A couple of weeks ago, Jason Keath wrote a post that got many thoughtful comments and reactions. I agree that good communication professionals understand the power of storytelling and know that relationship building is a worthy activity and work on action steps to develop good relationships.
Indeed, a retainer arrangement is a good way to go in social media. Especially if you need to ramp up your own people over time, and have constant needs and request, it will cost you less to go that way. Plus, it will help you maintain consistency.
And if you're worried your people will screw up -- customers or employees, they are people and they might -- PR agencies may also provide crisis communications counsel and services. Of course, not all are known for doing a stellar job at it, and the expert may be a different one from your day to day team.
At this point, you may have already realized how dangerous generalizations can be. You may have a bigger relationship with a digital agency, in that case they'd know your business better, for example. Depending on your research needs, PR agencies may be ill equipped to deal with segmentation analysis. I'm digressing...
To his 4 reasons PR agencies are taking over social media, I'd like to list 4 reasons PR agencies are failing in social media:(1.) PR is having a hard time letting go of the pitch
When we accept that PR agencies do relationship building, we're making one ginormous assumption -- that the process of reaching out to mainstream media, which they do based upon reach and numbers, is the exact same with bloggers.
How do they know your blog is worth reaching out to on behalf of their client? By and large because it's listed on a top bloggers list. They know nothing about your readers, how could they if they have taken no time to interact with them in the comments to your posts? Or reading enough of them in the first place.
I've been thinking a lot about the advice many of us have given PR pros about pitching story angles -- know the subject matter the blogger likes to cover, read their blog, etc. While this is still valid, I'm thinking that there is one fundamental disconnect we have probably not communicated well enough or with enough clarity -- the best kind of pitch is not a pitch at all, it's a conversation.
How many agencies take the time to be truly helpful to the bloggers they'd consider in their clients' sweet spot? I still see a ton of canned emails and the most annoying follow ups that read like their clients are entitled to coverage.
Case in point: a blogger who finds your pitch offensive, or tactless, decides to post it with their take on how you could have just spent more time getting to know them and their readers. What then?(2.) PR is having a hard time learning the client's business
Social media is very content intensive. It's also about learning about how to write content for the digital medium. It's not about making introductions anymore. It's about learning the business deeply enough to be able to generate content with or in some cases on behalf of the client.
The model is shifting, there are fewer mainstream media outlets and thousands of online properties without enough editors/writers or with editors who won't get on the phone with a subject matter expert because they have no time. And the time lines are getting ridiculously short.
Knowing your client's business will help you shorten time lines, or answer questions on the fly when a blogger replies they're interested. And more and more, you may need to step in to help clients shape their own publications.
Case in point: the client is interested in you leading their social media efforts and all you can do is ask to get on painfully long phone calls with their subject matter experts to gather information so you can write posts. How do you handle ghost writing questions when you hit publish? How do you handle writing for digital media?(3.) PR is still having a hard time with measurement
With a few rare exceptions, like the work KD Paine has been doing for decades, PR agencies have still not gotten their act together when it comes to measurement. Yes, they may be better at monitoring and listening, and now probably sentiment analysis.
They still need to learn to move away from impressions, and into how to correlate social ecosystems, influence analysis, and digital media to business results. I'm not talking about leads, PR is not designed to generate leads, you have lead generation for that. However, you may make connections. Connections are good.
Does your PR agency know how to put the public back in PR measurement? Do they report beyond exposure to engagement, influence on perceptions and attitudes, action resulted from the social media effort?
Case in point: check you reports and do let me know if you get those other metrics. I'd be thrilled to add an update to this post if we identify a trend here.
(4.) PR is still stuck with media while publics go underserved
By treating bloggers like media outlets, PR agencies are still failing to see beyond the media relations part of their charter. For many, it's probably also a case of educating clients on the value of building relationships with all stakeholders or resetting the expectation they helped create.
Today, many of those publics are direct customers for the client business. An enterprising agency would find a way to work with data bases and cross reference stakeholders with bloggers, influencers, and people who use social media.
Social media tends to have them all in one stream, without differentiation. So the best data base wins. Have PR agencies learned how to build efficient data bases? Being human and getting creative also get attention beyond media. Something PR agencies are still learning about themselves.
Case in point: ask any PR professional if they do this and they'll say that of course they do. To that, I say bullocks. They will support an internal visionary who does.
The biggest reason of course, is that I believe social media should be handled in house and not by any one agency. Sure, they can get you set up and started, help with training, support measurement and the creation of other assets to share and provide through social media.
These fours are the main reason why no agencies will ever supplant an internal team. They can augment and support it. Replace it? Forget about it.
[image courtesy of Phil h]
© 2010 Valeria Maltoni. All rights reserved.