Is it time to ditch the “blood-sucking” social media gurus?

It’s not uncommon to discover sheer loathing and distrust for so-called “social media gurus”. A whole leviathan of social media style agencies and marketing types are often appalled that a qualification-less individual can self title him or herself a role and earn money through it. The social media industry is a piece of string that isn’t only difficult to define (which campaign doesn’t use social media today?) but also has no standards. In the past the journalist, Milo Yiannopoulos, has seen fit to attack these self-gratifying creatures in a Telegraph blog entitled, “Time to ditch the blood-sucking social media gurus”.

It’s a dated post, expressing a similar sentiment of my own, yet it requires a question.

How have times changed since the post’s publication in 2010?

Providing advice as a freelance social media consultant does not warrant the title of “expert” of any variant thereof. To provide social media advice became a free-for-all industry a few years ago and only now are we starting to witness real change.

Social media is now unable to act effectively as a standalone. With many of the larger brands stepping up to the social media mark it is increasingly clear that individual freelance “gurus” are unable to tackle the workload set by many of large organisations. Advice may have been provided in the past but now with many agencies boasting social media divisions, budgets can be easily registered to existing 3rd parties. These 3rd parties are often PR agencies.

It could be time to ditch the blood sucking social media gurus but not necessarily because of their worth but rather because of the media landscape itself. Social media (aka Digital PR) needs to be considered as part of a wider campaign which also uses traditional communication methods. The age of the press office is not dead, in my experience it is still very much effective and social media should always be considered as part of any strategy.

I’ve hunted social media gurus before. It was during the winter of 2010 that @holpols and I decided to descend upon a social media guru gathering in the centre of London. It was a chilly night aboard a boat on the Southbank.

That night I met a whole range of social media experts; none of which could show a qualification in their honour but instead could only boast about their own online activity. Some attempted to inspire interest by claiming to be “members of an organisation who infiltrate governments using social media” when realistically, this probably just met simple online searches, logging and ranting. Don’t overestimate the complexity of social media. Anyone can use it and these platforms can certainly not be used for illegal activities (unless referring to the type of content being posted).

Some people have religion, others have social media.

One lady boasted to me that she has been using social media since the early 90’s, claiming to be the ‘first social media professional’. According to her she spent most of her days simply using social media in fancy bars and restaurants. An ideal job but she was rather thin so I doubted her claims (I’m currently paying the heavy price of this lifestyle). Fair enough, she may have counted IRC chat or bulletin boards as “social media” but with such a vague term to describe a whole industry it’s difficult to evaluate her claims.

As the night went on it soon became clear that being a social media guru would be an easy job. Just self title yourself on an online profile and you’re set to make your thousands. However some gurus did have professional backgrounds.

In particular, one of the individuals I met that fateful but eventful evening was @Mazi. An incredibly open individual who invited my friend and I without second thought. He was well known among his friends/colleagues for his past at Sky and for his expertise. I felt like I should have recognised this celebrity being a keen Twitter user myself but the noise fell rather deafly. Thanks to Milo Yiannopoulos’ link on the Telegraph article heading this now rather lengthy post, it seems @Mazi had a secret past.

In a 2009 Telegraph article entitled, “Sky TV’s Head of Social Media and the sexing up of Twitter accounts”, @Mazi is targeted rather avidly by a journalist called Will Heaven. I’m not sure why @Mazi received the beating but he did. Primarily for his social media methods which included rapid following and unfollowing to artificially increase numbers (this was in the days before Twitter put blocks in place which is why most hard-core older users will boast higher follower numbers). Despite being cosher at the time, gaming, as it is called, is no longer acceptable.

Often outsiders to Twitter are far too quick to credit follower counts for influence, engagement is the true key. A voiceless conversation has no value and social media is designed for one-to-one discussion. It is just a shame so many attempt to use it purely as a broadcast only platform.

I can’t say the social media gurus I met are “blood sucking” but I would certainly be interested to meet some of them again to see how their methods have changed in 2012. We now live in the era of intergrated campaigns – the merging of traditional and digital communication methods to create whole campaigns. Have most social media gurus been left by the wayside or have they simply focused their attention on smaller fry; namely SMBs and NGOs?

Who knows? One thing is for certain, I hold a distrust for a social media freelancers who don’t have a background in PR.

How I landed myself a Graduate PR Role

It is my aim in this blog post to provide an honest overview of my graduate scheme search and how I landed my upcoming graduate role at Red. This is an extremely “transparent” post which covers my experiences precisely.

 

It would be dishonest for me to say that the only graduate scheme I applied for was Red. Such an act would be lunacy in an economic environment drowned in talented graduates. For the last 3 to 4 years it has been necessary for upcoming University leavers to apply for as many job roles as possible. Graduate unemployment has hit its highest level since 1995; members of my class were not able to leave all their eggs in one basket.

The approach I took when applying for graduate schemes was to ask myself if they filled the below criteria:

  1. Would the role suit my interests?
  2. Does the organisation “feel” right for me?
  3. Will I be able to live on the salary?

When I started applying for schemes in January I made sure that I could answer ‘yes’ to each of these points. Thanks to a superb list of 2012 graduate schemes by Ben Cotton I had somewhere to start. Yet I only applied to organisations who appealed in some way to me. Each scheme I applied for provided me with different processes, different experiences and I am going to share some of what I learn’t within this post today.

Firstly it is important to note that the majority of public relations graduate schemes are not exclusively open to graduate public relations students. Indeed a graduate from any discipline can apply for a PR role. This doesn’t undervalue the worth of a PR degree (we are at an advantage with the skills taught to us) but instead makes the process a lot harder.

Edelman
I was one of the lucky thirty to make it through to the Edelman assessment day. Their process involved the initial application, telephone interview and finally the assessment day. Needless to say making it through to the assessment day alone was a an experience which I was thankful for. On the day I was interview by three individuals within the company, took part in a written assessment and did a presentation to a panel of eight employees. On the whole it went well, especially for my interview as I was rated in the top five.

Edelman was tricky though. Even though most of my assessment day was ranked highly I was considered to be ‘too good’ for their apprenticeship scheme. To this day I disagree with this observation as an experience in a multinational agency such as Edelman would have been extremely valuable. Yet it may not have pushed me considering my already in-depth experiences at Microsoft due to the structure of their scheme.

They clearly value their potential employees as HR assigned me to be interview by their Digital Team – a role which would have put my 9 months ahead of the apprenticeship scheme. Whilst my interview with them went really well I did not get the role with them – competition was too high and another individual (not necessarily a graduate) with more experience obtained the role.

Instead saw my skills to be better aligned in analytics (I did try and convince them that my maths aren’t that good!) so asked me for another interview but with the analytics team. Due to my experience at Microsoft doing Online Advertising I knew that an analytics based role was not quite right for me, after much thought I graciously declined the interview.

Edelman are a forward thinking agency who tried to find a part of their business to plug me into but at this time it did not work. Everyone I met at the agency in London were delightful, very bright but what they could offer me was not quite right in the end.

An undisclosed smaller agency
Out of all the agencies I applied for my most confusing experience was with a smaller agency based in London. Their assessment day involved a group task and presentation, successful candidates were then invited back for a final interview. In particular I found the group assessment nerve racking as one of the candidates (who studies law) recognised me from my blog. Whilst this gave me a push to perform to prove my ‘real world value’ to this follower, it did cause me to worry. Living up to people’s expectations can, at times, be worrisome.

Nevertheless I managed to obtain a final interview with this agency which went incredibly well. By chance I had already seen clients of theirs in the media and could rehearse the media impact of them in 2011 without strain. It is remarkable what stress, focus and the desire to please will do to the mind.

I left the interview almost certain that I would get a job offer from them within the next week. Whilst this delighted me I knew that I was still waiting back from Edelman and had yet started Red’s graduate scheme processes. I’ve never been one to settle for the easy option if a better choice existed and at this stage I was not certain this small agency was right for me – despite the friendliness of its staff.

After a couple of weeks though the agency didn’t get in contact – rather confusing as after a final interview the decision is usually quite quick. I then found out from the manager that the agency had already done some hiring and had yet to make a decision about me, to help make their decision I agreed to do two days work experience for them. Those two days seemed to go well although obviously, being a work experience student, most of the time you tend to feel like a spare part.

After the two days were up a few days passed and the agency revealed uncertainty about my position due to client movements, eventually they were going to award me a role which would start in August.

To be honest my interest in them was dying at this point, not due to their business approach but because obtaining a graduate role with them was really drawn out. Even though I had spent in the region of £80 going to their various days (National Express Coaches and Oyster purchases) they seemed to find it difficult to make their decisions. Whilst everyone in the company was a pleasure to work with and meet I couldn’t commit any more time to processes and start dates were far too late.

Red
Red’s campaigns frequently receive attention in the PR industry; creativity is their weapon and their approach should be inspiring for smaller upcoming agencies. All of their employees were pleasant to speak with, their flat structure even meant speaking with managers to be easy and they were honest throughout the whole procedure. I left the Red assessment day and final interview with nerves and high hopes I wished to suppress. Somehow I knew that they were the agency for me and if they decided against my application it would have dealt a heavy blow.

Thankfully I got the job and cannot wait to start.

I did get rejections
I’m aware that I have only listed three agencies who I managed to get into the final stages for. In reality I also got rejected from a handful of agencies in either the first stages or after telephone interview. The fact I eventually obtained a graduate role in the end shows that every agency is looking for somebody different for their organisation. Whilst you may not make it through one scheme, another organisation may find you suitable for an assessment day and may even offer you a role.

Throughout my graduate job search I have placed a large focus on my emotional reactions towards agencies. This is the first step into my career and so I must take every job offer seriously but at the same time I must make sure that I will grow.

In summary my graduate job search revealed these lessons to me:

1# Check that you keep your top button on your shirt done up. When I attended the Edelman assessment day it was warm so I had my top button undone. Unfortunately I forgot to do it up before the interview. Despite this I was rated in the top five who were interviewed that day but pictures taken on the day revealed the unsightly undone button. Thankfully they didn’t mind too much (some graduates on the day were not even wearing proper suits!) but it is worth remembering the top button.

2# Finding a graduate job is important but make sure the agency is right for you. Some agencies may do fantastic traditional PR but their digital approaches may be lacking. Everyone in the PR industry has to take digital seriously. Think of your CV – do you really want to work for an agency whose approaches are still set in the noughties? No.

3# Don’t take rejections personally. I was rejected in the early stages of Blue Rubicon and Hotwire – yet Edelman, the world’s largest PR agency, accepted me for interview. Agencies look for different sorts of candidates and sometimes we are not the perfect match. Keep applying.

4# When applying for graduate schemes it is important to only apply for those organisations you are actually interested working for. On that note don’t just apply for one or two schemes. Apply for every scheme which takes your fancy. Some applications are deliberately made long to cut down the amount of applicants. Each PR graduate scheme receives between 300 – 700 applications, play the numbers game and don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

5# Understand your role, contract length and salary before applying. Someone I know from my class was offered a job at a salary of £16,000 a year. Man cannot live away from home with bills, food and travel on this sort of pay. The minimum salary for a PR graduate these days is £18,000.

6# The chances are that members of your class will probably be applying for the same jobs as you. Your class mates are the competition but don’t let this deter you.

7# During group interviews (which usually involve a task) always remain the courteous person you are. On one assessment day a graduate on my team was incredibly rude, overly competitive and a pain to worth with. He didn’t get the role because no agency wishes to have someone like that in one of their teams.

8# If you have a chance after an assessment day spend time talking with other graduates. Everyone is usually very friendly and talking allows you to gauge your competition. Competition for new talent in the PR industry at the moment is very high!

9# Don’t forget the skills you have learnt at University. Those who do not come from a PR degree tend to forget the basics such as objectives, strategy, tactics and evaluation in campaign planning. Use structures like this to really make your ideas stand out. Make sure you use a mix between traditional and digital PR.

10# The final and most important point of all – RELAX. You have nothing to be nervous about. Nerves can hinder your performance so remain relaxed at all times, enjoy assessment days for the attention you get and before not too long you will land yourself a job.

 

I hope that this blog post has proved to be useful and that I haven’t upset any PR agencies in its publication! Let me know if you have any questions. I would also love to know your best and worst experiences of job hunting.

Discovering the Semantic Web

Over the last few weeks I have found myself on a journey learning about a new concept on the internet; the semantic web. The writer and inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners Lee, began writing about the concept in 1999, much progress has been made since.

The term ‘semantics’ is one of the three branches of ‘semiotics’ which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “the study of signs and symbols in various fields”. Semantics is concerned with the study of meaning; the semantic web is about discovering the meaning behind words and phrases.

In the focus of this post I shall be reviewing what the semantic web means for the public relations industry. To begin with I shall provide a short explanation of what the semantic web is.

What is the Semantic Web?

The internet exists today as a vast collection of data which is all connected through the use of hyperlinks. This is a network of data which has been built from the foundational technologies of HTML, HTTP and URIs. Over the last 6 years we have seen the exponential growth of social networks which has re-invented our relationship with finding information.

  • Past – the relevancy of information was provided through a one-way communication model. Content can only be viewed, interpreted introspectively and not openly discussed.
  • Present – social networks have provided a way for information to be associated with individuals, brands and events. Content is viewed in context of conversation and information can be openly discussed.

The problem with social networks is their internal design. Any content submitted by users through symmetrical communication is under ownership of the organisation whose network it is. Information submitted to Facebook is theirs, information submitted to Twitter is theirs, so on…

The semantic web is therefore an evolution, a possible amalgamation, between the web of information and the web of social interactivity. It is the concept that the web of information will evolve around a collection of human knowledge. People will be able to add additional information to web content which includes related articles and authors.

  • Hyperlinks create links between data.
  • The semantic web creates relationships between data.

In turn this will mean that information on the internet will be able to exist as a database. With added meaning applied to data relation databases can be built to show a web of information but linked together through particular semantic terms. In doing so semantic search engines can be built for finding data by being created to understand the syntax behind languages.

The semantic web for the Public Relations industry will mean:

  • Understanding key terms behind stakeholder groups
  • Discovering the affected parties of stakeholder groups
  • Learning the terms associated with unique individuals and brands
  • Categorising media releases under particular terms

Perhaps it was optimistic to begin writing what the semantic web will mean for public relations. The list is endless. The semantic web will redefine public relations.

The reason I am interested in the semantic web is due to semantic analytics. I believe this will be a key area for the public relations industry to track ROI. Public relations can only show its value through proving ROI to clients. The semantic web will change everything.

I will write more about the semantic web soon.

 

Further Reading: http://www.w3.org/2001/sw/

SEO is a Crucial Component of Public Relations

My grandad called yesterday to announce he had “found a great company online called Finlux”. According to their website they are the world’s third largest television manufacturer. A look over their product list reveals budget prices and impressive specifications. I was sceptical. Why in my 21 years on this planet had I not heard of this manufacturer? I had to investigate further.

I had two choices:

1)    Take the information on their about page as truth

2)    Search Google for further information

I chose option 2.

Finlux seem unaware of option 2 as my search for “finlux reviews” returned several pages of 2/5 star ratings for several of their products. As a relatively unknown manufacturer in the UK this is not the best way to engage with your audience.

'finlux review' search results

Whilst higher reviews may exist this information was enough to persuade my grandad to avoid Finlux products. I didn’t need to persuade him though, he had already searched for Finlux and had also decided against purchasing anything.

Moral of the story?
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a crucial component of Digital Public Relations. I know I am preaching to the converted on this blog but the moral is integral. The methods of how to monitor and influence SEO is the difference between loss and gain; in terms of money and reputation. Public relations professionals require a wide range of skills which are increasingly becoming more technical. We all must stay ahead of our game.

 

I hope Finlux find this post and note the error of their ways.

Social Media: Digital ADHD?

Each year we ritually ponder upon our own frailties and answer with a New Year’s Resolution. In 2012 I am going to slow down.

To slow down brings connotations of a great writer bathing in self-gratification of his own success as if to say, “Enough is enough. Today I have achieved everything that I would have hoped for in life and the rewards have been generous in return.” This New Year’s resolution is not about laying pen upon the desk but instead acknowledging the destructive nature of social media.

Without a single hesitation each of us willingly part with small pieces of personal information each day. Just gaze upon your own Facebook timeline – every like, comment, picture or status lines the pocket of an executive somewhere. This is no bias towards Facebook but applies to many other social networks. It is a price many of us have come to recognise for online communication but I am no longer willing to part with time.

The online metric lingo translates to ‘dwell time’, it is a money spender. Television has proved that a captivated audience is a powerful one. Not just for advertising purposes but for assisting entertainment columns with their direction and inspiring chat on sites such as Twitter. Eventually our time is translated into money.

Every lost minute poses the question over the fruitful alternatives that are available for our attention.

With the exception of textbooks I have spent an abysmal amount of time reading in 2011. It takes a lot for me to feel remorse for lost time but in this respect 2011 was ill-spent. Disregarded books lie on my book shelf in placement for aimlessly browsing the internet – social media is a huge waste of time.

As a budding member of the public relations industry it is neither sensible or respectful to publically post such a statement. Dwell time acts as an important metric for this blog so I could seem arrogant to demand your time here but to advise less time on other parts of the digital landscape. It is not my aim to be polite but to steal Al Gore’s phrase, point to the inconvenient truth.

Social media has become a contagious ADHD. Our evolutionary glands are tickled with each flick of a browser tab releasing more endorphins. Our attention has become more focused upon quickly draining content than to seek depth. Content variation keeps our minds in a state of lingo which I believe affects the quality of information we seek.

Members of the media are quick to accuse journalists of churnalism but the crime could be warranted the punishment; the amount of time we spend reading articles is abysmal. What is the purpose of a journalist to spend, already exigent time, to produce an article online? It would only have an average dwell time of 20 seconds (industry standard).

The perpetrator of the crime shouldn’t be the journalist for posting the message but instead for the reader spending such little attention on the article. It is far more natural for a reader to scan the key points of the article than to generously spend their time patiently scrolling downwards to the conclusion.

It is upsetting.

Has quality been sacrificed for speed? In my eyes, yes. Books, magazines and newspapers exist for a person to enjoy with depth. Online exists for quick entertainment, procrastination or researching references. Consumption habits differ between each person though. Which returns me to the subject of this blog post.

My New Year’s resolution is to slow down. To teach myself to weigh time between tasks and to enjoy the comforts of a book. 2012 is set to be an enlightening year.

Doubts over the Two-Way Symmetrical Communication Model

In the same way that newspapers have been warned that they should adapt or die, the PR industry shares the same fate. In a recent podcast I touched upon the subject of news gathering, how style and context must adjust to the media channel a user is accessing.

The task of a PR professional is to ensure that one press release can maintain an identical narrative across all communication channels – in short this is impossible. Why? We are told that two-way symmetrical communication is to blame for the online landscape. Narratives must adjust from constant evaluation of public response but it is here that I believe Grunig and Hunt’s Symmetrical Communication model has died.

Grunig and Hunt’s “Managing Public Relations” is certainly a theoretical cornerstone for the PR industry. Published in 1984 is still serves to be the PR bible for most, the two-way symmetrical communication model is one of their theories. Bill’s blog eloquently explains all four models and explains two-way symmetrical,

“The 2-way symmetrical model casts public relations in the role of mediator versus persuader. Under that model, PR pros listen to the concerns of both clients and key publics and help them adapt to one another.”

In the context of communicating with stakeholders across social media channels the two-way symmetrical model is often cited as the ideal for balanced communication. Alison Clark’s diagram presents how information moves through the internet and cites the control over the message is lost. As this theory was devised in 2000 it would be correct to say that this theory is in need to be updated.

It strikes me that information across social media follow the below stages:

Stage 1: Organisation publishes message
Stage 2: Message is viewed by their direct online audience (followers, likes, etc)
Stage 3: Message is duplicated by publics (causes some messages to adapt)
Stage 4: Some publics communication back to the organisation based upon their interpretations of the message (varying in accuracy)

Based upon these stages of online communication there are three reasons why two-way symmetrical communication isn’t true:

Reason 1: It would be impossible for the organisation to reply to each user.
Reason 2: The user response outweighs the organisation’s message quantity.
Reason 3: Organisation response may purpose to adjust a user’s interpretation of the original message (ie, regaining narrative) / Response may simply be for the purpose of small talk.

These are only initial thoughts concerning the two-way symmetrical model which are bound to be refined as time goes on. For the moment I can fully confess that the two-way symmetrical communication model doesn’t make any logical sense to me and in practice is probably impossible to implement.

How the UK Government should handle Data Transparency

July 2008 past UK PM, Gordon Brown, became embroiled in a debate concerning data sharing rules after a civil service department lost data which was claimed to be hidden under an “old pals” regulatory system. In response the UK Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas (succeeded by Christopher Graham in June 2009), released a report lobbying for increased transparency between Government, Private Companies and Councils. This is in line with Tony Blair’s speech to the UK e-Summit which outlined how transparency could create a new relationship between citizens and the state. A form of Institutional transparency which declares that the public have a right to know how their personal data is being utilised but with an element of control as outlined through privacy laws. Such an act by the state is intended to gain public trust but will require responsibility on institutions part to lower the risk of further lost data.

Far from a system of Government being viewed under a Machiavellian approach to data usage, it should open to the public. Yet this element of control is a deceit considering the growth of transparency which has been occurring for the last 15 years. Privacy rules only negotiate within matters of law and the government’s approach towards overt transparency is undermined by a radical transparency which is already occurring due to the growth of symmetrical communication online.

The launch of data.gov.uk in 2010 is designed to follow the principles set out by Richard Thomas allowing for non-personal factual data to be made available to the public. Eventually the UK Government will openly share this public data not only for central government but also across the public sector.

Yet transparency is not just concerned with the release of information but from the context it once originated from. Communication on the internet exists as a series of sharing (Re-Tweet, Google+ Share, Facebook Share, etc). Eventually context can be lost behind data due to a Web 2.0 form of Chinese whispers. Whilst the internet across multiple platforms may act as a middle man for communication it does not retain the sincerity or respect that may come from the connotations from where the source of the data appeared from.

Social Media is associated with the cult of the amateur, over simplifications can create inaccurate interpretations. So the government embracing institutional transparency is not only concerned with allowing public data to be freely available but to monitor the sources of where the data is being communicated from. Should a blog like mine have the authority to explain the data behind the Digital Economy Act or should that be left to BBC definitions?

Rather than privacy rules being put in place to act as a rule to control institutional transparency the Government should require guidance for how data should be interpreted once it reaches the intermediary sources (such as Journalists & Bloggers). Even this won’t refrain from misinterpretation but knowing the source context behind public data will assist to reserve data integrity.

 

Why Social Media is a Mask

Hiding behind a veil of words is easy.

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” – Oscar Wilde

Credibility is often casually exchanged with fraud to decipher interactions on the internet. The truth is that unless you have physically met an individual then it is difficult to evaluate the integrity of one’s online identity.

Yet identity is not necessarily monogamous. Whilst my Twitter account @michaelwhite1 is technically me, it is not ineludibly representative of my personality in real life. Equally the content written on this blog, whilst from the same brain, could be a writer’s personality.

Be One
When we find ourselves in new situations it is tempting to try re-inventing ourselves. I am convinced this is why some wish to move away permanently to different parts of the world – escapism. As time goes on it is clear to see progress is coming in the form of convergence of social media and real life. It won’t be long before our online identities won’t have anywhere to hide.

In the Past
A far cry to how the internet used to exist. Forums and IRC ruled my digital life before my “teens” hit. Users represented themselves with anonymous usernames such as ‘Privatisation’ or ‘G33K’ – they remained hidden on the net (unless you tracked their IP…). Newer networks such as Google+ require users to provide their real name; accurate data has become the currency for social networks.

What is my Online Personality:


Blogging – Tends to be professional but at times can be a diary. A real mix of personal and business.

Twitter – The closest to the real me as possible. Very honest, maybe too transparent at times.

Google+ – Similar to Twitter. Mostly use to find out what you think.

Facebook – Mostly communicate with friends and family. Find myself to use the network reservedly.

 

Do you have a Social Media mask?