Monday, 18 October 2010

An inconvenient PR truth



Email spam messages are, let's face it, very annoying and while the majority of us deal with a few spam messages a day, many journalists and bloggers are inundated with spam emails from PR companies on a daily basis.

While we at Uniquethinking are not guilty of this, it seems that there are hundreds of ‘professionals' out there willing to risk theirs and the industry’s reputation through this ‘hit-and-hope- approach’. Highlighting the frustration with this was Kevin Braddock's, a freelance journalist, response to the situation. He chose to hit back last year by publishing a list of PR professionals who constantly clogged his inbox full of irrelevant articles.

Though this is clearly an impractical approach for everyone, an article in Media Week has shown the steps that the industry has taken to tackle this problem. A charter by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), Public Relations Consultant Association (PRCA), the Investors Relations Society (IRS) and National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has been put together to offer guidelines for professionals working in the industry. This was in response to the growing conflict within the industry and the campaign ‘An Inconvenient PR Truth aiming to reduce PR pollution.

Though those in favour argue that it will improve industry relations and eliminate non-targeted and inaccurate emails, many professionals, including our own uniquethinkers, feel that this charter is common sense and something that even the most junior employee should be adopting.

Clearly not everyone agrees but it seems undeniable that regulating a problem area can only be a good thing and we tentatively look forward to the industry enjoying better media coverage in the future.

Monday, 4 October 2010

A good tweet a day keeps bad PR at bay

There was an interesting article in PR Week recently advising the close management of a brand's presence on social networks.

Here are five things every company should consider.

1. Decide who is responsible
Should the feed be run by an organisation's customer services, marketing or comms department? To find the answer work out the purpose of your Twitter feed. Is it for customer service, publicising special offers, recruitment, for reaching and pitching to journalists, or is it to promote wider brand messages? Gatwick Airport, for example, is currently trialling its Twitter feed as a live customer services tool. Other brands may use their feeds to run competitions, inform people about company news, or give the brand a personality. If the objective for your Twitter stream is customer service, let the customer service experts run it. If it's a broader aim, PR and marketing people are better placed to run more engaging, content-based campaigns.

Whoever runs the feed, both PR and customer service departments need to be involved in the process. The challenge is to have the right monitoring and response systems in place so that customer service issues are quickly passed to customer service professionals. Similarly, PROs should be monitoring for any potential reputational issues that may emerge. A brand's social media presence does not belong to one person, but to a team of people who are often in different departments.

2. Who do you want to be?
Twitter managers need to balance the corporate tone with the language of Twitter. Work out your company's voice, then stick to it. Brands can be serious but still have a human side. It's about knowing who you are. Don't try to act cool if you're not. Some companies deliberately put real people behind their feeds. Ford Motor Company, for example, has appointed Scott Monty to head up social media initiatives. The Ford main feed identifies Monty, and a handful of others who run the feed. They mark their contributions with their initials. It is wise to get more than one person to be the face of the brand to avoid a problem if a high-profile figure leaves. 'It needs to be a process where people share the responsibility. Ford has a team of six who are a mix of product and corporate comms staff.

3. Keep it interesting.
Twitter feed managers should research people's behaviour on the social networking site. Once PROs have learned what people want, they need to make sure the content they produce is engaging. People follow feeds that they find amusing. Every now and again, tweet something that will make your followers smile. It's something they're more likely to retweet than anything else. Other ways to keep a feed fun include posting links, videos and pictures and retweeting your own followers. As Twitter is primarily a sharing tool, a tweet doesn't have to be plain text and should look to include other media. Also seek out funny people to follow. Firstly their material will save you having to draft all your own tweets, and by engaging with people, others will want to listen to you. Also, make sure you respond quickly. Conversation is a two-way process, typically in real time. The expectation in the social web is that companies should respond to their customers in a timely fashion.

4. Link up your social media
Twitter is only one social media platform, so PROs should make sure activity here fits with other social media initiatives.. Whereas it's quite rare, even in the comms industry, for the majority of staff to be on Twitter. Integrating your Twitter account with Facebook increases your audience with no extra effort.

Twitter is great, but it gets better with a content strategy behind it. So content platforms such as blogs, YouTube, Vimeo or Flickr might be needed. This joined-up strategy should help ensure you are not mixing your messages across different sites. 'Authenticity is crucial. Respect relationships with customers. Be candid, and don't spin as you'll be caught out and lose the trust of your customers.

5. Be prepared for the risk
Having a presence on Twitter allows customers, staff, journalists and pressure groups to find a company and make comments about it public. 'Whatever your rationale for setting up a feed, your customers will use it as a means of getting in touch with your organisation. 'Have clear processes for sign-posting conversations to customer service, PR and sales. Examples of Twitter feeds that have become sales channels aren't hard to find.

People who dislike your company are also able to make their comments public. Last year, for example, an anti-Starbucks group hijacked a promotion where contestants had to post pictures of themselves in the brand's cafes. The group was pictured with signs saying: 'I want a union with my latte.' Make sure the comms team is prepared to deal with any problems like this, and that staff from other departments know when to spot potential reputational problems. Also keep a close eye on what your Twitter feed says about your brand.

Today the most shared article on bbc's news pages is about the power of social media too http://chhttp//www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11450923. If your social media strategy isn't managed properly it can have devasting effects on a company.