Notes from my PRMKTNG Camp group on social media and storytelling

I was privileged enough to act as one of the "camp counselors" yesterday at the PR+MKTG Camp hosted by Dan Greenfield . I shared my leadership spot for " Blue team" with Patricia Vaccarino of Xanthus Communications, a veteran of the PR industry. After a wide-ranging discussion with the entire group, we agreed to focus down on storytelling and outreach.


Patricia and I came from it completely at different angles, which made us a good pairing. But since this is my blog, I'm going to discuss solely what I got out of the experience and from the social media perspective. :)


There's a definite danger in swallowing the hype of social media and not looking for the value. People who saw my IGNITE talk at Gnomedex saw me make fun of the hypsters. More responsible "social media gurus" bring it back to customer relationships that result in business or long term gains, actionable feedback, ROI. And in a big sense, social media technologies are like any other technologies - tools to get something done. Whether its invoicing software or productivity software or web applications, people are using technology to get something done.


But  mistakes can be made the other way is thinking oh, social media is just like [insert marketing mechanism or PR mechanism here].  It's just like calling a reporter/placing a tv ad/ doing direct mail.  Because the traditional systems relied on value propositions and efficiency of mechanisms that don't exist in the same format today. Media organizations are struggling and entire conversations are happening online about people and companies outside of the letters to the editor/complaints to customer support on the phone. While people remain as the most important ingredient in the information streams, how they get their information and inform their opinions is changing.


And speed is becoming important. Waiting days for a finely crafted PR response, or assuming the message can be controlled once it goes out to the public - those days are gone.Social media drives memes back into traditional media, just as traditional media (links to stories, videos, graphics) drives memes into social media. As opposed to damming (or boiling) the ocean, folks who do outreach to customers have to learn how to surf the waves.


This can create interesting challenges for the organization. If you are big, social media (as one of my camp attendees reported) can become a forcing function to get all the groups on one product together. If one group owns the twitter and blog and the other group owns the facebook presences and another group owns the traditional media - well, you gotta get everyone in a room with coffee and get your acts together.  If you are small, that marketing person that was doing EVERYTHING now has EVERYTHING + 1 to do (or 3, depending on how you are counting social media channels).


And this can also play interesting havoc with control issues. Patricia, as a PR veteran, was more interested in the question of: how do I structure the org so that there is approval on every tweet that goes out. I (what do you expect - this is my story as Microsoft's Blog queen) was more interested in giving everyone tools to do the job responsibly with less mandated oversight. Systems can create stronger accountability or they can rob their participants of any accountability, but accountability was/is my byword here.


My whole Bing launch narrative (26 hours on twitter) relies on the premise that the PR team counted on me to do the right thing, as the most experienced social media person. I could have messed up then, and really any day I could mess up. But I think that's actually a realistic assumption, whether you are in traditional PR format or not. Someone can blow it no matter what approach they are using, and having an approval system never really eliminates that risk. It helps if the smartest/experienced person controls the approval process - but what if they don't?


 One consultant in our group pointed out that one of his nameless clients never achieved a true brand presence because it took them too long to approve the tweets. Can you imagine that happening for Superbowl ads, and people in business being ok with it? "Sorry, sir, your ad can't air on the Superbowl - you guys took too long to submit your bid/content to us." Wouldn't be tolerated.


Interestingly folks in my camp group noted that customer support organizations and service-oriented companies may have a speed advantage in social media because they are already programmed for courteous, fast-twitch (though sometimes quite scripted) response to customers. But its also true that you won't want to get to know your customers just at the time they are most angry with you about the product. Ideally you are engaging with them in happier times, and the customer support stuff is part of a concetrated whole. One attendee called this kind of proactive outreach "friend-raising" (a term he heard elsewhere so if you know the original, happy to edit this post to properly attribute). You need to make the friends before you need them in crisis.


One last intriguing question - we didn't answer it in our group  because this area is so evolving- is the fate of the nonprofit world inside social media. Events like Twestival or calamities like Haiti and Chile point the way to twitter being used as a fundraising tool par excellence for non-profits. Yet, you can also be so inundated with cause marketing on social media that they become like spam, one attendee said - we may end up just tuning them out. As people use social media to tug at the heartstrings and tell stories, will folks get annoyed with all the yanking and pulling and turn away from the noise?


This is why I love this area - the universe is expanding.


Live it vivd!