The advent of social media and the social web is challenging many public relations and marketing professionals to understand, incorporate and participate in these new channels to be effective in their roles. Businesses looking to adopt these new tools as a way to engage, monitor and grow their influence are facing the same struggle. In a recent blog post, titled “The State of PR, Marketing and Communications: You Are the Future,” Brian Solis writes, “It is this element of fundamental transparency of Social Media combined with its sheer expansiveness and overwhelming potential that is both alarming and inspiring PR professionals everywhere. At the minimum, it’s sparking new dialogue, questions, education, innovation, and also forcing the renaissance of the aging business of PR itself.”
For this blog post, I spoke with David Meerman Scott, thought leader and pioneer in this arena and author of many books such as The New Rules of Marketing & PR, a BusinessWeek bestseller being published in 24 languages, and his new book World Wide Rave among others, to discuss the changing face of PR/marketing and how it’s forcing PR/marketing professionals to “unlearn what they have learned” to remain relevant. In this interview, we take a look at the past, the present and the future of PR/marketing and what professionals need to do to stay ahead and maintain their competitive edge.
There is a lot of noise around social media. How has the introduction of social media changed the face of PR and marketing?
Well, prior to the Web, we as PR and marketing professionals had three ways to reach people — to buy ads, beg the media to write about us or hire salespeople to bug people by knocking on doors. Social media has provided us with an opportunity to publish our own information and earn attention rather than buying, begging or bugging people. It is illustrative of what’s changed because with the advent of social media and the web, anyone can publish online to reach and be seen by millions of people through Twitter, YouTube, etc. It’s evolutionary in terms of how we communicate today and what it means for PR, marketing and sales professionals.
The most important thing for us (I include myself in that) is to have an understanding that we have to unlearn what we have already learned in order to be successful in the world of social media. For a long time the success of advertisers was predicated on how well they were able to buy attention or make TV commercials. Further, the success of PR professionals has been based on how they can convince the media to write about their clients. Neither of these things is about creating original content. The traditional ways of doing things involved buying, begging and bugging. That approach has changed. What marketers and PR people need to understand is that while their skills are still valuable, they need to evolve their approach and their techniques, or they won’t be successful. What it really comes down to is what can they create themselves or for their clients using new ways to reach a broader audience. Today’s strategy involves a completely different skill set. Rather than thinking like a traditional PR person, you have to think like a publisher — you’re not just working to buy attention or to get a reporter to write about your client. Today’s approach is fundamentally different.
I do believe that PR agencies are still needed today for their traditional skills of media relations. I don’t think social media makes the skills of PR people go away. There will be room for people in the PR industry to work with media to craft stories on their clients’ behalf. However, we have a tremendous opportunity to influence people in other ways beyond the traditional approach. For example, if you look at PRSA’s definition of public relations, and I’m paraphrasing here, it’s about how an organization deals with its public. There is no mention of media relations. However, a lot of PR people believe their job is only media relations, solely to generate ink from third parties. We now have an opportunity to influence and reach the public using new tools, and this is great news for all PR people because we never had that option before. To reach people directly, we had to go through the media. Now you have more choices. You can help your company or your clients reach their publics in different ways through YouTube, Twitter, chat rooms, Flickr, blogs, etc. by publishing different yet compelling information.
What do you see as common pitfalls of today’s marketing/PR pros?
Getting back to my point earlier, the pitfalls for PR pros are that they’ve become very skilled at crafting a story idea that somebody else will write about and broadcast, skilled at working with others to say something on their behalf or their clients’. If that’s all you do, you’re going to miss out on a tremendous opportunity to create content for yourself. The pitfall is that you really do have to unlearn the skills that you have learned to successfully engage in the social media sphere.
For instance, I get pitched every day from other PR people to write about their stuff. I almost never do — maybe one or two times a year when somebody sends me traditional pitches or press releases. However, if somebody tweets something or sends me a link to a blog post that I find interesting, that gets my attention, and I often write about it on my blog or tweet about it. I’ve written about a lot of companies but I’m not going to write based on a traditional press pitch. PR pros need to think differently to be successful. I believe they need to be forward-thinking PR professionals who can seize the opportunity and guide their company or their clients that are struggling with social media on the new ways of publishing and communicating.
A lot of times when I’m on a speaking circuit, people ask me to show them how to do this. I get asked constantly by companies and executives for suggestions on how they can incorporate social media into their overall strategy. What I say to them is to check out PR agencies and marketing and ad firms to see if those firms have the skills to put it together. The truth is not many can. A lot of PR/marketing or ad firms will create a tab on social media that links to poor Twitter updates to show that they’re doing social media. I tell those companies looking for help to find the PR/marketing/ad firms and find out how active they are in social media. Find out if they do YouTube videos, whether they are active on Twitter, blogs, chat rooms, etc. and that will be your guide in terms of whether that agency can help you. If they’re not active, there is no way they will be successful in helping clients do social media. There are agencies that are terrific with social media, and I encourage organizations to work with those firms to get their social media efforts going. The good news is that anyone who wants to become adept at this can.
What are some common misconceptions about social media?
I think the main thing here is that people make it out to be too much about the technology and not enough about the content itself. The second major thing is that people need to be thinking not about themselves or their ego, their clients or their products — but think about the people they’re trying to reach. What are the problems they’re trying to help solve? People who are steeped in traditions will automatically create social media based on what they know. To do social media successfully, you need to put away the thought that you have to talk about your products, company, services, etc. but start thinking about valuable information you can create and publish to help solve people’s problems.
What top three pieces of advice would you give to PR/marketing pros looking to stay ahead?
• First and foremost, unlearn what you have learned,
• Second, participate. You have to participate yourself. You can’t bill yourself as an
expert unless you’re doing it yourself.
• Third, do it now. Don’t wait, analyze or pontificate. Get it going.
What are your thoughts on ROI — investment versus influence?
I believe they’re not mutually exclusive. Traditional ROI seems to apply to certain things in marketing. I believe it’s because executives are fearful of social media, and that’s why they hold people who want to implement social media accountable to measurements that other parts of the organization are not being held accountable for. What’s the ROI of putting a new coat of paint on the building? What’s the ROI of the CEO making a trip to California? We don’t calculate ROI in other parts of the business but hold ROI to social media. It might not necessarily be ROI in terms of the traditional MBA approach, but there are tons of ways to measure social media — where you are on the search engines, measure what people are saying, etc. There are all sorts of things that can be measured and how it impacts the brand and influence of your company or your client’s company.
What’s your next big project?
I am working on a New Rules of Social Media series of books, and we’re going to be doing three titles a year featuring different authors. The books will include details of different aspects of social media. The first book will be coming out in October of this year: Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, the co-founders of HubSpot.
For more information on David Meerman Scott, visit http://www.webinknow.com/.