On Sarah Thomas and PR’s role in corporate Social Media

by Lee Hopkins on April 9, 2009 · 3 comments

in customer service,internal communications,marketing,micro-blogging,pr,second life & 3d virtual worlds

I Sarah Thomas of Carve Australia had the very great fortune to meet up with Sarah Thomas yesterday.

Sarah is the Australian arm of Carve, a boutique digital engagement consultancy that started in London and has now expanded half way around the increasingly-shrinking globe to the glorious city of Adelaide.

Although boutique, Sarah’s clients have included such prestigious and high-power names as Telstra, Starbucks, American Express, British Telecom, The British Fashion Council, London Fashion Week, Travelex and Abbey National.

The reason we caught up was to firstly put a face to the names of fellow Twitterers in the PR/Marcomms space in Australia, and secondly to help both of us not feel so alone in the PR/Marcomms space in Adelaide.

Adelaide, for those not from around these parts, is not Sydney (the hub of corporate business in Australia). Nor is it Melbourne or Brisbane (two other major hubs). But it is the prettiest city, imho, from which to do business – you can fly to Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane (east of us) or to Perth (west of us) in comfort and few flying hours. Try flying to Perth from Brisbane in cattle class… erk!

Adelaide, with its topography and traffic-friendly layout, is the ideal place to live and raise a family or a business. You are never more than 40 minutes from a beach or a vineyard. But enough about Adelaide’s landscape…

There are VERY few business communicators in Adelaide, and the number of professional business communicators who are involved with the business applicability of social media even less. In fact, here are their names:

Shai Coggins also makes the cut because whilst she is not a corporate communicator as such, she is focused on making money online, as befits someone who helped set up one of the first global blogging networks, b5. Any online money-making revolves around three revenue streams: affiliate income, product sales of one’s own products (usually ebooks), and consultancy on how to make money online. All of which strongly involve marketing, sales and PR activities.

There are plenty of other folk in Adelaide who are extremely active in social media; some (like Kerry Johnson) are heavily invested in the 3d virtual world as it pertains to and impacts upon education. There are plenty of others who would love for their business/employer to be involved, but for reticence on their employer’s part or lack of a business case and the confidence to ‘have a go’ on their business’ part.

Marketing versus Sales versus PR

Sarah and I had a wonderful conversation that flowed over all manner of subject: from kings to cabbages. But what captured our passion the most was the role of PR in social media and the frustration that PR agencies around the world seem to prefer to put their head in the sand and pretend that social media will go away.

What they risk by such a foolish strategy is letting the business use and management of any social media initiatives fall into the purview of the marketers and sales folk.

That is not to dismiss the professionalism of corporate sales and marketing folk – but to instead highlight that their roles are not a natural ‘fit’ with social media. Let me explain…

Marketing and sales folk’s first job is to create sales (don’t give me the guff about marketing and sales folk being two different types of people, and that marketing’s job is not to sell: if marketing doesn’t sell you on the idea of picking up the phone, or going to a website, or buying the product the next time you are wandering the aisles of your local MegaMart then the marketers aren’t doing their job properly and should be replaced by marketers who do know how to do their job).

But PR is all about ‘conversation’, about positive influence, about putting one’s own side of the story out without ramming it down the throats of an unwilling audience. All of which is social media’s “bag, baby!” as Austin Powers would say.

Social media, if done right, is able to achieve all of those aims and more, but primarily is about engendering a conversation amongst equals, a conversation conducted in a human voice (to reintroduce the The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual to those who have never read it nor understood why it is held in such high regard by corporate and online communicators). A conversation between adults that is based on permission not interruption (if you haven’t read the Cluetrain you probably haven’t read Seth Godin’s seminal work Permission Marketing : Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers either, have you? You must; not shouldmust).

And so, with all of that said, the frustration that fine folks like Dena, Sarah and myself feel over fellow PR/Marcomms and Employee communicators who bury their head in the sand, hoping that ‘Social Media’ is a fad and will go away (just like the internet was a fad and went away, didn’t it?) is that by doing so they are giving away the keys to the city and handing over power to the Sales folks (by and large, not a group known for taking a ‘softly, softly’ approach over the long term).

But what’s the risk of that, you ask?

Simple – we (you, I, your partner, your mother) detest with a passion people who shove stuff down our throat; we hate it when pushy sales people in shops come up and gush over us, telling us that of course we don’t look fat in that, that it

  • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

    Yes, it is unwanted, but that’s from your view (and mine). There are plenty of people that like this approach and will respond to it.

    At the end of the day, Twitter is to use as you see fit – unless you’re breaking the rules of the Twitter ToS, then there’s no right or wrong way to use it. People will either like what you’re doing or not – and that’s the beauty of the unfollow button.

    Danny Brown’s last blog post..Do You Know What Your Social Mention Factor Is?

  • http://dannybrown.me Danny Brown

    Yes, it is unwanted, but that’s from your view (and mine). There are plenty of people that like this approach and will respond to it.

    At the end of the day, Twitter is to use as you see fit – unless you’re breaking the rules of the Twitter ToS, then there’s no right or wrong way to use it. People will either like what you’re doing or not – and that’s the beauty of the unfollow button.

    Danny Brown’s last blog post..Do You Know What Your Social Mention Factor Is?

  • Shai Coggins

    My, my…! My head must be in a different place when you wrote this a year ago, as I've missed it. :-) Thanks for the kind words, as always, Lee.

Previous post:

Next post: