Measuring intangibles

April 25, 2011

Around about this time of year, every sports nerd such as myself becomes obsessed with the NFL’s annual draft and the sports most elusive phrase: a player’s intangibles. They refer not to how fast an athlete can run, or how much weight he can lift, but to his leadership ability, his intellect and above all his desire to win. A near impossible task, guesswork at best. I mention this as I feel measuring a player’s mental strength draws similar comparisons to the task of measuring the impact of social media.

My last blog put great emphasis on the numbers associated to an online campaign by Old Spice. I quoted numbers in their millions relating to people following, watching or ‘liking’ the brands online presence on social media sites. I even hypothesized about what those statistics mean, but that is all it was: a hypothesis. The effects of ‘successful’ interaction on these platforms is intangible, so much so that no one is quite sure what success even looks like.

Of course there are theories and ideas on how to measure the impact of social media, but ultimately a purchase decision already incurs numerous variables without throwing social media into the mix. You can talk all day about how many people clicked on a linked tweet, how long they stayed on that page and how many eventually made a purchase through said link. But that isn’t what social media is about.

The business of PR itself is intangible. We don’t live or die by numbers. We promote an image and manage reputations. These ideas are abstract, but don’t try and tell me that the benefits of these practices are worthless. Let’s keep the numbers in the accounting department. You can’t put a number on an issue affecting a brand, but you know it must be dealt with. Likewise we use social media to enhance our communicative potential and ability with our audiences. We are communicators, not number crunchers.

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You’ve probably seen the TV advert, if you haven’t do it now. It’s good isn’t it? Well I like it anyway. But the nuances of the televised advert really don’t concern me. The campaign of which it is/was a part of now however is a glorious example of how to run a social media campaign. The advert on Youtube has 31,628,808 views, the Facebook page has 1,383,942 and the Twitter page has 124,664 followers. Impressive numbers, but what do they mean?

Well at its most basic level, the Youtube numbers show an astonishing amount of people with exposure to the brand name. That alone is pretty good thing.

So Facebook, a lot of people ‘like’ the brand, possibly the most ambiguous and difficult of online media to rationalize. But consider this; over a million people bothered to either search for the brand on a site unassociated with it, now that is something.

And Twitter? Well hundreds of thousands of ‘Tweeters’ feel that the brand will be able to add something to their day-to-day lives by updating them with news, information and thoughts.

There we have it. Three platforms that in different ways engage its audience. Of course there are those who argue how effective these platforms and how they influence audiences. But we can all agree that those numbers are pretty impressive right?

So how did they do it? Old Spice took a solid, funny ad-campaign and took it to the next level by allowing people to interact with it via social media platforms. This intern increased exposure by increasing the potential interest of the audience. Put simply, a good advert could make a target public remember a brand for a minute. By allowing them to have a conversation with the advert, they increase the attention span of the audience and thus potential for brand recall. Good huh? And if that wasn’t enough the possibility for people posting links on social media pages increase word-of-mouth spread of the message. Old Spice’s campaign is a great example of how to create and manage an online campaign.

2011 will be a year remembered across the globe as the year a revolution took place across North Africa and the Middle East. People took to the streets demanding democracy be granted them and to vanquish the dictators that denied it. But how did this all come about? On January the first did all oppressed people of the World have a simultaneous epiphany? Of course not. But a lot of them did check their Facebook pages…

This year a historic uprising of the Egyptian public took place, all thanks to the communicative powers of social media. Never before had an entire population been able to coordinate with such ease and speed a nation-wide demonstration of frustration, until they all signed up for Facebook accounts. That’s right; possibly the most significant political and social event of the century thus far can be attributed to a website. Don’t believe me, then check out how seriously the then Egyptian rulers took it. My point is that without social media this could not have taken place. But this years events are not the only things that would not exist without so called ‘digital activism’. As this blog has discussed before online communication has the potency and potential to cause all sorts of problems, particularly from a PR stand point.

Yes, the Internet provides ample opportunity for brands to promote themselves, but it also puts a huge magnifying glass over all there issues as well. From a practitioners point view the power of the web frightens me. The ability of those using it to spread negative information no matter whether it is accurate or not, is massive.

The events in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya are perfect examples of the rabble-rousing abilities it possesses and although they are not brands, you can see what may happen to even the toughest of dictators, let alone the potential for trouble for businesses.

So if you’ve been reading any other blog entries, or have in fact met me in real life, then your going to be in a very good position to make an educated guess on to my answer to the question posed in the title. Of course, in true viewfromthedarkside fashion – I can whole-heartedly tell you yes, of course we can trust Twitter. Can we trust those who tweet? Now we’re talking.

Searching the Internet for worthwhile thoughts and information, I came across this very interesting blog entry on sponsored tweeting and consequently this gem of a website. The latter is a very interesting website that can calculate for you the supposed ‘worth’ of a celebrity endorsement on Twitter.

The idea that a celebrity out right telling you that they ‘endorse’ a product, is to my mind an absurd suggestion that people in general are idiots. Actually its not so absurd as I imagine many people are idiots and could well have their buying behavior influenced by a non-entity who appears only in gossip magazines for various unimportant reasons. Yes I do feel better for getting that off my chest, thank you.

I guess you can see where I’m going with this. By paying for a celebrity endorsement on Twitter, despite the tweet being marked as being paid for one does have to question the morality of influencing people through a medium that is designed to share people’s thoughts. But actually what do I care? If it works it works. That’s the business I’m in and I have no problem with using the tools at my disposal.

I remember a time, roughly six months ago, when I would simply laugh off the idea that someone with a degree in some form of IT would be anywhere near a PR Agency, other than to fix the email. Now I wonder whether someone like myself with a (future) degree in PR will be going anyway near an agency. Search Engine Optimisation is now a crucial part of most strategies and it is easy to see why.

Let’s be honest, we want to find something we ‘Google it’. Moreover we rarely go past the first few links, let alone the first page. Therefore SEO can be considered an immensely important part of brand visibility, to say nothing of bottom line implications. But as always, I’m a cynical son-of-a-gun.

The idea of a search engine is to ‘find’ what you are looking for, not to find what Generic-Multi-National-Corporation PLC wants you to. But ‘whoa there’ I here you cry, is that not my job as a PR person to get my client to the forefront of a publics mind? Why yes it is. Which is why I think SEO is the laziest form of PR.

My hypothetical job is to promote our client, to make sure their product or service is the product or service of choice of their public, and I have no problem with a ‘by any means necessary’ ethos. However, by utilising SEO you are putting metaphorical white flag above you reputation as a PR person. If you can’t promote your client through any means other than ‘cheating’ them to the top of Google, then maybe you’re in the wrong career. PR is all about persuasion, not search engine rankings. Don’t get me wrong, SEO can have a positive effect on a brand, but lets leave it to the IT department and not rely on it as the tip of your PR arrow.

Want to read a blog that has a sunnier outlook on SEO? Well you could search for it, but oh wait… Here, I did the legwork for you.

It’s well documented by many academics (L’etang, Grunig, Smith and co) that the art of PR is all about selling an idea or image of a product to a public. So in this age of interactive communications we can safely presume that the digital world is another (large) playground in which PR practitioners can play. But does the image created in this playground actually affect the product itself?

Lynx deodorant is a wonderful example of brand image. The suggestion of the Lynx brand is that by using their product, one may instantly attain the lustful desire of attractive women. I can tell you this: I have used a pre-teen male level of Lynx this morning. I can inform you now, after a trip to the golf club where I occasionally work, a brief visit to Guildford town center and a walk to the post office I am no more sexually active than I was pre-application of Lynx. Am I missing something?

But did I really expect the product to bring we scantily clad women? Hell no. But I still bought the product. Why? I’m pretty sure no one can answer that question without a substantial amount of educated guess work. We buy products because for whatever reason in our minds we like them. So you could presume therefore that an online PR campaign could be pretty integral to the success of a product. Let us look one of Lynx’s competitors. Old Spice recently ran an incredibly successful campaign integrating social media into its televised adverts. The campaign strategy is almost a parody of the Lynx message, “you can’t be me but you can smell like me”. This campaign does sell a more down to earth image of the product, but ultimately is still abstract.

Welcome to the future

April 20, 2011

Few would disagree that the rapid development of the mobile communications industry has presented PR practitioners with a plethora of opportunities. According to an eMarketer report 11% of the world’s population access the internet via a mobile device and over half of them do on a regular basis. But despite the more obvious upside, could this technology ultimately limit communications industry?

Firstly lets visit the positives: Mobile communication obviously opens up avenues to promote clients. Having portable devices that can download, access, and create all sorts of media at any given time allows our industry to contact people at any given moment. For example the use of ‘apps’ to promote brands is well documented, many brands have created them as means of promotional purpose. Just like Heineken.

But will markets eventually grow so used to having free branded apps on their mobile devices that the promotional effects will decrease? For example in the near future when we look to download something onto our mobiles will we just expect it to be associated with a brand that exposure effect will no longer take hold? It is certainly a possibility. Just take a look at the development of communication strategies since the early 20th century. We wouldn’t in a month of Sundays be influenced by this advert nowadays.

I feel this is just a small example of how the communications industry must never stand still and always develop new ways of reaching our audiences. As soon we think we’ve found a way to achieve our goals, chances are the industry will have moved on if you take a step back and admire your handy-work.

The next ‘phase’ of online communication, web 2.0, is based on the theory/understanding that user-generated content (UGC) will provide the majority of content found on the World Wide Web. The principle is simple enough, but the connotations and consequences of the World Wide Web being comprised mainly of content generated by those who feel strongly enough about a subject could have some frightening consequences.

Perez Hilton is widely regarded as the most successful and influential independent (he has no ties to a bigger corporation) blogger on the net, a title backed up by statistics. Fair play to him; he’s richer than me. But do we really want the most influential person on the net to be someone who feels that Charlie Sheen’s latest escapade is more interesting than the latest economic statistics? Ok he’s got a very good point but you can see where I’m coming from.

Lets take this issue to another level. The English Defence League page on blogspot.com is updated regularly with stories about how ‘Islamaphiles’ are taking over Britain. Now I’m a fairly educated man and the closest thing rural Surrey will come to producing a communist (I voted for Labor). But even I had to stop myself from directing expletives at a judge who gave a Muslim who burned a poppy reef a pathetic £50 fine. This is the power of the Internet; a person who believes anyone with political perspectives further right than Nick ‘Sellout’ Clegg should be shot can be, even for a second, coerced into the way of thinking of some moronic, racist, skinhead. Now think about the effect this could have on someone with less solid political perspectives.

My point is that it is those with extreme agendas who are most likely to try to grab themselves a metaphoric megaphone by creating content for the Internet. This is bad news. You don’t get much middle-of-the road, everything’s-ok content on the web. Therefore we are faced with the frightening possibility of Perez Hilton and most worryingly extremists (of any nature) being handed a global platform upon which to voice their agenda. Am I the only one scared?

Cut out the middleman

February 27, 2011

The use of social media in consumer PR is well documented and the positive effects of a well run online campaign are clear. But many businessmen and women have very logical beliefs that the use of such media as a PR tool can and does only work on a B2C basis. But this is a misconception. Many PR practitioners are having great success using various online social tools to promote their respective clients and businesses.

Base One is a PR Agency that specialises in using social media to promote its clients, with great success. On their website you will find a very interesting metaphor for social media in the business world, comparing the different platforms to the various components of a busy city centre. I admire the concept and feel that the comparison mainly hits the nail on the head. But take a step back and look at the purpose of all social media. The clue is in the name. SOCIAL media. I think that many if not all business to business’ are missing a trick. To attract more custom to your company why not promote your product to your customer’s customers? Consider this: if one can create a demand via a social media platform for a product created using your product, then businesses who’s customers want products created using your services will surely increase their interest in you. I believe that it won’t be long before B2B PR skips the middleman and markets directly toward those at the end of the supply chain.

Obviously this approach will benefit companies offering more tangible services, but social media could present a brilliant opportunity for B2Bs to increase their worth. Watch this space.

Welcome all

February 13, 2011

Welcome to ‘view from the dark side’, an occasionally cynical and always truthful blog exploring the collision of PR and the age of digital communication.

It should be explained that I am actually a Public Relations student/practitioner, not some anti-PR activist. The blog’s title though isn’t entirely ironic. I am aware that my industry can blur the line between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and at the end of the day we are mercenaries. To put my current view of morality in PR into perspective, I like to butcher the great George Orwell’s words: “All PR morals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.

So with that in mind I hope to explore, share and debate theories and thoughts of online PR. Please ask questions of me, rubbish my thoughts, back me up or start a debate; I love a good discussion.