Making your way on Facebook

If you don’t follow PR on Facebook, you should. The resource – published by Facebook’s own internal PR team – is essentially free advice on tactics that you can deploy as a communications professional that leverages Facebook’s 500 million unique users. It’s a must-read.

For example, they shared today a list of 40-or-so Facebook developers that shines with some brilliant minds. These are companies that can help your brand execute exciting work on Facebook, engage with your stakeholders and drive conversations. I know a lot of the folks on the list and am particularly fond of the teams at Sprout and Buddy Media.

PR on Facebook is helpful, and the list of developers is a great place to start. But do you know why you’re engaging there in the first place? Scroll through the agencies that list price ranges and you might suffer some sticker shock. Some list ranges from $5k-500k, others from $50-500k. Those represent large investments for a single platform but there are very good reasons to consider them in your marketing mix. Before you jump on the phone, sit down and ask yourself (and your teams, including agencies) what you’ll be trying to accomplish with that phone call. Think first about the strategy then the results of that breakthrough innovation will get your whole executive team excited for more.

Follow the leader

This week’s afterglow of the remarkable piece in Business Week about Sheryl Sandberg’s vision and leadership at Facebook was cut short by the discovery of an ethically-dubious PR campaign undertaken by PR agency Burson-Marsteller on behalf of Facebook.

First, on the Sandberg piece, I have to say that author Brad Stone did a great job depicting her character and her genuine nature. I had the fortune to work with Sheryl at Google and all of the things that he reports about her are generally true. She has an infectious spirit that inspires the team around her.

Now to the dirty news that tarnished the good vibe: it turns out that Facebook hired a PR agency to bring attention to what it believes are privacy-related issues with its competitor, Google. The concept – as reported by Chris Soghoian, one of those targeted by the pitch – involved pitching and working with a blogger to draft an editorial drawing attention to the privacy issues which Burson would then attempt to place in a major news outlet. The client behind the work, Facebook, was not disclosed in the e-mail pitch nor in the follow up conversation with Soghoian. Only after independent review determined that it was Facebook who was behind the campaign did the company confirm it. Shortly thereafter Burson also confirmed the report.

The shocking thing about this is the questionable ethics behind pitching something like an op-ed without disclosing the interests of the parties involved. It seems noone took the pitch seriously, and for good reason. Burson claims all of the information in the pitch is public information although it would appear that they employed the longstanding and reviled PR tactic of hyperbole to make the pitch more enticing. The statements of both Burson and Facebook seem to take some responsibility for the poor judgement but also levies blame on the other party.

After reviewing the stories I’m torn – I can’t decide what element of this story is worse. What do you think? Vote below.

[poll id=”2″]

Friday Fodder: Changing face of reputation management

I recently re-read for a research project a 1980 Public Relations Quarterly article (available only via academic databases, apologies) about the integration of consumer affairs and issues management. One of the recommendations made by author Merrill Rose in her article is to stay abreast of emerging communications technologies. She couldn’t have predicted in 1980 the social reality of 2010, but she raised a good point, one I’ve written about a few times – the need for communications professionals to stay abreast of the technologies that shape their media environment. That’s our job and professional responsibility.

If that need to stay ahead of technology is now apparent for individuals, then the need for the organizations they serve to embrace them is equally profound. Indeed, the business of reputation management, including issues and crisis management, is now a discipline in tumult. Issues management historically has been a discipline steeped in planning and preparedness. That’s still true today, but it’s now a discipline driven by technology and scale which tests the organization’s ability to respond. Gatorade knows this and created an impressive Command Center in response. I believe that model will become the norm, although perhaps without the catchy name.

That raises the burning question every PR person, brand manager and marketer should be focused on answering – what am I doing, personally AND professionally, to be proficient at managing in this environment? That’s this Friday Fodder, and I look forward to the discussion.

Don’t give away the farm

The sales pitch goes something like this: you’re on Facebook, congratulations on joining the social revolution! Now you need to capture as many fans as possible and get them to like you. Wonderful. How do you do that? One of the recommendations is to use your media strategy (that is, your ads) to drive traffic to the page. In other words, “visit www.facebook.com/YourBrandHere to learn more!”

Some brand marketers might wince at the suggestion, preferring instead to drive people to their website. But the strategy does work and it’s a good one. The problem with it is this: have you ever actually used Facebook’s native analytics platform, Facebook Insights? It doesn’t exactly replace your existing web analytics platform.

For example, traffic to your own website results in a multitude of data being streamed into your analytics platform (such as Google Analytics or Omniture). Things like unique users, their computer OS and language, the time they spent on your site, what they did once they were there. It’s the cornerstone of any good digital marketing program and without that data you’ll be severely restricted in what you can learn, report and measure.

Back to Facebook. Now, they’re not exactly in the analytics business. They did revamp their Insights platform last year and included some good new features. Some of those features mimic what you see in other analytics platforms, such as number of unique users and what they’re engaging with on your Facebook Page. It also reports referring URLs and that, my friends, is pretty much where the insights stop.

I’m not going to rag on Facebook. They’re busy building an empire that currently represents the majority of the world population. Providing data analytics to advertisers is not exactly a core business. That said, to effectively measure the impact of including a Facebook link in your marketing efforts you really do need as many of those insights as you can get your hands on. You need to know what worked, what didn’t, where you can improve placement of the link and where you can consider dropping it. In short, you need analytics.

How do you get them? There is a simple and elegant solution that many advertisers are not using, one that will keep the initial set of analytics available to you for analysis.

Ready for it?

Try using www.YourBrandHere.com/Facebook instead of www.facebook.com/YourBrandHere. The resulting landing page can simply redirect to your Facebook Page, thereby giving you access to the initial referring data. As far as knowing what happens once your fans get to Facebook you’ll unfortunately need to use their Insights platform. You can use this same method for any social media platform you’re engaged on, FWIW, and you’ll be glad that you did. It’s your money, it’s your fan base. Keep as much of the data as you can.


Thinking positive in a crisis

This blog post about corporate PR disasters to avoid on Investopedia got me thinking – why do so many pundits, analysts and experts insist on taking the “avoid these PR disasters!” approach?

Certainly there is a lot to learn from the case studies in that short blog post, and we should study those closely to internalize lessons from the trenches. But I’ve been in many meetings where these case studies and more (Tylenol, Firestone) come up, everyone winces in angst and then submit to a groupthink breakdown in creativity. When you start with the frame of mind that you’re trying to avoid one thing you end up either creating another or overlooking some strategies that might have been breakthrough and helped avoid the whole problem. It constrains innovation.

For example: in the case of Goldman Sachs a series of corporate bloopers, including some bristling commentary from their CEO, led to severe public outrage against both the institution and the banking industry. Mind you, this was not created in a vacuum – the public was already outraged by the economy, the financial collapse and allegations of corporate puppetry. CEO Blankefein’s comments capped off a fairly bitter episode. Viewed from that perspective, it’s pretty bad PR and definitely leaves behind a haunting lesson for the future. The first place the mind goes in response is to “avoid that.”

View the financial crisis from a different perspective, as Huffington Post did at the end of 2009. Does your mindset shift a little, looking a little more positive? Instead of thinking about “avoiding that,” why not focus on enabling something positive?

Next time you’re stuck think about PR strategies you DO want to emulate, versus crises that herald the end of humanity. It might just change the outcome.

Making innovation part of your DNA

I write a lot about innovation and explore a variety of methods to infuse it into your marketing efforts. In this post I reviewed four key innovation elements from Google that are broadly (if not universally) applicable to the function of PR and marketing. There was a two elements missing from that list that are worth exploring.

Part of the process of innovation involves a certain mindset that not everything goes as planned. If you try enough ideas and try hard enough, some will work out with astounding success while others will be doomed for the deadpool before they even launch. Still, if you have not encouraged your marketing organization to truly embody what it means to innovate and move quickly you will be missing out on massive opportunities to engage your consumers and stakeholders.

It’s easy for senior leadership to get excited about the buzzword “innovation” and they will likely welcome hearing you talk about how you are making your marketing and PR engine more lean and innovative. It’s the kind of stuff managers like to hear. But the reality of innovation is this – it’s not always rosy. Often, it results in bad results.

To capture all of the upside you also have to accept that there will be downside too. These are a couple of very important mindshifts you will need to consider before you start selling your organization and your agency roster on innovation:

1. It’s OK to Fail
This is such an important mindset to embody and it’s very, very difficult for many managers to accept this reality. A lot of organizations are tuned to extract failure out and in the process make those who may have bold ideas fearful of exploring them. You have to be willing to address that when it comes to marketing and social innovations, some amount of failure is OK. Better than OK, actually, because if you haven’t failed at a couple of things you are probably not taking enough risks. Google was famous for its quarterly planning process involving OKRs (that’s Objectives and Key Results). Each employee was expected to set for themselves every quarter what many might consider absurd performance goals. Most often, we’d fail to reach them and that was considered ideal – the stretch goals usually constituted about 120% of what success really looked like and so by getting to 90% of the goal, major progress was made. This encouraged everyone to experiment and to do so without fear of being tagged “failure.” Note: this is not a license to throw caution to the wind with every project and rush into things. It will be your job to defend every single project coming out of your marketing group to the rest of the company. But you won’t make those strides that will be widely celebrated if you’re not open to failing a little along the way and committed to providing that failure the necessary air cover.

2. Re-examine Your Listening Capabilities
I’ve seen this concept tested time and again and it’s another area where most organizations fall short. What often happens is someone in the marketing organization dreams up a grand idea for a new tactic or social innovation program. They write up a brief and put it out to their agency roster for consideration. The agency team executes on the work, launches the initiative and no budget or bandwidth is set aside to iterate or tweak the program. The thing is, most often you don’t get things right the first time. You won’t have time to send everything through QA. What you should be doing is listening intently to your most ardent advocates; generally, they will be first to suggest improvements to a new program, app or initiative and will also be the first to let you know when something goes sideways. If you’re not listening to that chatter closely you’ll miss the insight and if you aren’t aligned with enough bandwidth to tweak the program, you’ll quickly lose your followers. If you follow the “launch it and move on” mentality, you’re almost guaranteed to have mediocre results. So think about how you can make listening a core part of your marketing innovation process.

3. Know When to Sunset
All things come to the end of their logical lifecycle. Bad programs that go sideways will get there a lot faster and if you keep pumping resources into it will drain your organization of energy, money and ideas. Back to my first point, you have to be willing to accept failure every so often and if you’re moving quickly and pushing out new marketing initiatives as fast as you can dream them up, you’ll probably hit a few sour notes. Shut them down and move on. Don’t pump resources into an idea just because it’s there. It’s OK to sunset ideas. Communicate clearly with your fans and consumers about the reasons behind it, move quickly to the next great idea and capture key learnings as you go to ensure you are moving through the ideastream strategically and not just flitting from project to project.

Combined these amount to a seemingly insurmountable obstacle for a lot of marketing organizations. Corporate politics, budgets and planning cycles do not always permit sweeping changes overnight. But be persistent and chip away at them over time. You can change how you engage your stakeholders and market products and services.

How Do I Replicate Old Spice Guy?

I’ve been mildly amused by the analysis many experts are putting forth for the applause-worthy Old Spice campaign that took Twitter by storm, catapulting a shirtless guy previously unknown to us into an Internet phenomenon.

I’m amused on two levels.

First, I do believe it to be one of the most brilliant campaigns of the year. Old Spice clearly was listening to feedback on their TV spots which involved praise for the Old Spice guy character, took that feedback to heart and decided to leverage the heck out of it to keep the momentum going. It inserted them into conversations with influencers who would clearly under only the rarest of circumstances be willing to mention the Old Spice brand – folks like Guy Kawasaki (is there a Girl Kawasaki?) and Biz @ Twitter. Even P&G sister brand Gillette. And all of that amuses me not only because one of the PR agencies I work for (PainePR) works with Old Spice (cue a backslap), but because it duly represents a grand case of social media being the execution centerpiece of a holistic media strategy.

But then, the pundits start in analyzing the campaign, professing to know the secrets for how to replicate the Old Spice Guy video phenom. I’m amused by all of this because there isn’t a secret sauce for replicating Old Spice’s success, and it can’t be boiled down to a strategic approach to search and reapply. What happened in Old Spice-land, alas, stays in Old Spice-land. That’s good news for all of us, although we’ll likely have to suffer through painful attempts. Instead of rushing to copy the approach, an astute brand advisor would take this case to their next planning meeting and assign everyone a deliverable: identify one thing consumers are responding to favorably that might be a surprise to the company. It could be a trend, it could be a product. In Old Spice’s case, it was a character who fortunately doubled as a spokesperson.

Then, like Old Spice did, work holistically to leverage the heck out of it before the the opportunity expires. There’s nothing new in that approach, but Old Spice is a good reminder of its importance.

Status updates, get your status updates! For sale here

Note: this is cross-posted on the Threshold Interactive blog.

Facebook today launched a new feature for advertisers that repackages certain social actions on the network – say, a check-in at your favorite retail outlet – into a “Sponsored Stories” ad unit that will run in the right hand column on the site. Facebook has attempted to sidestep privacy criticisms by building a users’ privacy settings to the ad distribution – that is, only those friends within your network who would have already seen your check-in or other social action will be eligible to see the ad bearing your name and likeness.

This is a big step for advertisers as they will be willingly absolving themselves of the creative unit – context and content will be determined by the user who penned the status update in the first place. That is a fairly significant mindset shift for a lot of advertisers.

The bigger question here is the potential impact of this announcement on users. Facebook has a track record of challenging privacy issues including its now infamous Beacon program that was shuttered in 2009. Sponsored Stories is bound to draw criticisms stemming from the inability to opt out of being featured in an ad, and questions about whether Facebook can sell and profit from the written word of its members in this manner.

Of particular note to that last point – Facebook expressly prohibits users themselves from leveraging their personal profiles for commercial gain. This is a clause from its current Statement of Rights and Responsibilities:

So Facebook can sell status updates (or the sponsoring of said updates) to an advertiser, but users themselves are not allowed. There is a delicious irony there that is bound to be the target of attention in the next few weeks. Stay tuned for the ensuing debate.

Here is the full Facebook video with additional details.

Friday Fodder: Agencies, are you helping yourselves?

Gary Stein writes in his ClickZ piece today about the increasing prevalence of would-be clients asking their agencies to demonstrate their social finesse, so to speak, by requesting info on the social media accounts of the team involved. Seems simple and logical, right? After all, if I’m a client I deserve to hire an agency that knows what they are talking about and can prove it.

The problem is, a lot of agencies aren’t helping themselves in this area. Many large corporations have published social media guidelines that give employees a general framework for how to behave online as an employee, and more often than not lean towards being generous in what they allow. This encourages employee participation and, from an external perspective, a perception that the brand and its employees “get it.” Intel is a great example of this.

Many agencies similarly encourage their employees to use whatever social media tools they are comfortable with, and many even provide training to help prod things along. Great. But the thing is, generally the client hires an agency as a collective whole, and while that whole is comprised of a smart group of talented individuals, the client will want to know that all that intelligence ladders back up as a team effort.

Agency leaders need to closely examine how they are using social media – collectively – to demonstrate the inspired intelligence of the people who work there. Is there a live stream of its employee’s Twitter feeds on the home page? Is there even a blog? Does the agency have a unique POV on Twitter, and have they established themselves as leaders there? The answer need not be the same – each agency has its own unique perspective to offer on the industry, and what works for some won’t for others. But simply encouraging employees to take part in social media isn’t good enough in this environment.

That’s it for this Friday Fodder: what do you think?

Friday Fodder: Crises causing PR’s decline?

Matthew DeBord this week published a fascinating article about the recent major crises – BP, Toyota, Goldman Sachs, others – causing the profession that for decades has been positioned as the centerpiece of managing them to enter a tailspin. The response (at least in the comments to the article itself) was more muted than I’d thought it would be, given how closely to home it hits for a lot of the industry.

I think there is more than a measure of truth to his assessment, though. I do believe that the smartest PR practitioners today are rapidly teaching themselves and their colleagues the skills needed to manage any communication in an era of social media transparency, be it a crisis, a product launch or an earnings announcement. These are the tools of our profession, and it’s our professional responsibility to adapt to using them.

Sadly, not everyone IS adapting to the new tools. It will result in some attrition across the board as new talent comes onto the scene equipped to manage communications scenarios that are infinitely more complex and instant. But the truth is the tools available to a PR practitioner always evolve, and in the end they’re just channels. Yes, the pace has accelerated and caused some to throw their hands up in frustration. But the need for consistent messaging – even if it requires as few as 140 characters – means those PR people who do embrace these technologies will be even more critical to the organizations they serve. In the face of a crisis in a social media landscape, the job becomes more about managing a team and the flow of their collective thought and response than messaging the media, to be sure. It’s about scale.

That’s it for this Friday Fodder: What do you think?

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