Posted At: January 1, 2008 9:58 AM
by Christine Palma and Alexandra Weaver
John Bell: The Man Who Knows the Next Big Thing
John Bell is no stranger to “new” technology. In 1990, he worked with interactive television. Now 17 years later, Bell leads Ogilvy PR’s 360º Influence team, a global digital practice specializing in identifying and engaging influencers.
A self-proclaimed “Web 1.0 survivor,” Bell has watched the world of new media emerge and develop. Unfortunately, he predicts a “bubble burst” because of the Web 2.0 investing frenzy. He says the market will have to adjust, but the impact should be less than the Web 1.0 collapse.
He also foresees more structure for new media communications. He suggested formalization of word-of-mouth marketing. Communicators will also develop a collection of social media tactics and methods. Word-of-mouth marketing will be amplified and measurable. Ultimately, Bell said chief marketing officers and communications officers for major brands will eventually incorporate word of mouth as a standard strategy.
“Open-Social is going to be big,” said Bell of Google’s new social media application service. Open-Social allows users to create social media applications that are compatible with multiple social networks. Bell, for example, has accounts in 14 different social networks. Open-Social will allow avid social media users like himself to balance this madness. It will also be a “boon to advertisers,” he said.
Bell distinguishes between today’s digital natives and digital immigrants. A digital native, he said, is someone raised in the digital world. A digital immigrant has adapted to these digital innovations. However, some digital immigrants refuse to adapt and are ultimately alienated, said Bell.
For PR practitioners engaging in social media communications, Bell suggests starting with a conversation map and influencer audit. “Then follow the bread crumbs from there,” he said. This path may lead to social networks, blogs, wikis, video or other social media channels.
“For us, we resist the temptation to use a blog as the one-size-fits-all solution,” he said.
Paul Gillin: The New Influencer
Being involved in media for more than 25 years, writer, social media consultant and author of The New Influencers: A Marketer’s Guide to the New Social Media, struck out on his own in 2005, after discovering that a single blogger could drive more traffic than a 30,000-person e-mail blast.
“I was fascinated by that dynamic and enchanted by the possibility of social media to alter the way we communicate,” said Gillin.
Having worked solely online for the past eight years, Gillin said blogs were the first social media channel to emerge. Blogs since have matured, paving the way for future social media channels.
“Online video and social networks like Facebook™ are quickly coming up the curve and I think will be important new media channels in a short time,” said Gillin.
As social media continues to transform traditional communication practices, is it possible for anyone to become an online journalist? Gillin believes the accessibility of various social media tools may make it more difficult for PR practitioners because an increase of influencers.
“Social media influencers don’t play by the same rules as professional journalists,” Gillin said. “You have to engage with them differently and you must be very knowledgeable about your products and brand if you are to earn their respect.”
According to Gillin, it is important for public relations professionals to realize that bloggers are increasingly being looked to by mainstream media as domain experts whose experiences and opinions represent those of a community of customers.
“Public relations professionals who don’t take social media seriously are making a big mistake,” said Gillin. “Bloggers tend to have rabid followers and they can generate significant word-of mouth influence that eventually reaches the mainstream media.”
Theoretically, social media tools can provide anyone with access, the power to publish. In return, the topic of transparency begins to resonate, making it harder for institutions to keep secrets.
“It’s harder to hide flaws and mistakes when a single person can ‘out’ a problem,” said Gillin. “People increasingly write about their experiences online rather than going through customer service channels.”
Gillin believes this type of accessibility for customers creates additional pressures for businesses to be more open about all aspects of their affairs.
“Their mistakes can be forgiven, but deceit and cover-up is judged harshly in online customer conversations.”
So with anyone being able to publish online, can social media go too far? According to Gillin, it’s certainly possible. He provided an example regarding the disclosure of sensitive financial information or trade secrets.
“Disclosure of this information can be extremely damaging to an organization and unless that person is an employee, there’s little that can be done to muzzle or prosecute a blogger who publishes the information,” said Gillin.
“PR practitioners can’t control disclosure, only manage it,” said Gillin. “As a practitioner, it is important to constantly monitor social networks for early warnings that sensitive information has been leaked and as a professional you should be prepared to respond rationally and calmly.”
Josh Hallett: The Corporate Consultant
Josh Hallett is a new media strategist at Voce Communications, a consulting firm based in Palo Alto, Calif. He has worked with clients including Yahoo!, Sony, Johnson & Johnson and P&G. Hallett is also an internationally recognized speaker, with more than 30 speaking engagements in 2007 alone.
Hallett discussed the impact of social media on public relations and transparency.
“The speed at which truth moves is lightning fast,” said Hallett. People who work with a corporation know what happens behind the scenes. The corporation itself might not have much to offer, but the people who work there do, he said. “Corporations don’t blog,” said Hallett, “but employees do.”
Because of this, a PR practitioner’s role becomes more about internal communication. Employees should know their company and its products, because they are the ones that are communicating with the publics.
When asked if social media causes information to spin out of the PR practitioner’s control, Hallett said, “It never was in their control to begin with.”
According to Hallett, social media has changed the global market as well. “Google and search engines made the world flat,” he said. While most people may look at a company as a single entity, they are actually separate businesses in offices around the world.
Because of this, PR practitioners should be aware that localized outreach efforts online are accessible outside of the local target segment. “Once it’s out, it’s out,” he said. Practitioners should ask, “If someone external to the conversation comes along, what will they think?”
Hallett does not think that some of the recent social media trends are mere fads. He predicts more adoption of these tools. For example, he said, people don’t sit around anymore talking about e-mailing as this new thing and asking each other if they were doing it. He predicts social media will take a similar turn. Once the hype subsides, social media will eventually become a “common thing.”
Paull Young: Young PR
Striving to help his clients really engage with his audience is what Paull Young enjoys most about his career. Young is a senior account executive at Converseon, a social media communications agency. In addition to his position at Converseon, Young writes for “Young PR,” Australia’s first student PR blog. He also is a principal contributor at Forward, which is an online springboard for new and upcoming PR professionals.
“By nature I am an evangelist for social media, so a big part of my work is education,” said Young. “I work with some of the smartest people in the business and we are doing work with companies that has never been done before, and that is bloody exciting!”
According to Young, the most challenging part in blogging is just finding the time. Now, working with Converseon, Young is doing the work he used to blog about. “I used to blog about theory and possibilities of best practice PR through social media,” said Young. “Now I am doing that type of work every day.”
As new social media channels begin to emerge daily, Young said it is important to remember that no one channel is more important that another.
“It is important to recognize the shift in communication enabled by the mix of social media channels working together,” said Young. “Community norms amongst blogs are different to Twitter. Podcasts are different to Flickr™. Despite the differences, social media channels enable people to meet, talk and connect on deeper levels that ever before.”
In today’s PR profession, timely dissemination of information is crucial. Although the main stream media is necessary to a PR professional, Young believes it is important for PR professionals to look beyond traditional media as the primary means for communicating with audiences.
“Social media makes the world smaller. It enables a shift from relationships based on geography towards relationships based on common interest,” said Young.
The impact social media has globally can add to the demise or success of a campaign.
“One blog can get consumers around the world to talk about a particular brand, organization or communication,” said Young. “Practitioners in the industry should begin to think many-to-many communications versus the traditional PR-journalist-public dynamic.”
How do you think social media influences young PR practitioners today?