Thursday, August 27, 2009

Social Media: One Size Does NOT Fit All

I received two Facebook friend requests this week from people I didn't know. I had at least a dozen common friends with each person, however, so I accepted both. Flash forward a couple days (or, for one of them, three hours) and they are but a friend memory.

First was a woman I'll call Ms. RT, because she updated her Facebook profile umpteen times a day, clearly using tools that simply posted Tweets to Facebook. After a day of "RT @Joe Schmoe..." posts, I ended my friendship with her. If I want to read Re-Tweets, or learn about Joe Schmoe, for that matter, I'll catch up with y'all on Twitter, thankyouverymuch.

Second was a guy I'll call Mr. Confusing, because he littered my Facebook newsfeed with posts on (true story!): social media, technology, emerging financial markets, rock bands, and the water crisis (among others). I'm guessing Mr Confusing was somehow trying to promote his expertise or his business. For that, I applaud him. But, for using a personal page to actively request my "friendship" in an effort to promote his business... when I don't even know him (annoying enough coming from those I DO know), well, Mr. Confusing and I parted ways within a few hours.

My point: social media is not a one-size-fits-all world. Ms. RT's automatic posting of tweets to Facebook felt like someone sending me a letter addressed "Dear PR Person" because she couldn't bother to personalize it. And, Mr. Confusing's business stuff might have actually caught my eye on Twitter, whereas it was inappropriate and aggravating on the feed of my personal Facebook page.

Different social media tools have different applications and each serves a specific purpose. If you utilize them all properly, you can expand your circle and grow your business. If you plow on blindly and use them incorrectly, you may lose "friend"ships (and possible business relationships/opportunities) before they even begin.

If you are a do-it-yourself-er, there are some great tools out there to educate you (I recommend mashable, for one; or search #smm on twitter for a variety of info and tips); if you need more help, give Miamore a shout (or an email, or a Facebook message, or a Tweet...!)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Social Media PR Expert. Is There Any Such Thing?

I've had several conversations this week that lead me to this post... and it is inspired, in part, by one of my favorite commentaries on the subject (here), which I read months ago as I was researching and delving into the idea of marketing and public relations via social media (and which is always in the back of my mind).

So, the question: What is a social media PR/marketing "expert"? And, when this communication medium is still so unknown, how does any small business gauge whether a PR consultant (many of whom can spew babble on cue, regardless of their actual knowledge) can help them engage customers and succeed in a PR and marketing environment that is evolving, quicker than we thought imaginable, into a social media-focused world?

I encounter a lot of skepticism in my day-to-day comings and goings. I talk about Miamore Communications' services, emphasizing social media promotions, and see many a raised eyebrow and glassy eye. And, honestly, I run a small business, too, so I completely understand. I also encounter my fair share of "social media" babble in both the real world and via mediums like Facebook. Everyone is scrambling to emerge as an expert. But who really is?

Granted, I'm one of those people touting social media marketing and public relations expertise. But (and PR folks may see this as a detriment to my business, but I see it as a bonus): my background is that of a journalist. Meaning: the facts, honesty and transparency are key to me personally, and, thus, to my agency. So, if you are pondering who to hire for social media expertise, I offer my own services but, first, I offer these key pieces of advice. They may lead you to work with Miamore Communications, or they may lead you to another consultant. Either way, I've succeeded if they lead you on whichever path you choose INFORMED. My advice:

1) Understand the difference between "traditional" expertise (ie, PR 1.0) vs social media expertise. In the words of one of the foremost experts on the subject: "the business of PR IS in a state of paramount crisis". And (in my words): traditional PR and marketing folks are in fight or flight mode in an effort to survive. So, if you're seeking out knowledge, first know the difference between traditional PR and P.R. 2.0 (more here)
2) Frankly, there's reason why PR/marketing folks are known as "spin doctors". My point: trust no one at their word.
3) Check out that earlier link (here) for tips on vetting candidates.
4) Ask for references. Not references to speak to a candidate's qualifications in the old PR or marketing world, but references who can speak to someone's skill at social media promotion.

Finally, and, to me, MOST importantly:

4) Investigate how the candidate is operating their OWN business in the social media realm.

Number 4 is the clincher for me. Any 4th grader who spends 20 minutes researching social media can come up with and throw around the word: "engage". So, digging a little deeper, I'm astounded by those PR & marketing people who promote themselves (and, worse, are being PROMOTED by groups, industries, etc.) as social media experts, yet have (and these are key):

a) No blog for their own company

b) A blog so stagnant it is growing mold

c) No Facebook fan page (or a page that growing the same mold as its blog)

d) A personal Facebook page that promotes their business (a MAJOR violation that can lead to them being shut down by Facebook and, logically, to your business being shut down if you are following their advice)

e) No Twitter presence

f) A blank stare when you mention Digg, Stumbleupon, Technorati, etc.

Fundamentally, if a PR/marketing person is telling you they are a "social media" expert, check their credentials in that specific area. Any publicist can talk the talk. But when you are a small business spending valuable dollars on promotion, forget what they did in the past; make sure they can walk the walk and lead you on that stroll into the future.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

PR Rules of Engagement 101: Be a Resource, Not a Vandal

A great way to get your name out there among potential customers is to become an active contributor on well-read news sites or blogs that address your niche, and in popular social media “gathering places” (i.e., Twitter or Facebook pages) for your target audience.

This P.R./social media marketing tactic has a clear goal: to build your credibility, generate interest in your business, and establish yourself or your brand as an expert in a specific field. It can be an enormously successful way to promote yourself. It also requires some rules of engagement… the emphasis on engage. Success lies in being credible and engaging, not a promotional hijacker.

An acquaintance of mine, let’s call him Henry, recently complained to me that a comment he’d posted online, in response to an article written about a competitor, had been deleted by the author. Curious, I asked for details… and soon realized that Henry, a lovely person and bright businessman, was also a social media vandal.

The story: Henry had a similar product and perhaps even greater knowledge of the subject than the business profiled in this article, so he jumped in with a “comment,” which is exactly (he complained) what I advise, and what I practice as the spokesperson for Miamore Communications. When he went back to check the post again, he was unpleasantly surprised to see it gone. Me? I wasn’t surprised at all. Henry, you see, had (anonymously) posted something to the effect of “Henry has even more/better stuff. Check it out!” Which I can only describe as, roughly, the equivalent of taking spray paint in the dark of night and writing his company’s name on the wall of his competitor’s store.

Still miffed and perplexed, Henry asked me how his action differed from Miamore's comments on various news sites and blog in my field. My answer: I comment when I can add value to a story or a post by sharing, for example, an experience or research on the topic being discussed. Because the same rules apply online as in a face-to-face setting. That's a pretty basic principle but (I've realized from various conversations with social media newbies), one oft-overlooked by those unaccustomed to this promotional strategy, and emboldened by the anonymity of sitting alone in front of a computer.

My advice to any businessperson in that category: the next time you read something online and think to yourself: “well, I know that subject better than they do,” seize the opportunity and comment! But, before you type, imagine you are in an auditorium filled with your peers, and the person who wrote (or is written about) in the story is standing at the podium taking questions. You wouldn’t crouch down and yell “Do business with me! My company is better than his! I know more than he does!” Instead, you would state your name and share your expertise via a well-crafted question or comment. Essentially, you would be polite, think before your speak, and take advantage of a golden opportunity to enhance your credibility before your community.

In a nutshell, please remember: the online or social media community may be a “new” world, but it runs by the same old rules of etiquette as the real world.