Is Facebook a content or conversation source?

Back in May, Matt Locke, Richard Sambrook and I had a conversation about the future of Social Entertainment.  (In case you are thinking “My that’s a wonderfully catchy, if opaque, buzz word. But what on GoogleEarth does it mean?”; Social Entertainment is a term we coined a few years back to represent the idea that as social networks grow to parallel the influence of mainstream media channels, so too would traditional media companies need to progress their content and communications to fully embrace the social sphere).  Not rocket science, perhaps, but we’re interested in the implications of Social Entertainment, especially with regard to how entertainment companies communicate with audiences.

It’s highly probable that no one listened to the podcast back in May (I haven’t asked for the statistics lately, in case my worst fear was confirmed and we had chopped down trees, but no one was around to hear the loud thud of timber on the forest floor).  So if you didn’t, let me summarise: We talked about some meeja things and at the end Matt and I made some predictions for the next 12 months.

The erudite Mr Locke suggested that the talent rather than the media brand would continue to increase in influence and that this posed both a problem for the brand and an opportunity for talent looking to take advantage of the currency of their social profiles.  The case of @ITVLauraK (nee @BBCLauraK) perfectly illustrates this issue.  Both Tom Callow at TheWall and Jemima Kiss at the Guardian sum up the ramifications better than I could.  Congratulations Matt.  You were right.

Back in May, I felt the interesting shift would be the inverse of our original Social Entertainment theory.  I.e. Social Entertainment originally concentrated on how traditional entertainment companies could leverage social channels to engage audiences.  I predicted (again, perhaps not radically) that Social brands would expand to become fully fledged media channels and businesses.  This was based on increasingly professional content finding its way onto YouTube – but I thought that Facebook, Twitter and the like would increasingly become media channels – producing and distributing content, not just hosting conversations around it.

Interestingly, our annual research shows a conflict in consumer perception, here.  As this graph shows, consumers now think of social networks as a form of entertainment.

However, when asked who are the top-of-mind entertainment companies, consumers do not name new social or internet brands.  No Facebook, no YouTube, no Spotify.  Only the old dogs are named (I can’t actually show you the brands, but we do have this info should it be of interest.  Let me know if so).

And so here we are at the 22nd September 2011 and the f8 conference.  Much has already been written about the social updates (I’d recommend the Mashable picture gallery, if you’re looking for a quick summary of what it’s all about).  But I’m most interested to hear about how content companies and entertainment channels are going to be integrated in Facebook. Is this the coming of age for Social Entertainment?  True my prediction, unlike Matt’s, has yet to come to full fruition.  But with the f8 announcement, we may well be one step closer. The integration, assuming the often vitriolic users embrace it, will mean that Facebook becomes a powerful, if not the de facto, promotional channel for content owners and publishers.  This presents an opportunity but also a challenge for entertainment brands.  Content has always driven conversations. But some content is more naturally geared to social conversations and ‘lean forward’ programming than others.  For all entertainment brands, programs and channels, not applying Social Entertainment is, from today, arguably not an option.  It’s a simple dilemma; innovate and  collaborate, or risk not being talked about at all.

There’s a PR storm kicking off on Twitter. Briefly, an angry video game PR had threatened to blacklist gaming journos and websites that gave bad reviews to one of its client’s games.

Rightly, hacks and flacks have piled in to condemn this approach, and indeed the PR behind the Tweet has eaten ‘umble pie and apologized. But apart from highlighting yet again how Twitter is becoming THE channel for mainstream audience communications  – both good and bad – it also raises an interesting question, ‘can public relations prove the old adage wrong that you can’t polish a turd’?

For the uninitiated, the turd in this question is the game Duke Nukem. A legendary franchise that started life 20 years ago on the PC. After a 15 year hiatus – during which time the game’s title became a by-word for anything that was promised but never delivered – the latest installment was launched to much fanfare and pretty average (read poor) reviews. Put simply, the game seems like a bit of a dud.

I’ll admit straight away that I haven’t played it, and that’s sort of fundamental to this post. Games cost upwards of £35 so they’re hardly an impulse purchase…which is why game reviews websites, blogs and magazines retain a level of respect and importance in an otherwise fragmented media landscape. Aside from the hardcore franchise fans, most gamers want to know if they should invest their hard earned cash (or pocket money) in a title. The integrity of gaming reviews therefore is of paramount importance, hence the outcry at the PR’s attitude in this case.

I speak from experience. As a former video game journalist, my first ‘taste’ of PR was being given a fair amount of booze and assorted video game tat to ‘ahem’ help me review products. Being honest, the free stuff was secondary to the relationship myself and my magazine had with the PRs . The ones that came to see us and helped us with exclusives, tips and other useful stuff definitely benefited from lenient scoring on bad games. I also appreciated honesty on behalf of the PR…if they knew a game was shit and they didn’t try and polish a turd then we, in turn, tried to look for the positives rather than focus on the negatives. This approach is arguably universally true regardless of what PR discipline you focus on.

But my time served on the mags was nearly 20 years ago. Times have most definitely changed. There was no Internet back then, word of mouth or magazines were the only real channels to get an opinion on whether a video game (though it could have been any piece of consumer tech) was worth purchasing. In an age where peer recommendation is available at the click of a mouse (or swipe of a finger) I’m starting to wonder whether PRs should be focusing on polishing turds themselves, rather than trying to give influencers and media their own candy-coated dusters and  gold-clad cans of Mr Sheen.

By that I mean, accept that a bad product or service is a bad product or service but also accept that there are ways to move people to purchase outside the channels of media reviews. I’m not advocating bypassing the media and bloggers (you can’t anyway) rather I’m talking about creating compelling content and messaging, written and curated by the publishers and placed directly into the target audiences by the PRs themselves.

I’m sure many PRs will say that they are already doing this, but I doubt many of them have the sanction to honestly appraise the product they are promoting and adjust their approach accordingly.

Some might even say it’s not the PR’s role to make a value judgment on the quality of what they are selling-in to the media and influencers. I can sympathize with that view, but going on my own experiences of being a consumer tech hack, that approach doesn’t work in the long run. I’d also argue that it restricts creative thinking because the focus will most likely be on messaging and elements of the product or service that just won’t wash with the target audience. Far better – I would have thought – to know what the limitations of your product are and work around them?

So I guess I have some sympathy for @TheRednerGroup because I’m sure they knew they were pushing a product that wasn’t as good as the hype yet couldn’t find a way to communicate that understanding to their media and influencers without harming the client/agency relationship.  Perhaps they were in a no-win situation, their own kobayashi maru from which there was no escape, hence the ill-judged, frustrated and angry Tweet?

Perhaps. But I genuinely believe that if the PR industry as a whole gave itself a greater license to be honest about the output of its clients, then we’d all find that we can indeed polish a turd.

@pazman1973

*I apologize for the amount of times the word turd has appeared in the piece. ‘Silk purse’ and ‘sows ear’ just didn’t seem to have the same impact

Hello strangers!  Or Hello familiar people that we talk to a lot in the real world but who also happen to read our blog occasionally.

Are you well?  We’re very sorry that DERTy Talk has been absent for so long.  We’re almost entirely sure you hadn’t noticed our absence, but nevertheless we. are. back.  Sort of.

There’s been a lot on of late.  Presidential visits, a footballer on the front pages, ash clouds.  Aside to all this real news, May may well go down in memory as the month we’d care to forget, which is why we didn’t bother recording it on DERTy Talk.  Adding insult to injury Mother Nature doesn’t seem to have got the memo about Bank Holidays being sunny this time round.  Tis a pity.

Anywayz.  Next week is JUNE and we will resume the ordinary, regular service of DERTy Talk.  For now we just wanted to share some actual talking from some splendid people who participated in our #SocialEnt event yesterday.  Thanks again to Gail, Jon, Matthew, Simon and Emma for taking part and for leading what was a very lively and informative discussion.  It was the highlight of the week, it’s true.

Enjoy their wisdom shared in the videos below.  Should you have missed all our other content from the event you can find it here.

This morning Edelman’s DERT team announced the results of their fifth annual survey on Value, Engagement and Trust in the Era of Social Entertainment. Gail Becker, President of Edelman’s Western U.S. Region presented the results and hosted the event along with Jon Hargreaves Managing Director of Edelman Technology in Europe and a panel of experts including; Matthew Hawn, Vice president Last.fm, Emma Barnett, Digital Media Editor, The Daily Telegraph and Simon Nelson, the Digital Business and Strategy advisor and former controller of multiplatform commissioning at the BBC.

We will be sharing the full slideshow on here later today and posting up video snippets of the event for now here are the highlights and some of our thoughts, let us know what you think.

The key stats from the survey:

· 4% of U.K. consumers feel positive about the move to a paywalled service

· 45% of people in the U.K. and 57% in the U.S. believe social networking sites are a form of entertainment

· Personal enjoyment and visual/sound quality continue to top the list of purchase drivers with “being one of the first to have new entertainment” dropping significantly (to 14%, down from 40% in the U.K. and to 17%, down from 41% in the U.S.).

· More than half (52%) of all respondents would like to use a computer to access further entertainment content, and 30% would like to be able to access that content on their mobile phone

· 49% of people in the U.K. and 52% in the U.S. believe they are spending more than a year ago with their mobile phones to access their entertainment, while 59% (U.K.) and 53% (U.S.) spent more time with their laptop

As the study revealed last year, the internet remained the second most frequently turned to form of entertainment for the second year in a row. While television remained the most frequent form of entertainment both in the U.K. and the U.S. (49% and 47% respectively), dropping 8 and 11 percent respectively since 2010.

The Internet as connective tissue

Most sources of entertainment are less used, this just means that people are spreading their consumption wider. It seems that to succeed in the era of social entertainment, entertainment companies must invest in multiple channels of distribution to enable consumers to access their content wherever and whenever. Five years ago the entertainment industry viewed the internet as a threat, but now it’s an opportunity for those same companies to monetise internet content through simple revenue models indeed the internet can be the connective tissue bringing content together.

Overwhelmingly, consumers (84% in the U.K.) feel negatively about the move from free to paid entertainment services. The survey also reveals that paywalls created by entertainment sources for previously free services are being met with feelings of frustration and distrust by users. Some cite the lack of improvement in quality of service, while others state they would suspect a profit motive driven by greed.

The study also delivers insights on how content providers can try to overcome feelings of distrust about paywalls by delivering value in other ways. 87% of U.K. respondents consider visual and sound quality important in making their entertainment purchasing decisions and nearly half (47% in the U.K.) consider the number of devices with which they can access the entertainment.

“Meet the man that banned Facebook at work,” was how I was gleefully introduced to co workers when I started my current job. This fearful epithet was not entirely merited on my part – I simply discouraged staff updating their Facebook profiles or tweeting when they were supposed to be participating in conference calls (and being paid to do so).

“Vindication” was the word that came to mind when I stumbled across a report compellingly titled (for me, at any rate): Is Web Surfing Distracting Your Workers?

However, my superficial reaction was premature. According to the research conducted by Harvard Business School research fellow Marco Piovesan, banning such activities is not merely futile but potentially counter-productive. The act of resisting temptation (in the case of the research to watch a funny video or – when reproduced amongst children – to each succulent marshmallow), actually makes people less productive.

So, while idle web browsing can certainly reduce the level of attention and focus that people apply to their work, overtly prohibiting such access could be even worse for productivity.

Here´s a summary of the findings:
• Psychologists have theorized that the energy spent resisting temptation takes attention away from other tasks, but this is the first experiment to test it in the context of a work environment.
• Researchers found that subjects exhibited a decrease in productivity when they were tempted to watch a funny video but then told not to do so. Comparatively, subjects who were allowed to watch the video were more productive.
• The research indicates that prohibiting private Internet use at work is actually bad for employees’ productivity. That effect could be especially critical in jobs where small mistakes could mean a big difference in performance.

Despite the above, I still believe that the benefits of multi-tasking to be greatly exaggerated. My experience at work, instance, is that tweeting and updating Facebook at the same time as doing work is not conducive to effective proof reading, budget planning, contract negotiations, exchange rate calculations or – even – conference calls. Regarding the latter, I believe that all conference calls could be reduced to 15 minutes of everyone genuinely paid attention!

The benefits of social media within the workplace are indisputable – from market research and brand management to internal communications and R&D; such activities should not be considered as “accompaniments” to work but fundamental to it. If your Facebook page requires updating . . . update it, then move on to the next task. This is what I call “uni-tasking”; concentrating on a single task until it is complete before moving onto the next. Do you think it will catch on . . . ?

That’s not to say that there is no role for multi-tasking within the workplace . . . . I’m convinced that it is still possible to eat lunch at your desk, while continuing to email, of course! Does that count?

@RogerDarathe man in the centre has not read this blog

The man in the centre  has not read this post.

Google is the most trusted source for UK company information according to Edelman’s 2011 Trust Barometer.

Basically, a search engine that applies no editorial filter to its results – as far as I am aware – is more trusted than the BBC and all of our quality papers.

For me this is further proof – if it were needed – that public relations has undergone a fundamental shift from a broadcast model (taking a client’s message to the media) to a conversational model (creating compelling conversations that encourage participation and action).

Ironically, the humble press release’s cause has probably been strengthened though its role has completely changed. No longer is it the genus of a story, the means to get quality coverage, its primary remit now is to get the Google juice flowing, to push a story up the page rankings.

This means however that the forum or channel for that story becomes secondary. What on-line publication or channel carries the story is less important to its Google ranking. We all think that coverage in the FT, The Sun or The Economist will have the most amount of impact for a client, but in actuality, a lesser known website with better search rankings is likely to be of more benefit.

This change in audience trust and perception also means that PROs of a certain age need forget a lot of what they know, or at least realise that they need to know more. Media relations is still massively important, but it’s a composite skill that needs to sit alongside experience of and excellence in community management, influencer engagement, above the line marketing, branding and creative design, promotions and sponsorships and other broader marcomms skills.

I’ve said it before (and often) that PR has the chance to become the central hub of the broader marketing mix. We have the opportunity to become the creative lead for clients from which hang all other marketing activities. Considering PR is often the last in line when budgets are allocated, this presents a significant opportunity to broaden our experiences and skill sets and really take public relations into a new position of leadership not to mention revenues.

As the trust results show, the public is slowly warming to companies and individuals. Some industries have a lot of work to do (bankers, I’m looking at you) but by and large, trust is returning. Old skool PR does not speak to this new environment. Times are changing, so should we.

For more information on Edelman’s 2011 Trust Barometer please take a look here – http://bit.ly/hI1Qxw. 

@pazman1973

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