Digital Roundtable: Discovery process

The increased adoption of digital media prompts even more questions regarding PR strategy. PRWeek was in New York for this Fleishman-Hillard-sponsored roundtable.

The increased adoption of digital media prompts even more questions regarding PR strategy. Erica Iacono, Rose Gordon, and Kimberly Maul were in New York for this Fleishman-Hillard-sponsored roundtable.

Measuring digital efforts
Erica Iacono (PRWeek): How you are measuring your digital PR efforts?

Molly Schonthal (Nokia): I don't think there is one single measurement that works for everyone and I don't think there is one single definition of social media. So when you take those two comments together, it means that you need to measure according to what you are trying to accomplish, who your audience is, and the kind of information that you are hoping to garner from the particular activity.
I think it's important that you're able to measure in a way that can be utilized cross-functionally. So, if you're measuring one way in marketing, one way in communications, and one way in your customer service organization, you may want to think about measuring those three organizations with a common vocabulary so that your knowledge can be utilized by cross functions.

Bill Evans (Fleishman-Hillard): We counsel clients to start with the objective and we'll come up with a measurement plan backwards. I think the communications discipline needs to get much more sophisticated at measurement in a hurry. Marketing and advertising disciplines do this very well, baked into the fundamentals of how they do analytics on campaigns, programs, advertising spend. Communications is still getting there. And I think that is part of the challenge, figuring out the measurement and analytics piece because it's not baked into the culture of the communications discipline.

Adam Brown (Coca-Cola): For us in PR, the whole ROI challenge has been a nut that we've been trying to crack for decades – and digital is probably not going to solve that. What digital does is give us a lot more data. At the end of the day, I'm really looking at things that we do in the digital space through the PR lens and looking at how many friends and relationships we're able to build online.

Sarah Trabucchi (Scholastic): We're in this really interesting place where social media and digital media are taking us. Content has always been king. [Scholastic is] a content provider and we always have been. But in this particular case, just springing off the idea of engagement, being able to produce your own webcasts, or devise your own ways of getting information out to moms or educators or kids, now we have this really remarkable way of getting information that people want into their hands.
At Scholastic, PR is taking a really active role in developing that kind of content and when we measure, often times, that's what we measure: who is viewing our content, where is it going, how is it being used outside of our world.

Brown (Coca-Cola): You're an organization that creates content, but really what's happening is all of us, our new job descriptions are going to be content developers. We will have to create more and more content and our job as PR or marketing professionals is starting to evolve.

Anitra Marsh (Procter & Gamble): And that content has to be shareable. There must be a sharable message component already built in. I think that's something we didn't necessarily have to deal with five or 10 years ago.

Jennifer Khoury Newcomb (Comcast): Going back to the original question, all the things we're talking about are very difficult to measure. You can't really measure, in terms of traditional standards or numbers, the impact you're having on your brand. So I think that it's a little bit of experience, a little bit of engagement. It's about all of those things.

Prompting participation
Iacono (PRWeek): How do you motivate people to participate in the social Web, whether it's getting Facebook friends or Twitter followers?

Julie Atherton (Hill & Knowlton): I always look at it as a value exchange. Whatever content you have, there's value in that to the people who you want to engage with. When I approach something, I say, “What's valuable to these groups of people who I really want to have conversations with?” To me, it's about what is the value first and the value gets them engaged. If something is valuable to you, you'll get engaged.

Marsh (P&G): People love exposure right now. That's what is driving a lot of YouTube; they just love to be front and center. Every time we do a casting call for Cover Girl, it's always a tremendous response. It's a little bit of a contest, but what's driving people to participate is that they want to be seen. There are tons of programs that can get at that.

Stephanie Schwab (Kaplow): Another way is to find people they aspire to. We've had a lot of success in finding brand evangelists that have readership, that have following, and then they can get their followers or fans engaged. So it's working with bloggers or finding people on Facebook who are clearly fans of your brand and encouraging them.

Iacono (PRWeek): Isn't the appeal of social media that it's a place to experiment? Is that the way that you're still seeing companies approach it? Or as it becomes more mature, does it become a place not where you can try, but where you must have a defined strategy?

Evans (Fleishman): We're in the middle. Part of it is people are sort of like a cat with a ball of yarn, trying to figure out what to do with it, so they are batting it around the organization and feeling where it sticks and makes an impact. But that window of consumers basically waiting for you to figure it out is closing. The more positively they feel about your brand, the more they are willing to wait.
With certain products, however, there is not a lot of differentiation, so loyalty is not based on quality; it's based on how it appeals to me and my personal brand. So the faster companies can figure it out, the better.
Newcomb (Comcast): Social media is a great place to experiment, but it's also a very public experiment, so anything you do is going to impact your entire company.

Schonthal (Nokia): It's about relevancy and interest, so without the great content, nothing goes viral. I think social media will become less of a competency and more of just a way of doing things.

Allan Schoenberg (CME Group): CME Group is the world's largest financial exchange, and people are asking, “Why are we doing this?” It's easy for me to say we've connected to thousands of traders who are out there using these tools to talk about their products and reach their customers. After that, it was easy for me.

Client comprehension
Iacono (PRWeek): How educated are clients or companies about social media and what it can do for their business?

Brown (Coca-Cola): Some of our markets are much more apt to want to leverage digital now than others. I've been at Coke three and a half years and the transformation that we've seen in our executive leadership's understanding and grasping digital and social media has been phenomenal.

Marsh (P&G): When you systemically change the way an organization gets information, I think that can enable capability with social media. So a lot of the old tools we once used to share information are gone. We do a lot of things through blogs, through digital. So I think it's developing the capability of our organization.

Schonthal (Nokia): I've talked to other companies where they have one or two people really trying to push social without the buy-in of the entire organization. That's a really difficult position to be in because you're constantly fighting your way upstream and the principle of social needs to be ingrained, adopted, and embraced by the organization as a whole for a transformation.

Newcomb (Comcast): At Comcast, I'd say that we're in the always-learning mode. Every single senior executive at our company understands social media and the effect it has. We have a corporate blog called Comcast Voices and many of them participate in that. We started four or five years ago before [Comcast senior director of national customer service] Frank Eliason began actively blogging about customer service. We did the NBCU deal recently and our CEO posted something on our blog about it.
Now everything we do is social and very public. Everybody understands the importance of being open and honest and transparent. But it started with a small effort and a lot of corporate buy-in from everyone. Because once you start, you can't go back. You have to keep moving forward.

Trabucchi (Scholastic): At least at Scholastic it's been extremely valuable to find the social media or social business evangelists in each of the divisions. There are so many different arms of the company across multiple countries, so what we did maybe a year ago was we started building a team of the evangelists around the company. And the interesting thing was they weren't always communicators or marketing people. Sometimes they were just really smart people who were really excited about social media.

But the truth is, as we're moving forward and seeing those people take ownership of social media and social business with our guidance and help, the divisions are coming on board and they are seeing small wins we are having and seeing that we have thousands of followers on Facebook for Scholastic Book Club. How can we translate this? What is the goal the Book Clubs were trying to accomplish?

What is the goal that the Harry Potter team is trying to accomplish? How do we learn from each other in a way that large companies haven't always learned from each other?

Atherton (H&K): We started off as a separate practice, digital, with incremental revenue four years ago, but now my role is to make sure we're all digital. There are specialists that keep up, but it frees us up to really think creatively. We have to be digital. It is completely transforming us and it's completely transforming the place PR has at the table.

The marketing and advertising disciplines don't under-stand the conversation and they are still looking at their legacy business models, which made money placing advertising and buying real estate. We're more nimble in terms of how we can move with the flow. That's why everybody wants a standardized measurement, so we can all put ROI against it and we can buy and sell. But as PR pros, we really don't need to do that. We need to engage and start conversations.

Schwab (Kaplow): We do have our stellar clients. We have Skype, for example, which is doing amazing things in social and it is a social brand inherently. But then we have other clients, global companies, that are really struggling with one or two people internally who really want to do it and nobody else who wants to get on board. So I'm still seeing a wide, vast array of types of companies, level of engagement, level of interest, level of fear.

Rose Gordon (PRWeek): What are particular roadblocks?

Schwab (Kaplow): A big roadblock is measurement. Back to our original question, what is the ROI? Culture is a really big piece of it if your executives still don't get it.

Schonthal (Nokia): Part of the fear is the fact that con-trolling the message is impossible. There used to be a time when you would dictate how the message was communicated, who communicated it, and you could be assured that the outlets that you choose were getting a very specific message. So all you can do is do the best job that you can, create as many instances of engaging consumable content, do your best to be open and facilitate relationships, and then let it happen. And that's scary.

Marsh (P&G): They've got to have recognition that the conversation is happening anyway. There is a divide between companies that have conversations online and their desire to want to do more social media programs and those that don't really have any conversations happening online. It's probably harder to get them to make the leap from a communications perspective.

Schwab (Kaplow): But everybody has some. If you don't have conversation happening about your brand, there is certainly conversation happening about your industry or your competitors. That's maybe even a worse indication and maybe even more reason to get engaged. If they are talking about your competitors and they are not talking about you, what does that say about what you're doing?

Atherton (H&K): The real problem comes when you don't have a presence in the social space. We have a lot of clients and I do a lot of crisis and issues work, and it's very difficult right at that moment, when a company is in crisis, to start saying, “Well, if we back up and get a presence in social media and build trust and authenticity...” That's very difficult.

Going mobile
Iacono (PRWeek): At last year's roundtable, everyone said 2009 would be the year that mobile really hit it big. So where are we with mobile as far as PR efforts are concerned?

Evans (Fleishman): I think it's an infrastructure problem. When we talk about mobile innovation in the Northeast corridor, the Southwest, the Chicago area, and the Florida area, it's great because you have ubiquitous broadband, 3G coverage. For the majority of the US, however, it's not the way they do business with their mobile phones. Until the infrastructure gets fixed, it's never going to have the effect that it has in China or Africa, where there are no hard lines.
Until the AT&Ts, Verizons, and T-Mobiles of the world actually build that ubiquitous WiFi, it's going to be very difficult for it to be standardized. It will still be a very interesting year, but when we talk about the entirety of the US, I think it's going to be challenging.

Schoenberg (CME): The question is more what's next for mobile. I agree that mobile is here. You've got apps; you've got texting; you can do pretty much anything except video on a Blackberry.

Gordon (PRWeek): How do all of you get involved with mobile? How do you contribute to that conversation?

Schoenberg (CME): Our standpoint is just asking the audience, “What do you want on a mobile device?” We're kind of like the focus of a focus group and taking that information and getting it back to IT or marketing.

Atherton (H&K): I think it's about integration. We did a global campaign, particularly in the UK, EMEA, and in Africa, and we used mobile because that's a lot of it, especially in Africa. So we transposed what we were doing into a mobile space. It was an adjunct, and we look at it in an integrated way.

Marsh (P&G): It's got to provide a real service. And I think wherever it's PR or advertising, it doesn't matter where the idea comes from, but PR can play a role in driving awareness for that device. Like Charmin's Sit-or-Squat, which finds nice bathrooms in your local area. There's a PR push around that. We didn't create the app, but we've driven awareness of this app and there are a lot of people who have it.

Schwab (Kaplow): I don't see mobile as a standalone strategy yet for most US brands. I think that it's a component of social, a component of marketing, and a component of maybe other types of outreach. But for our clients, at least, it's usually more integrated with something else. It's part of a bigger effort. And I think things like location-based services are really interesting, like Foursquare and geo-location. They are great, but never going to be for everybody in the US just because of the way we use the Internet. I shouldn't say never, but certainly not in the foreseeable future.

Brown (Coca-Cola): I think the adoption will happen faster. Like 15 years ago, the average consumer would freak out about giving their credit card number over the phone to a person and then online. I think people are going to accept that if they want relevant content, which is the circle that we started talking about, by giving away a little bit of information, you're going to be able to get more relevant content. But people will have to gauge that for themselves. I think some cultures and markets are more reticent to do that and some are more apt to do that.

Upcoming trends
Iacono (PRWeek): What do you think the big digital trends will be in 2010?

Newcomb (Comcast): Social video.

Schoenberg (CME): I think analysis is going to be big this year. There are so many vendors out there trying to do things, so we'll probably see some shrinkage and contraction of the number of vendors who call us. We'll really evaluate and monitor these conversations. We've got language-translation issues and a number of issues, but I think we'll get closer.

Marsh (P&G): I would say, related to video, not super-refined video. It doesn't have to be super polished. Right now, there is the consumer-generated piece and there is some video on our end that's about getting out real perspectives via video. It doesn't have to be beautiful, zoomed perfectly. It can be a bit rough and I think consumers are OK with that.

Schonthal (Nokia): In the same way that we see device convergence, which means your mobile phone being your personal PC and your e-mail device, I feel like we're going to see the same kind of convergence in digital tools and that they will be cross-platform tools that encompass many ways to communicate. So I can choose to communicate in a mobile way... via video, via iPhone, via Twitter, and maybe simultaneously for all of those.

Trabucchi (Scholastic): Being able to aggregate and simultaneously communicate to multiple and separate audiences. The ability to say, “I want to send this out, but I only want to send it to our customers or followers who are moms or our followers who are educators.” That's a really valuable tool, especially if you're able to do it with Twitter or Facebook.

Schonthal (Nokia): There is this huge throwback to basics. I'd say two years ago, this conversation would be about tools a little bit more. Now it's about strategy and content and what you're trying to do, rather than how to do it.

Atherton (H&K): I think we've moved out of the “gee-whiz, whiz-bang” tool mindset. There are certain tools that have huge audiences. It's about finding the audiences and what they want. Content is still king. We'll get excited about another platform, the next game-changer, and then that will get pushed.

Schonthal (Nokia): This trending is happening inside our organizations as well. You see social media find a little niche inside media and it landed in your communications organization first or marketing and communications and now it's probably in your sales and marketing and communications organizations. Suddenly, it's not a particular center of confidence any more; everyone is doing it. And then the next trend adopts itself. I feel like this pattern is reflected on many levels.

Digital Dialogue
Prior to the roundtable, PRWeek and Fleishman-Hillard hosted a breakfast event on digital PR with Adam Brown, director of the office of digital comms and social media for Coca-Cola, and Bill Evans, SVP and head of Fleishman's digital integration practice in New York. Evans spoke about social media measurement and integration, while Brown highlighted Coca-Cola's new Expedition 206 campaign. Brown also noted that the company hosted social media training for all staffers, saying, “I'm not successful at Coca-Cola if it is just my team doing this.” Both also spoke of upcoming digital trends, such as location awareness tools like Foursquare.

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