In The Control Revolution: How the Internet is Putting Individuals in Charge and Changing the World We Know (1999) Andrew Shapiro declares that the "emergence of new, digital technologies signals a potentially radical shift of who is in control of information, experience and resources"
Ten years later and the paradigm shift from traditional to new media is staring us in the face. In the US major newspapers have closed shop completely while back on our shores, publications like the NST, Malay Mail and even the venerable The Star are seeing some rough times ahead as readerships plummet (and justifying those expensive ad placements gets tougher and tougher...).
As we move into an era where grabbing the attention of smartalec young punks(who are also tired of being told by the press as to what's happening and seek to find out for themselves via alternative sources) with access to the internet becomes increasingly challenging, getting onto the 'New media' bandwagon isn't just some fancy new trend that PR practitioners should try out every now and then... it is the bygone conclusion of what the future of communications will be. The fact of the matter is that as the years go by, PR practitioners will have to rely on using more mediums (i.e:-publications/blogs/social networks etc) that actually attract fewer readers than can be expected from the traditional papers of today. PR Campaigns and efforts will become increasingly more stakeholder/target audience specific with far more detailed, perhaps the word is elaborative, key messages.
Today,many PR practitioners have tried to engage the new media in much the same way as they would with the old...Let bloggers do a product review, invite them to our press conferences, make them feel like they are a part of the 'recognized media establishment'....and frankly its worked. That companies and PR practitioners have seen the wisdom in recognizing such individuals has led to the success of many online institutions...The Huffington Post, Paultan.org, LowYat.net etc etc... institutions that I dare say have had a significant impact on that which matters to businesses.. Brand identity and ultimately sales (or if you ain't a company that sells something, whatever objective it is that lays at the root of the business plan)
We are however at a crossroads. Some PR practitioners, having witnessed how effective the new media has become as a means of communicating to the consumer, have taken the liberty of going into the realm of "New media advertising". The daemon I speak of is the paying of a blogger to do a positive review of a company's product. *Pause for dramatic effect*
Now in my estimation, that which separates the power of PR from advertising is that PR aims to elicit an actual emotional connection between a brand and the consumer whereas the purpose of advertising is to highlight the features, stylishness and overall uber seig heil'ness of a product or service. PR is about establishing the perception of dialogue between consumer and brand. Advertising is a monologue by the brand.
Credibility is thus a critical factor that separates a successful PR campaign from a poignant one. Dont get me wrong... Businesses embark upon PR activities to profile the brand which ceterus parebus will enhance the financial success of said business. But there is a difference between the company that embarks upon a CSR campaign to help develop the local film industry and the one that embarks upon a CSR campaign to get its logo in the papers. The former develops an emotional connection between its brand and those people who would be appreciative of that brand identity which results in the identity of that brand being communicated positively to others by the individuals involved (which thanks to the efforts of PR practitioners such as ourselves shall include members of the media =P). The latter spends money on purchasing schoolbags so that a photo of the GMD handing out goodies to school children can be pasted onto the papers for a day. Different attitudes driven by the same motive. One however has an edge over the other in that its motive is hidden due to the overarching perception that the brand does genuinely see the propagation of film/the arts/ cancer awareness/ the godlike machoness of nahri as being of significant importance to the consumers who partake in that brand!
Similarly, paying bloggers to write positive reviews equates to the same 'latter' attitude towards PR as described above with the added problem that you are doing so in an environment where interactive daemonization of such activities can and does occur! (Hello, comment box!)
(Having said that, different approaches work with different segments of society, so don't take this as a total knock on the efforts of above-mentioned latter approach.)
Coming back to the topic of new media, I would like to use a project currently being led by a respected practitioner and friend of mine as a case study. Said individual...okay'la, nobody really bothers to read this stuff so I'll say Jonathan Tan of FH Communications *Woot!Woot!* was tasked by his client to develop a Facebook group that would proliferate the 'coolness' factor of the brand by engaging those individual's of generation G (yea I coined that one up myself Generation Geek i.e Lost,Heroes,Star Trek,Battlestar Galactica, Comic to Film films are all today considered COOL!) who are interactive, adventurous, conversant and sociable...(ie the sycophants such as ourselves who hook up onto facebook everyday la..)
Now here is a little project that has accomplished the following:
- Attracted 4,135 fan's in a span of about 3-4 months if I'm not mistaken
- Gotten participants of the page's events to blog about what they go through
- Created a genuine emotional connection (not its not love you twats its excitement!) between the brand with its existing and potential customer base.
- Created the perception of credibility by establishing that the brand is not only committed to its brand values and identity, but that it also knows how to have fun.
Which of the above is something that does not elicit the interest of generation G?
Now the traditionalist will argue that 4,135 is a puny number compared to the 500k and beyond figures that traditional papers attract... But if you were to make a cost benefit analysis of the two...I wonder what percentage of the two figures(and methods used) would have developed a genuine liking/commitment by consumers towards the brand... In addition that participants then blog about their experiences exponentially adds to the number of people who become aware of the company's activities. Viral PR mein kameraden.(Note also that present trends in social networking indicate that the 4,135 figure is likely to continue to grow whereas readership trends of present day newspapers suggest that the 500k figure is likely to decline)
This is where some statistical research would do the industry a lot of good. If a correlation between PR activities and company sales figures were actually charted out, we'd have some empirical evidence....
Ultimately however, I believe that we as PR practitioners need to approach new media cautiously. Yes, they are often eager to jump onto the band wagon and no its not that we dont want them to make some money out of their efforts.. but consider this. 50 or so years ago, the hoola hoop became one of the worlds best selling phenomenon's....and by and large its success hinged on one simple thing. It was one of the first toy's to be visually introduced to the consumers via Television. The hoola hoop wasn't the most fantastically brilliant toy ever developed (The Warhammer 40k Space Marines hold that honor =P)!! It was one of the first things that people saw on television which made them go "OMFG I WANT ONE BECAUSE THOSE PEOPLE ON THE TELLY ARE HAVING SO MUCH FUN GYRATING THEIR HIPS WITH IT!!AAARGH!" Emotion+Perception=Bingo!
But try advertising the hoola hoop today and see what happens...You'd be bitch slapped half to death for wasting peoples time fool! and why is that? Well because after 50 years of going through ad's that seek only to make money out of the consumer people just got ja..ja..ja..jaded!
So whaddaya reckon is going to happen if we go on the path of paying every blogger that was the tasty little tidbit of the month to write something positive for a client? I reckon
A) it may take 2 years, it may take 20 years, it may take longer...but eventually people arent gonna trust the medium/blogger/brand anymore. So are you as a PR practitioner developing a sustainable business model?
B) it adds a cost to our business. One which justification for is not yet proven. How many bloggers do we have to pay to get our message out?How popular are these bloggers and for how long do you reckon?How long will we be able to pay them cheaply for?How long will it take for bloggers to behave like today's mainstream media?By god...there are thousands of them to boot.... Let us remember that a significant reason why blogging became so popular is that people, whether right or wrong, became totally sick with the 'mainstream' media
Now the counter argument to this would probably be....it's business...in business you don't worry about what the worlds gonna be like 20 years, 5 years, or 2 years down the road, you worry about how to most effectively get the job done now. Hmm, I got to say that there is a part of me that actually agrees with this line of logic. I guess the question that we all need to ask ourselves is are we here to build a sustainable business that gets us money by default of the quality of the services we provide...or are we just here to make money? :S
So... the new media...Are we going to take advantage of all that it has to offer us...Or are we going to forcibly turn it into the 'new mainstream media'?....
Wow...now that was a long rant. Now for the line that spurred this entire line of thought ;P
"All of this has happened before...All of this will happen again...End of line." - Battlestar Galactica Razor
I Love You Major Kendra Shaw!!!!
I Love You Too Number 6!!!!
.........Why do you make me have to choose?!!!!