Let's Connect

Hi, I'm Tom Woolf and I have been practicing public relations and offering marketing communications strategies for 20 years. And I'm still learning from people like you. Drop me a line!

  • 23Apr

    I’m sorry. I have been remiss in keeping the PRagmatist up to date in recent weeks. I realized it’s been more than a month since my last blog post so it is high time I added some fresh thinking here to share with you.

    But then, I’m just following the trend of corporate America. According to a new research report from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, corporate blogging is clearly on the decline:

    Of the companies they surveyed, only 37% were blogging in 2011. That’s down from 50% in 2010. If you look only at Fortune 500 companies, the percentage drops to 23%.

    Why are corporate blogs falling out of favor? USA Today says, mostly because Facebook and Twitter are so much easier to manage.

    Well that makes sense. I heard a news report today that with the pending Facebook IPO there are now more than 900 million active Facebook users. Twitter says they have hit 500 million users. Clearly people are hanging out on Facebook and Twitter as their online water cooler, and that’s where a lot of companies want to be seen, with an impact.

    And as Cynthia Boris points out in her blog, Marketing Pilgrim, imagesCA29WMKZ

    Keeping up a blog is a lot harder than people think. I’ve dealt with dozens of clients who jump in with grand plans of updating every day! They soon learn that updating even once a week is a chore. It’s amazing how quickly seven days pass when you need to come up with a fresh blog post.

    Facebook and Twitter are easier to keep up with, but everyone is throwing their pebbles into the same pond so it’s harder to make a splash, let alone a ripple. People with interesting things to say will rule. Just ask George Takei who has 1.7 million Facebook “likes.” He reposts material from his fan-base and occasionally sprinkles in information about his latest project or a political message. The funny posts keep it interesting so he can deliver the stuff that matters. For most companies, keeping it interesting and staying on brand message is a real challenge.

    What blogging does does for you is give you focus. It allows you to tell a story in a way that you can’t do in 140 characters or a status update. It allows you to elaborate on an idea in a way that builds a different kind of rapport with your audience. Why does corporate blogging matter?

    • Blogging lets you tell a story in detail, with nuances and context.
    • Blogging gives you an independent voice isolated from the social media noise. If takes you away from the cocktail party  for an intimate conversation.
    • Blogging gives you greater searchability. You build more web credibility and Google credibility with a blog than you can with Facebook posts or tweets.

    I like blogging because it forces my clients to focus their best brand thinking, and it’s that thinking that drives outreach through Facebook and Twitter. I consider the blog home base of the mother ship; the incubator where you can test and refine ideas before you take them out on the road.

    So while the survey says that corporate blogging may be on the decline, those companies that are passionate about their brand and sharing that passion with their customers and others will continue to blog. It’s still the best forum to tell a complete story.

    Share

    Tags: , , , ,

  • 22Dec

    I just set up a new Google+ destination page for a client this week. Now I am assisting with posting content to their blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and now Google+. Does this really help with brand visibility? Of course it does, assuming you can build the appropriate following in each channel. The trick is knowing what sorts of content work in the different social media channels. I find Facebook, for example, gives me a strong general following, but LinkedIn is more valuable for professional peer-to-peer contact. The jury is still out on Google+, and Twitter has some value, although I think most participants just like to hear themselves tweet.

    If you are confused about where to post your social media content, it’s not rocket science. Consider the context for the message and who is watching where. This illustration although quite funny is also instructive. It’s important to be seen online, and you need to lay a trail of virtual breadcrumbs that lead back to branded content that helps you tell your story. However, if your followers are on a low-carb diet and want something other than breadcrumbs, be prepared to feed them something more appealing or lose them. That’s why the content you post to Facebook should be different from what you post to LinkedIn, or even Twitter.

    I hope this gives you a chuckle. Enjoy.

    386767_313915755304551_205344452828349_1198918_1099332794_n

    Share

    Tags: , , , , ,

  • 13Nov

    Social networking is more art than science. I try to instruct my clients in social networking techniques,and some have a natural affinity for it while others are, shall we say, socially awkward. Using Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter effectively requires a certain knack; a natural affinity for communicating online and keeping your followers engaged while staying on message. Here’s an example of one lady who has that affinity.

    I had the privilege of meeting Kathleen Flinn at a book signing a few weeks. Kathleen is the author of two books, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry about her adventure studying at the Cordon Bleu, and her new book, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, where she takes a step outside the “food bubble” to help nine homemakers become fearless cooks in their own kitchens. My wife had served as Kathleen’s Bay Area escort on her previous book tour and Kathleen not only remembered her but was genuinely excited to see us at her new book signing, which is what makes her so good at social networking. She is genuinely interested in people and it comes across online.

    engage_cartoonI have been following Kathleen online for some time and am very impressed with her social media approach. She is not pushy or obnoxious, but maintains a real dialogue with her followers that is sincere, interesting, and always on message. She is interested in all aspects of food, but not as a “foodie” or a food snob, but as good cooking and everyday foods can be transformed into great cuisine by any cook willing to wield a knife. She uses her blog effectively, finding topics that are interesting, personal, and always worth reading. And she uses her blog to feed her Facebook page and other social media to build her following. I, for one, started looking forward to seeing her new book long before it’s release because Kathleen was very good at sharing little insights here and there. She never overly flogs her books, but you always know where she is and what she’s up to, and following her online promotes a level of interest and intimacy I don’t get from many so-called social media experts.

    So how do you promote your own social media following? Be genuine, but also avoid being the online boor. Here are some of the basics that everyone needs to remembers about being genuine through social media, with thanks to Aliza Sherman, who originally compiled a variation of this list for GigaOm:

    1. Respect the medium. Remember that the Internet is an information tool that was not originally created as a collaboration tool, not a marketing medium. Successful use of the Web requires that you respect the spirit of the Web; it’s about collaboration not hard-sell advertising.

    2. Listen. The biggest mistake people make when they use social media is they assume it is a broadcast medium. It’s not. It’s about collaboration and conversation, that that means listening first. Listen to the conversation threads. Determine what is appropriate and what is not. Get a better sense of what people are saying and what the tone of the conversation feels like before you barge in with new information or an expert opinion.engage

    3. Add to the conversation. Don’t just appear, post your piece, and log off. Engage! Add value! Promote conversation within the community. Remember, in most circles, hyping your product or service doesn’t help anyone but you.

    4. Be responsive. Remember conversation is continuous. Answer questions. Respond to comments. Be timely in your response. In other words, respect your visitors and followers by actually listening and talking to them.

    5. Share with others. The Web is a global medium that allows everyone access to valuable information. Share your information, time, and inspiration to fuel conversation.

    6. Credit where credit is due. Share other people’s ideas but give them credit. Repost and retweet to add to the conversation (not to promote spam) and be sure to give credit to the source.

    7. Don’t be a spammer. Spam will inevitably isolate you from the conversation. It’s impolite, and it’s dumb. Don’t just hype your wares, but talk about what you know, politely and in the context of the conversation.

    8. Be authentic. Authenticity is the key to social media success. If you represent a brand, you can still be authentic in your conversation without violating the integrity of the brand. Just be real. Admit your fears and flaws as well as your successes. Be interesting by being authentic.

    9. Collaborate, don’t compete. The idea is to add to the conversation, not to outshout the other guy. Try to find ways to get together to expand the reach of the conversation so everyone benefits. There’s room for everybody.

    10. Practice social responsibility. If you do good, you will get good in return. Embrace the authenticity that the web has to offer to not only expand the conversation, but to help others seeking insight and information. Don’t just sell your stuff. Find ways to give back to the greater community by doing good. You can help spread the word and make your corner of the Web a little better.

    If you remember these simple guidelines as you engage online, your social media conversations will be more satisfying, and ultimately more profitable. Don’t shout. Engage.

    Share

    Tags: , , , , , ,

  • 30Sep

    The challenge with being in a service business is, well, providing the best customer service. And providing the best service often means doing what’s best for your business and not necessarily what the client wants. After all, as a consultant you are the expert in your field, and the client is paying you for your expertise. In essence, they are paying you to disagree with them when necessary, and that is not always pleasant.AliceTeaPartyClose

    During my years working with different PR agencies I have worked with a number of difficult clients. My agency bosses always emphasized to me that the client is always right, even when they are wrong, and there have been many instances when I have been put in an uncomfortable situation because the client asked for six impossible things before breakfast, and the agency bosses were too concerned about losing the account to say “no.” (Note that this is not universally true, and that I have had some wonderful bosses in my day who would never ask me to compromise my professional integrity.) However, one of the advantages of running your own business is you get to say “no” when you want to, and you get to decide what’s impossible, what’s not, and what can be delivered before breakfast.

    The truth is, you run your business, your clients’ don’t. Granted, your clients pay the bills and keeping them happy keeps the lights on, but if you have a client who asks you to do something unethical or illegal, or even unpleasant, then you have to ask yourself how far you are willing to go to keep the customers satisfied.

    I have been following a lot of commentary these past two weeks about Netflix decision to split its streaming and DVD businesses, and the backlash over the latest changes to the Facebook interface. These changes have created a number of pissed off customers, which has generated a lot of negative traffic on the Web. As Eric Brown noted, however, in a recent blog post for Social Media Explorer entitled “Always Listening to the Customer is a Race to Mediocrity”:

    Perhaps we can all do a better job delivering news, however no one knows or sees what that Entrepreneur, CEO, or Business Owner sees. No one has the information he or she has to know why they made the decision they made. And here is another dirty little secret, your customers haven’t a clue about what your the next innovation or product release should be. Even the best evangelist, if they really exist don’t know the next answer, otherwise they would be the Entrepreneur.

    Your customers don’t have your best interests in mind, and they actually don’t really care if you stay in business, no matter how loyal they are. You have to determine your own future, which means you often have to make tough decisions to protect your business. You have to assess whether a client relationship is going to cost you more in the long run than it’s worth to you. And there are different ways to assess costs, whether the client is not respectful of your time which means you can’t service other clients; whether they aren’t respectful of your ethics which could damage your reputation; or they are just too hard to work with which will cost you your sanity.

    If you give your client your best counsel and they choose to reject it, that doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. But you don’t have to watch a train wreck either just to have the satisfaction of saying, “I told you so”; that won’t help your professional reputation. And you don’t have to be a slave to your clients, or let them abuse your professional relationship by demanding more than you are willing to commit to, or they are willing to actually pay for. It’s still your business, and sometimes you just have to just say “no!”

    Share

    Tags: , , , , ,

  • 21Sep

    With this week’s changes to Facebook, there has been a rebellion among Facebook users. Facebook fans have turned in their rock concert lighters for torches are marching upon Mark Zuckerberg’s castle. However, despite the hoopla and gnashing of teeth, I don’t think there will be a mass exodus from Facebook any time soon. Facebook fans will continue to complain to their friends about what’s wrong with the new Facebook interface, and they inevitably will use Facebook to lodge their complaints.

    Do you see the logic here? Facebook is popular, extremely popular with a current populace of 750 million active users spending over 700 billion minutes per month on the service. People are not going to abandon Facebook, which is why it continues to be one of the most important online locations for your personal brand.facebooktraffic

    How do you turn traffic into repeat visitors? That’s the big question. The short answer is, “be interesting.” However, that’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s one thing to post baby pictures for your friends or the latest stupid video from YouTube. But it’s something completely different if you are a company trying to build a brand following. You need to keep the content interesting and relevant.

    The problem with social media is that it’s voracious and requires a steady diet of interesting material. So how do you keep it fresh?

    Here are a few ideas I spotted earlier today in a post from HubSpot on Facebook Page Ideas You Haven’t Tried Yet. I plan to try some of these for my own corporate fan page to see if going to experiment with these and see how they work. Rather than posting all 25, I want to share some of my favorites. I’d love to hear what works for you?

    • Don’t link to your Twitter feed. As the article notes, Twitter and Facebook are very different, and a Twitter feed will clutter your wall with junk that will cost you followers.
    • Use comments and “like” buttons to promote interest. Show that you are following others, and they will follow you in turn.
    • Ask for ideas. What should be your next topic, or product, or book, or whatever. Open the floor to outsiders to share.
    • Pose an open-ended question. Let followers fill in the blank or answer an open-ended question that has universal appeal.
    • Post teasers. Post partial entries or interesting insights from your blog or corporate news to promote traffic.\
    • Tag real people in your photos. It will call attention to those photographed and all their friends.
    • Post a mystery photo. Ask for identifiers or captions or guess a location or something about the photo – think Where’s Waldo?
    • Share photos from a local meet up or meeting. People like to see themselves online, and this will tie the photos to your brand.
    • Post pictures of interviewees and industry experts. If you are talking to industry pundits, use their photos to drive traffic to an interview or insights posted on your blog or web site.
    • Use infographics. More infographics are being used to explain ideas (like the map above showing Facebook traffic). The right infographic can be eye-catching and compelling and tell an interesting story.

    These are just a few of the ways to keep your Facebook content fresh and drive traffic. Be sure to keep your content relevant as well as interesting, and use whatever you post to promote your brand. Your followers or audience should know what to expect from your brand experience, and that extends to their social media interaction with your brand as well.

    Share

    Tags: , , , , ,

  • 03Aug

    I am sure you have heard the old adage from the peacenik sixties, “What if you held a war and no one showed up?” My mind came up with a variation on that theme over the past few weeks as I have been watching Google+ take off, and as I have been getting notifications from a myriad of other social networks.Too-Many-Social-Networks-595x600

    It seems that the Google empire has successfully expanded into the social media realm, or at least the initial foray has been a success. According to Reuters, Google+ is attracting more than one million users a day and is the fastest social media site with more than 25 million visitors to date. But is this a flash in the pan or does Google+ really have legs?

    Some of the early critics of Google+ note that since this is Google’s social network, everyone will give it a try but who knows how many people will stick with it. As noted by Cynthia Boris in a guest blog on Marketing Pilgrim posted today:

    What’s interesting about this monumental number [25 million visitors] is that I don’t see any difference in the site than I did when I joined. Actually, it’s worse. As of today, my entire Google+ stream, all the way to the bottom of the page is nothing but posts from the very informative and fun Darren Rowse of ProBlogger. Yes, he’s a talkative guy, and granted I don’t have a lot of people attached to my account, but I have to go back several weeks to see a range of posts from people.

    So maybe Google+ will be a flash in the pan; yet another online destination that has been abandoned by users.

    I also received email this week with invitations for other social networking opportunities. A few of the invitation are to forums on Facebook where experts gather to discuss topics I actually am interested in. I have been following a new thread on web content curation with some interest. And apparently my Facebook friends have been busy on Branch Out, which is the latest entry into the online career management space alongside LinkedIn, Jobster, eCademy, Spoke, and countless others. Just as Google+ has the power of Google behind it, Branch Out is making the most of its affiliation with Facebook so we will have to see if it has legs moving forward. (For my money, LinkedIn continues to be the “go to” resource for people really looking for professional connections, and it will be hard to unseat, at least in the foreseeable future.)

    And I received another invitation last week from a social network I never heard of, Elixio. Taking a page from the Google+ launch strategy, Elixio is an exclusive, “invitation only” social network; a private online club. Call me a skeptic but I can’t see any value in a network I haven’t heard of, especially if they send me a blind invitation to join an exclusive club. It’s akin to any number of Who’s Who directory invitations I receive where I can be included in a directory of influential personages for only a small gratuity. My ego doesn’t need that kind of stroke.

    So how many social networks can you realistically use effectively? If you are doing nothing but networking all day, I suppose you can stay on top of quite a few. I find my social networking time pretty much consumed with LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. I also browse a few vertical networks that serve niche client markets, like BankInnovation.net. But can the market really sustain all these new social networks? After all, isn’t the idea of social networking to connect as many like-minded people as possible? If you fragment your markets too much, you can’t attract a large body of followers. At the same time, the market can only sustain one or two social networks with the reach of Facebook or LinkedIn. So it will continue to be a marathon race, with different candidates entering and dropping out. Since I value my time, I don’t tend to be an early adopter for new social networks (although I will dabble; I confess to being one of the first 25 million to check out Google+), but I will sign up and use something that delivers real value.

    So let me leave you with a recent blog post from satirist Andy Borowitz’s column, The Borowitz Report, which inspired this post. The headline reads, “No New Social Network Launched Today – Silicon Valley Stunned”:

    Across this tech-heavy hub, Internet-savvy insiders were checking their Blackberries, Droids and iPhones for an announcement of the next Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare or Google+ — an announcement that, to everyone’s astonishment, never came.

    “We’ve been averaging between 500 and 1000 new social networks a day,” said Carol Foyler, head of the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. “So this is definitely a little weird.”

    While there was no shortage of finger-pointing as tech-watchers across the Valley bemoaned the absence of a new launch, many blamed Tracy Klugian, 24, a website incubator who has created over 1800 social networks and was expected to launch his latest, MeetCircle, today.

    “MeetCircle will totally change the way people meet, interact, shop, stream movies, buy cars and have sex,” Mr. Klugian said in a TEDTalk earlier this year. “It will be the biggest game-changer since the fall of Communism or the birth of Jesus.”

    Somebody please wake me in time for the next social media revolution.

    Share

    Tags: , , , ,

  • 29Jun

    I saw two blog posts this past week that reminded me that there are a lot of people out there who don’t “get” social media and its role in business.

    PBTwitterOne was a guest post on Lindsay Olson’s PR career blog about “Is Tweeting Hazardous to Your Job?” In this guest post, PR columnist Alison Kenney offered up some of the biggest social media faux pas that so-called PR professionals have been guilty of lately. Leaving the recent Facebook/Burson-Marsteller debacle aside, there are a number of other communications professionals who seem to have temporarily forgotten the rules of social media engagement. This from her blog post:

      • In March, Scott Bartosiewicz, an employee at New Media Strategies, the social media agency of record for Chrysler, tweeted a derogatory message about Detroit drivers from the official Chrysler Twitter account, costing his agency its relationship with Chrysler
      • This month, The Redner Group, a small PR firm led by Jim Redner, was fired by client 2K games after a frustrated Redner tweeted a threat to withhold review copies of the popular game Duke Nukem Forever if reviewers don’t offer more positive reviews.
      • Two years ago, while on his way to give a presentation about digital media to FedEx communications employees, Ketchum VP James Andrews tweeted a derogatory comment about travel to Memphis (where FedEx is headquartered). The tweet rankled FedEx employees who called Andrews out and extracted an apology from him. He kept his job.

    In all of these cases, employees are exhibiting poor judgment and making poor choices in expressing themselves. Social media is exposing their mistakes to the public and to their employer.

    What people tend to forget in the heat of the moment, or because the social media tools have become so familiar, is that Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and their like are, well, social! It’s not a private conversation with 500 of your closest friends. Rather, when you post, you are putting out commentary for all the world to read, and react to. Which means if you mix social media and work, you have to be extra careful.

    I recently read another blog post by Tom Biro, one of the executives at my former PR firm, Allison & Partners, offering advice about social media in the workplace.

    A lot of companies control or block social media access, and they are certainly monitoring what you do online. (I will occasionally work at a client site and the IT manager frequently sends me reports with a breakdown of my online activity complaining that I am consuming too much bandwidth, so I know he is watching.) I have a client that specializes in providing controls and monitoring for social media access. Like it or not, your social media activities are being watched. And even if they aren’t watching right now, you need to make sure you leave a clean online trail that isn’t going to create problems when a client or prospective employer stumbles on it later.

    While most of the insights Tom Biro offers seem to be common sense, they are worth repeating here as a reminder:

    • Even if you are blocking employees access to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, you know they are using their smartphones to get around that. While productivity may not be an issues, data leakage and protecting your company’s brand are a concern. Watch what your staff are doing online.
    • Set a good example. Some of the examples cited above are errors made by senior staffers. They should know better, and they should prove that to their fellow professionals with every post.
    • Remember that social media is about dialogue, not monologue. Don’t rant, but comment. Add to the conversation rather than trying to command the floor.
    • You want to use social media to increase your brand awareness. Make sure you are being seen and commenting in the right places to advance your brand visibility.
    • Establish social media guidelines. This is your first line of defense as an employer, and your first reference for common sense as an employee. If you spell out what is and is not appropriate about your behavior online you won’t leave room for doubt.
    • Be transparent about your identity. Be sure you are clear about who you are and your stake in the conversation, i.e. whether you are speaking on behalf of a client.
    • Think before you post. Think about the impact of what you have to say, and how it could affect coworkers, clients, associates,and others.
    • Don’t assume you are anonymous. If you are using a corporate Wi-Fi connection of a company network, someone is watching the traffic so never assume you can’ t be seen. Big Brother is everywhere.

    Effective use of social media is about positive interaction and sharing stuff that is interesting and that contributes to the dialogue. If you use common sense and remember that social media is a very public forum, so don’t say or do anything you may regret later.

    Share

    Tags: , , , , , ,

  • 22Jun

    spin-cycleLast week, I spotted a blog by MG Siegler on TechCrunch that took Facebook’s PR machine to task for trying to cover up, or rather divert attention from a developer story they didn’t’ like. In his blog, “Facebook PR: Tonight We Dine in Hell!,” Siegler notes that the journalists are at war with the PR industry, and although there are many battles, the one he wants to tackle has to do with spin.

    I question the validity of his hyperbole, and his overdramatized position, starting with the controversial headline that sucked me in to read the blog in the first place, demonstrates that spin sells, at least to an extent. His presentation of the lengths that Facebook PR team goes to in order to discredit his story seems a little extreme, and whether he chooses to believe it or not, Siegler is spinning his tale to make his point. Maybe he should go into PR.

    In any case, he raises some valid concerns about the state of PR and some of the questionable practices of PR professionals. As he state it:

    The fact of the matter is that the entire PR industry is like a weed growing out of control. Current estimates have PR people now outnumbering journalists 3 to 1. Think about that for a second. And one of the industries in which this infectious growth is most apparent is the tech industry, where it’s boom time. My email inbox is a testament to this. As is my voicemail inbox. I’d bet that at least 75 percent of the messages I get in the day are from PR people. Their campaign strategy in this war is shock and awe.

    Now, I don’t mean to suggest that all PR people are evil or have the wrong intentions. Many are very nice people. And some are even very good at what they do. But increasingly what they do is nothing more than attempt to spin or grossly misrepresent what it is we do. For many of them, helping journalists/bloggers/writers get access to accurate information is secondary. It’s all about controlling a narrative — by any means necessary. And that has to stop.

    That last statement is one I agree with. Our job is not to control the narrative. Naturally, we present our clients and their wares in as positive a light as possible. We point out the benefits that are derived from the features. We make a case for competitive positioning, and that could be called “spin” if you wish. However, the facts will out, and like a rotten egg you can’t cover up the stench of a bad story.

    I make it my policy to work with analysts and editors in as frank and open a manner as I can, without compromising my client. As I have told clients in the past, my value to them hinges on my credibility with the press. If I can be helpful to a reporter or editor, they will remember that service. If I lie or mislead a reporter, they will never forget the disservice and I will have lost an editorial ally forever. I tell clients that the editors are as much my clients as the people who pay me, because I will have to call on that editor Lipstickonapigagain, long after the client has gone.

    So the Facebook PR disinformation campaign that Seigler describes in his blog post is bad PR practice, although I understand where it comes from. When bad news hits, the downhill slide starts and PR is at the bottom of the hill, trying to clean up the mess. Rather than trying to put the lipstick on the pig, it’s better to admit the error or embrace the bad story and neutralize it then and there. If you deny it, or try to adopt a non-denial denial, then the evasion becomes the story and compounds the embarrassment.

    Especially in PR, it’s time we left the spin cycle to the washing machine and adopted honesty as the best policy.

    Share

    Tags: , , , ,

  • 14Jun

    These days, social media has become a resource for sales and marketing; an essential tool in any marketing or media arsenal. Remember when, not so long ago, Facebook was banned from the workplace as a time waster? There are any number of companies that still block access to Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media destinations because they don’t see these outlets as essential to employees’ jobs. They want them to stay productive, not chatting with friends online.

    digital-distractionAnd despite the many benefits that have been demonstrated about social media, they have a point. Todays’ work environment is incredibly disruptive. I hate to say it, but I am old enough to remember working in an office free of email and where the only disruption was an occasional phone call. I also recall those days as being much more productive, where I could focus on writing an article or editing a column without interruption. The age of instant communications has created a disruptive, multi-tasking approach to work, which is not the most productive.

    Not long ago I spotted an article on Mashable, “The 3 Pressing Questions Facing Social Media,” that talked about the disruptive nature of social media, and the fact it will only get worse.

    The conversation about social media in our society is shifting significantly. We’re no longer asking questions like, “Will people use social media?” or “Are sites like Facebook and Twitter simply trends that will soon lose steam?” After billions of tweets and 600 million people on Facebook, it’s settled: People want to share online. And with Facebook moving toward a $100 billion valuation, there is money to be made.

    The emerging conversation is not if we will be connected but is instead, “How can we effectively and productively connect?” Now that we can get constant updates on just about every aspect of our friends’ lives, how do we receive that which is relevant?

    I think the three questions are worth considering closely as we continue to forge ahead into the disruptive world of social media.

    1. Are We Being Driven to Distraction? Remaining continually connected means being continually distracted. I am sure you have experienced it – email interruptus or the Facebook vortex. You are in the middle of trying to construct a thought for a report, or a calculation for a spreadsheet and you hear that little “ding” or see that popup that someone has posted to your wall. Being the tribal creatures that we are, we drop everything to see who is knocking at our virtual door.

    People have forgotten how to turn off the data stream, just as they have forgotten to turn off their cell phones or unplug from the larger world. Many give the excuse that their bosses or their clients expect them to be “on call,” but the truth of the matter is we are all insecure in this new world of social media, and we are worried about missing an important factoid or an important connection that could lead to cyber rejection.

    The price of distraction is a decline in productivity. According to a survey cited in the Mashable article, social media is costing companies an average of $10,375 per year because we can’t learn to disconnect fast enough.

    The drive to stay connected is tapering off. For the first time, Facebook has seen a drop in traffic in the U.S. and Canada as people are starting to realize that social media does not require real-time consumption. But we are still struggling to find the right balance to get us back to productivity.

    2.  How are We To Filter the Stream? What to follow has become an important question. You want to sample the social media stream in a way that suits our informational needs. I cited a recent presentation by MoveOn board president Eli Pariser on how our web experience is already being filtered. We need to be wary of imposing our own filters so we get what we need from social media channels.

    Of course, we need to understand how the data is being filtered, and given the option to impose our own controls, or open the tap to unfiltered content so we can determine what we want to sample. It’s all about promoting transparency; a principle that is at the root of the creation of the Internet.

    3. How Do We Manage the Social Media Flood? The sheer volume of social media content has become overwhelming. Can you effectively follow more than 500 people on Twitter or LinkedIn? How many Facebook friends can you have and still maintain any kind of meaningful connection? When do we start hitting diminishing returns from social media because the sheer volume has become too great to manage? Like dipping your toe in the data stream, where you choose to sample the stream is going to be self-selecting, but the stream is rapidly becoming a flood, which will make it harder to choose the right location.

    And it’s just going to get worse. More traffic for the Web is on the horizon, and with it more social media traffic. So users will have to become more discriminating in their use of social media:

    Providing people more ways to share online is no longer the challenge. That was the old paradigm. A new paradigm of relevancy is emerging, which goes beyond the question of whether “to follow or not follow” or “to friend or not friend.” Companies need to see that their job is not to provide us data, or even keep us updated — it is to serve our needs.

    Which offers some new opportunities for marketers. As we continue to feed our corners of the social media stream with content that is relevant for our microcosm of the social media macroverse, we will be able to start appealing to a niche following of more loyal and more relevant connections. It’s going to become more about quality rather than quantity, and the conversations will become more focused as we become more discriminating. As a result, social media will give us the capacity to connect more quickly and efficiently to people who matter to us, and the timewasting will become less of a factor in the social media equitation.

    Share

    Tags: , , , , ,

  • 14May

    Once again, it seems we are getting flacks for being flacks, and rightfully so. You have no doubt seen this week’s news that two PR executives at Burson-Marsteller were engaged in a whisper campaign to undermine Google over privacy issues. The so-called “Googlegate” scandal has given one of the biggest PR firms in the business a real black eye, and it doesn’t reflect well on client Facebook either. The media pundits are once again pointing at the PR profession as a whole, noting that we engage in questionable practices in pursuit of the billable hour. While misdeeds and questionable ethics plague most professions, this one baffles me on a number of levels so I want to see if we can break this down to see how one of the biggest names in PR venture so far off the ethical reservation.

    Mercurio and Goldman of Burson-MarstellerFirst, let’s look at the two instigators of the smear campaign, former CNBC reporter Jim Goldman and political reporter John Mercurio. Both of these guys are seasoned journalists who know the ropes, and understand the rules. They have been pitched by other PR professionals over the years and they should understand the ethics of both the journalism and PR professions. Just because you have gone “to the Dark Side” by switching from journalism to PR doesn’t mean your ethics should change, and they both must of known that. I suspect that they were under some pressure from their Burson bosses to take on this assignment and make it shine for high-profile client Facebook. What’s astonishing is that they lied and distorted the facts to achieve their objectives. It’s too easy to check up on the truth in the age of the Internet and that conduct is inexcusable.

    (Note that I have some empathy here. During my days as a journalist I once was told to run a smear story for my publisher who had a grudge against one of his competitors. Although I argued that the story had no place in our magazine, served no real purpose, and could land us in hot water, I was told in no uncertain terms to run the story or look for another job. I ran the story, but I made damn sure it was airtight and my facts were sound. To this day I resent having been put in that position.)

    Now let’s look at how the media handled this. The USA Today reporter, Christopher Soghoian, who received the initial pitch knew that something wasn’t right so he decided to make the PR firm the story. When he asked who was paying for the project they said that they couldn’t reveal their client and that’s when he smelled a rat. Kudos to Soghoian for calling out these Burson boobs. He even posted the email exchange online. All Soghoian had to do was call the so-called PR pros on their request, reveal the communications thread, and he had his story. There was no need to skew the facts. This also highlights the power and value of the web – there is no need to wait for declassification of documents a la the Pentagon Papers, just post the material for all to see.

    Now what about Facebook’s involvement? Early on, speculation was that the mystery client was either Microsoft or Apple, but Facebook finally stepped forward and admitted it was their project, but that it had not commissioned a smear campaign, but rather had engaged Burson-Marsteller to highlighting a problem with using Facebook information for Google Social Circles. This from Forbes quoting a Facebook spokesperson:

    “Instead, we wanted third parties to verify that people did not approve of the collection and use of information from their accounts on Facebook and other services for inclusion in Google Social Circles—just as Facebook did not approve of use or collection for this purpose. We engaged Burson-Marsteller to focus attention on this issue, using publicly available information that could be independently verified by any media organization or analyst,” says the spokesperson. “The issues are serious and we should have presented them in a serious and transparent way.”

    So in the words of “All the President’s Men,” this is a “non-denial denial.” Facebook gave Burson-Marsteller the assignment but didn’t call it a smear campaign. I can imagine the meeting for this assignment where the client makes an unreasonable request and basically says, “I don’t care how you do it.” No culpability here, but Facebook doesn’t come out smelling too good, either.

    Now let’s look at the aftermath.This from the Atlantic Wire:

    The two Burson executives responsible for the much criticized campaign, former CNBC reporter Jim Goldman and former political reporter John Mercurio, will be reprimanded, a company representative told PRWeek today. The punishment? Not a punishment at all: more training on company guidelines. Evidently, the two one-time journalists who switched to the other side of the press release fairly recently believed it was a bit darker than it actually is.

    Facebook has yet to announce any major retributions or staff shuffles in the wake of the scandal. However, Burson confirmed that they will no longer work with Facebook on the smear campaign against Google. (Good idea!) It’s unclear how damaged the relationship between the PR giant and the tech giant might be, but this most certainly compromises Burson’s recent announcement of their new specialty in tech PR.

    So reading between the lines, I suspect what we are seeing here is a combination of the agency trying to keep a big-named client satisfied, being unwilling to say no to the client when that was clearly appropriate, and not providing enough adult supervision to two senior managers who clearly should know better.

    What lessons does this offer to us as a profession?

    • All PR professionals need to understand the ethical rules of engagement. As a profession, we need to make a stronger commitment to ethical training, and apply more common sense to PR work.
    • Transparency is important. You have to be forthright about the assignment and who hired you. I have always been a firm believer that our role is to help the reporter as much as we help our clients. Whenever I have a client ask me to do something stupid, unethical, or deceitful to media sources, I explain to them that my media contacts are my bread-and-butter and long after that client is gone, I will have to call on that reporter again so why would I risk that relationship?
    • More collaboration and watching each others’ backs is called for. One of the great things about working as a team is that you can draw from the experience and knowledge of the group. If someone suggests a questionable tactic for a campaign, it’s up to the others in the group to challenge it. All too often I see in agency settings where the junior team members blindly follows the wishes of the clients and their superiors, without question. We need to nurture more independent thinking and open dialogue to keep us all honest.
    • More adult supervision. Even the most senior PR professionals can make mistakes in judgment or tactical errors. If someone had been keeping tabs on Goldman and Mercurio, they might have been able to head off this disaster.
    • PR agencies need to be prepared to say “no” to the client. Just because they pay you doesn’t mean they are right. Sometimes you should say “no” to an assignment, especially if the task is unreasonable or unethical.

    What will be the long-term implications for Burson-Marsteller? This firm has made ethical faux pas in the past, and will probably make similar mistakes in the future. Whether they will be able to redeem their reputation or whether they will continue to be an agency you can turn to for a questionable campaign has yet to be seen, and probably doesn’t matter. However, this kind of scandal does lasting damage to everyone in the PR profession. It’s up to all of us to show the world that ours is an honorable profession, despite the few flacksters who make the rest of us look bad.

    Share

    Tags: , , , , ,

« Previous Entries   

Recent Comments

  • Having utilized a press release submission to promote many o...
  • Thanks Tom! I agree with your "time and place" assessment an...
  • Point taken, Marc. I guess over the years I started assuming...
  • You're absolutely right...kind of. Tom, my firm -- Strate...
  • Hi, Jennifer: In my business we use analyst quotes as indep...