Saturday, April 17, 2010

What Do You Create When You Practice PR?

The question of measurement is a foremost consideration in the evolution of Public Relations. For PR to become an integral part of an organization's business, practitioners need to put success in tangible terms for senior decision makers to show how it drives business performance, whatever that business may be.

If you're a CEO of a publicly traded company, you'll want to know how investor relations drives investment or share valuation of the company. One quantitative way to show this is to track investor behavior on news story days.

If you're an Executive Director at a non-profit organization, you'll want to know how PR drives donations and membership, or see how top-tier media are responding to priority program offerings.

For business-to-consumer companies, VPs will ask how sustained PR campaigns help build and maintain sales and thus gross profit. A practitioner could look at whether purchase levels are impacted by exposure to PR messaging, or demonstrate whether reputation management efforts have paid off when new products enter the marketplace.

Senior government decision makers will think about whether public awareness campaigns support their mandates, such as getting more people to take the flu shot that year, or lowering fatalities on the road.

Whatever the business, PR works collaboratively with key stakeholders to enhance business efficiency. It differs from Advertising in that Public Relations is not just focused on delivering messages, but also on strengthening relationships for the long-term based on audience and end user feedback. Through targeted outreach to build and maintain trust with people, effective PR reinforces the communication of organizational values, mitigates crises, builds a reservoir of goodwill and saves millions in prospective litigation fees. Therefore, practicing PR means building value that is recognized by those who matter most to the organization. And this most definitely impacts every kind of bottom line.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on internet-based communications' measurement :)

Food for Thought: What other ways have you seen PR generate value for organizations?

For More Info: Check out this awesome presentation from the PRSA's working group on PR measurement.

Friday, April 16, 2010

O'Brien Is As PR Savvy As He Is Funny

One of the most humiliating things that can happen to a public figure in their career is to be dumped unceremoniously on TV. This is exactly what happened to Conan O'Brien in January of this year, but instead of disappearing into the woodwork, he's leveraged social media to become even more of a household name.

Successfully leveraging Twitter as a platform to connect with fans, he's demonstrated that he's one of the funniest people we've ever heard. More to the point- he's funnier than his rival Leno. The tagline of his page is "I had a show. Then I had a different show. Now I have a Twitter account." With more than 850,000 followers flocking to him within about a month and 1 million fans on his Facebook fan page "I'm With Coco," fans are kept updated with video clips, photos and - of course - the humour we've come to appreciate him for.

Even though his lucrative severance package came with the caveat that he couldn't talk to the media, this hasn't stopped O'Brien from getting his message across.

The situation he was dealt could have easily heralded the abrupt end of his career. Instead, O'Brien leveraged his comedic genius on new platforms to stay connected with fans. It's helped him stay top-of-mind, build support, reinforce his brand and generate awareness for his current tour- the "Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour." More importantly, social media has served as an outlet for a sense of humour which is best served when shared with others.

This is a great example of when the medium and the message are very well suited to each other.

Food for Thought: Do you think his social media presence will drive viewers to TBS when he launches his new show in November?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

You, Me and Everyone We Tweet

Twitter CEO Evan Williams is one of the 179 people I follow on Twitter as I explore the social media landscape that is more and more starting to feel like home.

He noted recently that: 1) Twitter is evolving. 2) The goal is to serve users. 3) There is much left to invent.

For a blogger like me who is seeking to understand where and how to add value in this space, it's exciting to know that it's so dynamic.

What I like most about using Twitter is that there is so much learn. Between frequent and regular Google Alerts, RSS feeds, Twitter searches and e-mails, there is so much - too much - information and interesting content out there not to share. Curiosity is allowed free reign to explore uninhibited. Twitter is the outlet for some of these finds and my blog is the vehicle to expand on those select ideas and links.

So far it's been a fascinating experience not only from a PR perspective to see what's out there and to think about strategies but also to learn how to filter the content using tools like TweetDeck.

One way I've come to enjoy using Twitter is to observe how some of my followers leverage the tool as a way of promoting their passions and interests by trying to create trending topics. Other times I notice how influential tweeters can be in starting the retweeting domino trend simply by sharing solid content that people want to engage with.

Twitter provides a level playing field for anyone who has good content to share. If people find what you say of value, you can gain influence as a thought leader in any field. This democratic notion means that you can find interesting content from some pretty unlikely sources, which if you ask me, makes it all the more fun to interact with.

Food for Thought: Is there a way you've used Twitter that you want to share?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Brands Intertwined: Building Character Through Crisis

Since the news of Tiger Woods' several infamous marital affairs broke out in December 2009, the public watched as most of his major sponsors cut ties with him one by one. All but Nike.

With Woods making his return to golf at the Masters earlier today, Nike debuted its new TV ad on ESPN and the Golf Channel. Within one day, the advertisement has earned more than 1.7 million views on the NikeGolf YouTube channel and extensive analysis on several blogs across industries, wide-spread discussion on Twitter and Facebook, as well as conversation in discussion forums. It's even spurred a life of its own as an internet meme overnight with several examples of video spoofs. The original ad features a black and white shot of Woods with a voice-over of his deceased father asking him what he's learned from his mistakes.

There is particular relevance about this ad from a public relations standpoint. It demonstrates a level of transparency between two brands that have remained interlocked throughout a crisis. In a statement, Nike said:

"We support Tiger and his family. As he returns to competitive golf, the ad addresses his time away from the game using the powerful words of his father."

Rather than pulling out when times got tough, Nike is hanging in there and hasn't shirked from incorporating the personal aspect of Woods' troubles into its communications strategy. It makes brand sense for Nike because without doing so, it would be hard for Woods to be a credible figure for the sale of golf apparel.

The ad also demonstrates consistency. It's coherent strategy for Nike to support an athlete who's been dehumanized in the public eye for his mistakes- after all, that's what happened to them in the 90s after revelations came to light about their negligent labour practices in southeast Asia. Despite that, the company has grown from $6.4 billion in annual revenue in 1996 to $18.6 billion according to its last fiscal year. In time, a similar rebound will likely occur for Woods too. This highlights an important point: that people and organizations are not the sum total of their mistakes. But they do need to be held accountable. This ad does just that and serves to manage the discussion around this very public issue in a proactive way. I think it's a sharp play.

What's your take?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Managing Online Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting

In the social media space, everything people do or say has an effect on the brand to varying degrees. As a reputation manager, PR practitioners are working to ensure that all print and digital activities are consistent, transparent and building dialogue to strengthen the brand.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) balances public interest with business interests to grow. It's an approach to sustainability that businesses take to create long-term shareholder value by embracing opportunities and managing various environmental, social and economic risks. This approach stems from an owness to self-regulate activities due in part to the growing importance that the public, media and special interest groups place on holding business accountable for their actions. This is an important opportunity for an organization to communicate their business reason for being, over and above generating shareholder value.

The production of a dedicated sustainability report adds tangible business value through the presentation of a company's key financial and nonfinancial information. Many companies have them. In Canada, the large Canadian banks come to mind as having some of the best.

The internet affords integrated reporting opportunities that cannot be done on paper. Here are some things to keep in mind when building the conversation about CSR on social media channels.
  • Earn the respect of the community through meaningful content. Add something to the conversation rather than simply disseminate "good news" company key messages.
  • Be authentic and as transparent and honest as possible. Consult your company's training policy on social media disclosure before diving in.
  • Remember the human element in your communications- always be warm, friendly and engaging.
  • Talk about the transformation process. Businesses do not become "green" overnight and customers get annoyed when they are presented as such.
  • See how people respond to information and include relevant insights in your analysis reports for your senior management team to inform their strategic decision-making.
  • Do your best and leave the rest! You can't change everyone's mind but you can share with them what you know.

Food for Thought: Which businesses do you think do a good job of leveraging the social media space in their CSR reporting?

Gladwell Raises Interesting PR Issues with Thoughts on Social Media

Malcolm Gladwell, the famed New Yorker writer, chronicler and thought leader, recently expressed in a Globe and Mail interview that he's intentionally absent from Twitter and other social media platforms with good reason. He thinks they're not all they're cracked up to be.

Known for his ability to draw unique and counter-intuitive insights from seemingly mundane facts, he says one of the reasons he's conspicuously absent from the blogosphere is because it's too easy.

"The ease with which you can organize people means you no longer have to go to the trouble of things like building strong grassroots organizations, developing a coherent message, forming lasting ties with individuals."

Things are quick and for the short-term-- very counter-intuitive to the sustained strategic PR approach of building and maintaining relationships with stakeholders over time.

What's more, his comments bring up the notion of what engagement even means today:

"If you follow me on Twitter, I do not own your heart... I may own your attention for five seconds, but that's it."

His thoughts shed light that PR practitioners may need to make a paradigm shift in how they conceive their communications' objectives with online relationship building. Do we think of building engagement in terms of raising on or offline participation, increasing the number of followers on a page, or boosting the number of backlinks to our site? Or do we think about raising awareness and more importantly, how do we measure that?

This video from the Soshable Social Media blog shares some great ideas on the growing impact that social media is having on our daily interactions and is food for thought on how PR can strategize online. See what you think!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Government & Social Media: Tools & Techniques (Part II)

Recently in Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party ventured into YouTube territory with a video soliciting questions by text and video for his response to the Speech from the Throne.

More than 1,800 questions were submitted and approximately 175,000 votes cast regarding what the Prime Minster should talk about. The following week, an exclusive interview was posted on YouTube with Harper responding to questions from Canadians.

While the responses seemed canned and it was a buttoned-up approach doing an online video, it was a good step forward for the federal government to be more transparent, answering questions on Canadians' minds about the economy, foreign aid, climate change, and the military commitment in Afghanistan. With more than 138,000 channel views for Talk Canada and millions more who heard about the event taking place, the government impressed upon its young demographic and target audience that it was making the effort.

Social media channels are a way for governments to listen to their constituents by:
  • Using tools like Facebook, Twitter, online forums and message boards to monitor misconceptions and discover important conversations;
  • Identify new influencers in online communities through tools like Technorati;
  • Using bookmarking tools like Delicious as part of ongoing issues management processes, media clippings reports, and social media metrics reporting;
  • Setting up blogs to share information about new programs, laws and initiatives so constituents can go there directly for up-to-date information;
  • Leverage government experts and evangelists on Twitter, Facebook and blogs;
  • Develop a Flickr community with a photo campaign;
  • Utilize real-time feedback directly from constituents about ways to improve social services and proactively incorporate feedback into their strategic planning cycles.
There are many other ways social media can be built into a bigger part of the government PR strategy - can you think of any?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Government & Social Media: How PR Can Bridge the Gap (Part I)

There are many reasons why governments at all levels are wary of exploration in the social media realm. For starters, governments are elected and they get and stay that way because their constituents are (relatively) happy. That's why it's understandable that governments do not wish to leave themselves vulnerable to criticism in a public platform where the voicing of displeasure can lead to a downward spiral. What's more, governments are always criticized anyway- by the mainstream media, the public, and anyone with a pen chance for analysis. It's a reason why internal communications shops within ministries spend significant time and effort working with their policy advisors and staffers to devise simple, core key messages which politicians tend to stick to at all costs.

The Fels Institute of Government is the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate program in public policy and public management, and they conducted some interesting research in July 2009 to find out the extent to which governments are experimenting with social media. They found that only 9% of surveyed US municipalities had a presence on Twitter with more than 500 followers. Considering these cities were ranging in size from less than 70,000 to more than 1,000,000 residents, that ratio is not too promising. However, the report showed the perceived importance of social media to overall government communications strategy was a 3.7 out of 5, indicating strong interest.

So how can PR practitioners harness this desire and integrate the medium with the machine?

First, it's important to realize that governments generally want to create a direct line of communication with their constituents. They just don't know how to do it online or what to expect, especially since having a hard-to-navigate website is still considered a big deal. But they're interested. And they want to reach younger demographics who are difficult to target through traditional channels.

Social media is a great opportunity to do that. It's more:
  • Interactive vs authoritative
  • Conversational vs story-based
  • Personal vs institutional
  • Narrowcast vs broadcast (in that even a large government social media audience is small relative to radio or TV)
And users:
  • Generate much of the value through responding comments and recommendations
  • Guard their online experiences by exercising discretion over the information they subscribe to
Learning how to communicate in this world where stakeholders have a voice can mean a big cultural shift for governments, especially since today's tools are so different from how governments are used to communicating.

Toronto Mayor David Miller (@mayormiller) is a great example of how a publicly elected official can use Twitter to speak about topics of interest while still maintaining personal identity. As an avid Twitter user, Mayor Miller tweets about his day-to-day activities and gives taxpayers an idea about what publicly elected officials do. He informs users whom he's about to meet that day, shares reactions to speeches he gives at conferences, posts pictures with people of interest, answers questions, and expresses himself in an informal yet engaging way that serves to build rapport with more than 11,000 followers- many of them young Torontonians.

Probably the best example of how social media can work to create a community for government can be found with Students for Barack Obama, set up in 2006 by student Meredith Segal after hearing Obama's extraordinary 2004 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. Long before Obama announced his candidacy, this group had already ballooned to 62,000 members, ready and waiting for his campaign to begin. Today the group has more than 250,000 supporters and is officially recognized through President Obama's Facebook Fan page. This online community served as a forum for public action, producing youth voter turnout that could have made the difference to Obama's margin of victory.

PR can help bridge the gap by showing these and other relevant examples to demonstrate how high-level issues can be handled or solved, and opportunities created through the use of blogs, online videos, and social media platforms. A well-crafted internal presentation to educate senior decision makers can increase this understanding in social media's value.

Can you think of any other large bureaucratic organizations that could benefit from social media?