Wednesday, January 20

Integrating Communication: PR-Driven Social Media

There are many ways to integrate social media into organizational communication and any model has a number of variables that would be unique to the organization. However, there is one common denominator. Integration requires thinking different.

In developing a working model to integrate social media into a public relations-driven communication plan*, experience has shown that social media tends to be too cumbersome for most public relations departments (and outside firms) to manage it like another bullet item under the laundry list of services adopted as public relations.

Sure, it can be done. It just doesn't seem to be done well very often.

From our experience, there are several tangible reasons to maintain some separation between the two communication roles as they work in tandem. First and foremost, social media, which mostly consists of two-way direct to public communication, tends to drive public relations away from its core function and world view. The result tends to produce one-way broadcast (spam) communication across social channels, customers being pushed off for lack of "influence," and time management issues related to the ratio of customers/bloggers as opposed to journalists.

*We'll cover other industry-driven models in the weeks ahead.

A Public Relations-Driven Social Media Model

The above illustration isn't theoretical. It was applied to a producer-managed theatrical release and build up to the home distribution release of an independent film by Sony. (For the purposes of post, we've removed the management paths which placed our role over five public relations firms while managing all aspects of the social media program).

In this model, public relations manages the public relations functions and social media manages social media functions, with some obvious areas for crossover communication. For simplicity, I'll break each team's role down to primary functions and then reinforce some shared functions.

Public Relations.

• Managing media relations, which includes press releases, interview pitches, and demonstrations. The function is designed to generate increased exposure. It's mostly one-way communication with journalists vetting information, tailoring content to meet the needs of their readers, and writing opinion-editorial pieces.

• Public outreach, which includes programs and communication materials for special publics (e.g., associations, special interest groups, unions, etc.) as well as direct to public communication and/or publicity. It's mostly one-way communication, with either group leaders informing members or the public receiving information.

• Blogger outreach, which includes either adding popular bloggers within the media relations mix or working with bloggers who have been referred by the social media team because they have special needs that are similar to journalists (such as requesting specific interviews, etc.).

Social Media.

• Maintain, manage, and promote the organization's blog. This may include market intelligence (which is shared with the public relations team), but primarily consists of content development and content distribution that adds value for customers. While blogs are presentation oriented, they do provide for two-way communication.

• Maintain, manage, and develop the organization's social networks. This includes online programs and information sharing that nurtures true engagement and two-way communication in real time. It may also include identifying forums beyond popular social networks where people ask questions that need to be answered. And, in this model, we allowed for advertising support specifically designed to drive customers toward networks where they can be engaged.

• Blogger outreach occurs directly and indirectly as bloggers may source content from the organization's blog or develop relationships with the social media team via any number of social networks. The benefit for the public relations team is that a social media team can determine which bloggers have information requests or require support more like a journalist.

Shared Functions.

• Blogger outreach, as mentioned above, works best with a public relations driven communication plan when the function is shared by public relations and social media. In effect, this approach allows the social media team to meet the daily needs (and recognition) of bloggers while referring bloggers with special needs (such as an interview request) to the public relations team.

• Since social media is its own environment, communication tends to be fluid. Journalists don't alway find stories via press releases or pitches. Story ideas and angles might develop from reading industry blogs, reading the organization's blog, or because most journalists are also members of various social networks.

• Research is also a shared function of both teams. While public relations has an obligation to track and analyze trends within specific markets, publics, or industries, social media professionals also track and analyze trends and sentiment via networks, blogs, and search engines.

Model Summation.

In summation, this model represents an approach to communication that allows for a series of direct and indirect one-way and two-way communication streams and engagement opportunities. The end result of an integrated strategy, assuming the communication is consistent, allows for a message to reach the public from multiple sources, provide multiple opportunities to verify or validate that message, and encourages direct engagement for the long term.

This is a much more powerful approach than traditional public relations models, especially in regard to media relations. Traditionally, companies relied on their brand, the reputation/relationship of their public relations firm, and the objective or biased reporting of a journalist to reach the public. If mistrust occurred at any point in this linear stream, the organization could be damaged for the life of the story or, in some cases, permanently.

I might add that there is a reason I did not add clear management paths to the model. The reason is simple. Social media fits differently for different companies. In this model, social media could maintain its own autonomous distinction, report to marketing, public relations (provided public relations affords the social media team some autonomy as the functions are largely different), or a more complicated model such as the one we worked on last year.

Tuesday, January 19

Tossing Salads: Carl's Jr.

"We're just trying to bring all those people into the fold and allow them to have one-on-one time with Kim." — Brad Rosenberg.

That was how Rosenberg, manager for digital strategy and marketing at Carl's Jr., explained the continuing evolution of Kim Kardashian, a socialite best known for her E! reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians, as an online spokesperson for its Facebook page.

Except, this time around, Carl's Jr. wasn't looking for 1.9 million YouTube views. It was looking for sales. Customers could only ask questions during the live Facebook "event" with an access code if they purchased a Carl's Jr. salad.

Carl's Jr. says that the premiere event drew 16,000 people who logged on with the code. However, Carl's Jr. also released the code on its Facebook page, allowing more people to ask questions, which precludes the idea that it sold 16,000 salads.

Interestingly enough, capturing some one-on-one time with Kardashian isn't impossible without a salad anyway. Part of her allure is her online presence. You can connect with her on Twitter or read her blog. In fact, most people know you might have better luck reaching her online when 16,000 people aren't vying for her attention over an online lunch date.

Can online personalities attract interest at online events?

It raises an interesting question for traditional agencies attempting to add online personalities into their marketing mix. It makes sense that Kardashian fans would view a new Carl's Jr. commercial. It makes sense that they might like to meet her in person at a Carl's Jr. location. But is there any appeal in connecting with her online when people can already connect to her online?

Unless there is an additional exclusivity hook — such as vetting the "engagement bet" like she did on her blog — it's hard to fathom. In fact, it's more likely Carl's Jr. is introducing Kardashian to its 80,000 Facebook fans (733 of which confirmed their attendance to the first event).

The low response rate is coupled with only about 100 comments on the lunch date tab. Those comments are mixed. They range from Kardashian fans (I love your show) and Carl's Jr. fans (who is she?) to anti-sex comments (love the food, hate the sex ads) and uncensored vulgarity (you'll have to look some of those up yourself).

All in all, it doesn't seem to add up well. While Kardashian is apparently cool online, it doesn't make Carl's Jr. cool to host an event on a network where fans already have access. Much more valuable is simply owning some of her social media real estate, which Carl's Jr. already does.

Carl's Jr. will have to work harder than that to make up for entering social media relatively late in the game. It also seems less likely selling sex won't have as much power for the chain as it did in the mainstream media.

Why? Agencies used sex as a cheap and least creative way to cut through the interruption clutter via mainstream media. It tended to work for Carl's Jr. as part of its brand without ever being perverse (as Burger King comes across).

However, online is different. People tend to look for what they want. And most people don't look for sex when they want a salad or a salad when they want sex. That doesn't mean Kardashian is a bad pick for Carl's Jr. It only means they don't seem to have an agency that can make it really work for them. At least, not yet.

Monday, January 18

Helping Haiti: How To Respond Effectively

As the sheer scale of the destruction in Haiti caused by last week's 7.0 magnitude earthquake continues to reach people all over the world, the response has been overwhelming. So overwhelming that logistical logjams and the lack of an adequate supply chain may leave a majority of in-kind donations waiting for weeks before they can reach people in need.

"During these times of natural disaster, our first response is to donate food, clothing, and blankets to the disaster zone," said U.S. Congressman Kendrick B. Meek. "But this goodwill often causes delays in the supply chain providing recovery to those in danger."

In some cases, supplies are dropped and left on pallets for days before disaster relief organizations can move them to the most impacted areas. When supplies do arrive, some distribution points are disorganized enough that people in critical need are not the first to receive them. This is where communication becomes critical to any relief operation.

Timothy Ogden, writing for the Harvard Business Review, outlined four components that companies need to consider before making a pledge for support. They are important considerations in that Ogden recognizes that donations tend to spike in the immediate aftermath but fall short during reconstruction.

• Don't earmark donations for the short term.
• Research and choose experienced organizations.
• Consider monetary donations over in-kind contributions.
• Look ahead for potential long-term commitments that count.

For individuals, lending support can seem even more daunting. Every day, Haiti tops the conversations on social networks, but the call for support tends to be undirected. Bloggers Unite, which is a not-for-profit social network that helps direct bloggers to raise awareness and funds for causes in need, is attempting to direct some of the communication toward nonprofit organizations that meet the criteria.

The Bloggers Unite for Haiti home page includes three international organizations — Doctors Without Borders, Unicef, and Care — with direct donation information.

In addition to directing people toward those international organizations, all of which have experience in the area, the American Red Cross has developed a response page that helps individuals learn how to invest their donations, ranging from International Response and Haitian Relief and Development funds to broaden efforts such as service to the armed forces or wherever the need is the greatest.

For companies, specifically, choosing a broader approach to disaster relief might not amount to a timely news release, but will help organizations that are temporarily diverting funds to meet the immediate relief efforts. Without long-term or broad support, these organizations often find their ongoing programs challenged after an immediate crisis has abated and the media has moved on to cover the next story.

The takeaway is simple. Individuals and organizations do the most good when they respond to a crisis or disaster as opposed to reacting to it. You can help Haitian people the most by making direct donations to organizations like the American Red Cross or those listed at the Bloggers Unite page and by directing others who want to help to do the same.

Friday, January 15

Changing Behavior: How Expectation Shapes Satisfaction

For the first two or three weeks every January, one of the most common topic trends tends to focus in on people who made New Year's resolutions. Last week there were almost 30,000 daily articles on this subject. Even the government offered resolution advice.

Most seemed to center on the same advice: Have vision, remain committed, and stay motivated.

While all of these things are true, most of it is centered on common sense. Persistence and will power can be effective tools. However, if people had that much will power, it seems unlikely they would have a habit or behavior they need to change.

Perception Shapes Expectation.

Maybe the challenge isn't vision, commitment, or motivation. Maybe the challenge is something else.

Most people perceive themselves based on what they have done. Whereas most resolutions (and motivational speakers) ask people to perceive themselves based on what they can do. Smokers resolve to quit smoking. Overweight people resolve to get thin. Spendthrifts resolve to save money. And so on and so forth.

The challenge is that if someone perceives themselves to be something defined by a habit, and they view that habit as exceptionally difficult to break, then their expectation will remain unmet in a relatively short time.

Expectation Shapes Satisfaction.

Last week, I wrote a post about living in the present tense as it applies to internal communication. The practice is tied to defining the act of "doing" as the goal. And by "doing," people can meet immediate expectations by making small changes.

So why is that important? Meeting expectations leads to satisfaction. It empowers the smoker to feel satisfied that they are limiting where they smoke (such as no longer smoking in a car, for example) or overweight person that they are following a physical fitness program or spendthrift that they are investing $20 a week before they spend it.

It changes the dynamic from failing (doing something they no longer want to do) into succeeding (doing something they said they would do). And this leads to a sense of satisfaction, which increases will power.

Satisfaction Shapes Perception.

When something satisfies an expectation, people are almost always more likely to pursue it again. And with every satisfied expectation, they will develop a new, perhaps healthier, perception of who they are and what can be done.

Does any of this have anything to do with business communication? Everything, really.

The way people respond on an individual basis is similar to how they respond within the market. When business communication over promises, it's much more likely to elevate expectation and leave people unsatisfied. In turn, unsatisfied people quickly become unhappy customers or demoralized employees.

Thursday, January 14

Sharing Content: How Releases Impact Perception

Earlier today, I came across a press release posted on PR Newswire that questioned the validity of widely believed scientific data. And if the accusations in the release were true, it might have made an interesting case study in crisis communication.

However, I decided to pass on the topic after discovering that the originating source was biased. Instead, I decided to track the "success" of the release. The results weren't surprising, but they may be disturbing.

After CNBC ran the release as an automated PR Newswire pickup, the "story" was rewritten and embellished by a few bloggers and a few other mainstream media outlets. In turn, more mainstream media outlets and bloggers (along with some social network discussion groups) picked up on and discussed variations of the topic as well.

With each new wave of interest, some of them dropped the initial source all together, either accepting varied degrees of pro-con bias as "fact" without the need for attribution or preferring to attribute the content to a more credible news source or wherever they first learned about the story (their most immediate source). And some, apparently unaware of anything more than their interest in the topic, wrote new stories with new sources, either supporting or detracting from the original premise.

Ten Findings From Following A Single Release

1. The greater the popularity of a topic, more than the merit of the content, drives increased exposure.
2. The further content travels away from the source, the less likely the source will be mentioned.
3. The further content travels away from the source, the less accurate or tied to the source it will be.
4. Regardless of how accurate or tied to the source the content might be, people believe the content.
5. In some cases, negative sentiment toward an outlet generates a negative impression of the topic.
6. Many bloggers and media outlets cover topics with no knowledge of why the topic might be popular.
7. Communication, in this case a press release, shapes opinion well beyond measurable means of monitoring.
8. Over time, there is no means of communication management as the public shapes its opinion.
9. Most people have no knowledge of the public sentiment en masse; they only see their immediate contacts.
10. Some media outlets are lending credibility to biased sources, without vetting a single fact or original source.

It might make you wonder about the "news" we read today. Or, it might make some of us wonder how we, as communication professionals or public relations practitioners, are directly or indirectly shaping the world. Maybe.

Tuesday, January 12

Getting Attention: Shock And Sorry

"It's all about brand visibility and getting an ad out there. In a blogging and Twittering era everyone wants to do something worthy of talking about." — Paul Kurnit, author of the Little Blue Book of Marketing to Forbes.

In an effort to show that outdoor advertising works, The Outdoor Advertising Association launched a campaign to get attention in London. The creative, designed by the Beta Agency, was planned to run for 14 days on buses and buildings.

"Career women make bad mothers." — The Outdoor Advertising Association

The Outdoor Advertising Association gained attention. The ads came down after hundreds of moms expressed their outrage in forums. The Beta Agency offered its apology on a blog, claiming to have no idea the campaign would create outrage.

According to Game Change, a book about the 2008 presidential campaign quoted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) as he described why he thought Obama could win. Reid, though enamored by the candidate's speaking abilities, attributed it to Obama to being a “light skinned” black man.

People like Barack Obama "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." — U.S. Sen. Harry Reid

Reid apologized to the President on Saturday for the remarks. The President accepted and said he considers the issue closed. Sen. Reid is reported to have called many African-American leaders to extend his apology. He did not apologize to Americans, who he believed wouldn't vote for a candidate who seems "too black."

Kentucky Fried Chicken is running an advertisement in Australia that features a distressed white guy, surrounded by a crowd of black people at a cricket match, using chicken to get out of an "awkward situation."

"Need a tip when you're stuck in an awkward situation?" — Kentucky Fried Chicken

Kentucky Fried Chicken originally defended, claiming that its advertisement was never intended for the U.S., where the culturally-based stereotype exists. Australians are baffled by the controversy, but Kentucky Fried Chicken has since apologized and pulled the advertisement.

What people talk about is more important than how many people are talking.

P.T. Barnum was the one who originally coined the phrase "all publicity is good publicity," and there are plenty of marketers who are happy to quote him today. Of course, it was easy for Barnum to utter those words. He made himself a millionaire by promoting celebrated hoaxes and for founding the circus.

The question marketers sometimes forget to ask themselves is do they want their product, services, or persons to be associated as a hoax or a circus? Brands are fragile things. If they weren't, Tiger Woods would still be signed by AT&T.

No one really wants their name caught in a firestorm of negative press and public backlash. It's all too easy for such follies — whether contrived or accidental — to overshadow every other message. In every case above, deserved or not, the organizations, companies, and people were forced to put their messages aside in favor of apologies.

Don't misunderstand me. Kentucky Fried Chicken's advertisement doesn't really have any racial undertones unless people insert them (the ad featured different rugby fans in a country that doesn't understand chicken stereotyping); U.S. Sen. Reid demonstrated ignorance over malicious intent (dialects aren't racial as much as regional); and The Outdoor Advertising Association and its agency is either naive or lying to think such a loaded message wouldn't offend someone.

Sure, there is always the case to be made that people, especially Americans, have become hypersensitive to messaging. However, as marketers or communicators or consultants to public figures, it's our job to be aware of those hot buttons.

Equally important, on those occasions when mistakes are made, we need to help clients know when and what to apologize for. Kentucky Fried Chicken didn't need to apologize; pulling the advertisement was more than enough. U.S. Sen. Reid could have apologized to the American people; his statement clearly discredits the majority of Americans as being racist. The Outdoor Advertising Association ought to have apologized without clarification, especially because it knew exactly what it was doing.

The bottom line is that in a world where any communication might be amplified, marketers might be more sensitive to what those messages might be. If they aren't more sensitive, then they'll always risk having the message manage them more than they manage the message.

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