A cautionary conversation about PR and social media, part I
With Twitter recently turning five years old, PR Conversations feels it’s time to consider whether it – and other social media platforms – are now serious channels for public relations. Judy Gombita and Heather Yaxley share their views in a two-part blog post.
We’re in agreement that 2011 is definitely the year when there will be a tipping point with organizations taking a more serious look at social media, across the generations. This view appears to be supported by the Pew Internet December 2010 release of its “Generations Online” research, (succinctly summarized by MarketingProfs).
When it comes to online usage, we’re two women of the same generation (in fact, born the same year). In private conversations we’ve shared some concerns about how our public relations (and marketing) colleagues are making use of the platforms and their online behaviour, organizationally or personally, or a combination thereof. (More on this to come in part II.)
In considering how much of our shared viewpoint is due to generation and/or gender, following an exchange of tweets (and then private correspondence) related to some specific online behaviour, I invited Gen Y male, Brennan Sarich to tell me about his use of and thoughts on Twitter. Heather and I have then reflected on his thoughtful articulation, to develop a broader conversation on the topic.
I spend time on Twitter trying to meet new people and understand their business or what it is they do in the world. I’m happy to know someone as a simple ‘Internet peer’ or as a potential client or colleague. I follow them and try to find a reason to interact immediately. I do this because I find there are people on Twitter for the reason to be social, and then there are people who are on Twitter to be popular. I don’t use Twitter to be popular – I use Twitter to build a real network of people I can rely on and know in my business and in my personal life. Social media is a great tool and Twitter is a great for having very concentrated conversations. It’s also great for starting conversations offline.
What I hate, more than anything, is interacting with someone I have followed for probably three months, and responded to things they have said, and simply get no response whatsoever.
I am a communicator, I am Gen Y, I value instant feedback, and I reciprocate and champion causes that I believe in without hesitation.
My issue is that half of the arses on the Internet who are so-called influencers never respond to people who follow them, promote them and champion them. Which is not only annoying, it’s rude. And at some point, someone needs to be a Social Media Miss Manners with these people. No one needs to promote bad behaviour, online or offline, and [I wish there were] rules for social media that everyone could agree upon.
1. Respond to people who engage with you and your content. These people are looking for validation in the same way that you are looking to validate content; that’s why it’s two-way.
2. Don’t think of followers as pipelines to your business. They’re real people with real interests. Promote their interests, not your brands.
3. Find people with similar tastes, and keep it small and beautiful. I’d rather interact with 500 people that I really like and like me versus 1,000 people that have nothing to do with my tribe, so to speak.
Brennan raises a good point in respect to how he likes to use social media – he is coming at it from the perspective of someone who is constantly connected; an example of what Pankraz [planning director/youth marketing specialist at DDB Sydney] identified as Gen C.
Brennan’s expectations are based on how he interacts with others, which doesn’t necessarily reflect how those who are using social media professionally are able, or willing to engage. However, I totally agree that if you set yourself up as an influencer, then you need to respond and not just transmit.
Gen C seem to reflect changing expectations of how organizations should respond via social media. I think it is important to be listening and learning – and ideally engaging (with the caveat that some people don’t like to feel ‘stalked’ by organizations). But, it is a huge challenge to refocus communications around every single person who may say something and expect an immediate response. I don’t think a “listen to me now!!” approach is entirely reasonable – but it may become the norm if Gen C expectations are mainstreamed.
I can appreciate what you are saying from an organizational point of view, but what about honest attempts on a personal basis of Gen Y trying to ‘engage’ on Twitter or Facebook with individuals from older generations? It’s been said that much of social media revolves around narcissism and voyeurism and it’s often Gen Y accused of this behaviour. Yet what Brennan hopes to get out of Twitter doesn’t appear to have much to do with either of these things. He simply wants to learn and engage and, ultimately, to grow his network. (Similar to my objectives, by the way.)
My advice to Brennan and his Gen Y (or C) cohort: if you followed someone on Twitter (or Facebook) because you were under the assumption that he or she had worthwhile things to say or they engaged with a lot of people, take a moment and re-evaluate whether this is indeed is the case.
Look back on a day or two worth of ‘updates.’ How much value add do you see? Approximately how many people is an individual conversing with, and on what topics – does the stream demonstrate a diversity of people, opinions and links? Or are the same names coming up, again and again, covering the same type of self-serving areas? Are many of the tweets simply group ‘hello’ ‘thank you’ or inside jokes to the same people? (Are any of those tweets directed to you, particularly if you’ve opined or asked a question?)
On a longer term, does the person tend to select the same people as a #FF (Friday Follow), week after week? Share blog posts from the same select circle of ‘friendz’ (who in turn share that person’s new blog posts)?
In your follow strategy, what you need to figure out is whether you are satisfied with one of the Twitter ‘rock stars’ simply following you back…or do you need some validation as to why. If a person ‘follows back’ 5,000 people (out of, for example, 9,000 followers), including you, but continues to converse with only 40 people on a regular basis (mainly other ‘rock stars’ or a personal entourage of fans), the networking ecosystem is one-way and mainly nurturing that person’s ego. Ask yourself: WIIFM? Don’t feel obligated to continue following, despite a person’s age or perceived professional experience or ‘influence.’
Consider a Twitter audit. Don’t be an acolyte of the Cult of Personality or attempt to join the ‘PR blog party.’ ‘Just say no’ to empowering narcissism. This is my advice, no matter what your age. (And don’t be hurt or surprised if the people you unfollow don’t even notice….)
Instead, search out individuals to follow in the PR or communication spheres that consistently provide or share solid information (original or curated – from a variety of people, young or old, known or new to you), and who are open to engaging with others, across generational, sector and geographical boundaries, even if the conversations don’t revolve around them. They are out there, I promise you, Brennan. I hope you find at least 500 of them.
We’re sharing these social media platforms. I’m the first to admit that representatives from Gen Y can teach me about behavioural norms that work or don’t in today’s digital (PR) landscape, even if I’ve been in the field (a bit) longer.
I agree with you Judy – in fact, I would suggest going even further to make use of the potential of social media for developing professional relationships. Look for Connectors (to use Gladwell’s Tipping Point terminology) who like to bring people together, as well as Mavens who are prepared to not only share their knowledge, but learn by engaging with others.
There seems little point in trying to get a response from those who use social media only to broadcast or to exclude others who aren’t in their clique. Indeed, it is really useful to reach out to others – for example, I had someone Tweet that they didn’t agree with something I had written on a recent post. It was a ‘throw out’ statement from them, but I wanted to know more. A few exchanges later and we agreed to disagree, but I hope with some respect and feeling that we’d gone further than just someone on Twitter critiquing the view of someone who’d blogged.
But Brennan was giving advice to organizations, not simply individuals, and so it would seem relevant to consider the organizational implications. It will be interesting to see if organizations can, do, or should, refocus communications in the way suggested. Engaging with everyone who wishes to comment on an organization seems an enormous challenge with potentially little return. Taking that onto engaging with them as individuals, eg to promote what they are interested in, seems to me a little naive or at least optimistic. However, as with the telephone and email, organizations have had to adapt previously in respect of the nature of their communication engagement. Maybe Brennan’s expectations will become the norm.
I think it’s safe to say that both Heather and I welcome conversations (off and/or online) with younger generations. Particularly ones where you demonstrate awareness and critical thinking, such as Brennan Sarich did. Interestingly, at family functions increasingly I find myself having the most interesting and informative conversations and debates with my nieces and nephews – ages 15 to 21 – rather than my siblings. And my sense is that they enjoy them, too.
I hope more Gen Y individuals feel comfortable with commenting on Brennan’s assertions or in debating what Heather and I had to say.
[Image: Human evolution http://www.sciencephoto.com/]