As PR students, we are being advised over and over again that the key word for success in the industry is NETWORKING. Be it online, over e-mail, in mentorship schemes, work experience or events, we are supposed to show the world that we are the next generation and that we mean business.
Over the past three years I tried to cover each of the above and have found that the last of the tactics – the events – was the best way to meet professionals, learn from them and also show them that a degree in PR makes a 20 year old more aware of the world of work and its challenges than they would have expected.
However, the financial issue becomes a problem many times as PR conferences that we dream of (like the ones in the weekly notices we get) are completely out of reach for the regular student, with prices going up to four figures.
Communicate Magazine thought about this last summer and joined an event you all might have heard of (The Super Intern competition) to offer the winners free entry to some of their conferences in 2010.
Luckily, I was among them and this Tuesday I had the chance to attend the #smcc10 or Social Media in a Corporate Context 2010 in Manchester’s elegant Palace Hotel.
Overall, the conference was fascinating as although many of the case studies are already iconic, the inside information and the strategies behind them were astonishing. I’ll guide you through a few of the key points we covered and hopefully the information will be as valuable to you as it was to me. As a tip, do click on the hyperlinks as they will explain a lot… it was after all a social media conference.
Social media newsrooms
The day started with an X Factor style presentation of different social media newsrooms and online press centres. The concept is not new but not many dare to use it yet which made the examples of First Direct, Visit Britain and Sony Europe quite interesting and unique (for instance the number of languages; Visit Britain is available in 35 countries and 25 languages).
It is very important that the platforms contain all sorts of content and formats, from text, pictures, videos and also comments and opinions. The conclusion of the judges was that online newsrooms are extremely effective but for them to be successful among journalists they have to be simple and very easy to use as deadlines don’t allow them to search for the information with hundreds of mouse clicks.
Social media goes mobile
We went on to social media on mobile platforms presented by Chi-chi Ekweozor from Real Fresh TV, who once again underlined the major increase in users of mobile internet with 310% more people accessing Twitter on their phone in less than a year and 200% more for Facebook.
Communication specialists can’t ignore the change anymore and have to take into account that most of times the content they put out through social media will be received on the public’s mobile phones, generally meaning small touch screens and pre-paid internet connection.
Social media ROI
Just before the coffee break we had one last talk referring to a hot topic in today’s PR: social media return on investment (ROI). Peter Granat from Cision presented a few examples on how his company follows brand activity and online communication in order to associate it with sales and show the outcomes of a good or bad social media strategy.
The day went on with two amazing talks on crowd sourcing by Martin Bryant from The Next Web and Martin Thomas, co-author of “Crowd Surfing”. Marketing Manchester was one of the case studies as every Friday online visitors are asked to suggest the highlights of the weekend in the city for the tourists that come by. Citizens end up promoting their own city in a community effort based on collective behaviour and the need for self-expression.
These two presentations went hand in hand with the one that followed as Kathleen Goh, the corporate communications manager of DHL and Cara Jenkins, senior account manager at theblueballroom, told us about an internal campaign for the company’s 40th anniversary. A photography competition engaged employees of DHL from all the countries it operates in, managing to create the perfect online community for so many different cultures, all brought together by one company.
As “community” was the word of the day, Lloyds TSB told us why and how the bank’s website went through a series of transformations in order to reply to consumer needs and create a place where they can share opinions and access easily all the company’s services. What Keith Bennett, online channel marketing officer at Lloyds, advised us once again was to build link equity in the social sphere and use all sorts of platforms in order to engage with the publics in different ways.
Word of mouth
From here, the talks started to be more and more interactive as we heard “a very personal word of mouth case study” from James Whately who was approached by Nokia after talking about their products online and asked to be part of their communications team. We then went to a very unique recruitment campaign by Reckitt Benckiser (the producers of Vanish, Calgon, Nurofen and many more brands) who used Facebook to attract what they call “generation Y” (more about them here).
They were amazed by the success of Farmville or Mafia Wars and decided to build a special game called poweRBrands in which players would go to the office daily, work and earn points which they could use to decorate their offices. According to their stats, there are around 89 000 games on FB and theirs is currently in the top 800. Also, in just a few months the game has over 21000 fans and people play it madly. Considering that the target they set was 7000 by the end of the year, I would say this is a brilliant case of over-achieving objectives.
Social media crises
Slowly but surely we left the entertainment area to move towards a critical aspect of today’s communication strategies: crisis management. Nothing seemed new here but the fact that we were dealing with social media crisis which the speaker called “tsunamis”.
Robin Grant, the managing director of We Are Social talked us through two well-known case studies: the bad – the Nestle versus Greenpeace battle (after posting videos with Nestle’s bad behaviour on Youtube, Greenpeace was asked to take them down in a very aggressive way and consumer comments were treated with disrespect) and the apparently good – Eurostar’s Christmas crisis when the trains got stuck for hours inside the tunnel (passengers were kept up-to-date online using Twitter).
As luxury often face with crisis too, Leesa Fogarty from Augure (a French based company that deals with brand reputation) gave us a few tips which she herself learned after working for a high-end brand: “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to destroy it” (Warren Buffet) so always scan the environment and be prepared to re-act either to correct something or take advantage of it and open new doors.
The last two presentations dealt with social media reputation management. Marc Campman, managing director of Webjam gave us 10 tips which he put together by relating them to the well-known book “The Cluetrain Manifesto”.
To sum them up: markets today are conversations; everything is about open, interactive communication; companies that don’t belong to a community will die and the most important of all: small talk is cheap but silence is deadly!
Following him was Manchester Airport’s press office manager, John Greenway. He referred to a very recent issue, the volcano chaos, and showed us how the airport’s twitter account helped many stranded passengers.
For an organisation that feared social media in the beginning, their Twitter stream actually won an award for its efficiency.
Unfortunately I missed the last part of the conference, the much awaited live debate with five speakers, as I had to catch my train at Manchester Piccadilly.
However, I kept following the live stream on Twitter and was able to keep up with everything that went on in the room.