I’ve been gestating ideas for the past several days around ways to use social media for PR purposes that would exceed the normal use of social media tools to print and distribute PR messaging. It strikes me that PR agencies are well positioned to understand client needs and interests, brand and message, and also how best to craft and roll out story lines. That’s a skill, and a valuable one, for the combination of care attendant to a client’s image and reputation, and the means by which to caretake it, are not intrinsic to consumer audiences. But the agency’s self interest in demonstrating success can result in demands on social media (such as the ongoing debate around ROI and how best to calculate it) that may hamper creativity and low-level risk taking.
To wit, a PR firm may tend to view social media as outreach tools, means of distributing a campaign across yet another medium. A PR firm may wish to translate traditional messaging to social media, and monitor results for signs up pick up. It may wish to influence influencers, as it does in its offline campaigns, and again count the results. To which end tools like Radian6 and Visible Technologies can be used to validate success.
These are the things we do when we’re uncertain of the value of both our effort and of our methods. Which has me wondering aloud about crafting a “playbook” for social media marketing strategies. If we could take some confidence from our methods, perhaps we might ask less of the metrics and measurement we use to confirm results.
A playbook, not unlike the highly-guarded clipboard many coaches hold tight to their chests on the sidelines, would articulate options best suited for specified needs. Perhaps some for “offense” and some for “defense” (ok, and special teams). Plays for image branding, for event announcements and invitations, for appeals to area or domain experts, critics, and reviewers, plays for building up a campaign launch, and plays for carrying it through. And so on. These plays would, in theory at least, provide a measure of confidence (rather than a measure of results) and could help the PR firm in client pitches as well as in facilitating creative approaches to social media engagement.
The playbook I’ve been mulling over would of course start with a definition of goals and objectives, many of them, and define appropriate means of execution. Branding, visibility, news, crisis remedies, customer support, resident expertise and help desk operations, product tips, lifestyle branding, and much more might each be pursued according to different strategies and tactics. Street, buzz, and affinity marketing. Sales, incentives, and offers. Best of breed reviews and recommendations. Long tail associations and links. End user reviews, expert reviews.
Or more creatively, putting product in the hands of a good cause and lifestreaming results. Creating transparency between product and consumers through product co-creation and “crowd sourced” feature requests and changes. Sneak peaks at future product, service, or other kinds of release (tv shows, movies, music included!). Back stage passes and special invitations to participate or engage with insiders. Twitter-based narratives and story lines (I like Family Guy — I’d follow Stewie on twitter if his posts were written in character and revealed upcoming plot elements. I like Charlie Rose — I’d follow his posts, or his producer’s, or even those of his interviewees….)
If the goals of a social media release or campaign are the same as those of any commercial use of media — distribution — then why not give audiences something to tweet about. Why just package the same old and then count “micro-blogging” mentions? (Because it’s safe? Because we know how to do it? Because we’re lazy?) There’s an opportunity here for creative revitalization of social media marketing for those who can see that this is a new, direct, immediate, and multi-media channel of communication. Used for talking and sharing. Not just for repetition but for invention.
Old media maintain a separation between the brand and its audience. And all PR, marketing, and advertising seek to cross that gap by appealing to audiences’ attention and interest. Well, social media break that “fourth wall” (theater metaphor, the fourth wall is what separates what’s on stage from the audience, and sustains the “suspended disbelief” required to keep the audience believing what its seeing while unaware of its production.) Break the fourth wall, expose or provide access to means of production, and I’m certain bountiful mentions and audience interest will follow naturally. All brands have willing fans, all have great stories customer stories posted by the wall alongside the water-cooler. All have internal brand champions whose ideas for getting product to non-profits, causes, and other beneficiaries would make for great PR and audience re-tale-ing… Brands and their agencies of record should be engaging in new and note-worthy efforts, not just repeating brand-centric messages.
I’m working on the playbook. Truly, I think that if commercial interests want audiences (read: users) to follow social media campaigns, they have to give us something worth talking about.