PR, marketing and Digital: The arrogance of experience…

I confess, I admit: I could never ever coach an American Football team. I have never played it, never watched a full game, I do not understand any of the rules, and I am completely ignorant to all the habits and sensitivities. I would probably do about as good as a drunken rhinoceros in artistic skating.

In my book, to be good at something requires enthusiasm, sheer will, track record and hands-on experience. And that is exactly what I see as lacking in how most influencing agencies cope with social and digital media. They line up their usual experienced heavy weights to provide their clients with strategy and guidance on how to integrate digital and social media into the overall marketing and communication mix. Little side note: an alarming high percentage of these heavy weights have no experience in the digital and social media world.  Even more alarming is that the teams they roll out, into the field have none either.

A fascinating amount of power is given to people who have no clue what’s what in Social Media land. It’s not because you’ve read Groundswell or The New Normal that you are fully equipped to deep dive successfully into this fast moving area. It’s not because you know how a journalist thinks that you should take it for granted that a blogger thinks or behaves in the same way. It’s not because you’re a hotshot in direct marketing that you understand –at all­- how twitter works. It’s not because you were fab in influencing through 25 square meter advertorials that you can safely assume that a banner on a site will actually benefit your client or cause in any way. It’s not because your toddler is reasonably good with Lego that it is statistically safe to let him/her play with a fully loaded Kalashnikov.

I’m confronted on a daily basis with blogger relations experts that have never blogged, community managers that are online rookies, and twitter experts that have less reach and followers than my 83 year old gardening neighbor on a rainy day.  Robin Wauters of TechCrunch gave a PR professional a full broadside years ago for not playing online engagement by the online netiquette rules. And Wauters was so right. Too many arrogant old style off-line influencers think they can take the online new interactive digital scene by storm… and birthright. They look down on this booming online realm with an explosive mixture of denial, ignorance, arrogance, even disdain: an ideal cocktail for guaranteed distaster.

Not so long ago, agencies tried to offer top-notch journalists, analysts, Pulitzer Prize nominees and politicians a job to get extremely valuable hands-on knowledge, credibility and experience in house. To think that these same people will make the difference in online engagement is a huge mistake that cannot be remediated by an over lunch training session. Big time for agencies and their clients to go hunt for social media wizards, top-notch bloggers, proven star-profiled tweeps and highly connected  social networkers.

Only by upgrading their workforce with Digital Wizards will companies, organizations and agencies stay afoot in this morphing landscape. How did Cary Grant say it again: it takes a thief to catch a thief….

Forget outside-the-box – Just how good are you?

Communicating with online audiences. More and more brands are convinced of its growing importance, and huge potential.  It’s a fast changing environment, where new networks are adopted; sky rock, are disregarded, forgotten and sold to pop stars in the blink of an eye.

In all kind of windowless meeting rooms, marketers and communicators look at expensive slides. Buzzwords like engagement, Klout, digital, blogs, and Google+ are ping – ponged around the table.  Everyone agrees change is needed: Stepping up, killing your darlings, bleeding edge, innovation by design, burn the status-quo.  There is lots of nodding. And then, somebody  brings to the table that outside the box thinking is needed.

And that is when my light goes out. Albert Einstein framed it elegantly: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at, when we created them”.  I could not agree more. Just adding a Twitter account, some Facebook hocus pocus and being one of the first brands thinking about the new Google does not make a company ready for this digital age. The biggest problem of thinking outside of the box, is that the box is kept.

Can we find the guts and glory to forget all about the old box? Trying to find a new business model that fits consumer needs that are rapidly changing? Can we get away of our history, ourselves, and shape up for the future?  A car is way more than a horseless carriage; an iPhone is a complete rethinking of what good old Alexander Graham Bell had in mind when he invented the telephone.

Successful chance in this content driven, engaging digital age requires more than the occasional out of the box thinker. It requires purposeful dreamers, with an iron will to make it happen. Reshaping is a creative strategy, not a recurrent one.

To get out of the mud, rethink your wheels 😉

To Viral or not to Viral… is not even a question (bis)

It happens way too often, and it gives me the flying Trombones: in a meeting room without daylight somebody with great corporate hair will put on a strategic face and will utter something along the lines of “for this bleeding edge campaign, we need a viral component to generate word of mouth that will bla bla bla”.  Here in #canneslions there are even Lions for best viral campaigns. *sigh*

Let’s agree something.  Please, here from the beaches of Cannes: You cannot buy viral. You cannot make viral. You should not sell viral. Full. Stop. Viral is something that will eventually happen, if the online public decides to. There is no magic formula, no guaranteed ways of making it happen. It is –by definition- purely an organic thing. Whether marketers and spin doctors like it or not: going viral is a community driven phenomenon. Seed all you want!

Buying a gazillion online views and paying for countless banners does not guarantee a campaign to be/become viral. It guarantees views, eyeballs, and opportunities to see. Nothing wrong with that: that is what the job is about. Getting the message to the audience. Simple.

The online world has no need for more viral. The online world has a need for more quality, more skill, and more community understanding. As Redford says: more compelling stories. Instead of burning all this useless energy and money in trying to fake something viral, I’d rather see the effort invested in state of the art insights and metrics, strategic choices that drive change, awesome engagement strategies and a flawless execution and delivery plan with respect for the organic nature of the social web.

We’re professionals, not artists.  I prefer awesome to viral any day. One day you might get lucky and experience one of your brainchildren go viral. Good for you. I hope your other online work is awesome enough to move the needle without a viral throw of the dice…..

In a Spin: both feet in… unless….

When @GaryStockman, CEO Porter Novelli, tweeted yesterday: “Final lesson from weekend’s perfection driving school: In a spin, both feet in. It doesn’t really apply to biz, but it sure saved me yesterday”, some people asked me what he meant.

As a fellow lover of fine fast machines, I knew exactly what he meant: When you lose control of a speeding car, press both clutch and brake to the floor. This will keep you from stalling the engine (and, while spinning backwards, prevent from ruining it). Moreover: locking up all four wheels gives the car a straight, predictable path (nice for other racers who go out of their minds to avoid you). Thirdly; four fat strips of enhanced expensive rubber screeching on the asphalt slows your car down… and every mile/hour slower is a good thing, especially when you’re heading for that unforgiving concrete safety wall…

There, I explained it, clear good advice that can save your car and some precious body parts. But before you take off, in a local imitation of Alonzo on speed… wait a second. You need to know that Gary is driving a mighty rear wheel powered car, with modern ABS system. On older cars, without ABS, locking your brakes will flatspot your tires, with a risk of them exploding. Hm…  and, when you’re losing control racing a front-drive car, slamming the gas to the floor and some skilled counter steer allows you often to recover from certain disaster.

Just to say: advice should never be taken out of context. As every driver knows: every car is different. Same goes for tips and tricks on communication. There is no one size fits all, no boxed approach, no always-win tricks. Every situation has a history, a context, very own specificities… it requires a strategy and tailored solutions…

Trust me, I’m a consultant 😉

Excuse me… but who is “We” exactly?

It must be the old journalist in me. But way too often I hear in keynotes, panels and conversations the gratuitous We”, or even more angering the totalitarian “they”. “We all think…..”; “They need….”, “We all want….. they need to give….”.

I have big difficulties with these generalizing pointers. Maybe it is because I’m special, but every time I hear a keynote speaker go “and that is what we all want”, I have this uncontrollable urge to stand up and shout “not true, I’m not.” I hate it when the audience is unidirectionaly demystified, stripped from all individuality, and crammed into two buckets: “we” and “they”.

Very often I cannot identify myself with either the we or the they… and voicing the angry inner dialogue in the vast personal kingdom of my head after being pulled into a “we-crowd” against my will would be illegal on most planets.

So do not link me to whatever you have to say. Show respect for the fragile thing that makes me me. Talk about people, as Guy Kawasaki does so charmingly (or should I say “enchantingly”), talk about friends, talk about persons. Say there are, or I noticed.

You know what, if your keynote is compelling, interesting, challenging, smart, revolutionary, different or entertaining, I will join your “We” club willingly, unconditionally and completely. Until then, you’ll have to earn it.

As former French president Mitterand once said: “Tu peux me dire vous”. :-).

Pretty please? It’s not about stuff, it is about us…

Everybody needs to make a living, so I respect that everybody sells something. And listening to all the people selling their thing-of-gold @ #SxSW I cooked up a very simple rule-of-thumb to separate the chaff from the wheat.

It’s no rocket science: ignore the people that are talking about applications, software, browsers, plug-ins and tutti-quanti. They will not make it. Selling stuff will get you nowhere in the charts in the social media world. And a quick poll amongst the influent bloggers in the blogger lounge shows a similar view. Selling stuff is an indication that you do not get the game., it proves that you are playing in the wrong league. It proves that you are on a rollercoaster to lonely oblivion…

Because the game is social. And social just does not care a bit about stuff, social is about people, social is about experiencing and social, more than everything, is about us.

And the people selling experiences stand out like traffic lights in the Mobiwashi desert. Because the online consumers do not want to buy, they want to experience. And if good experience goes through a quick tap through their credit card, they do not care.

So, spotting great user experiences, gives you a great roadmap to real successful companies. How do you benefit from location based services? What curation service will get you the most relevant content? What platform will give you the most interaction with your audience, what tool will let you travel without having to worry about keeping track of your important shared documents?

It’s no longer about bits, and bytes, and CPU’s and whether or not it runs on Honeycomb, OS, Win7 or magic stardust. It’s about how and where and why. The web morphed from tech to social, from geeky to ubiquitous, from stuff to us…

Cali Lewis: girl power!

There are a lot of men in the Blogger Lounge. But when Luria Petrucci walks in, most of the male audience is a bit disturbed.  Better known under her internet alias Cali Lewis, the 30 year old brunette is one of the most popular American internet celebrities in Europe where her dynamic podcast  GeekBeat.TV is top of tongue.

Her dynamic personality and easy going nature made her the role model for a whole generation of European Geek Girls. A celebrity with absolutely no capsones, as I could find out during a short interview.

Smiling young people with tremendous influencing power: are you ready for them?

The Magic of “How do you do that”…

Browsing #SxSw in Austin for content, the old journalist in me has a field day. Some of the smartest brains on the planet that are dealing with social interactions and digital media are literally  within a square mile from this laptop. An amazing amount of brainpower, egos and strong viewpoints are competing for attention.

What makes me happy and hopeful is that in about every conversation I witness, the little phrase “But how do you do that…” pops up.  @GuyKawasaki was talking about Enchanting, but he very quickly went down to “But how do you do…” to everyone he interacted with. Steve Rosenbaum (@magnify) asked me “But how do you deal with info in multiple languages”…. Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang) and @briansolis were talking in a panel yesterday on data curation and “How do you do…” came back multiple times.

How do you do social across borders? How do you curate? How do you measure? How do you interact? Engage? Spread? How do you get noticed? What are the rules?

My grandfather always told me that the quickest way to become smarter was asking lots of questions. The fact that the smartest brains I’m following on Twitter are still asking these questions every single minute they mingle proves me that our future is in good hands :-).

You never walk alone…

While covering #SxSW in Austin is fun, educative, entertaining and generally nice… it is also hard work. The ten venues that encompass the event this year are not exactly in spitting distance from each other, and endless long hall ways, tricky stairs and Austin’s historic pavements are a pure torture for the feet.

Add to that the murdering difference between the soft autumn temperature outside, and the freezing chill inside the meeting halls, the long hours, the time differences and relentless jetlag, the greasy-food-on-the-go, the pressure to choose wisely between more than 6400 keynotes, talks, panels, demos and chats… and you are up for nerve-wracking body-breaking experience.

Luckily, we do not have to do this on our own. The local Porter Novelli team in Austin, captained by energybulb Aaron De Lucia, goes lengths to make this an as smooth as possible experience for the weary PN’ers coming from far away. From reservation, to registration, to help and encouragement “on the floor”, this team does an amazing job.

In between their busy client work, they are great company, they leave their loved ones alone at night to show us the places-to-be and assist in solving a myriad of small but urgent problems.

The PN content team is amazing as well, from the first cry of the Austin rooster, to the last round of the VIP swamped party, these people are everywhere… hammering their dusty keyboards till way too late in the night to produce content to share.

“With a little help from my friends” or “You never walk alone” cheesy songs, but they spring into mind when the team converges a couple of times today for updates and energy sharing. Tao Tze said you cannot walk to your destiny alone… but I’m not scared…

Porter Novelli? It’s a well-oiled Social Army….

My “check-in” beats your “like” anytime

For brands, creating engagement in any way is key… that’s why they are in social media in the first place. In recent months, a telltale signal to determine that engagement at a glance is the number of “likes” a brand collects all through the brands online ecosphere. Fueled by mostly Facebook, the hunt for likes is powering an important part of the Social Media roll out, and, between us: that is a bad thing.

A number of “likes” does not show you in any way the quality or quantity of engagement with your target audience in any way… for that more intelligent sets of data should be explored that give more relevant information on quality, sentiment, loyalty and behavior.

And a “like” is just a wrong metric. Clicking on it is often a gratuit gesture… for most consumers it means nothing more than a thoughtless “click”.  There is no bar, no effort, no real thinking, and thus way too often no real intention or engagement.

Personally, I have more respect for the location based check in. A check in, is like a “like”, but only better. Checking in means that people are linking their real life location and behavior (shopping, eating, going to a concert,…) with their offline social media ecosphere. They went through an experience that reverberates in the social spider web. Location based social check-ins are more and more combined with the ability to rate the experience, adding a tremendous potential added value for the brand. Having people checking in from stores, airports, planes, restaurants and events and giving a positive social rating turns every active “checker” into an active brand advocate.

People will trust the review of someone who actively ate at a restaurant way more than one from someone who just punched the “like” button on a website.

Check-ins new style will beat up likes big time 😉

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