Don’t Let the Dog Groomer Cut Your Hair … or the Social Media Expert Run Your PR

Several conversations held with industry pals yesterday had me thinking a lot about public relations and the entire social media craze that is – in some minds – threatening the PR industry. I’ve been asked a lot of questions in recent interviews such as:

“What is social media?”

“Who should own the social media responsibility in business?”

“Should all companies use social media?”

“If I have social media, do I even need PR anymore?”

“Can’t my social media expert just do the blogger outreach?”

Those types of questions have sparked plenty of debates that led to bigger conversations, during which I discovered time and time again that the entire definition and concept of public relations is being confused with the term – and perception – of social media.

Ask yourself, would you:

- Let your vet perform surgery on you?

- Hire a house painter to create a family portrait?

- Have the school lunch cook cater your next big party?

- Ask your kid’s hockey coach to teach gymnastics?

- Ask the dog groomer to give you your next haircut?

While each of these experts have similar traits, they are not the same! So why would you hand the communications and PR strategy for your business to a social media evangelist/expert/guru/champion?

Get over the Whole “Social Media Expert” Moniker
What does that mean, anyway?

First of all, the term “social media expert” means nothing. It means nothing because it’s overused, mostly unproven and you’ll get a different definition from everyone that you ask.

It also means nothing because most “social media experts” are a dime a dozen, largely unproven and akin to back alley plastic surgeons – they’ll promise you a pretty face at a cheap price but in the end, you’ll wish you had paid for the real professional.

Many businesses are either glassy-eyed to the term “social media,” or panicking about how to get in on the trend. They are overwhelmed with terms, pitches and news reports about how social media will make or break your business. They see thousands of Twitter follower numbers on someone’s bio and turn to these self-defined social media experts for help. But they’re not doing their homework to determine who the experts really are – and  it’s going to get ugly when these experts make bigger PR and marketing promises that they don’t truly understand – let alone have any proven results to share.

Still thinking you need an expert? Heed Dan Schwabel’s advice as you proceed:
To be labeled as an expert you need PROVEN results, with an associated endorsement to back it up.

But Isn’t Social Media the New PR?
PR is Not Social Media; Rather, Social Media is a Part of (any good) PR Strategy

I cringe every time I hear social media experts pitching their PR expertise because they “know all the bloggers,” or because they “have 25,000 followers on Twitter.” Social media has spawned an entirely new wave of “experts” who may be great at writing a blog, brush shoulders often with the Mike Arrington and Robert Scoble’s of the world or have a multi-thousand follower list on Twitter. But these talents most certainly do not equate to an understanding of the intricate and long-term strategies for branding and messaging.

PR isn’t blogger relations. It isn’t just media relations. It involves much more than simple promotion or publicity. Let us not forget what PR stands for – it’s “public relations.” The “public” part includes building positive relationships with a variety of constituents – customer, prospects, partners, media, bloggers, analysts, competitors, employees, VCs and so on. And as I’ve said before, a one-size-fits-all approach to communicating with these audiences simply isn’t effective.

Popularity or activity in social media communities – how to grow a Twitter following, how to share information faster, how to create and post videos, and more – does not equate to an expert understanding of how to build a lifelong brand, what creates brand loyalty, or how to create an integrated communications strategy for building relationships with both internal and external audiences. A strategy that should support – and positively impact – the long-term corporate goals of a business.

Yes, social media is changing the face of PR, marketing and advertising. Absolutely, social media should be a part of these important business efforts. The key phrase here is “a part of these efforts.” Social media is just one of the elements of “managing the flow of information between an organization and its publics.”

What’s the Difference?
A strategy vs. a tactic

There are a lot of great people out there doing very exciting things with social media. I have respect for a lot of the social media consultants or agencies that I’ve met. But the ones I most respect are sticking to what they’re good at and not laying claim to the entire PR industry. Those who are touting themselves as new PR experts don’t seem to understand the whole of PR in the first place.

As just one part of a larger communications and PR strategy, social media efforts are very often focused on the near term. Planning questions are typically “What do you want to do for this particular effort?” “Who are you trying to sell this product to?” and “How can we drive traffic for this particular time period?” The focus is often on creating shorter-term campaigns to drive temporary buzz, traffic or conversations.

(Good) PR is focused on a variety of tactics that tie into a larger and longer-term strategy. As I mentioned, social media is very often part of it (or should be – that’s an entirely other topic, currently being researched by many such as Jennifer Leggio). (Good) PR professionals also ask questions that help them understand the whole of your business, and how to support it with PR, such as:

-    What are your biggest sales challenges?
-    How do you develop brand champions?
-    What vertical markets do you play in?
-    How do you win?
-    What keeps you up at night?
-    What does your product roadmap look like?
-    Describe your business. Now describe it in 12 months.

Such questions help the PR team create an overarching plan that encompasses many elements – social media, events, speaking, awards, customer programs, media and more.

What to do – PR or Social Media?
Both. Do PR; make social media one of the elements.

Smart companies will recognize that social media isn’t a PR campaign. It’s one part of a much larger communications strategy. PR and marketing experts – with proven results – should still lead your branding efforts. Social media experts may be a part of that team. Designers and content experts may be a part of that team. But the communications and branding experts should be in the driver’s seat.

Some companies will hire both a social media agency/consultant and a PR firm. Personally, I think an integrated firm – like the handful of evolved “PR 2.0” firms – is the best choice. Or, for those companies who cannot hire outside expertise, be sure that your communications director is adept at both traditional and new digital communications strategies.

At the very least, be sure that you have an individual assigned to managing all the agencies to ensure cohesive messaging and communication. What good are all those Tweets if the messages don’t align with your brand or drive long-term value?

Persuasive Picks for the week of 04/12/09

Magpie logoHow to Sell Your Soul on Twitter and Who’s Buying
The water in the Twitter stream will only get dirtier as it continues to take precedence in the mainstream media spotlight. Spam-based money making marketing schemes are a part of that filth, and Marshall Kirkpatrick chronicles one such abuse that has ties to the likes of Apple, Skype, and Flip.

5 Ways TurboTax Is Reinventing Tax Day With Social Media
Rohit Bhargava of the Influential Marketing blog shares 5 ways that Intuit is leveraging social media to help reduce stress for TurboTax Free Efile users during tax time.

“Social Media” is hype. “social media” is real.
While tons of companies are still struggling with how Social Media fits into their marketing strategy, Damien Basile of the Cause=Habit blog helps readers cut through the hype of it all and see it’s not really as complicated as it seems.

Bloggers Be Warned: FTC May Monitor What You Say
The decline of print media and the rise of “citizen journalism” via blogs is raising a red flag with the FTC. Michael Bush from AdAge.com shares new information on some new potential guidelines that will apply to bloggers and online writers who are compensated to promote or review products.

A Video of Google’s Data Center
Here’s a rare look look inside of Google’s new container-based data center. I had to throw this in just for the “cool geekiness cred.” :) Get your geek on!

PR Firms Need to Get Personal Now More Than Ever – a “Journalists Are People Too” Interview with David Spark, Spark Media Solutions

Spark Media SolutionsRecently, one of our staff members, Fred Han, received an interesting email from an industry friend – David Spark of Spark Media Solutions. David is a new media consultant and producer with more than 14 years knowledge and experience as a journalist reporting on the tech industry in print, radio, TV, and online.

In the spirit of learning from each other, he wanted to share a negative experience he had recently encountered with a PR firm. David’s frustration echoed what we often hear from journalists and bloggers when it comes to PR – that PR executives don’t take the time to read and understand who they are pitching. David said, “In this case, the blatant desire to take advantage of me and my status with absolutely zero interest in me was offensive.” This stemmed from the PR agency “pitching” David to write a blog post on their client – before building any type of relationship with him or even acknowledging that they read, followed and understood what David does on a daily basis and why this story might be of particular interest to him and his audience.

We appreciated David’s openness and effort to help educate PR executives on how to work better with bloggers – and we thought it would make for an interesting guest post in our “Journalists Are People Too” interview series. So we met with David, captured his thoughts on camera and have posted them here for you. We hope you find his insights helpful – and if you have experiences with PR (good or bad) that you’d like to share in the spirit of harmonious working, please let us know. We’d love to include you in our interview series.

And FYI – Fred may be a geek, but that’s how we like ‘em here at PerkettPR!

Persuasive Picks for the week of 03/29/09

LegoEngage different consumers in different ways – why segmentation is key
The FreshNetworks blog recaps Conny Kalcher’s presentation from the Marketing 2.0 conference on how LEGO segments consumer persona types to maximize their social media efforts.

Top 10 Reasons Your Company Should Not Tweet
Even though Twitter has received a lot of buzz in the mainstream media lately, it’s definitely not the right social media tool for everyone. BL Ochman shares 10 reasons why it might not be a right fit for you (or your company).

B2B Warning: One Persuasive Video May Not Be Enough
Brendan Regan of FutureNow’s GrokDotCom blog provides some food for thought to B2B marketers in the area of selecting the right type of video content to create for your websites.

5 Tips for Optimizing Your Brand’s Facebook Presence
Steve Coulson from The Advance Guard guest posts on Mashable and shares 5 tips on how companies can get better at building their brand’s presence with the recently updated pages functionality on Facebook.

How To Monitor Online Conversations
Dawn Foster guest writes on WebWorkerDaily and shares some helpful tips and techniques for monitoring online conversations (about your brand) on the cheap.

New Hampshire Social Media Breakfast Recap

During the latest New Hampshire Social Media Breakfast held at Rick’s Pond View and sponsored by CustomScoop, the topic of the morning was focused on Government 2.0 – how utilities and municipalities are using social media to communicate and connect with customers and the public. Some of the speakers of the day included Martin Murray from Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) and John Daly of The Boston Police Department who both spoke and shared how their organizations are adopting social media technologies.

I was especially interested in the presentation by Martin Murray who handles media relations for PSNH – better known as @PSNH on Twitter.

With the ice storm that hit on December 11, 2008, the word quickly got out that @PSNH was on Twitter and followers increased by 1,700% as customers were seeking answers and comfort in knowing that others were dealing with similar situations and that @PSNH was listening and responding.

As a customer of PSNH, I was very impressed with the organization’s use of Twitter to communicate with its customers during one of the biggest ice storms in the company’s history. The treacherous storm knocked out power to more than 320,000 residents across the state – including mine – for six very long days.

I also found it interesting that, along with Twitter, PSNH has also adopted other social media tools to engage with and communicate with customers – using Flickr and YouTube to share pictures and videos, as well as setting up a Facebook fan page.

In the video clip below, Martin sums up how the customer experience has changed significantly with PSNH’s adoption of Twitter. Instead of private one-to-one phone conversations with a customer, PSNH is now able to share and include others in those discussions publicly – getting more information out to more people.

PSNH video:

John Daly and The Boston Police Department (BPD), known as @Boston_Police on Twitter, are also not strangers to social media. They were the first city police department to have a blog and with their Text a Tip program, people can text their anonymous tips. It wasn’t until recently that John decided to get the BPD onto Twitter to use it as a public information tool.

Check out the video below where John talks about how they are utilizing Twitter, as well as their plans for integrating it into their 911 Center to use as an early warning detection system – cool stuff!

BPD video:

Both The Boston Police Department and PSNH saw an opportunity to improve communications with the adoption of social media technologies. The results have proved that it is indeed a smart move – doing so has helped both entities to connect with the public and their customers on a more personal level. They can now include customers in the discussions at hand – no other communications method can offer the same results.

P.S. – The next New Hampshire Social Media Breakfast is scheduled for April 17th at 8am.