The Value of Information

Business, Business Communications, Finance, Social Media

Social media has certainly changed the role of PR pros in a myriad of ways. Clients or employers no longer expect just a book of media clips to show the value of public relations. More and more, communicators are being asked to extend their roles to encompass what might have been described as marketing, sales, and customer relations.

Aside from the titles and tools though, has the real value proposition changed?

In 1987 one of my favorite film characters ever, Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, hit on a very real business truth. “The most valuable commodity I know of is information.”

Information sharing is at the core of social media. At a time in the PR industry when access to members of the media is just a mouse click away for almost anyone and a well done blog post can generate as much visibility as a hit on the six o’clock news, PR pros can play a vital role in organizational success based on this concept.

  • Assess the information coming into the organization

Begin by listening to what’s being said. What are the messages resonating about your company? Are they positive, negative, or (perhaps even worse) unclear?

Provide your clients/company with strategic counsel at this stage on what the marketplace is really saying about the brand. The speed with which problems can go from minor to a major issue is significantly faster with social media than in the past. Continually listen honestly to understand where you fit in market in the eyes of the public and communicate that with the leadership team.

  • Understand the benefits and limitations of distribution channels

Next step, take some time to think critically about old habits and if there is a need to change your approach. As an example, if a controversy were to flare up online, PR pros need to make the call on how to respond. A traditional news conference likely isn’t the fit. Get rid of any habits that are wasted effort.

Facebook fan page complaint may well be best addressed in a discussion right on the page. But what if the comment is on a third-party blog? Spend time *now* before there is an issue to get up to speed on social channels and how information moves uniquely in each one. Social media communities are not interchangeable and cannot be treated as such.

  • Create information to fill a need

This is where the preparation comes together. Once you understand the market perception of your organization and the channels available to you, it comes down to providing the audience with the information they need and can’t get anywhere else.

Rather than pushing out material *at* people, this is the point where PR practitioners can demonstrate their own value by creating unique content that addresses gaps for the customer. Consistently hearing that your company isn’t providing clear guidance on a service? Then try a YouTube video shared socially to walk through those challenges in a simple manner with some personality. Or maybe it’s a well-written post on a major industry blog to address the concerns. The key outcome is solving a problem that exists for the market and in doing so; you will enhance the value of a particular brand.

Gordon Gekko had it right 24 years ago; the most valuable commodity is information. Now go out and share some information that will be helpful as well as advance your goals.

Adapting for Success

Communications, Leadership, Public Relations, Social Media

I’m a huge fan of nature and often times see things very differently by simply observing.  Now, let me be clear before any of you really outdoorsy types start inviting me on a major hiking, camping or exploring adventure: I like being out in nature and enjoying the beauty…then going home to high-speed Internet, air conditioning, and running water.   =)  Anyway, I believe there is a tremendous amount that can be learned by watching how the world moves without us impacting it.   Observe how all kinds of creatures fit into the world and how the ecosystem has a natural rhythm to it.

However, what I noticed last week had nothing to do with a natural setting.  I sat at a drive through bank waiting for the teller to send me a receipt via that amazing wonder of the world known as an air tube and noticed a small bird flying above me.  I watched him fly into the overhang above.  His feet hopped deliberately from the broad girder to a thin piece of metal tubing running downward for several feet to reach a platform below.   He remained there a moment, picked up some sort of twig, and returned in the same focused manner to the overhang above while chirping happily.

What was it about this that made it stand out and stick with me so clearly?  And, how in the world does this relate to communications and PR?

This little bird has adapted to the environment around it which is by no means typical or natural for him.  In the heart of downtown Minneapolis this bird has created a home surrounded by concrete and steel with a constant hum of traffic moving past it each day.

Public relations as an industry must find ways to  successfully adapt to a changing world.

  • PR practitioners must thing critically to understand the goals of the business.  We cannot depend solely on media relations to validate our existence.  The environment is changing and the barriers to traditional media are being dissolved.  Anyone with a computer and a little creativity can find ways to get information to media outlets.  Maintaining a list of contacts isn’t good enough.
  • PR pros have an ever-increasing list of tools available to us that connect with key audiences. We should take the time to expand our own skill sets to understand how social media, geolocation applications, and customer created content on Yelp or blogs impacts our organizations/clients.
  • For the good of the industry, PR must take an honest look at the traditional models of how we measure success.  Does the typical client/agency model still work?  I don’t know.  What is the value proposition for organizations like PRSA and IABC?  Access to thought-leaders is far different thanks to technology versus 10 years ago…how do we need to provide opportunities for continued learning?

I will never pretend to have all the answers but would sure enjoy hearing what others think on the issue of adaptability for our industry.  Change isn’t always easy but a little birdie showed me that it is possible.

Some Public Relations for Public Good

Life, Public Relations, Social Media

In recent weeks I’ve been impressed by a trend of blog posts from people I’ve met online who are doing some great work to help or lift up others.  This is one of the most positive aspects of social media that can be lost amongst the negative stories (Facebook privacy issues, security challenges, and sites that may put your information at risk like Spokes) that accompany use of new technology.  However, for each horror story, I’m guessing there is an equally positive case of social media connecting good people or advancing important change.

I want to share a few examples with you illustrating the concept of good:

Erica Mayer:  Erica began a campaign for Charity Water to celebrate her birthday.  She created a page that outlined her reasons for getting involved and began sharing the page with her online network. What happened? Well, over $10,000 later, Erica has changed a lot of lives for her birthday.

Jeanne Bowerman: Inspiration also comes in the form of inspiration and insight. On her blog, Jeanne outlined a moving experience she had by connecting with a single person…who is often overlooked. Through her kind actions, Jeanne created a moment that changed his life, hers, and those that read her story.

Danny Brown: I couldn’t leave out one of my favorite social media for change guys. Danny is the driving force behind The 12for12k Challenge.  Over the last couple years, Danny has raised well over $100k to help out a number of worthy charities and connect a huge list of supporters that also work together to create change.

These are all just a few top of mind examples in my world of people making a real difference in their communities. Chances are if you’re reading this blog you’re working in a professional job, likely college educated, and connected with a variety of different networks. While we each have our own struggles, between a tough economy and the business known as life, there’s also a good chance you’re in a position to make a difference to someone.  It doesn’t have to be a gigantic commitment, it may be a single event that helps someone (much like Jeanne’s example) but in finding an issue that is meaningful to you, it actually engages others to help too.  I am blown away by many of the kind and smart people I’ve met in my community (both physical and online) and feel so blessed to say that you all inspire me. When you’re in a position to help someone, you can truly change lives…including your own.

Hubris Always Ends Badly: Will Facebook Fall?

Communications, Leadership, Social Media

It’s a lesson as old as the days of the great Greek civilization. Hubris.  Exaggerated pride or self-confidence clouds vision, creates a focus centered on self more than on community and others. I’ve been wondering lately if we may be seeing the signs of a pending fall for one of the giants in the social media world in Facebook. 

For the last several years Facebook has been fighting a battle around how to monetize its business while facing the ever-present rumors about adding user fees and creating backlash that comes and goes. Mark Zuckerberg and company have managed to continue to grow the base of users despite the flare-ups.  However, I’m starting to wonder if the shine is beginning to fade a bit. Facebook has become a haven of Farmville, Mafia Wars, and fan pages for everything.  (Who isn’t a fan of “eating” really??) It could just be my perception but more and more I hear from friends, colleagues, and contacts in my community that Facebook is no longer a “must visit” for them. 

The last straw for many could be the constant privacy creep that continues to erode user control of their data. Now, many users were never savvy enough to control their data in the first place which led to many of the significant “fired because of Facebook” headlines over the years. However, recent changes that limit the option for even advanced users to control aspects of their use and the Social Graph concept are pushing the boundaries of creepy big brother control.  I tend to agree with Dan Costa on his interpretation of the privacy issues around the concept of Facebook providing such detailed history of “likes” with other sites.

Where does hubris fit into this? In recent comments from Zuckerberg, it’s very clear that Facebook will not go out of its way to protect its users’ privacy. When leadership no longer cares what is important to the audience that feeds its own success, I believe you’ve lost sight of your own place in the world. You’ve crossed a line when you believe you’re untouchable. There seems to be a growing sense of invincibility coming from the Facebook folks. A belief that users should “just trust us, we know what you really want.” That is what concerns me as an outsider looking in. Hubris. 

Maybe I’m entirely wrong. Perhaps enough users will continue to love the game apps that Facebook offers regardless of privacy.  Maybe there are enough true Facebook loyalists who will never leave.  However, I wonder how the giant in social media will maintain its position. And what happens if the floodgates open and 400 million users becomes 300? If the walls start to crumble and some leave, the experience for those remaining is diminished.  If your friends aren’t on the site, your experience is less rewarding as you aren’t connecting.  What is the tipping point? Are there enough new users still coming into the funnel to replace the ones that are tiring of stale info and constant changes designed to make the site a more open data source for Zuckerberg and crew to sell? Maybe for a while but somewhere there’s a bright creative student creating the next big thing for consumers like Facebook was…four years ago.

Photo courtesy ajh1963 via Creative Commons

Enough with the Hate

Life, Social Media

After playing in social media for a couple of years now I have to ask: why so angry folks?  Isn’t social media built on the premise of social connection?  Over the past couple week I’ve been fortunate to spend time with a number very smart social media supporters.  In chatting, it’s funny how often a post or tweet comes up in conversation that is instantly recognized.  The hater post.  

Photo courtesy *_Abhi_* via Creative Commons

Every so often it becomes trendy to bash people who have become well-recognized in the social media industry.  You’ll see these kinds of posts all over if you keep an eye out for them.  Chris Brogan this and Guy Kawasaki that.  Perhaps concern that Mashable did, or didn’t, pick up on a certain story? 

But why?  If someone is producing content you don’t feel is quality, sharing ideas you don’t like,  or hitting the same points repeatedly then just ignore them.  Rather than fixate on them and try to tear them down maybe there is something more productive you can do to positively influence the industry? 

  • Don’t sit and say nobody is coming up with unique ideas- go create a new program.
  • Don’t heckle big names who are successful- spend time figuring what unmet need you can fill.
  • If it seems too simple to you, don’t dwell on it- go help someone who needs it or take it up a level for advanced users.

Now, this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be able to have credible discussions around social media and question assumptions that currently exist.  (The fear to do that will be covered in the next post here.  Shameless, subtle hint right?)  However, I think there is too often an undercurrent of envy or resentment that seems to lie below the surface of the collaborative spirit that is a foundation of social media.  I’d like to see social media continue to grow and evolve and I believe the only way that will happen is if the community is able to put personal issues aside and support those that are driving innovation, whomever it is.