September 02, 2009

Social Media Is Infrastructure: PR, Marketing, Ads Safe

Practically the only thing guaranteed that social media will kill is your free time. Maybe it will kill your real-world social life too, but that's only if you choose to have an intimate relationship with your computer, at the pure neglect of the world outdoors. While it's popular and tempting to say that social media is poised to eliminate core business elements, such as marketing, public relations, or advertising, the truth is that the latest Web tools are simply infrastructure, to be used well. More traditional departments in business, and the third party vendors who provide their services, will need to adapt to a changing world, but they aren't going anywhere.

On Thursday, the refrain that PR, Marketing and Advertising "Suck" was debated in a panel I participated in, featuring Loic Le Meur of Seesmic, Guy Kawasaki of AllTop (as moderator), Steve Patrizi of LinkedIn and Renee Blodgett of Magic Sauce Media.

Loic's experience of having hired and fired an expensive (to him) PR firm in his first years promoting in the Valley, combined with his visibility and success that has largely been self-led, as well as a general sense that quality is missing from much of the industry, has seen him question the entire process. In a detailed blog post, Loic cites bad practices including fake reviews and press releases, and contrasts that with how major Web services, like Twitter and Facebook, have largely relied on word of mouth to bring their message to new users. And it was with this background that we participated in Thursday's discussion.

Guy Kawasaki asked each of us how we could successfully market our products if we had no budget, or a very small one - which fell below a typical retainer for any reputable PR firm. Most of us, myself included, recommended utilizing your personal relationships and network if you had no cost. I also recommended reaching out to second-tier bloggers, who can be your product's biggest advocates. Loic said you should get a community manager for low cost to see what people are saying online and respond quickly.

Tap Into Your Personal Network to Save Money

Much of the conversation was framed in terms of listening to services like Twitter, and blogs. It was debated what constituted spamming on Twitter. Renee said that listening for keywords and reaching out to potential customers was a major part of how her clients found prospects - which I agreed with, but others questioned. I said that sending somebody an unsolicited note on Twitter to gauge interest was just fine the first time, and spam the second time. Meanwhile Steve Patrizi kept asking his board of directors for more money.

For as much fun as I have talking about new and cutting edge applications on this site, I recognize that the actual penetration for many of these tools is very small. While some services have started to go mainstream, many other tools, including traditional public relations and advertising, tools as basic as Google AdWords and customized landing pages, are absolutely necessary, especially as you travel up the approval foodchain in the enterprise - trying to convince C-Level buyers to acquire what could be six-figure products. So I tried to discourage some of the over reliance on social media tools for those companies who are trying to reach all their customers.

This Panel Is Going to "Suck" If I Hear Twitter Two More Times

When change happens, people tend to get nervous. It's a fact of life. When you hear examples of bad behavior, it can be easy to assign an entire industry or group of people all the blame.

It is my belief that smart public relations firms, smart marketers and smart advertising firms will not shrink away from the challenges that come with reaching potential influencers and buyers in new places, which require a breadth of awareness, and rapid responses. Those that embrace tools, and recognize them to not be scary - taking to blogging and tweeting and social networking as quickly as they did e-mail and phone calls, will be leaders for the next five to ten years.

What If You Get Negative Feedback?
Practice "Truth In Marketing"

Do PR firms screw up and do ads get ignored? Absolutely. We can each probably think of many cases where that has been the case. But Web sites didn't put those firms out of business, and neither have blogs. Social media won't do so either, unless these firms and individuals are closing their eyes and pretending the tools don't exist. That Loic and others are thinking about the major changes that are underway in our industry is fantastic. That Loic has been able to listen well and leverage his personal brand to help raise visibility for his products has no doubt been very effective. But saying an entire industry "sucks" or is unnecessary is overdoing it. These are tools to be leveraged, and I look forward to each of these industries growing with these tools and delivering new best practices that benefit us all.

See Also:
Loic Le Meur: PR, Marketing and Advertising suck, now what?
Kosmix Blog: Advertising, PR, and Marketing Suck! Now What?
Down the Avenue: Advertising, Marketing and PR Suck: Now What?
Shari Sax: Is Social Media THE ANSWER when traditional marketing “sucks”?

Videos Courtesy: Shari Sax's YouTube Channel