PR is About Relationships, Just Ask Robert Scoble

The crossroads of traditional PR and Social Media is on an inevitable path to a very public boiling point. In the realm of Social Media, conversations are king.

As much as we talk about how to participate in Social Media, it doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t take a few steps back and remember that regardless of the technology, meaningful conversations are about respect and relationships. And, I should also point out that the most rewarding dialog has always been 1 to 1 instead of 1 to many, aka spam PR.

1 to 1 PR is a completely different game. Instead of simply targeting a person individually, say through email instead of a mass blast, you also need to investigate their preferred form of communication, as well as their likes, dislikes, and most importantly, the topics they usually cover and why.

Remember, genuine conversations can also a form of strategic marketing, without it being a marketing initiative in of itself. As Chris Heuer says, it’s not conversational marketing though. It’s not something we do TO people, it’s what we do WITH people.

Case in point. Twitter is one of the most powerful conversation tools among early adopters aka edglings. Robert Scoble, an a-list tech blogger, publicly posted his frustration with email on Twitter today, requesting that people pay attention to his ideal methods of contact – especially those in PR. He also recently asked PR people to examine other tools and creative approaches to catch his attention when he asked publicly if Facebook was the new press release. I discussed it here.

Scoble wrote, “It’s amazing that in this age of Twitter that people still send email. I hate email. I hate direct Tweets. I hate Facebook messages.”

He then immediately followed with, “PR people are the worst in the email regard. Speaker planners are close. I don’t answer a lot of my email anymore…”

And perhaps the line that resonated the most with me was, “If PR people were forced to do their work in public their entire method would change.”

He’s absolutely right. PR for far too long as operated behind the curtain, hurling news bits over in waves as opposed to focusing on individual conversations. Social Media changes the very foundation which PR is built, forcing communications professionals to step from behind the curtain and engage with the people they’re trying to reach.

The beauty of communicating through Twitter is that you are forced to summarize your story in 140 characters. But take Twitter out of the equation, and let’s replace with Jaiku or Pownce, or even Facebook. They all share in the preference for brevity. If you can summarize your story in a way that’s compelling in 140 characters and doesn’t insult the public in which its broadcast, then you are well on your way to improving a 100 year old industry and helping put the “public” back in Public Relations.

OK, so what do we learn?

We need to pay attention. We need to watch and listen. If you want to reach people, figure out what they want to see and how. Oh, and be intelligent about it. Show that you did your homework if you want to see a positive reaction. Most importantly, absorb the culture of the community.

I’ve included highlights from the conversation on Twitter (start from the bottom and work your way up.) The conversation includes Kami Huyse, Francine Hardaway, Todd Defren, Robert Scoble, Chris Brogan, Rick Mahn, and David Parmet.

@webword: Mike Arrington is a hard guy to get ahold of, especially when he’s digging through 100 new hot companies. But he watches Twitter.

@tildesley: the best way to get ahold of me? Blogg comments. Twitter. Pownce. Kyte. Facebook. Phone (my number is always public).

kamichat @Scobelizer How long before your tweets become spam? Already I have rejected some followers due to their highly spammy tweetstream

Scobleizer @hardaway: Facebook messages are still private. I answer my public “wall” posts first. Public first, private second. That way I get scale

hardaway @Scobleizer. Thanks for letting us know the communications protocol for this week :-) Two weeks ago it *was* Facebook messages.

rickmahn @scobleizer Thanks for an idea for a blog post! I love twitter.
TDefren @Scobelizer, @davidparmet Lack of transparency is a shield for crappy PR.

davidparmet @Scobeliezer We’re (pr peeps) aren’t all that bad….
chrisbrogan @Scobleizer – agreed in the “get in contact” mode. What about the “more details” mode? What do you prefer for “payload?

TDefren @Scobleizer Agreed that PR benefits from transparency: outs the bad PR, ensures only hi-quality stuff filters thru. But r u bleeding edge?
Scobleizer If I want to get a hold of Mike Arrington, for instance, i know that writing a Tweet about him will get his attention far faster than email.
Scobleizer Or people asking me to blog. Very low quality stuff. If PR people were forced to do their work in public their entire method would change.
Scobleizer If something really needs to be private than email is great. But most of my email doesn’t need to be private.

Scobleizer I always answer things in public space first. Why? Because those communications scale.

Scobleizer PR people are the worst in the email regard. Speaker planners are close. I don’t answer a lot of my email anymore. If I did, I’d never do.

Scobleizer It’s amazing that in this age of Twitter that people still send email. I hate email. I hate direct Tweets. I hate Facebook messages.

Also read Jane Quigley’s post on the subject.

Connect on Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce or Facebook.

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  • Moksh Juneja

    Hi Brian, what would be the best way to get in touch with you?

    http://mokshjuneja.blogspot.com

  • Brian Solis

    Hi Moksh, you can reach me at PR2point0 at gmail dot com or brian at future-works dot com.

  • Chris Brogan

    Very neat post, Brian. I think this is an interesting development. I think that more and more the tide might go this way. And if so, someone’s going to have to help others navigate the differences between what WAS working, and what will lead the way next.

    Hope you’re well.

  • Rick Mahn

    While the originating conversation really got me thinking about email more, your excellent post brings another whole dimension. What I find interesting is how each of us find different, but equally valuable, perspectives in a random conversations.

    I’m interested in following this line of thought into the Personal Branding area. Tying personal PR with communications preferences.

    Great post, and thanks for the link!

  • mtrigiani

    Powerful stuff. Thank you.

  • Paul Roetzer

    Excellent post! I agree that we are approaching a tipping point on the convergence of traditional PR and Social Media, but I often wonder how relevant Twitter, FaceBook, Digg and other Web 2.0 sites are to the majority of traditional print and broadcast media. Are you aware of any surveys conducted among traditional media on their awareness/comprehension of Web 2.0 apps?

    Thanks.

  • Courtney Johnson

    I hate to say it, but this post makes me sad. What’s so bad about using E-mail, anyway? I’m 21 and part of the generation that’s grown up using E-mail. I would much prefer people to E-mail me rather than post on my Facebook wall. [This resounds with the idea of getting to know who you're pitching to.] I just feel E-mail is more professional than Facebook (which I am addicted to in my free time) or Twitter, which I’m sure many other tech-savvy PR people and some journalists would agree with.

  • Brian Solis

    Chris, thank you. In the meantime, it’s how to navigate the rough waters that is the transition between old and new.

    Rick, absolutely. That’s the beauty of all of this. Interesting thought about personal branding…take a look at my recent Facebook article. I basically positioned it as an online hub for presenting your collective online brand.

    Mtrigiania, thank you.

    Paul, what Twitter represents is a channel into a new world of influencers that complement the traditional voices out there. Reaching each different group requires different tools, and many will change along the way.

  • Brian Solis

    Courtney, very interesting perspective. I would say that the majority of people prefer email, but it’s just more about what individuals prefer vs. the masses. Scoble is buried in email and rather than say not respond to people, he’s telling us how to reach him. It’s my job, at least, to make sure I take note so that I can reach him in the future.

  • Michael Tangema @ Media Mindshare

    Brian, I agree wholeheartedly with the basic premise of your post and I think that your addressing the ‘transparency’ and ‘appropriate platforms’ issue is necessary to really adding value to the ongoing social media discussion.

    In making the argument, however, I think on a couple of points you tend to take it to what I would call its “illogical” conclusions.

    First, re “Social Media changes the very foundation which PR is built, forcing communications professionals to step from behind the curtain and engage with the people they’re trying to reach.”

    The assumption, I think, is that prior to social media, communications professionales have been reluctant to directly engage and hiding behind email spam. The lazy over-reliace on email is a problem in the industry.

    But, let me give you the example of a 25-year PR vet I know who absolutely hates email, constantly scolds his employees about over-reliance on it and is forever telling everyone that PR is all about the relationship, the one-to-one conversation with the journalist/communicator.

    He’s not on Facebook, he doesn’t Twitter, he’s not even LinkedIn … he gets on the phone and talks with people, he meets them at trade shows and goes to lunch with them. His entire career in PR has been built around the relationship and he does’t know social media from social schmedia. In fact, this person is a traditional PR guy, whose formative years in the business were actually pre-Internet.

    Second, while I get the point about “the conversation” being paramount, when I hear a marketing phrase for “the conversation” such as “In the realm of Social Media, conversations are king” I just cringe. Why? I once heard a similar phrase, “In the realm of the Internet, content is king.” And, convinced by that phrase and many like it, I and many, many others drank the kool-aid. And, had the hangover.

    What I learned through that experience was that in the realm of the Internet, the transaction was actually king. In fact, all business activities — including communicating, including PR — revolve around the ability to generate transactions (as per my most recent post).

    In the case of Web 1.0, turns out it was actually not technology for technology’s sake, but was meant to be a business proposition, one in which a lot of folks invested a lot of money, and when the level of transactions were insufficient to sustain the business, it all came tumbling down.

    Web 2.0 may well be all about the conversation, and I’m all in favor of that — I support free flow of information, I support openness and transparency, I support better PR. But unless somebody figures out how transform all the investment of time, resources and energy spent on Twittering, Facebooking and social networking into real transactions for real business clients, I’m afraid there’ll likely be another hangover after this particular round of kool-aid. Sure hope not!

  • francine

    I am a 25-year PR vet. But I can tell you that things have really changed. For one thing, media people need more content than they used to, because online media resources eat content. For another, you don’t need a directory to find journalists anymore (remember MediaMap and Bacon’s). It’s a lot easier to find and develop relationships with journalists. The only thing that’s harder is to get coverage in the business section of a daily newspaper, because they have no news hole left and no reporters. I think it’s a lot easier to be in the PR business now than it was when I had my agency in the 80s

  • Richard Stacy

    The trouble with all of this is we are starting to suffer from conversation fragmentation, or possibly over-extension. To follow the Scoble conversation you used to have the blog – now you have the Twitter and the Facebook. Fair enough for Scoble to expect people who want a relationship with him to track it all – but he runs the risk of starting to make it too hard and therefore himself too inaccessible. We do all have other things to do.

    Personally I have given up on following the Scoble conversation – I just see where relevant bits of Scoble surface elsewhere (like here for instance).

  • Richard Stacy

    Anyway – on an slightly different subject. Brian, I know you are interested in where this whole PR and social media thing is going (you made some nice comments on a post I wrote called PR is Dead a while back) and taking a leaf from the Scoble book and contacting you in a public forum (rather than email) I would be interested to know what you think of this
    http://tinyurl.com/2yfdmh
    as an attempt to sketch out the future social media landscape.

  • Brian Solis

    Michael, it’s always good to hear your thoughts. They push the conversation forward.

    Regarding your assesment that some points tend to draw illogical conclusions, I must disagree. The example of a 25 year PR veteran is a significant one. If this was the norm and the standard for which the standard of PR was based, then PR wouldn’t have the pitiful reputation it has today and these new discussions would simply be about new tools and new ways to extend those relationships.

    And while we’re on that point, let’s look at your second comment. Regardless of the Web iteration, 1.0 vs. 2.0 or social media or traditional PR, relationships are paramount and relationships thrive on conversations, insight, and value, therefore conversations are indeed the very thread that will fuel the improvement of PR as a whole (in an ideal world any way…)

    Your last point represents one of the biggest challenges the industry faces. I don’t think we disagree on the fact that PR’s targets are only growing. Mediamap no longer tracks everyone we need to reach. And unfortunately, some people use email, while other “new influencers” populate the various social networks out there – and it’s only growing. It’s not a matter of how we find the time and energy to participate. I think we’re learning and realizing the value and rewards for participating. The trick is figuring out if there’s money to support this activity and the even bigger challenge is finding the people capable of participating.

    Francine, I think it may be easier for a veteran such as yourself to participate, but in all hoensty the majority of PR is going to have a tougher time making the transition.

    Richard, it’s the great attention crash! But, the introduction of new tools and the people who adopt them isn’t going away any time soon. I’ll take a look at your other post as well.

  • msmrmyr

    Sorry to be late to the conversation, but something about Scoble’s hypothesis left me a bit turned off. If you analyze the Tweets he left, he’s basically saying that he doesn’t want a one-on-one conversation. In fact, he’d rather be left alone to ‘find’ things on his own. I don’t see how this opens any doors for me to begin a ‘conversation’ with the man. If I’m not in his inner circle or not someone he follows on Twitter than I have no ability to engage him. Sure, I might post something comical, or important, on Twitter that might pique his interest, but likely I’m not ‘important’ enough to qualify as someone he would seek out. Which basically brings us back to the downfalls of traditional PR; send out the fax, pray it lands somewhere, and look for the placement. If I’m to actually engage in PR, I think I would want to aspire to be closer to Michael T’s example; a man who builds relationships by actually talking to people and building a friendship. I don’t see how I have any chance of doing that under the Scoble model. If you take him at his word, “I hate email. I hate direct Tweets. I hate Facebook messages,” then how are you supposed to engage him? Osmosis, random Tweets mentioning Kyte.tv, or slams on Half Moon Bay beaches? I think we’re already out from under our magic curtains and working to meet people one-on-one. I’m not concerned about our future at all. As long as we keep working to build the relationship I think PR will be fine.

ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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