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Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Social CRM

social media PR services
We often get potential clients who are rather puzzled about how to deal with social media on a practical basis. They want to engage but are not sure how. They wonder if we can do it for them. We offer to help: we already handle link-building as part of our online PR offering by placing articles on massive reputable online media sites. We embed at least one link and sometimes more, so that the sites point back to the clients' websites, boosting their performance on Google enormously.

For social media activity, we brainstorm ideas, use the PR news pieces as the seeds of draft blog and micro-blog postings to help busy clients. We also guide them on creating an appropriate social media policy and steer them through the various tools we've found helpful, like the wonderful (imho) ping.fm. We don't think it's great PR to divorce social media from the company that should be engaging with its customers direct, so we do our best to find channels that play to their staff strengths and offer communications support.

Clients know there are lots of opportunities out there and that their customers have jumped into social media sites with both feet. They've seen small companies mushroom online and others that are household names make a complete hash of it.

Social media is, well, it's social (with the possible exception of Linked-In, but that's business-social). The social bit leaves a lot of companies on the back foot, as they are simply not part of the conversation unless they do something really extraordinary. And then they are all over social media, but often for all the wrong reasons.

Social media is customer-centric, with many 1-2-1 conversations. Not the old style of one-to-many company communications. Social media allows customers to chat amongst themselves, comparing notes on their experience of a company for a realistic assessment of the goods or services, without vested interests muddying the waters. That's a tremendous opportunity to really understand the customer experience for companies that are willing to listen and do something about the bits that are not working.

But how to listen effectively? Social media is brilliant at linking up people with common interests, but it spawns a bewildering number of postings on an ever-increasing number of channels and the move to mobile apps will spawn a whole new level of channels. Employees will always be outnumbered by consumers and outsourcing can lead to the sort of howlers that large companies would prefer to forget. So how do you cope?

The answer to handling this is so obvious that I'm surprised it's not spoken about more often, since the tools are already widely adopted for 'ordinary' telephone and email communication with existing and potential customers: CRM systems (Customer Relationship Management). Social CRM adds in social media in real time, and if set up well to filter the general from the critical noise, allows fast responses by people well versed in handling customer relations.

With social media the starting point is always listening: especially to customers. But also listening out for influencers and their favoured channels, which is a key plank of any PR programme. It's also useful to spot when comments speed up as that might be a sign of developing trouble or insight. It's important to find a way to assess the conversation tone and filter out some of the background noise.

It's not possible to conduct many thousands of 1-2-1 conversations and remain competitive, but it is possible to monitor the social media traffic and get better at picking up the important comments, then engaging online. And to prioritise existing and known potential customers, plus those key influencers.

As with all systematic attempts at human relationships, there will be teething troubles and annoying stock responses. A transparent approach to admitting mistakes and showing that you are taking action to do better will help. A slow and careful managed approach will steadily improve that. It's not ideal from the customer relationship or PR perspective, but for large organisations, it may be better than unplanned, inconsistent responses. And certainly better than a big loud silence until the situation is well out of control.

The companies that understood plain old fashioned customer relations / after-sales service retains customers, creates ambassadors and encourages referrals will always flourish. But if social CRM gets it right, companies will have new ways to do just that - and to be seen doing it, drawing new customers into the net.

It does take a lot of planning, monitoring and measuring to set social CRM up well.

An easy entry point is to link up your clients' social media pages on Linked-In and Facebook to your potential and existing customer records to gain a much better understanding of the individuals that are crucial to your business success. The search tools and groupings these social media sites offer also will allow you to spot similarities in your customer base. Use these insights to play to these common aspects in online forum and social media activity to attract more like-minded people to your site and hopefully convert them into customers. I gather that versions of Outlook that are in the pipeline that will allow linkage to social media sites and there are various CRM and accounts packages that have capability in this area.

And if innovation and responding to customer needs is on the ToDo list, social CRM will allow better understanding of the feedback and suggestions contained in online comment. It allows a degree of collaboration that would have previously cost thousands to arrange through focus groups and market research.

As long as they invest some of those savings in a set-up that knows when to pass on a communication to an empowered employee who can go into a 1-2-1 when it matters.

I'm sure that social CRM will never replace the need for personal 1-2-1 communications, but if the alternative is failing to communicate and a load of stressed-out staff, then I can see a place for carefully implemented and managed social CRM.

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Friday, 11 June 2010

CEOs, Chairmen, Crises and PR

Crisis PR

Re the BBC business editor, Robert Preston's blog: Peston's Picks piece on BP and the banks: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/robertpeston/2010/06/

Although his main thrust is comparing the BP oil spill and the recent financial crises, he raises some key issues regarding media comment abilities at the top of companies in crisis situations. Writing about BP, he reports the chairman's absence from public comment.

He argues the CEO's role is to get on with fixing the situation and says the current CEO was "explicitly chosen by BP's board precisely because he was a nitty gritty geologist and professional manager rather than a PR wiz."

"What's more, the chairman is supposed to represent all interested parties - the executives, the other employees, shareholders, customers, and so on - in a way that is much harder for any chief executive, even in the good times."

While I agree the chairman can take some of the media flak off the CEO, I believe there's a role for both the chairman and the CEO to comment on appropriate levels in a complex crisis. The chairman may not be able to address the technical and operational details, but the CEO can.

I don't believe that any major company should be comfortable with the option of either having a CEO who knows the business or being a PR wiz. I have no idea whether that choice was made in this particular case, but in general, I do believe that it is reasonable to expect a CEO of a major concern to be able to perform on both levels.

I believe we ignore CEO and chairmen's communications skills at the risk of severe reputation damage. It is a risk that institutional shareholders, investors and analysts might want to check out by attending AGMs before committing too much of our pension funds to individual listed companies.

I doubt whether many people within a major company are to be prepared to stand up and tell senior people that they have a communications skills gap. It probably ranks alongside BO on the corporate taboo list.

But is is surprisingly common for people to arrive at the top of the tree having devoted a tiny amount of time to media skills. All too often people spend a day being media trained and that's it. That's them inoculated against the media!

No one springs forth from the womb with fully fledged communications skills, yet there is a collective blindness about putting in the effort to becoming good at it. The only surprise is that we all seem to expect to be good at it. We certainly beat ourselves up for not being good at it. And we can be reluctant to press senior figures into communications skills training when they are clearly demonstrating this gap in the skill set.

It's not rocket science to give CEOs top notch advanced media training and administer regular top ups until they improve if that's a known gap in the skill set. I have witnessed remarkable improvements in just a few hours, but it has to be done before a crisis swallows up all available time. Ideally, the foundations should be laid with good general speaking skills much earlier in a career, and organisations like Toastmasters.org are valuable and cost-effective allies for the next generation of would-be CEOs and chairmen.

Otherwise, a CEO of a major organisation with a known communications skills gap represents a reputation damage risk that is almost as big as failures in planning, but is much easier to spot and remedy.

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Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Fiat 500 F electric conversion



Brilliant little video showing the car converted to solar power and going better than before - all enhanced by some lovely shots of Florence. Really impressive speed, power and range. Titles are in Italian, but it's pretty obvious what they mean

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Tuesday, 1 June 2010

No More Second Life For Online PR

word cloud of blog post on social media for PR and the end of Second Life
social media for PR

According to Joe Ciarallo at PRNewser virtual worlds like Second Life have had their day when it comes to PR applications. He reports USC Annenberg's Public Relations Generally Accepted Practices (GAP) Study.
They quizzed c400 communications executives on which "online channels" they use or plan to use. Virtual worlds ranked lowest for current and planned use. In contrast, video was highly ranked for current and future use.
Must admit we'd almost forgotten Second Life - social media can be cruelly fickle. With our associated online video facility we've been following the rise of the video star fro some time. The well-respected Forrester research reckon online video has the impact of up to 50 pieces of online text like this one. With YouTube second only to Google as a search engine, it's not just another social media fad.
Social media sites may come and go but the fundamentals of the way we communicate don't: it all boills down to words, pictures, audio or video which combines elements of all the others and conveys emotional impact with an immediacy that is hard to achieve in other communication forms. TV audiences outstrip print media, so it is no surprise that the amount of video watched online in the US has just tipped past the amount of TV watched. Faced with some of the poor quality content on US TV, this may not surprise everyone. But the online viewing trend is also on the rise here.
I can feel another video coming on....

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Green Business Boosts PR

Picture shows the logo for Trees 4 Scotland, who plant trees to offset carbon for members of the Green Business Partnership in Scotland
PHPR reduces carbon by being member of the Green Business Partnership



It's rare that you get a freebie that really gladdens the heart, but it's nice to know that a wee tree is growing in Perthshire as a result of PHPR being part of the Green Business Network (formerly the Business Environment Partnership). That's a few less carbons in our footprint too. That's on top of all the seminars and info you provide - and the networking.
Excellent value for environmentally aware businesses. Thanks guys.
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