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:

Relax, PR will be around long after the hype has gone

Sometimes you happen upon a blog post title in your RSS reader (yep I’m old school) that grabs your attention. 

Great headlines work.

Unfortunately you then read the post and find it has the consistency of a marshmallow, it’s gooey and melts away pretty quickly and has little substance.

That was my reaction to to David Armano’s post: Does PR have a Future?

Now let me say up front that I’ve read and watched a lot of David’s content and opinions and I’m not questioning that he brings a lot of insight, and value to the whole social media discussion, but this post isn’t one of his high spots.

I thought it was a good excuse to address some of the PR and social media related observations you see expressed regularly.

Social media is increasingly being used across business – yes it is because social media is a set of tools and channels that can add business value in a number of areas including marketing, investor relations, research, sales and customer support.

Social media is the most important thing to business – no, I’m afraid not.  It is of course important and useful, but you’ll find that financial management, creating great products, attracting and retaining great staff, providing great services and many other functions remain as important as ever – and arguably more important than some tools and channels. Will we no longer need sales people because ‘we’re all sales people’ and we’ll just put the products up on Facebook? Really?

Marketing/PR is dead, dying or going away – are you mad? Yes social media provides a great human interface to a company, yes it’s a powerful set of tools to reach and engage with people, but guess what, we still need people focused on the strategic imperatives of an organization, we still need people thinking beyond 140 characters.  When someone has an issue, what will they do? Will it be a great experience to send a random tweet in the hope it reaches someone who can help them? Really?

Everyone is a spokesperson – Firstly, I really marvel at how we make comments that ‘each employee becomes a representative of the company every time they engage in public’ like this is something new. It’s not. Of course social media amplifies the impact, but it’s not a eureka moment.  It presents opportunities and challenges for employees and companies, but how does it negate the need for professional communicators? Is this the transformation of product planning to an infinite number of employees in a room banging away on social media?

Businesses are becoming more social and rigid job descriptions will go away – OK businesses are becoming more social, but do we really think that everyone will move into a mass of generalist roles where we spend some of our day doing different jobs? How do we think that’s manageable? How do we think that’s a great idea? Why do we think that social media tools outweigh the value of real world experience, insight and knowledge? It doesn’t.

David closes by saying:

If "everyone" is a spokesperson to some degree—does public relations cease to exist? It’s probably not that simple since the reality is that "communications" will not end up as a free for all activity, but as something which evolves into more than just communicating but also interacting. In my mind—the key is relationships. Manage the relationships between all critical stakeholders who can make or break your business, and you hold the key to a more sustainable way of doing business. Sound like PR?

He’s right no it’s not that simple. There won’t be a free for all.  And yes PR is about managing relationships, it’s also about communications, it’s about problem solving, it’s about strategy, it’s about hard decisions, it’s about many things beyond using tools.

Here’s an idea. Why don’t we focus the discussion on how social media enhances an organization rather than trying to create doomsday scenarios which frankly aren’t based on any insight into how a business works, and shows a complete disrespect for the knowledge, skills and insights of a whole cabal of professional people beyond PR.

Pithy phrases and throwaway opinions don’t move the exploration of social media forward, they just reduce it’s credibility.

But of course, that’s just my opinion and your mileage may differ.


Not for the feint hearted…

I was just listening to the latest installment of For Immediate Release and there were two – count them – two  – interesting snippets on the subject of press releases.

First up, a new press release search engine called PR Filter.


It’s has been created by UK press release distribution company Realwire.

It’s still in beta and the results aren’t terribly comprehensive yet, but as a research tool it’s definitely one to add to your list.  (You can also grab an RSS feed of the most common searches (see the left hand column above).)

The second story relates to a new site called, which was covered by the UK Guardian last week and:

“promises to shine a spotlight on "churnalism" by exposing the extent to which news articles have been directly copied from press releases.”

Stuart Bruce makes an interesting observation on the potential uses of the site:

“The site is intended to highlight the problem of churnalism, but I can already envisage some PR agencies and in-house PR people rubbing their hands with glee as they imagine how they can use it to evidence the success of their activity. “Just look at how many nationals used so much of our news release, aren’t we fantastic.” It isn’t great. In fact it’s depressing as without a healthy mainstream media the public relations industry will be a lot less important.”

So there you have it, two stories on press releases in one week and not one mention of it’s death. Fantastic.