Why I quit traditional PR

Posted in: Opinion- Sep 10, 2012 2 Comments

Late last year I was asked to give a lecture to a UTS (University of Technology, Sydney) Communications class about social media.  Thinking of these students embarking on their PR careers, I took pause to reflect on my near-two decades PR career so far.  It was a very interesting, albeit humbling, process.  (See the slides here)

It startled me to think that when I began in this trade nearly  18 years ago, the central tools of my craft were not a computer, or a mobile phone, or even email…the first was not available to mere junior executives such as I was then; and the latter two were not yet really available to anyone.  The key tools were the humble desk phone (landline), and a thing none of the class I spoke to recognized: a franking machine.

Back then, to get a message out, you needed to target a journalist.  To do so, you posted – posted, you know, in the post – them a press release.  The next day you would ring them up and “check they received it” (because it was possible they didn’t) and attempt to share more context in the hope that they’d run it.

That was it.  Without the co-operation of a journalist, your “news” remained nothing more than an ambition.  However, there were more pages then.  More pages and more journalists.  More pages, more journalists and more time to talk on the phone, chew the fat with executives and so on.  Less Internet you see.  No Internet in fact.

Times have changed. Since giving the UTS lecture I’ve gradually reached the conclusion that traditional media alone is no longer an effective channel for everyday corporate communications.  So, a couple of months ago I resigned my corporate communications job to focus on consulting in social communications (Artechulate #Social Communications).  Radical huh?

As if to validate my decision, that same day I quit, Fairfax newspapers melted down.

You see, for the purposes of corporate communications – product education, opinion sharing and product and service (micro) “news” – traditional media has been (I believe) dissintermediated.

Now of course for macro news, the traditional media machine can still carry a cracking yarn far and wide for you. But let’s be honest – for the most part, corporate communications is not news news!  Business Journalists today are fewer, time poor and pressured to file several times a day and deliver impressive traffic spikes to their publisher. They want to write about numbers the corporate world is no longer willing to share; about controversial opinions executives are no long willing to articulate and about mistakes, errors and back-flips modern PR is all about brushing under the carpet.

For the kind of stuff that PR is generally in the business of pushing out, there is an altogether more effective channel of communications that takes relevant information to the audience that wants it in a timely fashion at a very low cost.  That channel is social.

The power of social is in the personal recommendation of the information you are disseminating – that recommendation is the engine that drives the network.  For instance (speaking from recent personal experience), a blog post  announcing nothing more than a senior executive visit can get 237 shares across Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+! While 237 is not a huge number, each of those have their own following and the information comes with a personal recommendation to those for whom it is probably relevant.

Moreover, a relatively inocuous news story tweet about the renewal of a deal with Twitter – dropped on a conference hashtag (#cloudforce) during the keynote – can get retweeted by as many as 85 people. Again, 85 is not a massive number in and of itself, but if those 85 people include the calibre of a company CEO such as @benioff - who alone has more than 35,000 followers – they can have a very infleuncial role in amplifying the readability of the news.  By the time the first traditional media story hit the web a few hours later, anyone who wanted to know that news had probably already seen it:

So there’s a better way to get this kind of message out, a message that isn’t diluted or contorted by a traditional media filter.  I want to help organisations and individuals build a social network, engage their audience socially and create their own social media. This is how that class of imminent PR professionals will do it.  That’s the future…I think.

Social: Engage or die

Posted in: Advice and ideas, Opinion- Aug 22, 2012 Comments Off

[Re-posted from The Social Enterprise (Down Under) Blog]

Brian Solis of The Altimeter Group has long been a strong proponent of social media and is well known for some of his books such as “Putting the Public back in Public Relations“, “The End of Business as Usual” and “Engage“.

To gain a better understanding of the revolution that is happening in brand engagement with customers, his thoughts are a great place to start.  The video at the foot of this blog post for instance sums up very well the changes that organisations need to put in place to enter the new era that salesforce.com describes as “The Social Enterprise.”

Brian Solis, Principal at Altimeter Group by frenchweb

What particularly resonated with me is where he talks about how companies have for the last few decades been trying to put as much distance in between themselves and the customer as possible. Beginning with those impersonal mail-merge mail-spams, then automating customer service and offshoring the conversation to far-flung destinations.  

Then social media came along and changed all of that, putting the customer back in touch with the brands with which they interact, on terms that better suit the customer than business.  His thoughts here also are very profound:

“Why Do Customers Use Social Networks for Customer Service? Because They Can…”

But he makes the point far stronger that brands are not going to fix this just by putting in place some new social media tools.  This revolution requires fundamental changes within.  These new tools cannot be best leveraged by simply using the old thinking.  The customer has to be placed at the centre of the organisation.  Without this change in the culture, the new channel to market will only serve to further frustrate the customer.  

You can learn more here about Radian6, Chatter and other tools that can help that move to The Social Enterprise.  

Brian spoke at Dreamforce last year, watch here is his view on what defines the Social Enterprise.

What to do when Social goes wrong?

Posted in: Advice and ideas- Jul 31, 2012 Comments Off


[First posted on the Social Enterprise (Down Under) Blog.]

Everyone can think of an example where a company or organisation has been “flamed” on Facebook or Twitter – and recently in Australia there seems to have been a spate of them.  So we thought it might be helpful to provide some advice and tips on what do to when your brand is threatened in the Social Web.

For some help on this we were able to turn to two of our our sister sites.  First, the Salesforce.com “Social Success” site where very recently, Xabier Ormazabal wrote a six-point plan on dealing with negative comments in Social Media.  Also, over on the Radian6 blog, David Thomas – our Director of Social Strategy – also has some sound advice for coping when a crisis hits.

Both agree on a few of points which are well worth emphasising:

  1. Stay vigilant. It is important to monitor you social media channels so when negative comments hit – you can react as quickly as possible.  Falling on deaf ears only builds the frustration and anger customers feel.
  2. Be prepared to say “sorry”.   Being transparent and open and ready to admit short-comings will quickly disarm and dissolve the situation.
  3. Empathise.  It is very important to show that you understand the seriousness of the problem, peoplke need to know that you care.
  4. Have a plan.  It is very difficult to throw together a strategy on the fly and in the eye of the storm.  Have a plan in place and know who your key protagonists are going to be.
  5. Get it offline.  As soon as is possible, try and take get to  apoint where you can manage customer’s concerns offline and out of the glare of the public eye.  Try and connect on email or the phone 1-2-1.

But it is important to note that no one owns the internet and that you cannot shut down a crisis, the problem will only move somewhere else.  It is better to host the conversation on your own channel than have it break out all over.  So never delete or attempt to ignore a problem: it won’t go away it will only get worse.  Alleviating a social media crisis is only done by carefull and skilfull management.

One final piece of advice is to recognise that a crisis does present an opportunity. Exemplary behaviour in a crisis provides the opportunity to earn the respect of your customers and of the public at large.  A great example of how a company has turned a crisis into a success is the way FedEx responded to a Social Media uproar about the way one of their couriers delivered a package by throwing it over the fence:

Social – the penny is dropping…

Posted in: Opinion- Jul 22, 2012 Comments Off

[Re-posted from The Social Enterprise (Down Under) Blog]

Interesting new research from Optus confirms that for those still wondering whether social might be important or not – the verdict is in: it already is!

Future-of-Business-Report-Access-Economics-Optus-May-2012As blogger, journalist and broadcaster @Stilgherrian puts it in today’s Technology Spectator:“Australian businesses have passed the tipping point. Using social media [is]…no longer ‘will-we won’t-we’ discussion. The debate is over. Get on with it.”

There’s always a tipping point in the life of a new business dimension.  The phone, email and the web all went through the will-it-won’t it become mainstream debate.  Well increasingly, it seems that Stilgherrian is right – the debate is over and organisations should just get on with it – or get left behind.

“This year what we’ve seen is not only has that debate been won — very few organisations are still trying to hold out on how they’ll go about social networking  – but more importantly they’re understanding that they need to be actually engaging their customers through social media channels.” 

Something very interesting emerged from the report that runs counter to most development trends. While usually, major technology developments have been primarily driven by the desire to cut costs or maintain competitive edge, this trend is different.  As Scott Mason, Director of Fixed Products, Marketing and Strategy for Optus Business is reported to have said, “73 per cent of respondants said [deployment of externally-focussed social media strategies] was to meet customer expectations.”

This dovetails with some very interesting research released recently in the UK.  A study by Fishburn Hedges and Eco Research found that some 18 million UK consumers (35%) have used social media to engage with the brands they are interested in.  Moreover, 65 per cent said that it was a better way to communicate with organisations than through a call centre.  So if the bulk of your customer service is set up for the phone – think again, because consumers are moving away already.

Ignored on socialMost powerful yet however, is this statistic from a study conducted earlier this year by New York University which found that 88 per cent of respondants were “less likely to buy” from companies that didn’t engage on social media.

While 59.6 per cent expressed guarded optimism for the future of social-relations between consumers and brands; 32 per cent characterised their satisfaction with the way that companies engage socially as either poor or very poor.

As always change can take time.  The organisations that will benefit from this new development are the ones that have already tried and tested this new channel and are now busy increasing their investment in that channel.  Some more research, this time conducted by Sensis last year found that one year ago, 66 per cent of large business and 56 per cent of medium sized business expected to increase their social media budgets in 12 months’ time.  Those companies are already reacting.

So the opportunity is huge to delight those customers looking to engage socially with the brands they follow, while at the same time – those who do not could lose out; as we said earlier on this blog,customers who engage with companies socially will spend between 20 and 40 per cent more.  So don’t delay – get social today!

(Those looking to play catch up could do worse than attend this year’s Cloudforce event in Sydney in two weeks’ time, where we’ll help organisations understand how to take those first and next steps into the social web.)


Social: instant global distribution network – just add Twitter

Posted in: Opinion- Jul 05, 2012 Comments Off


Almost every week now, there’s a new benchmark set in the innovative use of Social Media which keeps stretching your horizon of where the limits of this new technology are.

Another one took place this week. If you’re not a Blur fan you would have missed this but it’s a powerful example of the way these new technologies can be used to connect with your base but also dissintermediate those that traditionally diluted value proposition and ate into margins.

Re-formed Britpop sensation Blur are playing the Olympic closing ceremony festival in London next month and to mark the occasion have released two new songs – the first new material from the band since the Think Tank album in 2003.

But the world has changed a lot since 2003.  Then they were very dependent on their record company’s infrastructure  - even with the new emergence of MP3 – and the record industry still controlled the means of distribution.

However, on Monday 2nd July, Blur were able to go direct to their fans using only the power of Social Media.  Announcing the new material via their 1 million+ *like* Facebook Page - the band were able to alert their fan base to the fact that they would debut the new material live on Twitter via a livestreamed secret performance of the songs on a “rooftop somewhere in London”.

The result was #awesome and immediate  The band were able to talk to their fans directly 1-2-1 on Twitter in between tracks and could get feedback immediately on their new material, without having to go through the prism of the music media.  They could then distribute the music electronically via iTunes.

“From my perspective [I like] the chance of just playing your new music and then for it to be out immediately and for there to be none of that sort of process of reviews and anticipation.” Damon Albarn, lead singer, Blur.

It’s yet another example of the incredible dissintermediating effect that Social Media is having on the way-to-market.  The gig streamed live on Twitter and now lives on You Tube - no TV network required.  You can download the new tracks from iTunes within minutes of their debut.  Reviews from fans – not from music journalists with hidden agendas – pepper the internet and the band were able to directly reach – and engage with – their core fan base at the moment of distribution, at a fraction of the cost of the old industry model.

It’s the Social in action – and its very rock and roll!

[first posted on The Salesforce Down Under Blog]

Getting into the Feedback loop…

Posted in: Opinion- Jun 06, 2012 Comments Off


[Re-posted from The Social Enterprise (Down Under) Blog]

A visit to a much-talked-about restaurant this weekend provided a very helpful analogy for The Social Enterprise I thought was worth sharing.  It hammered home that maxim that listening is half the battle won when it comes to delighting your customers.  The challenge is being able to hear them.

A second attempt to lunch at a busy, much-hyped inner-city Italian Restaurant quickly turned to frustration when our attempts first to be seated, and then to be served, were met with what seemed to be apparent blindness.  “Can they even see us?” we thought, “are we invisible.”  After eventually being seated after perhaps 30 minutes of waiting, we then seemed entirely blanked by waiters.  After a while, we could take no more and complained.  Hunger can all too often lead to crankiness!

Immediately we were met with an offensive of charm.  An extra – and quite delightful – starter, rapid attention and a level of courtesy and contrition that very quickly brought us back on board.  We were turned from “we are never coming here again” to “we must come back again”…and fast.

Everything changed when we spoke directly to the concierge.  Once they were able to understand our dissatisfaction, they were able to act quickly to assuage us.  Directions were quickly sent to the kitchen and the waiting staff and within minutes and with very little effort we were not only placated but totally won over.

But until they heard from us, they were none-the-wiser and powerless to act. 

This whole situation made me think of what the Social Enterprise promises organisations: the ability to listen.  Imagine if the restaurant staff had been able to sense our unhappiness by over-hearing our conversation.  A pre-emptive strike on our dissatisfaction would have been so much smoother and impressive.

Monitoring social media to identify customer dissatisfaction and turn it around through proactive engagement is a powerful tool.  Amid the effective charm offensive, the restaurant staff were also able to explain how they had been hit at once by a perfect storm of a sudden rush of customers as well as a massive disaster in the kitchen.  Context always makes things easier to understand and be tolerant of.   Social media engagement provides companies the opportunity to communicate context around any possible problems in customer service or product performance.  But only if they can sense the dissatisfaction in the first place.

Direct communication with customers – and building a personalized profile of someone to understand their likes/dislikes – is key to a long-lasting and profitable relationship.  This is borne out by a report by Bain & Company which establishes that customers who are engaged on social media spend between 20 and 40 per cent more. 


Its a well-known fact that for every person who complains, 26 do not – but you lose their business too.  So the opportunity is not only to turn around the vocally disatisfied, but to retain all the rest.  Who can afford to ignore all that business?



“Life is Tweet”

Posted in: Opinion- May 06, 2012 Comments Off

[Re-posted from The Social Enterprise (Down Under) Blog.]

I thought it was worth flagging this article which grabbed my attention.   It isn’t just the astonishing statistic that there are now more people on Twitter in the UK (10 million) than buying newspapers (9,002,963) – which in and of itself is astounding.  But it is the fact that even a baby-boomer, fairly old-school politician such as John Prescott (former Deputy PM under Tony Blair) has appreciated the huge importance and power of social media in mainstream society.  Yet Twitter is only six years old!

It isn’t all about Twitter of course.  Quite often all the focus is on the ubiquitous micro-blogging service, but a whole suite of social media tools combine to have a powerful influence: LinkedIn, Facebook, Google +, Pinterest, Blogs, even the comments box at the foot of news articles.  All these channels provide avenues for comment and sentiment – good or bad.

This is why it is neccessary to invest in more purpose-built tools for the job - like Radian6 - that can quickly provide a view of all channels, not just Twitter; and understand and prioritise whether something requires a response, action or simply to be heard.

@johnprescott’s comment that:

“Twitter is OUR media, the public have become the news editors and the Twitter trend list is the running order”

…is in a way an echo of what we often say at salesforce.com in relation to social media – that no longer do marketeers control their brand but the brand instead is an amalgam of what customers are saying about it on social media.  This is why it is so important to listen, and so important to – as we say – line up for the customer where they are, instead of making the customer line up at your store of call centre.  The balance of power has fundamentally shifted in a very short space of time and as a result organisations – media organisations, companies and even governments – can no longer expect to operate as if nothing has changed.  Those that do will swiftly become irrelevant.

As salesforce.com CEO and founder Marc Benioff (@Benioff) said this week in an article on the BBC: 

“Rather than fear this shift, we must use it to stay closer to customers, connect to them and engage with them in entirely new ways.  The companies that will be successful in the future recognise the need for fundamentally changing the way they engage with their customers, and are transforming themselves into social enterprises and radically altering the way they manage their businesses.”

If a veteran like John Prescott has got the message, it is a measure of how mainstream this reality
has become.