Is Social Media for You?

I occasionally get invited to talk to local community groups and professional associations about social media – specifically, using social media to enhance their businesses.

I suppose people expect enthusiastic evangelism, hard selling, and a deep dive into social media strategies and tactics. Not so much.

Don’t get me wrong: I love social media. I use it, study it, teach it, research it, live it, breathe it, and have fun doing so. But I always start these presentations with an invitation to first think things through, and decide if social media is for you.

Here are the things I ask people to consider:

Your AUDIENCE -Who do you want to reach? Identify your specific stakeholder groups, and rank them in decreasing order of importance. Then, ask: Are they online? Do they use social media? What media do they use, specifically? Are they always connected, or people who only have Internet access at the end of a busy and exhausting day?

Your GOALS – What do you wish to accomplish? If there’s one thing you wish each stakeholder group to remember about you, what is that?

YourSELF – Social media takes time. It is a long-term commitment. Done right, it requires a change of lifestyle. Are you ready to invest the time and effort? The first 5 blog posts are very easy to write. But the 500th? Can you keep up the enthusiasm and generate content over the long run? Are you always connected? Do you have a smartphone? A digital camera? Or, do you have a lifestyle that keeps you away from the computer for most of the day?


I ask my audience to ponder these questions, and make an informed decision about what they want to do. Then, I provide incremental solutions, starting with what I think is the easiest/most familiar to them. Each person can pick and choose a social media solution that fits them best.

I am getting a bit tired of hearing consultants sell social media as a panaceum, and get people into a social media program they are not then able to sustain. I guess you can’t expect a person who makes a living this way to start a sales pitch with reasons why you shouldn’t buy… but that’s the approach I take. Oh, and then… sure, I move on to social media strategies and tactics.

QR Codes: (When) Do They Work?

I recently had an interesting conversation (actually, a couple of them) about QR Codes -Are they the next big thing? Will they save paper advertising?

As Nelu Lazar of Nehloo Interactive rightfully points out, QRCs are not so “next” – they’ve been around for more than 15 years. But, with the increasing popularity of smartphones, QRCs are crossing over from industrial uses into the consumer market.

So, are they the next big thing? I personally don’t think so. Based on what we know about human behavior, it seems to me that for the individual the cost of using QRCs exceeds the benefits. Let me explain.

Theories of human behavior, decision making, models of how humans navigate the Web and search for information – such as Information Foraging Theory (IFT) all agree that humans are inherently programmed to conserve energy – aka, to be lazy. There’s a quick cost/benefit analysis that goes on in our minds before we decide to engage in a behavior. And most often, we take the short, easy route. That’s why they tell you not to put important information on you website 2 clicks away. That extra click is effort (a cost), and many people will not expend it. So, the golden rule of Web usability, marketing, persuasion: MAKE IT EASY.

The reason why I do not believe in QRCs is because there are too many costs associated with them. In most situations where I see QRCs used, the cost/benefit analysis suggests that audience members will not use them. Let’s count the costs:


  1. You need to download an application on your phone.
  2. When you see a QRC, you need to pull out your phone, then:
  3. Turn it
  4. Navigate to the application
  5. Launch the application
  6. Take a photo
  7. Wait for the photo to be uploaded/processed
  8. Wait for the information to download
  9. Look at the site, video, etc. that the QRC links to

Some of these steps are based on assumptions that may not hold true:


  • The assumption that you have a smartphone
  • The assumption that your network speed is high enough that the waiting time is very short
  • The assumption that the photo produces a good enough image for the code to work
  • The assumption that people want to get more information on their smartphones. I think some research is needed into the “get more information” behavior. It may be that when people are in “get more information” mode they want to be able to access it conveniently on a larger screen, where they have faster connection speeds, anyway. How many more steps would it take to get that information to your computer?

Given the many steps involved in using QRCs, the user needs to be highly motivated, either intrinsically, or by the benefits you offer at the other end. So, before you decide to use QRCs, I’d advise you to think about:


  • User motivation – what are some situations in which users are highly motivated to get to the next action, or to get more information? These are situations when users need something, rather than you needing to sell them something.
  • Benefits – if users are not motivated by some sufficiently powerful need, what benefits are you offering at the other end, that make it worth the cost of clicking through? Not only do you have to make sure that those benefits are large enough, but you also need to think about:
  • Communicating those benefits – I see many QRC codes that are mysteries. I have no idea what’s at the other end. In IFT terms, they have low to none information scent. You need to communicate clearly and convincingly what’s waiting on the other side, so the user can make an informed cost/benefit analysis.

I usually am an early adopter. I love new and shiny things. But I am very skeptical about QRC. Nelu pointed me to this blog post with ideas about using QRCs in education. They all sound need, but what problem do QRCs solve that cannot be solved more easily by using email or other form of digital communication? I rarely give any paper materials to students, if ever. So I do not need a link from physical to virtual space, because all of my written communication with students is digital, anyway.

To provide the other side of the story, I leave you with some readings that argue for QRCs:


But, I want to hear from you about evidence: When have QRCs worked for you? What numbers do you have that show the percentage of users who click through? I am interested in evidence that would prove me wrong – if you know of any, please post it in the comments below.

[Update, March 29, 2011] RWW covers a survey study on QR code usage.

Buying eyeballs

I was just about to rant (OK, comment) on the practice of buying eyeballs. It goes like this: Leave a comment on my blog post and something good will happen (we’ll donate to a cause, enter you in a drawing for a prize, etc.). From a marketing perspective, is this how you want to get eyeballs? Is this a valid assessment trick for counting how many eyeballs you get?

Then, I realized that I was offering a small prize for comments on my teaching blog – these are important class instructions and I wanted confirmation that students saw them. Good educational practice?!

So then, I will no longer complain about Iams buying eyeballs. Come on, give them your pair of eyeballs and they will donate 25 meals to animals in shelters! (oh, and enjoy Pawcurious, it’s become one of my favorite blogs)

Search Engine People interview

Ruud Hein of Search Engine People questioned me 🙂

Read my interview, on various PR topics, here.

I wrote about social media culture & social norms, how not to be “creepy,” how to plan strategically for public relations, misunderstandings about what PR is, could, and should be, and tempered the idea of conversational PR.

Do blogs matter in PR? I need your help with new research project…

I’ve started a new research project about the importance of blogs for PR people & the industry as a whole.

I’ve got a favor to ask you: Would you give me 7-8 minutes to take this online survey?

If you’re a PR pro, student, educator, whether you blog or not, I need your thoughts.

I’ll share the results in academic papers and presentations, my PR Connections blog, and here.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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.

The struggle for attention

For a long time, companies have fought for their stakeholders’ attention. The main challenge was for the message to cut through the clutter and get the public’s attention. I’m noticing this dynamic is reversed in social media. Social media users, and bloggers in particular, want companies’ attention. I’ve come across several blog posts lately that deal with getting (or not) enough/appropriate attention from a company. See cases and links below.

So, why is it so important for bloggers to get the attention of companies they blog about? Is it to feel validated? Is it because bloggers are evangelists of the conversation and this is their way of putting pressure on companies to join in? Is it because, as stakeholders, we assume companies should be happy to finally have our attention and we’re disappointed when our expectations are frustrated?

I’ll collect some case studies here that can hopefully teach us something about this need for attention:

Target dismisses blogger Amy Jussel from; blog storm ensues, story is picked up by the NY Times.

Saturn comments on blogger’s post; blogosphere celebrates Saturn’s engagement. Story here.

Ike Piggott praises companies reading his blog, such as Citi and Canon.

Blogger advises auto insurance company esurance to let character Erin Esurance play in the social media landscape, esurance responds, but bloggers  won’t take no for an answer.

I’m sure there are many more such examples out there (if you send me links, I’ll add them here) that all speak about this struggle for attention.

What are your thoughts? Why is corporate attention so important to bloggers? Are their expectations reasonable? Will this lead to redesigning the PR function so it can participate in thousands of conversations? How should companies handle requests and pressure for attention? –VERY carefully, suggest the Target and esurance examples, as responses will be published, analyzed, and criticized. Oh and… use a conversational human voice. Any well thought-out, well-written response may be dismissed as a “prepared statement.” “Honest opinions pecked off in a few minutes on a laptop” will do. No mercy out there in the blogosphere.