Gischeleman: "To Create With the Mind"
Posted on December 5, 2012 by Doug Haslam
The idea of specialization vs the idea of a more well-rounded approach is a long-running argument in PR and other communications disciplines. is it best to be an all-rounder or to specialize? The answer, most likely, is “Yes.”
One aspect of specialization is organizational, usually represented as silos. I recently got through reading “Marketing in the Round” by Gini Dietrich and Geoff Livingston. The primary importance of this book to me is that it reminds us that no communications function operates – or should operate – in a vacuum, independent of the rest of an organization’s efforts. Alas, most organizations tend to work inside the silos, meaning each specialty or department is often out of sync among the PR, marketing and advertising departments, either duplicating work or sending out mixed – or at least inconsistent – messages. It also means, to social media professionals, that departments are fighting over who owns social, and not letting social media bleed into the overall communications plan, with each department contributing their own expertise.
Another aspect of specialization is the individual’s (and sometimes an organization’s) talent specialization; as much as specialization within social media has proved its importance, the specialization of the players sometimes translates too much into specialization of the game. What do I mean by that? I have observed that so many social media marketers seem to talk about platform over strategy, or over more fundamental skills. In particular, many marketers I come into contact with talk nonstop about Facebook: Facebook ad strategies; Facebook metrics; Facebook Edgerank; Facebook page design. It’s not just Facebook, but that seems to be the prevalent crutch at the moment. What’s troubling is I see whole conversations, agencies, consultancies, perhaps even industries spring up around single platforms. The core skills, I argue, are not “Facebook.” They are communications, writing, design, whatever your specialty is. You had better be able to transfer those skills, as even if Facebook doesn’t collapse at some near-future point as in the wild-eyed Cassandran prognostications, chances are you may be leaving money on the table if you aren’t ready to diversify should the opportunity arise. I suspect most “Facebook specialists have the tools to pivot when needed, but why not just do it – and if they are doing it, why not reflect that better in their own marketing of themselves?
I’m not arguing against specialization. One thing I learned joining Voce Communications (now part of Porter Novelli) nearly three years ago is that specialization is needed to perform properly all the various parts of a larger communications program. And as in “Marketing in the Round,” even if you are responsible for one part – even if you claim that same role over and over – if you don’t have an eye on the bigger picture, including all of communications working together, then you may look up one day to see your specialty has set adrift.
Posted on November 28, 2012 by Doug Haslam
Through years of working with companies on their social media efforts, it has always been clear that the more human resources an organization puts behind its social channels, the more successful they will be. Typically, the better-run programs have had a person who, rather than multitasking across the communications departments, has the primary job of managing social channels, regardless of whether or not they had agency help. Why does this work? It’s a simple equation (to give all of us who work in social media a respite from some of the needlessly complicated calculations being thrown around): the greater the amount of dedication and focus to a task, the better the result. If social is thrown on the shoulders of an already-overburdened PR manager or marketing manager, then no amount of agency counsel and extra hands, and no amount of “social-savvy” on the part of the manager, is going to help them execute. It’s like trying to pat your head and rub your belly constantly for 40 hours a week.
What brought this to mind was an article I saw at Ragan.com. The author cites a study that Ragan and NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions conducted; it showed that 65% of social media pros responding to the study juggle other responsibilities alongside their social media duties. I’m not sure that’s surprising, but it does indicate a long way to go in companies giving these important communications programs the attention they warrant. I would like to see how those numbers compare to last year, as a positive (or negative) trend would tell me more than a static one-year figure. Other downbeat figures from the study included a mere 31% being “satisfied” or better with their social media programs, and only 13% considering their company’s programs “advanced.”
The last figure alarms me a little, as if there is one thing true about social media pros, we tend not to be shy or downplay our accomplishments and affiliations.
One more figure: the study cites these organizations keeping flat budgets from social for the three years through 2013. That directly contradicts other studies indicating an upward trend in spending, such as this one quoted in eMarketer in September.
What are the takeaways? To me, they are:
- Social Media Specialists Should Be in Demand: Social media has to have its own organizational “owner” – even if you are in good agency hands, an internal champion is key to advocacy and execution. If people try to juggle tasks or hand off execution to interns (or in the case of small businesses, the founder/owner) you could get horrific incidents like this most recent by the restaurant Pigalle in Boston.
- Social Media Programs Have Room for Improvement: This is an opportunity for both agencies and in-house communicators. While acceptance of social media continues to spread and more companies and communicators become comfortable needing and even implementing programs, there is doubt about the quality of programs, even if these figures are off – and again, I have my doubts about the budget claims.
- Be Suspicious of Data, Worship Trends: I can’t take these numbers and draw definitive conclusions. It’s one study, and even if you know the biases it is hard to adjust the real conclusions to account for them (for example, the Ragan/NASDAQ survey relied heavily on small businesses). If there is one thing we all learned from the 2012 presidential race (and the FiveThirtyEight blog), it’s that data rules only in aggregate, and even then with a wary eye and knowledge it could be wrong. Data Lies, Trends Don’t.
Full Ragan/NASDAQ Report Available at: http://web.ragan.com/raganforms/Structuring_A_Social_Media_Team.pdf
Posted on November 17, 2012 by Doug Haslam
For the last 15 years, I have spent most of my working time with agencies (PR, social media, communications). While in the PR world it was expressly the job, or so I believed, to stay in the background and “make the client famous,” the agency/client relationship has been more than that.
Let me back up a bit: the thing I, and I believe many others in my place, have struggled with over the years is the true definition of “agency.” The most important “feeling out” bit in agency life is figuring out where your authority as an external agent to act on the behalf of the client ends, and where the internal client needs to take over. In my early PR agency days, that tended to take the shape of setting up a relationship with a reporter, then fading back in the role of facilitator. Being an actual spokesperson was not only rare, but being quoted in a publication on behalf of a client was high on the list of work nightmares.
Social media comes along, bringing the role of the agency into question once again – how far to go in being an actual “agent?” The early fights were over “ghost-blogging” which, put simply, was hiring someone to write blog posts for you , in your voice, just as you would hire a speechwriter. Much of the disapproval was misplaced, as the crimes in these instances were not in actually doing it but doing it poorly. No matter who puts finger to keyboard, the voice has to be accurate. This was true back in my journalism career; a bullpen of producers would write copy for anchors to read and the copy had damn well better be in the voice of that day’s anchor (heaven help you if you wrote the word “particularly” for Steve or used too folksy a style for Bob). In other words, yes you can write words on behalf of someone else.
As social media platforms took various forms, managing the content for companies has become an industry. People expect companies to be “human” now and respond, or at least communicate, one-to-one and in real time (that expectation could be its own topic). That raises the stakes of the conundrum; when you speak to a company online, to whom are you really speaking. Of course, that’s where things get complicated – and is the source of the Twitter conversation captured below.
My take; an agency can certainly help perform the voice of the client when it comes to executing a social media program. The idea of agency as counsel is important and vital – helping a client define and express its voice, instructing it how to use it – but many still need help delivering on that promise. And with the strict proviso that it is done within parameters and mistake-free, then the public shouldn’t care where the social media “voice” they are talking to on a particular day is drawing their paycheck from.
One last thing: The Merriam-Webster definition of agent, as applied here, is thus: “One who is authorized to act for or in the place of another.” This is a great reminder of the fact that an agency’s role isn’t merely counsel, as important as that is. The role of an agent is based on trust to act on the client’s behalf. If you have that trust, there are a lot of things you can do.
Here is the conversation referenced above. Chris’ issue is a valid one; if the person representing the company is not doing their job, then it is a bad experience all around, and his impressions are probably common to many average “consumers.” However, the person doing their job poorly could just as easily be an internal person as an agency rep: and the lack of results could be the result of a larger problem: a poor business and communications philosophy.
Posted on November 13, 2012 by Doug Haslam
Every once in a while, someone I know professionally grandly announces that he or she is leaving a social media platform because it does not fit their needs. For some reason, that always bothers me. Why would someone in social media marketing – why would I – abandon a popular social platform, let alone announce that fact?
First, why should we question that? How each of us uses social media is personal. In the case of the post I saw today from Geoff Livingston, he decided to stop using Facebook to market himself because he felt it was, for him, a personal platform that should remain just that. I can respect that, I suppose, but I can’t see myself abandoning any platform I use with clients. I also am not trying to pick on Geoff (he writes, as he picks on Geoff), as I know there is more to the post than saying “Hey, a social marketer quit Facebook, that’s stupid.”
It did make me think, though – why not question it? By this measure I should abandon Google Plus because I get little to no traction there, or stop using LinkedIn because I represent a competitor (true, I refrain from talking about them publicly with this notable exception, but it is still part of our professional tool set); but I do neither.
Why? Here are the factors I consider as a social media professional using social media:
- My Personal Use of Social Platforms is Experimental: Even if I felt Facebook were irrelevant in most cases, I would still feel the need to keep a presence there, to know what makes it tick in case it works for someone. By that same token, we keep accounts on more obscure platforms and tools, to find things that work, or even to save a space – and know how to use it – in the event it becomes big. I can’t fathom leaving something behind unless it is truly dead (just don’t get caught being the one pronouncing something “dead”).
- Shiny Object Syndrome Turns Us All Into Dopes: Having just got through saying we should be on everything as communications professionals, we should also be wary of chasing shiny objects – and yes, I know saying that is old hat at this point, so stow it. That goes two ways: the first is not getting caught pronouncing something is big before it is just to declare yourself innovative (hello, Google Plus); the second is not dumping perfectly good tools chasing the new. I recall people declaring that LinkedIn- oops, there I go again – was dead and were abandoning it for Facebook. there is some tattered symmetry in Geoff’s pulling back from Facebook for exactly the opposite reason.
- As Marketers, We Must Use the Tools: We are often judged by how we wield the tools ourselves. Would I expect a potential client to take me seriously if I declared self-hosted blogs to be dead because Tumblr is cool? No more than I would expect them to appreciate my shunning Tumblr because I think it is stupid (I don’t, by the way).
I appreciate that someone like Geoff has already shown an ability to use Facebook and will likely do so for clients. I also recognize that there are no (none, zero) absolutes in what I say. But for me, I’m not going to hop platforms in opposition to the logic of my work any more than I would hop lines at the supermarket because I think the next one is going faster (oh wait, I do that – see? No absolutes).
Posted on November 8, 2012 by Doug Haslam
I understand the need for provocative statements (heck, my last post here led off with “Experts are Useless), so perhaps I should not be quick to judge the statement “You won’t need a website by 2015!” However:
A friend brought this Tweet from the recent Inbound Marketing UK Summit to my attention. As someone who preaches, along with my colleagues, that owning your own online content platform (such as a Web site or blog), this statement seemed patently ridiculous; a bold, unprovable statement made by someone trying to get attention, à la the folks five or six years ago who claimed that “print would be dead in five years.”
Of course, I don’t know the full context of the statement this Tweeter gushed about, so I won’t be too harsh without that knowledge. However, the statement taken alone is, of course, silly.
On the other hand, there is one way to predict you don’t need a website in 2015 – perhaps you don’t need one now.
Sure, non-owned platforms are a great place to put “owned media,” the content you create. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube work wonderfully; but what happens if any of those go away or become undesirable? An acquaintance in one of the Facebook groups I frequent asked that very question recently, as he wondered about old MySpace content in an age where he is focusing on Facebook. If he can do that successfully, what then when there is no Facebook? Move everything again?
Taking this to a higher level; what you do need is a place you own– maybe not your web site (or blog), maybe it’s something else – but it’s something that you own, where you have control. Here is a quick, not-at-all well thought out list of things you might need:
- Web site (let’s keep that here, shall we, even though it’s 2015 and everyone has flying cars, orgasmatrons and food synthesizers)
- Online store (maybe you don’t call that your “web site.” I love semantics, bring it on)
- Your bank account (this may or may not be via an online store, but getting people’s cash directly? Who needs a web site, content or even a product? Well, ok, a product might be necessary)
- Your ego (There. it’s ok to use Blogger)
- Your phishing database (see: “Bank Account,” above)
Posted on November 2, 2012 by Doug Haslam
This past week, a friend asked me to lend my expertise on charity fundraising, based on my long-time participation in the Pan-Mass Challenge to fight cancer. While she didn’t use the word “expert,” a call for advice reeks of leaning on someone for “expertise.” I don’t consider myself an expert in charity fundraising – there are many people who raise more money for that event than I do. But here’s the thing. I have done it. I had some real, practical advice on what has succeeded, what hasn’t and things I have thought about trying – but haven’t – that my friend might consider.That’s real “expertise” – something, based on experience, that others can use.
There is a lot of pressure on people in the consulting industries to be considered “experts.” The problem with that is it either encourages people to stumble outside their real area of expertise, or it forces people who would rather not lead with their ego to call themselves such against their will, even if the credentials are in place. I address the latter in the first paragraph; you can relate expertise without placing yourself above others.
In early blogging days when I was more prone to write these “how you blog” navel-gazing posts, I might write something about swallowing self-doubt and plunging in the deep end with the rest of the self-professed. Another thing: attending conferences over the last several years, I have seen a reliance on the “experts” as speakers; these people may have real-world experience, or they may be “professional speakers” far removed from what got them there – and what you need to move forward. I’m still for marshaling the confidence to show your skills, but am more likely to temper that with a “show me” request. Don’t rely on opinions, tell us about your experience.
Back to the conferences: what I crave when I go are case studies – research too, but I really want to hear how people are doing things and how they solved problems. What’s the state of (in my case) social media in your industry? Tell me what you did. The generic “motivational” speaking (and book writing) isn’t doing it for me any more.
How do you use experience to show true expertise? I keep these things in mind:
- Experience: As stated above, base what you say on what you did – what worked, what didn’t, and the roads you didn’t travel
- Trust: I don’t trust merely on name recognition and perceived celebrity. I want your calling card to be accomplishment. You didn’t have to start a social media program at a Fortune 500 company from scratch, but just show me what you did and how you did it
- Humility: I’m not saying you shouldn’t tout your accomplishments or not say your are great at what you do. I’m just saying be relatable. Don’t be a celebrity, even if it’s among your co-workers, your community, or your industry colleagues. Be a resource, and be willing to her counter-arguments (Note: I’m not talking about false humility; if you use the term “humblebrag” I’ll probably tune you out as there is no such thing).
- Willingness to Help: Your reputation as someone with expertise or experience is measured by how much you use it to help others. Lend an ear, donate time, teach a class, go out for that coffee. People deserve your help just as much as you deserved that of others.
What are your thoughts on experts and experience?
Posted on October 30, 2012 by Doug Haslam
The concept of “Newsjacking” has become popular in PR circles lately, thanks to a book by David Meerman Scott. Truth is, while “newsjacking” is of recent coinage, the concept – using current events and breaking news as a hook for public relations pitches – is not at all new.
What remains current, if not new, is the need to educate people on how to do this without seeming like an opportunistic stain on society. Just yesterday (as I write this), my friends at Hubspot wrote a post, “5 Hurricane Sandy Newsjacks From Marketers,” taking the idea from David, a friend of Hubspot, and applying it to the then-raging Hurricane Sandy. To be fair, Hubspot puts out a lot of excellent content as well, including much that is lighter in tone, trying to ride the line between content publisher and marketing software company. This post, I suspect, was supposed to be in that vein.
However, here’s where slippery judgment applies. Among the tips were a Pinterest board on “Hurricane Hair” and another suggestion for giving beauty tips for riding out the storm. Considering hurricanes are frequently deadly (16 dead according to the October 30 morning news), not to mention massive flooding, power outages, displacements, and damage, this is dodgy advice at best. Perusing the comments on that post, you can see that the Hubspot folks got an earful – and at least one friend who works here acknowledged that there were issues with the post (ETA: Hubspot’s CMO, Mike Volpe, added a preamble to the post that directly addresses – and accepts – the criticism and calls for more dialogue about the line between good and bad taste). More telling, David Meerman Scott himself commented, then wrote his own post to make sure that his concept of “Newsjacking” did not include vulture-like behavior during a natural disaster.
There are ways, even in more serious issues, that one can offer up PR over a serious story, but there bar for good taste is extremely high. A few tips:
- Don’t Sell: Selling is usually a bad idea. Beauty products to get you through a storm? No. Placing ads in local media if you are selling generator may be helpful, but make sure you are helping people who may be in trouble, or just stay out of the way
- Use Your Expertise to Help: A colleague’s client, an expert in business continuity, placed an article with tips for communicators to keep things going when systems may get shut down. In this case, the expertise was clear, as was the target audience, and in my opinion the tone was not overly frivolous in the face of potential disaster.
- If You Have to Ask, Shut Up: The Great Bogeyman of modern media relations disasters as regards newsjacking dates back to 2001, where a post September-11 pitch for a service not even closely related to the national tragedy went out. Just read the reaction story in the Wall Street Journal here. Most commonly, companies delay announcements and steer clear of urgent news stories. That’s a good thing.
I’m sure the Hubspot don’t want the concept of “newsjacking” to get a black eye, in what they intended to be a light-hearted post. I know David Meerman Scott doesn’t want that black eye. I don’t either, but there is a slippery slope to repeating what happened to that poor PR flak in 2001. Newsjacking has its place, just not here.
Additional Reading: Danny Brown, “There’s Nothing Savvy About Marketing or Newsjacking Disasters”
Posted on October 26, 2012 by Doug Haslam
The following is one of the snottiest public tweakings of a court of law I have seen, not that I go looking for this sort of thing. In Cupertino, Apple calls it “Friday.”
The lawsuits Apple pursued against Samsung alleging the latter copied the iPad design for its Galaxy tablets has been reported elsewhere better than I will explain, but there is this: in the UK, Apple did not win at least part of its argument, and the judge ordered Apple to publicly apologize to alert the British public that the Samsung products are indeed not knockoffs of the iPad. Sounds unusual to me, the legal naïf, but there you go.
After losing on appeal, Apple did as ordered, including posting the apology on its own web site. If you read that link, you may note that apple was hardly contrite, choosing instead to mock Samsung, and by extension the British legal system, in the process.
Of course, Apple fanboys (and girls) likely saw this as a clever display of Apple’s omnipotence and superiority in design, as a PR professional my first reaction was: could any client get away with such hubris? The answer, of course, is no – unless you are Apple, where hubris is their PR.
With any other PR client, a letter like that would be the start – or escalation – of a crisis. For Apple, it’s “Thursday.” Such is life in the tech world.
Posted on October 24, 2012 by Doug Haslam
We all hate buzzwords, right? Don’t we want to kill them dead before they do more harm? Having been in PR for many years now, I am well familiar with the “Buzzword Bingo” games that pop up on occasion to ridicule the marketing – and tech-speak that make some of us sound silly when we’re really trying to sound clever. Journalists, of course, dedicated their lives to eradicating buzzwords, though usually settled for mocking them publicly instead.
How bad are buzzwords, though? do we really know the difference between a word meant as shorthand for something meaningful and a word used as a lazy shortcut, with the meaning largely ignored?
Buzzwords, of course, are a big-time problem in the social media circus. Engage, guru, influence, monetize, it goes on and on.
However, a real problem has cropped up: sometimes we can’t tell when something is a buzzword or simply, um, not quote really a buzzword because it’s backed up with meaning and practicality.
Just the other day, people I know were a little taken aback at this Tweet:
To be honest, this is the kind of thing I am bound to tweet
on occasion often. shooting from the hip, especially on the character-limited palette that Twitter is, is a fun sport, and yes, it can ruffle feathers – but can also spark discussion.
The reason some were taken aback was that a very well-written book titled “Humanize” – was co-authored by Maddie Grant, someone I consider a friend and who would probably disagree that it is a meaningless term.
in Amber Naslund’s defense* (and I’m certainly not trying to single her out here – we both were among a group that subsequently discussed this buzzword issue on Facebook) I doubt she was referring to the book, but to a wider use of the team by people that were quite likely beating it into meaninglessness. I feel much the same way about “Social Business,” which gets bandied about by people who want to sound smart and frequently fail, but also is used by serious people, such as those at the Community Roundtable and IBM, to describe a considered way of doing business.
Heck, we’re not sure “social” really means what it should anymore. Much of what people call social media are publishing programs – great efforts which may or may not be strictly social.
So – buzzwords or useful? Another factor- sometimes we just need a clever shorthand. Editors certainly need catchy book titles. It’s just a matter of whether or not we keep substance and meaning percolating behind the terms. It also means that perhaps we don’t dismiss words so readily– or at least be ready, as Amber was, to see that people are ready to defend and explain a meaningful term where some of us see only gloss and buzz.
Please feel free to engage by joining the conversation below in comments. Whether you are a guru or trust agent, I’m sure we can create a real-time groundswell or revolution..or something.
*I consider Amber a friend as well – that’s what happens when we get into these industries when we’re all blogging and Tweeting at each other – we have to learn to have disagreements and move on; thick skins are helpful.
Posted on October 19, 2012 by Doug Haslam
In my work, metrics are a big deal. If you don’t measure the success of your social media program, or measure what’s going on before you get started, you can’t see where you’re going, where you have been, or where you are now. It doesn’t matter what you measure – well, actually it does, but different programs, companies and people might measure different things – but it’s important to quantify your assets and results.
That said, I go back to my favorite made-up “wise saying” about metrics: data lies, trends don’t. Ok, so quantify, but you really want to qualify.
How can data lie, you might ask? four is four, one million is one million. But here is where trends, and just as important, context, come in: perhaps those four are the only four you need, perhaps that one million has…four good ones, whether they be site visitors, social media followers…start to get the picture?
Data is meaningless without context and interpretation – without divining trends and meaning.
How does data lie? Take the hackneyed “best time to Tweet” data, helpfully posed by numerous social media nerds. Yes, it is helpful to think about. Did someone say 5pm? It’s always 5pm somewhere (Happy Hour!). What day at 5pm? What kind of Tweets? What do people do with these Tweets? Is it a good time to get ReTweets? Responses? Click-throughs? Do certain topics or types of content get better response than others? The superficial reports are great for discussion but are useless for action. Christopher Penn, never prone to silliness, put the lie to the shallow end of science by posting recently, at 8:42 am, but discovering that people who responded were from all over the world (well past Happy Hour in Australia, yes?)
What about social media growth numbers? First, those can be anything – growth in followers, likes or subscribers, rate of engagement (any actions people take on your content, such as comments or replies). Second, they are dependent. There is no such thing as a straight line. Perhaps a campaign meant you had great numbers in October. Is that great or expected? Does the inevitable letdown mean bad news, or have you set expectations? Does your data settle higher than it was before the spike in numbers? What is your six-month trend line?
There are a lot of question marks in this post, but that is the point: you should always be asking questions – and answering them, rather than letting the number speak for themselves.
Numbers are stupid. And they lie. Give them a voice, and give them meaning. If you are in social media marketing, that’s your job.
Yes, Bleep You Data! (Ok, I don’t swear much here, but this clip has a NSFW word in it – couldn’t resist)
ETA: A Facebook conversation with Matt Ridings showed another side of this concept; he remarked on what he can tell about people “based upon whether you text ‘haha’ or ‘Ha Ha’.” In the course of the conversation, it became clear that factors outside of the conversation – age, dempgraphics, tech-savvy – have a lot of weight in deciding how true that is. You just can’t escape contextual analysis of data (or facts).
ETA2: I omitted one of my favorite examples of not letting data get in the way of the truth. Nate Silver, whose Five Thirty-Eight blog runs in the New York Times, is one of my early influences in this line of thought. His insistence on looking down on individual poll results in favor of aggregating polls to tell the greater, more accurate (but still with reservations) story is a model example.
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