Sunday, 31 May 2009

Engine oil and the viscosity of the web

The wonders of the internet and the ways we use it never cease to amaze me. As Fawkes and Gregory (2007) point out "there is almost no event or data that cannot be accessed directly from the web, without the need for a gatekeeper."

This was the case last night when we googled the type of engine oil my car needs!! While that may seem an innocuous action, it amply illustrates the breadth and depth of information we now have just a keystroke away.

However, it is alarming to think that those who don't have internet access will not be able to perform this simple action. Kelleher's Digital Divide points out that those who use web and social media technology are moving ever further ahead in knowledge management and learning, in comparison to those who don't. These e-fluentials (Burston-Marsteller PR agency) are increasingly and exponentially powerful and making all the important decisons thus forming the so-called information elite.
While we may think the world wide web pools us all together in one equal group, the reality is that many millions are not yet hooked up. As PR practitioners how well are we catering for them as we race to use social media and get linked to the next big thing? This mirrors the situation 130 years ago when newspaper production became widespread yet many of the population were illiterate. Back then, once again, many were disadvantaged by their inability to use new sources of information.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Big budgets for London - what credit crunch?

Up to £20 million per year to lure visitors to London. That's quite a budget and most of us could probably enjoy devising the strategy, aims and tactics to make sure our activity delivered for that kind of spend.

According to PR Week, the UK capital is set to try to lure big sporting and cultural events to its environs. There's even talk of the Super Bowl if it ever moves outside of the USA. That's quite a pitch for some agency to pull together...

While all of this is fine, I suspect most of us are working with much tighter budgets and having to try to squeeze a lot more out of a lot less.

Surely the tools that social media offers might gain us a foothold for much less spend. I'm certainly looking at online petitions, gimmicky campaigns (the puppy webcam was one such...) that get visitors to the website, then we hope they'll see some of the strategically positioned personal safety and crime prevention advice when they're on. We all have to get a lot more creative!!

And, wait for it, we have to depend on the tools becoming so ubiquitous that people accept and use them (in the way that mobile phones are now de rigeur, not so long ago they were an oddity). As Clay Shirky says, the most profound effects of these tools will lag their invention by years and we have in place what he describes as a critical mass of adopters.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Perfect symmetry - very hard to achieve

I have been reading Richard Bailey's insightful PR blog and I came across his posting on symmetrical communications.

Without doubt, the feedback and involvement capabilities offered by social media should be better aiding the 'excellence' model of public relations (Grunig & Hunt, 1984). Here, the theory advises, organisations should consult with and possibly change their behaviours according to the reactions and feedback provided by their key publics.
How often, though, is this just an aspiration, or, at worst, a box-ticking exercise?

Recently, Glasgow City Council ran a long consultation exercise regarding the closure of several primary schools and nurseries. There were roof-top protests and sit-ins at some of the schools and tensions were running high (see BBC footage ). Following the decision to close the schools many angry parents said that the consultation had been pointless and little more than a sham as the decision was taken before any consultation with key publics.
So, in this situation, where did the excellence approach fall down?

  • There were commercial factors which are quantitative and it is hard to reconcile buildings in poor structural state with falling repair budgets. The sums don't add up.

  • For parents, though, the main qualitative factor is what matters - their child's education - which is non-negotiable, from their viewpoint.

  • There was never going to be a solution to this which would result in both sides of the argument coming together to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

I think there are very few situations where symmetry is really achievable. Even high profile campaigns which have had a result (Joanna Lumley's fight for Gurkhas' residency rights in the UK), came after a climbdown by the Westminster Government, coming on the back of a lot of negative headlines for No 10.

Monday, 18 May 2009

An interested audience

Some horses I know all looking for the feed bucket: always guaranteed to get their attention!

If only it was as easy for we, as public relations practitioners, to achieve the same level of interest in the audiences we seek to engage?

Grunig's Situational Theory provides some pointers here. People will engage depending on high problem recognition (being concerned enough to engage with an issue), low constraint recognition (the need to feel that the action they take will actually make a difference) and high involvement.
New technologies are assisting this engagement, particularly as activist groups can use them to build on involvement and empower people who may want to engage but think it's too much effort to do so. As practitioners, we have to make it as easy as possible for people to engage. I like the approach Amnesty International takes to helping anyone become an activist. We can all learn something from this campaign and many similar.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Blogging - now a bridge too far for some

So it seems that blogging is already a disappearing art. Well, that's according to some social media and technology experts who've been attending the Thinking Digital conference in Newcastle, England, says PDA.
Short attention spans and a wave of newer technology are blamed for the slowdown in blogging. Also, the inane or trivial comments left could be reducing the gravitas of the medium.
What now, then, for PR practitioners who've just persuaded a client to enter the blogoshere? Or for those whose next major pitch involves blogging as a key part of the activity?
It's not a catch-all, magic bullet formula. Nothing is. I've referred to this already on some of my posts. It is just one of the tools social media offers. Trevor Cook says we have less need to pitch ideas to journalists - we can do the publishing OURSELVES. He's right. Gateways have replaced gatekeepers.
Trevor Cook adds that blogs and the conversations that arise from them allow people to get deeper into their thinking. Messages are too "dumbed-down". That's the problem with Twitter for me, at 140 characters max. Not much room for depth.
Clay Shirky says we're all publishers, he's right, too.
But who wants to read what we write?
It's a matter of having confidence in ourselves, our product, or what we want to say and being sure we're qualified to say it. Comments left on my Quest for Quality post are unambiguous - visitors want quality over quantity.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Blogs - the quest for quality

Quality of content and relevance to subject - the two most important things that make a good blog, according to Paul Gillin's survey of 297 communications professionals.
That's got me thinking.
What makes a good blog to you, might be a complete turn-off for me. A friendly, informal writing style which informs or poses questions seems to bring people in. That is certainly what I want to see on other blogs and I'm can't be bothered to read those that are mainly composed of links with little other substance. That's a portal, surely.
I welcome debate on this blog and I've already had some great comments and discussion. How would I convert these comments into a campaign, though, or use for research around client/customer viewpoints?
Also, does quality beat quantity? Much of the reading suggests we've not yet solved the conundrum of measuring the feedback received through blogs for effectiveness or engagement. Since research increasingly tells us that blogs are the most popular and influential social media tool, I can see the need to harness them a lot more effectively (and to start using them as a business tool).


Friday, 8 May 2009

On-line news but pay-as-you-go?

Are you prepared to pay a subscription for your news? According to Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation many subscribers to the on-line Wall Street Journal already are.

The bloggers are going bonkers with this story and the comments are flowing in.

General consensus is that he's completely barking to even make the audacious suggestion. I can't see it working myself. There are too many places you can get your news today. In the past, some websites required you to register (The Guardian, for example) and even that was a pain. They've since dropped that idea. There is simply too much competition for sources of news and news groups have to face up to the fact that sales of newspapers are dropping and they have to build a website that complements the hard copy, then they have to raise cash in other ways.

Desktop RSS feed anyone?

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