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!)

Persuasive Picks for the Week of 03/17/2008

This post marks the start of a new weekly series on PerkettPRsuasion that will highlight many of the notable happenings in the world of Social Media and PR. From time to time we’ll also include links to posts about personal productivity and tips for working in a virtual company like PerkettPR (10 years strong!!). Each entry will include links to the original post as well as some brief commentary explaining a bit about the topic and its relevance. Here are the “Persuasive Picks” for this week:

25 Social Media Buzzwords Explained (Part 1 & Part 2)
Jim Tobin from IgniteSocialMedia.com shares this great two-part post listing 25 common Social Media buzzwords and brief explanations of each. This is a good primer for folks who are new to the Social Media space and want to get a jump-start on the lingo.

Bucking the System
Forrester’s Josh Bernoff shares insight on strategies for pioneering change towards Social Media within your company. The advise is taken straight from Bernoff and Charlene Li’s upcoming book, Groundswell.

15 Free Social Media White Papers and Ebooks
Even if you’re a seasoned Social Media maven, there are sure to be some interesting nuggets and different perspectives found in this compilation of 15 white papers and ebooks posted on Mashable.

How I tamed my inbox
Chris Brogan shares his process for keeping his email inbox clean and projects organized. Both are chores that haunt web-workers on a daily basis! Chris also provides a link to Merlin Mann’s excellent “Inbox Zero” talk that he presented at the Google offices last year.

Organizing Our Digital Lives
Scott Monty fom Crayon appears on MarketingProf’s Daily Fix this week and shares a number of web-based aggregators that can help you get a handle on the fire hose of information that can drown the typical web-worker. I’ve played with a few of them, and they can definitely help get the flow under control.

Starbucks Transformational Agenda
Brand Autopsy’s John Moore takes a look at the initiatives that Starbucks announced after their 2008 Shareholders Meeting and offers an interesting perspective. All eyes are on their announcement of the MyStarbucksIdea.com website that is being launched as part of their new Social Media strategy. Its success (or failure) could be the next most popular case-study!

Thats all for this week. Feel free to leave a comment and start a discussion on any of the topics. Let us know what you think of the format, and stay tuned for more “Persuasive Picks” next week!

Tools of choice: Twitter vs. Facebook

Social Media consultant Tom Raftery recently wrote a blog post about the power of Twitter versus Facebook as communications tools. Tom had recently used both tools to aid his search for a new job. Ultimately, he found the Twitter community responded to his to his messages much more frequently than his attempt on Facebook and he sites that the power of Twitter is in the network.

I couldn’t agree with Tom any more. From my own personal experiences, I have found Twitter to be a much more valuable networking tool than Facebook. For the most part, I think it comes down to the nature of the two beasts.

Facebook is Passive

When it comes to reaching our to your social graph for help or answers to questions, Facebook leans towards a very “traditional marketing” approach in the way that it lets you communicate. You can either directly contact someone with your message or post something in your status or profile. When you go down that path, your only hope is that someone is paying attention and sees it in between games Scrabulous games and warding off Vampire bites.

As echoed many times throughout the course of 2007, business professionals are adopting the use of Facebook at a rapid pace. That still doesn’t change the mostly passive way it operates as a communications tool. For the business professional, Facebook is a fun, great less formal alternative to LinkedIn. It allows you to build an online calling card of sorts and it provides the ability to keep your contacts up to date on the latest happenings in your life through photos and video. True conversation can be found through discussion threads within Facebook groups. Finding groups that both match your interests – and that are consistently active – can be a hit or miss situation.

Twitter is Active

On the other hand, Twitter does one thing and it does it well. It’s all about the conversation and there is always someone there to who will see your message. From the outside looking in, it’s often hard for people to understand the value that Twitter brings to the table. Its value is directly related to the quality of the people that you choose to follow. My Twitter network has grown substantially faster than my friends on Facebook. In fact, a good portion of my friends on Facebook are folks who I originally connected with on Twitter.

Facebook and Twitter are also fairly different when it comes to demographics. In October of 2007, Forrester’s Charlene Li presented that 34% of Facebook’s user base is comprised of business professionals. Twitter didn’t start as a student targeted platform and, from personal observation, I would bet that professional use dominates the platform by 90% or more. Younger generations are already deeply engrained in SMS messaging and standard instant messaging. This difference keeps the conversation on a generally more “mature” and honest level. Experienced Twitter users are always ready and willing to lend a helping hand, no matter if it’s with raising money for a friend in need, or voting on the best commercials during the Superbowl.

Who wins the battle?

In the end, I don’t think either Facebook or Twitter can be deemed better than the other. They both server different purposes and provide different mechanisms for communicating with your peers or target audiences. Facebook is feature-rich and offers passive and indirect communication tools. Twitter focuses specifically on the conversation and enables more immediate and direct communication with your all of your “Followers.”

Based on these reasons, it definitely pays off to put some thought into the tools you use when communicating with your social graph. Choosing the correct tool based on the your specific needs will give you the most “bang for your buck” – even when the tools are free!

What do you think? If you have a Twitter or Facebook success story, we’d love to hear about it!