The Art of Social – NEW Media

It wasn’t so long ago that uttering the term “social media” conjured images of pubescent teens, young adults, and doting grandparents posting about their mundane daily activities and posting their even more run-of-the-mill snapshots to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and a host of others. Seems as though anyone with a digital camera, internet access, and time to spare could become a social media maven.

Then, buoyed by the success of sites such as LinkedIn, along came marketing and entrepreneurial types who saw the business advantage of having a strong social media presence. Presto! The notion of social media as a haven only for friends and family was transformed into something much, much more.

The social media or NEW media space is now a place where business transpires, reputations get built, brands mature, products get launched, and buzz is either generated or squashed.

It’s gotten to the point where I’m beginning to wonder if everyone should or even can learn how to use it, or at least use it effectively to achieve their desired professional or business branding results.  Think about it, the entire world does not know how to effectively use television, radio or even print media. It cracks me up with this whole mad-dash to “learn how to use” social media.

A friend of mine is a realtor. She markets and sells real estate. How hard can that be, right? Like anything, if you have an interested buyer, selling is easy. Problem is, you rarely reach interested buyers without great effort, and you’re even less likely to close a sale unless you know what you are doing. Expertise and experience are valuable in professions such as real estate. They are becoming equally as important when it comes finding success in social media.

My realtor friend recently took a class on how social media could extend her real estate selling efforts. The result? She felt overwhelmed by all the information and possibilities, so much so that she couldn’t grasp how social media could work for her business. She began to question whether she’d get any return on a social media investment. Wouldn’t it be easier, she wondered, just to stick with the tried and true of what worked in the past (handing signs, listing on MSL)?

Possibly, at least in the short-term, but easier doesn’t always mean most effective. You can rest assured that most of her competitors will seize upon social media as yet another tool with which to reach out to buyers, and that buyers/prospects will come to expect and appreciate the two-way communication street. Simply put, people will wonder “what’s wrong” when a realtor (or any other business for that matter) has no social media presence, and those who fail to embrace social media will be at an immediate disadvantage—just like businesses and professionals who still have no (or a less than standard) Web site presence.

At a minimum, companies need to realize the power of investing in the online personas and social media presence of the people behind their products/brand. This is even more important for SMALL business owners as well as professionals (on a personal professional level).

Why? Because people tend to buy from small business if they can get up close and personal with the people behind the brand.  The same goes for bigger brands. I love to “get into the head” of Michael Dell or some of these other high-ranking executives ready and willing to be even more up-close-and-personal with their customers (and fans). What better way than to use online social media channels to put the people and leaders behind the business scene front and center?  I have to say that I follow a number of small business professionals online with whom I share interests. Guess who I turn to when I’m looking for a particular product or service?

It’s certainly hard to deny the power of social media. Perhaps it’s just a matter of harnessing that power and putting it to best use. That said, can social media training for everyone be far away?

Back in the mid-1990s business owners and professionals scoffed at MS Windows, MAC OS, and “Web site 101” type training, but eventually most caved—either by receiving direct training themselves or by hiring someone with the experience and expertise they were missing to do the work!  Again, social (or NEW) media is really no different from mastering the use of television, radio or print media.  For the most part, the owners or chief officers of companies/brands don’t produce television commercials on their own.  They hire an agency or the production is led by someone in-house who has the training and expertise.

Where do you fall in the spectrum from social media novice, to do-it-yourselfer, to expert?  


Setting standards for the use of social media

The Public Relations field has, for decades, had standards governing conduct and best practices—some tried and true rules of thumb and guidelines. But how does social media, which many—including yours truly—view as a powerful, 21st-century add-on to the PR profession and is perhaps the greatest development to hit the field in more than half a century, fit in?

Let’s cut right to the chase here.

I’m not advocating that every teenager or proud Mom or Dad needs “uber” social media skills to post on Facebook or MySpace (though for a handful of particular posters some skills would be nice!). What I’m talking about are those companies and professionals who tout themselves as social media marketing experts and professionals.

Are they? How can anyone tell? What makes someone a social media expert? What’s stopping virtually anyone from making such a claim?

As it stands now, my neighbor’s 14-year-old high school freshman could claim to be a social media expert . . . and I bet her 600 or so Facebook friends would agree!

Just as with Public Relations professionals, social media experts need to know their stuff. To this end, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is looking to redefine “public relations” so that it encompasses the two-way dialogue that now takes place, courtesy of social media, between companies and consumers, celebrities and their fans, professionals and clients. Sure to follow will be social media training and professional certifications.

What this means for consumers is a true “seal of approval” to help them discern qualified professionals from the not-so-qualified. What it means for those of us in the profession, aside from increased knowledge and expertise, is greater credibility for anyone holding such a credential.

Sure it sounds like more paperwork and more class work, and undoubtedly an extra fee or two, but in my book, it’s a win-win for PR/Social media professionals and the people/companies we serve. All will benefit from increased standards and greater integrity.

Don’t you think it’s time to weigh in with the PRSA and let them know we want to ensure the integrity of social media and the individuals and firms who operate in this space? While we can’t ensure across-the-board success (case in point, the numerous less-than-stellar TV and radio shows, publications, and networks), when it comes to social media and other online channels we can go a long way to ensuring higher quality and the existence of peer-developed best practices industry wide.


Social Media Publicity vs. Social Media PR

I have decided that I am a true “micro-blogger”—not a  blogger.  Obviously (AS YOU CAN SEE), I do not post a lot on this blog.  This is mainly due to the fact that I am a “PR producer” first and foremost. My thought leadership (and opinion) usually happens in quick bursts (not in long article format)—throughout the day as I am working on other people’s PR strategy and tactical management. I’d rather update or tweet—I am, as they say, obsessed with Twitter anyway so it works for me along with Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Foursquare you name it. However, I do like to talk so blogging will still come out of me from time to time (including Blog Talk Radio – I have a program there as well – time to get back to Blog Talking!). I work with a lot of writers in my agency, so they also help the creative juices to flow out of me on the blogging end… or at least I will press them to do so more often!

A lot of my clients do like to write blogs (I love to edit so that must get my blogger side fulfilled?). Some of my client’s blog mostly due to me pushing them to do so, but I really only push the ones that I think have that certain “blogger mindset.”  Blogging is a great form of social media PR and excellent for search engine placement/optimization (link building).

Some of my clients have PPC ad campaigns already running upon hiring us. We usually  wean some of them off of these (this is not PR for one thing) once we are able to build a better social media PR strategy for them and get a leg up on daily tactical placement and management.  We usually can get page ranks up much higher or equal to that of their PPC ads on the organic end within the first 90 days we begin working with them. Organic Social Media PR is what I LOVE to go for on a continued basis. Yet, most people don’t realize that this takes work, dedication and constant engagement. So many clients tend to look at PR in the same way as advertising or marketing and tend just want to hand it all over and never without saying a word. Social Media PR, in particular, can’t work that way.  Hiring a PR firm also means letting go.

I just re-read a short blog post by Seth Gordon (circa 2009): The difference between PR and publicity.

He wrote:

Publicity is the act of getting ink. Publicity is getting unpaid media to pay attention, write you up, point to you, run a picture, make a commotion… Publicity is not PR. ….PR is the strategic crafting of your story. It’s the focused examination of your interactions and tactics and products and pricing that, when combined, determine what and how people talk about you.

Read the whole post (it’s not long), but he goes on to say:

In my experience, a few people have a publicity problem, but almost everyone has a PR problem. You need to solve that one first. And you probably won’t accomplish that if you hire a publicity firm and don’t even give them the freedom and access they need to work with you on your story.

AGREED SETH, AGREED. Thank you for making that clear—albeit two years ago, it still holds true today!

Now, here’s my re-examination of his (very to-the-point) explanation of the difference between publicity and PR as it pertains Social Media–since, again I do and always have been of the opinion that Social Media PR is/should be included in on the “traditional definition” of PR:

Social Media Publicity is the act of getting ink. Social Media Publicity is getting unpaid media (as people who read you beyond your ppc or banner ads) to pay attention, write about you, point to/share your thought leadership, run a picture, make a commotion… On the other hand, Social media PR is the strategic crafting of your story.

Social Media PR is the focused examination of your interactions, tactics, products and pricing that, when combined, determine what, why and how people talk about you (or your company/business, etc.). You need Social Media PR strategy to get PUBLICITY.

Few people have a social media publicity problem (as long as they “speak up” online they have publicity), but almost everyone has a social media PR problem (once again, key words are not the end all, but a very small part of the social media PR equation). You need to solve that one first—that is–your Social Media PR problem. You probably won’t accomplish your social media PR goals if you do not hire a publicity firm* and you don’t give them the freedom and access they need to work with you to develop and execute your best social media strategy. Everyone should strive for lasting social media publicity. Yes key words are fine, but once you get them to “click over” what are you going to do to get them to stay and talk to you or about you?

* This does not include social media coaches, SEO or PPC experts—PR strategists and tactical managers all offer all of this expertise on top of everything else. If you  want to hire a PPC or SEO expert that’s fine, but just don’t leave out the PR expert who knows both traditional and social media PR.