PR agencies and social media: notes from SxSW panel

by marycw on March 22, 2009

My notes from the SxSW panel “Are PR Agencies a Dying Breed?” “In a world riddled with ADD, where TMI blogging and DIY reporting are the norm, are PR agencies still relevant?”   Overall a good panel; 70+ people attending.  My notes, all mistakes mine.

Participants:  Karly Hand, Erin Portman, Peter Shankman, Brian Solis

Rising dominance of social media — challenge to traditional agencies.

Agencies having to face the fact that the tools of social media are available to everybody —  very few “PR exclusive” channels/tools.

Should I still do press releases?  Yes  — but don’t write them like a traditional boring press release. Yes put them on the wire (for free) — but more importantly: get the story out in social media.

Smart PR agencies are assigning people specifically to monitor and leverage social media.

First: you have to read & listen. Find out where the communities already are online, before you try to send out communications.

Be careful when a PR agency writes a blog or does other social media communications and doesn’t make it transparent who they are and what company is sponsoring the blog.  Don’t try to do grassroots social media communications and pretend to be someone else.  If it’s the CEO’s blog, then the CEO better be writing it, or at least have a major role in writing it.

Companies should stop paying $20k to agencies for focus groups — the first places to listen/get info is from existing online sources of information/communities.  All companies should be tracking Twitter and Facebook conversations and company mentions.

Risk with social media — that companies & PR agencies will overuse them, just like what happened with email — email got ruined as a comm channel by companies spamming it, overusing it.

The difference between “putting out a message” and “managing a message.”   Old style: control the message.  Today: participate in the conversation, get your story out there.

How to measure the success of a social media marketing campaign?  Basic metrics: followers on Twitter, friends on Facebook.  But those are simplistic #s and can be misleading. It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish — be
clear on target metrics up front.  Are you aiming for # of blog posts, click through on a specific destination url, or what.

Examples of successes & failures.  One example:  Peter Schankman had a bad experience at McDonalds and twittered it — McDonalds sent him $$ on a gift card to make up for it. McDonalds has an automated search online to pick up
when anybody mentions McDonalds online — and they responded to him because he’s Schankman.

Panel asked for feedback about the recent Skittles twitter stunt.  The company got lots of negative feedback on it. Comments: it took their agency 15 hrs to figure out something was wrong and take action — that’s forever in online time.

When should a company do this monitoring in-house versus outsource to an agency?  Can do either….but you do need the tools / infrastructure to do this in-house.

Also remember that people across the company need to be listening and responding — so it may make sense for the company to create a new core team to handle the tools/processes for this, as a service to the rest of the company.

One way to learn: go out and find somebody who knows this and get them to teach you — college students, etc.  But — be careful — some people may know how to use the features of the tools — but they may not have any sense of how to use this as a business tool and they may not have sophisticated communications skills.

There are no universal rules for social media — it depends on the individual and the community.   There’s no absolute rules about “how to use twitter” etc.  That’s another reason to listen and learn before jumping in to communicate and be active.

What is the future business model for PR agencies?  (since the old one is becoming obsolete)  Old model = assumed control.  But reality was about the ability to steer or shape perception. That is still true. Agencies never had as much control as was assumed in the past.  Now there’s more wanna-be influencers out there than ever — but that means smart PR agencies have to keep up with these new voices/competition.

How agencies can add value?  By providing adult supervision — experience, strategy, how to serve business goals.  Metrics — agencies are familiar with the need to show ROI and metrics.  Established relationships with bloggers and bigname online influencers.  Plus, analysts, PRwire & Businesswire are still important, and agencies provide access.

Old PR stuff is dead:  broadcasting messages at audiences. One way comms, not responding/not listening.


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Zirndorf 08.18.11 at 2:10 am

now that makes me curious, is it always like that?

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