Thursday, November 08, 2007

Here’s why PR folk aren’t up to speed about social media

I think I’ve figured it out. PR folk have not jumped on the social media train as quickly as we could have because learning about social media for PR purposes takes time, a lot of time. It takes resources. It takes learning about how to apply certain tactics to certain strategies. It takes learning about the ethical implications of using social media. It takes money and other resources. It takes learning how to use the technology.

I know, I know. We’re not supposed to focus on the technology. But you have to know something about it. You have to know how to use certain tools yourself. For example, it’s easy to set up a Twitter account (I just did last week, yeah!). But how do you use it for a larger communications effort? In another example, it’s easy to create a Delicious account. But how do you create a separate ones for particular PR efforts. I’ve attended several workshops, but none were hands-on.

Then there are the biggies: How do you know which blog platform to start with? How do you edit audio for a podcast? How do you set up a new RSS feed on your company web site?

There are places you can go to take a class on how to use word processing and graphics software. There are designers you can hire to create a web site for you. And there are generous bloggers like Todd Defren and Bryan Person, who provide detailed steps on certain topics.

But for some things, we need more direct instruction. When I started my first job in D.C., my boss paid for a designer to spend three hours teaching me to use PageMaker. That was all I needed to get going. Of course I learned more as time went on. But that initial, focused instruction changed the learning curve dramatically.

So that’s my first point: Technical how-to (here’s a business opportunity for anyone who’s looking).

My second is about the time. I coordinate a podcast for my organization. Here’s what I had to do to get it running (based on my own estimates).

• Take two multiweek webinars = 16 hours
• Buy and read or scan three books = 6 hours
• Listen to podcasts about podcasting = 20 hours
• Write a plan, build a staff team, hold meetings about goals, get approval = 30 hours
• Work with internal IT folk about technical needs and processes = 10 hours
• Figure out web site features, designs, SEO, etc. = 20 hours
• Research outside consultants = 15 hours
Total = 117 hours

In the end, we hired a consultant to help us with other technical details like setting us up in iTunes and registering us with directories (in addition to editing the podcasts, working with music, and recording intros and outros). If we hadn’t done that, we would have had to figure out those details too.

My organization was willing and able to spend resources and staff time for this learning process. But if I worked for an agency, how would that be done? Much of this legwork would have to happen prior to connecting it to any particular client project. How would that be billed?

As much as we like to say social media has a low barrier to entry, this just isn’t true in using it for public relations. Time is money. And if you don’t take the time to do your homework, you can screw up royally -- on your client’s dime.

So, we either have to all become like the early adopters and spend much of our free time and our work time on trial and error, or we can be deliberate about providing hands-on training for our PR employees. That will require seeking it out when it’s not knocking at your door.

When something is important to your business, you do what it takes to make it happen


Kami Huyse said...

You are so right Christie. It takes time and lots of it. I am starting to get a lot of agencies that are asking me to come in for half and full day seminars. I think that as social media goes mainstream more of this will happen and "specialists" like myself will become less necessary. So, I have to be on to the next thing ;-)

David Alston said...

Christie you've definite hit on a good point. Having just spent 4 years at a PR agency I know all about the billable targets. Now with Radian6 I've noticed that it's those agencies that make a commitment right at the top to invest in social media practices, skills and tools that are making great progress. These are the agencies that understand that social media has changed the PR biz and that it needs to be embraced - the sooner the better - as their clients expect integrated strategies.

Of course it's not just the investment of time up front that must be considered. Time is required daily to stay on top of what's being said online about a brand and its competitors. Manual searches and free tools can get you started but a lot of agencies we talk to eventually say it gets unruly and hard to extract trends, influencers, growing issues etc.. A subscription based tool like the one from Radian6 can help automate this and keep the focus on high value strategic analysis vs. lower value manual searching and collection.

Thanks for the great post.

PS. I noticed you mentioned that you had a twitter account but when I looked I couldn't find you. Would love to follow you - I'm at