Drop the Excuses and Start Participating

As you may know through my various Tweets, I spoke yesterday at the Ragan Corporate Communicators Conference in Chicago with our EVP, Heather Mosley. We substituted at the last minute for another speaker who dropped out unexpectedly. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous coming in as the backup substitute – none of the conference materials had indicated any change in the session until about one hour beforehand, when it was announced at the opening session. It was definitely on our minds that the audience had been expecting some heavy lifters (a much larger, global agency) to discuss digital marketing. I’m not a “digital marketer” and we had only a few days to pull together our presentation. Would we disappoint them? Could we teach them anything new? Would they walk away feeling the session was valuable? What if they already know everything we were talking about?

We changed the subject matter to something more our in line with our expertise, of course. At PerkettPR, we’re enthusiastic about social media and the opportunities – and challenges – that it presents to the PR profession. Our session was titled, “Join the Conversation: More Effective PR Through Social Media.”

For some, this may seem to be an oxy moron. Many constituents are shouting from the rooftops that PR is dead – due to social media. I completely disagree. I think it’s forcing us to evolve – but that’s a good thing. Social media presents amazing opportunities for communications professionals to engage with their publics in ways never before possible. For me, it’s thrilling. I am so enthusiastic about social media that I liken it to wanting to jump on the couch like Tom Cruise to emphatically express my love for it.

Yesterday, as we started speaking on this topic, the majority of faces in the room looked at us like we were crazy. Facebook for business? Linkedin Answers? Link love on blogs? Twitter-what??? Although, their eyes did light up when Heather explained Twitter like this: It’s like entering a noisy, crowded stadium and saying, ‘Is there a doctor in the house?’… The entire stadium quiets to silence and everyone sits down except for four people that raise their hand and say ‘I can help!’…It’s that powerful and can provide a whole new lifeline of resources to draw from.

We had expected that the majority of the room would not yet be embracing social media (luckily, we were right or we could have been really boring). We knew we weren’t going to be in a room full of technology PR professionals. However, I’m also surprised at how many communicators haven’t embraced what is arguably the biggest evolution of our industry in decades…and their reasoning has nothing to do with technology.

Here are some of the questions and objections to social media participation that really stood out for me:

1) How do you find the time
2) What do you do if someone says something negative about you in the blogosphere?
3) How do you get corporate management to let you participate in social media?

I could go on and on about these topics but I’ll try to keep my recommendations simple.

1) If you don’t find the time I believe you will be out of a job. This is the way communications is going. Participate or be left behind. It’s that simple. Seriously.

Okay, okay, I did provide real tips such as: start slowly; join Twitter and observe for a while. Try to go on a few times a day to begin – post a question in the morning. Come back at noon and check for responses in DMs or aggregators like Tweet Scan. Post thank yous/follow up and another question. Come back before the end of your day and repeat. This can take ½ hour total.

2) It depends. Was it a customer? Was it a competitor? Was there any truth to the complaint or comment? There is no one right answer but there are guidelines to keep in mind – transparency and common sense being two of them.

We provided a few examples from experiences with our own clients. Two different crisis and two different recommendations: one, a posted apology and two, a personal phone call to the blogger. Different situations that called for different actions. In the end, both were turned around by … participating.

3) My answer for this today is simple – hand them a copy of the new book Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research. (Really, it should be required reading for all marketers, communicators and C-level executives.)

Better yet, read it first, highlight the parts that apply to you and the company (and trust me, no matter what industry you are in, there are examples that will apply to you) and put it on every corporate executive’s desk. Include a sticky note with this great quote – one of many – from the book:

“…While you can’t stop it, you can understand it.”

And just for good measure – maybe include another of my favorite quotes from Charlene Li: “While you cannot control word of mouth, you can influence it.” Then explain to them that you cannot do either of these things if you are not allowed to participate.

I hope we helped some communicators at the conference to begin to understand “it.” Forrester calls it the groundswell. Others call it Web 2.0 and still others the new social landscape. Whatever you call it, it’s here to stay…so jump in!

I’d love to hear comments from you, Dear Community, as well. Can you chime in with your ideas and help these professionals learn? After all, isn’t that the spirit of what this new social movement is all about? (Thank you, in advance!)

18 thoughts on “Drop the Excuses and Start Participating

  1. Great post! Social media marketing is a fabulous add on to tradition PR, but you have to play by the rules.

    No spamming allowed!

  2. Sounds like you did a great job. I agree that social media does not replace PR, but it is a game-changer. I hear the same excuses — and they are the same excuses that were given when the Internet first arrived on the scene, and even before that. How do you find time to email? (in the days before it came preloaded on every PC) What if someone says something negative about you on email? Or what if one of our employees says something improper on email? How do we get corporate management to let us have email accounts? :-)

  3. didn’t every technology ever get resisted by the masses originally?

    Bell was an idiot, Edison made the candle makers mad, Ford met opposition from the horse buggy people.

    Thank God for people like you who put their heads down and persist. It take smart people to do that, but really it always does seem to work out.

    Even when we are freaking out that someone is ignoring the next round of tech, they come around in the long run, don’t they? or they die.

  4. I attended yesterday’s session at the Ragan Conference. The information was great and very well structured. You were successful at injecting your enthusiasm into the audience — something that’s tough for speakers to accomplish.

  5. I wish I could have been at the presentation! I can remember when everyone declared postal mail would be replaced by email. New methods of communicating will not supplant communications professionals it simply challenges them to engage in new ways.

  6. Thank you to all of you for contributing your valuable insights and comments. We really appreciate your thoughts. You are right – the majority of folks will embrace new technologies eventually. Perhaps we should have kept quiet and just enjoyed our competitive advantage a little longer ;-)

    Connie – it’s funny to think back on those days before email was so ubiquitous.I remember faxing and calling. I also remember emailing before it became so noisy. I am sad to think that’s what will happen with social media but like with anything, if you use it enough and use it wisely, you’ll be able to efficiently sift through the noise and still find – and benefit from – the valuable content.

  7. Great post with simple, clear suggestions for getting into social media! I am a PR professional in my mid-20’s and I am shocked when I talk about social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter and my peers a) don’t really see their value or b) don’t even know what I’m talking about (mostly the case with Twitter). I’ve heard the no time excuse and I just don’t get it–isn’t it part of our job to be observing trends and participating in the conversation?
    I’m lucky that my company sees the value in social media; it is at work that I am really learning the most about it. I’ve just grabbed my own copy of Groundswell and can’t wait to read it (disclosure: while my parent company is the book’s publisher, I am not commenting here on their behalf; this is my personal opinion).

    @shiv245 (twitter)

  8. @Siobhan thank you for commenting. I’m glad you found the tips clear – especially for someone from Gen Y. As you can tell, we are passionate about this topic! At the conference, we even provided ideas to the Manager of PR at The US Potato Board – I sincerely believe social media can help extend the reach she’s already executing to consumers to help elevate their brand. I look forward to watching her get more involved and see some unexpected returns.

    It absolutely is part of our jobs in tech, anyway, to follow such trends. For other communications professionals (in non-tech) it simply makes sense to take advantage of the best tools out there to help you do your job well…
    and to dread that awful “flack” moniker. There are plenty of great examples of non-tech companies doing so (think BLENDTEC) in Groundswell.

    And in case you didn’t see it, CIO continued the discussion today, here: http://www.cio.com.au/index.php/id;744113275

  9. This is a great post and it sounds like you did a fantastic job. I head up a new online PR division at a digital agency in Manchester, UK and think its amazing that PR’s are still not all totally switched on to how social media can refresh and redefine brands. People need to get with it!

  10. Pingback: Web Worker Daily » Archive How RSS Feeds Affect My Life & Work «

  11. Great post, Christine! And you’re right–it’s participate or die a slow death from disinterest. I always love the “where do you find the time” stuff, because, if done right, as part of daily tasks, social media gets integrated. It’s not really an either/or proposition (if you want to move forward, that is.)

  12. Kate – thank you for your comments. I’d love to talk to you about your work… any possibilities of partnering would be interesting.

    Tish, I totally agree – it’s not either/or if you want to evolve. It’s the only way! It’s been fun following you on Twitter, btw, and thanks for connecting here as well.


  13. I am one of those people who wants to participate but is finding it difficult. I am following some great people on Twitter but don’t know how to become part of the conversation. I saw your request so I thought – here is a great opportunity. Yesterday, on Twitter, I mentioned that I am going to the Marketing Profs conference in June and want to meetup with anyone who’s going. I got no reply. Also, I know this sounds silly, but I’m not sure how to respond to someone on Twitter. Where do I click? I’m your classic wanna be but can’t quite figure it out.

  14. Pingback: Timeliness is next to godliness « It’s a blogger’s life, in modern public relations.

  15. Pingback: Embracing Social Media « PRoper Learning

  16. didn't every technology ever get resisted by the masses originally?

    Bell was an idiot, Edison made the candle makers mad, Ford met opposition from the horse buggy people.

    Thank God for people like you who put their heads down and persist. It take smart people to do that, but really it always does seem to work out.

    Even when we are freaking out that someone is ignoring the next round of tech, they come around in the long run, don't they? or they die.

  17. Pingback: PR is A-Changing? « Social Commentary

Leave a Reply