PR agencies do more than drive news BUT they do tend to focus on the news cycle a great deal for obvious reasons. Yet PR has to recognize that the way we consume news has changed drastically in the last five years. Five years ago people had a primary news source, either via broadcast or a daily newspaper. Today they have a broad array of news sources that includes these same outlets, albeit online, but also includes bloggers, friends and people they follow on Twitter or are connected to on LinkedIn. In such a fragmented market for information it is harder for companies to control their message. This makes it far more important that companies determine the insight they want the news to create, which in will in turn drive the way they engage with the brand. Yet all too often companies are so focussed on how to best to get the news out that they spend little, if any, time on what the news means and what they expect the people who should be connected to that news to do as a result. In a world where we are drowning in information, the brand that goes the extra mile and helps us figure out how to make use of that information will win. For PR agencies this means changing the way we think about the news cycle. We need to work with our clients to make sure they understand the real and or desired implications of the news they want to promote. There’s an old saying – there’s no such thing as bad news. Perhaps PR consultants should worry less about the news and more about the insight. Insight drives behaviors and actions and without these a client may well wonder why they engaged with you in the first place.
Back in 2009 the numbers were very small. Only two used Twitter or Facebook. Two years later and things have improved dramatically, well at least in percentage terms. Based on our latest research, just four Fortune 100 CEOs have Twitter feeds and while the total number of Facebook users approaches 700 million, just nine Fortune 100 CEOs make some use of Facebook accounts. The four using Twitter are:
Warren Buffett – Berhsire Hathaway – @WEBuffett
Michael Dell – Dell Computer – @michaeldell
Brian Dunn – Best Buy – @BBYCEO
Craig Herkert – Supervalu – @herkc
When it companies to the companies themselves it is a very different story. All but 19 of the Fortune 100 companies have Twitter feeds and almost all the CMOs do. What is interesting is that Apple has no Twitter feed, nor does its CEO while CMO was recently lauded for his use of Twitter. Jobs also has no presence on Facebook. The absence of top CEOs on Twitter may seem surprising to some. These CEOs would likely all attract large followings and could use their accounts to add to the company’s personality through their tweets or Facebook updates. The challenge seems to be one of time and priorities for many. What several rightly want to avoid is have a ghosted twitter account. If they are going to tweet they want to be the ones doing it. Ghost tweets (tweets written by someone in their team on their behalf) lack authenticity and may in some cases give the impression they have too much time on their hands – not something investors would like to think.
So while I think the number of CEOs who tweet is bound to rise, especially as younger CEOs take over from today’s generation, I suspect it will be a long time before even half the top CEOs are tweeting. Twitter, Groupon, Zynga and several other companies will likely have gone public by the time we get to anything approaching a high percentage. Until then, you can continue to follow the fake Steve Jobs tweets like the one shown above. Who knows, their tweets may prove more interesting, even if they’re not very accurate.
It would be easy to view the low CEO numbers as a sign that all is not well in social marketing. Quite the contrary. Indeed it’s great to see the number of businesses that have embraced Facebook and Twitter at other levels. These social networks are now used to engage with a host of different stakeholders from customer, though investors to analysts. Indeed the level to which brands are now engaging online communities is staggering and goes a long way to explain why traditional forms of media are fighting for survival. So while Fortune 100 CEOs may be taking things very slowly, the businesses they oversee are most definitely not.
There’s been a lot of commentary about the amount of money people are paying to get a slice of Facebook and the valuation that’s placing on the business. Seven year old Facebook was recently valued at $82.9 billion on secondary exchange SharesPost Inc, making it more valuable than a host of businesses that have been around for decades. The reason people want in on Facebook, Twitter and for that matter Zynga is because the world knows that majority of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on marketing are moving away from traditional media outlets to these new social and gaming platforms. Investors believe that these platforms will grow at alarming rate over the next few years as traditional channels continue to decline and even collapse. These valuations are therefore an indicator of where agencies need to be devoting their attention. If agencies are not focused on how to use these channels to help brands attract customers, investors, staff etc, then they are in a dying business. Facebook is adding millions of users a month and it owns the most important demographics making it a near perfect marketing platform. The same goes for Twitter. So the question every agency should be asking itself right now is: are we experts in these platforms? If the answer is no, then you’d better start investing and fast. The rate of growth of Facebook and others demonstrates how quickly the old agency model is declining. So next time you read that Facebook’s valuation has increased by a few more billion, ask yourself if your business has also moved forward in its social capabilities. The answer will make it all too clear what you have to do.
The race is on for agencies to build their digital assets. Get it right and PR firms will grow faster than they have in decades. Get it wrong and they’ll have a struggle on their hands. So as agency heads look at their talent base and their potential new hires, they have a tough question to answer. Do they hire experienced marketing professionals who have some digital skills or the typically younger, more digitally literate who have only limited experience? Sadly for the more experienced group, the answer appears to be that agencies are trending towards hiring younger digerati, rather than grey hairs. This in turn is reshaping agency structures, product offerings, and pricing. To twist an old saying, we are who we hire. With agencies moving from a classic pyramid model towards something that looks more like a coat hanger, the opportunities for today’s experienced professionals are becoming fewer by the day. Is this fair? Probably not but this drive to hire younger, cheaper talent is in part the result of another force, not just digital. Client procurement departments have acted like sand paper on PR budgets for years and have increasingly made it more desirable to hire doers over strategists.
Most agencies are racing to build a ‘new’agency on top of their existing one. While they do need some experience to prevent the thing from collapsing in heap, what they need most is staff that can get on and ‘do’ at a price point that makes the investments the agencies are making viable. This effectively forces agencies to hire lower cost staff. These of course tend to be kids from college who have no real experience but can tell you anything you want to know about Facebook and Twitter. For this generation, SEO is a form of grammer and html was a choice alongside Spanish and French at school. Given a brand is now defined by the size and strength of its social network, it’s hardly surprising that many agencies will value these skills over someone who has known the editors at a business publication for a decade.
So is it all doom and gloom for us oldies? Far from it. We can start and build these new agencies, they do after all need some adult supervision. We can also explore the boundaries of owned, earned and paid media. These are the places where real value lies and where experience can really come to the fore. But we cannot assume that because we have decades of experience that our futures are secure. We have to bring something of value to the transition to digital. Identifying what this is is crucial and could yet save the careers of many. We are in an era of marketing where the value of experience is trending downward. In years to come that will of course change as digital becomes the norm but for now the digital natives are set to become the new leaders. That may not be what people want to hear but our industry is, like many, Darwinian. In our case the fittest are the digerati.
Here are my more serious predictions. Some I want to come true, some I simply suspect have a chance of becoming reality. What’s on your list?
- Obama develops a backbone and starts to be the president we elected. He will also learn that Gibbs has to go and that he needs a far better comms team.
- Facebook or Twitter gets bought/files for an IPO (I have no inside knowledge). If this happens the IPO market will catch fire for lots of other companies.
- The Euro becomes a common currency for the chosen few of EU economies. If not at least one EU nation will file for bankruptcy (Can they do that?).
- Foursquare goes the way of Digg. Facebook’s places has already made them irrelevant. The final nail in the coffin is just waiting to be driven in.
- Microsoft Kinect will spawn a whole new category of businesses well beyond gaming. The possibilities are endless.
- A major daily newspaper will stop its printed version. The economics have pushed them all to the brink. One will jump.
- Julian Assange will end up in jail. It may not be in Sweden but he will be found charged by someone for something.
- The environment will come back on the agenda. As the economy improves people will stop worrying about their jobs and start paying attention to the horrors that climate change will bring if we don’t act.
- Those of us in PR will figure out digital comms and we’ll be shocked by what it means for us. We’ll find out either by accident or because a competitor that we never expected starts to show us the way.
- Blackberry (RIM) either realizes its products are horrible and changes path or it accelerates towards that brick wall that is currently at the end of the road they are on.
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.
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.
Sooner or later Twitter will get serious about an IPO and or someone will try and buy them. My guess is that various firms have already made offers but that they are shrewdly holding out. After all, YouTube sold early to Google for what seemed like a lot at that time but now seems a bargain. Let’s assume that at some point suitors are able to offer enough money to entice the founders and investors to sell. Who is likely to get the prize? Well here are my candidates:
- Facebook – could decide that ‘Places’ is OK but not great and that a second property makes sense. If they did they may be able to offer an interesting alternative for investors, whereby they get to take part in what is likely to be biggest IPO in a decade or more when they themselves go public.
- Google – Google has a search engine, a content library, email, IP comms and great mapping technology. But Bing is catching them up,their email isn’t the best, there’s a lot of competition in their IP comms areas AND it doesn’t have a social platform that rocks people’s world. Twitter would fit into the Google empire much like YouTube has and they have the cash to make an outrageous bid.
- Microsoft – they have the cash and REALLY want to be a player in the Internet world. They’ve stumbled but Bing is proof that they are turning things around. They may well be smart enough to leave Twitter alone and have enough server farms (as do Google) to make sure Twitter outages are a thing of the past.
- Apple – they are a left field option. We’ve already seen that Apple wants to play in the social network space with Ping. I don’t think they get it though and would likely screw up. That said, they effectively invented the small app world and could make Twitter the center of a massive app world.
- Skype -If Skype does an IPO they could have the platform to do a deal. Imagine a Skype version of Twitter with thousands of short videos on your desktop, iPhone etc each day? I can’t see Twitter going this route but it could happen.
- Amazon or eBay – these are also outsiders but both could use this technology very effectively within their businesses and could therefore justify a big price tag. That said eBay bought Skype and later sold it at a loss, so they will likely pass on this one.
- IBM, Oracle, HP etc – any one of the big IT vendors could make a play as they have the cash. They’re not likely to though. Twitter is not a good fit culturally and they would probably rather spend their money on more obvious Internet targets such as Salesforce.com.
What’s clear is that WHEN Twitter looks to realize the value they’ve created, there are plenty of deep pocketed options for them. Don’t you wish you’d got founder stock? I certainly do.
We all know that Twitter is great at getting the word out. Celebrities use it to announce new roles, marital breakups etc. Corporations alert people to pending announcements and editorial coverage that puts them in a good light. But the chatty nature of Twitter makes it less suitable to crisis management and more suited to crisis generation. Or does it? We all know that when a crisis breaks, people start tweeting like mad and in no time, thanks to the power of Twitter, the world knows about it. Against this hailstorm it’s hard for people to fight back and ‘get the truth out’. Interestingly having looked at recent crises that have been in the media lately (eg BP), it’s clear that Twitter is rarely, if at all, used to counter a crisis. Conventional crisis management is all about getting control of the message and perhaps many view Twitter as an environment where you can’t necessarily control the message. I’d argue that Twitter offers a great way to get your message across and that it is no less ‘controlled’ than any other vehicle. If anything it offers you the chance to create an authentic, timely mouthpiece for the company. It also offers a way to get important information out quickly. This gives Twitter the advantage of enabling you to show those affected that you are acting responsibly by sharing information they may find beneficial in real time. Of course one of the real disadvantages Twitter has is that most Fortune 500 board members don’t use it and probably never will. It therefore takes a huge leap of faith for them to accept using it as a tool to manage a crisis they are at the heart of. I hope as communications professionals we don’t let that prevent us from giving them the right counsel. IMHO Twitter isn’t just for the good news, it’s also for those times when you really wish your phone would stop ringing.