Influence is Influence: Social Media and the Role of Public Relations

Posted on November 18, 2009 by Comments Off

As Promised, here’s our deck from the Ragan Conference yesterday. Thanks for everyone who came and participated.

Embargoes — To Be or Not to Be

Posted on November 6, 2009 by Comments Off

Jennifer Houston, Senior Vice President, WE Studio D

embargoesIn the midst of the communications cataclysm that we’re in, it is as important to bring forward those practices that will always be imperative, and then adapt and evolve the areas where the practice of communications dictates change.

Today’s topic: embargoes — strategic tool or purveyor of doom and gloom?

The debate and discussion about embargoes continued relevance has been a hot topic of late but has been called into question for years. In fact, my friend Frank X. Shaw has been in that lion’s den since at least 2008, see his blog post then and again more recently. Frank’s point — he’s embargo neutral — if you follow the usage rules.

We know the rules have gotten more complex in this post-digital age: more info, less time, hotter competition for eyeballs, more outlets, etc. It is easy to understand why branded media (traditional and emerging outlets alike) struggle with embargoes. On one hand, they’re given the magic of time to assess and analyze the news and the story they plan to tell. But is that fair to expect in the natural tension between who-can-get-it-out-the-fastest and journalistic rigor?

Do we expect analysis and context, or should we expect speed and information before the next guy has it? First to market with a story tends to get the lion’s share of the traffic. When an embargo breaks down, it means not only real money, but reputations.

We felt the topic so important, that last week we brought a group of industry influencers together in the Valley to discuss and debate. The result — an incredible demonstration of passion for the art of news in the web 2.0 world.

This is why we’re taking a recent MSN re-design embargo break down so seriously. We goofed. And we understand the impact — on the influencers brands, time, and even work/life balance (is there such a thing?). So we thought we’d share our learning’s with you — taking the discussion from debate to practical application.

Here’s the case study:

  • The visual nature of the new MSN design called for a communications strategy that enabled us to show and tell influencers what was new not only with the product but with the business overall. Given the breadth of influencers we were working to reach we did employ an embargo approach in advance of the product rolling out.   
  • Embargo broke due to technical complications of an automatic posting.
  • We learned of the post and began reaching out to those who were holding to the embargo. Here’s where we’re kicking ourselves: in our effort to be speedy, a few misfires occurred in email and we didn’t connect with some individuals. Because of this, there were some who heard the embargo was broken up to 45 minutes later, which lead to understandably angry influencers.

What did we learn?

First, I think we’re less neutral about embargoes. If we were middle of the road earlier in the week, we’re likely even more conservative and rigorous moving forward. Will we abandon embargoes all together: nope. Will we have an even higher bar for use of the tool: you bet.

Second, there is a difference between news and context. Here’s where we get to lament the shrinking of long-form journalism. And we must all much better match content delivery to the needs of our influencers.

Third (and most importantly), at the end of the day, it’s still always about trust. We’ve gotten in the negative column this week. We’re determined to earn it back.

Let us know your thoughts…

Counter-Insurgency Marketing

Posted on September 9, 2009 by Comments Off

Tac Anderson, Digital Consulting Director, WE Studio D

content guerrillas

I know I said we should abandon military analogies in marketing but I was wrong. There are just too many cool examples. Here’s one we’ve been working on:

The traditional world of marketing and media are under an attack. An insurgency has formed and the tides have turned in their favor. Corporations cannot win this battle using the same old tactics.

Insurgents capitalize on societal problems, often called gaps; counter-insurgency addresses closing the gaps. When the gaps are wide, they create a sea of discontent, of which Mao wrote “the guerrilla must swim in the people as the fish swims in the sea.”

An insurgency cannot be fought traditionally because it is fought by and/or supported by the people.

[A] popular insurgency has an inherent advantage over any occupying force.

So long as the insurgency maintains popular support, it will retain all of its strategic advantages of mobility, invisibility, and legitimacy in its own eyes and the eyes of the people. So long as this is the situation, an insurgency essentially cannot be defeated by regular forces.

As long as armies have occupied hostel territories there have been insurgencies. And with very few exceptions, insurgencies eventually win.

There are three main tactics for fighting an insurgency:

Crushing Brute Force

This is the “Shack and Awe” approach. This is a bit of a gamble and really requires the acceptance that you will hurt (and kill) countless bystanders. This is the approach the RIAA has tried to take with file sharing.

Cut off Support

Lay siege and cut off all food, water or support. This is very hard to do. On one level I think this is what Murdock and the WSJ are trying to do. But locking yourself behind really high walls is the opposite of a siege. Hope he has lots of food and water.

Paramilitary Operations

This is the “fight fire with fire” approach. The only real way to beat an insurgency is to win back popular support. Paramilitary officers become guerrillas.

It occurred to various commanders that soldiers trained to operate as guerrillas would have a strong sense of how to fight guerrillas.

They are fully trained intelligence officers with all the clandestine skills that come with that training. These officers often operate in remote locations behind enemy lines to carry out direct action.

This is why I’m so passionate about the shifting capabilities of PR professionals. They use better intelligence, better tools but the same tactics. At WE Studio D we’ve been calling them Content Guerrillas and in a future post I’ll go into more detail about how we deploy them.

All of my quotes, which have been pulled from various Wikipedia pages, with notes and more can be found in my Insurgency Diigo list.

“Play, Create, Share” — a video game genre or PR philosophy?

Posted on July 9, 2009 by Comments Off

Shaan Khan, Writing Coordinator

About a year ago, Sony launched a PS3 game called “Little Big Planet” (LBP), which was also the launch of a new game genre called “Play, Create, Share.”

LittleBigPlanetOn the surface LBP is a fairly standard side-scrolling platformer, meaning it works somewhat like “Super Mario Bros.”: you move left to right, up or down, jumping over obstacles, defeating monsters and solving puzzles. The graphics are cutesy and Sackboy, the protagonist, became a popular video game icon well before the game was even released. (I noticed him on the desktop background of one of my co-workers, who very likely isn’t familiar with the actual game.)

What makes this game so different from a lot of what’s out there is that it offers a level creator as well as the ability to add your own graphics as in-game textures. Text bubbles can also be added to appear at certain points throughout the level. While many first-person shooter games have level editors and creators, LBP offers an unparalleled level of customization and the ability to share your levels with other players over Sony’s PlayStation Network. A quick search on Youtube reveals the wide variety of levels people have created, some of which are astoundingly complex (and are not really levels, so to speak):

And others for romance:

When gamers search for available levels, key words pop up that users have written to describe those levels in word cloud form, with more popular words appearing larger.

As a game, “Little Big Planet” is breaking new ground, and I think it speaks to a larger trend we’re seeing in how not just games, but all forms of interaction, are increasingly becoming online social experiences.

And the message ‘Play, Create, Share”–isn’t this essentially what PR is heading toward? Just today I was reading about a Twitter-related event one of our competitors is putting on to promote their Twitter strategy: Follow, Create, Engage. Besides the word counts, the ideas are strikingly similar–coincidental, I’m guessing, but not surprising.

Online play is practically a standard feature in any game these days, and it is inevitable that gamers will expect to have greater control over the content, whether it’s simple character accessories or full-on level and world creation. Giving gamers more control over the game content, combined with the changing and expanding gamer demographic, will make consoles a more important platform for clients to engage their audiences on.The industry might not quite be there yet, but it will be soon.

Market Recovery Will Only Accelerate Marketing Trends

Posted on June 25, 2009 by Comments Off

Tac Anderson, Digital Consulting Director

Market Recovery Will Only Accelerate Marketing Trends

Publicis CEO Maurice Levy’s recent prediction that advertising recovery will start next month is just one of many, especially from the media industry. But I can’t help but to think that this is just market bolstering from the people who have the most to lose/gain.

Levy and others are really smart and I value their opinions but unless you’re willing to call not being in a free-fall I’m just not buying it. We may flatten but I don’t think we can expect much market-wide growth.

The more important point to make is that market recovery will only accelerate trends.

Traditional marketing and advertising is hurting. Companies are de-investing in these mediums but I can tell you from personal experience that digital and social marketing are growing faster than most of us can handle.

When the market does recover do you honestly think companies will re-invest in traditional marketing?

No! It will only accelerate the move to digital and social marketing.

If you’re not ready now for that transition you’d better hope the market doesn’t turn around yet.

Appeal to Your Audience’s Canine Sensibilities

Posted on June 12, 2009 by Comments Off

Mark Hanson, Writer

Like most any dog, my chocolate Lab Bryna’s favorite activities are napping and playing fetch. When she’s busy doing one of those activities, it usually takes some serious effort for her to transition to the other. This is a subtle nuance that Cecelia, my 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter, fails to grasp.

Tired dogFor instance, the other night, while Bryna was blissfully lounging on the living room floor, Cecelia placed two of Bryna’s chew toys at the far end of the hall and yelled “Bryna, fetch!” Of course, Bryna remained steadfast and unmoved at my feet, dominated by the lazy side of her canine sensibilities.

Not wanting to miss a valuable teaching moment, I had Cecelia fetch me one of the chew toys, whereupon I began taunting Bryna. Within seconds, her attention was firmly focused on said toy and she was ready to play the game of fetch Cecelia so greatly desired.

So what does this story have to do with PR and marketing? It’s a wonderful example and reminder of how we can’t assume our audience is ready and waiting to read our story, watch our video or listen to our podcast. They have many other things competing for their attention. Getting them to drop what they’re doing requires more than the simple knowledge that if they read your story they’ll learn about something that will benefit them.

Whenever we write a story, script or blog post, our first thought must be grabbing our audience’s attention, not communicating our key message or unique selling proposition. In some cases the two may be identical, but there’s a subtle nuance that we must not fail to grasp. If we fail at the outset then everything that follows will fail as well, and our intended audience will remain steadfast and unmoved from its current position.

What PR Can Learn From Nine Inch Nails

Posted on June 11, 2009 by Comments Off

Tac Anderson, Digital Consulting Director

Trent ReznorIf this guy gets it, then surely you can too. Despite his appearance, his lifestyle or your opinion of his music Trent Reznor is a very savvy business person. He’s an even better marketer.

Faced with the decline of the recording industry the complete disruption of the business model and the rise of social media Reznor took the smartest approach anyone could have taken:

I found myself realizing that for me to have any concept of how to interact with the community and know what they might want / what they find appropriate, I need to immerse myself in that world and live it for a while. The reason no record label knows how to market anything to new media is they don’t live there. They don’t get it because they don’t use it.

If you have not yet adopted this approach for you and your team you’re being left behind.

Ultimately Reznor decided to leave Twitter because it wasn’t providing value. Along the way he discovered a lot of useful tools, including building his own social network for his fans and an iPhone app that pulls content from that site along with music. But he wouldn’t have known what would work until he tried it.

Neither will you.

If You Care About Your Job in Marketing and PR, Read This Post

Posted on June 5, 2009 by Comments Off

Tac Anderson, Digital Consulting Director

Social Media Marketing Madness

I know there are still some social media hold outs among you. Of course, if you are a holdout you probably aren’t reading this. Let’s try this again.

We all know some social media holdouts. I’m not talking about your grandma. I’m talking about in the field of marketing and PR. Forward this blog to them. I’d like to talk to them for a minute.

Hi. Your friend who cares about your future as a marketing and PR professional is worried about you. Unless you’re retiring in a few years you need to wake up. (And seriously does anyone really think they’re ever going to retire?)

You’re asking yourself: What is the big deal about social media? Why do people think that anyone cares enough about what they have to say that they start blogging or twittering?  If you don’t know, you are obviously not involved.

I often refer to myself as a phenomenologist. Phenomenology is a type of research, that comes from the field of anthropology. It requires the researcher to experience that which they are studying as a complete participant, not as an outside observer.

If you really want to understand what all the hype is, get involved. At least try it out. Start reading blogs. Start your own blog, you can even keep it private until you get comfortable. At least start an account on Twitter (come on, you know you’re curious).

There is a whole new level of collaboration and innovation that is happening on the web, and if you’re not involved, you are missing it. Even if you’re reading blogs and watching what’s happening, you won’t be getting the full advantage the social web has to offer.

And I promise you that if want to even have a chance at any type of job security coming out of this economy, you had better at least understand the tools. Would you hire someone who couldn’t use word processing software really well? Personally I wouldn’t hire someone who couldn’t use social media really well.

Yes, social media is overhyped.  No Facebook is not all it’s cracked up to be. Twitter is cool, but not THAT cool (OK, maybe it is).  But collectively the power of all of these new mediums and platforms combined is revolutionizing the way that people communicate and collaborate.

The businesses that “get it” will have a significant advantage. This is was a case of first mover advantage. Now it’s a case of self preservation. If you play the “wait and see” game any longer, it will be too late. And just for the record, no you do not have to be an expert, just proficient.

How can you figure out if this is the right thing for you and your company or what is the best way to implement it? Become a phenomenologist.

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