Gary Stein writes in his ClickZ piece today about the increasing prevalence of would-be clients asking their agencies to demonstrate their social finesse, so to speak, by requesting info on the social media accounts of the team involved. Seems simple and logical, right? After all, if I’m a client I deserve to hire an agency that knows what they are talking about and can prove it.
The problem is, a lot of agencies aren’t helping themselves in this area. Many large corporations have published social media guidelines that give employees a general framework for how to behave online as an employee, and more often than not lean towards being generous in what they allow. This encourages employee participation and, from an external perspective, a perception that the brand and its employees “get it.” Intel is a great example of this.
Many agencies similarly encourage their employees to use whatever social media tools they are comfortable with, and many even provide training to help prod things along. Great. But the thing is, generally the client hires an agency as a collective whole, and while that whole is comprised of a smart group of talented individuals, the client will want to know that all that intelligence ladders back up as a team effort.
Agency leaders need to closely examine how they are using social media – collectively – to demonstrate the inspired intelligence of the people who work there. Is there a live stream of its employee’s Twitter feeds on the home page? Is there even a blog? Does the agency have a unique POV on Twitter, and have they established themselves as leaders there? The answer need not be the same – each agency has its own unique perspective to offer on the industry, and what works for some won’t for others. But simply encouraging employees to take part in social media isn’t good enough in this environment.
That’s it for this Friday Fodder: what do you think?
Some of the most interesting people I met while working at Google were those who had studied human-computer interaction (most of them from Stanford in Terry Winograd’s program). That discipline studies how we as humans make use of technology (much of it ubiquitous in our lives) and how smart design can improve the experience. Human-computer interaction is at the heart of any social network and in our modern lives, that’s practically everything.
So much of the insight that can come from technology isn’t gleaned through logs or analytics. It’s a gut feeling. It’s been described as the largest focus group in the world, a forum where ideas and opinions merge into one big mess. The folks at Microsoft have ingeniously studied and tapped into those insights by landing on searching for profane tweets, knowing that when people are frustrated with their human-computer interactions they tend to throw four-letter words at the problem. Yes, they’d also be well-served to search for XBox-related complaints (and there are plenty of them), but they’re thinking like a 14 year-old. That helps prevent calls, improve responsiveness and consumer satisfaction and reflect the best attributes of the brand (“we care about our users and want to get them back on the fly!”).
What can you learn from this lesson? How can you get into the mind of your consumers or stakeholders?
According to this study from USC, an overwhelming percentage of Internet users would not pay for access to Twitter. How overwhelming?
Try 100%. Paid access to content has long been a debate in the media world, but generally leads to some attrition in the user base. In extreme cases, like the Times’ in the UK, that attrition can be significant (they lost 90% of their online readers). That leads to fewer eyeballs on the content which is a hard sell to advertisers who pay for exactly that privilege.
But the biggest atrocity of parking content behind a paywall is the inability to share it socially. Consumers are a finicky bunch and one of the most impactful ways to get them to read your content is to encourage them to share it. That will drive social conversations about it and give you reach that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Make it too difficult to share or read and you lose the benefit of your loyalists, and by extension the benefits of their social networks. Why should I write about an article you’ve published if my readers cannot go read it easily?
It is pretty far-fetched to suggest at this point that Twitter will charge for access to its publishing platform. It would be in their best interests, in fact, to continue making that platform as perfect and portable as they can. Encouraging more people to tweet and consume will drive more value for businesses that wish to reach them.
One of the frustrations I have long had with the “social media” industry is the insistence, by some, that social media is a separate entity and therefore requires a separate agency or internal function. I’ve written about that recently and firmly believe that the best social media efforts are part of a bigger strategy and live within the marketing mix, and don’t require a special team internally.
AdWeek’s Closing the Tech Divide did a great job exploring the convergence of creative, storytelling and digital taking place in the industry today. If you are an agency reading this it should be a clear signal to develop critical social media and digital skills internally in the immediate future, as clients will be looking for shops that can deliver on that promise. That may not always mean you have a full production team – it could mean a partnership with another digital agency or a blend of internal team and external partnership. But if clients perceive that you don’t bring this expertise to the table, you’ll not likely be a first choice.
Matthew DeBord this week published a fascinating article about the recent major crises – BP, Toyota, Goldman Sachs, others – causing the profession that for decades has been positioned as the centerpiece of managing them to enter a tailspin. The response (at least in the comments to the article itself) was more muted than I’d thought it would be, given how closely to home it hits for a lot of the industry.
I think there is more than a measure of truth to his assessment, though. I do believe that the smartest PR practitioners today are rapidly teaching themselves and their colleagues the skills needed to manage any communication in an era of social media transparency, be it a crisis, a product launch or an earnings announcement. These are the tools of our profession, and it’s our professional responsibility to adapt to using them.
Sadly, not everyone IS adapting to the new tools. It will result in some attrition across the board as new talent comes onto the scene equipped to manage communications scenarios that are infinitely more complex and instant. But the truth is the tools available to a PR practitioner always evolve, and in the end they’re just channels. Yes, the pace has accelerated and caused some to throw their hands up in frustration. But the need for consistent messaging – even if it requires as few as 140 characters – means those PR people who do embrace these technologies will be even more critical to the organizations they serve. In the face of a crisis in a social media landscape, the job becomes more about managing a team and the flow of their collective thought and response than messaging the media, to be sure. It’s about scale.
That’s it for this Friday Fodder: What do you think?