July 30, 2014

The five most useful Google+ write-ups from comms pros

There have been tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of words written about Google+ already, but as the new social network takes its first tentative steps in beta, the industry is asking…

What does this new platform mean for PR, marketing and other comms professionals?

It’s not an easy one to answer, but here are five articles that helped me get to the heart of the matter:

  1. The PR and marketing implications of Google+ by Shel Holtz. This is about as thorough as you can get right now. Shel hasn’t churned out a Google+ 101 post, he’s written an article with the uses for comms pros in mind. Read it.
  2. Should PR and social media people be getting excited by Google+? by Phil Szomszor. Should we all be leaping on board and putting our campaign budgets into Google+ right now? Phil has sensible answers.
  3. Conversations matter in Google+ by Chris Brogan. I have to agree with Chris’s simple but crucial observation here. The quality of conversations and responses in my stream, right now, is blowing Twitter and Facebook out of the water. If that continues, it’s a big deal for brands (particularly when the door opens to them).
  4. Why Google Has the Hammer To Make Businesses Use Google Plus by Jay Baer. This is a comparatively complex article (make a cup of tea before you start reading) but it takes a really good stab at mapping the evolution of search, SEO, social, where Google+ fits in, and where it’s going. Useful stuff.
  5. Google+, Businesses and Beyond by Christian Oestlien. In a video rather than a written post, Christian, a product manager on Google+ explains why it’s not quite ready for businesses yet, and gives some hints on where it might be going. Watch it below:

So, when it comes to Google+, what are your predictions, observations hopes and concerns for the comms industry?

The truth, the whole truth…but what is it?

This is the latest guest post from Carli-Ann Smith as part of The Student Perspective series – a set of posts contributed by future stars of the comms industry…and this one may ruffle a few feathers.

‘Ça dépend’…‘Es hängt davon ab’…’Dipende’…‘Εξαρτάται’…‘Det beror’…‘Depinde’

Hmmm…I seem to be getting the impression that no matter who you ask they will tell you that: ‘It depends’ and then launch into some sort of reason why there is no set definition of the truth. I was fully expecting to look in the dictionary and it say the same.

A quick search on Google reveals that definitions range from ‘a fact that has been verified’ to ‘one of the first heavy metal albums.’

Is this lack of definition a get out clause? If there is no set definition then how can something be untrue? Most people seem to know what a lie is, so why the confusion about the truth. My theory involves context, the confusion is the context that the ‘truth’ is placed in.

It matters who you ask and at the time you ask them. Facts and figures are the truth, yes? They can be placed in different contexts. Make-up ranges claim 98% of women agree their product has been of benefit to them, you then see in the small print that only 10 women were asked, still the truth but not as you would have expected.

Back in the days when it was regarded the truth that the earth was flat, the people that said it weren’t lying, they were merely passing on what they knew. Isn’t that the job of a PR Professional? Passing on information they know? Yes and no. It is common knowledge that PR practitioners pass on certain snippets of information, some people jump on the old ‘Oh it’s all spin’ bandwagon, this is one bandwagon I would like to pull the wheels off.

Everyone is guilty of selecting certain information to pass on, the difference is we just get paid for it. Individuals do it in real life, when you are out on a date you don’t give them your whole life story and include the story about the time you were charged for stalking an ex-girlfriend. Not if you have any sense you wouldn’t! You would embroider the truth.

So when is it seen as being socially acceptable to not tell EVERYTHING that you know? What about if it would start a moral panic and cause the country to go into meltdown? Maybe the best idea at the time but then if people found out you had hidden it then you get into trouble anyway. However if the public were told everything there would be bedlam!

There needs to be an information flow, and that’s where we come in. Sometimes we are told what to say, what not to say and others we help advise the best course of action, either way the hammer drops on us…

Our job is to put a certain amount of polish on facts, but you can’t polish something that isn’t there. With the rise of the internet and social networking sites there is nowhere to hide, the truth will come out, so what is the point in blatantly lying when your reputation and that of the companies will just be tarnished when people find out the truth?

Outright lying can have serious implications, your reputation as an individual is built on many things just like the reputation of the organisation. If you had a friend that lied about everything you would become tired of speaking to them and you certainly wouldn’t listen to anything they had to say because you wouldn’t know what to believe. Therefore how can you build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships, which is included in our role as PR professionals, if your contacts know you lie to them?

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer for 2010, 72% of people said that ‘A company I can trust’ is a top driver of corporate reputation in the UK. This therefore proves that lying to your customers can have a negative effect on sales, reputation and peoples impressions on you.

According to Julian Henry in an article on PR Week, “Telling porkies can become a necessity. You might be trying to contain something fragile, volatile and potentially damaging to a large number of innocent bystanders, namely your client’s kingsize ego, which has the potential to explode without warning at any moment.”

As the face of the organisation, it is our job to be responsible and make sure that we don’t cause any unnecessary upset, whether that be our clients or to the public.

In my opinion, and it may be controversial, I think that sometimes it is better to withhold certain information if it could start a moral panic. Especially if it is information that the public don’t in fact have a ‘right’ to know. If it affects them directly, then I believe they should be told, but if the knowledge is not essential then to keep quiet is not a sin. However, where the difficultly lies is if someone asks. Now, if someone asks and you don’t tell them then ‘technically’ you are lying.

I believe it is important to distinguish between what the public need to know and what isn’t vital knowledge. My naïve advice to PR professionals is, don’t lie. When we are so successful at promoting businesses and products why are we letting PR fall into disrepute?  How on earth can we persuade people that PR isn’t about spin when the ones practicing it are playing up to the negative stereotypes that these individuals hold? You have my permission to polish but don’t take it too far and fabricate things that aren’t there.

(Kudos to Neville Hobson for his article on truth, which informed this post.)

Carli-Ann Smith

One bad tweet: how 140 characters altered a company’s reputation (The Student Perspective series)

This guest post from Lindsey Bray is part of The Student Perspective series – a set of posts contributed by future stars of the comms industry.

A story recently broke about a grocery store chain, Price Chopper, in the Northeastern states of the US.

After an unhappy customer tweeted a negative comment about the company, Price Chopper allegedly contacted the customer’s employer and bosses (found in his Twitter bio) to inform them of the negative tweet, as well as encourage actions be taken against this individual.

The Director of Consumer Insights, Heidi Reale, revealed in the comments section of the blog that started it all, that the Price Chopper Consumer Insight team was unaware of the incident.  A newly hired PR employee did however personally respond to the negative tweet without the knowledge of the company.  This PR nightmare has raised several issues.

  • How should negative comments be dealt with?
  • Are our comments a reflection of our employers?

Transparency Leads to Growth

Regardless of who responded to the disappointed customer, it was clearly a breach of social media ethics.  Social media has provided businesses with an amazing platform to easily interact with customers.  Today’s consumers have a powerful voice; they can publicly make their opinions known about a company and have the greatest chance of a response now than ever.

Companies who have made themselves transparent allow for criticism and are the best equipped to respond to comments for the betterment of the organization.  This is where the Price Chopper employee fell short.

Negative comments offer great opportunities for a company to regain trust in customers by striving to grow and right their wrongs. People are much more likely to show loyalty to authentic companies who actively listen to their target audiences and react accordingly.  Instead of attacking a disgruntled customer’s livelihood, the Price Chopper employee should have spent her energy engaging with the customer to ensure his current and future happiness with the company.

My thoughts are mine and only mine…or are they?

A lot of people list their employers in the Twitter bios and Facebook profiles much like the unhappy Price Chopper customer.  The only possible way for the employee to justify her actions towards the unhappy customer is if she believes his comments to be a reflection of his employer’s thoughts, but even then it is still a blatant abuse of social media.

While someone’s thoughts on a social media platform, such as Twitter, are not directly related to an employer, if the employer is listed on his/her profile an association between the employee and employer is created.  Although it shouldn’t happen, lines can be blurred when employees become a representation of the company they work for.  In order to keep them completely separate, either a disclaimer needs to be added that thoughts are strictly your own, or the employer shouldn’t be listed at all on personal social media profiles.

What are your thoughts on the Price Chopper happening?  Does transparency actually lead to growth opportunities for companies?  Was the customer’s tweet a reflection of his employer?

Lindsey Bray.

Let’s not forget the importance of honesty in social media

This is a guest post by Mazher Abidi, a marketer and blogger based in Manchester, UK.

Social media (and social networking in the broad sense) could prove to become one of the greatest applications of Internet technology bar none.

As with any community, there are unwritten rules by which its members live by. For example, there are etiquettes related to tweeting and retweeting, recommendations when it comes to selling vs. conversing, conflicting schools of thought when it comes auto vs. personal posting…all of this before anyone has even touched on the thorny subject of sharing Farmville and Mafia Wars stories.

Yet the one common view that appears to transcend all debates is that social media users MUST be honest. This was plainly revealed on August 9th by all the participants in the weekly #commschat on twitter (every Monday 7pm GMT, 8pm BST hosted by @EmilyCagle and @AdamVincenzini from @CommsChat), where the subject under discussion was comms confessions.

Social media users and communicators, both personal and business, appear to need to live by this mantra online or risk being marked out as social media outcasts by their peers, seeing their flaws globally retweeted or (in the ultimate symbol of social media displeasure) being unfollowed and unfriended.

From the discussion, here follows a list of the top 5 reasons why you NEED to be honest on social media:

1. We can see through it

A community of highly intelligent and communications savvy users has formed on social networks, whether as a function of the presence of the tech aware innovators and early adopters or mass uptake. But whoever they are, they all have an opinion; and there are some serious social media influencers out there that have the kind of credibility some offline influencers can only dream of.

They cannot be fooled, nor can they be placated when they feel wronged. There are genuine multi way conversations taking place on social media and ideas are being shared every second.

Spin now has no place in social media and modern communications. Should your message be uncovered as somehow dishonest, a mistruth or a blatant lie, these people will know about it, and the message will spread due to the lack of…

2. Control

The Internet in general and social media especially has spread at a rate that even the word exponential doesn’t quite cover. 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute and in just over 5 years the twitterati have racked up 20 billion tweets.

It stands to reason therefore that once your message is out there in the socialsphere, it ceases to become solely your message. For this reason, it needs to be pitch and content perfect, or you run the risk of serious damage to your…

3. Reputation

Increasingly, social media is being seen by organisations as a key part of their PR strategy. It makes sense considering it is a direct route to consumers, key decision makers and influencers within B2C and B2B markets.

PR, as defined by the Charetered Institute of PR, is “the establishment and maintenance of goodwill between an organisation and its publics”. Such goodwill cannot be maintained without the truth.

Reputations can be shattered through social media; witness the way Apple (for example) was forced to take notice and react to antenna-gate on the iPhone4 thanks to the huge swell of opinion against it on social media.

The best way to avoid this? Be honest.

Of course this does not only count for reputation in the here and now. It is also a concern for…

4. The future

The amount of information held on the web does not even bear an attempt to quantify. The consequence of this is that messages, files, images…anything that appears on the Internet – stays on the Internet. Forever.

Companies AND individuals cannot afford for anything they perceive as negative to be on there, even on page 4 of a Google search. For if it’s out there to be found then it can and will be found, more often than not at the least opportune moment.

The picture from the stag do 4 years ago could resurface in a job interview. The accidentally posted press release that was only online for a day could be found on an archived version of a website.

Making sure what goes online is an honest reflection of you or our business will safeguard you for the future.

5. Why not?

Finally, if there’s nothing to hide, there should be no need to hide it!

Introducing The Student Perspective – a series about comms, from tomorrow’s stars

Tomorrow sees the launch of The Student Perspective – a series of guest posts from the future stars of comms.

Posts in this series will cover the usual fodder seen here (inc. PR, marketing, branding and internal comms) but the thoughts and opinions within will come from the freshest minds in the industry – those of PR & marketing undergraduates.

If you follow the work of David Clare (@davidjmclare on Twitter and once an intern of mine at Cagle Comms) or have ever checked out the articles submitted to @behindthespin (a PR student magazine), you’ll know how valuable such insight can be.

Stay tuned for the first post in the series tomorrow (Monday 13th) at 2pm.

And if you’re a PR/Marketing/Journalism undergrad with a passion for comms and something interesting to say, please send a short summary of your post idea and we’ll get things rolling.

It’s vital that we don’t cut corners when it comes to ethics

– By Eamonn Moore.

There’s a great history of public figures being caught making unguarded comments by the press and media, but such cases appear to be rife this spring/summer.

First there was Bigotgate. Then there was Snookergate. Then Lord Triesman was shown the red card after apparently making some unguarded comments about Spain and Russia bribing officials at this summer’s World Cup. And now Sarah Ferguson has been caught allegedly offering to sell access to her ex husband Prince Andrew. What’s next?

In my previous blog post, I looked at how Gordon Brown’s PR should be handled post-Bigotgate, but did not tackle the ethics of the situation – something that I now feel I should address, especially after the thought provoking discussion on ethics in this week’s #CommsChat.

The whole issue of ethics and the media has always been and will always be a hot potato. Do we have a right to know everything that public figures say (even if it’s said ‘behind closed doors’) or is everyone entitled to their privacy? Should we perhaps only be alerted to conversations that are of genuine national interest, and if so, what constitutes ‘national interest’?

Personally, I feel that there are circumstances when it is genuinely important that the contents of a private conversation are aired – Watergate perhaps being the best example of this. However, in cases such as the one involving Lord Triesman, the desire to have a sensationalist headline (and increased sales) seem to have been received by some as a neglect of ethical standards by the newspaper in question. Whether his allegations are correct or not, you could argue that Lord Triesman has a strong case to say that he has been the victim of entrapment. Furthermore, surely potentially irreversibly damaging England’s 2018 World Cup bid is not in the ‘national interest’? Gary Lineker certainly didn’t think it was.

Working in public relations, I am acutely aware of the importance of ethical and responsible media reporting. We rely on the media to do our jobs, and they rely on us, so I see it as our duty to help uphold, support and encourage the highest ethical standards. Indeed, if the media fall short of such standards, it often impacts on the world of public relations (and vice versa).

Various recent public mudslinging matches between PRs & PRs, and PRs & the media have shown us that it cuts both ways. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being critical of something (or someone), provided that you go about it in a considered manner, choosing to value ethics over link-bait opportunities, and always aiming to offer constructive criticism by suggesting possible areas of improvement, rather than just celebrating perceived misfortune. It seems to me that events of late have left the PR world feeling somewhat tarnished.

The world of communication is developing apace along with technology, but if we’re not careful, we risk losing sight of the basics, especially when it comes to ethics. As PRs, it is our duty to both protect and enhance our industry’s reputation from within by being positively and proactively ethical at all times (even when we’re being critical of something). If we don’t fulfil this duty, the whole industry’s reputation could well be left in tatters, and none of us want that, do we?

A war of words: who owns communications in 2010?

Whilst the roles of a PR and marketer are different at face value, there is little doubt that the two areas have considerable crossover, especially when it comes to social media.

Today, Vocus (a producer of “on-demand software for public relations management”) has circulated a white paper examining the merging roles of PR and marketing, and the debate surrounding who ‘owns’ social media.

For the white paper – ‘Blurring Lines, Turf Battles and Tweets: The Real Impact of Integrated Communications on Marketing and PR’ – Vocus surveyed 1,094 PR and marketing professionals last month about their experiences and views of ‘integrated communications’, which Vocus defines as:

“A management concept that ties all aspects of marketing communication, including, but not limited to advertising, search marketing, sales promotion, public relations and direct marketing, together to function in a unified and comprehensive fashion as opposed to functioning in isolation or silos.”

Blurred lines

The key findings suggest that the lines between PR and marketing are blurring, with 79% of marketing and PR professionals stating that they report to the same boss, and 78% reporting formal working relationships when it comes to creating a common communications strategy.

However, whilst the roles may overlap in some respects, 67% of respondents revealed that they hold cross-functional meetings only ‘sometimes’, with a further 19% stating that they held them ‘rarely’ or ‘never’.

Turf battles

The white paper also illustrates that ‘turf battles’ remain rife between marketing and PR professionals, with 33% citing that such conflicts are the single biggest barrier to creating an integrated communications strategy. Budget shortcomings were judged to be the next obstacle, with 20% of respondents highlighting this issue.

Who owns social media?

The concept of ‘turf battles’ is further developed when the debate about who ‘owns’ social media is examined. From the results of the white paper, it’s clear that there is no consensus, with 43% of PRs feeling that they should own it, and 35% of marketers saying the same for their profession. When it comes to corporate blogs, 38% of PRs feel that they should control them, whilst 24% of marketers feel that they should.

Integrated communications

Common ground was found when participants were questioned about the benefits of integrated communications and how to measure them. 48% of PRs and marketers reported that integrated communications increase the overall effectiveness of outreach programs, and that sales and ROI are the most effective ways of assessing an integrated communications strategy.

It’s debatable as to whether this paper reflects the overall experiences of the industry, but it certainly highlights a growing feeling that social media is driving a merging of marketing and PR roles. Similarly, whether this will be resolved into the ‘integrated communications strategies’ envisaged by Vocus remains to be seen, but with the level of conflict described above, it seems unlikely that it will happen any time soon.

The launch of #CommsChat on Twitter – fancy it?

#CommsChat, a weekly Twitter-based chat about anything and everything to do with communications, is inspired by chats like #JournChat, #PRstudchat and #BlogChat, which focus on specific subjects / participants.

These chats are typically based / moderated out of the USA, which means that the times are often challenging for people based in Europe.

#CommsChat has been developed with these things in mind, and will hopefully be shaped even more by you after reading this post.

The top line framework of #CommsChat

  • A weekly chat on Monday nights at 8pm UK time (1 hour duration)
  • Wide-ranging topics connected to communications, including: traditional and social media, PR, blogging, marketing, journalism and lots more
  • Special guests will be invited to take part most weeks based on the subject matter

Help shape #CommsChat

The rest of #CommsChat and its make-up will be determined by you over the next few weeks.

  • What would you like to see?
  • Any thoughts on subjects / topics?
  • Is there a format from another chat you’ve taken part in that you really like?

All this feedback will help us collectively create an engaged community and host sessions that add value to everyone taking part.

Put a date in your diary

The first #CommsChat is scheduled for 24 May 2010 at 8pm (UK time).

Although based out of the UK, it is open to anyone from everywhere – comms professionals, bloggers, journalists, students – basically anyone with an interest in / passion for communications.

Over the next few weeks we’ll provide you with more information about how it will work.

But the primary objective is simple: encourage like-minded people to get together for an hour each week to share their tips, hints and lessons relating to the world of communications.

It should be a lot of fun…and we look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Thanks

Adam Vincenzini and Emily Cagle

Staying connected / useful links:

Preparing tomorrow’s PR pros

This is a guest post by Jane Crofts, a PR Lecturer at the University of Lincoln. I asked Jane how the university is preparing the next generation of PR pros for the changing landscape amidst the rise and rise of social media

So how are we preparing the youth of today to be the PRs of tomorrow? Particularly bearing in mind that many of the tutors of today are the PRs of yesterday… and bearing in mind that the advent of Web 2.0 sees PR changing faster than it has for very many years!

At the University of Lincoln we are a small but beautifully formed team of ex-practitioners and academics setting PR in the business context alongside Marketing, Advertising, occasionally Management or HR and even less occasionally Journalism. Our purpose is to give students a solid academic grounding in their chosen subjects but with a practical dimension to give that added extra to their employability. To this end we encourage them to get as much paid or unpaid work experience as they can find and to develop a portfolio of work they can show off to potential employers.

Increasingly we are encouraging students to develop this portfolio online in the form of blogs and integrated web pages taking advantage of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn used appropriately – Facebook is very much the ‘Uni life’ and softer side of the portfolio! So, we are inviting our protégés to embrace Web 2.0…and then explain it to us!

The portfolio may also be a repository for some of their assignments for example in their studies of Managing PR the assignment is a blog about developing team working skills and a reflection on how the individual has learned about their own strengths and weaknesses as a team player. As part of PR for organisational communications part of the task is to develop a real campaign for an organisation of their choice – a charity or voluntary group – and to get as much of it implemented as possible.

But of course this is just part of the picture, it’s getting those blogs and pages noticed that will count. ‘Behind the Spin’ the Chartered Institute of Public Relations student online publication provides a great outlet for the students to write about their experiences, review books and observe about developments in PR. Recent contributors from Lincoln have attracted comment from far and wide resulting in offers of help with their careers and even jobs. Subjects have included a discussion of the role of Twitter in crisis communications and aspects of the debate between students from different schools at the University – is PR killing Journalism? One book review by a Lincoln student prompted the book’s author to make contact and another student’s observations about a PR campaign to stamp out spamming in PR attracted interest from the campaign manager.

Dissertations form a critical part of the final year of study and students are encouraged to explore something new. This year social media is a popular subject including its role in the workplace as an internal communications tool, its impact on music PR as well as the afore mentioned crisis management. The students are developing a wealth of original thought and creating new angles on old models such as the popular Grunig and Hunt four models of communication (Managing Public Relations, 1984).

So, to return to the question, I guess the students are preparing themselves very well and in true academic style we are guiding them to think independently, take risks and try new ideas in a safe environment. I am confident, therefore, that tomorrow’s PR specialists and thought leaders will be able to shift and change to meet their clients’ needs and provide wise counsel to ensure PR objectives are fully integrated into a powerful package of communications using the most appropriate tools and techniques from the ever expanding kit bag.

Are you a blogger? March is Be My Guest month, and we’re encouraging bloggers from all over the world to swap posts and reach new audiences. See Be My Guest for more information.

How to use public relations to support every stage of the sales funnel

pr sales funnel

This is a guest post from Bryony Thomas, Chief Clear Thinker, Clear Thought Consulting Ltd.

Most people initially think of public relations as a technique for generating awareness for their products or services. This is absolutely true, but if this is the only way that you’re using your public relations effort, you’re missing a trick in squeezing every ounce of value from your marketing budget.

In considered purchases, people move through a process of decision-making. At each stage, you have an opportunity to influence whether they continue through to purchase from you, or choose to look elsewhere.

Using Kotler’s model of rational decision-making, here are some ideas for using PR at every stage in the process.

Generating awareness: In addition to getting the word out through press coverage, you can also:

  • Add key phrases to your press releases that people are likely to use as search phrases.
  • Post links to your news coverage on your LinkedIn status, Twitter feed, etc.
  • Add comments against online news stories that your audience is likely to read.

Generating interest: This is about getting people to take the next step of not only knowing who you are, but of being interested in what you have to say:

  • Use decent coverage as an insert for direct mail or email (NB You’ll need permission).
  • Use snippets of coverage you achieve in your promotional materials.
  • Post a response to a news item as a blog, YouTube video, etc.

Standing up to evaluation: When people are evaluating your products or services against the competition, you can:

  • Point them to positive news coverage.
  • Use a news story as the basis for a live Q&A or webinar.

Supporting the trial process: When someone is assessing your products and services in detail, you can:

  • Add PR quotes in your proposal documents to substantiate your claims.
  • Use press coverage as a reason to drop someone a line when they’re trialling.

Encouraging adoption: At the point where people part with significant money, public relations can:

  • Create a feel-good factor amongst the wider decision-makers reducing chances of them saying no.

Generating re-purchase and loyalty: If they’ve bought once, you can:

  • Drop them a line with positive coverage on what they’ve bought for that all-important post-purchase reassurance.
  • Keep them up-to-date on new offerings by sending them links to press coverage – often more compelling than blatant sales material.

With a bit of thought, you can make more of your PR coverage. This is particularly true if you have a social media set-up in place that allows you to make intelligent re-use of the coverage you’ve worked hard to secure.

For more on this and a few more ideas, you can watch a 10-minute tutorial on how PR supports the sales funnel on the Clear Thought website.

Are you a blogger? March is Be My Guest month, and we’re encouraging bloggers from all over the world to swap posts and reach new audiences. See Be My Guest for more information.