Listening is not enough

I just came back from SNCR’s New Communications Forum, a conference I thoroughly enjoyed. There was a lot of talk about PR 2.0, 3.0, new strategies, new tactics, new tools, and a cultural revolution in the way we (should) practice the strategic communication professions (PR, marketing, advertising, etc.). You are all familiar with the tenets of this cultural revolution from books such as the Cluetrain Manifesto, Join the Conversation, Naked conversations, and the blogs of many social media-savvy professionals (see blogroll).

The conversations indicate an evolution, if not a revolution of PR from media relations to relationship management. PR isn’t/shouldn’t be only about making noise, raising awareness, and counting eyeballs. It should be about relationships. Fine. So how are companies supposed to do this? THE answer is: LISTEN.

Listening means setting up search alerts and monitoring everything that’s said about your organization online (on blogs, twitter, flickr, facebook, etc.).

So once you find out what people say about you, what do you do? You respond. You correct misperceptions. You clarify misunderstandings. You show the poor bastards you were right, after all.

But what if you were wrong?

Listening without authentic openness to change is not enough. It’s not PR 2.0. It’s just audience research, a tool used in what we boring academics call scientific persuasion.

The more you listen, the better you know what makes your audience tick, the better able you are to persuade them. Ca-ching!

Nope, this is not PR 2.0. It’s PR 1.0 on several small channels instead of a few large ones.

PR 2.0 involves not only listening, but being open to make organizational changes as a result of naked conversations (known in academic circles as dialogue). This is what relationships are about. Partners in a relationship change to adapt to each other.


Because ultimately PR is not about listening, not about conversations, not about relationships. What’s the point of listening? Why do you engage in conversation? Why build relationships? What’s the end goal?

No, it’s not brand awareness. It’s not increased sales. It’s not improved reputation.

PR is (OK, should be, or can be) about optimizing your organization’s survival in its environment.

Think about it: Your organization operates in a complex society. Its survival and operations influence and are influenced by a large number of audiences (aka stakeholders). For all to survive and thrive, they need to be constantly adapting to each other. I think that’s called nimbleness.

Is it fair or even wise for the organization to be attempting to constantly change its environment through persuasion, but not be open to changing itself?

We know what happens to organisms that don’t adapt to their environments.

So it’s PR’s role to facilitate the mutual adaptation of organization and its environment. This is why naked conversations and relationships are important.

Now, don’t quote on me on that. All I’ve done is explain a major PR theory. One that has thought of PR 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0 since 1984. If you want to cite someone, start with Grunig, J. E., & Hunt, T. (1984). Managing public relations. New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston.

The reason why Dell is the model for PR 2.0 is because they follow listening with real changes in the organization’s products and processes, not just talk-back.


[Edit:] Geoff Livingston’s post this morning about his experience with JetBlue provides a clear illustration to my theoretical point.

SNCR Closing keynote: The transformational power of blogging

Closing keynote: Elisa Camahort Page, BlogHer

BlogHer network survey + U.S. representative female online users.

Key findings:

blogs are mainstream

  • 53% of US online women read blogs
  • statistically the same as IM, photo sharing, etc.

blogs are addictive

  • regardless of age, once engaged, blogging is daily part of life
  • over 20% of blogosphere participants spend less time consuming traditional media
  • 3 categories: readers/lurkers; active publishers/commenters; readers/commenters

blogs are trusted

  • for new information
  • for advice & recommendations
  • for making purchase decisions

What do women find in blogs? They are experiencing the unique, transformational power of blogging. Blogs are changing the way we:

Blogs empower people. Do companies empower people?

People don’t trust institutions, they trust each other. What are companies doing to be trustworthy?

New Media, New Influencers and Implications for the PR Profession

SNCR Research presentation

Patterns of influence are changing, and this has a fundamental impact on the PR profession.

Research goals: examine the PR landscape to observe how PR uses social media; to define influencers; to examine how PR creates relationships in social media.

Research methods: survey of nearly 300 PR & marketing professionals, case studies

Survey results

  • Most effective channels: blogs, online video, social media
  • Value of social media to PR: growing or core to PR function
  • Most important metrics: enhancement of relationships with key audiences, of reputation, awareness
  • Measurement behaviors: only half of PR practitioners measure the efforts to communicate with new influencers
  • Who are the new influencers? Publishers or relevant & quality content that appears in search enginges – but did not look as much at number of comments a blog post gets
  • Influence in online communities & social networks: frequency of participation & posting, name recognition
  • Evaluating effectiveness of social media initiatives: search engine rankings, number of unique visitors, audience awareness

ROI of listening: American Red Cross case study

American Red Cross started monitoring blog posts and responding.


  • corrected a lot of misinformation and misperceptions
  • identified conversation trends: people blog about their blood donation experience & what type of cookie they got :); most people have positive opinions of the Red Cross
  • raised level of social media awareness internally by sharing social media monitoring data within the organization

5-step listening process:

  1. search technorati, twitter, facebook, youtube & flickr – save all relevant content
  2. aggregate data in an internal e-mail report
  3. respond – use personal judgment to decide what posts to respond to
  4. bookmark and tag all relevant content in account. Save it for later reference and long-term tracking
  5. issue monthly report


  • blog search engines: technorati & others
  • internal feedback: it helps other Red Cross employees do their jobs better, feel connected to their publics, and understand social media
  • external feedback: bloggers appreciate responses


  • major culture shift
  • fear
  • hard to measure
  • organizational firewall: only social media employee has access to social media sites


  • created internal value: everyone values the feedback
  • laid groundwork for future social media campaigns
  • made case for integrating social media into all communications
  • Red Cross IP shows up in blog visitor analytics, bloggers react positively to knowing Red Cross is listening

Emerson case study – B2B (Jim Cahill)

Services are about people and building belief of trust, competence, commitment, creativity – which brochures cannot do. Emerson needed to market its expertise, not products. Needed to get the experts closer to the customers.

Businesses seeking services started with search engines. So decided to start a blog.

Internal approval process:

Approval process took 2 years. Took Steve Rubel’s advice to “show it, not talk it” and started a blog internally. Had to fight fear. Created worst case scenarios to anticipate what could happen if start blog.

Finally, started Also use RSS feed reader to monitor relevant blogs and respond 2-3 times a week.


  • the blog gets more hits than many regional websites
  • sales inquiries
  • media inquiries
  • media calls to interview experts who blog – resulted in trade magazine article

[all SNCR coverage cross-posted from New Communications Review]

Customer Care and Brand Reputation in the Age of Social Media

SNCR Research Presentation

Paul Gillin begins with a profile of Consumerist:

  • 18 million monthly visitors
  • 30-40 daily articles
  • no fact checking
  • full-time staff of 7
  • 500 references in WSJ and NYT
  • more than 34,000 references on Digg

Ripoff Report is a similar websites. These sites are the new “kings” of customer advocacy – recently featured in Business Week cover story.

Consumers have found that they get more results if they complain through these channels rather than contacting the company directly. These websites, along with the attention they get from both mainstream media and digg, point to new dynamics in customer care and brand reputation. Old tactics no longer work. Stories can spin out of control and become storms in a matter of hours. The worst thing you can do: Send in the legal team.

Customer service has moved from a private, one-to-one communication with a disgruntled and unhappy customer service representative to the public domain.

Julia Ochinero, Nuance – a company working, among others, to improve customer self-service technologies. The phone remains the preferred customer service channel and people prefer talking to a live representative rather than an automated system.

Customer care interaction has become a marketing opportunity – a way of differentiating products.

Paul Gillin presents the results of a 400-respondent survey about consumer opinion and complaints websites.

Key findings:

  • customer care impacts purchase decisions and brand impressions
  • experiences expressed in social media influence purchase decisions
  • consumers use social media to protect others
  • one posting by one consumer can trigger a storm of posts on same topic
  • consumers feel one person can influence many about a product – but are companies listening?
  • 35% use social media to research products often & always
  • verbatim comments show a sense of responsibility to leave feedback on shopping sites – people like to recommend good experiences to others
  • 84% take customer care reputation into consideration in purchase decisions – peer reviews more valued than professional reviews
  • Verbatim: “I ALWAYS research online any purchase over $300.”
  • Sources of information: search engines, online rating systems, discussion forums, blogs, company websites: “Social media sites that aggregate ratings like Yelp or TripAdvisor have the most impact. I’m more likely to listen to the combined opinion of 25 people over the rantings  of one angry customer”
  • 75% agreed they choose companies/brands based on other customers’ experiences
  • Most respondents had NO response from companies on online complaints

John Cass presents two case studies:

Comcast on twitter

Mike Arrington from TechCrunch twittered his poor experience with Comcast. The Comcast customer service exec. happened to notice, intervened and solved the problem. This incident triggered Comcast twitter outreach program: 5-7 people monitor and conduct outreach on twitter.

Comcast had been monitoring blogs, but Comcast feels twiter is proving to be more direct and quicker to respond than blogs.

Dell case study

If you’re not familiar with it, please review the notes from the Dell Conversation post.

Dell has provided a useful model of how companies can use blog monitoring to identify customer issues and respond to them online.

Breakfast Keynote: Josh Crandall, Media Screen

Research Challenge: Understand how consumers relate to the Internet, from the consumers’ point of view. Created Netpop research framework to tap into consumer attitudes, behaviors, etc.

Tenets of the framework:
1.    The interface is broadband – research focus on broadband users only
2.    The interface is global – same devices for internet access worldwide
3.    The fundamental areas of involvement are the same globally – similar sites, activities (i.e. social networking, gaming, virtual worlds)

U.S. vs. China

•    huge population differences, but similar number of broadband users (about 100 million in each U.S. and China – about 50% of Americans but only 10% of Chinese)
•    online activities are very similar among American and Chinese users
•    comparison of various broadband user demographics

The top level of the framework: attitudinal segmentation: 5 attitudinal groups in the US:
1.    online insiders
2.    fast trackers
3.    social clickers
4.    everyday pros
5.    content kings

Comparison of attitudinal groups shows the Chinese are early adopters in larger percentages than Americans.

Content contribution in a typical month: 35% of American broadband users publish a personal page on social networks. 28% post comments on blogs. China: 47% post comments on blogs., and overall are much more involved in discussion forums. Chinese users are much more involved in expressing opinions and interacting online.


•    Both populations spend about 50% of their spare time online.
•    Both populations go online daily for: music, casual games, videogames, reading magazines.
•    Time spent on video: 48% of U.S. time spent watching videos is online, vs. 74% in China. However, more money is spent on TV advertising vs. online sources, although people spend about equal amounts of time watching video on TV and online.
•    Communitainment activities: Chinese users much more interested than U.S. in meeting people online.


•    Chinese users spend a considerable amount of money online.
•    73% o U.S. purchase decisions are influenced by an online source vs. 93% in China
•    U.S. users shop on eBay, in China on Top shopping sites in China are auction sites – a community environment


•    Online activity has evolved: push > pull > participation
•    It’s a global phenomenon
•    Everything is interpersonal
•    The speed of change is increasing

Is your company keeping up?
(All SNCR notes cross-posted from New Communications Review)

Perspectives on the Social Media Release

[Notes from session with Todd Defren, SNCR Fellow, SHIFT Communications, and Maggie Fox, Social Media Group.]

Will SMNR replace traditional releases?

Todd and Maggie are in “violent agreement” – why not add social media features to your release?

Do RSS-enabled news releases have the potential to take over the wire model?

Todd: Probably not; there are regulatory and legal requirements for certain releases that require wire services.

Maggie: If I were a wire service, I’d be very concerned about my business model. All media need to know is the URL the releases are coming from.

Discussion: Corporate America wants the reliability that only wire services can provide. But the RSS technology might improve over time and become reliable. Wire services are much more than distribution – there are other services they offer that RSS can’t compete with.

Todd: The problem with an RSS-only model is that as a journalist you lose some of the accidental discovery piece, you only get the feeds you’re subscribing to.

Comments on SMNRs are not necessary or even desirable.

Maggie: I agree. Companies do not always need to host a conversation. Sometimes they need to provide comment to enable those conversations.

Todd: I disagree. If it’s social media, it has to be social. Richard at Dell is a walking case study about the importance of conversations. I believe in moderated comments, to avoid spam, but why wouldn’t you want as many of the conversations to happen at the SMNR? There you have a better opportunity not to control the conversation but to engage in it, rather than chasing down every single blog post. You can aggregate the conversation at the SMNR site and respond there in an official way.

Maggie: Corporate blogs are where the conversations should take place. If you allow comments on a SMNR, why not just start a blog?

Todd: I see SMNR’s accumulating and being a blog. You link to flickr, YouTube, etc. People can comment there. So why not aggregate the comments and let the conversation happen there?

Maggie: Good point. In the releases we’ve issued for Ford, although there’s a very active online fan community for F-150, we only got about 25 comments. So there’s not an appetite for commenting on news releases. Had we allowed comments on the SMNR, we would have gotten comments from PR people: “nice release!”

Todd: Everyone has an invisible sign that reads “make me feel important.” By allowing comments right there on the SMNR you make people feel important.

Ultimately, the purpose behind creating the SMNR was to help journalists and make it easy for them: easy to find the fact, include all the links they need to research their article, etc.

Maggie: Many people who blog are not used to reading and digesting traditional press releases, so SMNR’s make it easier for them to sift through the information.

Todd: Using bullet points is a way to strip away the baloney  and cut through the facts. Press release writing has often buried the facts in poor writing, so now when journalists see the bullets they go “oh, so THAT’s what you meant!” The SMNR strips away the “story” and provides just the facts.

Whitney Drake: At Ford, we’re doing both. We’re placing the bullet points at the top of news releases that need it, for journalists who only look at that. We’ve seen that journalists look at one, the other, or both.

Jiyan Wei, Vocus: Google News blocks some SMNRs because if they’re fragmented they’re not considered real news stories.

Maggie: Our digital snippets template doesn’t go into Google News, but it is findable through keyword search.

Should you have both SMNR’s and an online press room?

Maggie: No, they’re redundant.

What are the characteristics of the most effective SMNRs?

Maggie recalls the Chris Anderson story and how difficult it is to pitch to Wired. Howevered, Wired pulled information and images from a Ford SMNR.

Todd: ultimately, it all comes back to content. If the content is bad and not newsworthy, it doesn’t matter if you do a SMNR or not. You won’t get coverage.

If you’re doing SMNRs, is that all you need to do in terms of social media strategy?

SNCR audience snickers 🙂 The entire conference is about social media strategies, which Todd sums up as listening and participating.

Google corporate communication officer in the audience explains that relevant news will be posted on one of Google’s 150 corporate blogs, by an employee, and will reach the appropriate, targeted audience. Google issues very few press releases for a company its size.

Employees ARE the brand

[Notes from Shel Holtz’ session at SNCR New Comm Forum

What is “brand?” Who owns it? Brand is an aggregate of perceptions & feelings based on all previous experiences with a company. The fact is that employees are participating in social media in ways that affect your customers’ brand experience. Examples: Credit card employee responding unofficially to online forum about late fees; Hellmark facebook group for people who hated working at Hallmark.

Organizations should position employees to represent the brand online and contribute to creating positive brand experiences. How?

  • You don’t necessarily have to ask employees to blog. They can comment on others’ blogs. Empower employees to reach out to dissatisfied customers and help them. Every single employee has the potential to engage in customer service – not only those working in the call center.
  • Employee-generated content: Turn to employees to produce content you used to pay other companies to do. Example: Deloitte asked employees to produce videos about why it’s great to work there, then posted the best ones on YouTube.

Strategies for engaging employees in branding. Consider:

  • the role of internal communication – make sure they have the information they need and they understand the issues
  • the role of content “owners”
  • the role of management/leadership
  • policies on employee behavior & access