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Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Social Media Newsroom



As Ted has explained, the traditional press release that PR practitioners have known to love (and journalists have learned to ignore) is finding its way online, with both the media and PR sector increasingly realising the benefits of communicating through social media. In harnessing the potential for dialogue, quick fire information updates and video and picture sharing, the social media newsroom concept has been created as a means of generating PR publicity for many organisations.

Shift Communications, the “no hype” US PR agency developed one of the first social media newsroom templates in 2007, which has since been adapted by various organisations as part of their existing websites. In recognising that organisations were stuck in the habit of using email press releases and static, one-way communication media pages on their websites, which only those with passwords could access, the social media newsroom concept was born in the attempt to make relations with both the media and the public more dynamic. In making news release activity more open and transparent, companies who develop these online newsrooms are aiming to gain access to and feedback from the broader online public, including professional journalists, bloggers and those with an interest in their organisation.

The social media newsroom acts as the platform from which social media news releases can be publicly shared. In creating these documents, PR practitioners can adapt their well honed news release writing skills to the online world by providing additional information through links, video content and images, generating a much more vivid picture for the information consumer. What is more, these links, videos and pictures can be directly used in online news reports and on blogs as well as social network channels, with information on most social media newsroom sites being licensed under the creative commons licensing agreement.

A well referenced example of a social media newsroom is one created by the electrical goods company Electrolux. It’s a functional design- the centre panel being the main information focal point, providing the individual social media news releases is complemented by links to the company’s Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and specific product website pages. By including both a tag cloud and RSS feeds for particular issues of interest, journalists, bloggers and customers can subscribe to the content that is most interesting and relevant to them. This is one particular benefit of the social media news release over the traditional news release, with PR practitioners having to worry less about targeting to the correct journalists, who in many cases will be uninterested. In this way, journalists have access to well-packaged stories that they have chosen to subscribe to.

It appears that the social media newsroom has the potential to work really well if maintained properly and should be increasingly used by companies and organisations because of how convenient the platform is, both for the PR practitioners themselves and for the journalists they are hoping will generate the important media publicity. With journalists (and people in general) having less time to seek out the right information from the multitudes on offer online, developing such a platform is an effective way to create a cohesive message in the one, easily accessed place. The multimedia approach also allows organisations to present the company in the best light possible, helping them control their image and therefore what is being written about in the media, on blogs and other websites. It makes the communication process far more direct and also much faster. Through using pictures on flickr accounts, providing links to other relevant information and using video content in particular, a stronger and clearer message can be conveyed in comparison to the traditional news release which relied on telling the story through words. These extra elements provide an added layer and perspective about the organisation.

The social media news release presents a neat package of information that is easily digested. A well designed social media newsroom, with the all important integration of social media channels, should ultimately be the basis for any effective online PR campaign.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Statistically Speaking...



Unfortunately my Google Analytics account hasn’t been working for me/ I didn’t install the code properly so I will take an alternative view and analyse visitor’s use of my blog through my Stat Counter account. As Stat Counter and Google Analytics collect the same type of data, I hope the results I have will be equally as useful.

I’ve found it quite fascinating to look over the information that has been collected through this account, with the results being far more promising than I had expected. I am really surprised to learn that since setting up my blog in February it has received 193 unique visitors, with 97 of these being first time visits and 96 returning visitors, with 428 page loads in total so far.
Although I know that the majority of these visits will be from classmates, there have been visits from internet users from as far away as Beverly Hills, California, with someone from Quinter in Kansas recorded as spending 15 hours 49 minutes and 38 seconds viewing my blog (doesn’t quite seem right?!). What I found most interesting though was the fact that someone from Somerville, Massachusetts arrived at my post, ‘ Social Media Envoy as New Online Celebrity Endorsement’ through googling the terms ‘ celebrity endorsement and malaria’. They did, however, only spend between 5 and 30 seconds on my page. Still, quite good to know!


Although the majority (56.8%) of visitors spent less than 5 seconds viewing my blog, 10 people (8%) spent around 5 minutes browsing, with 27 visitors (21.6%) spending longer than an hour. The website does point out that there are problems with accurately trying to assess how long people are looking at your blog, with these figures only being an estimate, using the last time during a visit that the viewer loads your webpage as the exit time. I would guess that the people who were recorded as staying at my site for over an hour had more likely left it open in a separate browser! The stat counter site also points out that it’s very important to install the same code on each page of a website to gain a better insight into how longer viewers are browsing the entire site for.

Looking at the exit link statistics lets me find out how many people have followed each link I have included throughout my blog. The majority of my links have been used at least once, with various people leaving the site to go to one of the PR blogs through my ‘Interesting Digital PR/Communications’ page. In analysing how people have reached my blog I see that the majority, 68 visitors, reached my blog through the link on the StirPR Blog spot. One visitor came to my blog by using their iPhone in London. It really is quite amazing how much you can find out about your visitors! But this is probably more interesting for me than anyone else... The graph below breaks down the total amount of visitors to my blog in February, March and April.

What I will say about tools like Google Analytics and Stat Counter is that I can definitely see how they could be highly useful to organisations utilising social media channels, particularly within PR campaigns. Statistics such as this could not only indicate to what degree people find your website or blog interesting and engaging (by analysing visitor length times and exit links) but they would also help in the evaluation stages of a campaign, giving practitioners very useful and accurate statistics on the global reach of a campaign, as well as specific locations of those who were exposed to their messages.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Choirs and Castells



This video is the outcome of a collaborative online project set up by the composer Eric Whitacre who, in harnessing the potential of social networks and digital media channels, has established a virtual choir. I think this is a really nice example of the possibilities of these channels and a case which rather poetically demonstrates some of the main points of social media theorists like Van Dijk and Castells.

The concept of ‘The Network Society’, coined by Van Dijk (1999) and discussed by Castells in The Rise of The Network Society (1996) is explained as being to do with the potential replacement of the public sphere in terms of a physical space by the increasing development of online networks. Communication- ‘interpersonal’, political debate, marketing & advertising, information dissemination etc- is no longer restricted to direct face-to-face conversation, print or broadcast media as we all know, with the internet now revolutionising information flow, leading to new terminology such as ‘information’ or ‘network societies'.

The term ‘society’ suggests an all-inclusive framework, which infers that this is a global phenomenon. However, with internet usage and digital technologies predominantly being diffused within the public’s of North America, Western European and East Asian countries, to talk in terms of a ‘global network society’ ignores those countries where the technology is still absent or currently in development. Therefore, many scholars have acknowledged this in writing on the concept of the ‘Digital Divide’. This not only takes in to account the parts of the world where internet use is still relatively low, but also considers the effect of demographics in relation to how this impacts upon availability of the internet to potential users and how varying factors can limit their understanding of information technologies. For example, consider the demographics of the members of the virtual choir, here performing another piece:



Although the choir boasts members from 12 different countries, the majority of the members are from the USA, with some from Western Europe and only a few from South American and Asian countries. In addition to this, it appears that the members are of a very limited age range, from around early 20’s to late 30’s. Although this is a very focused example, it represents the main users of the internet quite well- the “Participating Majority” as Van Dijk (2006) outlines, who are younger and predominantly middle and working class and who use the internet for recreational purposes (like online choirs!). In contrast, the “Disconnected and Excluded” who can be of lower classes, are ethnic minorities as well as of the older generation. There is a danger here as Van Dijk (2006) explains,

“One thing is for certain: people who do not have access to the new communications networks, nor the skill to use them or to process and select information distributed by them, will be powerless.”

I think it is important to consider these theories in terms of how the internet and networks can be used by PR practitioners within campaigns. The example of the virtual choir demonstrates the innovative ways in which social media can be used to produce very sophisticated results as well as how people can collaborate and communicate on complex projects without having to ever meet in real life. It demonstrates the reach of these communications channels and the fact that people are engaging with these technologies and in increasingly developed ways. However, it is still apparent that many important publics are excluded from the network society who should not be ignored. Although it is vital for organizations to understand and integrate social/digital media within campaigns they also need to be careful not to alienate those publics who are not yet online.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Digital Deception

So far I have used this blog to explore the potential benefits of the integrated use of social media channels by PR practitioners and have illustrated this with some specific social media campaigns. However, there is also a much murkier side to this type of PR activity that I think it is just as important to address as, just as has happened throughout the history of the PR industry, a few players are doing their best to ruin the good reputation and effectiveness of this activity in conducting practice of significantly questionable ethical standards.

Emerging activity which has come to be referred to as ‘flogging’, ‘astroturfing’ or ‘front grouping’ has involved PR practitioners exploiting the values of transparency, authenticity and interactivity most celebrated by social media champions and using them to manipulate and mislead audiences. Organisations that have used such tactics appear to have misunderstood the potential chance to improve upon how they operate and instead look upon social media as just another channel through which to push their brands and products, and in a particularly sneaky way. It is a very similar trend as to that which developed in the print media sector in the coming together of advertising and editorial content in the form of advertorials. With the internet only making everything easier, I suppose similar issues were inevitably going to cause problems online.

What is perhaps the most unethical aspect of astroturfing is that often the authors of the content published are painted as your average joe/josephine public, written to look like personal blogs but are in fact carefully crafted promotional propaganda pieces developed strategically by the companies themselves. By recognizing recent trends such as citizen journalism and the public's increasing need for authenticity in the face of recent private sector scandals, corporations have even found a way to capitalize on the growing distrust of their dodgy practice, and with further unethical practice!

But audiences are only becoming wiser. There have been many examples of companies using these methods being busted by readers with a more critical eye. For example Vichy a French cosmetics company and devision of the L’Oreal group did a particularly bad job of creating a ‘customer’ blog creating an unrealistic character which was just not made believable enough to audiences. What is most interesting about this case however is that once the company eventually owned up to their mistakes (they blamed it on a poor understanding of social media) they started on a clean slate with customers who appreciated their eventual honesty and now appear to have reasonably good communication with the company through a much better, more authentic and transparent website. This is a case the social media author Shel Isreal wrote about on his blog. Wallmart and Sony have also been criticized for their use of such tactics in the past amongst many other companies. Although these cases cause concern it is perhaps more worrying to consider the organizations who have not been caught out and what they have got away with, particularly when it comes to fake blogs on sensitive social issues.


I think although these examples are old and hopefully audiences are growing in awareness of these schemes, it is still important to highlight such activity as it is so incredibly easy to create online content and pass it off as credible if you have the skills and know how. In addition to this, I for one have to admit having not really given these issues much consideration (aside from issues with Wikipedia) and had never heard of the terms ‘flogging’ or ‘astroturfing’ until recently and only due to actually studying in this area. I believe that there has to be more effort in monitoring and pulling up companies who use these tricky tactics, something which websites such as PR Watch/Centre for Media Democracy (find an interesting article here on how to try and distinguish astroturf sites) and Corporate Watch currently do. Most importantly, just as the sector has dealt with problems over ethics in the past, PR practitioners need to bear these problems with social media use in mind and ensure that they not only feel obliged to tell the truth but view this as being vital in the upkeep of the industry as a profession.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Digital Integration



A recent article in PR Week reports on the findings of a study carried out by the publication to assess the current use of social media channels by various organisations. Although developing specific social media strategies/channels/departments may seem like the obvious step now for companies in ‘the digital age’, the results of this survey indicate that many organisations are still struggling to effectively manage their digital communications.

The Digital Integration Report is one of the first studies in this area to talk in terms of quantitative data, providing some interesting figures to analyse. For example, 29% of PR practitioners surveyed still voice scepticism over whether digital media had the potential to really improve operations, a quite substantial percentage considering the amount of positive discussion on social media use, particularly within the PR sector.

The results of the study suggest that organisations are struggling to effectively integrate social media strategies amongst existing ways of operating as well as agreeing on which internal department is to take responsibility for the implementation of these strategies. It appears that this line of thinking is one of the main drawbacks for organisations grappling with these ‘new’ communication channels. Although social media is more obviously valuable to marketing comms or PR departments, I believe employees across the organisational board should be aiming to reap the benefits of these technologies by incorporating such activity into their existing work methods. Social media can no longer be viewed as an extra task of the media relations officer but something all staff are familiar with, even as a full time job for someone in a dedicated social media officer role.



With the majority of companies and organisations struggling to keep afloat at present however, this is perhaps an idealistic scenario for the short term. There has, for example been debate within the non-profit sector on how to find the resources to adequately implement social media strategies. Although new media channels may appear free, effective staff engagement with these technologies does come at a cost in terms of how much time is needed to maintain an online presence (as well all know now from our experiences with blogs!). As a result, many non-profits are creating volunteer positions to take responsibility for social media maintenance; a good way to avoid cost issues but perhaps compromising the level of expertise and available hours staff are able to work.

Nevertheless, I would strongly argue that the development and implementation of a well considered social media strategy and ideally the creation of ‘social media officer’ positions within organisations is something that they are only going to be forced to integrate in the future. This report, although highlighting that the use of social media is still in need of fine tuning for many organisations, again stresses the importance of knowledge in this area as an extremely valuable and employable skill.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Social Media Envoy as New 'Online Celebrity' Endorsement

Last week the United Nations Special Envoy for Malaria announced a new initiative as part of their work to increase awareness of the disease and its simple means of prevention, which demonstrates a clever way of utilising social media. The Social Media Envoy for Malaria, which has gained the support of well-known social web and broadcast media figures, has been organised as a way to broadcast the UN’s mission of eliminating deaths caused by the disease by 2015 to as wide an online audience as possible.



Those who have signed up to the envoy have made a commitment to use their social media channels to publish at least one issue-relevant message per month in promotion of the cause. Big online names such as Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Mashable’s Pete Cashmere, Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post and Randi ‘Facebook’ Zuckerberg are to tweet, blog and publish other relevant online material as a means to inform their audiences on the issue and update them on any developments of the UN programme. The 25th of April, World Malaria day, see’s the start of this web campaign which will last a whole year.



On her involvement with the envoy, Huffington said: “Their plan to use social media to keep the spotlight on the goal of eradicating deaths from malaria by 2015 is smart, forward-thinking, and, given the growing reach of social platforms, very pragmatic. It’s consciousness-raising and movement building 2.0.”



Considering the global audience the envoys have access to, the potential reach of the campaign message is huge. Taking the more prominent names as an indicator of the possible audience, Arianna Huffington has just under 400,000 twitter followers aside from the Huffington Post’s readership,Randi has 150,000 facebook fans to communicate with and Biz Stone is followed by over 1 and a half million twitter users who it is hoped will be exposed to and subsequently become engaged with the malaria issue. In exploiting the potential reach and influence of these online opinion leaders the campaign is exploring a new type of ‘social web celebrity endorsement’ which I anticipate will provide the campaign with significant public reach.

Although the power of the world wide web is increasingly recognised and utilised in communication and PR campaigns I view the UN social media envoy as operating on a completely new level in comparison to other similar online campaigns (such as The Robin Hood Tax discussed below). In using these new media figureheads as spokespeople, who also have the best social media expertise alongside these huge public audiences, the campaign is operating from a particularly strong basis.

Hopefully the envoys will go beyond the minimum requirements of the commitment they made and use their 'online celebrity’ status to full potential for what is an obviously worthy cause.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Digital Democracy.

It is a fact that digital media is revolutionising the way people obtain information. The shift from a media audience who consume their news and information via the old, private media outlets to an increasingly tech-savy, net-addicted public is only becoming more evident. Perhaps the most exciting development resulting from the ‘digital revolution’, however, is the potential it holds for democratising communication. The internet offers great gifts of participation, inclusiveness and even control of the news agenda for anyone who wishes to utilise outlets such as blogs, discussion boards, comment pages, video and picture sharing sites and so on. The flow of information, once controlled by few in privileged and exclusive positions, has most definitely been disrupted; the rise of citizen journalism has allowed people to communicate their own stories to a global audience without the permission of the media middlemen. With the president of CNN last week describing facebook as the networks biggest current competition, without a mention of previous rival broadcasters FOX news, the power potential of your average joe blogger is really emphasised.


One great example of this rise of public communication power is a website I came across last week- Global Voices Online. In their own words the contributors describe their main goal as being to “readdress some of the inequities in media attention by leveraging the power of citizens’ media, at a time when international English-language media ignores many things that are important to large numbers of the world’s citizens.” Aiming to “aggravate, curate and amplify” debates and discussions on important issues from around the world, stories are published on the site that would often be left out of the mainstream media agenda, often from a firsthand perspective.




One article I read on the website was about the aftermath of the earthquake in Chile last month, which highlighted the lack of help given to many indigenous communities who were affected, alongside stressing the Chilean and global media’s overall ignorance of their situation. The reporter goes on to outline how communities such as Mapuche were, however, able to utilise social media to communicate their situations. In addition to this, people in the wider public who recognised the lack of reporting on large groups of the affected Chileans were able to use their own social media tools such as twitter as a way of obtaining information not readily supplied by the mainstream media. I feel that the website overall, and this particular article, are evidence of an exciting change happening in the dynamics of communication and news exchange, on a global scale.

The new digital democracy means anyone with access to the technology can become a journalist-or a public communicator or PR practitioner for that matter- with access to the cyber world stage, something we should all take advantage of and not feel threatened by Mr CNN!