Thanks to Chris for a nifty resource (I’ll be using for teaching my students!).
Thanks to Chris for a nifty resource (I’ll be using for teaching my students!).
So. Here’s a thought. My old boss and friend, Robin Grant, told PRWeek last year that PR had missed the boat on digital. The reality, of course, is much more nuanced than that but there is a definite truth to what he says based on my own experiences and discussions with a range of people from within the PR world.
[Image via FRANk Media]
The full range of reasons behind Robin’s comment is something for a much longer post (or book, perhaps) but a series of recent conversations with smart people helped me clarify at least one aspect of PR’s problem.
For instance, in a discussion with an ex-digital director at a global PR agency we both agreed that some forms of social media, particularly community management, is becoming commodified and how PR agencies, again, risk missing the boat on digital, by placing their ‘social media offering’ firmly in this camp. Think of it as sort of replacing client press release churn with churning Facebook posts and tweets.
We agreed that the biggest barriers to PR getting social media right are structural. That’s as far as the conversation went.
Then today I was having a discussion with someone else about the increasing specialisation of social media and it dawned on me that one of the reasons why the PR profession has dragged its heals in terms of adopting and making the most of social media is its structure as a generalist industry where account teams are responsible for the full range of communication tasks (albeit with varying degrees of emphasis depending on seniority).
For example, as social media becomes specialised needing expert teams of researchers and planners; content creators, community managers and analysts, etc, PR agencies operating with employees that are trained as generalists to fulfil most, if not all of those roles, simply cannot keep up to date with the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed.
Advertising and digital agencies, on the other hand, are predominantly already structured into specialist teams. They only need to ensure that enough investment is made in ensuring their incumbent researchers, creatives, content producers, analysts, etc stay abreast of emerging knowledge and skills.
And then there’s the profit margins of PR. With their way bigger budgets, advertising and (some) digital agencies have more financial leeway to investment in training, resources and development.
So while, on paper, PR – with its theoretical foundation in understanding and building interpersonal relationships – should be on home territory when it comes to social media strategy in the main it is simply not structured in a way to make the most of this increasingly specialist landscape.
What is to be done?
I took part in an interesting (and eye-opening) workshop yesterday at Leeds Metropolitan University, Sharing Best Practice in Digital PR Education. Organised by Leeds Met and the Higher Education Academy the day was a sort of sounding board for the state of digital PR education in higher education with some case studies and workshops you can see my slides below or over on Slideshare).
I started taking notes but then gave up and just tweeted the majority of the event. You can find a Storify of the day here.
I did however, jot down some of the most interesting findings from a number of pan-European research projects that are currently underway: Euro Communications Monitor and the European Communication Professionals Skills and Innovation Programme.
I was typing while listening so didn’t manage to grab the exact stats but these (and more data) should be available on the respective websites.
European Communications Monitor insights:
ECOPSI insights (this survey is a more qualitative investigation and focuses on practitioner competencies). The data specifically refers to Social Media Managers and it seems my only two notes include:
Last month, Malcolm Gladwell published a piece in The New Yorker arguing that social media was preventing real social change taking place by encouraging what he termed 'clicktivism' – a form of engagement and action based on weak social ties, rather than real-life activism based on strong ties.
Of course, Gladwell’s piece was mostly a straw-man argument concocted to earn him some column inches and boost his profile between book launches. And of course it generated a number of impassioned rebuttals from the social movement and NGO communities.
However, while Gladwell was wrong on most counts, the past week has started to reveal the faultlines within social media and activism.
Drawing on the fall-out from the student demonstrations in central London last week (for those wanting a back-story, see the LRB’s fantasic essay on why the government's cuts are driven by ideology rather than economic necessity) we can argubly see clear limitations to the power of social networking and social change.
First of all, there was zero mobile phone signal for many students during the march which meant people were unable to live-tweet, live-blog or upload images and video in real-time. I’m not sure if there was an explanation for the outage, but it had the same effect regardless: people were unable to live-report and co-ordinate actions online from the heart of the demonstration.
And I didn’t see the Home Office intervening and encouraging mobile networks to fix any problems to cope with increased demand as with the 'Iranian Twitter revolution'.
Secondly, the pitfalls of being a digital native became all to clear to students involved in potentially criminal activity whose actions were uplaoded to social networking sites and shared with the world – especially the media who had a field day harvesting and publishing photography and video of students engaged in direct action.The BBC reports in lurid – and somewhat pointless – detail about this while the Telegraph set up a distasteful 'shop-a-student' section [No link, sorry. Refuse to]. As this was the first action for a lot of students, many failed to ‘mask up’ or conceal their identity.
Thirdly, once the media witch-hunt began and the police started rounding up suspects support and solidarity networks sprang to life via blogs and Twitter offering advice for people involved in the demo as well as campaigning to raise funds for those facing charges.
However it would seem that the police are pretty good at spotting these websites – largely hosted on corporate blogging platforms or hosting providers – and pressuring the provider to pull the entire site. The most high profile example to date has been Fitwatch, a blog dedicated to reporting on the police Forward Intelligence Teams who take photos of people suspected of being linked to all manner of lawful protests and adding their profiles to a huge database.
Fitwatch (re)posted advice (widely available on the web) providing guidance on how to deal with the fall-out of the demo which resulted in the entire site being removed by its host, Just Host – purely on the say so of an acting detective inspector, Will Hodgeson, from the Met Police's CO11 section.
As of tonight Fitwatch is still offline, despite the Guardian taking up their case.
So, while Gladwell argued that the "revolution won't be tweeted", he sadly might be closer to the truth then he intended – and definitely more than social change campaigners hope he is.
Here's the backstory…
So I'm heading into London with a connecting train to catch and reading with abject horror about the total chaos the Tubestrike is causing (solidarity to the workers!).
I'm starting to panic about how the hell I'm going to get across town in time for my train when I see someone tweeting the hashtag #tweetbike and a twitpic of a fetching black motorbike.
To my delight I find Paul Clarke using Twitter and the #Tweetbike hashtag to co-ordinate lifts around London on his shiny motorbike.
One quick tweet and I've booked myself a ride. Fifteen minutes later and we're weaving in and out of gridlocked traffic and I'm on time for my train.
On the face of it, it's an awesome idea. This MacMillan Open Dictionary definition defines it perfectly.
But it also opens up loads of exciting possibilities. #Tweetbike is simple, pure and effective collaboration utilising widely available and easy to use mobile tools. But it also mixes online, virtual collaboration with real-world outcomes.
As Paul explained to the BBC last year, #Tweetbike is:
"an exercise in how fast and how little effort it takes to make something happen in this situation. It has also helped me get a deeper understanding of how social media can work. It's a sort of mashup with my bike and Twitter."
But let's not forget that at the heart of this project is social capital.
Paul told me as I got on that someone had just tweeted how #Tweetbike was a murder waiting to happen which he found odd. What this perspective misses is that #Tweetbike isn't a pirely transactional service – it is driven by a deep social trust that Paul has built up through his personal network – both online and in the real-world.
And it's this element that is key to the success of this – and potentially similar projects. The one drawback is that this kind of trust is difficult to scale in a mass marketised world.
But that's a good thing because hopefully it will lead to more specialised, socially powerful, rewarding initiatives like this one.
While an argument can be made for a need to extend the ASA’s remit to cover websites as well as online ads I’m not entirely convinced that the attempt to pin down marketing communications is the best approach to regulating social media.
The ASA's media release tells us that their new remit will cover:
Journalistic and editorial content and material related to causes
and ideas – except those that are direct solicitations of donations for
fund-raising – are excluded from the remit.
There are two things that need clarifying here:
Ask any PR professional how marketing communications differs from editorial and the they'll tell you that the two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.
Possibly, the ASA has taken marketing communications as overt communications marketing products, services or brands, e.g. "Buy this cream and it'll make you thin!" but then that risks taking a very narrow definition of marketing communications.
Further evidence for this comes to life in the IAB's FAQs on the ASA's new remit. They state that the guidelines won't cover "press releases or other PR material" – a notion that at best shows some vagueness about what PR is and does, and at worst reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the industry.
Even if the ASA has somewhere unpicked the finer points of PR then how can marketing communications (regulated) be adequately differentiated from 'editorial' (not regulated)?
Add to this the convergence of media in online social spaces and there's even more complexity.
For example, what happens when the public starts engaging with brands and discussing products or services on brand owned spaces? And then when brands respond with neither editorial or marketing communications – e.g. general conversation on Twitter – and what about passionate members of the public that are brand advocates and start evangelising about a brand or product – is that marketing communications?
The ASA's new remit, it could be argued, is a missed opportunity to truly understand and attempt to strengthen regulation of marketing activity in the online space – a worthy initiative given they claim websites were the second most complained about marketing channel last year.
Brand Republic says that the new guidelines are a "fudge". But it's a fudge that could have potentially been avoided – or at least – addressed directly.
Back in May, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ Social Media Advisory Panel [Disc. I'm a member] approached the IAB which is represented on the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) to request that the PR industry be involved in development of the new code.
Given the centrality of ‘editorial’ and ‘marketing communications' in the new regulations we felt it was appropriate, if not essential, to input and have the vice of the PR industry.
While we were given the undertaking that the views of the PR industry would be heard it seems that this wasn’t to be the case. Of course, we could have gone direct to the ASA but a dialogue had already been opened.
The CIPR has issued a statement which articulates some of its major concerns, which I've pasted below.
But to me it seems that the ASA has missed an opportunity to think coherently about social media and implement an effective regulatory approach to the online space, not to mention a potentially naïve assumption by the ASA as to the role of PR, marketing communications and editorial in contemporary society.
Here's the CIPR's statement in full:
Chartered Institute for Public Relations (CIPR) policy statement on the proposed regulation of social networks/media by the ASA
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) recognises the importance of protecting the online public from unscrupulous businesses and organisations, however the Chartered body representing the PR profession has concerns regarding the planned extension of the remits of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to cover online communications.
The advertising industry is concerned with advertising messaging that is one-way. Social networks involve dialogue and frequently ‘editorial’ content.
We believe that the ASA's remit does not extend to moderating the freedom of speech so closely associated with social media such as Twitter, Facebook and websites Any definition of advertising should be scoped so as to avoid censoring the ability of citizens and consumers to enjoy the free on-line dialogue they have come to expect.
The CIPR also has reservations about changes to the CAP Code and the way the ASA's new and extended remit has been planned. Any changes to the UK's current regulatory frameworks affecting how the public relations profession conducts its business should be developed through close consultation with the chartered body of the public relations profession. Given the significance these proposed changes will have for public relations, marketing and social media professionals, the CIPR believes that the ASA should be working together with the CIPR to develop fair and workable regulations that work with and supports broader, existing frameworks such as the CIPR Code of Conduct and social media guidelines.
The CIPR approached the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) which is represented on the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) in May of this year and were given the undertaking that the views of the PR industry would be heard. "We are disappointed this action has been taken without our involvement.”
A few weeks ago the Daily Mail caused a bit of a brouhaha by accusing brands that monitored social media to help identify and solve customer’s problems of “snooping” and “spying”.
I really can’t get anywhere near the level of hysteria generated by the article not even if I attempted a Brasseye-style spoof. Basically you should go and read it, although you actually shouldn’t as it’ll increase their site traffic.
Anyway, while there’s been enough discussion of this particular incident online I wanted to follow-up with another story of the Mail’s disgusting audacity and hypocrisy that happened to a friend.
Now, just imagine if a company was to trawl through the Internet – not unlike those companies that snoop on customers. But imagine if instead of helping people, this company used the Internet to steal things that belong to Members of the Great British Public.
Then imagine that when an aforementioned law-abiding citizen tells the company that it has broken the law and stolen something the company (or a representative of said company) was to deny it and attempt to cover up the crime by offering desultory sums of money to buy the victim off.
Just imagine if that company was none other than the Daily Mail itself!
Yes. That’s right. The sanctimonious Daily Mail was trawling the web on election night for pictures of voters across the UK reacting to polling stations being closed without all voters being able to cast their vote.
While other media outlets saw the images, requested permission to use, credited and paid Emily for her work the Mail simply lifted the images then claimed they were in the public domain which meant they could use them with impunity.
Emily, knowing her rights, asserted that Twitpic’s T&Cs copyright remained with the photographer and invoiced the Mail for a reasonable amount.
What followed was a series of exchanges with the Mail’s Pictures Online Picture Editor, Elliot Wagland, and the Mail’s Group Managing Director, Alex Bannister.
I’d urge you to go and read the full saga over at the Just Do It blog as it unfolds and savour in the sheer hypocrisy of the Daily Mail that on the one hand criticises companies for using the Internet to help its customers while on the other hand is happy to steal content from people. Part 1 is here and Part 2 here
Aside from the audacity of the Mail it’s also slightly worrying that its Online Pictures Editor fails to grasp the basics of copyright in relation to key social media platforms.
However, as Martyne Drake observes on his blog about this particular story, although the Mail’s Group Managing Editor claims this was a one-off
“given the number of times I’ve seen them [Daily Mail] attribute copyright wrongly and use pictures from Twitpic and other services (which retain the original copyright of the photographer), it’s not so much an incident that’s happened by accident or carelessness, but downright arrogance.”
I saw this story earlier in the week and now Drew B's blogged about the announcement that the media metrics people Nielsen have teamed up with the management consultancy McKinsey to launch a social media division.
Drew's rather positive about the venture, called NM Incite, suggesting that it's "good to see [this] type of advisory coming from the bright sparks
at McKinsey". I'm rather more skeptical and wonder whether they can offer the level of depth and understanding of the social space as social media and even communications consultancies. Of course, that may not be the primary motivation for McKinsey – rather the lure of lucrative contracts.
Without being able to comment in-depth on McKinsey's reputation at management consultancy I am suspicious about management consultancies offering genuine communications consultancy. Only last month I was chatting with a senior PR consultant who was lamenting a 'brand strategy' put together by the client's management consultancy.
What I find particularly fascinating about this move is that NM Incite appears to be offering products *as well as* solutions. According to the 'Offerings' section on their website they can provide:
Interesting that as 'social media' becomes more about strategic business consultancy to socialise organisations, the traditional management consultancies are turning to selling widgets rather than knowledge.
It just goes to show that not even the bastions of the global business management empire are immune from disintermediation.
Rather than looking to embrace social media, listen, adapt and respond to the public and earn the reputation it deserves, comments made by the Met's Director of External Affairs, Dick Fedoricio, in a PR Week interview suggested otherwise:
"If I was seeking to
manipulate people, it would raise a question about how that reduced our
integrity. To be leaning on someone to say "give us a good blog" starts
to raise some ethical issues."
I wanted to return to this issue for a couple of reasons. Primarily, I was shocked (but unsurprised) to see that according the Evening Standard, the Met has now requested that all imagery of its officers hiding or obscuring their badges be removed from photo libraries and image databases (hiding numbers means officers can't be (easily) identified and is an illegal tactic usually performed to allow police to act with impunity while committing – often violent – offences against the public).
While the Standard accuses the Met of trying to "re-write history", a member of the public gets it right in a comment posted on the story:
"If people start uploading such images to Facebook and Twitter, will
they get their collars felt? We seem to be heading in that direction."
Leaving aside the jusdgement of which direction society is heading, the issue of whether material incriminating authorities published publicly in the social web can be removed remains – as does the question: what power do authorities have to, in DIck's words, "manipulate" or "lean on" someone to force removal?
Following the G20 the Met has signed up 6Consulting and Radian6 to run social media monitoring for the force so it's very likely that any 'offending' material will certainly be identified. That said, I return to the point I made originally which was that this approach reveals a traditional command and control communications culture at the Met which will not fit in the distributed, complex, networked world in which we now live.
I mentioned there were a couple of reasons I wanted to blog about this topic again. That's the first, the second is much more personal.
So how did he interact with me? Was it a comment left on my blog post examining the Met's approach to social media? Was it an email explaining the Met's decision not to interact with bloggers?
No. Instead Dick left me a voicemail on my work phone. Why he phoned me at work I don't know (especially given my blog states clearly it's a personal site and encourages contact via my personal email address).
Dick's voicemail was rather aggressive (I'm sure this was unintentional) and stated that he worked for Scotland Yard (again, this is confusing, but I'm sure he meant the Metropolitan Police).
He advised me, in a rather intimidating fashion, that if I planned on blogging about the Met againI should give him a call in advance.
Now I'm sure Dick meant only well by his inadvertently aggressive and intimidating phonecall advising I seek permission before blogging about the Met, but it seems clear to me that the Met are doing blogger engagement, despite what they tell PR Week.
Plus ca change…
So this week’s edition of PR Week has probably hit desks and if you haven’t read it yet then you will have missed the awesome news that I’ve joined We Are Social. The news is awesome for a couple of reasons, both personal and professional.
First the professional: I’ve been watching We Are Social grow over the past year and a bit and have been impressed by both the clients they’re working with and the work they’re doing. Seriously. Now I’m on the inside I continue to be blown away by the briefs that come through the door and the work that goes out.
That may sound overly sycophantic but it’s a genuine response. The work that’s being planned and delivered at We Are Social is the kind that you don’t believe exists working on the PR agency side. Clearly brands and organisations want to understand social media and its impact on their reputation. But it seems they aren’t turning to their PR agency to deliver this work, instead looking to digital and social media specialists.
The funny thing is: I’ve long been blogging about how the PR industry is losing out to other industries and players in the digital space. It’s taken me joining We Are Social to realise just how far things have gone. But that’s a topic for another post.
On a personal level I’m really happy to be planning and delivering real, juicy, smart, social media campaigns, rather than bolting on digital tactics which was often the case (although not always) when working to a PR brief.
Add to that the fact that I’m tasked with growing the public sector, NGO and not-for-profit work that We Are Social does means I’m working with sectors with which I have a deep personal affinity (in case you aren’t overly familiar with my LinkedIn profile I started out in PR working for NGOs). Moreover, social media comes to the fore when empowering organisations and individuals to deliver issues-based campaigns and citizen engagement.
So that’s the news. I’ve joined We Are Social. I’m excited. You can see it in my tweets. I’m going to Twestival. I’ve started blogging again. I am, as Manuel Castells might say, back in the space of flows.