LCC Guest Lecture Series 2013-14

I’m a bit late posting this as our first guest lecture with Visa Europe’s VP of Digital Corp Comms, Nick Jones, is next week (still a few free tickets left) but nevertheless, our 2013-14 Guest Lecture Series is ready to roll.

I’m really pleased with what is an excellent line-up – full details below. All events are FREE and open to the public but booking is essential so we can get enough wine in! Eventbrite links will be made available a month ahead of each of the events.

Finally I would like to say a MASSIVE thank you to Adam Parker and Lissted for kindly supporting us and helping make such an awesome series possible.

 

Academia and Practice: Where next?

I was away in Sweden at Philip Young’s NEMO organised Flashpoint conference last week and was lucky to listen to some excellent academic papers, and more importantly become involved in an ongoing debate about the need to bridge the currently yawning gap between PR academia and practice.

Since returning there have been a number of blog posts pop up raising a range of issues which I broadly support. I won’t cover them off here but would urge you to go and take a read and participate for yourselves – there’s loads of comment and discussion going on.

Firstly of all the University of Wolverhampton’s Sarah Williams posted on the difference between academics and practitioners. This was followed up by Stephen Waddington’s post on the need for academia and practitioners to work together to support a “maturing profession” – a perspective followed up by Stuart Bruce’s in his post.

This is all great stuff, and an important marker for integrating theory and praxis. But…. the most important question is: what is to be done?

Most of the posts mentioned offer some thoughts and here are a few of my own:

  • Regular event(s) led by industry and academia to push forward greater interaction, debate and overcome the fear of the other
  • Some form of jointly agreed agenda that can identify and articulate some of the more common needs and demands for both areas
  • A forum to foster ongoing debate – online or otherwise
  • PR Week to carve out a niche to discuss developments and expose the agenda to a wider audience
  • Some level of engagement among high-profile employers, government, big agencies, etc
  • Some level of engagement from industry bodies

 

Share This Too launched

Share This Too

The start of term is looming and preparation and planning is underway. That’s why it’s taken me a week to get around to posting about the launch of, Share This Too, the second social media handbook published by Wiley.

Written by the CIPR‘s Social Media Advisory Panel and a range of practitioner friends there’s a  pretty impressive array of topics covered, including:

  • Creating content frameworks
  • Analysing online audiences and planning
  • Gamification
  • Content curation
  • Community management
  • And loads more

My chapter looks at the rise of big data and how data mining can be used to plan and deliver strategic PR activity. It looks at this practically using a case where data was used to identify potential consumer issues for an organisation before they become full blown complaints. By being able to ‘predict’ and address these issues the organisation aimed to reduce its workload.

I conclude by arguing that this kind of innovative, data-led PR can help the PR discipline achieve a more strategic position – both within organisations and within the wider business and marketing consultancy industries.

Sounds good doesn’t it? Don’t let Brian Solis’ foreword put you off, go and get a copy from Wiley or Amazon.

 

 

PR can’t respond to ‘structural’ challenges of social media. Discuss.

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?

Sharing Best Practice in Digital PR Education

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:

  • Dealing with digital/social media is second top issue for European communicators (survey respondents consist of 2,700+ senior PR practitioners across 43 countries; mainly in-house in global/big businesses)
  • Data shows they believe they’re currently doing online stuff (quite tactical) but weak(ish) on i) developing social media strategies; ii) evaluating social media and iii) developing/understanding legal frameworks . Some additional weakness in terms of engagement, i.e. “initiating dialogue with online stakeholders”
  • Also shows strong agreement that social media changes perception of organisation – both externally and internally (!)
  • Strong agreement that digital gatekeepers are relevant for PR, e.g. bloggers, community managers, consumers on social media (!)
  • Big gap between perceived importance of social media issues and implementation – i.e majority agree social media issues are vital, but the comparative number of practitioners doing anything about it is lower
  • Mobile dev is biggest gap among practitioners

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:

  • strengthening visual story-telling is a key need
  • as is managing ‘real-time’ communications

 

 

Want to send a postcard via Twitter?

I’m a big fan of blurring the or crossing the boundaries between online and offline materials.Take, for instance, the fantastic Newspaper Club or the simply outstanding The Iraq War: A Historiography of Wikipedia Changelogs. So, why has it taken so long for someone to create a ‘Tweet to postcard’ service?*

york_7369-2

The agency Brands2Life have done just that as part of their work with at800 – the organisation raising awareness of the issues the 4G network might bring to Freeview users. Their email informs me that if you send a tweet with the hashtag #at800postbox at800 they will print the personalised message onto a traditional postcard and deliver it by post for free.

Really nice idea, although as it’s been described as a “PR stunt” by one Twitter user I suspect that it won’t be a permanent service. Shame really.

* I’m sure I’ve read about a similar service sometime in the past few years

CIPR Guide to Social Media Monitoring: new publication

I’m really pleased to say that the CIPR has launched its new Guide to Social Media Monitoring today. I’ve been responsible for co-ordinating and contributing to the Guide which has been written collaboratively by members of the CIPR’s Social Media Panel. I’ve embedded the document below as well as provided a bit of context and background to its origins.

From personal experience as well as evidence from CIPR member feedback it is clear that social media monitoring (SMM) is a key issue for PR practitioners at the moment. And while many practitioners know SMM is increasingly important, they don’t necessarily know exactly what monitoring entails, which tools and technologies are good for certain tasks and how to integrate it into wider strategies and practices.

So this became the primary driver for the document: we wanted it to explain what SMM is, what tools are available (both free and paid-for), how they work – and how they differ from other social media management platforms – as well as provide an overview of some of the leading tools in the market.

But we also recognised that in order to be practically useful we needed to add some wider organisational context around the tools and technologies piece. So, the guide also features sections covering how to build a business case for monitoring, how to set monitoring objectives as well as how to develop organisational workflows to get the most out of monitoring. The ultimate aim of this is PR practitioners will be empowered to make sense of SMM, recognise its potential and apply it to their organisations.

Wrapping-up PR and Disruption: Bringing theory and practice closer together?

Just getting around to reflecting on the great conference, PR and Disruption: Embracing and Surviving Change  we held last week at LCC.

Overall we had some great feedback (Storify here), but below are a couple of my key take-aways from the day:

  • Putting academics and practitioners into the same room is a great way to start bridging the divide between theory and practice (mainly abut the way in which we talk about the same things in different terms but also, more importantly, about the changing ways in which some of the key themes of the industry are understood)
  • Practical skills training, such as film-making, infographics, app development, are in demand among practitioners (handy for us as a university with graphic design, publishing and TV/film departments!)
  • Given the popualarity of the ‘face-off’ debate stream and discussions on Twitter there seems to be a real appetite among the industry (practitioners and academics alike) to discussion what’s happening in the industry and how to best deal with it. But where are these debates being held? Who’s facilitating them? Who’s listening? And what are they doing about it? We have our own ideas which we will be working on…

But, don’t just take my word for it. We have a couple of great post-event reflections from participants, including key note speaker, Oyvind Ihlen’s hand-grenade casually chucked into the room: “PR shouldn’t be measured”; Paul Seaman’s argument that PR should be leading economic change and renewal; Arun Sudhaman’s great insight on how changes in the media business should be changing the way brands communicate and Heather Yaxley’s post offering a great summary of the day’s main themes.

Hopefully it’s clear that there was a lot to take in from the day – and we’ll hopefully be getting more reflections and reviewsin the days to come. In the meantime, we’ll be continuing to plan how we can bring the industry and theory closer together. Leave a comment or drop me an email if you have any ideas – I’d love to hear them!

ICA Pre-Conference: ‘Power through communication technology’

I sat in on an interesting ICA pre-conference session earlier this week that sought to identify and address a series of questions around the issue of power and communication technology in a globalised society. There were a good range of speakers and topics up for discussion, including:

  • Michael L. Kent, University of Oklahoma, USA – Taking a Critical Look at Technology in Public Relations: We Have an App for That
  • Dean Kruckeberg, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA – Another Inconvenient Truth
  • Erich J. Sommerfeldt, University of Maryland-College Park, USA – Social Media Silos and Civil Society: A Role for Public Relations in Contemporary Development Communication Efforts
  • Katerina Tsetsura, University of Oklahoma, USA – In @ We Trust? Public Relations Realities of Fake Online Personalities
  • Chiara Valentini,  Aarhus University, Denmark – Social Mediars: The New Online Stakeholders for Public Relations?
  • Stephen Waddington, European Digital Social Media Director at Ketchum and President-Elect CIPR – Public Relations and New Communication Technologies – A Professional Perspective

 

I’ve embedded a Storify stream above for tweeted highlights but it’s I’ve added my own post-event reflections below:

  • Stephen Waddington remarked that many of the academics there were notably pessimistic about the potential of social media. I think this was partly due to the way the session was framed – and there were some definite critical perspectives explored, but there was also a number of pragmatic questions asked about social media which is needed. Some, such as whether communicators are measuring their organisation/client’s ‘sociability’ or building small, deep networks around customers/stakeholders, are being realised in certain areas; meanwhile other critical questions, such as attempting to unpick  social media’s role in driving a deeper marketisation of society, are worth exploring further
  • There was some agreement that scholars need to move beyond existing models of PR and communications when exploring social media. Stephen Waddington highlighted the apparent unsuitability of Grunig’s work to social media (despite Grunig’s protestations to the contrary) while Erich Sommerfeldt highlighted the centrality of technology and technological affordances in mutually shaping personal and organisational identity and behaviour among activist groups. I mentioned Bruno Latour and Actor-network Theory which offers a really interesting account of the role technology plays in mediating society. These are issues largely far from PR and communications scholarship and need rethinking as a matter of urgency
  • It also occurred to me how many participants – certainly those from US-oriented universities – have read their Marx. There were two particularly impassioned critical accounts of technology and its potentially negative role in society from Dean Kruckeberg and Michael L. Kent. But some of the most pertinent points and questions raised (e.g. technology’s role in creating social and economic precarity; in further reorienting social relations around capital/the market, etc) are squarely addressed – or least acknowledged – by Marx and groups of contemporary Post-Marxist scholars, including Terranova, Beradi, Negri… even Castells
  • Finally, speaking of Castells… while he had his name dropped a few times there was a definite dominance of interpretive research. Giddens’ Theory of Structuration was covered extensively by Erich Sommerfeldt and Chiara Valentini invoked Alan Kirby but a bit more theoretical underpinning of some of the ideas discussed wouldn’t have gone amiss (but then again, I am a bit of a theory fan)

 

Is the NSA ‘whistle-blower’ news a damage limitation exercise for a bigger story?

Just a quick post on the NSA/PRISM story that broke last week highlighting two great articles that I happened on over the weekend and which – I think – set the appropriate tone for any robust discussion of the issues involved. You can also possibly identify a hypothetical scenario that might imply the recent NSA leak is a damage limitation move by the US Government. It’s a bit far fetched and based on supposition and limited evidence but worth pointing out anyway.

Firstly, ZDNet has a great analysis of the current situation which highlights the likely reality that Facebook, Google, Paltalk et al are probably telling the truth when they assert that they knew nothing of the PRISM programme. ZDNet’s reasoning for this requires us to go back to a slightly earlier story (also published by the Guardian) that revealed how the US Government’s NSA has been hoovering up social media – and presumably other online – data passing through network provider, Verizon, infrastructure at least since 2001. This original story was published a day before the Guardian broke it’s big NSA ‘whistleblower’ story.

ZDNet’s argument is that the Verizon story is much bigger than the NSA one. As it points out:

One by one, nearly all of the named companies denied knowledge of either knowing about PRISM, or providing any government agency user content, data or information without a court order or a search warrant.

But during that time, almost everyone forgot about Verizon. It’s the cellular and wireline giant that makes the whole thing come together.

According to ZDNet, Verizon – or more specifically, Verizon Business Network Services, is a Tier 1 network provider. Tier 1 providers are, in ZDNet’s terms, “the main arteries of the Internet” and there are only about 12 Tier 1s in the world “including AT&T, Level 3, and Sprint in the U.S.; Deutsche Telekom in Germany; NTT Communications in Japan; and Telefonica in Spain”.

Tier 1 networks function as privately controlled networks that help deliver business or mission critical data around the web. Unlike the publicly owned, distributed infrastructure of the web which will route data the most open way. Tier 1 networks ensure data is sent quickly and efficiently. Their private ownership, in short, guarantees quality network service to their customers – which is why the like of Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, etc use them. Hopefully you can see where this is going…..

With access to such a high-level network, it doesn’t take much for the NSA to legally tap into a US-owned/based Tier 1 network such as Verizon and subsequently harvest all the data as it travels between personal devices and the business (e.g. Facebook). Add to this fact many data-heavy platforms, such as Google and Facebook store cached user information within the cloud on the same network service and it becomes quite easy to see how a simple intercept can give the NSA lots and lots of private data.Not only that, but it can do this without Facebook, Google, etc ever knowing or even (presumably) needing to give their consent.

So far, so good. But where does Edward Snowden  come into it?

Well, such a question is picked apart by Lauren Weinstein in this great blog post. He queries a number of claims that supposedly support Edward’s motivations – ones which I had trouble taking at face value too. He rightly points out:

Snowden’s situation brings with it some real head-scratching questions.I’m immediately struck by Snowden’s current choice of Hong Kong as a place of refuge. He says the choice was based on their “spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.” I’m not entirely sure that he’s talking about the same Hong Kong I know, which is actually part of China, operates only with China’s sufferance, and — we can logically assume — is saturated with Chinese Intelligence. […] We’re also told that Snowden is “lining the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping,” and “puts a red hood over his head and laptop to avoid cameras capturing his passwords.”

I’ll admit to being puzzled by such actions. Neither of them are likely to negatively impact skilled eavesdroppers in any significant way, given the tradecraft available today.

Aside from this peripheral detail, Lauren then questions as to why Snowden’s revelations are such a big news story. Again, he rightly points out that the material of the leak is nothing that privacy, technology and civil liberty campaigners haven’t been pointing as likely outcomes of various US legislation for a while.

More importantly, he draws attention to the media narrative that the NSA has secret or covert access to big social media platforms. He asserts: “The PRISM documents have been widely touted as “proving” that NSA has “back doors” into the servers of Google, Facebook, and other firms, through which NSA could query and extract personal user data without interaction or control from these firms themselves.

Such a perspective, he argues, is wrong based on his own insider experience and knowledge of these firms. This position is supported further by the ZDNet analysis.

So, combining the two blog posts we get to ask the question: is the ‘whistle-blower’ / social media handing over your personal details simply a useful PR angle for the NSA to divert attention front he earlier, much more significant story that it is routinely and legally siphoning much more data via its Verizon (and presumably other US Tier 1 providers) wiretaps? Maybe.

I suspect this is little more than a hypothetical reading, but it would be good to get more insight into the background to the story – along with greater information on the following issues: What was the source of the Verizon story? Was it part of Edward Snowden’s material? When did Snowden come forward?