In November 2008—in the eye of both the economic debacle's and the Social Media tornados—the Horn Group, a leading communications firm headquartered in San Francisco, held an event titled “Is Social Media Killing PR.” As part of the event, an expert panel including Kara Swisher, Jeremiah Owyang, and Susan Etlinger shared their perspectives on where that new thing called Social Media was going. (Remember, this was November of ‘08).
The Horn Group’s space, on its three levels, was near-packed and the air was thick with anxiety. I was live-blogging from the event and the response was surprising: People appreciated the update, the tangibility around the topic, and access to others who are at the same confused state as they were. Social Media, back then, was still the“wild west”; grounding was weighed in gold. And for PR professionals who were losing their jobs by the bushels, the conversation was paramount.
That was then. This month, the Horn Group held another event—this time focusing on Social Media and Business. The space was three quarters empty, people were tweeting and blogging, a tweeter feed displayed above the panel, and the general feel was, as in most of the Valley’s networking events, cordial with low level interest, focused on connecting and listening rather than on intensely engaging.
On the panel were John Byrne, formerly at NewsWeek and now founder of C-Change Media, Karen Wickre, Google Communications and Public Affairs, Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group, and Don Bulmer, Vice President of Global Communications at SAP.
Below are some highlights from the panel’s discussion, starting with Karen Wickre.
Wickre: Content surfaces content. Part of our job as communicators is to surface more, different, new news information.
New media is no longer about putting content out there but about the interaction of people and content. Media becomes relevant when you appropriately target. Mobile is a big push but companies shouldn’t mobilize all their content: it should be relevant to people’s needs and content consumption patterns.
Li: Companies should focus on building relationships, not transactions. SAP is a good example of that.
Byrne: A story is an intellectual campfire around which you keep people. If you orchestrate it so that it doesn’t die out, the content has even greater value than the original.
Bulmer: Social Media is a great opportunity for Thought Leadership for a B2B company. It has to have focus, depth, and continuity. Thought Leadership done well in this environment can yield ideas and insights that can transform an organization.
Thought Leadership = Social Currency (here at Ustrategy, we really like this statement!) If a company can provide information its audiences can’t get anywhere else they provide Thought Leadership. Businesses prefer to do business with either the creators of content or those who participated in it.
Li: You can choose to do nothing and stay in the bubble: you won’t get hurt but you also won’t build relationships.
B2B structure, and the B2B executives aren’t set for Social Media. They need to control every bit of interaction and to avoid negative exposure. Uncontrolled conversation terrify execs. Mindsets are hard to change: change happens through small steps and demonstrated success. Traditional B2B executives aren’t “sharers” by nature.
Bulmer: I own 25% of budget and influence 75% of value delivered . When people see success they take ownership. I try not to get concerned by money but focus on value.
Wickre: (Speaking about success metrics) I’m not worried about the number of followers. The people who want that bit of info find it and forward it.
Byrne originated The Engagement Model for ROI on online produced content and user-generated-content on NewsWeek.com. “We started with a goal of 15:1 return on content from others, got to 37:1, wanted to get to 100.” Got the journalist committed to taking part in the conversation, asked readers what they wanted to read about, picked stories and assigned to journalists. The stories that were generated by readers were often more popular and generated highest traffic on NewsWeek online.
Li: Analytics aren’t metrics. Metrics tie to objectives. The ones that have meaning to you. Analytics are the results (survey, google, etc) I don’t care about traffic and clicks- I care about engagement quality.
Three pieces of advice to an anti-social CEO who just doesn’t think he or his company needs to invest in Social Media:
- Realize that you are not in control and you know it. You need to acknowledge that before anything else.
- What’s really important to you today? Pick one of the strategic goal and see how Social can help with that.
- Activities that are happening without you. If you’re doing nothing—that’s a problem. If a lot and you’re not part of it—that’s a problem too.
We have to be very disciplined about this. It’s a social disciplin. Even in google where people have a great deal of freedom, there’s also discipline. You create Sandboxes, and inside these, people can do whatever, as much as, they wish.
Bulmer: SAP just launched the www.everycompanyisamediacompany.com open forum blog. People are still under the perception that the term Media refers to advertising and PR while Social Media refers to Facebook, Twitter. People should keep in mind that Social Media is more than a front line issue. There’s a lot of value that can be derived from its core business operations.
Tips and insights for getting beyond where you are now”
Byrne: Use twitter smartly. I’ve been able to find the experts in any given field, benefit from what they’re reading, thinking, in real time that’s not possible anywhere else
Li: Cluetrain Manifesto and think about how every company can be a media company.
And my takeaway?
Social Media is no longer a threat. Professionals and brands know it’s now a required channel in their overall marketing plan and PR and Marketing professionals now look for new tools, methods, frameworks rather than for a referee to call Penalty.
Finally, I liked Tom Foremsky’s comment after a few long minutes discussing the word of the evening: “authenticity.” Tom said: “Not everything needs to be authentic. (Sometimes) a press release is just a press release.”