Google Pluses and Minuses

Most of us probably can’t imagine a day without Google, but how about the poor cousin of its portfolio, Google+? I’ve always had an interest in G+, even having faithfully signed up back in the early days when it was an invitation-only ghost town. I’ve dutifully updated my profile when required, made myself login every week to look active and shared the odd article. But I confess I forget it is there most of the time – what with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, my social network cup runneth over. So I’ve taken a little time to reacquaint myself with G+ and have a closer look at it.

G+ does seem to be getting more popular, so what’s driving it? Well, Google being Google, its making it virtually impossible for businesses who want an SEO presence (and let’s be honest, what business doesn’t) to not be on G+. Additionally, G+ is now increasingly used for authorship verification, meaning you need to be on it if you want to share content/make comments etc. In fact, just this week Google has announced that it is changing the YouTube comments section to be powered by G+. You will now need a G+ account to comment on YouTube and G+ will even decide the relevancy of your comment – unsurprisingly, if you’ve a strong G+ profile, your comment has more chance of being boosted above others. This is a move sure to drive even more G+ take up.

There is a mix of personal and private on G+ with company pages equally as prominent as personal profiles, which integrates nicely with the search results of course. G+ has a very smooth and clean interface which is easy to use, especially if you’re already a user of other Google products. It’s easy to re-share and to +1 (‘like’ stuff, in Facebook lexicon), which means content has a good chance of being seen by more people. Advertising is less noticeable, which makes a nice change from the other big three social networks increasingly aggressive ad strategies. You don’t even need to leave your hashtags behind on G+ as they are as much a feature of the site as on Twitter.

So all in all, I’d say G+ looks nice, feels nice, is easy to use and has some good features. But the biggest reason for being on G+, particularly if you work in technology PR? Well, with the increasingly integrated nature of digital communications and technology PR, you’re going to miss out by not being on it. G+ is becoming an increasingly important part of good SEO practice and Google’s drive towards independently curated editorial content. You’ll find many publications on there, whatever your sector; from big business to niche verticals – lots of journalists, analysts and commentators too. Finally, as it grows clients are going to be asking about G+ sooner rather than later, so now is the time to get familiar with it. So, I’m giving G+ a +1, what do you think?

 

How to win at social media with the Clintons

Here’s a post I recently wrote for the Spark blog

You may have seen recently that Hillary Clinton became the latest of the Clinton Clan to join Twitter, following in the footsteps of husband Bill and daughter Chelsea. And whichever PR pro helped Hillary launch her first tentative social footsteps was something of a genius, she may have only tweeted four times (to date), but she’s gone down a storm.

Bill and Chelsea are far more active, as are all their associated profiles which encompass their many charitable and action foundations. The Clintons have built a formidable presence on Twitter, perhaps learning from Barack Obama himself, whose social media practices have been near flawless. As a ‘brand’, the Clintons are impressive – managing to do what many businesses fail to do; build a cohesive, united, ‘joined-up’ presence on social media networks to get that all important message out there.

Social media, as we all know, is here to stay (as are the Clintons). Having a social media ‘presence’ is deemed as an almost necessity for businesses these days – and whether it is the right thing for your business or not (it isn’t always!), there are lessons to be learned from the Clintons if you’re making the jump to social.

So, what tips can companies pick up from the Clinton’s foray into the Twittersphere?

  • Make an entrance – Hillary’s inspired first tweet, a play on the #TextsFromHillary meme was a great start. Retweeted 11,042 times so far, that first tweet itself generated a whole lot of headlines and goodwill.
  • Have a sense of humour – Well done Hillary, referencing your own meme and taking‘selfies’ with your child; clever, wry and in the best of humour.
  • Choose your time wisely – Do not, under any circumstances, try to gain capital or make jokes out of tragic events (I can’t believe that even needs to be said, but sadly it does).
  • Don’t forget your profile – The 140 characters under you name is your first chance to draw the user in. Hillary’s is excellent, and that clever ‘TBD…’ ending hasn’t put those 2016 rumours to bed.
  • Be active – Now Hillary is letting the side down here a bit, but Bill and Chelsea are regular tweeters; businesses with inactive streams or infrequent updates are not engaging in the conversation which will deliver them customers.
  • Build your brand – Chelsea Clinton does this very well, her Twitter profile page has the Twitter handles of all her other associated accounts listed down the side – a good tip, make it easy for users to find your other connected networks.

Now, the Clintons were starting out with a good deal of reputation and cache already in place – very, very few businesses will have that type of expectation or welcome if they decide to go social. Building a social media following is a slow and involved process, and can’t be done half-heartedly. But whether you decide to make the social leap, or if you already have, why not strive to be like the best?

The changing of the guard

Amongst the thousands of articles written about the superinjunction/Ryan Giggs debacle, one woefully out of touch article from The Guardian stood out. Written by Richard Hillgrove, who is described as a ‘business and political public relations consultant’, the article seems only to emphasise the divide between the old and new guard.

Many of the below the line commenter’s make the point that regulating what people write on a social network is nigh on impossible. Indeed, a couple liken the article’s point to the Royal Mail being sued for something they have written in a letter to a friend, or the fact the Twitter is somewhat analogous to a phone network.

Twitter is primarily a medium of communication, as is Facebook and numerous other social networks, people use them to chat to friends, make new friends, and sure, gossip now and then. No different really to a conversation I may have with a colleague around the watercooler surely.

Except the key difference is the potential for it to be heard; I may say something on Twitter which may get re-tweeted, replied to, discussed, even trending. Now, I may be somewhat overstating my Twitter reach here, but you get the point. It’s the same theory as when something goes ‘viral’; it might start off as a conversation between two people, but end up as it has in Ryan Giggs’s case, as one between millions of people.

And I suppose that’s the beauty and the terror of social media in a nutshell. Whatever the musings about whether social media is here to stay or not, the question of how it can be regulated is ultimately academic in my opinion, unless we really want to experience even more of a big brother society.

Current libel and privacy laws are not compatible with modern forms of communication, which seems simplistic to say, but changing the law is more feasible than fact-checking the trillions of status updates and tweets made on Twitter and Facebook. Which are just two of the ever growing number of social networks.

Twitter is not in and of itself a media outlet, it’s a conduit for words to be spread, between individuals, corporations, businesses, governments, and myriad other organisations. There is a fine line between free speech and libel, and walking that line becomes more perilous as our social and digital networks grow, but ‘reeling it in’? It’s not only an impractical suggestion, but a very naive one.

And if Richard Hillgrove needed proof in the power of Twitter, he now has his very own parody Twitter profile

The Changing Face of PR? Indeed.

I read an interesting article in Recruitment International Magazine this week, entitled ‘The Changing Face of PR’, its opening sentence boldly stated, “PR may be at the cusp of its evolution.”

Why? Well, the ‘digital boom’ according to the article’s author Davina Forbes, of Major Players – a Randstad owned PR and comms jobs recruitment company.

With the greatest respect to Forbes, I have to disagree with the majority of what she writes. I read, with some incredulity, “The digital boom, the birth of the media hub and the fall of the journalist may have sparked the beginnings of a new trend within the industry that could inevitably lead to a new focus for PR jobs – content.” A ‘new trend’?! Hasn’t PR always been about good content? And I’m not so sure this ‘digital boom’ is at the ‘beginning’ of its evolution, having been in full flow for a good couple of years now.

Sure, it’s been a learning curve, but the majority of PR practitioners and students I know, already work exceptionally well within the ‘new’ digital rules of PR engagement. Most are also clued up with social and digital media; having your own Twitter account and blog is a matter of course for most practitioners, and in general, these outlets are managed very well.

Talk to, or listen to, the vast majority of PR practitioners, both old and new, and they have a thorough understanding of digital/new media/social media communications. According to Forbes, “…the PR talent has the capability, perhaps it’s just a case of brushing up, particularly for those new to the industry.” This is an unfairly inaccurate representation of the skills of new entrants to the industry; especially in light of the large number of well trained and educated PR students and graduates. Many universities offer PR modules dedicated to social media and digital communication; producing industry entrants who are amongst the best practitioners of communications in a digital world.

The reasons for this are two-fold; firstly, young PR students and graduates have grown up through an age of digital communication, and are used to communicating and being communicated to across a digital medium. Secondly the overwhelming move towards teaching, training and guidance from experienced practitioners at countless numbers of university courses, traineeships and internships has consolidated this knowledge in practice.

I’m not just painting a rosy picture of the PR industry; of course there are still practitioners who stick by their traditional methods. And while traditional methods still have a key role in PR, the dinosaurs are dying out. In general, the PR industry is doing a good job of moving with the times.

It is quite astounding to read this statement, “…content generation is becoming an increasingly important skill to possess for the PR…” Content generation has always been a key skill, whatever the media outlet – print, digital, oral, visual; and PRs have always had to be good at it. As a self proclaimed ‘leading’ PR recruiter, the relatively negative view Forbes presents of the industry and its practitioners seems worryingly out of touch.

And now, from our correspondent in….

Listen to the doomsayers, and traditional journalism is dead. With the advent of The Times paywall, which no one can seem to decide if it is successful or not, and Wikileaks rising prominence, ‘stateless journalism’ according to some; then old news is dead. But this is old news in itself really, it’s been many years since print media relied on people buying their publications for revenue. I personally still buy newspapers and magazines, and think there is nothing better than flicking through the pages and soaking it up. Which is not to say I don’t read news online or via other sources, I do that all day every day. But I’m not going to stop buying newspapers, or Time, or Economist or Guardian Weekly. I like the pages in my hand.

I’m a bit more hardcore when it comes to books though, because I’m a geek, and I love to read. To me, there is nothing like holding a book in my very own hands, turning the pages, putting it on my bedside table, marking my page and not being able to wait to get back to it. Yes, I know I could do all this with a Kindle or iPad, but I’m just not interested, I love the feel of a book, and I’m not going to give up my Waterstones addiction any time soon.

There is little doubt though, that breaking news is the domain of the internet, with Twitter leading the pack. Although interestingly, Wikileaks, a firmly web-based service, announced it’s big Afghan war log leaks in print. With The Guardian, Der Spiegel and The New York Times sharing the landmark leak. Proof then, that newspapers still have a part to play. The three papers have had this particular bit of news for months, but have spent that time analysing, documenting and presenting the information. Which would have been impossible if they had released the leaks online as soon as they had received them; once it’s out there on the web, it’s also out of control.

This also brings me to another old grumble of mine, concerning journalism and responsibility. Don’t journalists have some responsibility to national security? I thought the same thing when I blogged way way back when about senior anti-terror officer Bob Quick’s unfortunate security lapse, which this countries newspapers reported in technicolour glee. He subsequently lost his job – as the press bayed for blood, and conveniently ignored the fact that the operation he accidentally exposed was carried out safely and successfully.

Julian Assange launching the leak

UK and US sources have accused Wikileaks of having complete disregard for national security, and of having ‘blood on their hands’. Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder and chief is unapologetic, he is simply exposing a ‘truth’. But at what cost? Pertinent facts have again gone ignored by the media, the Afghan war logs are actually quite old, and document activity before new rules of engagement were introduced this year, and very few commentators have reflected on the indiscriminate behaviour of the hostile forces the coalition troops come up against. War is painful, ugly and lamentable, but that is nothing new – it’s only now it can be reported in full, graphic detail that we get a sense of it. The media have largely made up their mind in the UK that this War on Terror is an illegal failure. I’m undecided myself, but I see no reason for putting the lives of coalition troops and Afghan informers at risk, or desperately trying to highlight how immoral coalition forces are. Lest we forget that they are doing a job, and the vast majority are not murderous occupiers as portrayed; it’s a job I certainly wouldn’t like, or have to guts to do, but I respect and support completely.

Bob Quick lost his job over his widely reported blunder, Tony Hayward, on behalf of BP, would probably have had a much quieter and gentler exit were it not for the hacks, bloggers, and vociferous media attacks calling for his scalp. Will someone lost their job over the Wikileaks bombshells? Probably, Bradley Manning is the first low-ranking sacrificial lamb. Will this kind of thing happen again? Probably.

We are all journalists now, and we can all report what and when we like, and with whatever bias or viewpoint we hold. I think this is a good thing, but it’s also a little bit dangerous – there are very few boundaries left – and it’s not just chucked into the ether, this kind of leak or reportage has a direct effect on the lives of real people.

Still, I make the case for print media again, consider this blog post by a fellow Guardian Weekly reader, there is nothing like actually holding those pages in your hands.

Twitter in Motion

I had a great experience this week of Twitter doing it’s thing, and perfect fodder for reposte when a Twitter non-believer doesn’t ‘get’ Twitter, or thinks it doesn’t ‘do’ anything. I was having problems with Plusnet, my new broadband and landline provider, generally poor customer service, non-delivery, and taking a age to get the broadband going. I’d tried the traditonal routes, I called them (costly and time consuming); I’d tried the ‘raising a ticket’ on the website method (‘we will reply in 12 hours’) and had no result. So in a fit of frustration, andwith a quick Twitter search, I found Plusnet’s customer service Twitter account (@plusnet). Why not I thought? I tweeted @plusnet, a simple, ‘not very impressed with @plusnet’s customer service, doesn’t bode well for a new customer’ and lo and behold, in no more than 10 minutes, I received a phonecall from a Plusnet customer service manager. His opening words? ”Hi Michelle, I’ve seen your post on Twitter…” He went on to apologise profusely, promised to rectify the problem and was generally very nice and reassuring. Plusnet also tweeted me back with a ‘glad the problem is sorted, feel free to tweet if there is anything else we can do’.

I have to say, I was really impressed. With one  little tweet, I’d had my problem sorted, I was feeling much less annoyed, and I was seriously impressed with Plusnet’s response and methods. They had won me right back! It also guaranteed them some good worth-of-mouth, as I went on to tell everyone I saw that day my little tale of Twitter success (and blog about it…). I use Twitter a lot, but I’ve never had a good ‘moan tweet’ at an organisation; but Twitter managed to raise a result within 10 minutes, far more quickly than the old call or email method!

Plusnet’s Twitter account is a good example of an organisation doing Twitter and social networking well. Their profile is clean, branded, just the right side of serious organisation, and friendly approachable people. There are four dedicated tweeters, whose initials follow every tweet, and they appear to work around the clock. They reply to every tweet, and give service and customer information throughout the day. So well done Plusnet, I’m duly impressed, and other organisations would do well to follow this example.