It’s Not Personal – or Is It?

When Twitter first arrived on the scene a few years ago, it took a long while for businesses to jump on the bandwagon. A few brave souls were early adopters but even today, there’s still a lot of skepticism on whether or not social media is appropriate and valuable for business. I think we’ve made it clear here that we believe it is, but if you’re still wondering, take a look at some of the biggest “web-celebs” (individuals popular on the web and who have successfully used it to build and extend their brand) and their use of social media. Many of them use it solely for the purpose of business – you rarely, if ever, see a personal update from them. So, although one might argue that these folks are focused on “personal branding,” ultimately, they are using their recognition to grow their businesses. A few examples:

Pete Cashmore (he moved over to Google Buzz in lieu of his “personal” Twitter account)

Robert Scoble (a few scattered personal comments but usually around where he is, especially with his current focus to travel the world to study how start-ups are formed)

Guy Kawasaki (“firehose” is putting it lightly)

Michael Arrington (if you don’t count semi-arguments with people trying to get his attention through controversial engagement)

Brian Solis (the most personal current Tweets are around his own book)

On the flip side, there are several examples of some new “web celebs” who often share personal updates, sometimes posting such random things like quotes from their favorite song, or what they had for dinner. Folks like Laura Fitton of oneforty, Penelope Trunk (who is a writer, so perhaps this is part of her persona), Chris Brogan (also a blogger, but now also a marketer) and Peter Shankman (of HARO fame) all share a combination of personal viewpoints and professional insights.

Then there’s a lot of talk about the new “over sharing” of personal information around location-based technologies, such as Foursquare. If you missed the latest hoopla, check out this TIME story on Please Rob Me and the dangers of getting too personal online. A recent PR-specific example of over sharing is the young lady who was hired – and then had her offer rescinded – by People’s Revolution (a fashion PR firm and center of the BravoTV show, Kell On Earth) for tweeting about her job interview.

So what’s my point? It’s really more of a question – are those who keep content more professional-focused and less personal-focused, more successful in business? Have social media networks crossed the chasm from personal fun to serious business tool? If so, why are so many brands still hesitant to make the leap into social marketing? Clearly, these few examples are only a small part of the social media population – but they are also strong examples of those who have successfully grown their personal brand through heavy use of social media and digital content.

What’s your style? Do you have a preference of the type of people that you connect with in social networks? Is it better as a business/executive – especially a marketer – to keep what you share 100% professional? I tend to believe that as a PR executive, social networks give us the opportunity to show that we’re human, more intelligent than often given credit for, and interested and passionate about many of the very products and services we promote. However, I often wonder whether or not I should post anything personal on my social networks. My historical preference has been to strike a balance between professional and personal posts, although with Facebook I really struggle – should I be posting anything personal? If I want to be personal, should I only accept “friends” who are truly friends in real life (you know, those people I’ve actually met and share common interests with)?

What do you think? I’m particularly interested in hearing from those who have built brand awareness online and if such success came from staying on one side of the fence or another. Thanks in advance for “sharing.”

 

The Article I Want to Read on PR

Yesterday morning I woke up to the same New York Times article that the rest of the PR industry did – although I had known that it was coming. Whenever there’s an article on our industry, it seems to cause a huge hoopla – I guess we’re not used to being the ones in the spotlight – so I suppose I would be remiss to not mention it. I sat on it for a day to decide what I wanted to say and I’ve concluded that I’m not going to give my assessment of the article or the PR strategy because a) that’s been done and b) we have a connection to one of the subjects in the article, Brooke Hammerling, in that we share a client and I wouldn’t want any of my comments to be misconstrued.

Instead, I’ll say here’s the article I would have rather read – or would like to see someone take the time to write – about PR. Let’s follow the next PR subject and his or her clients around for a good six months to a year. Let’s get past the launch phase and the initial hoopla (if done well), and watch how the PR team tackles strategy during the tougher times. Let’s follow a PR executive or firm that has to promote completely new concepts and companies, vs one that works for say, Facebook or Microsoft. And let’s see what else PR executives do besides “spin.”

Hell, let’s see if PR executives even know strategy, right? Michael Arrington says in his post on the subject that we (PR executives) just “Smile, Dial, Name Drop and Pray,” that we’re “frustrated by always being in the back seat” and that we’re just “there to spin whatever happened in the most favorable light possible.” Jason Calacanis has said in the past that anyone can do it and you should fire your PR firm. Robert Scoble says in his post that “PR companies haven’t figured out yet that the traffic has moved onto social networks and that journalists and influencers are watching those like a hawk.”

First of all, some of us have, Robert, and have likewise been involved in these social networks for years. Secondly, these are all yet again sweeping statements – sparked by the moves of one PR person and then applied to the whole of our industry. They are also very focused on one thing: coverage. Even if Ms. Hammerling’s strategy was to leave the tech blogs out and instead garner online mentions from the “Who’s Who” of tech, the story still began with “Ms. Hammerling, while popping green apple Jolly Ranchers into her mouth, suggests a press tour…” And anytime bloggers and reporters seem to assess the PR industry, the viewpoints usually only take into account only that one element of what our job is – and that one thing that happens to be what they do for a living: writing on and assessing products, services and companies (and I include blogs in that).

But let’s remember – I’ve said it before – PR is so much more than media coverage – it’s more than promoting a product or service. It’s more than pitching and praying, smiling and dialing or spinning and dancing. And it’s much, much more than name dropping. (Just for the record, I’ve never been much of a name dropper – I know the right people to reach when it’s important and if I don’t, I’ll quickly find out – and I seem to be doing “ok.” As I have written in the past, my approach is not only about how many existing relationships you have, but rather about the ability to connect with others in a valuable and meaningful way – journalists or otherwise. The “meaningful” way is what traditional PR agencies are struggling with – it doesn’t exactly fit the “process, repeat” model of yesteryear that likely sparks comments such as Arrington’s “smile and dial” assessment.)

Arrington is right when he says PR executives aren’t who a CEO calls “when wondering what she should do next to drive her business forward.” However, to imply that we as an industry do not influence our clients’ “strategic actions”at all is inaccurate. In fact, we do help to shape the directions of some business decisions based on what we believe the communications outcome or impact will be. We have helped to name companies, products, events and even product categories. We very carefully think about timing – and influence business actions based on it and a host of other elements. We help tongue-tied entrepreneurs to better communicate not only with customers or partners, but with  media, analysts, employees and even VCs. To focus on media coverage or “influencer” tours – or just this one PR strategy from Ms. Hammerling – as “the new world of promoting start-ups” is telling only part of the story.

So again, I’d love to someday see a real analysis of the PR industry – more than a press tour, more than a product launch, more than a stereotypical pretty blonde executive working the room at a trade show. How about the daily life of a PR executive handling both small start ups and major corporations – and how the PR strategy for each not only exists, but entails much more than reaching out to media and bloggers, and how such strategies for each type of client varies greatly. And I’d prefer that the story show different types of PR executives so we don’t end up with another Lizzie Grubman MTV-style show representing our entire industry.

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?

25 SXSW Attendees Explain Why You Should Attend Next Year…Oh and they did it in two words…

Inspired by Steve Garfield’s video montage “27 People, One Question” I thought it would be fun to do something similar during my trip to SXSW Interactive. Throughout my time there, I had some lighthearted fun with attendees and asked 25 people to give me two words that describe their experience at the event. Some of the responses, both serious and entertaining, came from folks like Jeff Pulver, Chris Brogan, Justin Levy, Jeremiah Owyang, Robert Scoble, Jason Falls, Aaron Strout, and many others. Using my handy Kodak Zi6 HD camera I captured some great footage that hopefully encapsulates what SXSW Interactive is all about and in some cases, just made me go “huh?”

So without further ado, for your viewing pleasure check out what some of this year’s SXSW Interactive attendees had to say for themselves. I am sure you will recognize a few of your friends and hopefully have a few laughs along the way.

A special thanks to everyone who participated and shared their two (and sometimes more) words and thanks for all the memories. See y’all next year – SXSWi 2010!

Disclaimer: The video quality and lighting varies slightly due to the ‘extreme’ shooting conditions of SXSW. :)

Translation: This was my first attempt and I didn’t lug around all the lighting and sound equipment with me for these impromptu shots, so some responses were a little more difficult to see/hear, but you get the point.

Music: Dan Tharp, Guitar Suite I – Movement I and II
Camera: Kodak Zi6 HD

Persuasive Picks for the week of 01/18/09

Our Persuasive Picks series returns this week with five social media, marketing and PR-related posts that caught my eye this week.

Online Reputation Management Done Right: What CEOs Can Learn From Hulu’s Jason Kilar
Marjorie Kase from Markyr Media chronicles how Hulu CEO Jason Kilar made the right moves in responding to the online backlash of an abrupt and unannounced change in Hulu programming.

How Not to be a Key Online Influencer
There is certainly no shortage of posts on the web about all the “right” ways to use Twitter as a communications tool. David Henderson shares an eye-opening story of one bad judgment “Tweet” and the importance of thinking before you type in the social media space.

A Crash Course in Comments
Chris Brogan shares 15 tips on improving blog comment interaction with your reading community.

Community building: Getting members active and addicted
Martin Reed from the CommunitySpark blog presents the 10th entry in his series of posts on developing a new online community from scratch. Be sure to go back and check out the previous posts in the series for more excellent advice.

Tech PR in Troubled Times
This pick actually came out last week, but definitely falls into the “must mention” category. Robert Scoble interviews Joshua Reynolds of Hill and Knowlton’s global technology practice and gets his take on the Tech PR landscape in the middle of the current economy.