Monday, May 24, 2010

On Mistakes, DIY and Getting "LOST"

It's analysis time here at the worldwide headquarters of Growing Communications and the Real Public Relations Blog.  It was a busy weekend for our staff and we weren't able to comment on some of the more interesting events that took place in the world of public relations and social media.  We have more proof that you can handle your own PR and social media efforts, a major mistake admitted publicly and our take on the LOST finale and what it means to you. 

Is it over?  Can I stop feeling bad about not getting it, or watching it, or caring?

First, an article that I stumbled upon late last week, but just didn't have the time to post.  It's a fascinating article with some excellent insight about the future of public relations.  I found it interesting and impactful because the article touted exactly what this blog has been trying to preach since its inception:

YOU can create and manage your own PR campaigns!

But I'll let the article speak for itself.  Here is a short excerpt from the beginning of the article, found on the E-Releases website.  Click the link for the entire article.  It's not long and a very good read.
News Men

If you’ve ever watched television, read a newspaper, or browsed a magazine, you’ve heard it (though you may not be able to name it). If you’ve been in the public relations industry for even a short while, you recognize it outright - it’s that dreaded public relations speak.
More often than not, traditional public relations speak is legalese and TPS reports all rolled into one boring packages. It’s talk of “value propositions” and “sustainable giving.” It’s understandable (barely), but is it interesting? Increasingly, the public is saying “No!” And how are they saying no? Through venues like social media.
 It makes an extremely valuable point later on the in the article that "Social media IS PR."  I couldn't agree more.  One of the primary objectives of this blog has always been to help small businesses, individuals, startups and non-profits to learn how to do basic PR so they don't have to pay large firms to do it for them. 

The Pro's and Con's of a Firm:

Certainly there are positives to hiring a PR firm.  But most of these have to do with previously established media relationships and time management.  I have said for a long, long time, going back to my days in a newsroom, that PR isn't rocket science.  Yes, there are tricks to the trade, a particular set of skills and even a little math and science involved.  But when you boil it all down to its basic element, it's about storytelling and networking.  And just about everyone in the world can learn how to do these two things. 

As a small business or non-profit you might find yourself needing more than just a basic media pitch, you might need a coordinated campaign or community outreach effort or crisis communications plan.  This is where an agency can definitely help.  Again, it's not because you don't know how, or can't learn, but primarily because you have an organization to run, and when PR and social media is in high gear, it needs more attention than you can give in order for it to be successful.  In these instances, you can decide what you can do, how much time you can give, and an agency or firm can step in and help you manage it, maintain oversight and keep it headed in the right direction in cooperation with your personal efforts.  In this way you save money by handling some of the work yourself, while still having the power of an experienced firm behind you when necessary.

One last point this article makes that I addressed not too long ago when discussing the BP Oil Spill; the language of PR.  Too often when I was working in a newsroom, I would run across releases that sounded more like a legal brief than an actual pitch.  Companies get so wound up in their catchphrases and terms they forget to actually say something worth listening to.  Some of this is because these organizations are pitching to trade outlets that understand this kind of PR speak.  They assume the reporter will understand how to translate this into a readable story for their audience. 

But I've always wondered why take that chance?  Why not just tell an interesting story from the beginning?  I'm not saying you should underestimate your audience, not at all.  But I AM saying that the audience generally has a different barometer of what's interesting and what's not.  You may care, and it might sound neat, to say that your "new, co-branded site is a 'Best-of-Breed' award winner that utilizes multi-platform digital strategies to leverage advertising opportunities." 

But it's probably more interesting and easily more understandable for the average person to say, "By partnering with business X, our new sites provide a bigger bang for your advertising buck!"

Yes, it's oversimplified, but, as a business person, I immediately understand the concept of what the second sentence is telling me.  I don't need to read it a second or third time to know that this new partnership could put my advertising dollars to better use.  And in case you're wondering, yes, that first sentence is from an actual press release.  You would never use that first sentence when telling someone about your new deal at a cocktail party.  So why would you use it in a press release?  Why would you even consider putting that kind of language on a Facebook update or in a Tweet?  In order for your PR and social media efforts to succeed, you need to speak the language of your audience. 

If your only audience is trade magazine editors and reporters, then I suppose the first sentence might be the way to go.  But if your organization depends on everyday, ordinary people, then avoid the PR speak whenever possible and get to the point, tell a story and say something interesting. 

Mea Culpa:

Another VERY intersting think happened over the weekend.  I read it first on my Twitter and have been anxious to comment about it ever since.  In case you missed it, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted publicly that the powerful social media site "made some mistakes."  Here's an excerpt from the ABC article posted earlier today (Monday, May 24th).  For the entire article, click on the link.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Admits Privacy Gaffes

After enduring weeks of criticism over his company's latest privacy changes, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg today offered a mea culpa in an op-ed column in the Washington Post. But some industry observers doubt that the tweaks he outlined will be enough to satisfy users' concerns.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Addresses Privacy Concerns

Acknowledging the public's response to Facebook's approach to privacy, he wrote, "Sometimes we move too fast -- and after listening to recent concerns, we're responding."
"Simply put, many of you thought our controls were too complex. Our intention was to give you lots of granular controls; but that may not have been what many of you wanted," Zuckerberg wrote. "We just missed the mark."
He said that the company is planning to introduce simplified privacy settings, as well as an easy way to disable all third-party services. 
 My take:  Good.  It's always nice to hear from someone who's willing to say, "my bad" and then move forward to fix the problem.  While I don't think the Facebook privacy issue had blown into a full-on crisis, I DO think that the governmental pressure combined with legitimate complaints from its millions of users forced Zuckerberg and Facebook to do something.

Here's what I liked about Zuckerberg's acknowledgement.  He admitted that his organization was "moving too fast."  He explained WHY they made the changes they did, and then followed that up by saying that THEY didn't do a good enough job of addressing privacy concerns while trying to simultaneously make changes they believed their users wanted.  He didn't say, "Hey, you thought we were too complex, we made it easier, make up your damn minds!"  Zuckerberg laid the blame at his own feet. 

The second thing I liked about the statement was that instead of trying to endlessly defend the changes, Zuckerberg apologized and then moved the focus not on the changes, but the changes to the changes.  In other words, he advanced the story by outlining what Facebook plans to do, or has already done, to address user concerns.  This is always a good move.  Yes, not everyone is happy with the solution, including Adam Ostrow, Editor-in Chief of Mashable.com, who stated that Zuckerberg's reaction to the situation amounts to little more than smoke and mirrors. 

"I think what he's done here is essentially acknowledge that there's been a lot of discussion recently about Facebook and privacy issues," said Ostrow. "But it really falls short of saying anything significant." 

Agree or disagree, the fact is that the story has now switched from the initial changes themselves and now is focused on the upcoming changes that will impact the Facebook privacy concerns.  It doesn't make the problem go away, at least not right now, but it at least moves the story from a completely negative to a more positive note.  It will be interesting to watch how this all plays out, but for the time being, I think Zuckerberg and Facebook made some good moves over the weekend.

I Was, Well...LOST:

Finally, there's the little issue of the finale of LOST last night.  I have to say this right up front.  I didn't watch the finale.  Not because I was otherwise preoccupied, but because I didn't watch LOST at all.  I didn't get it, didn't like the story arcs and couldn't relate to the characters.  I watched all of season one, and basically found myself manipulated and angry afterwards. 

But here's the interesting thing:  I kow what happened in the show, and I've read numerous articles about LOST, it's plotline/s, characters, theological implications, actors, writers and what they ate for breakfast on the set.  Did I do this because I am, in reality a closet LOST fan.  I can say adamantly not.  I did so because LOST, like American Idol and The X-Files and Twin Peaks and Survivor, had become a cultural icon.  In twenty years, when people discuss the culture and trends of the first decade of the new millennium, LOST will be in that discussion; much like Michael Jackson in the 80's, Disco in the 70's, or painted potter of the Neolithic Period.  Some things become phenomenons and cultural markers.  LOST is likely one of those things. 

But as I read my Facebook and Twitter updates this morning, I had to wonder if LOST would have been as successfull, as big as culturally far-reaching if it had come out, say, ten years earlier.  In the mid-90's the internet and social media was still a bit of a twinkle in the eyes of Silicon Valley geeks.  There would have been message boards and forums to be sure.  But without the constant online chatter that social media offers, I had to wonder if it would have carried the same weight that it carried today. 

For a long time, I've been reading posts and Tweets from friends and strangers alike commenting about rearranging their schedule to watch LOST.  Or debating the storyline or the previous night's episode.  For a while, I generally ignored these posts as a conversation I simply had nothing to do with.  But as it grew and became more popular, I started taking notice, much like I do now with the American Idol posts. 

I had no desire to watch the program, but I found myself feeling like I had to follow the conversations at least so I could keep up with what people were talking about.  It's kind of like a person who wants to hang out with a certian group of friends who are all football fans.  But this person doesn't like football.  They won't watch the games, necessarily, but they at least learn about the game and keep up with major developments so they don't get left out when everyone else starts talking about the big game, major trade, huge win or disappointing loss. 

Since you want to be involved in conversations that could eventually help grow your business, knowing what people are talking about is the best way to remain relevant and intersting.  For instance, I had no idea who Justin Beieber was, but after seeing his name trend on Tweet for a while, I figured I'd better check out who this guy was.  I even listened to some of his songs and read some articles about him.  I certainly don't qualify as a fan, but at least I know who he is and won't feel left out if I'm with a group of folks talking about him. 

Talk The Talk:

Social Media works both ways.  In order for you to create and maintain a high profile, you have to say things that interest your potential audience.  But in order for you to know what your audience is talking about, you have often have to watch and listen and stay involved.

The big question now is this; since LOST is now over, 24 has run its course (as has Survivor and The Great Race) and American Idol is probably on the downside of its cultural impact what will step in to fill the void?  There really is no way to predict this.  I won't even try.  But if you're smart you'll keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter, because the next big thing will likely emerge from there.  You'll know it when it happens because you'll find yourself reading more and more posts about a show or an event or a band or type of music, etc. 

The wonderful thing is that you don't HAVE to know what's coming down the pike.  You simply have to be ready for it when it does, and that's where paying attention to your social media platforms will help you immensely.

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