Archive for April, 2008

Who’s got the power?

Yes, we live in the times of change. The web connected us all to each other, convergence of technology has led us into the age of multimedia, gave us tools to create our own content, and abolished boundaries of publishing costs.  Yet some things just don’t change. No matter how much social media manifesto’s call for businesses to start conversations with their publics, as Clay Shirky puts it, not everyone can participate in every conversation and not everyone gets to be heard.

In his controversial book “Here comes everybody”, Shirky raised the question not many of us thought of. Paradoxical enough, the very democratic nature of the web, which allows everyone to have a say in any matter, is turning into a boundary for the very conversation. He makes a great point in observing that the interactivity is in fact getting defeated by the size of the auditorium. While technology has no limits, it appears that human mind does. They are attention span limits.

On one famous blog, after a great post, which attracted many responses, the moderator had to close the discussion board due to the enormous popularity of the topic. Attention span? Yes, it can be argued, that the conversation can be continued other places (it obviously did), but Shirky’s point is demonstrated clearly by this example. We can respond to 20 comments, yet we can’t to 200.

There are around 200 millions of blogs out there, but very few attract millions of readers. Those which do, possess an enormous social power, which is now being exploited by businesses, which are turning these bloggers into their intermediaries. I’m not saying anything is wrong with that, I’m just confronting the fact. Gladwell’s law of the few at work?

I guess it’s all about acknowledging the weakness of the web and accepting that it does not represent an ideal public sphere after all. The social power will never get to be equally distributed among individuals, no matter what technology is on the way. But again I would like to point out, that power relationships don’t really have to equal in order for them to be mutually beneficial.

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To blog or not to blog

The deeper I sink into the ocean of online of social media, the more I realise that blogging as a marketing tool is a big hype. For some reason, everybody seems to believe that engaging in social media relations is the answer to everything. This provokes interesting debates on what social media is, and what it is not.

For example, according to Geoff Livingstone, social media is not media relations at all, while Steve Rubel  calls for killing the term social media altogether  and says its all media now.

I agree with Steve Rubel in the sense that social media today carry the same functions as the traditional media:  disseminating the news, setting the agenda and influencing public opinion. Social media is just another channel to reach the publics, and decision to use this particular channel should be rational rather than sensational.

John Bell, the leader of 360° Digital Influence team at Ogilvy PR’s, defines social media as a set of tools, techniques and methods used to reach a marketing or communications goal – usually in the form of word of mouth marketing. I would guess many bloggers would lift their eyebrows and scream that social media is so much more than just another marketing channel. Well, of course, it is. Just like traditional media, which yet contains around 60% of promotional content.

However, social media is a different kind of media. It’s an unfriendly territory for a marketer, unlike the MSM. We don’t get to set the rules in this ultimate domain of the end user; the domain, which is created by them, generated by them and driven by them.

From PR-perspective, I think that social media is a second chance for us to make things right. We have screwed up our reputation using media relations, and still dragging the tail of spin heritage behind us wherever we go. Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past. Let us not run after the short term profit. And therefore, let us not use social media relations in vain. On the web, more than anywhere else, everything you say can and will be used against you. Yes, silence is fatal. But stupid talk is much more fatal than the silence.

 

The old new rules for PR

I’m writing my dissertation about doing PR using the tools of social media, and frequently come across the notion that the rules for PR have changed. Since I started my research in the autumn 2007, I read many impressive case studies about multi-million success campaigns, started by the word of mouth and, as David Meerman Scott puts it, word of mouse. Therefore I was quite puzzled, when at the Social Media conference in Brussels, speakers were referring to those as “usual suspects” and complaining at the lack of new cases. So I decided to re-read the books, which claim that “all the rules have changed” in the light of my experiences.

There is no question that we have entered what Alan Moore and Tomi Ahonen call “the connected age”, where the consumer is digitally empowered (by being a connected member of largest community in the world – the World Wide Web) and scrutinized about the media content (because of the immense availability of it). But I’m not sure that this has changed the rules of public relations so drastically, as some authors claim.

So following is happening. The Web has changed the landscape of traditional PR and marketing. It is now possible (and the only correct thing) to talk directly to customers (not via third parties) through Web. Following strategy is proposed. Create a funny YouTube video or a podcast and your company will top the Google search and customers will be standing in line, laughing at your jokes, to buy your products and services. Set up a good blog and you will get a bunch of brand ambassadors, virally marketing you wherever they go.

Most importantly, stop pushing annoying marketing content onto the daily lives of busy and intolerant consumers. Engage and involve is the slogan, and those businesses who don’t adjust to the change will soon be scratching their heads and bank accounts.

I have to say, it sounds very easy, like a fairy tale. Makes one ponder why don’t all companies do that? Why would anyone spend millions of budget money on old fashioned PR, when you can get your company up there “in the buzz” for free?

Well, my humble guess it’s because it’s not that easy. One in thousands of YouTube videos becomes noticed by the big audience; one in thousands of blogs becomes respectable and authentic source of information; and probably just one in thousands of online books becomes a bestseller.

I agree with David Scott and Robert Scoble and others, who claim that mass marketing isn’t working anymore. But I don’t agree that everything has changed. Focus group I held yesterday for my research revealed that companies who don’t use third party endorsement in form of journalists, opinion leaders and early adopters, rarely get their message across, as they are not perceived as credible speakers.

Switching media relations with blogger relations doesn’t change the third party endorsement rule: it just changes the third party. Businesses will always need people, whom Malcolm Gladwell calls the Connectors, Salesmen and Mavens. People, who can take an idea or a product and turn it into a meme. It’s not the technology; it’s the ideas, which sell.

But mostly I agree with David Wienberger who says that markets, first of all, are conversations. And whatever rules apply, companies will always need people, like us, who can make these conversations worth while.

PR practice and theory: it’s time for unification

I am now writing my dissertation on use of social media to launch new technology products to the market. I find it difficult to write a proper academic paper, as my theoretical framework on symmetrical communication and relationship management is more often than not poses a barrier for my writing.

I think public relations is in a desperate need for a new theory. It’s one of the biggest reasons why we are not being taken seriously as a profession after hundreds (if not thousands) years of practice.

I think its an issue that there are over 500 definitions on PR all over the world. Maybe I’m thinking as an academic now, but I think while practice might and even should vary from culture to culture, the main concept of public relations should be unanimously agreed on.

After taking part in EuroBlog 2008 conference and listening to smart people talking, I made a conclusion, which was my personal conviction from before. Public Relations is solely about building and sustaining excellent relationships with publics. We don’t need more definitions than this one (with clear precision on WHY we do it) . It says it all, and it perfectly separates PR from any confusion with other disciplines.

This concept is the most important aspect of public relations as a profession, and yet it has been undermined in practice all along. Why? Because on the other hand (well, in fact, on the same one), the most important function of PR (note the difference between function and aspect, that’s where the problem lies) is a selling function.

Without it’s selling function, whether we sell a product, an idea, a cause or a brand, public relations will stop existing as an industry altogether. There simply won’t be a need for it. This practical aspect of public relations is often undermined by the academics, who are more interested in finding an ethically correct theory for PR. It often results in PR being squeezed into the theory, which is too small (obviously not in size, but in conceptualisation) and inadequate for it. And then we complain why everybody is laughing at us. Its because we look ridiculous.

So, a new definition of PR could sound something like that: Public Relations is (forget about the management function btw, I never understood why we should underline it, isn’t it up to the individual companies to decide?) a maintained effort to SELL a product or a cause BY establishing and sustaining excellent relationships with stakeholders through a two-way (drop symmetrical, it’s a myth) communication.

I think it might be time to be truly transperent and say it out load what we do and why we do it. I think PR will get much more respect for being truthful rather than being accurate (that we are so good at).

Have anyone seen the definition of PR on Wikipedia? I don’t know how about you, but I feel embarrassed.

 

My first blog: my path towards blogging

As the first blog ever for almost everyone turns out to be a quite boring one, I will be traditional this one time. After almost a year of consideration, worries (does the world want to hear my opinions? Do I have anything interesting to say?etc) and a lot of urge I finally gathered courage to start blogging.

A lot of things happened for the last couple months which served as a catalist for me to take this step, though. First of all I made a decision to write a dissertation on social media. Reading around it made me curious and engaged. I have always believed in a power of word of mouth, and online social media empowered it even more, by allowing one to many communication, yet two-ways.

The next step on my path towards blogging was participating in EuroBlog 2008 conference in Brussels last month, where I met extraordinary and extremely interesting people like David Weinberger, Neville Hobson, Bruno Amaral, Philip Young, Thomas Pleil, David Phillips and many others. I hope one day I will be able to express myself as elegantly and witty as they do.

And of course, my professor, supervisor and mentor, Richard Bailey, has contributed most to boost my self confidence when it comes to writing publically. I will always appreciate it.

And finally, today I have also started twittering. If all great journeys start with one small step, it is definitely my case. How great this journey is going to be remains to be seen 😉