Tuesday, April 10, 2012

PR and the Twitter Convert

I consider myself converted.
When I first started my Public Relations and Digital Media course and saw that part of my coursework would involve blogging and tweeting my interest was peaked. I expected it would be a nice break from the usual type of assignment. Still, I had some reservations. I  had previously started a blog but somehow I never kept up with it. I had a Twitter account but I only used it to follow a few interesting people and organizations. I was a consumer, not a producer.

However, I knew I would have to start posting now. Surprisingly, I’ve started to enjoy it and I’m even willing to tweet about things that are not related to this course. I have been almost overwhelmed by the amount of information tweeted about public relations but I enjoy keeping up to date and sharing my findings.

In addition, I have a greater appreciation for what one can do with 140 characters. I used to think Twitter was only for frivolous thoughts and gossip but now II realize how it can be used for serious news and information. The video below shows in  a  rather humorous way many of the concerns and questions which newbies often have about Twitter. For example, do I really want strangers to know what I’m doing every minute of the day? Should my communication with my friends be open to “outsiders”?. I realize now that while some people choose to use the service in this way, many use it for timely, important updates only.

As Douglas Idugboe  notes “A couple of years back, it would have been hard to imagine a
micro-blogging service, all of 140 characters messages and that too not landing directly in your Inbox could be used as an effective means for maintaining public relations.” However, Twitter is now seen as a way to help PR people reach a wider audience while  helping businesses to improve their real-time customer. It also helps organizations to monitor what is being said about their brand.

As an aspiring strategic communicator I see the value in this even if as an individual I don’t want to share all my personal information with the world.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

PR and Collective Action

Photo from What Culture
Many of us are too young to remember when snail mail was the primary method of communication. Many of us remember, but would rather forget, when mobile phones were not ubiquitous and we could only reach our friends when they were at home. None of us wants to think about how hard  it would have been to make plans or as is inevitable, change plans.We struggle to remember how we survived before the internet was so widely available, and soon, we'll find it hard to imagine a world without a Facebook or Twitter-like platform.

This is because one of the benefits of digital media is that they make communication, collaboration and collective action easier. Never before has it been less time consuming or costly to spread the word about anything ranging from  a bake sale to a flash mob or protest. Not only can people and groups organize without formal organizations but they can also do so without an intermediary.
While this would be welcomed by civil society or protest groups, it can cause some problems for companies and organizations who are still trying to get the hang of social media.

Photo from engadget
As Anthony Bradley and Mark McDonald write in this Harvard Business Review article "using social media to accomplish a meaningful purpose involves more than providing new technology and praying for success. Successful mass collaboration places new requirements on an organization, particularly its managers". They note that while many organizations are technically ready for social media,  managers may not yet be ready to embrace new ways of working collaboratively to achieve social success. Managers usually rely on control and .the assertion of authority while social media-based collaboration is most effective when there is no single individual in charge.

Ordinary people, however, seem to understand more fully just how radically digital media have changed the game. According to Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody  new tools give life to new forms of action which challenge existing institutions by "eroding the institutional monopoly on large-scale coordination". Shirky notes that geographical location is no longer a hindrance to collaboration  and organizations which saw geography as a core organizing principle are now facing challenges.

Importantly, like the writers mentioned above, Shirky stresses that social tools don't create collective action but simply remove obstacles to it. "Revolution doesn't happen when society adopts new technologies - it happens when society adopts new behaviours," he says.

For me this poses two main questions for PR practitioners: 1. How do we plan strategically for the collective action of consumers or publics when protests/boycotts can be organized so quickly  via social media and 2. How do we get managers to relinquish some of their control in order to fully take advantage of new collaborative technologies?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

PR Revolves Around People

When I saw Brian Solis tweet that social media is about social science and not technology it piqued my interest and I knew it was a link I had to follow. Firstly, because I've studied the social sciences and I wanted to see how he would develop this point  but also because I firmly believe that social media, like public relations, is about people in the final analysis.

 Arguing that in new media we often put technology ahead of people, Solis said 77 per cent of  brand managers and marketers believed they knew who their social customer was although only 53 per cent had asked their customers what they wanted. According to Solis: "It’s time to get informed and emotional about customers. Doing so opens the doors to new touchpoints that are emerging and those that have already surfaced."

The idea of getting emotional about customers is not that far fetched and may indeed be a most advantageous practice. According to Nigel de Bussy in the SAGE Handbook on Public Relations, "engaging with stakeholders should be one of the most important core competencies of public relations". He notes that in customer oriented organizations managers believe the customer is king or queen and take the time to get to know them personally. Such organizations always listen to customers and they do everything possible to give them what they want.

As many organizations and even PR practitioners try to catch up or keep up with all the changes in technology and social media, many tend to focus on the number of "likes" their Facebook page gets or the number of times a message is retweeted. While these are not completely useless measurements, they fail to capture the experiences of customers and other publics. Is the organization meeting its public's needs? Are consumer concerns being addresed on social media fora in a timely manner?

 Michael Kent (also in the SAGE Handbook) suggests that the future of social media and PR lies in embracing technologies as tools capable of solving problems and engaging publics in real world issues. As it stands, he argues that we currently study tweets but not publics. I would suggest that organizations use social media as a way of continuing and enhancing their relationships with their publics instead of hoping that technology can create those very important linkages. Public relations and social media revolve around interaction and regardless of how technology evolves, the actions, thoughts and feelings of people remain key.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

PR Lessons from Kony 2012

Over the past week one global campaign has solidified what we all have come to accept: social media has the unparalleled ability to harness people power across the world. The KONY2012 campaign, which is essentially about drumming up the support of Americans for the arrest of African warlord Joseph Kony, has spread across the world.

While the initial thirty minute video raised awareness about the situation in Uganda, subsequent information has sought to deny that the situation still exists to the extent shown in the film which was shot in 2003. Among the onslaught of detractors have been those who criticized the ethics, mission and management of Invisible Children suggesting that the campaign is about oil exploration rather than war and violence against children.

It's easy to take a polarized view of the situation: a noble non-profit seeking to right injustices versus a capitalist-driven thirst for another nation's treasure. But the campaign and the responses which are following should serve as a lesson for, PR practitioners, businesses and non-profits. The film impresses upon us how social and political issues in one part of the world can be brought to the attention of people thousand of miles away.

As public relations practitioners it is unlikely that we will ever have as dramatic a subject as children being dragged from their beds and forced to become killers but there's a lot to said for being passionate about a cause and having the skills and resources to devise a campaign which is so attention-grabbing. Subject matter aside, one of the most compelling aspects of the Invisible Children video is the actual production. The videography stands out and the emotional appeals are effective.

However, the responses to the film and campaign are the other side of the coin. The LA Times  notes that this situation is demonstrating that "digital media attention can be a double-edged sword".

"It certainly hits at the strength and the weakness of new media," said communications professor Barbie Zelizer, a fellow with the Stanford Center for Advanced Study who studies news images in the world's crisis regions.
"They are undeniably faster, but they are also undeniably less reliable. It's great when things go fast and they are correct. It's not great when they go fast and they are not correct," she says in the LA Times article.

As time goes on, reactions may get even more attention than the original video. This too is a lesson for those thinking about undertaking social media campaigns. If your argument or proposition isn't sound (and maybe even if it is), it is likely that critics will air their views...loudly. And there is little you can do about it.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

PR Practitioner Extraordinaire?

It is now accepted that social media has changed the way individuals relate to each other as well as the way organizations can communicate with their publics. Information can be shared across the globe within seconds and it’s not uncommon for people to get impatient or even agitated when information isn’t quickly forthcoming.

This puts pressure on public relations practitioners to distribute accurate information in a very short space of time. If they don’t, rumours and biased stories can spread like wildfire via twitter, facebook and instant messaging applications.

But let’s be fair. The buck very often does not stop at the PR official. They usually have to wait for someone higher up the corporate latter to first recognize or agree that information need to be shared. Even when this is accomplished, getting a CEO to handover this information in a timely manner can be another challenge. Then there’s the issue of making it available in multiple formats so all relevant consumers can be reached.

Top official buy-in was a challenge even when “timely” meant in time for the next day’s newspaper publication. Now that almost instant communication is demanded, the need for PR practitioners to be included in the dominant coalition has never been more clear. This would speed up the time in which information can be prepared and distributed.

The uploading of information online may also require practitioners to be skillful at various technological applications. Consumers don’t necessarily want to read drawn out press releases. They may prefer a podcast or a video; maybe even a real-time chat with a company representative. It is for this reason that Key suggests that suggests the need for a new kind of PR agency which brings together the best minds from traditional PR sectors, content development, technology and others.

Are PR organizations moving towards diversifying their staff complement? Or are traditional practitioners being asked to perform new roles for which they may be under-prepared?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Here we go...

Hello everyone!

This blog forms part of my coursework for my Public Relations and Digital Media course. All posts after this one will reflect my readings and opinions on this area.

However, for our introductory post we were asked to link to, and write about, anything online that we like. I thought long and hard about my interests and what would make a good first impression. I thought about music and fashion blogs, cricket websites and online games but in the end I decided I would write about facebook.
Cartoon credit: geekandpoke

As the graphic above humorously shows, facebook is an integral part of some people's lives. For, me between working and studying it serves as a place of respite. It's where i catch up on the lives of new and old friends - some of whom I've never met in person - check out new products and services, read the news and yes, play games. Technical glitches notwithstanding, Cafe World is a daily activity for me; one where I become engrossed in quests and challenges with almost as much intensity as if it were a real restaurant.

Facebook caters to several aspects of who I am. Not only am I a citizen of Barbados interested in current affairs but I'm also a business journalist looking for interesting leads and a twenty-something year old woman with an eye for all things fashion. Furthermore, I'm an aspiring PR practitioner who is keen on seeing how professionals and companies use social networks to raise awareness, influence behaviour and manage issues and risk.

Essentially, facebook allows me to keep track of many of my interests in one convenient location.