On Thursday and Friday of this week I’ll be representing FleishmanHillard at the Global PR Trends Conference in Istanbul.

I’ve based my presentation, or at least the 80% of it that will be done before I arrive at the hotel and find a wifi connection, on the post I wrote a few weeks ago on how social business offers an approach for communicators to break out of their functional silo to be at the centre of coordinated, cross-functional collaboration that leads to better results internally and externally.

I’m calling the presentation “Communications is Dead. Long Live Communication.”

In a nutshell, here’s my argument:

Communications (PR) as it has historically been perceived – a stand alone, siloed business function – is dead. This is supported (my personal interpretation rather than an official one) by FleishmanHillard’s award winning Authenticity Gap research, which describes the 9 fundamental drivers of reputation (pdf). Guess what? Most of those factors fall outside the usual responsibilities of PR… but absolutely should be of interest to the reputation builders and guardians of our industry.

Communication, the human behaviour, is thankfully for us, essential to the entire human experience, including in business. As we shift from mass production towards mass bespoke (3d printing, Firestarter crowd funding, etc) as a new business model, not to mention the more familiar (for us) broadcast model to direct engagement as a communications approach, we – communicators – are well positioned to become the essential connective tissue, conversation starters, and conduit of organisational ebbs and flows of information due to our well honed skills doing exactly that over the past 50-75 years we’ve existed as a proper profession.

To seize this opportunity, created more by the shifting landscape around us rather than any deliberate act, we have to think broadly, and boldly, about our future position within the clients we serve. If you think like me, there’s a strong future for our industry indeed.

I’ll post my slides when I have the final version done. See (some of) you in Istanbul where, by the way, we have an a great affiliate.

[As always, this blog posts contains my personal views which are not necessarily shared by my employer.]

The Public Relations industry has long argued for a place at the top table. We’ve been held back in this ambition by the perception that we become useful only at the tail end of the corporate value chain and by our lack of rigour with regards to measurement. Social Business and Big Data offer PR the opportunity to reposition itself at the strategic heart of the businesses and organisations we serve.

Communication: Central to the Human Experience Yet Organisationally Siloed

Communication, not as a siloed organisational function but as a human behaviour, has always been central to how organisations and brands, from political bodies to major industrial manufacturers, organise themselves and progress – creatively, politically and economically.

Humans identify, through communication, a need or market to address. We establish partnerships around shared objectives and build alliances of shared meaning. Communication allows us to nurture advocates and embrace diversity. In the commercial realm, this isn’t something we see only within more collaborative, horizontally organised businesses – even the military, probably the most top down, command and control of all organisations, is communication-centric: orders are given, targets identified, firing authorised, seize-fires negotiatiated, and amnesties granted.

Communications the business function, however, nearly always exists within a silo with defined boundaries somewhere close to the nexus of a brand’s aspirations, how it communicates this to stakeholders, and the actual experience of those who engage with the brand or it’s offering. [See FleishmanHillard's award winning Authenticity Gap research for insight into how the gap between expectations and actual experience impacts brands.]

Part of the problem is that PR Professionals are often only called in after the fact:

* once a strategic decision is made, we communicate it’s necessity
* once a campaign is defined, we are asked to extend it’s reach and build engagement
* once a product or service has been devised, we’re brought in to communicate it’s usefulness
* once an industrial mishap has occurred, we’re called in to contain the reputational damage

Yet the good news is that Communications does have a privileged perspective within most organisations of any scale, with visibility across operations, strategy, outcomes and, yes, risks, that few outside the closed doors of the board or C-Suite have awareness of.

Social Business – A Magic Pill?

Social business is a human-centric, insights-led approach to the development and implementation of strategic programmes that bring stakeholders, both internal and external, closer to business critical processes in ways that generate shared value.

Social Business is the lever that agencies, and their functionally ring-fenced clients, can activate to break out of our box to become the facilitators of communication and connectivity, helping create richer human experiences and strategic progress. Doing this – being the connector, listener, valued collaborator and thoughtful advisors we can be – catapults us, Communicators, to the centre of organisational strategy.

A Model Social Business Programme

Usually, it starts with an indepth insights gathering process where methodologies borrowed from ethnography, user experience design and management consulting are leveraged to identify and prioritise strategic objectives, stake holder motivations, existing processes and workflows.

Social business practitioners also look for obstructions such as lack of employee engagement, unnecessary constraints upon collaboration, poorly thought out infrastructure and, for lack of a more revealing description, competing egos. We conduct workshops and stakeholder interviews, interrogate data from a variety of digital and social media listening and analytics tools, undertake desk research, and ask tough questions about our  client’s business strategy. The same methodology can and should be deployed to gain insights from both internal and external stakeholders.

We then map the two views so as to identify commonalities and connections between objectives, people, processes and platforms. The final step is to build participatory frameworks that drive collaborative action and strategic progress.

It sounds easy, but it requires an extraordinary depth of immersion within a client’s corporate culture and the context in which it operates to fully realise. I’ve been involved in social business programmes that last a month or two, and several that have taken as long as 18 months to complete.

Staffing for Social Business

If the PR industry is to claim Social Business as an approach, we must recruit, nurture and deploy the right kind of people: those with a strategic mindset, intellectual curiosity, willingness to challenge assumptions, appropriate levels of empathy, and a knack for coalition building. A Social Business strategist is an ethnographer, a journalist, a management consultant, a user experience strategist and a communicator.

I’ve worked with many people in our industry with some or all of these characteristics. Being “good at social media” is not a prerequisite, although understanding how technology can enable processes and workflows can come in useful.

Can PR survive in a results focused, Big Data, World?

The crumb trail of data meanders through the functions of our clients businesses. The Communications industry has been lazy about tracking down the data that demonstrates our value and, instead, often relies upon fuzzy metrics including the counting of outputs and questionable correlations. I strongly believe that PR can contribute to the good fortunes of our clients, but we need to get better at supporting this thesis and Big Data is our opportunity to do exactly that.

There is a strong connection, in my view, between social business and big data. Social business is about connecting the dots between people and processes important to strategic success, big data is about measuring, understanding and acting upon the signals that those people and processes generate.

Social Business sees no firewalls – in fact, it purposely permeates them – nor does big data. We can, with big data, go well beyond measuring reach, engagement and perception:

  • How many new connections are made amongst geographically distant members of the workforce or across functional silos? Has this led to new business wins that otherwise wouldn’t be possible?
  • Was a software bug in a consumer product fixed before the next batch of 100,000 products were pushed out the door because the software engineer had early visibility of the issue through the social media monitoring of customers and, if so, how much customer care resource has this refinement saved?
  • Did a new product or service idea emerge faster due to a conversation with a customer and, if so, did this reduce time to market or R&D costs?
  • Was an aerospace engineer who graduated from Michigan State able to recruit a high value hire from that same university who hadn’t been interested when initially approached by a generalist in recruitment?
  • Was repetitive spending on software licenses procured by different departments identified and reigned in once those departments started working more closely together?

To join up the crumb trail of data, we must first join up our client’s organisations: the social business chicken needs to come before the big data egg. We must share functional objectives and make our activities and the data they generate visible to colleagues more broadly, regardless of who commissions or owns them organisationally. We must learn to share success broadly, giving credit to all those who contribute. It’s a new way of organisational thinking, but one that a social business programme can help embed. Communication is at it’s core, even if the above bullet points of the type of measurable outcomes a social business programme might generate don’t, on the face of it, look like the traditional responsibilities of PR.

Communication is Central To Everything Social. Business Too.

It’s difficult to think of any aspect of our social lives – the way we perceive, interact and engage with individuals, groups, communities organisations and brands around us – that isn’t centred upon communication.

History, it is often argued, defines us yet communication of our shared history is essential for that statement to hold any truth. Economics is the root of all power, yet without the communication of the reality that others have more, or less, there is no supply and demand, no poll tax riots, no Occupy movement, no feminism. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yet beholders communicate their likes and dislikes and when enough of them do so it results in a fashion trend. Emigres returning home to communicate new ideas leads both to diversification – new experiences, such as NY loft inspired cafes in Krakow or the launch of a Swedish fusion restaurant, Casa Miglas, in Havana – whilst, at the same time, chipping away at the distinct differences between Havana and Stockholm, Krakow and New York.

Communication simplifies and complicates. It brings together and tears apart. It both diversifies and chips away at diversity. It is a force for stability and for change…

Communication is central to our entire experience of being human, including the businesses we create, work for, purchase from or otherwise engage with. Social Business is a methodology that puts communication, in all it’s guises, at the center of a more collaborative – more human – approach to creating profitable and sustainable businesses. Big Data can guide iterative evolution of our strategies and tactics, and help us understand when, where and how our activities have contributed to success. The strategic heart of business is – with a bit of help from Social Business and Big Data – a natural space for the Communications to claim as it’s own.

[Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are my own and may not reflect those of my employer.]

Update: This article about Social Business on Microsoft’s Business Re-imagined website is worth a read: http://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/enterprise/business-reimagined/articles/societies-potential.aspx

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 1.14.19 PMIf you’re a recent graduate or planning to graduate in 2014, you can now apply for a place on FleishmanHillard’s (UK) Graduate Programme.

During the one year programme, successful applicants will have the opportunity to rotate through three of our specialist practices and to work across a variety of sector areas.

The programme is a great first step towards a career at one of the World’s leading integrated Communications and Marketing agencies. Come join us.

Full details here: http://fleishman.co.uk/careers/graduate-programme/

FleishmanHillardThose of you who follow me elsewhere online will have noticed that I recently started a new role as EMEA Social Business Lead at FleishmanHillard.

I’ll be working with clients being serviced by any of the 45 FleishmanHillard offices in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Richard Kanareck, Managing Director of our London office, from which I will be based, is quoted in this news release covered by Holmes Report:

“Robin is a true thought leader and will help us better support clients who are ready to move their digital and social media programmes into the strategic heart of their organisations.”

In a note to my new colleagues, I took a stab at explaining how social business is different from social media:

“Most brands recognise that social media offers new opportunities to target and engage directly with audiences through carefully crafted content and messaging. But social media is a two way street – and brands need to be well prepared to participate, as equals, with a variety of stakeholders there.

Whilst there once were clearly defined boundaries between the responsibilities, and stakeholder audiences, of distinct business functions, in social media such organisational silos often lead to poor governance, repetitive investment, and inconsistent messaging.

Social Business is an approach towards solving these challenges by bringing stakeholders, both internal and external, closer to business critical activities through the strategic application of people, platforms and processes.”

I’ve already been impressed with the people I’ve met in the London office and members of the Regional and Digital/Social leadership teams am an looking forward to getting involved in the strategic programmes they’re working on with clients. If you fancy being one of those clients, drop me a line at the new place: robin.hamman@fleishman.com

just sheep logo

One of the Logos We’re Considering for Just Sheep

It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to roll my sleeves up and get involved directly in building a website. That all changed, over the weekend, when my wife convinced me to build a website for Just Sheep, her new online business selling wool blankets. They’re lovely products, by the way.

Because I’m familiar with WordPress, which I use for Cybersoc.com as well as my (now defunct) blog about St. Albans, I decided to set up a fresh instance, buy a domain name, and install a theme.

The first install went badly, and I went a bit beyond my own capabilities making alterations to the theme, so I ended up wiping the the WordPress database using the MySQL control panel provided by my host.

To be clear, I don’t actually know what I’m doing half the time, but I do tend to understand how different configuration settings are likely to work, and actually enjoy trying to sniff out the bits of code that determine positioning, system messages, etc. After the fresh install, which wiped out a good 4-5 hours of work, it’s all been pretty smooth sailing.

The theme I bought and installed integrates really nicely with WooCommerce, an e-commerce service I’ve never used before. It handles inventory, pricing, postage calculation and all that fun back office stuff. It also has a nice shopping cart based ordering system for customers, with PayPal enabled check-out. I’ve also set up google analytics and google adwords for the site as well as a fresh paypal account, ebay account and amazon marketplace seller account.

There’s still a lot of work to do on the site. Our product photos need to be re-shot by a professional in a studio, rather than by us in the living room on a Sunday morning, and we need to get unique product codes (UPC) for the products before we can sell on Amazon. A logo is being created. The text content needs to be reworked- there are just basic product descriptions at present. And, although I’ve already set up Pinterest and Twitter accounts, there’s more work to be done planning and setting up social media services.

If you’ve not built in WordPress before, or it’s been a while since you’ve done so, I strongly encourage you to give it a bash – it’s not just an immensely powerful CMS, it’s also reasonably easy to get your head around. It’s also quite fun, if you usually work at the strategy, planning and content end of things, to actually bring a new website to life through your own efforts.

LinkedIn has emerged as the major traffic driver from social media to corporate websites in a recent study published by Investis IQ, as reported by Social Media Today.

LinkedIn, according to the study, is responsible for 64% of click throughs from social media to corporate websites. Facebook, for the sake of comparison, drives just 17% and Twitter 14% (but rising). See graph below from Social Media Today:

Click Throughs From Social Media Services to Corporate Websites

Click Throughs From Social Media Services to Corporate Websites

The results of the research aren’t particularly surprising – people use different social services for different purposes, with business users, the people most likely to visit a corporate website, most likely to be reached by brand communications in social media on LinkedIn.

This finding doesn’t signal a necessary shift from Facebook for consumer brands, but is important for more “corporate” brands, particularly in the B2B space. Also, whilst it’s true that direct click throughs are both useful and measurable, having a brand presence on multiple social services still has a positive impact on search visibility, so it remains important to spread content, even that aimed at corporate audiences, across multiple channels where possible.

What is key is that LinkedIn has changed dramatically over the last year or two, from a place where users look for new jobs to an important content hub both for brands and individuals seeking greater visibility amongst business oriented audiences. I used to worry when I saw members of my team updating their LinkedIn profiles – now I see it as an important tool for reaching professional audiences and keeping them engaged over time.

In many of my posts over the past year or so, I’ve found myself questioning the value of digital and social media but make no mistake, these posts are not attacks, rather pleas to the industry to do a bit of necessary growing up.

Brands don’t need a social media strategy any more than they need a press release strategy, a payroll strategy or a Christmas party strategy. They need a digital and social media programme that is aligned to their overall business strategy.

Yet many brands and organisations still approach it from the wrong end of the equation – by deciding they should “do” digital or social or Enterprise collaboration before actually knowing why, or even whether, they should be investing in these areas. It’s like choosing a hammer before realising you actually need a drill because what you really want is a millimetre perfect hole.

Fans and followers, retweets and likes, click throughs and shares are all great IF they lead to outcomes of strategic importance. They are meaningless, however, in isolation.

If its not clear why you’re investing in social media, all the statistics and measured outputs in the world won’t deliver a positive return on investment. Here’s a ten step approach to help you make the most of your investment:

  1. Take the time to understand your business strategy
  2. Identify and prioritise important strategic objectives
  3. Understand existing processes for achieving those objectives
  4. Look at the resources required to deliver those processes
  5. Understand what stakeholders – employees, investors, customers, etc – need to be engaged so as to turn those processes into desire able outcomes (and don’t forget to tease out their motivations)
  6. Map it all back to digital and social media, finding the sweet spot(s) where you can leverage these tools to deliver more effectively or efficiently
  7. Define a programme for doing this
  8. Tie the desired outcomes into existing measurement frameworks
  9. Implement, measure, analyse and iterate
  10. Capture best, and worst, practice and share the knowledge widely

Proctor & Gamble’s Global Brand Building officer, Mark Pritchard, hit the marketing trade press headlines by declaring, in a keynote at Dmexco, that “the era of digital marketing is over”.

I couldn’t agree with him more, but you have to read beyond the headline to understand that Pritchard isn’t suggesting that brands will shift away from digital, only that it has, and will continue to, become more integrated with all the other brand building and marketing activities:

P&G’s marketing team has stopped thinking of digital in terms of the “the tools, the platforms, the apps, the QR codes, augmented reality, holograms or whatever is coming next” or as a “mysteries medium with its own set of metrics”, but for what it is: “a tool to build out brands by reaching people with fresh, creative, campaigns”.

Pritchard added: “Let’s celebrate the end of digital marketing. Let’s focus on creating the great ideas that move people and build great brands. And let’s leverage the tools, platforms and technology to make them bigger and engage with people like never before….”

For more years than I can remember, I’ve been encouraging brands and organisations to think about generating digital and social media content by turning some of their internal processes - innovation, product and service delivery, research, editorial production – into content generating activities.

I’ve also spent a lot of time helping brands understand that approaching digital and social media from a strategic perspective, with activities in digital being part of an overall, holistic approach to marketing and communications, is far more likely to generate meaningful outcomes than the typical approach of choosing to “do digital” or “do social” then trying to figure out what to do there.

It’s nice to see senior figures on the brand side are starting to get this. Indeed, Forrester has predicted that 2013 will be the year that “Digital Marketing” becomes just “Marketing”. The same report discusses the importance of breaking down silos to enable digital and social media:

Budget should also be reorganised out of channel silos and into new cross-platform teams organised around consumer segments, with experts on the relevant media, channels and devices for that particular vertical, Muchbach says.

The report also advises marketers to maintain a shared “centre of excellence” for broader campaigns to help achieve scale for overlapping initiatives and to establish a multifunctional group from the marketing, R&D, IT and operations divisions to track how digital elevates their parts of the business to improve the brand experience for consumers.

So what’s all this mean? Soon, with any luck, we won’t think of digital and social media as siloed activities, divorced from overall business strategies and contributed to and controlled by only one business function, but as activities that are integral to multiple business functions, processes and programmes. Digital and social media can and should be discussed at the top corporate table, but that’s only going to happen when we’re able to demonstrate real evidence – not fans and followers, comments and likes – of having played a role in pushing the needle forward towards meeting strategically important outcomes.

The social media retainer, a dependable gravy train of revenue for PR and social marketing agencies, is on its last legs – and the agencies have no one to fault but themselves.

The problem is the way these retainers have been sold. Typically, a client will go unchallenged when they ask their prospective agency questions about how, rather than what, their social media retainer will deliver:

  • What are the most popular channels in market x
  • What audiences will be targeted
  • How many pieces of content will you generate, per channel and market
  • How much ad spend will be required to drive fan base growth
  • How long will it take to hit x number of fans and followers

This outputs led approach to thinking about social media generates a slew of metrics:

  • Reach
  • Month on month fan base increases
  • Engagement rates

These metrics, however, don’t necessarily indicate meaningful outcomes. They merely demonstrate that something – anything – is being achieved through the delivery of outputs.

I once worked with a B2B brand that was quite proud to have gained 100,000 fans on Facebook. When I reviewed the content that had helped them to achieve this milestone, I quickly realised that the main driver of fanning was a sports event ticket give away. Yes, the campaign had reach, it had increased the number of fans and it had led to higher levels of engagement – but how many of those fans had any interest in the brand’s offering or, through their activation, had contributed progress towards meeting a specific strategic objectives of the business? Possibly none.

The question clients need to ask (and agencies genuinely working in their best interests should always challenge them to do so) is “how will digital and social media deliver meaningful and measurable progress towards clearly identified strategic objectives?”.

Strategic objectives aren’t measured through output. They also aren’t measured through the contributions an activity may or may not make towards meeting them. Instead, strategic objectives speak directly to what must be achieved to ensure the commercial viability of a business and might include:

  • generating more leads
  • faster conversion from lead to sale
  • increased value of customer over a duration of time
  • reduced customer care costs
  • lower customer churn rates
  • ability to recruit high value employment candidates
  • reduction of negative perception amongst license to operate stakeholders
  • enhanced reputation amongst shareholders

The above are all critically important outcomes – strategic objectives – that can’t be measured in fans, followers and likes, nor through any other metric associated to the outputs that might push the needle forward towards meeting them.

Agencies need to move, quickly, away from outputs based measurements – this approach is increasingly a commodity offering, with plenty of agencies, some of them off-shored, able to offer the same levels of service at reduced fees.

The key, should the PR and social marketing industries wish to retain their social media management clients, is to become far more strategic and, in doing so, become more strategically important to the businesses they serve. One way to do this is to shift the agency recruitment and staffing model so as to build teams that include not just community managers, copywriters and visual designers, but also senior strategists, possibly with a background in management consultancy or a degree in Business Administration. They’ll also need to bring in experts in digital measurement and analysis – not people who can count brand mentions, likes and followers using Radian 6, but people who understand how to track the outcomes of a piece of content using tools such as Adobe Site Catalyst, pull data from SalesForce, or extract information from scheduling and workforce time logging systems.

The only way to target, and deliver, meaningful outcomes with social media is to understand the strategic objectives of the client. These days, understanding social media just isn’t enough.

 

 

 

27 Sep 2013

happy 17th birthday, website

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audio tour number 17

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds (CC)

Cybersoc is 17.

In late September 1996, I decided to publish my MA Sociology Thesis, an ethnography about online communities, online. I ordered a copy of Adobe Pagemill, the first WYSIWYG html editor, and bashed together a website which, aside from a purple background and the odd blink tag, wasn’t THAT bad.

Within a few days I was getting letters from my ISP, Demon Internet, complaining that traffic to my site, hosted on a “tenner a month” account, had temporarily knocked down their entire web hosting infrastructure. Unbeknownst to me, I’d be listed as “Yahoo’s Cool Site of the Day” back when Yahoo mattered (this was two years before Google launched).

Happy 17th birthday, website.


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About Robin Hamman

My website predates Google by three years and I am somewhat nostalgic when I think about the command line entries I had to learn to control my 300 baud modem. For me, the internet, like the peer-to-peer dial-up BBSs that proceeded it, has always been social. We just lost sight of that for a decade or so when most people thought it was all about "internet shopping malls", inexpensive flights and cheap books. In internet years, I've been here a very long time so you'll have to forgive me if I repeat myself from time to time.

With 14 years of professional experience in the digital and social media industry, and a client portfolio that includes some of the World's most recognisable brands and organisations, I've built a reputation internationally as a leading practitioner in the industry.

In January 2014, I joined Fleishman Hillard as Director of Social Business for EMEA. Previously, I've held a variety of roles including Managing Director of Dachis Group Europe, Director of Digital at Edelman, Head of Social Media at Headshift, Acting Editor of the BBC Blogs and Executive Producer at ITV.

I hold a BA in Education, MA in Sociology, MPhil in Communication Studies and a PgDip in Law. I've also been a Non-Residential Fellow at Stanford University Law School and a Visiting Fellow of Journalism at City University, London.

Why cybersoc.com? In 1995, I tried to register, for the purposes of researching "ordinary users", the username Cybersociologist on AOL. They truncated my name and I stuck with it....

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