Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Does PR 'own' online reputation management?

It’s great news that Centaur is investing in the new Reputation Online project (launching end September). How to manage your reputation online is one of the biggest issues facing brands today. It’s also one of the reasons that companies can be so reluctant to get too heavily involved in the social media space. It still takes a brave company to entrust its brand’s reputation to its users.

PR at its core has always been about managing a company’s reputation. In the old days when print, broadcast and radio were separate entities and the Internet wasn’t a consideration, you had a fair chance of making a bad news story go away if handled right. I’m old enough to remember when managing an issue meant pulling in favours from journalists, fronting a credible spokesperson, and diminishing a bad story – often by creating another one to cover it. Spin, in other words. If you could weather the immediate storm (not everyone did), you’d probably be ok.

But these days, online engagement and user generated content means brands lose their control of a corporate message the minute they hand it over to their users. (You could argue that they always did – who can control what someone says about you in the pub? The difference is you didn’t know about it, and it wasn’t public. Or visible forever). Your spokesperson is no longer your CEO, it’s the customer who’s really, really cross. And is setting up a hate site, is smarter than you at SEO, or is leading a Twitter ‘fail’ campaign.

The only really meaningful way to make sure that the majority of what’s said about you is positive, is to make sure what you’re doing is right to start with. (That’s not to say there aren’t effective ways of managing an issue once it strikes – but that’s a subject for another time.) PR now needs to get much deeper under the skin of a company if we are to give real advice on reputation management. We need to get away completely from ‘we’ve just done this, can you promote it’ and take up a much more strategic role within a client company. We need to be involved in understanding how a company works from top to bottom. Not just marketing, but sales, business development, product development, HR, customer service and even SLAs.

Some clients just won’t let you get that far into the business. Some are just too huge, with marketing and PR team structures that don’t let you near a board director. But if the teams who supposedly manage reputations aren’t getting into the boardroom, then what they’re doing isn’t important enough to the company.

I don’t think there are many companies left that don’t consider reputation management or communications to be an important part of their business. Which means agencies that aren’t connecting with their clients at board level aren’t doing a good enough job. I expect that’s down to two things: the agency reporting to a PR or marketing manager who themselves don't get near the board (so don't really know what impact they're making); and the (connected) age-old problem of agency margins being squeezed, so cheaper, less experienced people are put on the client account, which means they can’t consult, which reduces the value of the agency, which squeezes margins.. and so on.

Reputation management is the core remit of PR. And yet this downwards spiral means the PR industry is consistently fails to manage its own reputation. Let’s take our own advice. If what we do is effective, our reputation will improve. If our reputation improves, we make more money. If we make more money, we invest in the best people, who give the best advice to our clients… and so on.

The biggest challenge facing brands online is managing their reputation. In PR, we manage reputations. It’s a huge opportunity if we choose to grasp it.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Is PR dead, or just changing?

Publicly, the PR industry is claiming that it is stabilising after a difficult 12 months, and that new business is on the up. I think this is true, although privately I’ve heard concerns that the quality of leads is reducing, the pitch process is becoming even more random, and resources are being squeezed harder than ever. This means lower fees, lower turnover, lower profits. Which means lower-grade people, and so lower fees…

We can reverse this, if we understand how our industry is changing. Smaller, smarter clients are investing more, not less, in getting their communications right across the board, in order to differentiate in a tough market. To me, this is taking PR back to its roots – building relationships with a company’s public audience – through direct communications, not just through third party media endorsement. Traditional media circulation and influence is in freefall (reflected by low ad rates). The greatest influence is coming from the media you can’t buy: social sites, word of mouth marketing (what your mates down the pub think), bloggers, online communities and so on.

Creating influence that supports business growth is about more than persuading increasingly cynical journalists to write about your client. It’s also about direct communication with a public audience (you know, public relations). This marks a real shift in how PR has been seen over the last decade. Web 2.0 (user-generated content, citizen journalism, blogging, online communities, social media, digital content creation etc) has meant that the third party endorsement by journalists that clients have always sought is just one way of influencing user behaviour. In an online world, users influence each other directly, making traditional media just one in a number of influence channels.

This has two major implications for agencies.

1. Our clients’ products have to be up to the job. If users are going to recommend something to each other, it has to work. No-one’s going to take our word for it any more. I’m old enough to remember the days when you could mass mail a press release and a dodgy photo and see national coverage from it, but those days went with the dot com crash. Journalists are observers, not changers, of behaviour. Some client-side marketing and PR heads - many of whom started their careers during the dot com rise – are taking a long time to realise this, not least because they’re getting bad advice from their agencies. So, we have to learn to consult to our clients and not just take direction. This means putting people with experience onto the job.

2. Agencies need to understand the fundamentals of communicating directly to public audiences, not just through a journalist filter. Although journalists hate wading through marketing jargon, they’ll do it if they have to (ie if the story’s important enough). But client customers won’t bother. If you want someone to explain your product to their mate, you’d better be able to explain it to them first. (To a consumer, a coffee maker is a coffee maker, even if it makes hot chocolate. It’s not a beverage solution). And if you want to retain control of your company’s message, you’d better make it so simple and self-explanatory that it will be remembered and repeated. Agencies need to be able to take a complex message and simplify it, to make it compelling.

I suspect this will be a battle with some of the bigger clients – those who delegate communications to a junior PR manager with little experience (and whose low fees only buy a junior exec at the agency). For every smart client-side marketing manager out there, there is another who’ll refuse to let go of their ‘multi-platforms communications device’ in favour of a ‘mobile phone’.

But clients will only change if agencies give them good advice. Which means investing some of our most senior people to consult, in order to increase the value of communications – in its broadest sense - within the client company.

The result? Spin may well be dead. But communications has a bright future.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The research that wasn’t – how PR agencies do offer digital PR after all

Most people working in agency PR will know about that story from bigmouthmedia – a re-run of 2008’s research by the SEO company - that a staggering 60 per cent of the top 100 agencies in the UK (as ranked in PR Week’s annual list) don’t offer a range of digital services.

I was pretty surprised by this. A number of people, me included (via a Twitter conversation), queried the research and were told that bigmouth had gone through the websites of each of the top 100 firms to ascertain which of them had a digital offering of some description. Social media, online PR and various other terms were included in the research.

I didn’t really think much more of it, apart from being mildly annoyed – bigmouth is a reputable SEO company, and while I didn’t believe the results, it wouldn’t be the first time that statistics have been massaged for PR benefit. And to be honest, not many journalists are going to sympathise with the PR industry being out-PR-ed.

But then it started appearing all over the place, including Marketing and eConsultancy – which both have real influence in the client world – and I got annoyed again.

So a couple of us at Carrot re-did bigmouth’s research, in the way that it had done it (as far as we could tell from its own response to us, and to the PR Week article). Any agency that didn’t mention digital, online PR, social media, blogs, interactive PR and so on went onto the ‘don’t offer digital’ list.

Guess what?

Eighty-three per cent of agencies from that same top 100 list DO specify digital / online / social media, call it what you will, on their website. We’ll come on to those that didn’t, shortly.

So, I thought, what’s going on here? Did bigmouth just make it up?

Assuming that it didn’t, there’s only one explanation. Its research discounted any agency that doesn’t have a separate digital division. So anyone that integrates digital channels across all their work (you know, the way most people do things these days) counted in the ‘doesn’t do digital’ pile.

So who were the 17 or so agencies that didn’t offer any digital? Because we were doing the research in the way that it had been done before, some pretty big names appeared to fall onto that pile.

Freud, for example. This is the agency that works for Sky, TalkTalk, Sony and Lynx (so it clearly does get online. It just doesn’t see fit to list every service on its site). Another was Finsbury – the agency that, according to its website, advised on three of the top five European deals last year. I don’t imagine they’re going to be very threatened by this ‘research’, either. The rest were mostly heavy-duty financial or pharma companies, so less likely to list every means they use to communicate.

Now, I don’t expect to elicit any kind of response or sympathy from journalists (who didn’t check their facts), or for any corrections to be printed. (Perhaps we in the PR industry should have jumped on this story when it first ran in 2008 – we’re not great at keeping our own reputation.) But what I do hope is that bigmouth doesn’t do this research again next year, when even more agencies should be integrating digital across all their services, not offering it separately. Or at least, do it properly.

UPDATE: bigmouthmedia sent me this tweet last night: "Looks like you used a kinder technique than us; allowing a greater "scope" than us. Glad we've two sets to compare. Good work."

Monday, 17 August 2009

Some great links over the last 2 weeks

I’ve been shockingly bad at keeping my blog up to date. Despite advising the odd client on how and when to blog I’ve failed to do it myself. Cobbler’s children…

But I’m back from a break in Cornwall where (too much) fine food and wine softened the blow of hitting 40, and am full of resolve to do better.

The first thing I do when I get back from holiday, after going through a ridiculous number of emails is scan Google Reader. These are my favourites from the last couple of weeks:

Chris Brogan on how to manage Twitter – a great post that will be really useful for clients starting out on Twitter.

On the subject of Twitter, Immediate Future has an interesting interview with Guy Stevens of Carphone Warehouse on how CW uses Twitter for customer service.

Brendan Cooper on words that should be banned (I can bore for Britain on this subject, so I’ll just direct you to the link).

Tia Fisher at eModeration analysing a report from ENGAGEMENTdb on how the world’s most valuable brands engage with consumers and the impact of doing so. (I should say here that eModeration is a client. I'd read its blog even if it wasn't.)

Sally Whittle on protecting yourself (and your fee) from misunderstandings about what was agreed at the start of the project. Very sound advice.

All Will Sturgeon's posts, but especially this one on our new dance minister.

Monday, 22 June 2009

10 reasons to love clients and 10 reasons to walk away

I’m very lucky in that I have a lot of good clients. But there are a couple in particular that I really enjoy working for and probably do too much for, in truth. But the beauty of being your own boss is that you can choose to walk away from the rotten clients - oh yes, we have - and go the extra mile for the good ones.

We had to make a decision recently on whether to stick with a client or walk away, and it got me to thinking about when you'll go above and beyond; and when it’s just, well, over.

Here are my top tens each way.

When you’ll go the extra mile for a client:

  1. They say thank you for something you’ve worked really hard to achieve
  2. Occasionally, they ask you how you are.
  3. They pay you on time. Or at least when they say they will.
  4. They employ you for your advice and then listen to it. (Even if they don’t always take it.)
  5. They let you have direct access to senior people in the organisation. It really helps you work out what’s needed for the business.
  6. You get feedback. Good and bad. We need to know what impact our campaigns have.
  7. You call, and they answer the phone (it’s the small things that make me happy).
  8. They turn up for interviews / events / meetings (you’d be amazed).
  9. They understand that effective communications is about more than just column inches.
  10. They recommend us (I really love that). On LinkedIn, to other companies, I'm not fussy. It’s nice to be recommended.

When you start working to rule:

  1. The only time you speak to the decision maker is at the 6-month review. And s/he hates you.
  2. The objectives shift half-way through a campaign. Or it dawns on you that the objectives you agreed with marketing have nothing to do with the expectations of the person paying your invoice.
  3. You don’t get paid. Or you’re lied to about getting paid.
  4. The client sales team junior thinks s/he can do a better job than you. And tells you so. (I’m getting braver at saying, “fine, you go for it. Oh, and our crisis management rate is XX.”)
  5. You don’t get a thank you. Ever.
  6. You hear the words: “Can you get our new widget on the telly?
  7. Your story gets rewritten to include 18 corporate messages and a sprinkling of grammatical errors. (My own errors, of course, are fine.)
  8. You hear: “My wife / partner / friend / cousin has a mate who’s in PR, and they say we should be in the national press with this story.” (Of course they do, they want your cash. See previous blog on giving good advice, and why agencies lie to get business).
  9. They resent you going on holiday. Or worse, think that where you’re going is too expensive, and ask for a fee reduction as you’re being paid too much (that really has happened).
  10. Slowly, you feel your soul draining away, drop by drop. Get out, people.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Getting a good brief and giving good advice. How hard can it be?

Thanks to Becky Mcmichael who pointed out this blog from Seth Godin that talks about the importance of a good brief to manage talent.

I’m lucky enough to work mostly with smaller, fast-growth companies, where we're involved at board level, and what we do can have a real impact on shaping the business. But we still come across the odd badly thought-through PR brief from a bigger company, written by someone who is so far away from the business that often they can’t even answer basic business questions, like what the company’s turnover is, or what their business objectives are.

You know the kind of brief I mean. Where the ‘objectives’ are to write press releases and get coverage (anywhere); and ROI is ‘measured’ in terms of column inches and AVEs. And you’re required (along with the other 8 people on the short list) to do a media audit among national editors to find out what perception are of the company. (Actually, that last bit’s usually pretty easy. If the company hasn’t had any coverage, journalists either don’t know who you are, or think you’re crap.)

I sat in a pitch recently for a large company that deep down I knew we shouldn’t be pitching for, but greed got the better of us. The minute we walked into the room, we knew we were a bad fit.

We were pitching to a large team, but overall responsibility for the pitch had been given to a junior PR manager who hadn’t been part of the initial briefing process. She wanted to know:

  • how much guaranteed coverage we were going to get from corporate press releases that she was going to write (also pretty easy: none. Guaranteed).

  • how many national journalists did we know well enough on a personal level to guarantee they would cover her (as yet undefined) press release containing corporate messages? We confidently estimated that no journalist would do this.

I wish we’d known at the briefing stage that these were the criteria we’d be judged against. We’d have saved the tube fare. Unsurprisingly we were ditched in favour of a large-ish agency who had, amazingly, given these guarantees.

The result is predicable. The agency A team who pitched will start to be unavailable once it comes to that nasty business of actually having to deliver on promises. Responsibility will get shunted down the team until it reaches a sufficiently lowly person whose job depends on phoning his or her way through a media list (hoping that someone still does colour seps).

The relationship between agency and client will start to decline at this point. The agency’s least experienced PR person will work with an inexperienced client contact to deliver rubbish to an increasingly frustrated group of journalists. That’s not helping the client’s reputation, or the agency’s.

But it's not just the agency in question that will suffer. PR at its best is about creating and managing reputations. And yet the reputation of our own industry is in the pan. There is some great work being done by PR teams, but the whole industry is damaged when an agency lies in order to win business.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Relevance of Twitter to business - article links

I often hear colleagues in the PR and communications industries saying that some of their clients still need persuading that Twitter has a relevance to business. So I wanted to start making a note of some of the uses we’re seeing of Twitter, and start collecting links to articles that might be useful in helping to show how businesses are using it in a meaningful way. I’ll also put these up onto my delicious profile.

Today’s links are:

Retailers: article from Retail Week by Joanna Perry. Includes analysis of how Shop Direct is monitoring what consumers are saying about the ‘old’ Woolworths, as it prepares to relaunch the brand online.

The Twitter world: a great article from the New York Times that I’ve mentioned in a previous blog

And the flip side: do Twitter and other social media give too loud a voice to a minority of people in some cases? This is a great analysis of the Motrin and Skittles social media issues, from eConsultancy. Very relevant in light of the Dominoes incident.

The emerging view of Twitter

If anyone asks why Twitter matters, here is a great article from the New York Times that opens the door to a world where Twitter is much, much more than what someone had for breakfast.

The article states: “Individually, many of those 140-character “tweets” seem inane. But taken collectively, the stream of messages can turn Twitter into a surprisingly useful tool for solving problems and providing insights into the digital mood. By tapping into the world’s collective brain, researchers of all kinds have found that if they make the effort to dig through the mundane comments, the live conversations offer an early glimpse into public sentiment — and even help them shape it.”

A great summary; thanks to Marshall Manson for Tweeting the link.

My company did some work a while back with a customer feedback company called Fizzback, that essentially aggregated SMS feedback from customers of any given product or service, to get both individual feedback (a bad experience that could be put right, for example), and an overall picture of what collective customers were experiencing.

The emerging view of Twitter for companies shown in the NYT article is that it allows companies to do something similar: collect insight into the consumer’s world, on which a company can act. (Combined, these tools would be powerful - a technology to aggregate, segment and prioritise Twitter feedback, tailored per company.) This world is about so much more than just one-way message exposure. Experiences that would have been shared in the pub, privately, between groups of friends are now being shared between thousands of groups on Twitter – and for the first time, companies can monitor and respond to these views. Powerful stuff.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

10 people not to follow on Twitter.

I'm marginally addicted to Twitter, but there are some scary people on there. In the interest of public safety, here's my personal list of the kind of people never to follow, or be followed by, on Twitter.

I’ve tweeted one or two of these, so apologies if a couple are familiar. I’m pretty sure it will lose me a few followers, too. Hey ho.

  1. Anyone with ‘killer’ in their user name, or murderous background pictures. Self-explanatory.
  2. Anyone who takes an unnatural interest in the health of my love life. Get your own.
  3. Anyone who says they’re passionate about life. You’re going to be way too happy for my liking.
  4. Anyone who has more than one exclamation mark in their Twitter biog. See above.
  5. Anyone who auto-DMs the message “I can help you make money online!!” (and see 4, above.)
  6. Anyone who claims to have psychic powers.
  7. Anyone who only tweets quotes from dead people.
  8. Anyone who wants to ‘initiate you in the ways of Christ’. Or any other religious figure. Trust me, you’d have your job cut out.
  9. Obvious spammers (10,000 following, 2 followers, 1 update).
  10. Anyone who claims to be ‘a really cool / crazy guy’.

Anything I’ve missed?

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Twitter, Moldova and broken windows

I’ve just been reading a piece in the Times of India about protests in Moldova against the election results, where Twitter has been cited as helping organises rally protestors. Palin Ningthoujam (@palinn) of Weber Shandwick India tweeted a link to the article, which I happened to pick up just after a colleague told me about protests near her house, which is close to the Moldovan embassy. A neat example of how we hear about issues these days: directly (protests), by word of mouth, search (I Googled it to find out more), via Twitter, and the good old-fashioned “I read it in the newspaper”, albeit online.

In the article there’s a reference to an embassy window being broken by protesters, against which is an in-text ad (delivered by Kontera’s ContentLink) advertising a window and glass repair service.

This it is contextual advertising at its most literal. A bit like the Google ads that show an ad for Dell at the top of (first words on the site: ‘your Dell laptop’s on fire’). There’s context, and then there’s context.

Although it’d be handy if the Moldovan embassy caretaker reads it, I suppose.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

A very welcome return to TWL

This week sees The World's Leading burst back to life with its (until now) much-missed sideways view of the PR world. I'm unreasonably pleased that's it's back. Any industry that takes itself as seriously as PR needs someone to poke fun at it now and then - and who better than TWL. Welcome back!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

AIG, bonuses, PR hires and the media response

I don’t want to get into a debate about the whys and wherefore’s of AIG hiring Burson Marsteller to ‘clean up its image’. I haven’t seen Burson’s brief, so I don’t know what they were hired to do.

But a few things interest me about the way this has panned out in the media.

Today AIG announces that nine out of 10 of its top execs will repay their bonuses . I’m guessing they didn’t need to hire a PR firm to work that one out. And media interest was such that no journalist needed PR's help to get this story.

Hiring a PR company isn’t enough to improve your image when you’ve ballsed up this badly. You have to put the wrong right. Act responsibly (call it part of your
Corporate Social Responsibility programme if ‘doing the right thing’ sticks in your throat). Apologise. Publicly. And above all, don’t pay your top execs billions of public money in bonuses for the single biggest failure in financial history. Then spend public money on PR. Oh, and then have to give back the bonuses anyway.

I find it really interesting that the very act of hiring Buson Marsteller has got AIG such bad coverage via the Rachel Maddow show (including the follow up story that was supposed to make it better). AIG is made to look even worse (is that possible?) by being associated with previous B-M clients. It’s not exactly a great start to the relationship.

Wouldn’t it have been more sensible to do the right thing first, and then hire the PR company?

Thursday, 19 March 2009

"We were going to do that": protecting pitch ideas

This piece from PR Week started me thinking about the issue of IP in PR pitches. It’s almost impossible to copyright an idea or concept – as Graham Goodkind points out, it’s easy for the client to say that the winning agency also had the same idea. And indeed they might have done.

I think expecting the PRCA to ‘do something about it’ is a bit ridiculous. If we insist on giving away ideas for free at the pitch stage, then we can’t expect them not to be copied. Of course, we could build in pre-pitch contracts that state we own the IP, and put the onus on the prospective client to prove the other agency had the idea (by showing original pitch documents, for example). But if a prospect isn't put off by that, they could get round it. It's a bit heavy handed, too – and in this market, I'll bet agencies won't do it, for fear of getting struck of the pitch list, now or in the future. I suspect this is a bit of PRCA-bashing, because individual agencies can’t work out how to manage the issue themselves, and want (shock) a bit of press coverage.

The problem is deeper than a rather petulant “they nicked our idea”. If we’re offering prospects something that anyone else can do, we’re not really differentiating ourselves, nor are we demonstrating the value that we could bring implementing that idea. Until we can do that, there’s not much the PRCA or anyone else, can do to help.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Why should companies use Twitter in their communications?

We often get asked by clients: “What’s the point of Twitter?” “I’m not sure I get it.” “Do we need to use it?”

Darren Waters of BBC Online has written a great piece about how he / the BBC uses Twitter in reporting / researching.

In his words:
1.Talking to and responding to queries from readers, fellow professionals and colleagues.
2.Asking the audience questions and using the crowd as a source of information
3.Reporting updates, breaking news, and giving colour and texture
4.Pushing out headlines and blogposts to Twitter via RSS and
5.Getting a very fast and very global sense of events
6.Using hashtags to find viewpoints around breaking news as well as a source of user generated content
7.Unifying different threads of reporting - news website, blog, Flickr etc

I think this sums up nicely why and how Twitter is a useful tool and is as applicable to businesses as to the BBC’s reporting. Twitter is a great tool for companies to talk to and respond to their audiences fast – customers, prospects, influencers (including journalists – particularly in tech areas); to test new ideas; to inform audiences about new products, services or updates; and to create and monitor conversations between groups of consumers.

Also worth a read is Forrester’s blog about its 'POST' approach, which is really about applying common sense to using blogs, social media, Twitter etc. In summary, work out: who you need to reach and where they are gathered; your objective; your strategy for engaging with them; and the best technology / place to do it.

Friday, 20 February 2009

“Anyone who looks like sleeping, we wake them up to sell them things.” (Michael O’Leary)

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary is quoted today in the Guardian on plans to introduce mobile phones on flights, with a level of candour we don’t usually get from chief execs. I love it – it’s a breath of fresh air. We all know Ryanair for what it is – cheap (ish) flights, a rubbish website, aggressively commercial approach to selling us more than just flights (they even sell you the option to check in) and almost no customer service. He’s out to make money, not make life easier, or provide better quality. And he’s honest about that. If only Ryanair took the same honest approach to their ‘free’ flight promotions.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

SEO and PR – all part of communications

The SEO/online PR debate continues. Some good blogs worth reading on this from, among others, Marshall Manson, Stuart Bruce and Jed Hallam .

I think that SEO and PR could sit alongside each other quite happily, if we were – as Stuart points out – much clearer about what PR is. Reputation management and communications strategies are not led by SEO programmes, and SEO agencies are the first to admit it. (The good ones, anyway. I’m sure we all know some who break this rule.)

I’ve posted (read ranted) in various other forums about this – but life would change for the better if we all, clients and SEO agencies included, stopped assuming PR is just about media and blogger relations programmes.

So, let’s ditch the term PR altogether. It would make life so much easier. Let’s talk about what we do as ‘communications’. Of which media relations, social media programmes, blogger outreach, developing direct relationships with the public, and SEO are all part.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Was the Evening Standard out of touch?

I've always found it hard to reconcile the Standard's political agenda (particularly over the Mayoral campaign) to my personal beliefs, and so wasn't sure whether my view that the paper was doomed was led by personal bias. I do think the paper has been out of touch with the popular view in London for some time now, and a much more features-led style has become preachy at best, dictatorial at worst. Its sale to Alexander Lebedev for the price of two copies is a real shame for a paper that, whatever your political views, used to be a symbol of London life. It'll be interesting to see whether the London Paper will be able to take over while the Standard's future is uncertain.

What happens when a product doesn't live up to its messaging?

I was going through some old photos and came across one that made me laugh. A great example of a product not living up to its hype:

Great links on social media and comms

Two great blog articles that should be required reading for all PR teams involved in social media. One from Jon Clements and one from Mat Morrison . A great basis for educating clients on how to approach social media.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Do we need to define social media?

I think we’re all starting to over-complicate how to define social media, what it includes and what it doesn’t. We need to understand where people are talking to each other, recommending or slating stuff, but I think the terminology we use is largely irrelevant. It's like 3G - when that term was first lobbed around, consumers didn't care (or even know) what 3G was – it was an industry definition. What people cared about was “I can get video on my phone”, or “my Internet's really quick". (And while I think of it – do most people know what ‘media’ includes? Most people I know outside of media / marketing industries say ‘I saw it on TV’ or ‘I heard it on the radio’ or ‘I watched it on YouTube’.)

Maybe we should apply the same approach to social media. If you work for Top Shop, then your customers are all over MySpace, but not Facebook. If you’re iPhone, you probably want nice things said about you on the zillions of iPhanatic forums. And so on. So whether social media is media or not probably won’t matter in the long term.

I know that we need to advise clients, and clients use these terms – but I don’t think we need to worry too much about tight definitions. Social media to me is anywhere that people gather to talk about stuff, where they run the environment. Any marketing definitions we apply now will change in five minutes, anyway.

iPhone and social media

Although this video’s been knocking around since August (here analysed in a piece by Bernhard Warner and Matthew Yeomans - always worth reading on social media issues), it is a great demonstration of how a brand’s service should live up to its advertising claims - in this case the iPhone’s usability speed on 3G.

Just to be clear - I’m sure it won’t stop people wanting an iPhone. But that’s because it’s beautifully designed, lovely to use and has so many features. So it does seem odd that Apple has focused so heavily on the one thing that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny – speed. Network speed is so reliant on outside factors that surely this is setting up customer expectations to be disappointed?

Social media and word of mouth marketing - a huge part of iPhone’s promotional mix –are by their nature only successful if the service lives up to the claim. Why waste time focusing on promoting the one message that is pretty much guaranteed to let people down?