Are We Missing the Next Big Thing Because of Our Twitter Obsession?

Posted by Dan Keeney

Enjoyed a giant lunch covering every conceivable food group with the Greater Fort Worth Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America today. The luncheon speaker was Beth Harte of Harte Marketing & Communications. She had presented a morning workshop along with Twitter freaks Richie Escovedo and Terry Morawski from Mansfield ISD on how public relations counselors can use social media tools to achieve measurable PR objectives.

I grabbed my camera and asked Harte to walk through what she thinks are the most important points for PR professionals to consider in this rapidly changing environment.

At this point — about five years into the social media adoption cycle — I can’t help but feel that there aren’t too many more original thoughts on the subject. The PR pros who haven’t yet emersed themselves in social media have to be making a conscious effort NOT to do so. I mean, my 78 year old Mom is now on Twitter and plays card games with gamers around the world on Yahoo when she gets a break from caring for my 102 year old Grandma. If you are behind the adoption curve from my Mom you really must be trying to not advance in PR.

So my point is that everything I just heard Beth say is fine, but I worry that it’s not pushing us forward. And it’s not just Beth — it seems to be everyone who is out there speaking to PR groups about social media. I don’t hear anyone showing those of us who have a cursory level of involvement in the space anything particularly new. It isn’t new to suggest that we need to plan and have objectives and measure results on the back end. It isn’t new to suggest we need to know who we are engaging and be authentic. Anyone who has been involved in a grassroots effort knows the importance of connecting with influencers in a genuine way.

So it starts to dawn on me that this isn’t about the technology. It’s about PR fundamentals. But I am telling you: IT IS ABOUT THE TECHNOLOGY!

If the PR community intends to annex the social media space, we can’t just say that we are social media counselors and then suggest that all the rules we’ve always followed still apply going forward. They may not. Do we really need to spin our wheels examining the tone and frequency of every blog post that mentions us? To what end? I say go ahead and engage. Just like if you overheard a conversation about your company or product on a street corner. Listen and then offer your two cents. Connect! No need to over-think it!

Of course more information is always better than less, but the constant push by PR pros to slow down the process in the name of strategy inevitably diminishes the magic that comes with embracing spontaneity. You can be strategic and spontaneous. We do it all the time in issues management and crisis response. Just because you are making decisions on the fly doesn’t mean that they aren’t rooted in strategy.

Do I really need to assess if taking a camera along for a tour of a client’s facility and posting the videos on YouTube will deliver results? It doesn’t cost anything extra. And yet, how many PR folks have a video camera in their bag? How many have a basic understanding of video editing?

If you haven’t noticed, folks, the media is US. All of us. So if you want your stories told, go ahead and tell them.

We have to constantly push forward and examine how new technologies can be used. For instance, we need to understand the emerging world of cloud computing, which some suggest will radically change the way information is generated and shared in the coming decade (disclosure: I represent Mezeo Software, developer of the Mezeo Cloud Storage Platform). We need to better understand crowdsourcing and collective problem solving.

We spend so much time obsessing about Twitter that I am certain we are completely ignoring the NEXT Twitter. Whatever the next big thing will be is probably already in use. We’re oblivious because we’re all patting each other on the back for starting a Twitter account and updating our Facebook status.


EDIT: Beth Harte has posted
a great response on her blog. Just to be clear, this wasn’t intended as a critique of Beth’s presentation. It is a reflection on the PR / social media relationship.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 13th, 2009 at 11:02 pm and is filed under Future of PR, Public Relations Advice. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

34 Responses to “Are We Missing the Next Big Thing Because of Our Twitter Obsession?”

  1. Beth S. Miller, ABC Says:

    Dan you hit the nail squarely. It is about the technology. Social media is not the new solution, it is yet another tool in a communicators quiver. There will always be specialists for each toolset – SEO, crisis/issues management, and now social media. But as communications practitioners, our job is to know how these tools can be best deployed. Loved your idea on carrying a video camera to a client site, got one in my case now.

  2. Kami Huyse Says:

    I think you might be getting at something here, and as someone who speaks a lot, I am wondering how to liven up the conversation and deliver some novel concepts.

    I think that the key is content. We have to think more like journalists and less like messengers.

    The other key is how to use the technology, not just Twitter or Facebook, but more how to harness it all together and leverage it’s power to provide a more coherent digital footprint.

    You see, while everyone that has been awake has a passing understanding of social networks, very few understand how to leverage these networks in a coherent strategy. I can run my Facebook page, but how can I build a community around a comapany’s page?

  3. Daniel Keeney the PR Counselor Says:

    Kami: You are right. I don’t see too many coherent strategies. But I can point to one of my clients that has had a great deal of success by just feeling their way and learning as they go. Saint Arnold Brewing Company was early in using online video both to disseminate information and to engage others through contests, etc.. Since last year, they’ve used Twitter as the primary mechanism to spread the word about events — including spur-of-the-moment events just an hour or two after an alert goes out. They have multiple fan pages on Facebook as well as their official company site — but those operate organically for the most part. I guess what I’m saying is that a lot of it has been trial and error, but I am not aware of any company that has had better results. Saint Arnold’s social media involvement has cemented relationships with the emerging taste leaders of Houston. We have a strategy, but we’re not miopic about it — our eyes are open to possibilities beyond a rigid strategy.

  4. Beth Harte Says:

    Dan, wow, thanks for the set up… Of course I didn’t say anything “new” because you didn’t ask me any new questions. 😉

    To clarify for those playing along at home, I was speaking on what the PRSA asked me to speak about: Planning & Measuring Social Media. I think it would have been a disservice to not cover their requirements and go in another direction.

    Those of us who were involved in social media before it was even called that, need to understand that companies still want the “proof” at the end of the shiny rainbow before they engage. And no matter how basic or ‘uncool’ a plan is…it can do that.

    As for objectives not being new…they are not. But PR folks are sorely lacking on how to right decent objectives that are measurable. About 75% of the entries for one PRSA Bronze Anvil category that I recently judged were disqualified because of the poorly written objectives.

    I think the challenge isn’t learning the new tools or “getting” social media, it’s understanding that mass marketing and communications no longer works. That’s a shift in mindset for most people in business.

    Twitter and Facebook are just tools, here today, gone tomorrow. And for some reason they are they only ones that seemed to get hyped. What about the 1000s of Yahoo! Groups and forums that people still use? They seem to have stood the test of time without all the glitz and hype. Just because they aren’t cool doesn’t mean there isn’t a vibrant community to tap into.

  5. Daniel Keeney the PR Counselor Says:

    Hey – I did take my moderation of comments down!

    It wasn’t intended as a slam or setup — it’s more a commentary on the entire state of affairs of the PR / social media relationship. The sooner we as a PR community can come to grips with the fact that social media is a tool that can be employed just like a direct mailer is a tool and the local TV news is a tool — the better for all of us. Then we can normalize the use of social media and look further out on the horizon at what else is coming.

    I think it may have been Terry Morawski who tweeted last week wondering if PR people had workshops in the 1980s about how fax machines would change the way PR people connected with the media and their other audiences. That’s my real point. Integrate these tools into your program and keep experimenting — keep innovating. This is not an end point — we’re only at the beginning.

  6. anon Says:

    As someone who was telling my story and then had my employer strongly suggest that I remove a specific tweet from my personal twitter account and not make more like it, I don’t think we’re to a point where we can really just go tell the stories we want to tell the way we want to tell them. Most people expect brutal honesty in communication about others, but still aren’t ready to see honesty in 3rd party communications about themselves.

  7. Daniel Keeney the PR Counselor Says:

    We’ll need to continue advocating internally for social media policies that allow freedom of expression while also protecting the reputation of the brand. Every PR counselor needs to be encouraging their organization leaders to adopt “blog smart” and “tweet smart” policies to guide employee behavior online. Over time, the old school command and control approach will be replaced by a greater understanding of the positive power that can result of people sharing their true observations, concerns and feelings. The fact that you’ve chosen to remain anonymous speaks volumes and makes me sad for your muted situation.

  8. Beth Harte Says:

    Dan, I get the point but I think if we look at social media as only a tool, people will think of it as only a campaign mechanism (like direct mail or TV news) and I think that is short-sited. I think social media is an ongoing business mindset more than it is a tool.

  9. Beth Harte Says:

    Okay, before I sound like a hypocrite, I’d like to clarify. Yes, social media is another tool in the tool kit. But where I think people make a mistake is by not using it as a consistent tool. As I had said at the PRSA event, it’s like turning the spigot on and off. Eventually people will stop coming back for a drink when they ralize that a company is only turning on the spigot to get limited commentary or feedback (as part of a campaign). The confusion with the term social media is that some folks mean it as only the tools (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) while other refer to Social Media as a mindset of being willing to have those two-way engagments via the tools. And that’s where I think we need to have more discussion.

  10. Richie Escovedo Says:

    To me there is a difference between Social Media as a concept and Social Media tools. The SM tools are just that, tools that can be leveraged for purposes that PR people can and should be using to effectively communicate with various publics. Social Media as a concept – people having online conversations – is what I think Beth was trying to get across to the audience and how to plan for and address business needs. The point being SM should be approached as the mindset of sharing, openness, authenticity, needed to successfully engage your community and ultimately benefit the bottom-line. My $.02

  11. Daniel Keeney the PR Counselor Says:

    Richie: I am right there with you. But let me refer to my This is PR textbook (by TCU’s Doug Newsom [!!] and Alan Scott from UT) I studied at the University of Colorado oh so many years ago (I have the 2nd edition published in 1981 to give you some perspective on just how long ago it was!). On page 4 is an illustration that shows communication flowing TWO WAYS between an organization and its publics. I guess that’s my point. None of this is new, but we as a PR community are staring wide eyed at the prospect of actually having to engage with people. It’s just funny to me. Here’s the illustration:

  12. Richie Escovedo Says:

    Understood. But, what this illustration fails to show are the conversations and community between Publics about the Organization and the Organization’s competitors or threats.

    The way social media as a concept is new is the idea that PR people now need to be thinking about, listening to, measuring and monitoring, and ultimately engaging in those conversations that bypass the traditional institutions including mainstream media.

  13. Daniel Keeney the PR Counselor Says:

    Oh, that’s certainly assumed. Nobody ever suggested that our publics exist in an information vacuum. I’m really not saying that nothing has changed. What has changed is 1) the pace of communications, 2) the removal of barriers between organization and public, and 3) the ability to listen to conversations that (gasp) ALWAYS have been taking place. So I’m asking what is the efficacy of our tried and true fundamentals in that environment? I’m not convinced that we can just fall back on the old Research, Plan, Implement and Evaluate in a landscape that can see radical shift in public opinion and behavior from hour to hour (ask Domino’s). And I’m suggesting that our efforts to shoehorn today’s SM tools into yesterday’s paradigm is coming at the expense of realizing the benefits of whatever is coming next. 

  14. Richie Escovedo Says:

    While it may have certainly been assumed that those conversations were happening, what I am saying (and agreeing with you on)is that we didn’t have efficient if not more effective ways to listen to those types of conversations. Thanks for sharing and making me think.

  15. Richie Escovedo Says:

    While it may have certainly been assumed that those conversations were happening, what I am saying (and agreeing with you on)is that we didn’t have efficient if not more effective ways to listen to those types of conversations. Thanks for sharing and making me think.

  16. Kami Huyse Says:

    And that is simple common sense. I don’t agree that a research, plan, implement, evaluate can’t be speeded up to fit the times. No experienced PR practitioner really needs a formal plan to quickly and innately run through these steps. I agree with Beth that an objective is often the most important element of the whole thing, even for a spur of the moment event.

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  18. Daniel Keeney the PR Counselor Says:

    Okay, I’m not sure what to make of that comment, since nobody in this conversation string did what you are warning about — OTHER THAN YOU. LOL. So thanks for the karma reminder and I suppose you will get what’s due you at some future point.

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  20. Daniel Keeney the PR Counselor Says:

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  21. Milford MA Real Estate Says:

    There is no doubt that social media marketing is important for many businesses. There are folks however that waste an extreme amount of time on various sites when they could be doing a lot more for there business with other tasks. For example there are many folks that have websites but don’t do anything as far as SEO to make them better. This could help a lot more than hanging out on Twitter all day!

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