Archive for February, 2010

Welcome, Dear Guest (Bloggers)

I am going on vacation next week.  It’s our first trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands and the whole family is psyched to swim, snorkel, and just-plain lay out in the sun. Sun! — I wish I could snap off a chunk o’ solar goodness to bring back home with us.  Lord, are we white & wan after a bitter New England winter!

The Social Media Ethics series still has a few posts to go, but we’re going to be taking a break and will turn over the reins of PR-Squared to some guest bloggers, including Intuit’s Scott Gulbransen (a.k.a. PRGully), C.C. Chapman, and Radian6’s David Alston.  (Thank you, gentlemen!  Much appreciated!)

I’ll ask my tech guy to monitor and approve your comments at least 1x per day, since I will be happily offline (at least that’s the plan)!

Have a great week!

When Clients Want Coverage in Your Blog: Social Media Ethical Dilemmas

IStock_000011663938XSmallI’m no Chris Brogan, but if you combine the number of people I have access to via this blog and my Twitter stream, it’s fair to suggest that I reach thousands upon thousands of people — including some of the best-connected folks in Social and Mainstream Media.

So you might think I’d get a lot of pressure from clients to write about them in my blog, and to tweet about their news.  And you’d be right.  It certainly does come up, as Tom Foremski recently noted.

Where do you draw the line?

Keeping in mind that a PR agency’s goal is to promote its clients, I always take the time to thoughtfully evaluate the request.  But as regular readers can attest, it is very rare that you see me write a post about a client (unless it is a case study of SHIFT’s work, which is always appropriate!)

Honestly I don’t have a hard & fast rule here, my judgment is based on whether y-o-u will get value from the post. Given that this is a blog about Marketing/PR/Social Media, the client’s news or product would need to fit in that category, or else I am wasting your time.

On the other hand, I rarely have a problem tweeting about a client announcement or big media hit.  Even still, I try to make it rare: if my twitterstream becomes “polluted” with too many client announcements and/or self-aggrandizing posts, my signal:noise ratio will skew into “lame” territory, which benefits no one.

As I write this, though, I find it interesting that the FORMAT/LENGTH of the write-up is where the line is getting drawn, i.e., a long-form blog post feels almost sacrosanct, whereas the stream-of-conciousness of Twitter is really not nearly so “pure” to me.  Perhaps it is because I can so quickly bury a client-related tweet with, say, a lunchtime insta-poll about bacon.

AngeldevilIn any case, this Social Media Ethics series is certainly not just about me.  The bigger questions for agencies to ponder:

Should clients be allowed to leverage the agency’s (or its staffers’) brand to promote their own?  Should the agency principal ask a well-known staff blogger to write about a client’s news/products?

The tension in all of these posts tends to be between the Social Media Purists vs. the Social Media Marketing Realists.

The Purists don’t even want marketers involved in this Brave New World; they wave their dog-eared copies of the (brilliant & revolutionary) Cluetrain Manifesto and wave us off with suggestions that The Corporations and The People are now empowered to speak to one another directly, thank-you-very-much.

The Realists empathize with this philosophy but also recognize that a) companies are antsy about this Brave New World and appreciate some guidance, and, b) there’s not enough proven ROI for corporations to put all their chips in the “social” basket, i.e., they’re not about to pay a dozen or more Community Managers and toss out all their other marcomm initiatives.

Which brings us back to those Ethical Dilemmas facing the agency with regard to promoting the client in their own channel, i.e., risking their own credibility with their own audiences.

Somewhere in the middle lies the Truth.  I think it is well and proper for The Client to ask The PR Agency if it makes sense for the agency to use their blogs & tweets to promote their news.  The answer really should depend on whether it does, indeed, make sense.

Harking back to Forrester Research’s POST Methodology, if the PEOPLE that the client needs to reach are the same people that the PR pros regularly interact with, then, yes: blog about the client; tweet about the client.  Don’t be obnoxious; be transparent; understand that this could be a slippery slope; but sure, go for it.

But, if 90% of the PR pro’s personal network extends to other PR and Marketing types, then tweeting about a semiconductor client’s newest fab facility enhancements isn’t going to help the client, and will only hurt the PR pro’s longer-term street cred. So don’t.

Ultimately what I am suggesting is that the PR agency be true to the client’s business goals, versus their egos.

Tweaks to PR-Squared

IStock_000005617705XSmallThe PR-Squared blog has undergone some minor yet long-overdue content tweaks.

The “Social Media Jedi Training” section is now more about tactical ideas and case studies.

We’ve added a “Resources!” section which holds all of the many bits of helpful content published at PR-Squared over the years — the original Social Media Release template, the Blogger Relations Bookmark, the Corporate Social Media Policy Guidelines, etc. — which new readers should find very helpful.

And lastly, cuz I don’t want them to languish in the dusty-from-disuse Archives, we’ve added a page of my own all-time Favorite posts.

Nothing too major but wanted to note the changes, especially for more recent subscribers.

Social Media Abhors A Vacuum

IStock_000011506497XSmall(2)One of the issues that large brands must worry about — especially franchise brands — is IF and HOW local affiliates and employees decide to participate online.

For example, take a look at a well-known brand like real estate giant Century 21.

In addition to the official @C21realestate handle managed by Corp Comms in Parsippany, there are over 350 Century21 employees and/or franchisees on Twitter.

Their Twitter handles range from @C21_SUNBELT to @Cntury21, from @Century21Seller to @RealtorToCall (and any number of @firstnamelastname combinations, i.e., no C21 affiliation).

Some of these real estate twitterati have embraced the medium — and in fact, many of the realtors have 100–400 followers! — yet, most of the agents and franchisees clearly abandoned Twitter after a handful of tweets, or post only very sporadically.

In other words, there is no rhyme or reason, no overarching strategy, no way to consolidate nor highlight the company’s massive scale in order to present a compelling and unified presence on one of the world’s top social networks.

Let’s look at Facebook.

The official Century 21 Real Estate LLC fan page on Facebook is pretty well done, in terms of the depth of content and volume of posts.  The page boasts over 5,000 fans.

But then again, there is no explicit suggestion that this actually is the OFFICIAL fan page.  In fact, there is another fan page titled, more simply, “Century 21” — with over 1,300 fans.  So maybe that is the official fan page??

I am presuming that “Century 21 Real Estate LLC” is the official page because of the ### of fans and the amount of content, and, the fact that there are no other distinguishing qualifiers, e.g., “Century21–(Geogaphy).”

All of this is important because there are 1,600 search results on Facebook when you run a query for “Century 21.”  Over 500 of those 1,600 results are fan pages.  The quality of each page (based on a cursory review) is spotty and inconsistent, at best.

C21So: on the world’s #1 social network, it is hard to tell at-a-glance what the heck is going on, when it comes to Century 21.  I’ll say it again: there is no rhyme or reason, no overarching strategy, no way to consolidate nor highlight the company’s massive scale in order to present a compelling and unified presence.

I do not raise these issues to call-out Century 21 specifically. Having met (and, full-disclosure: unsuccessfully pitched) the folks at Century 21, I know them to be smart, nice and well-meaning.  I point to them only as one great example of WHAT CAN GO WRONG if a large company takes too long to establish some guard-rails on their Social Media approach.

And again, this situation becomes much worse – hardly containable and neary untenable – for companies that rely on a franchise model.  Those franchisees who don’t feel amply supported by Corporate will tap their entrepreneurial zeal to ensure that they miss no opportunity to toot their local horns.  If “the folks in Corporate don’t ‘get’ Social Media,” the franchisee will experiment on their own. And, as we’ve seen via the C21 example, they’ll largely do a lackluster job.

In the end such companies will have hundreds – maybe thousands – of “stray” Social Media sites.  Inconsistent.  Abandoned.  Off-kilter.  Hardly any of these independent Social Media efforts do a good job of boosting the master brand, yet all of them are still clearly affiliated: dragging down the brand, calling out the lack of strategy.

This post is not a call for control for controlling’s sake; it’s a call for planning for brand’s sake.

But surely I am missing something?  And I hope you’ll tell me all about it in the Comments?

Guess Who's Talking: Social Media Ethical Dilemmas

IStock_000010828645XSmallContinuing our series on Social Media Ethical Dilemmas, this post is about the guidelines related to agencies who help client contacts to identify and engage, via commenting, on industry/influencer blogs.

The goal is to insert our clients’ executives and perspectives into industry conversations; to help them build up their credibility, and ultimately to create valuable relationships with influencers.

How do you do this?  How can you effectively inform and educate busy clients while also cultivating the bloggers’ goodwill in an authentic way?

Here’s the general process…

The Agency is tasked with monitoring a series of influential blogs.

The Agency staff read the blogs every day, and sometimes comment — with full transparency, i.e., they comment as themselves, since it is not only in the client’s best interest but also in the PR pro’s interest to be engaged with the blogger.

On occasion, the blogger writes about something — a trend, a client competitor, etc. — that truly impacts the client.

At that point, the PR agency pro alerts the client, with a note that describes the blog post, its relevance to the client, and a brief description of the key points that the client might want to use in their own response, should they choose to engage.

EXAMPLE: Let’s say we have a client in the Search industry.  An influential blogger drafts a post about the evolution of SEO.  Our team reads it, drafts a synopsis, and immediately sends it to our client with a recommendation…

“We recommend inserting yourself into this conversation from a broader standpoint in terms of how many technologies, not just SEO, are changing in response to innovations in Search… Helping consumers move beyond the limits of traditional search is a more important end-goal than focusing on tweaking SEO.” (etc.)

AngeldevilEthical dilemma #1: is this an unethical engagement strategy??  On the one hand, as I just noted, our PR team is taking an inordinate amount of time to read and really think about each of these blog commenting opportunities, on behalf of our clients.  The resulting comments (ultimately written by clients personally) come across as lucid and engaged.  BUT, yea, there’s no denying it: many of our clients need us to tell them when, where, why and how to engage — and that engagement is often a cursory exercise.  The Agency often does the heavy lifting in terms of monitoring, identification, analysis, and recommendation.

Why?  Because the clients are busy running their companies and working with customers. Because there are now hundreds of blogs to monitor.  And because, over time, it tends to happen that genuine relationships are cultivated, e.g., when the blogger reaches out to the client contact directly, as a result of their interesting comment. What started out as a 1–level-deep commitment can convert into a true relationship; the Agency just helped plant the first few seeds.

In other words: it’s a gray area that I am comfortable living in.

This is not about misrepresenting the client; it’s actually about a) making sure the client is well informed about the trends and opinions of the blogosphere, b) saving time for the client and, c) making sure the influential bloggers are justifiably made aware of the fact that our clients do care about their content (even if they can’t keep track on a daily basis).

Ethical dilemma #2: it happens that sometimes the Agency’s suggestions can be pretty easily cut&pasted as the actual comment… the busy client might not take the time to put their own touches on it.  Worse, they sometimes say, “Yea, that sounds good.  Just use that language, and assign my name to that comment: you post it.”

While we are chagrined when our suggestions are used whole-cloth, there’s not much we can do.  When asked to post a comment on a client’s behalf, we always decline — both because our IP address could be traced back, and because, well, we don’t think it is ethical… though some clients are left scratching their heads.  After all, we will sometimes “ghostblog!?”  What’s the difference?  I don’t have a good answer.  My gut says “don’t go there.”

You can see how, as this series progresses, the dilemmas get trickier, stickier, harder.  All I can assure you, Dear Readers, is that we grapple with these ethical issues mightily, and often.  We take nothing for granted.  We harbor no cynicism nor deviousness.  We operate with every intention of maintaining the highest degrees of integrity…but we also live and work in a gray and uncharted land.

Your thoughts appreciated.

Show some social media love would ya?

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