Golin's UK social chief on the rise and fall of the 'gurus'

Whatever you do, don't call Neil Kleiner a social media "guru."

Whatever you do, don't call Neil Kleiner a social media "guru."

GolinHarris UK's new recruit may have been evangelizing about the transformative power of social media for the better part of a decade, but he has short shrift for those who sought to elevate it into a mystical art form.

"The first wave of social gurus in 2011 royally fucked it up for everyone," he contends. "They over-promised, under-delivered, and sold bullshit to clients that didn't work – you're seeing some clients massively distrustful of social because of that."

Speaking days after switching from a group-wide role at Havas to become Golin's social head, Kleiner has the nuts-and-bolts approach to new media that one might expect from someone who "despises the mystification of social media."

"Clients are looking for a grown-up view of social marketing," he explains. "It's not about obsessing about the platforms – it's about the people, what motivates them, and what they care about. Using social media effectively still comes down to good marketing, PR, and clear thinking."

Effective social media might still rely on the basics, but there is little doubt the discipline is changing fast in a world where humble platforms are now multi-billion-dollar listed firms.

It has certainly changed from when Kleiner started specializing in social media eight years ago, a world dominated at the time by MySpace and Friendster. He even jokes about clients' surprise at his graying hair these days.

"I started as a music journalist back in the day, creating photocopied music fanzines," he says, remembering his days creating Beware the Cat. "The Internet was making it extremely hard to do niche print titles, so for me getting involved in digital and social was a case of knowing my enemy."

His decade-plus of digital expertise makes him one of the "top three social guys in the country," according to the man who hired him, GolinHarris president for international Matt Neale.

His multi-sector agency experience has seen him handle digital content for Trinity Mirror's national titles and act as a global media strategist at Interpublic Group's Momentum Worldwide. He also latterly led social in the UK across the Havas Group and set up a dedicated social media arm within Havas creative agency AIS.

His recruitment from a non-PR background is no coincidence.

"A year ago, it was pretty much given that PR agencies handled social work because we understood the art of conversation – now everything has changed," Neale explains. "Clients and consumers are expecting a vastly higher level of sophistication from brands – just creating a content road map and tweeting a few pics simply doesn't cut it anymore."

He adds that "we need to create relevant content in real time and integrate paid media into our media strategies. Media agencies will carry on doing the buying, but we need to own strategy and content."

He points to last week's Brit Awards, the UK's equivalent of the Grammy Awards. The show experienced a fall in TV viewing figures, but a huge rise in audience reach because of a jump in social activity. Naturally, Golin was busily engaged in real-time marketing for its client Cadbury.

So does Kleiner's move mean he has firmly thrown his lot in with PR as the eventual champion of the perennial "who owns social" question?

He is nuanced, but believes PR's ability to react quickly and make emotional connections with audiences holds the discipline in good stead.

"Creative agencies are awesome at starting conversations, but are they fast and agile enough to react in real-time? Media agencies are a vital part of the social market – particularly in the post-Facebook IPO world – but they tend to focus on efficiencies rather than the emotional benefit," Kleiner explains.

But he adds that social is "constantly shifting beneath our feet," citing Facebook as an example, which until very recently was all about building communities and likes, but has shifted focus almost entirely to engagement rates and pay-to-place content.

"We all have to recognize that it is no longer about just achieving social objectives, it's about business objectives that social can help you achieve," Kleiner says.

This story originally appeared on the website of PRWeek UK.

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