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.

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:

Is social media’s honeymoon over?

Geoff Livingston had a great post today addressing a very interesting issue:

Somewhere along the way, social media folks thought they should completely reinvent business. That they knew better, and that could they completely disregard history’s many lessons about how to build great products that work. But more goes into product marketing then just listening to memes of what’s cool.

There’s a lot of investments being made in social media and I think we’re at a point where social media is maturing.

Social media’s honeymoon is coming to an end -  but that’s actually a good thing – albeit with some challenges.

As social media moves from the periphery to the mainstream, it will increasingly be regarded as a core part of the communications and marketing function rather than some sort of interesting skunk works project. And that will demand a whole new level of rigor.

This changes the discussion a little.

A few years back – though notably less today – there was a lot of online chatter about how PR practitioners were in danger of extinction because they weren’t adopting and evolving with social media. These discussions treated social media like it was was some incredibly complex, intellectual pursuit only accessible by the world’s rocket scientists.



We’ve come full circle.

As businesses adopt social media as an integrated element of the marketing mix they will treat it as such.  Much of the freedom will dissipate and  practitioners will increasingly be expected to operate as part of the marketing organization – to understand the marketing process, in short to understand the business.

From a PR perspective it’s not enough to have an in-depth knowledge of the tools, channels and influencers.  Great social media programs will require experienced practitioners who can couple traditional skills and expertise with social media nous.

I’ve always advocated this approach.  The basics of good marketing and communications haven’t changed. Those basics remain vital.

Over the past few weeks I have read a lot of claptrap written by people who have demonstrated that while they may have a lot of knowledge and experience with social media they are missing a rudimentary knowledge of great communications, strategy, issues management etc.

PR has always faced the challenge that everyone thinks they can do it, and social media is no different. 

I think a lot of people are winging it and it’s pretty obvious.

Successful marketing and communications will marry traditional skills and experience, with an in-depth knowledge of how social media can support, extend and improve programs, outreach and engagement.

As social media’s honeymoon ends, there’s a lot of opportunity but the transition to mainstream marketing brings with it a wide range of new demands and expectations.

Exciting times ahead.

Travelling to Net Impact Event in Michigan

I am off to the great state of Michigan for the first time tomorrow to attend and speak at the 2010 Net Impact Conference at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.


A map of Michigan from Bing Maps (of course)

I’m looking forward to what should be a great event.

I’m speaking on a panel discussing the impact of social media on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The session is being moderated by Nick Aster and will include Justin Higgins from Chevron and Courtland Smith from Angelpoints.

Stop by and say hello if you’re at the conference.

Tom’s Bumper Summer PR Miscellany…

Here are some personal picks from my most recent trawl of the RSS feeds…

What is PR?

  • OK this is late (from last February) but worth a listen.  It’s a podcast from the BBC World Service program The Bottom Line, with some well known PR executives having a lively discussion on what Public Relations is. Recommended.

Traditional Media…



Issues Management…


PR Skills…

  • Liam Fitzpatrick has generated a lot of discussion with his suggestion that writing skills shouldn’t be prioritized over other communications skills. 

I’m not suggesting that a communicator should be allowed to get away with bad writing. All I’m saying is that it doesn’t make sense to prioritise writing over any other skill – if a single skill is all that matters why shouldn’t it be film-making, web design or spamming twitter?

Dave Fleet [@davefleet] and Shel Holtz don’t agree.


PR thinking….

You should listen to this interesting CIPR interview with Seth Godin for this quote alone:

“PR is a human form of spam”




Great Storytelling…

This is a phenomenal example of great corporate storytelling…


Changing face of PR….

  • If you’re working in PR, you really should spend some time on the PR on Facebook page. No really. You should.




  • Really interesting research from a HP study on Twitter and influence that found that the number of followers on Twitter doesn’t necessarily translate into influence.


  • Josh Bernoff proposes a new model for PR and influencers. The problem of course is that people who would avail of this model are probably already doing a great job of reaching and engaging with folks.  The muppets sending irrelevant spam, well they’ll keep doing it.


An antidote for social media twaddle…

  • If like me you get grumpy reading the twaddle many of our self styled social media gurus peddle on Twitter as expertise, then this is the site for you.  The URL isn’t for the faint hearted.



You also have to love these modern retro posters, via BuzzFeed.




Struggling with LinkedIn?



Have pity on those of us with a stationary problem.  For us this is real innovation.

Welcome to the era of hair trigger commentary..

At first glance it might appear that Shirley Sherrod, Old Spice, and Uniball have little in common.

However, they do.

Each have fallen foul to knee jerk commentary from people who haven’t taken the time to analyze, contemplate or find out the facts before casting “informed” judgment.

It’s something we’ll all have to get used to, and it creates an ‘interesting’ environment for public relations practitioners who must deal with the aftermath of this whiplash analysis.

For the record:

  • Shirley Sherrod was forced to resign after a blogger posted an edited YouTube video that took a talk she gave on racial reconciliation completely out of context.
  • The recent Old Spice social media campaign – maybe because it was high profile -  attracted all kinds of “commentary” from people who said it was a failure in terms of sales after only a week online.  A ridiculously short period of time – oh and sales are up!
  • Uniball is a little more obscure, but the company was lambasted for pointing people to their Facebook site rather than the corporate web site as part of a high profile promotion.

In all three cases, commentators didn’t let analysis or even the facts get in the way of a good rant. Instead they took partial information and just jumped right in to give their “valued” opinion.

You see this increasingly on Twitter, with people erupting about some issue or other, only to tweet later that they were mistaken or it wasn’t true – and of course that’s the 2% that actually bother to correct it.

I posted about Old Spice last week, because I thought it was smart both in terms of its traditional, and more especially its social media execution.  It was a subjective post.

Although it shouldn’t, it does amaze me, in the case of Old Spice and Uniball, that people can call a campaign a failure without any knowledge of the objectives or the results.

Clearly this is the outcome of our always-on media environment and I’m far too old and grumpy to expect it to change.

Instead we can all expect to see a lot more of it and from a Public Relations standpoint expect to be fighting a lot more fires as a result.

Social media is turning into your dad

Do you remember when you knew everything in your glorious teenage years? Do you remember how you despaired of your parents and then as the years passed (you mightn’t be there yet) you started to turn into your parents? :-)

Aside: My 5 (nearly 6) year old already refers to me as his “old man” – it’s very depressing.

Well I think social media has passed through the teenage years and is now getting a little flabby. 

Let me explain.

When “social media” first appeared (before it was called social media) it was all about the conversation, it was about connecting with people and it was about authentic communication.  That last one was my personal favorite.  We were going to move away from corporate-speak and instead write for people.  I love this.

However, the emergence of all our beloved social media gurus has stymied our progress.

You see there’s a lot of blog posts to write, a lot of tweets to tweet and let’s be honest limited content.  You can only talk about conversations, connections and authenticity so many times before you become repetitive or worse bore yourself.

So what do you do?

Well you do what marketers have done since the 1950s. You invent all these silly little words that mean nothing and you also overuse superlatives.

In effect, our social media gurus have left the world of plain speaking and morphed into the same old habits they decried five years ago.

I read a post this morning from a very fine man, who does a fantastic job evangelizing the importance of social media and after reading it three times I still couldn’t quite believe or understand what he was writing:

  • attention economy
  • social objects
  • human network
  • social exchange

What a load of rubbish (or trash).

Stay away from the light social media gurus.  Turn back.  Remember the old days (oh 3-4 years ago) when you railed against corporate-speak. Turn back.  Rediscover your roots.

Stop inventing silly words and trying to add science where it does not belong.

You remind me of my dad.

Common sense ain’t thought leadership either

Recently I wrote about the importance of being yourself online and avoiding the temptation to call yourself a guru or a thought leader. Today I want to touch on a separate but related issue. 

A common theme from a number of highly rated social media related keynotes and posts  – which it should be said are very interesting, relevant and well written and/or delivered – that I’ve watched and read recently, have focused on the importance of things that you’ve been reading in management or marketing books since the 1960s (probably earlier):

  • The customer is king
  • Build a relationship with your customer
  • Provide great customer service

Although I’ll admit we often forget these basics, and it’s great that people remind us, and even better that they provide context for how social media can help address these issues.  It’s not revolutionary. It’s common sense.

For me, the real challenge is taking this common sense and making sure it’s part of what we do. There’s no question that there is value in that. 

Let me give you a PR example. The poor press release.

Now let’s get the baggage out of the way:

  • Yes, press releases are overused
  • Yes, the press release is an old format – created in a world far different to today
  • Yes, most press releases are badly written
  • Yes, most press releases are unimaginative
  • Yes, most press releases are a waste of time for the reasons outlined above and because they are mis-used and badly “shared”
  • Yes we should re-think how we use, plan, write and share press releases

I don’t debate any of these points (so save your exasperated comments) it’s common sense.

But rather than take these lessons on board, we had to go after something “new”, so we created (and I use the word we in the royal context) the social media release.

It emerged with hundreds, if not thousands of blog posts, webinars and even (I kid you not) training courses.

I’ve never bought it.  Well maybe I did for a little while.

The press release is just a tool, it serves a purpose (see some of the old links below).  Why not use our common sense and  just make it better:

  • Focus on something that’s newsworthy – not everything needs a press release what about blogs, Twitter, Facebook or lord forbid calling someone?
  • Add some real creativity
  • Invest time in the writing and more importantly the editing process
  • Tell three dimensional stories with online content and links

Obviously the list could go on. 

The core point is this – use some common sense.  Common sense is open to everyone, there’s no barrier to entry.  Adding common sense approaches to solving new or old challenges is probably every bit as effective as pretending something is bright, shiny and new, when in fact, it isn’t. The challenge is applying that common sense to the new new thing.

Just my thought for what it’s worth.  Very little probably.




Supplemental links for the press release nerds out there: