You are a social media what?

Here’s a definition:

A thought leader is a futurist or person who is recognized for innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas as actionable distilled insights.

For me the key word here is recognized.  Unfortunately by this definition, 99% of our self-styled social media “thought leaders” are precluded.

That’s a shame.

As a former colleague once commented to me about their boss – who desperately desired that their PR program position him as a thought leader – there were only two problems; a lack of leadership, and a lack of original thoughts.

In case you’ve missed it there have been a growing number of posts and discussions online recently about the subject of Personal Branding.  Some from those who despair at the homogenous claims of thousands of people who are self styled thought leaders, and some seeking to provide some honest advice on the matter.

I’m not quite sure why this has suddenly become the topic-de-jour among the digerati – nor am I sure if I care terribly much. (Yes this post is turning grumpy).

But let’s face facts. 

People have been claiming themselves as social media gurus and social media thought leaders for years.  There’s something about this social media stuff that encourages those people – who in all honesty you would typically avoid spending a lot of time with in real life – to make fatuous and in most cases uncorroborated claims about their own wonderfulness.  (Aside: This is most often observed on Twitter where someone with 12 followers claims in their bio they are a Twitter guru – expert in building followers.  Now if they had only waited until they had 15 followers that would be a little more credible – in my humble opinion.)

Can I be honest with you for a moment?

If you are peddling views on how to use Twitter, Facebook and blogs to drive followers and traffic, you are the same as about 1,000,000 other people. If you’re calling yourself a thought leader or a guru based on those opinions, then by definition, you’re not.  Sorry about that.

So let’s stop all this fluffy self promotion.

The best way to build your personal brand is to be yourself.

By all means share your opinions, your experience, your time and your knowledge. Engage with people.

That’s how you’ll be successful, not by telling anyone who you happen to corner that you’re a thought leader.

Actually while we’re on the subject of personal branding, I’m not sure my own is going terribly well.

I was talking to friend and former colleague recently.  He’s a gentleman with whom I worked for many years and he made the observation, out of the blue, that he hadn’t actually realized how grumpy I was until he started reading this blog.

Subsequently another friend commented to me that I clearly “wasn’t what you’d call a thought leader on all this social media stuff”.  When I asked what had motivated that compliment she pointed to my many negative posts about Twitter and the fact it took me a long time to catch on. (of course like any good PR practitioner although I *thought* Twitter was a ridiculous fad, I didn’t have the courage of my convictions and did sign up in January 2007 – phew).

Besides discovering that I had tripled the readership of this blog and that I need to disable the search function, I thought it was a useful reminder that people can quickly have perceptions about you from your online ramblings, social network postings etc.

Luckily, in my case, the summary of my personality as a grumpy luddite, isn’t too bad at all. I’m happy with that.  It’s better than many of the potential alternatives…

PR Miscellany – January 31st 2010

So you won’t be surprised to find out I’ve been a little behind on my RSS feed reading. It’s been busy recently.

Slipping through the (PR) feeds, it’s interesting to note that probably 90+% of “PR” posts are actually about social media.  Now social media is clearly very important, but to me, the intersection of PR and social media or even business or marketing to social media is far more important.

So what interesting stuff is there this week – at the risk of drawing Valeria’s ire :-) ?

First a surprise, for me at any rate. In the blogs I scanned there is very little commentary on the PR implications of Toyota’s U.S. recall, which I have to say is strange (though I admit I may just have missed some other blogs that did cover it). So kudos to Jon Harmon who has a number of posts covering the developing issue and the company’s response.


It’s amazing just how widely Edelman’s Trust Barometer is quoted in talks, blog posts and meetings.  So we should mark the arrival of this year’s report by linking to Mr. Edelman himself I suppose.

Trust in business has stabilized and is trending upward, with a substantial jump of 18 points in the US (from an all-time low of 36% in 2009 to 54% in 2010). Trust in business falls into three categories (High-Brazil, China, India, Indonesia-at 60-70%; Middle-Canada, Japan, US-at 50-59%; Low-France, Germany, Russia, UK, Korea, -at 35-49%).


Interesting piece from TechCrunch, via Andy Lark, on a recent AOL PR snafu around the departure of the company’s chief technology office.. eh there but for the grace of god…

PR is not supposed to be fiction and spin. At least not all the time. Occasionally the communications professionals at companies, particularly publicly traded companies, are supposed to actually tell the truth. And perhaps help journalists and bloggers with a story instead of sending them off on a fake trail.


I am a firm believer that laughter is indeed the best medicine, so via Stuart Bruce, do watch Charlie Brooker illustrating how to report the news.


Valeria Maltoni has a very worthwhile post on developing a content strategy process for your blog. She also has a very interesting interview with Doc Searls revisiting the Cluetrain Manifesto a decade later.

It’s important to remember that Cluetrain in the first place was an expression of rebellion against marketing, and a declaration of liberation from it. Note the voice in "We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal with it." We were not speaking there as marketers, or as "the audience," or as "consumers," but as ordinary people.


Finally, Morgan McLintic shares my view that we need to focus on making a difference. Speaking of which I have just added Seth Godin’s Linchpin to my reading list. I’m a fan of Mr. Godin’s constant challenge to people to think differently, but I think he’s come off the boil in his last couple of books so it’ll be interesting to see if this one hits the mark. (I have a hardback copy of the book, but if I was reading it electronically, that would be a Kindle before you ask, and I love my Kindle :-) ).

Seriously… dump that social media stuff and get back to work

Happy New Year. I had a lovely time, thanks for asking.

I have spent far too much time over the past couple of weeks monitoring the online chatter.  My god there’s a lot of noise.

I think I am having Social Media sweats. There are just so many articles, posts, rants and links.  Now don’t get me wrong it’s great that people are sharing their views, and opinions and, in a very small number of cases even their experiences.

But really… there are only so many Social Media Top 10s, 10 things to avoid, 10 brands that…. you know… enough already.

Social Media is incredibly exciting, important etc.

We get it. 


Enough with the colorful* graphs, bar charts and stock photography.

Honestly. If you don’t get the importance of the whole social media thing, then you are probably still faxing and spamming people with press releases and let’s be frank there’s little hope for you is there?

The reality however is that most of us aren’t paid a princely sum just for thinking about social media or antagonizing about the global impact of a new widget or phone. At least not me, if I missed that memo can you send me an e-mail or even a letter, please.

The reality is that we’ve got a day job and that day job requires us to think about mundane things like personal and professional objectives, managing our ever growing workload, understanding how our audiences are using social and unsocial media, how we can be more creative and how we can fundamentally change the way we write and think about communications.  In summary we are focusing on how we can be more effective in communicating with people who matter to our clients or employers. People not tools, widgets or hardware.

Social media is important for all of us, but as my grandmother often said don’t forget the knitting, it’s cold out there.

At least that’s what I think she said.

*Yes I’ve migrated to US spelling full-time.  I keep getting blank stares from my colleagues when I deliver pithy and if I say so myself, witty phrases that didn’t travel over the Atlantic, so US spelling reduces other risks.

Social Media Round-Up

There is an incredible volume of writing, research and opinions on social media. It’s growing every day.

Below I’m posting for your delectation some links to posts I’ve been reading recently.  As always, I don’t present these posts as the one version of the truth.  The reality is that no one has all the answers, however I do believe it’s advisable for all of us to keep reading on the topic  – as long as you remember to keep your analytical facilities working.

Valeria Maltoni does a great job explaining why a company’s commitment to social media isn’t just about giving your marketing executive a commitment to start a Twitter account: You Cannot do Social Without the Support of the Organization.

Without question, some of the best insight and advice on social media comes from understanding how other companies are using social media, their successes and often more insightful their challenges.

Lisa Braziel: 26 Social Media Marketing Examples in Detail

Heather Oldani: McDonald’s Social Media Strategy

One of the topics that’s appearing more often these days is how do we measure the success of social media. There isn’t an easy answer, but there are many approaches, here are some recent posts on the matter.  Again I’d recommend using these to get your grey matter firing on how you would measure your success.

David Berkowitz: 100 Ways to Measure Social Media

Paul Chaney: Is Social Media Marketing a Waste of Time?

Chris Lake: 35 social media KPIs to help measure engagement

Last but not least… Mark Glaser talks to Cheryl Contee, Jeff Pester, Laura Pexton, Brian Solis, and Caleb Zigas on the basics of social media marketing.

Buying snake oil? It’s your own fault

Business Week’s feature (Beware Social Media Snake Oil) on the ‘consultants’ who have emerged to help companies to make the most of social media has drawn some online commentary – though not as much as you might have expected.

It’s a well written piece that tackles many of the challenges involved in incorporating social media as part of the marketing mix (hey I’m old, cut me some slack, at least I didn’t mention the 4 Ps… doh).

The risk is that a backlash against the consultants’ easy promises could reduce social media investments just as the industry takes off. Think back to the dot-com boom a decade ago. Soaring valuations were based initially on promise and hype. In early 2000, when investors started focusing on scarce profits, the market collapsed. But many companies drew the wrong conclusions. Believing the fall of a hyped market was a sign of the failed promise of the Internet, they drew back on Internet investments. This happened just as the technology was on the verge of living up to much of its promise, dominating global communications, transforming entire industries—and spawning social media.

But the more interesting question for me is who is handing over the budgets?

If you work in PR or marketing, then it’s your job to know your business.  If someone’s selling something that’s too good to be true, then it normally is. However, humans are lazy, so we like to think that this time, well this time it’ll be different.

The fact is, if you are in charge of promoting a product or a brand then you should have an intimate knowledge of your audience, where they are, what they think of you, and how you can reach them.  Otherwise I daresay you are asleep at the wheel.  No marketing person regardless of their tenure, position, experience or budget can afford the luxury of outsourcing an understanding of social media.  It’s the traditional media equivalent of not looking at billboards.

Other wisdom on the subject:

No miscellany…. just a social media video

Yes, it’s been quiet on the blog.  Yes, I’ve been busy. 

I was planning to pull together a monsterous post of stuff I missed while I was away covering everything from social media gender balance, to the survival of newspapers, to the state of tech journalism.

But I’m not.

Instead in a hat tip to the humor and intelligence you often find online amidst the noise, I offer Baratunde Thurston’s presentation at the Web 2.0 Expo: “There’s a hashtag for that”.

Perfect viewing for a Friday.

The changing world of “media” relations…

If you viewed Jon Snow’s talk you’ll know that he gave a fascinating insight into the changes that have taken place in the media over the past couple of decades.

Of course it continues apace.

I haven’t seen a lot of noise in the PR blogosphere on this, but I thought Facebook’s set up of TechCrunch was certainly unique.

So we’ve had our fun with Facebook over the years (Why We’re Suing Facebook For $25 Million In Statutory Damages, Republican PR Director Calls Facebook’s Randi Zuckerberg “totally full of sh*t”, Randi Threatens a Bar Bouncer). But in general these things are supposed to flow one way – we mess with them, they take it gracefully.

Today that changed. They punk’d us, and we fell for it. Hard.

Writer Jason Kincaid noticed a new link “Fax this photo” on his Facebook page.  So he contacted Facebook, got no reply and posted a story on the new “feature”. 

But here’s the catch… the “feature” only appeared to members of the TechCrunch network. 

It was a set up.

Jason then called Facebook PR. Jaime Schopflin took the call and, apparently, couldn’t stop laughing for five minutes. Between laughs while catching her breath she mentioned something about this being a joke, that nobody but us could see it, and that they were placing bets around the office on how long before we noticed it and posted. And something else about teaching us to contact them before posting.

It certainly is unique….


Is the online world growing up? What about PR?

Interesting news from New York that a supreme court judge has ruled that Liskula Cohen is entitled to information that would help her to identify an anonymous blogger who called her a “skank”.

If she follows through that could be a very interesting development indeed.

Meanwhile Mark Creaser is pondering if PR agencies are redundant in 2009.

Digital Agencies are already elbowing PR aside, and within a couple of years, a traditional PR agency will be fairly niche. Times change, and in 2010 people will want to feel increasingly engaged with the brands and people they choose to do business with.

Now I think Mark makes some interesting points, but I don’t buy it – his argument that is, not PR agency services. I do buy them.

If there’s been one consistent PR-related theme on the interweb over the past five years it has been the death of PR and the death of PR agencies.

From what I am observing, there is a lot of innovation taking place inside PR firms, probably not enough, but it is happening.

Yes I am also seeing “digital” agencies stepping in and driving online campaigns, which in my opinion, is a huge missed (revenue and mindshare) opportunity for PR firms, but if PR agencies are smart and continue to develop their services and skills, then over time you could see PR firms taking back much of that budget.

Great communications is all about understanding your audience and engaging with them.  The idea that we’re facing into a time where we do all our outreach in-house just isn’t credible in my opinion.

Firstly let’s not forget that online is one (albeit a strong growing) element of the communications mix.  Secondly, while I am not by any means an apologist for PR firms, they do bring a range of benefits to companies from an outside-in perspective, to reach, expertise and much more.

PR firms aren’t going anywhere.

Communications in an age of social media is arguably more important now, than ever. Firms who invest in their people and their expertise, who spend time understanding the impact of online and how it sits with traditional channels (not just media folks) will continue to thrive.

Of course that’s just my opinion. I’d be much more worried about the future of “social media” gurus than PR firms…. but that’s for another day.

PR gives PR a bad name..


Welcome to Tuesday. 

I had a lovely week off (thanks for asking).  Travelling around the North Cascades is to be highly recommended.

Of course returning to civilization also means dealing with a backlog of post, e-mail and voicemail – and for you cool social media kids, loads of unread RSS feeds. (I remained joyfully unconnected for the week – something I would also heartily recommend).

It is of course ironic, and often humorous (but in a sad way), that PR people are the single greatest cause of negative perception for this “profession”.

Skimming my RSS backlog threw up loads of examples.  My favorite is Phil Gomes’ account of e-mail correspondence with a PR spammer.

Sammy: Thanks Phil, it would just take me ages to find your addres in our database.

Phil: Probably no more time than it took for me to fish your note out of the trash and find the link, I’d imagine.

Read it.


Also raising a smile is Nick Blakin’s guest post on the ever-reliable Bad Pitch blog.

Speaking of lessons, these are absolutely the only ten you’ll need throughout your entire professional life. Remember, PR isn’t all smoke and mirrors, and name dropping, and hot parties, and lookin’ good while you sip your free martinis at the lowliest dive on the block. That’s only 95% of what we do. To make it in this business you have to one day get your hands dirty. And that, I’m afraid, is the one really ugly truth.

Read it (and read the comments, they made me laugh).


Shel Holtz has some nice common sense on why PR and Marketing remain as relevant as ever.

If your reading was restricted to social media purists, you’d think that PR and marketing had no role left to play, that the rise of the trusted peer has so marginalized the communications profession that agencies everywhere should just fold up their tents and encourage their employees to learn a new trade.

Read it.


Typical isn’t it?  You go away for just one week, turn off the WiFi and… well nothing changes…

Social Post: Social Crisis, Tips for Social Marketing, and check your Social ID

Greetings from a grey Cambridge, Massachusetts overlooking the Charles river.

In something that is very timely, Shel Holtz has posted the slides and audio from his recent presentation on Social Media and Crisis Communication.  I will be listening to the audio on my flight home.

Here are ten tips for Social Media marketers from Paula Drumm via Todd Defren. The only thing I’d question is the line: “It doesn’t take a big budget to get started in social media marketing.  In fact, much of social media marketing is human capital.” – I know what she means but the human capital cost is often the biggest challenge for companies looking at social media.

Got your brand signed up online? Check the availability of your brand across a plethora of social media tools courtesy of Knowen (many of which you’ll never have heard of).  The danger of these type of tools of course is that it makes it easy for hi-jackers to do the same… so get going. <Link via Brian Solis>

Congratulations to Philip Young and David Philips on the launch of their work on the second edition of PR in Practice: Online PR.

I seemed to have missed Wikileaks a site that encourages you to post leaks about your company, government, whatever.  I’m not convinced that this would provide any value other than to the army of online conspiracy theorists. But I could be wrong… wouldn’t be the first time.  <Tim Dyson>