The teen spirit of Web 2.0

As the internet reaches its adolescence, agencies must become more accountable.

What teenagers get up to is shocking. They are into everything. They shape-shift and challenge preconceived ideas and ideologies. Sometimes they are absolute brats. Yet they are the most adaptive human beings.

As amazing as it may seem, I can once again smell teen spirit. It's not only in the air, but it's also taking over the web. Perhaps the net has finally reached its adolescence; it is rude and moody but also progressive.

Governments, politicians and nations have witnessed the rebellious and democratising power of Web 2.0 this year. In some cases it has been used as a force for good, mobilising civic unrest, which has brought down authoritarian regimes and dictatorships. In others, it has facilitated anti-social and criminal behaviour on a mass scale.

Brand owners have watched with interest from the sidelines. They are finally coming to terms with the fact that traditional marketing is becoming irrelevant to consumers' wants and needs. These days, shared experiences drive consumer communication. People either like or dislike an interaction with a company and they will go to great lengths to share their thoughts with others and influence others' thoughts.

So how do we as agencies create new models to meet this shifting marketing paradigm? Well, we could start by admitting that the concept of a 'digital brief' no longer applies - the web is so pervasive that every brief is now a digital brief. We no longer need to have digital specialists - we need to be digital specialists; we need digital in our DNA.

This must start with our people. From the beginning of their agency lives, we should give consultants the analytical skills needed to compete in a digital world. Our typical intake of arts graduates need to understand that ideas with no measurable impact won't cut it. We also need to persuade science graduates that there is a place for them in our industry.

Take search engine marketing as a case in point: it was the great missed opportunity for the PR industry.

Google's ascendancy and the battle for page rank has, in a relatively short period of time, spawned an industry worth billions in the UK, with clients drawn to the measurable impact delivered to their brands.

PR has shown little interest in bots, algorithms and backlinks, sticking to what it knows best: storytelling and relationship building. SEO has concentrated on link-building and analytics. The two disciplines, however, are intrinsically connected. Stories drive links and links drive results.

Gone are the days when it was enough to push out scaleable SEO strategies to boost page rank. The 'social spam' many agencies distribute is a far cry from the engaging stuff people want to read, view, link to and share. And it's not about how many keywords are forced into news releases. Nowadays, authentic, trusted and authoritative content is what drives a strong digital footprint/presence for a brand.

Google, it seems, is human after all. It is this change in the mechanics of SEO that plays to PROs' expertise.

If we hold these skills in-house, we offer something fresh and exciting.

True convergence between PR and digital is what could drive the next evolution of the sector, injecting the much-needed accountability everyone talks about and redefining how success is measured and reported. PR, through embracing the web's adolescence, is forcing itself to discover its own adulthood. It just might give clients the confidence to give PROs the lead in brand comms.


How would you deal with a Twitter account spoofing one of your clients?

Imitation can be the greatest form of flattery. Take @CherylKerl. Her Geordie musings on life validate Cheryl Cole's celebrity and brand. Even satirical comment can help drive a conversation. Yet when a spoof borders on the libellous, be decisive, act swiftly and put across a client's story honestly. People want to see a human response, not heavy-handed action.

Which film title best sums up the spirit of your agency?

Robin Hood - bunch of merry men, superb skills in archery and swordplay, always on target, of the people, for the people.

Graz Belli is co-founder of Third City



From PRWeek's Digital thought leader supplement November 2011

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