There's a little routine I follow whenever I fly -- it starts with macs at the airport, a quick trip to the money changer, and then I spend the rest the wait for takeoff in Hudson Books, browsing the best sellers and flipping through gossip rags. Regardless of what I looked at, I always end up leaving with a copy of the Economist and the latest edition of Monocle.
But alas, they were out of Monocle this time so I settled for Fast Company, mainly because the cover story read "SOCIAL MEDIA IS SEXY! (kinda)" and it had a very cute looking Mindy Kaling (of the Office) on the cover. This turned out to be a very good decision.
If you're into social - and I assume from the fact that you're still reading this that you are - you should go out and grab a copy of this edition while it's still on newsstands. You'll really enjoy the broad coverage of social and the trends they're tracking forward.
If you're in social (e.g., it's your job to market brands on these platforms) and you haven't picked up a copy, then you're either already the ALMIGHTY in this area (and need no coaching), or a mighty fool.
I love social (can you tell?) I love that as a medium, it's moved (some of) the power to influence to the people who actually use the products, I love that it creates communities of like-minded individuals, and I love that it's provided a platform for the common folk to say eff you to big business. Anyone who says social doesn't matter really lives under a rock. Even the Whitehouse has made it a paramount part of political engagement. Big businesses are slowly coming round to it, and learning how to use it to connect with customers (they've also opened up to feedback, a more polite term for the expletive above)
Even PWC (Singapore) has used social media to show that it's not just an organization full of People Working Constantly. Mock them if you will, but I actually thought it was a great attempt at making the firm seem more approachable.
The world gets it, social is super important, and we've got to find ways to engage. Unfortunately, all this hype about it, and this desire to be a part of it, has resulted in some pretty scary things - like how it's put PR into complete overdrive.
Think about it, social is something that would be an absolute boon to the industry - get your PR campaign strategy right and you might just get a thousand retweets in a day from people who just happen to love what you've put out there - and not because you've promised to pay them. That's a ton of coverage by people who believe in the brand/product and want to push it to others based on their own experiences with it -- it's a lot more credible than reading about it in some magazine where coverage is mostly guaranteed by advertising dollar.
Of course, getting it wrong means the same amount of retweets + added expletives…. Try explaining that to the client.
So PR companies try their very best to straddle this very delicate balance - how to get their message out there through the choppy waters of unmediated platforms while still controlling the content in order to make the client happy. Tough, to say the least.
The social strategies don't vary very much, but you can always tell which agencies get it, and which ones haven't a freaking clue.
I receive press releases from time to time and they range from the really good compelling stuff, to the run of the mill drive-by pitches that are mass mailed out (come on PR peeps, you're supposed to be creative, you couldn't do better than that?), to the stuff that makes me want to forward the press kit to the brand's head office to let them know they're being butchered (spelling mistakes in a press kit are the least of your worries)... And then there's what Dustin Wax calls "how to get bad PR from bloggers by trying to get good PR from them"
The outreach programs that I absolutely abhor always follow the same format: they basically dictate. They invite me to blog about one of their upcoming projects (e.g., this is something that occurs in the future which means I've never tried it before). They then outline in an attachment what I should to write, how it has to be written, and when I need to publish it (before the future occurrence). There is normally a schedule attached (with dates) that I'm told to follow. The who is the client, and the where is my blog (e.g., I can't choose to tweet about it, post on facebook or instagram it instead)
Take a step back with me here to your Primary School English lessons, I'm fairly certain your teacher would have taught you the H5Ws (who, what, where, when, how and why), lauded as "the key to any great composition" to nine year olds everywhere. I suppose the PR agencies in question were just trying to ensure I covered the basic components of composition writing, but I find this somewhat insulting given the fact as a blogger, I value the freedom that writing in this space affords me.
But let's just take one more tiny step back and consider the most basic fundamental portion of all this: I have never tried your product, so why should I write about it? (I know you clever folks noticed the missing why a while ago)
Why I had to do this, or rather, why they thought I would post about their product -- they offered to give me freebies in exchange after I'd written about them.
Are you still following this failed logic? They're basically bribing me to do the dirty -__-
Okay, so now, let's put this altogether:
Using social is a means for brands to build credibility through consumers, using social is a means to build a community of people who love your product, using social is a means for your consumer to give you valuable, real time feedback on what they love and what they absolutely abhor.
If you're trying to bribe bloggers, then you've completely missed the point of what makes social media great.
You won't be able to achieve any of these things by asking a blogger to write about a product they've never tried, in exchange for giving them the product after it's all said and done. The only credibility bloggers have lies in the fact that they write about what they like and they don't lie about their experiences to the people who take the time to read their blogs, comment on it, and connect with them.
I'll push a product because I like it, not because you tell me to. Capiche?
I understand the fear that drives traditional marketers, PR people and suits - Marketing is Dead. It's going the way of the dinosaurs. But it isn't an excuse for outdated ad agencies, marketing and PR shops to exploit social for the sake of keeping their redundant business models relevant. If you want to stay relevant, then you've got to engage, and I'm sorry to have to break this to you but it takes time, effort, energy and authenticity.
The thing about PR firms' approach to bloggers is that they're very good at the P (public), but they're terribly poor at the R (relations). Blogging is about building relations (between the bloggers and their readers mostly), but it can also be a bridge between blog readers and brands. But that will only work when agencies learn how to do it right (so if you're in this line, please go pick up a copy of Fast Company).
If at the end of this you're thinking "she's a purist" - I'm not. I'll be dead honest, I push products all the time - products that I've paid for, those that are given for free, and those that pay me to write about them. The common condition is that I like them, and I think the people reading this space will like them too.
It's great that companies are engaging - truly! I get so excited when I'm asked to cover events/review products from brands that I love - simply because I like the things that they do and I want to share it with more of the world. But they need to do so on the new social terms, not on the terms created in the bygone era of Mad Men.
And to round up with very long, rambly post, here's a couple of things to keep in mind (Fast Company calls them "the rules" but I like to think of them as guidelines - feel free to bend, twist and modify as you wish)
1. ROR is the new ROI...Return on Relationship!
2. People trust their peers...become a peer.
3. Don't follow just to get followed. It's slutty.
4. Social is a conversation, not a message.
5. You should worry about all those who don't complain and simply go away mad!
6. Entertain me. Tweets are short; so is life.
7. Stop & Ask: Would an ACTUAL person talk that way?
8. Don't try to be clever, be clever.
Credit where it's due:
Image courtesy of Fast Company's September Issue on Social Media.
Marketing is Dead was a post on the Harvard Business Review Blog by Bill Lee.
If you need to know how to get bloggers to back your brands, try this article by lifehacker.