Since fellow RAAKonteur Wessel wrote his post about PR, advertising and the new roles in communication, and David Meerman Scott’s penned his thought-provoking Is it time for companies to hire a Social Media Administrator, we can now officially add social media administrating to the list of services we offer.

And not just in one way. In two.

In a previous life, we built a website, blog and e-commerce solution for WHERE, a new and exciting (ethical) fashion brand. And last week they asked us to advice them on an ongoing basis on how to use the right social media tools.

Good on them. Good for us.

So now we make sure they have access to the right tools, use them well and that their website is in great SEO shape. We also double-check their blog posts and tweets if needed. And listen for them. That all makes it easy for them to be up-to-date, found and be part of the conversation.

But as with most new things, it was a particularly interesting exercise in how to quantify this service, a problem that was also mentioned in Jason Falls’ very decent blogpost about the culture clash between Social Media and Ad agencies and in Jay Bear‘s comments on that post.

It’s not that straightforward to bill or staff for.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/anotherphotograph / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Because Social Media is about knowing the brand through-and-through-and-through. And through.

And, ideally, about being part of a brand 24/7, because your crowd doesn’t stop talking about you. Which means that even reacting quickly to a crisis can be a bit late – as Domino’s Pizza recently discovered.

Thirdly, it works best when you have the power to make day-to-day decisions without having to go through layers of sign-off procedures.

Based on those thoughts, I can see two models working:
1. A retainer model (we prefer to call it the ‘plug-in‘ model) where you’re really close to the brand (or the organisation) and you guide them on a day-to-day basis. This is more suitable for small to medium-sized companies, who can’t afford to hire a full-time person and trust you to do what is needed.
Will this be easily scalable when the brand becomes bigger? Possibly not. Option 2 might then make more sense.

2. A training model, which aims not only at consulting, but also at teaching key people at various levels. Those key people could be CEO’s as well as Brand & Product Managers. It could be someone from the Marketing department, a customer service rep or even a developer. Anyone who’s into and understands the medium and is keen to take on the role of ‘Social Media Administrator’.

Importantly, this training course should not only be on a strategic level, because Social Media is about ‘doing’ it. In other words, how you write a blogpost, what keywords you use, how to craft a Tweet, how to produce good audio for video. The list goes on.

For now, we use option 1 for WHERE. And we’re currently developing option 2 into a workshop about ‘Social Media in PR’, about which we’ll write some more soon.

Exciting times! And we’ll see if these options still stand in a year’s time. Or even in a few months.

A few years ago I had a chuckle when a friend of mine and co-founder of Cow Africa – Donald Swanepoel – told me about experiential marketing and PR companies like Cunning Stunts. Ha ha! Funny name.

Yesterday however, the importance and role of experiential marketing hit home to me.

Everything we do, we do within a framework of our understanding of how digital media has opened up the media landscape to everyone. One of the obvious conclusions for some time now is that word-of-mouth marketing and therefore by extension, product, is key. This is especially true online. Google beat Yahoo!, Altavista and Lycos to be top dog because of their product, despite their competitors’ massive marketing spend.

It turns out that this principle holds true in a wider sense as well. We recently met Jonathan Baskin, ex-brand manager and author of Branding only works on Cattle. He argues that even brands like Nike were first built around superior product before anything else. Digital media just throws this truth in much sharper relief.

Anyway, Gerrie and I were in Brussels yesterday where we dropped in at Demonstrate (their website does not do them justice) under recommendation of Stefaan, copywriter and blogger behind Knotoryus. Demonstrate is one of the largest experiental marketing ‘agencies’ in Europe.

They occupy a huge warehouse on the northern outskirts of Brussels. One part of which is just that, an area called The Platform that’s full of props, toys and gadgets – the tools of their trade. Half a football field of the stuff. I kid you not.

And then there is a creative hub, off to the side, where strategy, account management and the creatives reside.

But what we found truly interesting was the chat with Kate Stockman, Demonstrate’s creative director.

Kate speaks fast. No need for her to ponder or um and ah, because she’s been there and done it.

“We don’t do PR stunts for PR stunt’s sake. Publicity is not why we plan an event or an action. We plan it around customer experience. “

If it generates publicity, it is not an unwelcome by-product, she ads. But it’s not the aim. The aim is to get the customer to try the product. If it’s a drink, get them to taste it. Simple.

Or it could be added value. She explains how they rigged a mobile bar where punters could learn how to pull the perfect pint.

On the web all the talk is about how to move away from advertising to product or if not that to content, i.e. offer some real value and sponsor it. Is this not exactly what Demonstrate is doing in the streets?

Also consider this. Online, music and video are ubiquitous. It’s easy to copy information and content. Being there -  the live experience – will become more important and not less.

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This week a flurry of interesting bits of news flashed across my screen. Like this tweet:

US study of PR hiring – knowledge of social media, blogs SEO, now as important as traditional skills http://bit.ly/En6rF

…and this one

@MajorPlayerJobs: RT @DanGoldgeier PR agencies poaching creatives? ;- Interesting trend, see my take here http://tinyurl.com/lm5pq4

…and this one today…

@TessNeale: Is it time for companies to hire a Social Media Administrator? http://is.gd/3kOTl | by @dmscott – we have, and highly recommended it.

The holy grail: Creative technologist Aaron Koblin

The holy grail: Creative technologist Aaron Koblin

Media guru Jeff Jarvis predicted a short while ago that the upheaval that has beset journalism will also hit advertising and public relations. That process now seems well on its way.

“Advertising is failure” he says.

I myself produced a presentation, now a year old, which asked – Will PR inherit the social media earth? (Included at the end of this post)

Because if PR is about public relations (and not press releases as Brian Solis puts it so eloquently) then it should be the part of the industry geared to make most of these social technologies that lie at the heart of digital media.

But this outcome – the paramountcy of PR – has been all but certain. Simply because of inertia. Many organisations never change until they have to. And then it’s too late to change.

The problem is part generational. I have been asked to speak at large PR firms on social media and PR (what I thought was a detailed analysis and compelling argument why PR must embrace social media), only to hear the head of brand PR state: “We can’t believe what we read on the internet!”, and “We Brits will never give up on newspapers, we love them!” Ahem! I had to take two steps back and start again.

But it’s clear, underlined by the tweets above, studies and blog posts doing the rounds now, that some are asking the questions about the best way to staff the agencies, businesses, and organisations of the future.

The agency model in itself is coming under pressure, as the internet does not like middlemen. In the one link above David Meerman Scott elaborates on Jim Stewart’s idea and explains the need inside companies for the role of the social media administrator.

…there is a need for this new role, much like in the late 1980s we developed the need for a System Administrator (Information Technology department people responsible for computer networks) and the 1990s brought Webmasters (responsible for company websites).

I see the Social Media Administrator not as someone who develops content and participates in discussions on social media (although they could certainly have a business related personal blog or twitter stream).

This is not the senior leadership role for social media in an organization but rather the coordination point for company activities. The role would be someone who manages and provides consistency with an organization’s social media presence. Of course, to be done well, the skill set of a Social Media Administrator would need to include deep knowledge of tools like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

I think this is wrong. The social media person inside needs to be senior. How else could they get things done?

But I digress. I will deal with the slow decay of the agency model in another post. (We, by the way, don’t call ourselves an agency, we plug-in to you.)

There will still be a need for advice and cutting edge development and production skills. There is a role for PR and Ad people if they embrace the change brought on by digital media.

But why are PR firms hiring creatives from ad agencies – as one tweet alludes to – you may ask? Should they not be looking for a spotty programmer, or even better – the glamorous spotty programmer 2.0, aka: the social media expert? (We’ve also come across the term creative technologist recently. Presumably a ruby-on-rails genius that moonlights in an electro band and directs music videos when he has a spare moment. Aaron Koblin springs to mind).

Lorraine Barker, Head of PR at Major Players – a big marketing recruitment firm in London – claims that PR is looking for the ad creatives:

In the last 18 months we’ve seen a substantial increase (200%) in client requirements for Planners and Creative Directors (At PR agencies)…

To keep from being drowned out in an increasingly crowded media space, PR agencies are evolving. Creative Directors are being drafted in to inject fresh thinking and bring a new dimension to campaigns, while Planners are delivering consumer insights and developing rigorous strategic frameworks to underpin the big idea. The result is a focused PR offering that stays on brand, on tone and most importantly – makes people stand up and take notice.

So they are looking for archetypal coke snorting ideas factory & story geniuses with a certain je ne sais quoi?  Turns out no.

The newer roles are different from the traditional planner or creative you might find in an advertising agency and while some PR agencies are happy to consider above the line candidates, many don’t want the chin-stroking musings of the storyboard creative.

We’ve found that the most successful among those we’ve placed are candidates who have had a high level of involvement in the creative or strategic planning process – not only candidates from account planning, but account handling, research & insight and new business. However, it’s equally about the candidate’s hunger and passion for all things media and the latest comms channels, trends and cultures.

Mmm… ok. It seems the PR agencies are looking for content producers, experts, researchers and social media fundis?

Brian Solis – who has written extensively about the need for change in PR – defines his future roles for a new media team:

There is no doubt in my mind that eventually all PR agencies and consultants will follow suit and transform from publicity firms into New Media marketing and communications firms rich with in house and contracted content producers, digital sociologists, research librarians, community managers, digital architects, connectors, and industry experts or strategists.

Brian goes on to define what each of these roles would entail, it’s worth a read.

The reason why researchers, trend watchers and industry experts feature in both Brain Solis and Loraine’s list is easy to explain. Digital is bullshit allergic. You have to know your client’s business inside out. You have to keep up with the medium.

You can’t tweet for a client if you don’t tweet yourself.

PR ranks social networking, blogging skills highly

PR ranks social networking, blogging skills highly

But of course the other categories Brian mentions will be key as well, including the content producers and what he calls digital architects (creative technologists).

Now research – also mentioned in an above Tweet “Study: New PR Hires Must Blog, Tweet & Use SocNets” confirms what he said:

In what marks a dramatic shift away from a mainstream-media approach to public relations, PR hiring managers in the US now say it is nearly as important for prospective hires to have social media savvy as it is for them to have traditional media-relations skills, according to a survey by iPressroom.

All very exciting, all very scary.

What we can be sure of is that come September 2010 neither PR nor advertising will look the same as now.

Like with digital’s relationship with music and publishing, fashion and digital media have had a tempestuous love-hate affair.

Many fashion brands are still obsessed with brochure-ware websites built on flashy, closed and un-interactive technologies like Flash. Fashion brands always wanted to maintain some mystique. ‘Brand equity’ the accountants would call it.

The Sartorialist Scott Schuman photographer, blogger & retailer

But the people on the street have been blogging, taking pictures, making stuff (Etsy) and talking up a storm about fashion. There’s also a few innovative social fashion apps, networks and platforms out there. Like the social mood board site Polyvore, and the show-off-my-style Chictopia.

But it’s in blogging that online fashion has been frenetic. Blogs like Fashion Toast from LA and Susie Bubble’s Style Bubble are attracting literally hundreds of thousands of visits.

Big fashion publishers are now trying to emulate these blogger’s successes. With different levels of success: Susie Bubble is the Commissioning editor for Dazed & Confused’s Dazed Digital. But Ms Bubble’s blog is the same size as the trendy East London magazine’s website.

Style Bubble vs Dazed Digital

Style Bubble vs Dazed Digital

But the reverse is now also true: the socially networked style kings are going offline.

Reports South Africa’s Businessday:

“Barneys will launch a “pop-up” shop within its Manhattan department store called Sartorialust that will, says a Barneys spokesman, be “a temporary showcase … which we expect to be very natty and eclectic showing how old-school Italian can be mixed with designer in a very cool way.” To anyone not involved in fashion, this may not mean much, but what marks out this occasion is that the temporary space will be “curated” (that is, stocked) by a photographer called Scott Schuman.

Who?

Schuman, otherwise known as The Sartorialist, is the man behind a blog of the same name that features photographs of men and women whose style he likes on the street; the pictures are posted online immediately, accompanied by a short commentary.”

Have a look at the Sartorialist. Snazzy.

The Sartorialist’s pop-up shop is coming to London’s Liberty as well.

“The result, says Robert Burke, president of the luxury consultancy Robert Burke Associates, is a “new wave” of vendors. Indeed, Burke sees this as the next evolution of niche retail: after the socialite retailer (Gloria Vanderbilt, Tory Burch) and the celebrity designer (Jennifer Lopez, Sarah Jessica Parker) comes the socially networked retailer.

The difference is that the earlier nontrained retailers were women who clearly wore — and were photographed in — clothes that defined their style and represented a public track record of their taste. For their followers, the decision to shop at their stores was, in effect, a decision about whether or not they wanted to look like a celebrity.

By contrast, Schuman and his ilk have a largely virtual track record, and with it, an even larger virtual community. Schuman’s blog, for example, gets about 140000 hits a day. “

To regular readers of these blogs their track record is as pervasive as any celebrities’ image and goes even deeper. It’s an authentic voice they have come to love and with which they can interact. A voice they discovered not because of and mediated by glossy ads. These bloggers did not win because they are part of a publishing empire with a great distribution network.

They are popular because of word of mouth. Because they have great content, a good product. People found them just because they’re so accessible and so damn good.

My bet? Susie Bubble of Style Bubble fame will soon be asked to do a collection for a retailer.

PS: RAAK recently entered b.tween’s Branding Talent competition. This was the brief:

Shop Direct is a massive (and massively successful) home shopping organisation that has moved online in a big way over the last few years. They are currently in the process of preparing to launch a new fashion clothing retail brand that will live in both the online and offline worlds.

New ways of connecting with consumers – predominantly young adult female consumers – and of connecting them with, and involving them in, a genuinely exciting new online/offline fashion retailing experience.

Our entries are number 1 and 3 on the page – do have a look.

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Micro-blogging, status updates, personal newsfeeds…

If you have used status updates you know how powerful a tool they can be for:

  • making announcements
  • sharing ideas
  • networking and
  • raising your profile.

If you have spent time building your personal and professional networks on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, all the better. It’s your crowd and they – if you have gone about it right – love what you have to say.

But wouldn’t it be great if you could tweet once and and read anywhere? Be it Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn? That’s exactly what @Gerrie has been fantasising about. Having to sign into all of these to make three updates is tedious.

What we need is not only a universal status tool, but one that can be customised and filtered to work in different environments.

We did a bit of research and we found a way to send your tweets from Twitter as tailored status updates to Facebook and LinkedIn. What’s more, this solution does not send all messages. You won’t lose any Facebook friends.

We will use three other web services to do our universal customised status updates:

It’s really easy to do, and in the next three video tutorials @Gerrie will explain how.

NOTE: It can take a while for Twitterfeed to activate, so don’t despair if it doesn’t work in the first few hours.

1. Using Yahoo! Pipes to change and filter your Tweets.

2. Using Ping.fm to set up connections with LinkedIn and Facebook

3. Using Twitter feed to pull in your Yahoo! Pipe and connect to Ping.fm

You’re done. Tweet once – write everywhere.

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I’ve recently started appreciating Facebook again. For quite some time, while I was discovering the joys of Twitter, my FB activity admittedly was pretty much limited to accepting friend requests.
But I’m rediscovering the joys of the blue pages, especially because social networking platforms are becoming more integrated. I figured out how to make my Twitter feed show up as my FB status update and I can now reach different friends/followers on different platforms.
Useful. Sweet.

However, I found it ugly to see a ‘re-tweet’ sitting on my FB status for a few hours. A message like “RT @theineke looking for Php developers. Please RT” doesn’t fit the Facebook vibe. For me, FB is still more personal. Re-tweeting is more like forwarding an email or ‘Liking’ something on Facebook. It’s not from you, but ‘passive expressive’. And for me it doesn’t sit well on the status update.
Same with conversations I’m having with someone directly. None of my FB-friends is interested in Reading “@wybe No problem”. It actually feels like spam.
But I do want to re-tweet a message. To help a follower looking for people, to spread round a link to a presentation,… That’s the joy of Twitter.

I know there’s a Facebook app that allows you to decide whether a Tweet shows up on FB by including the #fb hashtag. Not bad, but still, it’s 3 characters you could use for something else. And it’s 3 characters that don’t have anything to do with the subject of the message.
And how about my Linked In status update?

So @wildebees decided to explore Yahoo Pipes for a few hours and managed to build a way round it. So now my RT’s and @’s no longer show up on my Facebook and Linked in statuses.

It made us smile so much we’re working on a ‘how-to’ blog-post and video tutorial, which are coming soon.

UPDATE: the ‘how to’ blogpost is ready.

Animoto

In the category ‘simple ideas that do one thing very well’, I’ve just discovered Animoto via @erwblo. Yet another example of the ever-growing importance of online video.

Animoto is an online/iPhone/Facebook service where you send in pictures and/or  video footage (a recent addition) and it creates an animated film slash music-video slash snazzy slideshow. The interface is pretty simple: it allows you to sort your footage, add text and music and when you click submit, as if by magic, a few minutes later you’ll have a full video with funky transitions between your footage.
Oscar-winning production it ain’t, but it has to be said: for an automated ‘editing service’ the results are really quite impressive.
There’s a good example on Animoto’s homepage, but also check out @erwblo’s example of what he did with the pictures of his son skating.

So I can definitely see Animoto become a super-simple and cheap way of letting non-media organisations and punters add a an extra layer to their otherwise static content.

Cardon Copy is the kind of design experiment that makes me smile.

Presumably fed up with the ugliness of it all, New York designer Cardon Webb went round his neighbourhood to collect hand-written, self-distributed fliers, the ones that advertise a room for rent or a missing cat. He then re-designed them (or more accurately: designed them) and put the aesthetically enhanced version back up in the original spot.

The result is an intriguing mix of creative fun and social experiment. It questions the added value of design, it beautifies the area, it tries to help others.
Overall a great idea. Although it would have been nice to not just see the works pop up in a gallery, but also track and show the results of his experiments. A little video with reactions from the people who put up those simple notes. What did they think of it? Did the re-designed versions help them at all?