Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Are New Communications Models Changing Old Power Structures?

In his book Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond, Axel Burns argue that the old mass-mediated model is replaced under the ‘new network paradigm’. It used to be the case that consumers, due to lack of access to a media of their own, could not respond to what they saw or heard on the traditional media in other ways than to consume (or chose not to consume).

“Under the new network paradigm, by contrast, producers and users of media content are both simply nodes in a neutral network and communicate with one another on an equal level.” (p. 14)

There is no doubt that communication (and distribution) models have changed. Some form of power shift to the consumers’ advantage has taken place, with the communication opportunities that the internet brings. However, I think there is a danger in believing that communication is done ‘on an equal level’ just because communication channels are available. It suggest that a ‘two-way symmetrical’ model of communication is possible, which I find fallacious. Despite the enabling of two-way communication, and the producers and users of media content both being nodes in a network, that communication is not neutral when it comes to power. Size, money and other forms of resources are still major factors when it comes to strength, offline as well as online. I believe the same hegemonic power structures, although online networking to some extent can challenge them, are still there.

An important question in relation to this may be if we as public relations professionals are just preserving these power structures, now with the help of new tools, online as well?

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

The Social Media Release: a new tool in the toolbox

In my previous post (PR 2.0 bloggers, and the use of Social Media strategies) I’ve tried to make the case that a shift is happening, especially visible among the younger generations, from a pushing- to a pulling media climate. On the internet people are now less interested in just reading news or have it pushed to them, they want to interact with it, influence it, they want to shape opinions about what others read (especially within their peer groups). Several of the most popular sites on the web are now social media websites, like My Space, Facebook, YouTube, Digg and Blogger. Many traditional journalists nowadays also use the internet to a higher extent, checking out forums and blogs, for story insights and ideas.

The Social media Release
PR 2.0 deals with how PR can take into account and employ this increased social media which exist today, such as blogs, Webinars, podcasts, vlogs etc. A Social Media Release (SMR) is a new variant of the traditional press release for online distribution, which incorporates the elements of PR 2.0. Simply put the SMR contain concise information presented through text and multimedia content shared via social networks. It also includes links (see my post Push- and pull-media) to different sources of information which could be relevant to writing a good story, making it as easy as possible for journalists to pull the necessary information needed to write about the subject matter. For it to be an authentic Social Media it also incorporates the possibility for a two way dialogue between the reader and sender.

Development of the SMR content and layout
The journalist Tom Foremski (former Financial Times writer) wrote an article in the Silicon Valley Watcher titled Die! Press Release! Die! Die! Die! in February 2006. He argued that the traditional press release in many instances was ineffective, and called for action and change. Following this Todd Defren produced the first template for a Social Media Release in May 2006.

This template is still widely used, but in the beginning of 2008 the newswire service company MarketWire released its ‘Social media 2.0’.

The latest development has been that The Society for New Communication Research (SNCR) together with The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and several leading profiles on the Social Media scene, will lead a workgroup aiming among other things to define a standard for the SMR.

Just like with the traditional press release wire services are often used for distribution, like Marketwire in the US and WebitPR in the UK. In combination with this search engine optimization (SEO) of different sort is important for the SMR to be findable via searches on such places as Reuters, Google News, Yahoo News and for the different elements within the SMR to be findable at relevant places (Audio podcast at Apple i-tunes, video at YouTube etc.). For maximum impact the SMR can also be published on a company’s blog set up via Wordpress or Blogger, and can then be found through blog-specific search engines like Technorati, BlogPulse, Google Blog Search etc. as well. Then a separate social media optimization (SMO) or blog search engine optimization (BSEO) process is required.

Some problems
1) If distributed via a wire service it may appear differently depending upon where it is viewed, there is a lack of control over the appearance. 2) To produce audio and video can be costsome, especially for smaller companies. 3) Giving the option for two way communication in the SMR may be time consuming for the public relations officer if he/she has to spend time answering or discussing. Also if the replies are not filtered before appearing on a company’s online newsroom, bashing of the company in question may occur.

As the media climate is changing and information-pulling and participation in creating information is increasing, I do believe the SMR can be an effective tool in the PR practitioner’s toolbox. It is however just one tool and needs to be used alongside other tools and approaches in a campaign, including the traditional press release, to form an effective strategy and achieve the desired results. Also, as with the traditional press release, it still needs to be well written to have any impact at all. I agree with Brian Solis, one of the main figures behind the SMR, when he states the following in his post The Definitive Guide to Social Media Releases:

“I am so pleased and excited that the PR industry is interested in something new to help reach journalists, bloggers and their customers…But, I’m sorry to say, that just because a new tool is available to you, you still have to make your story interesting, relevant, and newsworthy. The Social Media Release is not going to miraculously fix a hyperbole-ridden, over-stated, incomprehensible document riddled with BS. The people that matter to you are simply seeking context, relevance, what’s new, what you do, why it matters, how it’s different, and to whom. You still have to do your homework and write something compelling and clear.”

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

PR 2.0 bloggers, and the use of Social Media strategies

I find it interesting how the Social Media PR bloggers, most of them working for companies selling related services, use their blogs. When reading it becomes obvious that many posts aim to push for clients or business that they, the bloggers, themselves are a part of. However, the content is not just about the specific interest-to-be-pushed, but part of an informative context regarding a topic. So despite that, I would say most, visitors know that the blogger has an agenda, the material which is presented is often good information on the topic and, at its best, both helpful and insightful; in other words of mutual benefit. Also while discussing ways of utilizing the opportunities that new technology and Social Media brings, the bloggers uses/utilizes those very techniques/approaches in the way the information is presented. Apart from the content of the message, the actual message in itself and how it is presented, also gives one insight into the overall topic area of how to utilize Social Media.

So is it commercial hype and self-interest, why should anyone implement Social Media strategies?
I believe that Social Media can be used, when executed efficiently, to ‘plant’ (links to) information at relevant/strategic positions to increase the targeted publics’ likelihood of pulling our information. In many instances (like when international prospective students are searching for postgraduate courses) it is very difficult, and I would say inefficient, to have a PR strategy which mainly involves pushing information to the public. Being present/visible at strategic places where the public is likely to pull such information, and through Social Media provide a high degree of ‘findability’ of one’s customized information (like a university website), seem to be a much more valid approach in many cases. If the communication and information-acquiring behaviour is changing among various (both consumer and business) stakeholder groups in society, it appear natural that the PR communication strategy and relations with these groups must adapt.

An example
As far as I know, none of the friends I have (who are apart of the same generation as me) are subscribing to any newspaper. As we get older I doubt most of us will start buying newspapers. That does not mean that we (my generation) are uninterested in news or current affairs, but we acquire it in a different way. News websites with written articles, video and images are widely used instead. An online article may trigger an interest to find out more and lead to pulling of information through a Google search or from a relevant forum or a related video on YouTube. This form of information-pulling-behaviour is one example of why a Social Media strategy may be necessary for a company. Another example is of course the same type of information-pulling-behaviour performed by journalists when researching, or trying to find, a story.

The playing board is changing
The use of this Social Media form of PR approach/strategy, adapting to new information-pulling-behaviour, is certainly not applicable in all campaigns or to reach all stakeholders. However, to say that it is just hype or the same way of getting things done but in a new fancy wrapping, I think, is showing ignorance to the shift from a pushing- to a pulling media climate that fundamentally changes the playing board upon which we as PR practitioners operate. What do you think?

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Push- and pull-media

Media are no longer pushed upon us to the same extent as it used to. The way the internet has developed it has given us a greater opportunity to choose what we want to read, watch and listen to. SVT (Swedish National Television) and the BBC offers me the chance to watch their shows online when it suits me, I can cherry-pick what to watch. Podcasts and internet-radio gives me the option to limit my input to opinions that I care about. It is a pull- rather than push-media that has developed.

In his book Public Relations Online (2007) Tom Kelleher argues that in a public relations context, maybe “rather than pushing information with news releases and public service announcements, public relations people have to find ways to convince people to actively seek their information” (p. 24).

Could we perhaps with the help of online social media build and maintain relationships with (certain types of) journalists in a more efficient and mutually beneficial way, so they seek out our information rather than we pushing it upon them? Maybe it needs to be a bit of both; pushing some information but include links to different sources of information which could be relevant to writing a good story, making it as easy as possible for the journalist to pull the necessary information needed to write about the subject matter.

I think this is how a Social Media Release could function. I’m not certain however; I have to read up on how it explicitly is, or could be, beneficial in this way. More to come…