PR Week 'Twitter League' Misses Important Point

Today’s unveiling in PR Week of the UK PR industry’s use of microblogging site Twitter went some way to explaining why firms should use the site, but misses a couple of key points.

While Twitter is of course a great way to interact with fellow professionals and all Hatch PR members use it to interact with journalists and have won new business from people they have met on the site, there is a preoccupation in the Twittersphere over the importance number of followers and also, it’s potentially dangerous in the wrong hands. I’ll explain both points:

Followers: While numbers look great on paper (or the screen, in this case), it’s a misnomer if most of those people are spammers, pornstars or Canadian biology students and you’re a UK tech PR professional. Ignore the numbers and look instead at the calibre of the majority of the followers and who someone’s following. How can a user keep up with X thousand followers’ responses, seriously, unless it’s their full-time job to do so?

Staff: While it would also look good in theory to have all of your staff microblogging on Twitter is this really wise? I’ve seen some junior PRs post some very risqué things on the site vis-à-vis their clients, however indirect, “I’m having a crap day…” or “why do some people insist on…”. Do you, as an MD or account lead, really want an irate phone call from a client saying that they know your pitching team is hung over this morning because they were at some bash until 3am the night before?

Think about it. Twitter is a great tool but, like so many things, needs tight control and a lot of common sense.


Is there a 2.0 creativity sap?

I was looking for comedic inspiration on YouTube last night and it struck me that it could be renamed CatShow.com. The 'most viewed' tab is always chock full of people doing stupid things with their cats at home. Or clips from the news. In other words, boring, uncreative videos.

I'm guilty, too. I put up a video last year of my cat playing fetch to show off his skeelz to my parents back in the US. Admission made.

But this brought me to ponder the question - now that 2.0 has been around for awhile, are we starting to experience a creativity sap? Do web-philes only have so many creative ideas in them, and have already used them up during the first few years of the 2.0 revolution? I feel as if I haven't seen many creative bits of content lately on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. But I'm only talking about content, not about startup business ideas, where creativity has abounded in recent months, potentially as people have lost their 'real' jobs and gone off to start the company they've spent years imagining. One great source of this type of inspiration is KillerStartups.

I know that in PR, when things get really busy and I'm asked to churn out sometimes ridiculous amounts of content in the form of snappy, sharp writing, in short spaces of time, my 'snappiness' gets seriously sapped.

Or maybe it's just the winter doldrums.

If I'm wrong, please prove it to me by posting comments of the most creative content you've seen in awhile. Would love to see it. Would love to LMAO at something today.


Mobile World Progress

One glance my handset while attending Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona this week left me feeling distinctly 2007. All that increased interoperability and Minority Report-style touch screen action led me to agree with a number of people I spoke to that, finally, MWC 2009 - unlike previous years - is not so much about blue sky ideas and concepts but actual demonstrations of next generation mobile technology in action.

The only shame for me was that there weren't as many people as we'd have liked there to see it. For all the GSMA’s talking up of attendance figures there was no disguising the disappointment of the exhibitors I spoke to about footfall at this year’s show.

But this should not detract from the fantastic innovation on show this year and there are plenty of positives. While handset manufacturers will probably suffer a setback this year, I spoke to companies who were seeing 30 per cent growth each month. My only fear is that many of the small, inventive companies on show here this year may not be here in 2010.


How social media is like tracks in snow

There is something about snow that makes you reflective. Right now I'm reflecting on how snow is like social media. Walking to the corner store to get a diet coke today was an unusually voyeuristic experience. Seeing the tracks left in fresh snow, I could tell which of my neighbours went out today; who'd used their car. I could see who'd been walking a dog; even what size the dog was. The high heel shoe imprint next to tiny dog paw prints leaves a very different impression of its owner than the big chunky boot imprint next to a huge paw print.

And so, it leads to my (very reflective) thesis that snow is like social media. A tool like Twitter is the ultimate stalker solution, where one leaves tracks that tell a lot about our lives and our personalities. It wasn't until I started following an A-list Hollywood celeb that I realised the extent of it. I'm in wintry Birmingham (the uncoolest place in Britain, or so people believe), spending a large portion of my day talking to journalists, PRs and builders (an odd mix, I know). She spends her day sunning herself next to her pool in LA, hanging with other A-listers and working with Hollywood's most accomplished directors. And yet, here we meet, on Twitter, and I know what her daily personal response is to news stories, I know about how her husband wants to kill the neighbour (well, not really) and all sorts of personal stuff about their lives.

So what does it all mean? Is it good or bad? I think it remains to be seen. I'm not likely to attract real stalkers so I feel pretty safe using Twitter (mainly for business, when I'm not using it to track celebs). I keep my Facebook profile as secure from random viewers as possible and have turned off its wider web search capability. But for some, the stakes of using social media are presumably much higher. I don't know if I'd be so open about it if I was "famous." And yet the openness of Twitter is its real appeal, so without that willingness, the tool would be much less interesting. Still, I don't know if I'd want to be leaving that many tracks in snow (to neatly wrap up my analogy) if I needed to use a bodyguard to get to the nearest shop. Would you?


Facebook to Book a Loss of Face?

Social network Facebook is to sell user information on its 150 million members to marketers in a bid to further monetise the site. I think this will be a critical test case in what level of online data privacy invasion by marketers people are willing to put up with.

It’s been well documented that social networks, including Facebook, have struggled to match their huge followings with substantial financial returns, despite being apparent goldmines for advertisers.

Facebook, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this week, has never been more popular, despite rumours it has peaked. But as it seeks to increase its income and attractiveness to would-be advertisers I think this move may prove a strategy too far and could lead to an exodus of users or at least a mass deletion of profile material which could compromise the site’s ability to ‘resell intelligence’ on users to advertisers who could then target consumers with polls, for example.

The move it planned for later this year and only then will we know for sure but the site has got to get the balance right or risk a widespread loss of trust which could sink it for good.

Doodle 4 Google... but only if you're in the 50 states

Google has announced its Doodle 4 Google contest, whereby US students grades K-12 can submit drawings for a unique Google logo on the theme 'What I wish for the world' and compete for a sizable college scholarship. Cynically speaking I always love an idea that forces people to design stuff for you for free, and make your logo more interesting - plus this has a 'feel-good' ring to it - but hang on a minute, did you say US students only?

If the aim of this contest is, let's face it, to make a US-based brand look good (and world-wise), why not open it up to students all over the world? Yes, the US is on the brink of change with a new administration, but globalisation is increasingly resulting in the outcome that we are in this together. People all over the world, not just in the States, feel the 'on the brink of something' feeling. I wish Google had done the more daring thing and flexed its international muscles with this contest. Sure, it would be an admin nightmare, but surely the brainpower at Google can wrap its head around that. It would have been way more powerful both in PR value, as well as its ability to demonstrate a truly worldwide connection.


From Brand to Bland: When Does the Fire Go Out?

I’ve had the privilege to have worked with some of the biggest brands in technology, but I’ve always preferred working with the start-ups and SMEs. Why? Because more often than not they’re bold about their marketing, because they know they have to be. They can also respond quicker to new ideas without a lengthy approvals chain that leaves you with nothing but lukewarm comment after the journalist’s deadline has long since passed. I’ve devised a theory based on my observations; let’s call it “Lee’s Law”.

I’ve received some comment this week for a piece I’m writing on the Government’s interim report into Digital Britain and I have to say the best comments – as they often do – came from the small, innovative companies. The big names – the ones you would expect to see in there – gave me the standard McQuote rubbish: “We welcome the findings…We look forward to providing innovative solutions….Working in partnership…yada yada yada.”

I’ve been there, I know how long middle-management internal marketing people probably deliberate about the wording of press statements to make sure it is politically acceptable internally. The marketing heads at many of these big corporations must be so frustrated – all that budget and so little chance to express themselves. It must really get the goat of their PR people too, who probably spend many a late hour brainstorming a proposal which they all know in their heart of hearts is going to be canned. Seen to be written, not written to be seen.

Lee’s Law

I’ve noticed that during the lifecycle of a firm that – without a strong and dynamic marketing head with a creative PR team – a typical firm risks following this trend. They start aggressively, the press love them – new, fresh and, above all, bold. As they grow the retreat into themselves a little, they’ve got customers to think about, a growing brand reputation to protect. Ahead of a pending IPO or acquisition it’s best behaviour time and during the ‘corporate years’ it’s goodbye boldness, hello blandness and it’s a shame. This isn’t true for everyone, of course. There are huge firms still innovating in their marketing and promotion but I’d be rather helping the small firm out with something and a willingness to say it than any ‘household brand’ who’ll reduce its PR to singing from the hymnbook of corporate cliché any day of the week.