Great communications is built on the basics..

I recently had the opportunity to review a ‘report’ by a social media guru analyzing the ‘social strategies’ of a number of household brands. The report had some lovely visuals, some interesting examples of tactical executions, but overall it was a great example of what is too often missing from discussions on social media and often PR.

The report had many opinions but was light – read non-existent – on how these programs were tied to clear business objectives and more importantly how well the campaigns actually performed against those objectives.

In other words, in the real world, where a marketing or communications professional is building programs to drive against business objectives, it was value-less.

This is often where I find the industry of social media punditry fails.

Of course, social media is important, but before you get to the interesting, execution, you have to stop, understand your business, your industry, your  objectives, your competitive challenges, your internal challenges, your audience, your resources, and when you have a clear understanding of those elements, then you start planning.

If this is obvious to you, that’s great. If you’re not taking this approach, then there’s a real opportunity for you to significantly increase the impact of your work.

Let’s extend Mr. Ogilivy’s thesis – 50% of advertising is useless but you never know which 50%- to the world of social media and Public Relations. If we’re looking for what’s useless, I’d be willing to start with programs that aren’t tied into a set of defined business objectives.

Measurement can be a thorny subject – though at least there’s beginning to be some consensus – but executing campaigns not tied to business outcomes is at best madness and at worst negligent. Communications requires a balanced scorecard that encompasses a range of measurements from the basic inputs, outputs and results, to qualitative measures over time. And this work all starts with the business objectives.

These processes don’t mean you can’t experiment or move quickly – or indulge in ‘real-time marketing’.  Actually it’s the complete opposite.  If you know your business, are clear on what you need to achieve and are actively measuring outcomes then you’re in a better position to experiment and in a better position to learn and evolve your execution.

We may live in a troll producing always-on, always-connected world, but engaging with people, building relationships and trust takes time.  There isn’t a shortcut. In fact, as people become more sophisticated in how they use media and struggle to manage the ever increasing volume of information they come across every day, the process takes longer and is indeed more difficult.

There isn’t a silver bullet, but there are some tried and tested things that help us frame communications campaigns and put us in the best possible position to not only have impact, but to demonstrate that impact.

On a related topic, I strongly recommend you read Alastair Campbell’s speech at the Center for Corporate Public Affairs Annual Oration in Melbourne. In my opinion he does a great job explaining why objectives, strategies, and a commitment to long term thinking are so essential in the changing world of communications:

But you do it (communication) within a clear strategic framework, you engage the public in a much more sustained way, and you run co-ordination systems that work, so that over time your messages get through, over time your changes are understood and they deliver, and over time people become much more reasonable in their analysis. What you do is more important than what you say, but how you say what you do will help you if you are doing the right thing. Every time you say or you do, you land a dot.

While social media may appear immediate and tactical, successful social media, like the rest of communications, requires planning, insight, strategy, measurement and commitment.

That’s the starting point for great communications.

PR blogging–what are you reading?

I’ve always been a big advocate of the productivity benefits of RSS.  It’s a simple technology – though not always understood – that is an incredible aid for anyone who needs to keep on top of vast swathes of content whether it’s breaking news, updates or online opinions. 

The death of Google Reader has many of us RSS users trolling around for an alternative way to keep our RSS feed consumption synchronized across our various devices.  (Personally I’m still in mourning for the untimely demise of FeedDemon by far my favorite RSS reader.  The good news is that you can still use it – and I will – but the lack of support for updating feeds across my PCs, phone, tablet etc. reduces it’s utility somewhat.)

So in preparation for this change I’ve been reviewing my RSS feeds and specifically the PR blogs I’ve been tracking and reading over the past 10 years.  I’ve built up a list of about 120 PR-related blogs. 

It’s interesting to note how many of those PR blogs, like this one, are dormant or dead. (For the record this one isn’t dead but definitely could be mistaken for dormant).

So that begs the question, what am I missing? What active and useful PR blogs are you reading? What should I by adding to the list?

Why I’m (not) leaving <insert social media channel>

The Pew Research finding that the reaction to an event on Twitter is often very different to actual public opinion isn’t a big surprise is it? It seems to me that spending any time on your chosen social media channel – and specifically Twitter – makes that fact self evident.

It’s one of the great things about social media, anyone has a voice, and also one of the drawbacks of social media, anyone has a voice.

From a marketing perspective social media often resembles a big virtual medicine show. Along with news, humor and sane views there’s a universe of self-styled gurus peddling their miracle cure to your personal or organizational ills. It’s easy to spot.

Whether it’s the  wizard who offers advice on how social media will drive organizational change for example in HR, even though they’ve never worked in HR; or the endless Monday morning quarterbacking on other people’s work, when the quarterbacks often have absolutely no experience of dealing with the issue they’re dissecting or no insight into the specific issues the company is dealing with.

These people are better known for words than deeds. In Ireland there’s a great old adage that captures this: ‘show us your medals’.

So this week when I read about two such ‘thought leaders’ leaving one social media tool or another for a multitude of reasons which included things like ‘doesn’t match my personal values’ I sighed.

In a good way.

Social Media companies, on the whole, are in business to make money or get a juicy exit. That’s how the capitalist system works. Most of you are not willing to pay for it (look at the limited success of with 11,000 backers) up front, so these channels will make their money through advertising and the advertising is based on, surprise, surprise what you do and say on social media. There are privacy concerns of course, and most of the sites have to be up front on privacy and how you can retain yours, but you know what? Nobody seems to care a lot.

So normal people use these social tools, as tools. They find information, share information, connect with people, keep up with breaking news and issues. It’s not rocket science. It’s social media.

The findings from Pew Research point that marketers would be well advised to focus on understanding who and where their audience is, and spend less time worrying about the hot air.

Reality Check: All views are my own

It’s interesting to see how many people add phrasing like: “all views expressed here are my own and don’t reflect the views of my employer” on their Twitter biography.

It’s especially interesting to see PR people including it.

Why is it interesting you may (rightly) ask?

imageWell because nothing is further from the truth.

If you’re a Public Relations practitioner (and you could argue any employee) and you’re tweeting, then it’s all on the record.

I’m not debating if this is right or wrong, I’m just pointing out the reality.

Next up: Why adding “RT isn’t an endorsement” to your bio makes no sense, because a RT is an implicit endorsement (unless you happen to add some sarcastic commentary – and in that case refer to the first point).

Are you a communications professional or a pundit?

The recent ‘conversation’ on the death of blogs forced me to sit down and write a blog post.  It takes a lot to encourage me to blog these days,  but then upon reviewing my wise, well written draft, I realized I didn’t want to post it.

Last month marked a full decade that I’ve had a blog. What started with an explosion of posts about everything PR-related, has matured into a trickle of rants and opinions mostly due to the increasing demands of family and work. The prioritization hasn’t been difficult.

Over the past ten years there have been incredible changes in marketing, PR and communications. New tools and channels have emerged, we’ve seen people finding and sharing information in new ways. But there’s also a lot of hot air.

Too many people have a predilection to declare the ‘death’ of something, or the compulsion to add the word ‘social’ to every noun in the dictionary, or the desire to critique things without any knowledge or insight.

This is where I see the difference between professionals and pundits emerging.

Professionals think about their objectives, their environment and audiences, their goals, their strategies, their tactics and their measurement.  They think about the return on the investment from their programs and campaigns.  They have to marry pragmatism with creativity, to balance costs with invention.  These are challenges they face every day. This group includes educators and academics who invest time, energy and insight into reviewing the real impact of social media.

These people don’t focus on the tactic, the tool, or the navel gazing. 

That’s the pundit’s job.

There’s a place for pundits.  We need people looking beyond the day to day grind.  We just don’t need so many.

When you think it can’t get any worse you read this:


If true, this only serves to confirm there are a lot of villages out there missing their idiots and perhaps some of their pundits too.

Klout is the perfect example. It’s simple to understand (in theory), doesn’t require any significant investment of time to analyze, and because it can be inherently gamed it’s useless as anything other than a measure of someone’s noise online. It’s like when you come across a ‘marketer’ you’ve never heard of with 75,000 followers on Twitter.  Sure you do. No really. Sure….

Ten years on, I’ve never regretted starting a blog or embracing social media. I’ve met some incredible people I probably would never have met without social media. I’ve reconnected with long lost colleagues and friends and I have a better view of what’s happening around the world than I’ve ever had before.

From a professional perspective social media has opened exciting new opportunities. It’s encouraging more creative ways of communicating, it’s revolutionizing our focus on storytelling and it’s enabling us all to engage and have conversations.

It’s just a pity there’s so much fluff and hyperbole inside the echo chamber.

C’est la vie.

PS: For the record, blogs are a tool.  They offers a range of benefits for many organizations, but they are a tool not a strategy.  If you’re not getting the appropriate return on your investment in blogging (and to know that you are of course measuring it) then you should absolutely reinvest your resources where you will get a greater return.  It’s not about death, it’s about professional decision making.  There’s no drama here no matter how much some wish there was.

PPS: If you’ve gone all old school and are – god forbid – thinking of starting a blog, two pieces of advice.  Firstly don’t underestimate the commitment and secondly for the love of all things holy put some thought into a compelling and memorable first post….


Do PR agencies need to adapt or die?

Darika Ahrens at Forrester has blogged that that changing nature of ‘interactive marketing’ has the potential to make PR agencies largely irrelevant:

Why is PR at risk of losing their seat at the interactive table?

  • Traditional media decreasing in relevancy
  • Frontline ‘public relations’ online moving in-house
  • PR agencies tend to lack specialised service
  • Interactive marketing spend is dominated by Search and Paid advertising

She believes that the answer to the ‘problem’ facing PR agencies, among other things, is to build their search engine capabilities.

I haven’t seen the reaction to this yet though I’m sure there’ll be much breathless discussion of the topic across Twitter.

I have two core thoughts on the matter.

Firstly, ‘traditional PR’ is not dying as quickly as (it’s ever) been forecasted.  The reality is that traditional media still drives the majority of news cycles and much of the emerging online news is driven by key, identifiable influencers.  As a result the core PR business will survive for the time being.

Secondly, do PR agencies need to review the services they are offering and the skills of their people? Well that question isn’t reserved just for PR agencies.  Every PR and marketing professional needs to review their skills and capabilities in view of the new ways people are finding, sharing and creating information online. PR agencies are no different, they need to match the need for traditional services with services that address changing models of influence.  That’s their business.

The model for online marketing is evolving and changing in step with consumer consumption habits.  The idea that ‘interactive agencies’ will simply replace PR firms is at best a long shot and at worst a fallacy.

We live in interesting times.  One of the most enjoyable elements of a career in Public Relations is the constant need to change and adapt. The past ten years has shown me that change never takes place as quickly as people expect, but that change does happen. It’s not just PR firms that need to be actively looking at how the models of influence are changing, it’s every marketers’ challenge.


Today’s a busy day for the PR agency love meme. Haydn Shaughnessy over at Forbes has an interesting post on what PR companies are doing wrong.

Social Media? Relax and Enjoy it..

As you might know, I’m not shy about sharing my often strong views on the shortcomings of many of the self styled social media gurus.

Recently, due to work and family commitments -  sometimes referred to as the real world -  my consumption and participation in social media has been extremely limited.  The upshot was that I spent time away from the gurus, and you know what? It was fantastic.

Twitter in particular has matured into a brilliant and smart, yet simple channel for finding and sharing information and connecting with people.  I haven’t seen Twitter’s recent usage numbers but I have been impressed with how many people have now jumped in.

So I learned my lesson.  Stay away from the hype and spend more time with real people, who are far more interesting, less annoying and often talk a lot more sense. Thankfully there are load of these individuals in every walk of life discussing whatever you’re interested in. 

Social media has become enjoyable once again.

Similarly I have changed my podcasting habits.  In addition to the traditional (Irish, British and American) radio shows I’ve always listened to, I’ve weaned myself off the usual breathless, hyperbole-filled inner circle stuff and now I’m just investing time in the real-world.

One social media related podcast I do like is Marketing over Coffee which is hosted by John J. Wall and Christopher Penn. It covers social media but from a different perspective. Instead of endless navel gazing they discuss how traditional marketing and social media can be used to engage with people, drive leads, create business opportunities etc. image

In other words they talk about how social media can work in the real world.  The casual discussion format is great and a nice departure from the usual social media podcast.  Give it a listen.

So, here’s a question for you.

What other real world PR and marketing podcasts, blogs, and twitter handles am I missing?

Let me know.


An open letter on social media evangelism

Social media provides a set of tools and channels that enable people to discover, share and engage in new ways. This creates a whole set of pretty exciting opportunities for organizations and individuals alike.

I’m sure you’re all with me so far.

Great business begins with well-defined and agreed objectives, which coupled with insight into your audience enables you to build your strategies and execute and measure your programs.

Social media is a component of the tools and channels we use to execute those programs. It often challenges us to think about how we are communicating and engaging with people, there’s no question it can deliver great benefits, but – and you knew there was a but coming – it is not a standalone discipline. It is not a department. It is not a simple replacement for a host of other activities that continue to be important. Instead it should be carefully and thoughtfully integrated into our daily jobs where it makes sense.

This is common sense to me. Yet some people – many with a clear vested interest – feel the need to make social media appear far more complex and sometimes more significant than it actually is.

I’d like to take a few moments of your time to address that issue.

Before we begin let’s all agree that social media isn’t complex.

Even I understand it.

If you agree or disagree feel free to let me know. The comment section is open – or feel free to send me an e-mail, call me or send me a letter.


Stop socializing

We all know it’s often easier and more glamorous to create something new than focus on what’s already working, but it doesn’t always make sense and frankly it has become an epidemic in social media circles. I should also point out that I’m using the term ‘create’ in its loosest sense.


Can you please stop adding the word social to each and every noun in the dictionary? Really. Stop it. It’s not thought leadership.

Can you stop with your social tautologies? What is a social consumer? I would have thought with the exception of 500 hermits currently living in caves spread around the planet every consumer is social.

I can’t wait to see what you folks do with social disease and social unrest – which may occur if you keep doing this.

Addenum: Stop with the silly terms like tastemaker. Lord above.


A feature does not make a product category

Connected to my previous point is the apparent compunction people feel to change the names of things to make them more ‘social’. Let’s look at Customer Relationship Management. It’s a pretty well understood term, and widely practiced. Why do we need to change it into Social Customer Relationship Management (SCRM) or Social Relationship Management (SRM) or Relationship Management (RM)? And before you start with the Salesforce acquisition of Radian 6, that just proves the point. They are integrating better insights into how customers are using social channels.  Integrating into the CRM functionality. It’s not a reverse takeover.


You need to check with the patent office on some of your inventions

Just to be clear. Just because you’ve just thought of something doesn’t actually mean that other people haven’t thought of it before you, or that thousands of people haven’t been working on it for forty years before your epiphany.

Research and the importance of understanding your audience is a great example. I hear people talking about research and insight into social media like it’s something brand new. Folks, companies have been using customer research for decades. Yes, there are new channels and habits to be measured, but you didn’t invent the importance of research. Sorry.


Please do let ignorance get in the way of your thought leadership

I know this will be distressing for some people, but a knowledge of social media doesn’t qualify you as an expert on everything. I am amazed at the number of times I read and listen to people pontificating about the impact of social media on disciplines from CSR to finance, sales, customer service, HR and of course the tried-and-tested fields of marketing, when they clearly have no idea about these areas beyond a quick read of Fast Company. You don’t start with the tool, you start with the problem, or ideally the objective.

Of course I think we all agree that social media can be productively used in a range of business areas but stick to what you know or you’ll do even more damage to you credibility.


Stop with the pithy meaningless trite phrases

I’m willing to admit that this may be my personal bugbear, and it’s not restricted to the world of social media, but really enough is enough. I sometimes wonder if people come out with these things to bamboozle their audience and hide their lack of insight in how to apply social media to reality. I can’t tell you how frustrated I get when I hear things like, and I’m paraphrasing:

  • Authenticity is the new authority, but it’s not a strategy.
  • Social media is the cultural epicenter of <<insert person, place or thing>>.
  • The world has moved on, it’s not about lead generation, it’s about lead acceleration.
  • It’s not about getting their attention, it’s about getting their intention



Stop trying to make social media complex

I know that if people actually found out that the fundamentals of social media aren’t that difficult we may be faced with the appalling vista of everyone doing it, but really why do we insist on dressing social media up like it’s open heart surgery.

You can spot this as people insist on making constant references to science. Think physics, psychology, sociology, genealogy and biology. (No points for spotting the obvious)

I’m sorry it’s really not that hard. Common sense, creativity and an understanding of your business and your audience will get you up and running quickly. Insights are important but you don’t need a PhD.

Fear is not your social media fertilizer.


Stop contradicting yourself, a lot.

When social media first emerged blinking into the bright sunshine, the North Star (yes I can mix my metaphors thank you – this is my blog) was the Cluetrain Manifesto. Now the Manifesto is a little too heavy on the whole peace, love and happiness vibe, but it did a good job emphasizing the need for organizations to talk to people as humans. Everyone agrees this is a good thing. However, people often go on to talk about how social media is a ‘paradigm shift’.

I’m not making this up.

Stop it.


As Dale Carnegie mentioned to me…

If you’ve ever attended a sales or networking seminar you’ll probably have learned about the positive impact of suggestion. For example instead of saying “Oh yes I was at <<insert event>>” you say “It’s funny you ask that because as I said to Hugh Heffner at <<insert event>>” and then throw back your head and guffaw.

There’s too much of this in social media circles. My personal view is it doesn’t make you any more impressive to me. Show me your ideas, your strategy, your insight. I really don’t care who you had coffee with or met in a lift. Well unless it was Elvis.


So there you have it.

Social media is important, interesting and has great applications in business and society, but let’s not overplay it. Often a phone call, a face to face meeting, a press release or an advert can be very effective tool, and most often it’s a well thought out combination of tactics combined with a clear focus on your objectives and your audience that delivers the best results.

We should all embrace social media where it is useful, makes sense and has a practical use, but the baby needs to remain safely in the bath.


Social Media for Good: The Goodness Engine

A couple of months ago, a whole set of very smart people came together at the inaugural social hackathon to help address its ongoing technology and marketing challenges. There were social media luminaries such as Beth Kanter and Chris Brogan as well as representatives from Bing, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, REI, Twitter and WebTrends.

From this event (disclosure: sponsored by Bing and Windows Live Hotmail) a free eBook has been created called the Goodness Engine, which aims to help other nonprofits (and dare I say it for-profits) learn about a whole range of topics from driving online traffic to creating dynamic content and managing online engagement.

Find out more: