Lois Paul co-founded LP&P in 1986, with the aim of building an agency that did high-tech public relations a different way. Prior to founding LP&P, Lois was executive editor/features and a founding member of PC Week (now eWeek). During her tenure, she was responsible for more than 50 percent of the newspaper’s editorial content and specialized in reporting on the computer software industry. Prior to the launch of PC Week, Lois was senior editor/software at Computerworld, the leading computer weekly publication at the time.
Disclaimer: The Company I work for, “Lumension”, is a client of LP&P.
1. There has been a lot said and written in recent months that with the advent of social media there is no longer a need for Public Relations firms. What’s your take on that point of view?
There is no question that Public Relations has had to evolve over the past few years, in particular, as the marketplace has changed and social media has become a more critical communication channel to customers and the industry. The Public Relations professionals who have embraced this change are in higher demand than ever. Social media adds a new element to a marketing mix that requires careful strategy, monitoring and measurement to be truly successful and high ROI. It fits perfectly into a good Public Relations firm’s mix of programs that are customized based on each client’s market and needs. Beyond this, the opportunity afforded by social media to speak directly to customers means companies need to speak their language. A good Public Relations firm can help with this.
2. Lots of companies today are trying to figure out how to use social media tools within their business. What is your advice to those companies on how to begin?
Just this week I talked with several companies who are at this beginning point. My advice is always to determine your end game – who are you trying to reach with social media and what is your ultimate goal for the conversations you want to engage in with those people. Once you clarify your target and mission, you need to assemble your assets to determine what content you have and what you need to assemble; who will ultimately own content development, monitoring services, etc. Essentially you need to build a social media plan, just as you strategically plan all aspects of a solid communications program and measure their results. At the same time, you should spend time listening to online conversations on blogs, Twitter, FriendFeed, LinkedIn, and others to learn who is talking about you, your products, competitors and problems you’re trying to solve. This provides valuable data that can help formulate the strategy.
3. What are your thoughts on the “Social Media Press Release”? Does it replace the tried and true press release we all grew up with?
In short, there’s a place for both social and more traditional news releases. We have used the social media style releases for many of our clients, but not in all circumstances. A strategy release that really needs to document a story cannot be handled as well with this type of release, for example. In many ways, the traditional press release needs an overhaul, whether or not it is to shift it to the series of links that is essentially the format of a social media release. We often suggest news advisories or bypass releases entirely and strategically target news dissemination. Many sales forces feel that a win hasn’t happened unless there is a press release. In those companies, we suggest a shorter format for releases that are less labor intensive and will require shorter review cycles to achieve their ultimate goals.
That said, companies should use social media releases to offer atomized pieces of content that complement the information in the release itself. This allows bloggers, (increasingly) traditional media and members of a company's buying community that are publishers/ creators of information to embed in their own posts or online articles about the subject of the release. The other aspect that's more important now in the age of microsharing is to include triggers that prompt people to share the news, such as a "Tweet This" summary that is hyperlinked so someone can more easily distribute it.
The other view we have is that there is not a one-size-fits-all template that should be followed for every release. That said, the templates that are out there help to determine what people and companies should consider adding to releases. There are certain elements that should be in every release (links to company web site, Twitter summaries, straight URL's to content/channels on third party services like Flickr, YouTube, related links, calls to action with simple links to a purpose landing page for the release so it is measurable, etc.), but not every release should be in a bulleted format, nor should every release include multimedia content.
4. What type of policy issues should a company consider before embarking on a social media/blogging program? Do we now need safe zones in the company where twittering or blogging on items discussed is not allowed?
Public companies in general need to be mindful of all of the rules related to selective disclosure before they embark on a social media policy. Public or not, all companies really should establish a policy that helps everyone understand how to proceed – whether it is with regard to a company-sponsored blog or Twitter channel or a personal blog, Twitter feed or Facebook or MySpace pages. Just yesterday I talked with a company that has some strong contributors to Twitter building relationships on that channel. Their CEO wants to pull them back a tad, just to make sure they are careful about disclosing information too soon that might come out of conversations with clients, prospects or partners. Twitter is such an immediate medium that it’s key that all heavy users are well versed in corporate guidelines before they inadvertently reveal information prematurely or inappropriately.
5. The approach Johnson and Johnson took to its product tampering issues in the 80’s has long been viewed as the gold standard in crisis communication. How does this approach to crisis communications hold up in the world of web 2.0?
I think J&J’s approach, which I remember well, still stands up today. I have done many blog posts talking about how companies or even individuals would have been better served by being straightforward in the face of a crisis. It’s important to determine the facts, the key stakeholders, and the designated official spokesperson. Then it is key to be as clear and transparent as possible, using all appropriate channels. If you cannot answer a question, you should be clear about that. But you should provide as much information as you can as quickly as you can. Social media is just another channel in this type of communications approach. A corporate blog gives companies a perfect forum to disclose information in a controlled way, linking to press releases, videos, etc. that will help them communicate the facts in a clear way. Twitter is a way to push this out more broadly. When I was a journalist, I always sensed that information one of us would dig out was always bigger news that information that was revealed to us. I think that still holds in the world of Web 2.0 and social media gives companies new tools to control and self-publish that information.