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What’s so ’social’ about product pitches?

Or when did social media become all about online PR?

As things have evolved these last two+ years in the digital social space one thing is becoming increasingly clear: there is far too much focus on blogger relations (aka product pitches direct to consumer) and focusing on alleged “influencers”. The echo chamber has been filled with arguments about how to best “reach out to bloggers” (which means how to best get them to write about your product at the end of the day) and the alleged “social media” press releases. I’m going to throw my wet blanket onto this because frankly I see it doing a real disservice to the potential of the space and leading companies down a path that skirts the outsides of the promise of what Web 2.0 communication tools can really bring to marketing communications.

Let me say this at the start: Web 2.0 is not about YOU. No really, it’s not.

That may sound dogmatic and counter-intuitive, but allow me to explain… It never was about you to begin with, it’s always been about filling a need for the people buying (or looking to buy) your products or services and providing them with *information* where they are seeking it, listening to their feedback, and interacting when *they* want to… not spin or hype. It’s about facilitating their interactions, not yours. It’s not about shiny new toys, or 80 million different channels to push your message out.

Most average folks really don’t care, or have the time, to have a “relationship” with a brand. The majority don’t have blogs where they want to review products. Most people aren’t paid to do so as the plethora of social media consultants are. If we step outside of the echo chamber of PR bloggers, social media evangelists, and tech start-ups, the majority of people just want the product they bought to work as advertised, to be able to find out real information about it, to be able to provide feedback when they feel the need, and a real person (who is empowered to do more than say “thems the rules”) to interact with them painlessly when they do – online or offline. Oh, and the ability to find out quickly what their peers are saying about it – with biases clearly spelt out.

For a company, web 2.0 tools have the potential to expand the reach of their messaging if approached strategically and with fundamental marketing principles in play. They can be used to facilitate content distribution & development; intelligence gathering to inform your marketing and product development; customer service (online & offline); search engine optimization; internal communications; usability and user experiences; expanding the brand essence, etc.

Where does “please send me links to your press release via email” come into play?

Let’s be realistic and clear — Social Media Press Releases are micro-sites for a product or announcement. This isn’t “game changing”, it’s just borrowing from what interactive advertising was doing 7 years ago and adding RSS and API feeds and using it as a landing page to direct bloggers and journalists to. That’s hardly something that deserves the amount of air-time it’s been getting if we are being honest (and doing more than patting each other on the back within the echo chamber). And it’s something that companies are spending a ton of money on for a highly niche audience, which may or may not be the right strategy for their brand.

Where’s the “pull” in product pitches?

/end rant (for now).

[Photo Credit: FelipeArte via Flickr]

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Comments (20) to “What’s so ’social’ about product pitches?”

  1. Amen, sistah. So many existing social strategies are basically … finding out what blogs people read and pitching those bloggers via what really amount to outbound ad messages and souped up media rooms. Are we really that uncreative that the big bang of social amounts to some of the least effectivev aspects of traditional PR and advertising?

    That is not community. It may be part of an acquisition program to engage your community, but it amounts to broadcast messages.

    Most importantly, the results are poor. I saw some numbers recently from either a program or a vendor stating that 90% of your audience will lurk or passively consume content.

    If **90%** of your audience is passively consuming content, your program is failing. Failing to engage, failing to provide value, and failing most importantly to develop the momentum and traction for programs to generate critical mass and revenue.

    To achieve community, you don’t need to *build* a community per se. You simply need to engage with your audience in the media they prefer, delivering content that they actually read, engage with and USE (and I don’t mean blog comments, which are the least valuable type of results for a company … well, except this one of course!;))

    This means involving them in every step of the process, acquiring what we call a ’seed community’, understanding what their information needs look like, and engaging them throughout to help build the program. That is what leads to happy satisfied customers, a growing database, improved online visibility, qualified leads, increased revenue and intelligence, and a permanent, insightful ‘focus group’ that can be tapped into for ideas and insights.

    That’s the pull, that’s what works to generate metrics (vs monitoring, which is interesting information but should not be used to evaluate the success of a program) and that is what the true power of web 2.0 is all about.

  2. Love the post, especially the paragraph about ‘most average folks don’t really care’.

  3. Patience.

    That’s a word we marketers don’t like to hear, and certainly don’t like to tell clients.

    We’re used to things ‘working’ (even as we continued to redefine that word).

    I’ll present an idea to a client, and they’ll ask, “but how will this work?”. Meaning, how will it sell their stuff to the person faster.

    Patience. We’re not selling, we’re telling. Or, the copywriter in me wants to write it like a headline: Tell, don’t sell.

    So when the goal is to tell, you best have some patience.

    I think I might do a blog post about this.

  4. 2 comments in one ;-)
    First, I agree with Janet’s comment about not needing to build a community but joining the communities where your target customers socialize online.
    Second, I agree that most average folks don’t care or most folks don’t care about the brand behind the product they use, say toilet paper. But a lot of people care about the brand for some product they’re passionate about. To pick me as an example, I love bicycles, I love 2 or 3 particular brands and I would love to engage with them. If a employee in one of those brands was to contact me in one of the bike place where I go online, i’d be happy, i’d be intrigued, i’d respond ;-). There may be a minority of people/product combinations compared to possible combinations where things like that could happen, but it’s possible.

  5. Great post, Tamera.
    I agree with both you and the others that commented that there is a definite need for PRs to be part of the community (actively engaging in it) rather than simply joining and pushing messages.

    I don’t think that the Social Media Press Release is necessarily game-changing, so much as it is the logical next step. News Releases have always been about getting an organisation’s message to the media in the form of plain-text content. Now the the definition of ‘media’ is much more broad in that bloggers are journalists just as much as someone who writes for The Globe and Mail or who has a show on CTV. The Social Media Release is simply giving online journalists content that can be used online.

    By no means should it be seen as a replacement for or way to join a community.

    You say that most average people don’t have time to have a relationship with a brand, and I totally agree with you. However, the job of the communicator (whether it is Marketing Communications or PR) is to ensure that they are aware of that brand in the first place. Getting positive media coverage is one way to do this.

    I work with CNW Group and am involved with our new Social Media Release, so my thoughts might be a bit biased. Thanks for the chance to comment anyways!

  6. I’ve been missing my Tamerants recently. Good to see they’re back!

    I agree thatm most people don’t wake up in the mornings looking to build a relationship with their napkin provider. For many companies with commodity products, building a relationship is quite unrealistic. I also agree that social media isn’t just a playground for marketers and PR types. However, I do think companies can use social media to improve (or even create) peoples’ perceptions of their brands by interacting appropriately with them through social media tools.

    I also completely agree with you that Social Media Releases aren’t game-changing. To offer another perspective though, I do think they’re a good addition to a PR pro’s toolkit if used properly… and that’s the main point – it isn’t going to replace relationships or advertising or any other aspect of marketing or communications. It’s a new tool – add it to your toolkit and, just like any other tool, use it when appropriate and don’t use it when it isn’t.

    (Disclosure: CNW, who just launched an SMR service, is a client of our firm but I’m not involved with their account)

  7. This is indeed a terrific post, Tamera. I find much to agree with here, although I think our thoughts diverge on a couple of points.

    In this post, and in your earlier splendid post about the SMR – where you highlighted the crucial importance of making things both “findable” and “shareable” – you’ve absolutely nailed many of the key points about how organisations need to engage with their audiences in online conversation.

    As you’ve said yourself, “there is nothing inherently ’social’ about a ’share this’ button. The sociability comes in the interaction and the conversation over multiple channels and platforms.”

    Absolutely right.

    I think you know my views on the whole SMR thing – we’ve discussed this stuff at length. But let me explain what has led me to evolve my thinking from the point where I asked “Is the Social Media Release even necessary?” to my latest post where I’ve described the concept of the SMR as a game-changer.

    Through studying the space for the past couple of years, reading everything I could get my browser on, and noodling at length – privately and in discussion with peers, colleagues, competitors, journalists, the members of the IABC SMR Working Group, and others – I’ve developed a much better sense of the potential the SMR holds for communicators.

    Clarity, first of all: one of the key factors that will inevitably lead to us seeing things differently is that I’m looking at things from the POV of a PR person (albeit one with some limited understanding of the interactive marketing world). You necessarily and implicitly view things through the POV of an interactive marketing guru (albeit one with a decent knowledge and direct experience in the PR world).

    For PR people (both agency and client side) the very concept of the Social Media Release is genuinely game-changing. In the same way that the social media revolution overall is a game changer. For interactive marketers; perhaps not so much.

    Evidence: I’ve presented the CNW SMR to a number of professional communicators already since the launch. Those (including chaps like Mr. Fleet, above) who already get the significance and purpose of social media, naturally get the SMR and can understand its place as an additional, complementary, tactical element to add to the toolkit.

    By contrast, a number of “old school” traditionalists (the few hold outs I know who’ve been really slow to recognise any value or show any real understanding of the social media shift) have had their socks utterly knocked off by this.

    For some reason, the SMR seems to be the epiphany machine. The response I’ve had from reactionary, blog-cynical PR folk has been absolutely astonishing. I’m not kidding – there’s something about the SMR (and Mark McKay’s lovely video, in particular) that has caused more than one dropped jaw among the “unreconstructed” PR folk I’ve shown it to.

    The other key realisation I’ve come to about the SMR (again, based on direct responses from clients) is that it has enormous potential for those organisations who – for all sorts of reasons – have no ability to engage in online social communities by other means.

    As you know, there are still many organisations who are just culturally, politically, or for policy reasons unable or unwilling to engage in social media (even though – in many cases – their marketers and PR people so badly want to join the conversation).

    In our research and discussions with clients leading up to and surrounding this launch, we’ve found that the SMR is almost a beacon of hope for a sub-section of these organisations. It presents the opportunity for them to do something they’re familiar with (issue a news release) in a way that is just that little bit more findable, more shareable, more conversational, and maybe more relevant to the online communities they wish they could engage with.

    A small thing, perhaps – but potentially the game-changing hairline fracture in those great big cluewalls that still exist.

    For the rest of your points – about when social media became all about PR pitches, a hearty and loud AMEN! In case you haven’t already seen it, I know Doc Searls would agree with your point here, based on this post from last week: http://snurl.com/3ghaz

  8. Bravo, Tamera! Just because a tool or network is new doesn’t mean people aren’t going to try and do the same old thing — push product in overdone, ineffective, insensitive one-way communication.

    I just hope this much-hyped trend doesn’t lead to greater resentment of “PR types” (a slang reference to my profession which — at least officially — values two-way communication and relationship-building) who are really just spammers in disguise.

    Organizations have a wonderful opportunity in “Social media” to engage their stakeholders in dialogue. I hope they begin to recognize it for what it is.

  9. Good post Tamera. It highlights some of the issues we are all wrestling with. One point I would like to take up is your description of the release:

    Let’s be realistic and clear — Social Media Press Releases are micro-sites for a product or announcement.

    For me, this overlooks the real potential of the social media release.

    The SMR should be built on semantic markup – that makes it more discoverable, more accessible (to machines and to people using assistive technologies) and more easily reusable.

    If you would like to see one in the wild: example of NZ government SMR

  10. My experience is that the more niche the audience of a medium is, be it a forum or blog site, etc. The more personal and unfriendly toward “spammers”. The more real bonding and socializing. Even if it’s large. The key for real bonding seems to be niche focus.

  11. “Social” Product Pitches Ring False . . ….

    For a long time I’ve disliked the use of the word “social” when it comes to press releases or applied to any other business-related software or activities. Yet I do recognize that there is a grey area when it comes to online communities such as Face…

  12. [...] Wildfire Strategic Marketing | (3i) » What’s so ’social’ about product pitches? (tags: socialmedia smpr pitching pr pr2.0) [...]

  13. Response to michael o’connor clarke’s comment:

    “there are still many organisations who are just culturally, politically, or for policy reasons unable or unwilling to engage in social media (even though – in many cases – their marketers and PR people so badly want to join the conversation).”

    This is the part of the “conversational marketing” and social media space that I find most strange. Why is it always about the tools and what We want to say, rather than what our audiences want to know? There are **so** many existing ways that customer-focused organizations could (and have been, look at Ducati or Four Seasons) directly engage with customers/stakeholders before the advent of social media.

    This used to take a great deal of time, effort, commitment, and budget. Why else would so many organizations and co’s continue to have poor communications with customers? Because despite all the tools, it still does. it is not about the tools. It’s about a commitment to actually using feedback once it is gathered, and structuring programs to deliver information that is useful to the audience vs solely self-serving. You say that the SMPR is a useful tool for client organizations. But is it useful for the intended audience, journalists? Does it help THEIR audiences get better information, really? I’m not so sure. Prepackaged content may be very helpful in timestrapped newsrooms, but I’m not sure how much it contributes to either the quality of information the public gets compared to what they need, or the journalist’s ability to be objective.

    The semantic search benefit is where much of this is likely headed, and the onus will then be even greater on companies not to just implement the latest tools, but the implement them meaningfully. Using the best, most useful content. All the SMPRs in the world will not change the fact that journalists and audiences alike will eventually go where they get the best information,(google’s biz model is built on this despite best efforts by many to game the system) which will start to erode the dominance engines of persuasion and spin that have given our industries such questionable reputations,and fundamentally change how corporate and stakeholder comms are done, by putting customer needs at the front of the comms priority list, instead of at the end.

  14. [...] Wildfire Strategic Marketing | (3i) marketing innovation, strategy and integration blog Copyright © internet sc_project=3641399; sc_invisible=1; [...]

  15. Tamera, You’re right. Most consumers don’t give a darn about having a relationship with a brand, etc. At the end of the day, improving communication with customers and potential customers is crucial.

    Web 2.0, social media, whatever you want to call it, is best served by an integrated approach and well-planned online PR strategies consist of much more than blogger relations.

    Has there been too much of an emphasis on blogger relations? I’m not sure. What I am sure of is a lot of blogger relations is awful. Compounding the problem, less savvy PR consultants are targeting social media influencers when they should be targeting bloggers in specific niches instead. Several high-profile social media influencers are becoming increasingly frustrated and blogging about their disdain for the PR profession as a whole as a result.

    I’m fine being contacted by knowledgeable PR folks wanting to share information about their clients’ products or services, provided they don’t spam me. Unfortunately, most people contacting me aren’t interested in relationships. They just want me to write about their client’s product or service on my blog. Blogger outreach is not end in itself. It should be part of an overall strategy with a focus on long-term engagement. Why connect with me for one initiative if you (or your client) can’t help me at a later date because the campaign is over and the budget has run out?

    Enough has been said about the value of SMPRs in the earlier comments. Actually, I wish more companies would use them. I find SMPRs far more helpful and efficient than most of the garbage currently making its way to my inbox.

  16. Enter, Emerge and Eschew: August 18, 2008 Week in Review…

    Last Year at This Time Andrey was trying to impress TD Canada Trust by applying for a job with a social media plan Michael Garrity was emerging Julie Cole answered 5 Questions David Dougherty optimized his PPC quality score Thanks…

  17. Great article! Definitely valid points… one example (that you may approve of) is what we did for Samsung’s Instinct via twitter and other social networking sites… check out the Instinct on twitter to see the kind of response this received.

    I’ll be back to read more…

  18. Great discussion going on here. Here’s the bottom line. Social media is still new, in the grand scheme of things. We are all still learning how best to use it. The product push thing is part of the learning curve. It will evolve. We just need to keep trying new things and be patient. We’ll work out what’s best practice and what’s not through trial and error.

  19. I love this post, Tamera. Especially this:

    It’s about facilitating their interactions, not yours. It’s not about shiny new toys, or 80 million different channels to push your message out.

    I liken it to a cocktail party conversation. Traditional PR walks up to a group of people talking and begins to talk about itself loudly and interruptively. Social-media PR eases into the conversation and contributes only when there’s something useful to say.

  20. Very good post Tamera. Social media is all about personal interactions. There is a time and a place for “product promotion” but in the normal day to day conversations and individual interactions through this type of media, pitching your product should not be a primary goal.

    If you plan on selling to everyone you contact, pretty soon you’ll have no contacts to interact with.

    On some of my blogs, some are for dialog others are blatent promotion sites. Individuals that arrive at either type of site via articles signature links or search engine keyword searches, know immediate if they are going to be sold to or be able to carry on a decent conversation.

    It’s there choice to stay or leave.

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