Conversation Agent - Valeria Maltoni - Amazon and Zappos, PR2.0?

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That covered only one channel. As an Amazon customer, feeling warm and fuzzy about the company's history didn't change anything for me - I use the site on the strength of its features and convenience. And yes, their customer service has been good on the one occasion I needed to connect with them.

I see both sides of the argument. And hey, if the services of PR are not needed, good for them. As an exceptionally good communicator (why be modest?) I can create plenty of situations where conversations are negotiated successfully for many publics. The reality of business, as laudable as these efforts are, is that management will not prioritize those communications when customers need them, only if it suits their purpose.

Public relations and communications work as two-way (or they should). Would there be taxation without representation, so to speak? Push without stewardship?

I don't see PR as merely an administrative or back office function. Because you know what would happen, don't you? I do and businesses that view PR professionals in this light are partly responsible for the proliferation of mismatched pitches and lack of conversation. Plus we go back to the idea that everyone can do marketing and PR who can talk and write - and we both know that is not the case.

As for Zappos, it will be interesting to see what happens next, in six months, etc. I've been involved in several M&As throughout my career and have not once found that culture can be bought. Change is a hard thing, even if you want it.

Am I missing something? Good thoughts!

Valeria, I have been chatting with Rich about this on his blog and I think my view is probably not the typical one...

I like what Tony/Jeff did, I like that they by-passed traditional media and published information that any constituent could see and make their own.

I learned about the deal on Twitter before the mainstream folks got their heads wrapped around it enough to write an article. I already had what I needed to know and to make a decision about the brand that I am loyal to (Amazon). As a consumer, I don't care that Tony's email was addressed to employees (actually, that gave me greater respect for him) or that Jeff did a video. As a marketer, I think what they did sets the bar high for the next CEO or PR person with a huge deal on their hands.

I am not a shareholder of Amazon and could care less about the financial dealings. I am, however, a customer and I do care if the service I receive is going to change due to the acquisition. From what I could see, all the mainstream information was about the deal...not about me as a customer. Again, where PR folks could take a lesson.

I think this is an example of PR 2.0 in action and, honestly, I think some of the mainstream media are miffed that they were by-passed. The Fast Company piece was a bit rude. He sounded ticked and bitter to me. When I first saw the piece I thought it was a joke because there was no author associated with it –- at least not that I could find at the time).

Did Zappos/Amazon control the message AND the medium? Sure they did! What’s wrong with that? Is it better to deal with the media, try to control our messaging/information and then hope & pray that the media gets it right AND without bias & speculation? Then if that’s not enough, we wait and hope our company was put in a good light and the correct information was shared. And when it wasn't we ran around explaining "what went wrong." At least now with some online publications we can make corrections in the comments. There used to be a time when the media was the 3rd party validation that companies we have customers and evangelists for that.

Should PR folks be worried? Yep, they should...because contrary to the belief that social media will take away their workload, it actually doubles it in some cases. In this case, Tony/Jeff selected a social media platform, so it’s incumbent on *them* to personally follow through and leave comments (perhaps a PR 2.0 pro might have suggested this wasn't the best use of their time?). PR people weren’t the spokespeople, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a job to do. The PR people should be monitoring all of the media outlets and blogs that captured this story; making a list of place for Tony/Jeff to comment (themselves!); analyzing each and every post and its comments for sentiment; track all social networks for pass-along, etc. This is time-consuming, hard work.

I don’t know tell me, am I off kilter here? We tell companies they need to directly focus on the customer, to be social, to listen, to engage. And when they do we beat them up for bypassing PR and the media... am I missing something?

[For those who don't know me, the last question was meant to be rhetorical. :)]

Beth Harte
Community Manager, MarketingProfs

@Marshall - we do. It's like asking do we really need Web analytics people when we can look at the reports ourselves? I agree that not all PR people are equal, but a business would need to have the sense of hiring the ones that help it understand the needs of its publics.

@Rich - it was not a well thought-out communication that was probably trying to reach too many audiences with differing needs in one shot. With social media public relations is even more about publics! Controlled messages are potentially irrelevant. Someone reached out to me and said I cannot assume no PR people were involved. If they were, oh my.

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