search if we are to win in a digital world.  Content, however great it may be, has no value if nobody can find it.


Digital is a massive opportunity for PR but…

We all have our favorite way of getting a point of view across.  This includes the structure of our arguments and the channels we prefer.  Yet if the digital revolution has taught us anything it’s that people want to consume content and conversations through their favorite channels, not the ones we may prefer.  So it concerns me that so many social media gurus are almost exclusively using Facebook and Twitter to help drive interaction with customers.  My fear isn’t that these are the wrong channels but rather that we are in danger of simply replacing an old set of channels (traditional media) with a new and arguably narrow set (social media).  In other words we are moving from people that were good at getting news media to get our news out, to people that are good at tweeting.  There is surely a lot more to digital than this?  Done right digital is about creating channel agnostic content and by engaging with the customer through their preferred channel (rather than ours).  By driving people to Facebook and Twitter we are being sensible in that a lot of people are hanging out in these places BUT we are missing a huge opportunity that digital creates and that is to be where the customer wants to have a dialog, rather than insisting they play on our pitch.  Some will argue that brands have simply followed customers to these places.  That is only partly true.  Much of the growth of Facebook and Twitter is because brands have adopted these sites.  My message to you is not that you abandon Facebook et al but rather that you shouldn’t assume that these channels are the starting point.  Digital is without doubt the biggest opportunity our industry has seen in decades. Let’s not waste it.


Should PR agencies develop technology? Have a CTO?

PR agencies have been people businesses for as long as I can remember.  Yet the emergence of digital has created the opportunity for these same agencies to start selling ‘technology based solutions’ (an overused phrase I know).  These ‘solutions’ cover areas such as analytics, blogs, email marketing, micro site development… the list goes on.  Most agencies outsource this development to… developers.  This is largely because most agency heads can write a press release or a blog but wouldn’t have a clue about how to write code.  Many agencies can see that if they want to get away from an hourly business model they need to sell technology IP and ideally IP that can be resold to many clients without much additional development effort.  Again, though, most agencies simply don’t have the skills in house to develop the technology, or even the skills to effectively manage the  development of technology.  In other words, if agencies really do want to sell ‘technology solutions’ they are going to have to start hiring developers AND people capable of managing these people.  If this happens the idea of a PR agency have a CTO (chief technology officer) that is client facing will become commonplace.  Does your agency have a CTO?  Should it?


Facebook – the numbers you need to know

Facebook is growing like a weed is hardly news.  That Facebook has overtaken Google as a source for news maybe.  Beyond has just posted the results of a survey they ran about Facebook on YouTube.  It provides some great data for all you PR and marketing people that are trying to figure out how to make best use of Facebook and how to counsel your clients.  For example, did you know that the brands that are liked most on Facebook are all cars and the brands that are liked least are all computers?  There are also facts like 30 billion pieces of content are shared every month.  That’s because the average user creates 90 pieces of content a month.  The survey also reveals that the largest age group using social networking sites are ages 35 to 44.  So much for this being a youth movement.  Anyway, if Facebook facts are important to you, check out the survey.


Should PR be a part of sales or marketing?

Social commerce is where eCommerce and Social Networks meet.  Effectively it’s an approach to eCommerce that embraces all the benefits of social marketing.  It creates a way for people to see what their friends like and don’t like, what the influencers they trust think.  More importantly it enables them to decide if they trust the business they are buying from.  PR plays a huge role in social commerce.  We create, influence and share content that buyers and sellers want access to.  Yet, rarely do we get involved in understanding how PR fits in the social commerce sales cycle.  We tend to analyze brands based on the online media and social media coverage around them and devise plans based on that analysis.  What if we analyzed the conversations taking place in social commerce situations?  If we learned what buyers were saying about our brands, what issues they were raising and what issues they weren’t paying attention to?  To do this effectively, we need to be prepared to isolate the conversations in social commerce from the rest of the noise around the brand.  Having done that we can see how these conversations are influenced by the conversations taking place in other forums such as the media, social networks etc.  Put another way, PR has a real chance to become a key player in the sales process thanks to social commerce.  It is not something we take on lightly but if we do grab hold of it, it could make a significant change to the role PR plays in business overall.


Time to plan how you use Twitter and Facebook?

It used be that you had to be in the news to be important.  Now you have to have a huge Twitter following and hundreds of thousands of fans on Facebook.  Indeed if you can get tens of thousands of people to follow you on Twitter then you have the publishing power of the New York Times or a lifestyle publication such as GQ.  In short, with the right following your pages become the media you’ve always wanted.  Of course, if you are already famous getting that following is far simpler than if nobody has ever heard of you.  So ironically, to get a large following on Twitter (so that you can rely less on the media), you are probably best getting some great media exposure.  But if you do that then you will need to pay attention to your media profile and that will dilute your ability to manage your online profile (unless you have unlimited resources).  Regardless of how you build your following on Facebook or Twitter, what you cannot avoid is creating content of at least 140 characters in length that people want.  Computer programmers like to say: garbage in, garbage out.  This is essentially the law of social media and networks.  If you don’t participate by creating a point of view that is entertaining, interesting or educational, you are likely to find your following dwindle and your profile plummet.  Yet so many companies plan what they are going to say to the media with military like precision and then tweet and give Facebook updates as an after thought.  Is it time that got reversed?  Perhaps not but it is time that brands mapped out the conversations they want to have with their social networks in ways that made gave those conversations real depth and value.  Random tweets are all well and good but they do little to build the brand and could even do more harm than good.  What’s more you can use these networks as central part of your comms plans, not as bolt-ons.  In other words you can create communications activities that were DESIGNED for Facebook and or Twitter, rather than comms that were designed for the media and then simply echoed by these social networks.  Why am I making this plea?  Quite simply because I’ve realized I now spend far more time reading comments on Twitter and Facebook than I do with the media.  Sure I often get directed to the media by these networks but more often than not, if it’s not on Twitter or Facebook it’s not getting anywhere near as much of my attention as it could and I’m sure I’m not alone.


Is Digital PR different for B2B than B2C?

The short answer is: yes and no.  Very helpful I know.  Before I explain, let me first say I am an unashamed fan of digital.  I think the way that it has transformed all forms of marketing is exciting.  After all, it offers brands a whole new way to create markets and sell products.  But I fear that little attention has been paid to differentiating the use of digital for reaching consumers versus business decision makers (BDMs).  Indeed it’s as if digital makes everyone a consumer and therefore regardless of whether you marketing shampoo or web servers, you should offer customers the same broad strategies and the same types of tactics.  I take issue with this.  Consumers have different reasons for buying your products and or services than BDMs.  When you market to consumers you are trying to get them to buy your products and feel good about your brand.  When you market to BDMs you are, more often than not, trying to convince them that your products will help them sell more products.  Perhaps the best way to help people think about this divide is to imagine a consumer campaign and then a B2B campaign.  If you were doing digital comms for a consumer brand such as a car you might:

1.  Monitor the conversations taking place around that type of car and decide if you wanted to join these conversations or start your own.

2.  You would create content (blogs, podcasts, videos etc) that created an emotional and or intellectual connection between your brand and consumers

3.  You would build car enthusiast communities that connected your consumers to each other and to your brand (you would also join existing communities).  This is where Facebook and Twitter etc come in.

4.  You would optimize all the content you’d already produced and were producing so that it was easy for consumers to find and so that it helped you drive people towards a place where they can purchase the car that was after all at the center of the campaign.

In a B2B world all of the above apply.  However, if you now imagine that the product you were trying market was headlights that go into that car, then you create very different content, join radically different conversations, build different communities and so on.  This is partly because the communities you are dealing with are a lot smaller but also because, quite clearly, the people you are trying to reach are interested in very different things.  Of course good B2B campaigns also try and reach the end consumer to create some pull for their products through the channel.  This is called ingredient branding and is an approach Intel has used for years, with its Intel inside campaign.  Companies that run these kids of campaigns can easily utilize digital as a channel and people like Intel do just that.  I guess the difference that digital makes is that it’s actually possible for people to run ingredient branding campaigns using digital at far lower costs than they would have in the old world.  Intel has spent many millions (many, many in fact) on this campaign over the years.  This helped them lock out competitors and build market share.  But they were/are a rich company with a lot of cash to throw at this challenge.  Small companies can’t afford Intel-like ad budgets but they can afford to create their own podcasts, content for the web, YouTube video and host a Facebook community aimed at the end-consumers.  Put another way, they are less budget constrained and more ‘make it interesting’ constrained.  After all, if you are  a maker of car headlights, you may need to get pretty creative to make consumers love your brand or your products.  But if creativity is the only challenge, I know plenty of PR agencies who’d say:  “bring it on.”