Play to Your Strengths

Some of the online discussion has recently asked who is the best to represent your organization in social media. Your PR or marketing agency? Or your in-house experts and communicators?

I’m going to go with your in house people. Having your social media team (which needs to be made up of people in your company from many disciplines – marketing, PR, sales, operations, development, programming, etc) spearheaded by your own employees allows your company to tap into a much deeper knowledge of the products, services, issues, etc. Much more in depth than your PR firm working 40 hours a month on your account.

This isn’t to denigrate the work that firms do for a client – it actually promotes a firewall separating the strengths of a firm and the company in question.  The primary social media content and creation needs should come from your company’s evangelists while your firm can bring the team important insights about your company or a new idea for social media tools (for example). Sometimes that outside viewpoint can give your firm the great ideas to move your organization into a new communications phase.

When you start a communications team/Firm partnership, you need to establish the ground rules for what each side of the equation will do. Be careful to not let the line blur too much, each team will work to their strengths, and the people on each team can hold the other team accountable to working to those strengths.

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Why Am I Asking Why?

I know a lot of people write great posts explaining the top 5 or 10 ways to do something re: social media or PR. In case you haven’t noticed by now, I’m not a big fan of writing these. I’ll do it every so often, but I want you to delve deeper into what you need or want out of social media and why you need PR.

That’s not to say anything bad about those posts, they are quite useful and I’m hoping to do more of them in the future.

However, I ask so many questions because by asking you these questions, you will be able to provide yourself with better social media planning than I can from this side of the laptop screen.  It’s my hope that in providing you some of the foundational knowledge I have, I can help you to develop your own goals in using social media, public relations and communications strategy. It’s that old “teach a man to fish…” idea. I am happy to help and hope to plant the seeds for your own brilliance, and will help as much as I can to provide you with the ingredients for your own social media and communications menu (going back to the idea of Iron Chef Social Media), but the true brilliance for your needs will almost always come from you.

Praising, and not Burying, Foursquare

This isn’t a post designed to slavishly worship at the altar of Foursquare – the app that allows you to broadcast your location to everyone following you on Twitter, Facebook, and… oh yeah, your Foursquare account. And the jokes about telling people when they can break into your empty home have already been made, so I won’t make them here.

(And I’m sure this post has been written many times before by other smarter people than I, but bear with me, please. )

In fact, and this may surprise you (and to bastardize Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar), “I have come here today to praise Foursquare, not to bury it.” Foursquare could be one of the great saviors for many small businesses that always appear to be under threat.

By keeping an eye on who checks in at a business via Foursquare, savvy businesses are already able to offer special discounts, or menu items (in the case of a restaurant), etc. to people following their business.  But what about those people who are walking by a business?  Since most of these smartphones are (or will be) equipped with GPS (how else can you run Google Maps and Directions?) it should only be a short jump until these phones can signal that they are in the proximity of your business. Then you do the same thing, offer discounts, freebies, etc to swing by.

How will the person behind the counter know if the discount is legit? You might be able to send a picture of a QR Code or Bar Code for the specific item in question, in order to try and minimize people gaming the systems with bogus tweets/etc. At the end of the day though, let them work the system a little bit, the end result will still be sales.

The most important aspect to this will be creating a system where people can opt-in, instead of pushing your message to any phone capable of receiving a text message. Because at that point your message becomes nothing more than spam and will drive people away.

Monitoring Foursquare for check-ins, and Twitter for tweets, and responding appropriately will help you to attract more customers, and to handle customer service issues. Look no further than ComcastBonnie (@comcastbonnie on Twitter) for an example of those tech savvy peeps doing it right.

RSS-Fu: Why RSS “Isn’t Quite Dead”

21 March 2010 4 comments

I was surfing on Twitter this evening while walking the dog when I came across a few tweets from Robert Scoble touching on the idea of Twitter replacing RSS as a way to get information. Twitter is a lot of fun, especially when checking out what your peeps are saying, but the problem is, even with lists and blocking spam-tards, you’re still getting a lot more info from the firehose than you might need. But Twitter is the hot thing going on right now, at least until FourSquare takes over (as is usual in the tech sector).

But Twitter replacing RSS feeds totally?

Not to say that I disagree with some of tech’s heavy hitters, but are y’all kidding me?

While not as important as it once was (or was considered to be), RSS still plays a part in attracting people to your blog or social media hub, or providing that content to a selected audience. A big part of social media, especially for businesses, is creating kick ass content and getting people to come to your site to check out your latest creations. RSS delivers that info to people who have requested it, and why would you want to discount that? Plus RSS feeds from blogs and Google searches (yep, Google searches can be used as RSS feeds and delivered to your favorite feed reader) are one of the pillars of what Chris Brogan has referred to as your social media listening hub.

And RSS is important if you’re a business or PR firm looking to create a media hub for yourself or your clients.  It’s an easy way for you to direct content to your target stakeholder audiences (media, shareholders, clients, etc). Give them the RSS feed to their FeedDemon or Google Reader and let them take care of the rest.

I do agree with the view that RSS isn’t as important as it used to be, or is considered to have been, but still plays a part in your overall social media strategy. Ask yourself one question, if RSS didn’t matter then why do all of these social media peeps still have RSS feeds to their blogs?

Categories: social media, Technology Tags:

Authenticity – A Discussion

Note: This is an edited transcript of one of a number of ongoing Google Wave exchanges between Will Reichard of CrossCut Communications and Benson Hendrix, author of Net News 54, a blog about new media. It is being cross-posted on both sites.

Will: One of the blog ideas I had was about “authenticity”–the importance of a unique voice in an online identity. Being authentic requires courage, self-awareness and practice. Benson, what are some of your favorite examples of authenticity in action in the online realm?

Benson: In addition to the three attributes you named for authenticity, I would add patience and mindfulness, an ability to not only listen to what people are telling you, but to really hear and absorb their words, mulling them over before responding.

One of the first examples that comes to mind for me is Richard Edelman, of the mega-PR firm Edelman Public Relations. While some of the moves his company have made in the online realm have been very questionable (anyone remember “Walmarting Across America?”) Edelman himself seems willing to be authentic and upfront on his own blog.

Dell is always one of my go-to examples for what is right in the online sphere. In addition to selling over $6 million through Twitter (reported naturally enough, on Twitter) Dell has really worked hard to change their image from going through “Dell Hell” to seeking out people with Dell problems and actively engaging them to help fix their problems – I know, I was one of them a few years back. Lionel Menchaca, Richard Binhammer and the rest of the Dell outreach team have done a great job.

Other examples of authenticity online include Bob Lutz at G.M. and the Fastlane Blog, and Scott Monty on the other side of the street at Ford. Both are doing interesting things online to get people excited about their products.

In the PR world, I also like following Richard Laermer and Peter Shankman. Each one has developed a social media presence that is truly a part of themselves, it’s not phony or perceived as a sham.

For smaller companies, or companies that have a one person commanding presence that stands out when you think of that company (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Lee Iacocca) it’s almost easier to use online tools and social media to develop your business presence around that outstanding person, since the two companies are linked already.

Will: Great points, Benson, and I love the idea of quiet consideration before responding–I really think it helps to discover what’s authentic in what one is about to say. I’m also put in mind of your blog post on “swinging back” — namely, that the authentic response is the right one, not just the one that convention dictates is “correct.” Which is another way of saying, textbooks are great, but at some point, you have to leave the crutches behind.

Which brings me back to the idea of courage as a prerequisite for authenticity. And this is especially an issue in social media, don’t you think? You’re operating at high speeds without a net (pun intended).

Here in New Mexico (though with a reach that goes way beyond), I enjoy watching Lee Stranahan in this regard (http://leestranahan.com/). Lee has a unique voice and rarely pulls his punches. It’s not always easy for him, but it’s also a big part of the reason he’s as widely successful as he is.

Benson: Yeah, it’s definitely OK for people to leave the crutches behind and start experimenting with new ideas. And you’re right that courage is needed, not just in authenticity but also in dealing with authority. If you’re unwilling to discuss your concerns with your boss, or you are left in a “need to know” basis, then you will always find yourself in a situation where you have to defensively respond to what’s going on while you try to figure out what’s going on. And you can’t build trust or any kind of authentic value doing that.

Will: Great point–with all the discussion about the role of communications in the C Suite–the “at the table” discussion–maybe we should talk about educating one’s organization on the value of authenticity. As a student of management, I’d have to say this is a great case of “getting what you reward.” Look at JFK, who told his Cabinet he didn’t want a bunch of “yes men.” And yet, that’s very, very difficult to create where there is any imbalance of power (and JFK suffered from that). An organization’s leaders have to (for lack of a better word) institutionalize that attitude.

If you’re looking for truth-to-power types, it’s important to make authenticity a part of the interview process, both for the interviewee and for the organization.  You might create some scenarios and ask the interviewee about them. Better yet, when you call his or her references (and you always should), ask them about it. In any case, managers need to build this into their process to avoid groupthink and ensure communications that are thought through and genuine. You have to hold up people who practiced authenticity and let everyone see that not only was that spirit tolerated, it is in fact rewarded. This can be really tough to do! Authenticity isn’t necessarily a comfortable solution.

Readers: What do you think? What role does authenticity play in communications? What examples have you seen?

Categories: Discussion

How do you nurture your audience?

10 March 2010 3 comments

Ok, this is a quick note to remember that social media should be primarily about the content you create and how it helps your organization to develop an audience. That’s one of the first questions you need to ask when you’re coming up with your social media strategy, where am I? Who in the hell do I want to talk to? And what do I want to tell them?

Is it an internal audience? Shareholders?  Customers?

Look, you need to connect with your interested audience via social networking (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and develop your community there, but it should always have the goal of bringing people back to your blog, your online home where you bring your social media elements together. You can show off other elements people won’t see on Facebook or Twitter, but you always have to keep in mind the goal of bringing them back to your site.

And with this, I have to disagree with the idea being floated around out there of some kind of “site-less Internet” future. This is asinine. Dude, you don’t want to keep a lot of exclusive content on Facebook or other external networks because you never know when Facebook is going to turn into the next Friendster and fall apart, which is possible if Facebook keeps screwing around with their privacy settings and not telling anyone about it, or pissing off their users.

It’s not about the “supremacy” of Facebook, or Twitter. It’s not even about SEO when you think about it. It’s about using these social networking elements to engage your potential audience on a more neutral field and then bringing them back to your site where you have your kick ass content.

How do you do this? A lot of this is social media 101 but it’s always good for a refresher.

  • Pre-load your site with content before you start reaching out – you want to have a lot of good stuff up before you start engaging with people
  • Listen before you leap – Monitor what people in your industry are saying before you start reaching out to them
  • Engage people – Once you start getting people commenting on your site, respond to them. Don’t ever develop the mentality that you are too important to talk with people who take the time to read what you’re saying.
  • Focus, Daniel-San – Remember that you need to dedicate time to working in social media.
  • Wash, Rinse, Repeat – Keep cranking out interesting content, depending on the social media vehicles you are using.

After checking out your content, continuing to give them additional great content should keep them coming back to your site. This will start to, if it’s not already, replace SEO. If you want to bring SEO into your strategy, look at making every third or fourth post an SEO focused post.  This just means you need to build up content faster.

These are just a few of my ideas, what do you look for when thinking about how to add social media to your mix?

Categories: social media

PR Firms as “News Stations?”

10 March 2010 1 comment

(crossposted at PR Open Mic)

Why aren’t Public Relations firms more effectively using new media tools to create their own “news stations,” reporting on what their clients are doing? As long as those firms fulfill government requirements for disclosure regarding clients/freebies/etc., it makes sense to create content to their client’s advantage.

Now this might seem to run counter to what I’ve said recently about the importance of companies taking control of their own social media messaging. It is important for your organization to create its own social media content, especially blogging and video work. But if you have a PR firm on contract, then you should let the firm showcase its content on their own blog.  It not only promotes the firm (and you as a client of the firm), it’s additional information about your organization that can be picked up by Google searches.

Why and how should a firm set up an online newsroom?

  • It’s like setting up any other blog, with categories and/or pages for each client, and using tags for subcategories.
  • With a WordPress theme like Thesis, and/or an SEO plug in like you’re posts about each client will also appear in an SEO-friendly format
  • Firms usually give the responsibility of creating basic content (press releases, story pitches, etc) to younger assistant account executives. Also put them in charge of creating the social media content as it relates to your clients.
  • Give these junior AE’s ownership of promoting their client on your Firm’s News Blog. This helps them to develop the needed social media skills for the changing PR sphere.
  • Firms should let their Account Executives promote this material to the media, especially the media in smaller communities where local news outlets might have suffered most from the recent economic crunch.

And as long as they follow some SEO rules (keeping in mind that SEO might become secondary from this point on, falling to more organic social connections) PR firms will be able to drive more online searches not just to their client’s site, but to their own as well, which can help in getting more business. (Since the firm can show potential new clients that they are able to work outside the traditional media, or even the recurring idea of “blogger relations”)

Now what do you think? Should more firms take the lead in developing their own news outlet for client and firm news? Or should they spend more time working with the traditional media?