Google+ vs Pinterest

The two social media new kids on the block of the last few months have undoubtedly been Google’s offering Google+ and the visual network that is Pinterest. Both of these social media channels have their own pros and cons, but in this virtual dog eat dog world which one will prove its worth to businesses and consumers alike?

Having both Google+ and Pinterest accounts I have my own opinion of which I believe is better for personal and business use but before I divulge that information, what exactly are Google+ and Pinterest?

Google+ is the much anticipated social media network from search engine giants Google. Set to be the first real rival to Facebook, there are similarities between the two. The constant stream of your ‘friends’ statuses, the chat facility and the ability set up pages for businesses. The are some more unique features of Google+, the ‘hangout’ allows a Skype type conference call where you can have a multi user conversation using video and audio. Google+ also allows users to create ‘circles’ so that statuses can be targeted to specific groups of people in ‘circles’ that you create. The social network has been adopted by some influential people like Richard Branson and President Obama as well as business. Its slow up take of users haven’t dampened Google’s spirits for the site’s future, but is it a real contender to Facebook especially for business use?

Pinterest is an image base social networking site where users can ‘pin’ images they find on the internet onto ‘boards’ like a digital pin board. A simple toolbar add on is installed so that whenever you are browsing the internet you are able to pin images to your boards. These boards can be themed around anything you like from the latest fashions to your favourite typography. Being a purely visual site lends itself extremely well as a business tool and early adopters of the site for business functions have be online fashion website ASOS and Hugh Hefner’s empire Playboy. Pinterest lends itself to fashion, which is why ASOS has had such success with their Pinterest presence. It is also a great platform for food, crafts, home ware and photography.

Both of these social networks have positives and negatives that affect their useability for organisations, some of which are below:

Having profiles with both Google+ and Pinterest I have formed my own opinion of the social networking sites. Although I joined Google+ first I find that it’s just too similar to Facebook. Why would a business with an established Facebook page attempt to transfer this on to Google+ that has less users? A lot of businesses are setting up Google+ pages because it’s the next social media fad, this is a huge bug bear. DON’T set up a social media presence unless you are going to spend time and effort maintaining it and certainly don’t do it just because it’s what everyone else is doing. Pinterest on the other hand I have to admit is becoming a firm favourite for me. Maybe it’s because I’m a visual person, but I find the uniqueness of the site (even though its not the first of its kind –  Wists) refreshing. For business Pinterest can be hugely beneficial. On one level it can become a virtual store with the ability to create boards based on the latest seasons or stories and on the other hand it is a place where consumers share their favourite things opening up free influential promotion. Of course as any new social media channel does, Pinterest has some issues it needs to iron out, not least its copyright and terms of use. I do however think that Pinterest offers more to organisations and consumers than Google+ does. That’s not to say that Google+ won’t prosper, Facebook is quickly loosing its appeal especially with its constant interface changes and the extremely unpopular Timeline, so there is room for Google+ to poach some of Facebook’s users. However I think Google+ has a good while longer before they reach the sort of numbers that will make it a truly useful tool. Pinterest on the other hand is the social media site of the moment and a tool that I think organisations would do well to adopt.

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Audit: find out if your PR is working for you

In my last post I looked at some online programs that you can use to research prospective and current clients and I have also posted about social media auditing and the importance of keeping tabs of your social media presence. These are both important for the public relations of businesses but what about the wider opportunities of auditing?

Auditing is integral for any business and can look into every aspect of an organisation, a public relations audit will specifically look at how you are being put across to the public, your brand value and reputation and in these tough financial times can asses how effective your PR strategy really is. It is often easy to forget that there is a world outside of the online augmented reality we have created for ourselves, so I’m going to briefly look into audit measures for both on and offline PR.

In a general auditing sense there is a cycle that is often followed and in it’s simplest form follows 4 steps: Planning, Audit, Analysis & Reporting. These 4 steps are the basics when carrying out any audit and are easily applied to a PR audit whether it be on or offline.The following are brief guides to some of the points I would include in an audit, they are not every step that should be taking, but in my opinion are some of the most important.

Online

Consistency is Key: it cannot be stressed enough that all URLS, domain names, Facebook pages and groups, Twitter accounts, Google+ and LinkedIn profiles are owned and maintained by the company themselves. There are various stories of companies that have discovered their .com is being used by another person, not only is it confusing for consumers but it can be potentially damagimng to a company’s reputation. This also goes for branding across sites, make sure you have a style book that is available to all employees so any logos used are always consistent with the company branding.

Integration: with new social networking sites popping up every 5 minutes, integrating all of these with your website is a very good idea. There are programs out there including HootSuite that can do this for you, linking all of your social media profiles on one dashboard so you can update them all simultaneously. It really is becoming too easy not to do this.

SEO: search engine optimisation or SEO as the jargon junkies like to call it essentially ensures that when you type your company name or area of business in to Google (other search engines are available) that the top hit is your website, followed by your Facebook, Twitter etc etc.

Unfinished business: there is nothing worse than getting to a company’s website and discovering that there is a gaping hole on the landing page or the contact details are missing. This is the same for Facebook pages/groups, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, it is essential that your social media and websites have all the company’s information on and

Maintenance: where possible maintenance to any sites should be done at low traffic times so as not to inconvenience consumers. House of Fraser for example carry out maintenance at 4:00am to avoid loosing customers.

Measurement: In my previous post I profiled some programs that you can use to track aclients, as well as being good for research purposes they are also good ways to measure your social media, collating information including how many followers or likes you have, mentions you are receiving as well in some cases the sentiment behind these mentions.

Offline

On and off: another point of consistency is to ensure that your offline profile is the same as your online. This includes messages and branding, the last thing you want to do is confuse your customers when they are looking for you in the real world after researching you online.

Inside and out: sometimes it is easy to forget that your employees are just as important as your customers. Your employees need to be singing from the same hymn sheet so to speak as the PR campaign for the company is to ensure that the same messages are being put across.

The media and your messages: as with social media measurement and monitoring it is integral to do the same with traditional media. Look into your recent media coverage including print, television and radio and see if the messages and reputation you are trying to maintain are what are being included in the coverage.

Auditing is not a one off and it certainly isn’t a quick task, but it is something that will benefit a company in the long run. It is important to carry out PR audits to ensure that you are portraying the right image to the public as well as knowing that the money you are spending on your PR program is well spent. A lot of these auditing measures can be ongoing tasks which will ensure that you are always on top of your PR activity.

For more extensive guides to PR auditing both on and offline I found the following useful:

Cindy Kim – The Marketing Journalist 

Kwame Boame – How to Audit Your Social Media Efforts: 20+ Questions to Ask Yourself

What has 2011 taught PR?

I have come across lots of predictions for what 2011 would hold for Public Relations, but nothing on what the events of the year have taught the industry. The events of last year really have shaped the way a lot of businesses now conduct themselves and the PR industry can also learn from the happenings of the last 12 months.

Social Media has shown itself to be an incredibly valuable tool. In 2011 social media sites were responsible for the fall of celebrities (Charlie Sheen, Ryan Giggs etc etc), breaking the news on the death of Osama Bin laden and fueling riots across London and the rest of the UK. Of course everybody within the Public Relations industry knew how important Social Media was before all of this happened…right? Jokes as side, 2011 really has proved just how important a tool Social Media is, and if every PR agency and in house team aren’t putting together a Social Media strategy for 2012 then I would seriously question their PR ability.

Trust in the British Newspapers after the phone hacking scandal broke in early 2011 has undoubtedly dropped. When it was reported that the News of the World had hacked into the mobile phone of Milly Dowler, the public was outraged, and rightly so. An already struggling industry really shot itself in the foot and on the 10th July The News of the World published it’s last issue and in September the Leveson Inquiry was launched, looking into the practices of the British press. Newspapers are still an excellent tool for PR, but the industry now needs to readdress how they use this tool in light of the events of 2011 and the findings of the Leveson Inquiry. Theses events have also shown that the biggest empires in the world are not safe, in 2011 the Murdoch family became testament to that.

Mobile technology as with Social Media have been a huge trend for 2011. When RIM went down in October every BlackBerry users in Europe, Middle East and Africa (another lesson for RIM don’t use jargon when speaking to your public!) were left stranded when their emails and BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) stopped working. BBM was also blamed as one of the ways the London Rioters organised themselves during the riots. This shows the dependency that we now have on mobile devices. Public Relations need to make use of this dependency, mobile technology allows you to communicate instantly, constantly and directly to your audience.

These are only three points from 2011 that I think the Public Relations Industry can learn from, I’m sure that there are lots of other lessons learnt from the last 12 months. 2012 is a mixed bag in my opinion, the biggest high is sure to be the Olympics however with the growing discontent of the country (2011 saw various protest, strikes and riots) and the worsening economy the Great British public are going to hard nuts to crack. Public Relations really need to cut the crap and communicate honestly to their audiences, people can see through the smokescreens. I think Social Media is going to continue to grow in importance for the industry, hopefully it will learn to use the tool and monitor it effectively this year. Clients are going to want to know what they are paying for, so PRs need to be able to prove they are value for money.

Demographics: why you need to know who you are talking to.

It sounds obvious but sometimes I wonder if people actually think about who they are trying to talk to when they put out a message or campaign. Not only is it very annoying being targeted by something completely irrelevant to you, but it’s also a costly mistake to make.

One of the first things I learnt on my PR course was about publics and identifying your audience. So it seems bizarre that people would get something so basic so wrong. With online advertising becoming big business we are inundated with often irrelevant advertising that most of the time just annoys us. Public Relations thankfully has a more sophisticated approach to segmenting their target audience to ensure that the messages they are trying to get across, reach the right people. That’s not to say that PR can’t make some questionable audience decisions too.

With the internet making Global communications as easy as nipping down to the local newsagents, audience identification is important now more than ever. It’s all to easy nowadays to advertise your company on Facebook using the demographics tools they have in place, segmenting your audience by age, gender, marital status etc. but I have a problem with this. Being female, and engaged I am the perfect ‘target’ for wedding adverts advertising venues in Scotland and photographers in Cornwall (to put it into context I live in Cheltenham) Facebook even uses this scenario as a case study. My problem with this is they have used this tool to narrow down who they think would be interested in these products (no real problem so far) but 1. I don’t live in Scotland or Cornwall 2. I already have my venue and photographer 3. why only target engaged females, what about grooms organising their weddings or gay couples! It may sound like I’m nit picking here but when you’re paying out for an advert or campaign why not take a bit more time to work out exactly who you want to communicate your message with to get the best value for money.

Much like Facebook’s demographic advertising their are tools out there that can help you decide who you want to target:                                                                                            Geoplan offer a paid for service where you can identify demographics by using information from the 2011 census to target different variables (the more variables the more you have to pay) they also offer a customer profiling service where they use GIS mapping software to enhance customer databases.                                                             Experian offer Mosaic UK described as a “unique consumer classification based on in-depth demographic data” Mosaic uses trends within the UK to form it’s tailored demographics. They have 155 ‘Mosaic types’ in 67 ‘household types’ and 15 groups that create a 3 tier classification.                                                                                                  Adobe also have their own social media demographics tool Adobe SocialAnalytics. SocialAnalytics is part of the Adobe Marketing suite powered by Ominture. It uses customer insights to develop targeting strategies for new customers across hundreds of digital channels.

These are just 3 examples of the types of software available to help you identify your audiences. It’s important to remember that with any software like this, it’s likely that you will still miss out certain members of your potential target audience, like the earlier Facebook example. It’s beneficial to have degree of knowledge of the types of people that you think you need to communicate your message or product with before using one of these tools so that you can cross examine the results, a bit of a belt and braces method.

I’ll be honest the mention of socio-economic demographics doesn’t instantly inspire me to write a post, but audience identification is essential not just for a successful PR campaign but for a successful PR professional. If you can’t work out who you should be targeting your message to then your in the wrong profession! Although the tools out there can take most of the leg work out of segmenting your publics, it is always a good idea to check through the results and make sure that you have covered all of the publics you want to communicate your message with.

What does Social Media say about you?

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (yes people still use it!), LinkedIn, Bebo, Flickr, Foursquare, Google+ and list goes on! Worldwide there are literally hundreds of social networking sites and if you have one, you probably have at least 2 or 3. But is the information you have on these sites damaging you or your company’s reputation?

It’s becoming a well known fact that employers will Google candidates and check out their social media presence even before you get to interview stages. So now that these sites have moved on from just a place to connect with friends, to somewhere where employers and customers will get their first impressions of you it is vital that what these sites say about you is positive and not detrimental.

I have come up with 5 top tips to keep your Social Media presence a positive attribute rather than a negative one:

1. Picture Perfect

Everybody has embarrassing drunk photos on their Facebook profile and it is good to show that you can let your hair down at the weekends, but if these odd one or two photos are more like every other photo, then you may need to think about cutting them down a bit. It’s one thing to show that you can have a good time, but you need to remember that employers more importantly want to know that you’re not going to turn up with a hangover every morning!

2. Up to date

With new Social Networking sites popping up all the time it’s easy to forget that old MySpace account or YouTube channel you set up when you were 15. It’s good to do a Google search for yourself every once and a while to re-discover these lost profiles and either up date them or delete them. Make sure that all of your current accounts are also up to date, especially education and employment history.

3. Honesty is the best policy

Now you know that employers will be looking at your Social Media presence don’t fall in the trap of embellishing the truth. Honesty really is the best policy, employers will pick up on what you have written about yourself and may question you at an interview, much like your CV so it really is important to be truthful on all of you profiles.

4. Sticks and stones

Every man and his dog has a blog these days and sometimes the things we write about can be emotionally fueled and negative to say the least. If you know you have written something about a company in the past that you may regret now and you think reflects badly on yourself then address it in a new positive one. Explain why you wrote it and how your view point has changed, because one day you may find yourself wanting to work at that company. Similarly future employees don’t want to see that you have slated a former employee on your blog or Facebook page, why would they employ somebody that could turn around and do the same to them? Keep those sorts of opinions private, because they could affect your future professional prospects.

5. Common Sense

Before you publish that post or update your status, think what it says about you to all of your potential audience. In essence use your common sense, if it’s just a rant to make you feel better after you’ve been reprimanded at work it’s probably going to reflect badly on you when you come to want a new job so don’t publish it. If it’s a subjective piece on a company that you strongly believe has done wrong and you are sure you won’t regret it in the future then go for it.

Although these tips are for personal Social Media usage, organisations also need to take heed, instead of going to official websites consumers are increasingly using Facebook as their first port of call. This means that a company’s Facebook page could become their front of house, so the information and comments on it need to portray a positive image.

These tips aren’t meant to stifle how you represent yourself online, they’re meant to make you think twice about what information you have about yourself online. Public Relations is about creating and sustaining a positive reputation, this is no different for how you portray yourself using Social Media. Often people fall into the trap of using sites like Facebook and Twitter as a platform to air grievances and in the heat of the moment you may find it helpful, but down the line you may find that they turn around and bite you on the bum!

Make sure that your Social Media profiles are saying the right things about you.

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.