Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Naked Enterprise

This morning, I listened to an excellent panel discussion chaired by Harvard Business Review's Eric Hellweg, with Novell CMO John Dragoon, Forrester's Andre Pino, HP Hood's Lynne Bohan, and Evan Falchuk from Best Doctors. The topic was The Impact of Social Media.

What became immediately obvious was how social media is laying organizations bare. Nothing is hidden. As barriers to communication have fallen, so has the ability to obfuscate, to hide, or to forestall. It also means that everyone in an organization has a megaphone, so everyone is involved in the message. This is a good thing.

PR has become a team sport. Increasingly, PR teams need to subsidize news creation and increasingly own content and news output. To do this they'll need expertise. And to be effective in today's media environment they will need a chorus of voices all on key, all singing from the same tune. This requires the active support of much of the organization – marketing, sales, HR, product development, support, and executive leadership – all on the front lines, all participating and engaged with the myriad conversations taking place.

This will involve PR relinquishing some of the control we're used to – we need to give a wide network of people in our organization the skills, confidence and ability to work directly with media and with key audiences. We need to harmonize this process. As a result, PR will take a more strategic role in the marketing organization.

These changes will also involve us cultivating talent inside our organization so they can participate. For me, this is one of the hardest steps in creating a successful PR program that adds real value to the organization. Getting engaged with new and social media can often appear to be “free”, but actually soaks up considerable time, and hence resources. Persuading often overworked colleagues to engage with social media can often be difficult.

This is just one reason that building-out “observing” capabilities is such a crucial first step. By listening, monitoring, measuring and reporting on the conversations taking place about your organization, brand or product, you can start to understand relationships, influence, and salience, and focus on where and how to get involved for maximum impact. You can also monitor how effective your activities are in driving involvement and participation from audiences – and all this will help justify the resources needed to sustain a long-running social PR program.

Starting with “observing” is also the first step towards engaging with the larger marketing organization in a meaningful, data-driven way. The strategic value of PR can be measured and articulated, and we can show this value at every stage of the sales process – from driving awareness to helping close a deal, and on to cultivating ongoing loyalty to a brand.

This is the level at which we need to think in PR – of course we need to understand the technologies that are enabling new media, or the techniques to attract the right audience to your corporate blog. And of course we still need to do what we have been doing well – crafting a tight message, sending our the release. But too often the level of conversation is about whether to use a conventional press release or a so-called social media release. This is a tactical discussion that has merit, but PR has the potential to engage in a strategic discussion about how effective communication, as a critical component of marketing, can drive meaningful business outcomes – sales, better customer satisfaction, greater profitability.