Food for Thought: Adding Social Media to the Menu

After taking time off for summer adventures, misadventures and mishaps (fodder for future posts, no doubt) I came across an article written earlier this year by confessed social media neophyte Bruce Buscel on his attempts to secure PR services for his relatively new restaurant, Southfork Kitchen, located in New York’s vaunted Hamptons on Long Island’s east end. While restaurant centric in nature, there are  lessons to learn for all businesses, big and small, about how social media has changed the landscape for both marketing and public relations.

After two failed attempts to engage a PR firm to support his restaurant’s launch, first with  traditional PR firm that appeared to just go through the (unsuccessful) motions and another with a “foodie” led boutique firm which (on paper) would seem to have been a good fit but ultimately wanted to change the client rather than support it, Bruce  realized that:

“The old P.R. model is as useless as the fax machines on which press releases used to arrive.”

He decided to turn to media firms with expertise in social media. Surveying six of them, he came up with a digital dozen strategies for social media. From those, here are my top five social media strategies for all businesses (paraphrased):

  1. It’s a dialogue– listen and respond
    The first word in social media is “social”. It’s a dialogue, not a broadcast. Listen always; respond frequently; curate connections.
  2. Keep your social media activity current.
    The only thing worse than not being involved in social media is to allow your participation to go stale.
  3. Know your audience.
    Engage them where they already are participating online. Keep in mind that if your customer base is comprised of several distinct audiences that participate on different social networks you’ll need to tailor your content for each.
  4. Assess your progress regularly.
    Like any other business discipline, you need to plan strategy, execute tactics, assess results,  and then modify your plan as indicated. To do so you need to track KPI (Key Performance Indicators) relevant to your specific business and goals (likes, follows, time spent; service issues handled, sales/conversions, etc.) .
  5. Engage a social media pro to get you started and then plan long-term
    Bruce is not alone in wondering how to get up to speed on social media. my advice is, as always, hire a social media professional (one who has successfully been performing social media as a profession for a number of years) to get you started. Then, plan on who will take over that role long-term. Consider bringing your contracted pro in-house if it makes sense for you both.

Bruce concludes,

“What is the sound of irony? We are all in the P.R. business now.”

Indeed.

A New Year, But Same Rules for Social Media PR

Image courtesy of the Association of Web Design Professionals2011 was the year in which social media gained wider acceptance as a viable business tool. But in many ways th new year finds the chasm between Marketing and Communications over its use has grown wider.

I’ve written before about the ultimate goal for social media within the enterprise (see “Who Owns Social Media? Ultimate Answer: The Opposites”), but at the start of 2012 it seems (according to the job openings I have observed) that social media marketing is taking command, with calls for professionals experienced in social and viral marketing campaigns ruling the day.

So, when I found this article, The Do’s and Don’ts of Using Social Media in Crisis Communications, I noticed that despite the crisis communications spin of the headline the advice listed makes good sense for any company looking to leverage social media for Communications/PR. Briefly:

Dos
Accept social media as an ongoing tool; create a social media policy; trust and use your staff; plan on who and how to handle crisis communications; keep social media social – participate in the conversation; be honest; always think of your image.

Don’ts 
Try to ban social media use company wide – it won’t work; talk at you audience – engage with them;  try ti spin the message – insincerity is magnified (and readily apparent) online; keep your associates in the dark — keep them apprised and energized; mix corporate social media accounts with associates’ personal ones – accidents do happen.

Of course, the biggest “Do”: engage in social media. It’s a valuable cross-discipline tool for your entire organization.

image credit: association of web design professionals

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When Your PR Problem is Your PR Agency

Image representing Wikipedia as depicted in Cr...

A friend of mine got a job in the PR department of a large corporation, one that prides itself on the veracity of its products. It wasn’t long before s/he was pressured to “fix” information on Wikipedia that the company felt reflected poorly on its management. This is a “PR Fail.” Here’s why:

What critics and skeptics fail to realize is that Wikipedia is self-policing, with published policies and standards  — in particular regarding Conflicts of Interest (COI) — and about 100,000 regular editors who add or review. Try to game the system? You’ll succeed short-term but, eventually, you’ll be found out. The latest case in point: PR firm Bell Pottinger.

One of the largest lobbying firms in the UK, Bell Pottinger is under scrutiny for allegedly editing entries about its clients, violating Wikipedia’s COI (see article links, below). Worse, it apparently sees this as “business as usual”, stating:

I can’t see any bad headlines for our clients,” he told the BBC. “You won’t find anybody, including journalists, who doesn’t do exactly the same thing.” – Lord Bell, Chairman 

I disagree. Every client involved will suffer damage to its reputation. What Lord Bell fails to comprehend is that social media is a self-correcting organism. There’ll always be someone with the time and resources to ferret out the truth. Attempts to misrepresent or obfuscate information get discovered and the blowback is worse than facing the facts from the start.

This concept is nothing new. In 1596, Shakespeare wrote: “but at the length truth will out.” And, in a quote generally attributed to Abraham Lincoln, 1858, “you cannot fool all of the people all of the time“. My advice to organizations and individuals alike, is to conduct social media with accuracy, integrity and transparency. That’s how it works.

As for my friend, s/he left that company over a year ago, in part because of the lack of support for social media done right. But the all-too-often encountered attitude of PR bigwigs that social media is something to “handled” persists. So choose your digital PR firm wisely.

Oh, and that old saw about all PR is good PR? Hardly.

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Calling the News Corp. Situation a “PR Problem” Is Wrong

Rupert Murdoch - World Economic Forum Annual M...

Image by World Economic Forum via Flickr

I keep seeing the situation with Rupert Murdoch’s (photo right) News Corp. and the circumstances that led to its closing ‘The News of the World‘ (“NotW”) after 168 years referred to as a “PR problem.” That is just wrong.

Certainly, the unethical hacking activity into private citizen’s email and voicemail by NotW journalists is worthy of both scorn and retribution, legal and otherwise, but calling it a PR  problem implies that good PR practices could have mitigated or even prevented the consequences News Corp. continues to face. And that’s not true.

As with any crisis response, News Corp. needs to follow the Five A’s of crisis management (amended to six by me):

  1. Assess
  2. Admit
  3. Address
  4. Atone
  5. Adapt
  6. Abridge

No amount of “good PR” could’ve saved NotW, and it remains to be seen what the ultimate ramifications are for News Corp. It’s not a PR problem— it’s a PR issue.

Let’s not confuse the two. 

Accuracy; Integrity; Transparency — A Social Media Lesson For Anthony Weiner (and Everyone)

“… but at the length truth will out.”
– from ‘The Merchant of Venice’ by William Shakespeare

Those words, the bane of politicians, ad men, PR flacks, marketing gurus, titans of business and wayward spouses throughout the ages, are as true today as they were when written 415 years ago.  But instead of waiting for a pamphlet to be printed on a 16th Century mechanical press (the origin of the word “Press” regarding news) and hand delivered, read aloud or nailed on a church door, what happens today can spread  across the globe via social media before the next sunrise.

Those following me for a while know that I am a social media professional who strongly suggests to companies, organizations and yes, politicians, that to take advantage of the vast benefits social media has to offer while avoiding its pitfalls you need two things: 1) to conduct your social media (both brand related and personal use) with accuracy; integrity and transparency and, 2) to consult with or have on board a social media professional to lead the way.

Rep Anthony Weiner courtesy ReutersWhich brings us to U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who shorts(sic)-circuited his political plans by engaging in questionable social media and phone-based relationships. For a politician — (one of the few professions where you are expected to always be on the job), this can be a career-breaker causing us to collectively sigh, “What were you thinking?” Regardless, let’s take a look at what he admittedly did and the social media pillars he ignored:

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Who Owns Social Media? Ultimate Answer: The Opposites

I’ve seen it first-hand. Despite companies aspirations to openess and full cooperation, there exists a rivalry over “control” of social media with the main combatants Communications/Public Relations (“PR“) and Marketing/Advertising (“Mktg”), leading to internal battles, mistrust and inefficient social media use by both.

And each discipline has valid reasons for wanting this. For PR, social media is a communications, corporate reputation and thought leadership opportunity which will lead to increased, unpaid brand mentions — “earned media”. Mktg views it as an additional opportunity to advance its message to potential and current customers to advance its sales goals.

PR Only or Marketing Only Doesn’t Work

Both have valid points. And the truth is, that utilizing social media by one area without the other is a losing proposition. Organizations that relegate social media to marketing only are losing the vital advantage that social listening; conversational engagement; brand enhancement and thought leadership brings when marshalled by PR. Also, improper use/overuse of social media for purely marketing/advertising purposes can have the opposite effect of turning off your audience to your social media efforts entirely. Similarly, social media use by PR only is a lost opportunity to connect with the audience to convey the value proposition of its goods and services.

And so, in most companies that have realized the advantages of leveraging social media there exists either dual strategies or, worse, no strategy at all as both areas do their own thing. This leads to fierce competition for resources and recognition, departmental distrust, and breakdown in communication (ironic, given social media’s utility for increasing communication).

So Where Should Social Media “Live”?

Of course, in a discipline as young as social media (very few of us have been paid social media practitioners for over 10 years) PR and Mktg are not the only areas where leadership social media mat reside. For my 10 years working at AOL it was in the Product division; during my tenure at BusinessWeek it was part of the Digital division; and when I worked at Bloomberg L.P it lived in Communications, but then later consolidated (to my chagrin) into Marketing.

While not the ultimate answer (see below), if forced to make a choice mine would be PR. The upside potential for understanding audience sentiment; deepening end-user engagement; developing brand supporters, loyalists and defenders; and raising awareness of the organization’s goods, services and leaders is best handled by communications pros.

The one caveat: the need for a social media professional, one who has a visible social media footprint, a  and documented success as a paid professional  on staff to lead the organization in developing an overall social media strategy; implement best practices; develop internal social media policy; evangelizing social media internally including education and training and working with other departments such as HR and, yes, Marketing to employ social media the right way is an absolute requirement.

The Ultimate Answer

That is not the final answer to the “who owns social media” question — it’s the way most companies should proceed at the early stages of this discipline. The ultimate answer is: the opposites: “No one” and “Everyone“.

A fully integrated, successful social media strategy’s goal should be where both no department feels that they own social media; but every department is responsible for utilizing it as part of a comprehensive, coordinated effort.

Quick Tweet: The State of Community Management in 2011

Great report by Edelman Digital and The Community Roundtable on the state of community management in 2011

http://ow.ly/4skjI

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