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.

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You won’t find journalists declaring the death of the press release

The press release has again been declared dead. This time by Simon Dumenco, at Advertising Age in his column RIP, the Press Release (1906-2010) — and Long Live the Tweet.

With every declaration that the press release is dead, the word “press” is the term most often missing from the conversation. Writers of all kinds, from the mainstream media to bloggers and other content creators, depend on press releases to get the basic facts of a story as well as a company’s official perspective that they can print with some degree of confidence.

Discussions around the future or relevance of press releases tend to focus on new means  of disseminating information rather than thinking about how writers are putting together their stories. PR professionals should think about how they can better meet the needs of their audience (writers) as well as their audiences’ audience (the readers). While we like to show our prowess in developing video content and reaching a wider audience with tweets, they won’t necessarily help a journalist communicate the basic facts of a story with maximum efficiency.

Most journalists are overworked and underpaid. If they are trying to fill space and add information to a story, they won’t necessarily have the time or inclination to watch a video stream or follow a company they are writing about, if that company has a twitter feed.

Dumenco says: “Of course, press releases will probably continue to stumble along, zombie-like, for years to come, because too many PR folks are still heavily invested in grinding them out.”

I don’t think any forward-looking PRs are interested in keeping the press release alive.  They are interested in reaching their target audience with the story that they are representing. An integrated approach that includes traditional press releases as well as variety of content across distribution platforms will be what best delivers a story to a market looking for a variety of things from a news source.

Edelman’s own Kelly McAlearney was quoted in a Mashable story called The Future of Public Relations and Social Media, which acknowledged how PR tools and techniques are evolving,

“Engagement with journalists and consumers has evolved considerably over the past five years, to shorter formats. Often, we find that our most effective pitches are our most succinct. And interactions have naturally become more concise as many brands are in constant, direct contact with consumer audiences and media via online channels.”

It is important to be clear about what you are presenting and to help the writer write his story. If a press release is written with clarity and purpose, it will help a writer to meet his goals and give a brand the visibility it wants.

Dumenco says,

“Legend has it that early PR man Ivy Ledbetter Lee issued the very first press release in 1906 on behalf of the Pennsylvania Railroad, after a derailed train plunged into a creek in Atlantic City, resulting in 53 passenger deaths; The New York Times printed it verbatim.”

Dumenco really points out the power of the press release and I don’t see why this wouldn’t happen today. It does. Rather than asking what can or will replace the press release, we should look at how we can best make use of the distribution channels available to us while meeting the needs of the media and clients.

@Matthew_Whalley