Become a pinball wizard

Social era comms is about creating smaller, easy-to-build concepts and keeping them in play.

I had an epiphany this week. That I had it sitting in a beach-front hotel in Santa Monica is incidental. That it occurred during a session facilitated by the cool Swedish digital trainers Hyper Island is perhaps more relevant.

But the epiphany (as they are wont to do) stopped me in my tracks, so succinct an articulation was it of the issue I spend every day convincing clients to address: in thinking about how to react to social/digital developments and formulate comms and marketing strategies to adapt to these developments, too many organisations are waiting for the current changes in digital/social to end before they decide how to react to them.

The reality is, of course, they will never end. They are constantly evolving. Waiting to see 'how it all pans out', postponing action of any sort until you know the exact lay of the land is, frankly, insane.

Just in case you're dipping into this supplement as part of a process of consideration as to the relative pros and cons of investment in social or digital, let us be clear on two things. First, the social age is here to stay. Sharing, social networking, immediacy of syndication, unrestricted comment and always-there information is not a fad. Second, there is never a perfect time to first get involved. You can't pause the internet until you're ready to engage. Do it now, irrespective of your business, nationality, sector, age or politics.

But how? Where do I start? Fear not, for help is at hand. Weber Shandwick is here, to mop your furrowed brow and ease your pain. And guess what? Success is eminently achievable. When planning your digital or social marketing and comms programmes, think of yourself not as a kingpin but as a Pinball Wizard.

Pre-social era marcoms was like tenpin bowling. It was oriented towards building as big a campaign creative as was humanly possible. The company and its agency invested months into building the biggest, shiniest piece of creative it possibly could. It then lined up its target audiences and hurled the massive creative down the alley. It counted the audience pins knocked over and went down the pub, job done, before spending another six months building another ball. And if it was badly made or bowled or missed the pins, well, too bad. Back to the drawing board.

Social era comms activity is more like pinball. Rather than spend months building huge concepts, it's better to create smaller, lighter, easy-to-build concepts to launch into play. And the key to success is to keep the idea in play. If you can master pinball then you can keep your idea in play for weeks. If you notice that you're getting triple bonus points when you flipper the ball to a certain place, then you can keep launching the ball in that direction. If you practise enough, you can go on for ages.

Once you've mastered the art of pinball on one machine, the skills you've learned transfer easily to other platforms. Good social philosophies and practices apply equally to Facebook as they do to Twitter (or Renren, Orkut and Foursquare).

Finally, keep an eye on the long-term goal. Remain true to your comms objective. Ignore short-term reaction from influencers. You have the vision, the perspective, you know where you're headed. Don't be afraid to push back. Knee-jerk reactions are not always constructive - or right. In 2012 and beyond, think about standing out by creating 'undigitisable' experiences. You'll have far more control over the output and less noise disrupting what you're trying to achieve.


Do you see a distinction between your personal and professional use of social media?

PR is one of those careers where the line between professional and personal time and relationships is somewhat blurred. Which is a long-winded way of saying I don't describe my use of social media as either professional or personal. Not one of my non-PR friends uses Twitter or Facebook, though.

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

Call Twitter. If the account is malicious, they'll deal with it. If there's no harm done, we'd get the genuine client account verified.

James Warren is chief creative officer, digital, at Weber Shandwick



From PRWeek's Digital thought leader supplement November 2011

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