Facebook is not a PR Godsend

I’ll begin this article by casting my mind back to early 2010. As part of a second year University assignment (overseen by the observant Richard Bailey) we had to deliver a PR presentation to Gloucestershire Police. The brief instructed us to build a campaign to curb the amount of binge drinking locally over the festive season. The class was split into groups.

In my group we decided that in order to fulfil the client’s objectives we should arrange a number of publicity stunts and thought provoking materials which could be distributed to drinking establishments. We came second place. The winning team won because they were brilliant (all the group members are good friends of mine) but also because they mentioned FACEBOOK.

Why didn’t my team mention Facebook? It wasn’t relevant for our campaign. This invokes me to make an important point.

Facebook isn’t always necessary
On a number of occasions client work has resulted in a conversation concerning Facebook. Every PR campaign is different but most of the time I find myself asking:

  • Will Facebook effectively raise awareness?
  • Will Facebook effectively raise sales?
  • Will Facebook cause any user conversions (outside of sales)?

In my experience Facebook’s effectiveness surrounding raising awareness is good but difficult to measure. One cannot consider ‘likes’ alone which makes ‘mentions’ the only worthwhile factor. In terms of conversions and sales I have found other websites which work much better in comparison to Facebook.

The most important factor isn’t so much the tactics which a campaign uses but instead…

What is your narrative?
PR is primarily concerned with finding a narrative, a story behind a product/service. This is in direct contrast with advertising (in all forms) which shamelessly shouts features and benefits in order to charm consumers to part with their money.

The number of organisations who are on Facebook shamelessly promoting themselves is staggering and this indicates a poor PR strategy. Your narrative has to be believable, cross channel and targeted towards specific publics.

If you are a client then consider what benefits using Facebook has for your product, service or organisation.

Man cannot live on social media alone
Stop using the term “social media”, it is limiting. Instead talk about Digital PR, talk about blogger engagement, talk about forum discussions – in fact stop talking and instead listen. If you are talking about Facebook then also discuss measurement methods.

Considering PRSA’s Definition of PR

On the 1st March the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) announced the result of a vote which resulted in their modern definition of PR. They now state that:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Defining this complex industry defined by relationships, constantly evolving and understanding its various ethical pickles is tough. To do that in a sentence is even tougher. In a class last week I was challenged with writing my own definition in 5 minutes. I concluded with:

“Public Relations is a form of social psychology that recognises the values of different publics in order to create relationships to improve reputation and profit.”

It isn’t perfect but it states an important opinion of mine – PR is no longer just concerned with reputation. The online advertising industry makes their money from direct (or in-direct in terms of re-messaging campaigns) sales. The very same metrics the online advertising industry utilises can also be used by digital PR. So why aren’t we using them?!

Yes, I understand that digital PR tracking sales online questions its classical definition but this is exactly what the PR industry needs. It must adapt or die. So whilst the PRSA claim their definition is shiny and modern… it just isn’t. It has failed to understand the nature of digital public relations.

For the UK digital PR will see an ever growing importance, especially as the UK boasts the largest internet economy in G20. That is an 8.3% share of the UK economy! Let’s not hand over all of this juicy money over to online advertising. Digital public relations can provide equally effective results.

This is partly why I am writing a digital PR dissertation on online metrics. There are a variety of books available concerning online measurement but PR can go a step further. Using the fundamental principles of recognising the values between various stakeholder groups it is possible to target in a far more accurate way compared to, the rather ridged structure, endorsed by the online advertising industry.

I will only say it once again on this blog but Latent Semantic Analytics really offers a whole host of benefits to the digital PR industry. We just have to build a suitable system first!

That’s it. End of blog post before things get really geeky…

Starbucks UK launches their new Personable Service

Last Wednesday Starbucks UK launched their new personable service across the UK. They enticed customers to their branches on the launch day by offering a free Starbucks Latte. The catch? You had to order it by providing them with your name.

I first became aware of the campaign via the Starbucks UK Twitter feed. Over the last couple of days a number of celebrities have appeared in pictures and videos; noticeably the comedian Jimmy Carr. A man I know who adores Starbucks coffee after having briefly spotted him enjoying one at the Edinburgh Fringe festival a few years ago. The latest video shows him working as a Barista for the day.

Although I missed the launch day I visited the Cheltenham Starbucks branch to see exactly what had changed. On ordering my Chai Tea Latte in Cheltenham I was immediately asked for my name. Simple. Even better, the lady serving offered a form of mothering service. Eloquently explaining where I should wait for my latte.

I’m sure if I had asked her for a massage she would have happily obliged. Of course to really test the service I should have aimed to have an argument – customers in Starbucks would now certainly always be right.

I can see the thrill of this new service. Ordering a coffee by name in Starbucks isn’t exactly unusual but the tone of voices by staff members is relaxing. Even though Cheltenham town was packed due to race week I still felt calmed by the atmosphere in Starbucks. Every staff member had a smile on their face and seemed genuinely satisfied with their jobs. However, as a Londoner, I can see a flaw.

If such attention to detail is provided to be polite, calm and friendly by the staff then does this slow the service down? To try this theory I will order a Starbucks coffee in London before the end of this month to see if this personable service performs exactly the same across the UK. London is stressful; will the Starbucks staff be able to offer the same service as in Cheltenham?

The most surreal experience about the new service was leaving Starbucks as a member of staff gave me a genuine smile and wished me goodbye. Now that was nice. I’m not just a consumer of their product but a loyal customer.

The reason I felt it necessary to mention the new Starbucks UK personable approach on this blog? It is all public relations. Starbucks have taught all of their staff the art of being conversationalists. They have recognised that those who purchase coffee want an escape from shopping, travelling or wish to work in a peaceful atmosphere. I feel this approach is in direct contrast to visiting Costa Coffee whose coffee is as strong as the sense of urgency.

Over time Starbucks’ image may adjust to being a coffee place where one is treated as a human, a loyal customer, even a local customer, who has chosen Starbucks not just for their coffee but also their service.

In Digital PR communication noise is Gold Dust

For the latest issue of the CIPR student email I wrote a short article entitled “Context is King”. A title inspired from Brian Solis’ observation that it is the contextual nature of content that now holds importance. From a PR perspective this outlook describes a shift in Grunig and Hunt’s four models of communication (Included below as a brief overview):

  • Press Agentry model – A communication method developed in the 19th Century with P. T. Barnum at the helm of propaganda. One way, rarely trusted and frankly dated in today’s technological society. Can you think of a message that doesn’t receive feedback of some sort now?
  • The Public Information model – This model is all about truth (apparently). This is again another form of one way communication but, in my eyes, no longer exists as every message has a response.
  • The two way asymmetrical model – This is a two way communication approach that adjusts based from audience response. Its messages are fairly accurate, can roughly be compared with contextual advertising.
  • The two way symmetrical model – This is a conversation. Whether a conversation with a PR professional can ever be balanced remains open to debate.

In each one of these models there is an element rarely commented upon, noise. It exists in-between the output and input of a message. In traditional PR messages can be drowned out by noise, in digital PR that noise is gold dust.

As we know the internet plays host to a vast amount of data which is essentially qualitative in nature. By this I mean: 

  • Qualitative: Facebook status, Twitter Updates, Blog Posts, News Articles, etc. The written word.
  • Quantitative: 001010101001010101010101. Horrible numbers. Hell. Death.

Measuring quantitative data is extremely easy for a mathematical whizz. Accountants do this task all the time and unfortunately this is how the majority of online social media progress is measured too. All of that juicy qualitative data is forgotten. Why? Because the PR industry does not handle mathematics well. The next step of digital PR will rely upon assessing qualitative data. A few members of the PR industry have decided to take that dangerous leap into assessing reputation (to essentially provide better ROI) through evaluating the meaning behind language… using computers.

The task is not impossible and in many circumstances it is already being implemented by a range of technology companies. The process begins with Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) which is a mathematical process for a computer to identify the meaning behind words through applying weightages. It is a process used by Google to make their search accurate. Search results are recognised against key terms, who have their own weight and Google will decipher what a user is really looking for. This is why typing Tiger Woods into Google will bring up a range of golf related websites, Michael Jackson will link to a variety of music websites and Gordon Brown will result in political websites.

For those of you looking for a succinct explanation of this process then hop over to David Phillip’s blog. He is proving to be of excellent support for my dissertation which is focused upon measurement and Latent Semantic Analytics. It is a process which I have described previously on this blog but it does have a flaw.

The issue with the process is that it requires mathematical understanding. This makes the process seem overly complicated but in reality only the output matters. All of us would find it difficult to describe (in detail) how the inner workings of Facebook operates, how Twitter works or how your car engine runs. Yet we all use products each day; enjoying their functions but ignorant to their processes.

As of this stage I won’t go into the research steps necessary on my blog to show the initial power of semantic analytics (I’ll see if I can get my dissertation published first) but I felt I should have written this blog post about it. Only a few PR professionals are getting to understand the power of Semantic Analysis in terms of recognising values behind stakeholder groups. Within the next two years the process will have a self-service algorithm and PR profession will be reaping the benefits.

Ultimately this blog post is here to say digital public relations is not just about measuring numbers. What your stakeholders are saying holds more importance for evaluating reputation. Online communication does not just have an output and input – it has juicy noise that can be evaluated.