Platforms and channels, not just a type of shoe or a place to watch TV…

With all this talk of social media and the digital age it’s important to understand the jargon. So those of you that thought Platforms were a type of shoe from the 70’s making a come back or where you stand to get your train from, I’m afraid to say that’s not what they’re talking about!

Although not a shoe, Platforms are something tangible unlike their channel counterparts (which just for reference aren’t where you watch your favourite television programs). By reading this now you’re in fact using both a Platform, you’re computer or internet enabled device and a Channel, this very WordPress site. The internet itself has revolutionised all industries, including Public Relations but now that it is so easily accessible and has a huge variety of websites and social media networks it has just got even harder to control.

There are 5 core elements that are said to ‘drive’ online PR and the advent of powerful Platforms like the iPhone and Channels like Twitter add to the importance of these 5 elements:

Transparency – as I’ve mentioned before Transparency has become essential for organisations, especially in the digital age. Nowadays anybody could take a photo on their phone and have it uploaded onto Twitter ‘outing’ a company’s bad behaviour or unethical practices before they could bat an eyelid. Now more than ever it is important for organisations to be honest with their public before something is leaked and sensationalised creating a worse situation for the organisation that if they were up front from the start.

Agency – this highlights the use of user generated content. The public are no longer just consumers they are also producers of their own media. Channels like Wikipedia have set the trend for sites that allow it’s users to contribute to the content that it provides. This is great for consumers as they can voice their opinion of an organisations for all to read, however this presents some obvious obstacles for organisations as they have no control over what is said about them, another reason for them to practice Transparency.

Porosity – much like transparency and agency, porosity is the leaking of information but usually in this case unintentionally. Now that organisations rely heavily on digital communication channels such as email, Intranet, SMS and social media, it is inevitable that confidential information can find it’s way to the wider public. This can often be bad for obvious reason, but sometimes hearing the real voices of the organisation (especially when the information is not scandalous) can be a good thing for a company’s reputation.

Richness & Reach – richness is the amount of content that the internet can hold and reach is how many people can view this information. For organisations that means that everything about them can be available for all of the world to see. With Platforms like internet enabled mobile phones that means that the public can access this information from anywhere at anytime. As with the other 3 points this has it’s positives and negatives and just confirms the benefits of Transparency.

So every time we use our iPhone (other internet enabled devices are available!) we are exercising the use of an important Platform (the device not the shoe) and when we then use our iPhone to Tweet what we’ve just had for breakfast, we have demonstrated how quick and easy it is to use the Channels that our Platforms enable. Most important to remember as somebody in the Public Relations industry is the 5 drivers of online PR. These serve as essential reminders of the opportunities that the internet and it’s Channels can provide as well as the potential damage that it can cause an organisation. The obvious answer to avoiding the negatives from these 5 drivers is to really take head of the first point and practice Transparency wherever possible.

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The Importance of Being Transparent

Despite the ever growing popularity of social media and user generated content organisations still insist on holding back the truth from the public!

For a long time it seemed that organisations didn’t always believe that honesty was the best policy. Companies would frequently bend the truth’ or completely withhold information from the public in order to ‘save face’. Before platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, this could be easily managed however now that user generated content and social networking sites are becoming some of our main sources of information, organisations need to realise that transparency really is key.

Just within the last couple of months there have been incidents that highlight that information can no longer be with held from the public. The case of the super injunctions where public figures obtain court orders to stop scandalous stories being sold to the press about them. Ryan Giggs’ injunction became the country’s worst kept secret after it was leaked on Twitter about his long term affair. Most recently Blackberry’s horrendous handling of their system failure, where RIM declined to acknowledge the severity of the situation to their customers, caused many people to loose faith in the brand. Had Blackberry been upfront and honest from the start they could have come out of the situation a lot better off.  Social media played a big part in both of these cases whether it be in leaking the information directly or as a platform for consumers to relay their negative feedback on an organisation.

It used to be that you just had to worry about journalists digging through your dustbins but now we are in the age of social media, everyone can be a whistle blower. A company’s reputation and brand value can be hit a lot harder if a scandal is leaked through Twitter instead of the CEO coming forward and addressing the public directly. The internet really has made it integral for companies to to be up front with their consumers, it now costs organisations more with holding information than it does just being honest from the start.

Is advertising still effective?

My experience in advertising is more from the other side of the fence. That is that I sell advertising space in the local fanzine I run, rather than create advertising for companies.

My personal experience as somebody selling advertising is that a lot of companies (especially small local ones) still like to pay for placing an advert and often don’t realise that they can get the same amount of coverage for free (if they do it themselves) by using PR and having an editorial piece written about them. I think this is because they can clearly see their advertisement, whether it be in a magazine, on the television or on a 40ft billboard. It’s also easier for small businesses to monitor to the success of an advert and judge whether it was money well spent or not.

As a consumer however, I have to question traditional advertising. It used to be that running an advert in an appropriate publication would be all it took to persuade consumers to buy your product.  The 1950’s had some great print advertisements like the shaving foam advert pictured. Nowadays I think it’s a lot harder for companies to run an advertising campaign that actually works. Consumer’s have learned to block out the constant advertisements they are exposed to every minute of the day. In an entire day, we’re likely to see 3,500 marketing messages (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2005/nov/19/advertising.marketingandpr) so an effective advert needs to stand out, but much more than that it needs to make the consumer go out and buy the product.

Humans are creatures of comfort, this is no different in their buying habits. Brand loyalty has a massive effect on consumer habits. For example PG Tips may have a great television advert that sticks out in your mind, but if you have always bought Tetley Tea then a great advert from PG Tips isn’t automatically going to make you change brands. In order to persuade consumers to buy into your brand you need create an emotional attachment to them.

As well as having brand loyalty we also like ‘impartial’ advice on products. Gone are the days when consumers relied on advertising to tell them how great a product is. Now we turn to industry experts or trusted bloggers to tell us which digital camera to buy. Consumers have become savvy to advertising and marketing techniques and that is where PR has picked up the reigns. By approaching journalists and bloggers to rate their products on their websites and telling their trusting followers what is the best product on the market to buy, companies are reaching consumers in a way they never have before.

On top of all of this, where do you put your advertisement? With so many different types of media, companies need their campaigns to be diverse and cover not just print or radio but online and social media etc. Viral adverts have become the latest trend with recent hits like the Muller yogurt advert which got almost a quarter of a million views in under 2 weeks. Something like this may not have immediately made consumers go out and buy Muller yogurts, but it has catapulted the brand into the consumer’s awareness which in time will translate into sales. With social media being big business a lot of companies are turning to Facebook and Twitter to advertise their products, but you cant rely on traditional methods when using these portals. WebTrends complied an interesting study on Facebook Advertising Performance one of the most poignant findings was that after 3 to 4 days the effectiveness of a Facebook advert dies off. This highlight the need for brands to change the advertisements a lot quicker than they ever had to when using print or television.

With all of these factors weighing down on the Advertising Industry it’s no wonder a lot of people are starting to wonder if advertising is on it’s last legs and PR is reaping the rewards. I however disagree. There is no doubt that successful advertising is more difficult to achieve than it used to be, but there are still creative advertisers out there coming up with amazing campaigns. Both Advertising and PR have their niches and for the moment I believe their is room for both of them to successfully work together.

Is anyone listening?

With big brands and and corporate companies catching on to the social networking bug, it has become more and more important to see if anyone is taking notice of their expensive social networking campaigns. Enter the social media monitoring tools…

These tools can track and monitor everything from how many ‘click throughs’ you get on your Twitter Tiny URLS, to how many times your video has been played on YouTube. Everyone from Google to Facebook is offering there own analytic tool to help you discover your standing in the social networking tree.

I looked into 5 different types of social media monitoring tools (see below) to see what all the fuss was about.They range between free and pay for tools, tools focused on one social networking site and all social networking sites as well as tools used by Joe Bloggs talking about his cat to Mr Obama in The White House!

5 social media monitoring toolsHaving only really ever used Facebook Insight, (which I personally find very limited) I came to my research open minded. There is obviously a need for these tools. As social media becomes the lynch pin of online communications, company’s need to know if they’re Facebook campaign is really working for them. I would be hesitant in recommending any company to pay for such a service, especially when the likes of Google provide Google Analytics as a free tool, but I would definitely suggest company’s invest the time into tracking their social media activity. I believe it is as much about a company’s understanding of social media as it is tracking how many likes they get on Facebook. The more they understand how these online communities work the more likely they are to justify tracking them!