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Commentary on the theory and practice of public relations and organizational communications from Elizabeth Albrycht.

Published: 2010-05-06T18:07:03+02:00


PRSA Digital Impact Underway


The PRSA Digital Impact conference is getting underway today in NYC. You'll see lots of tweets from me, which you can follow at #prsa_di. We'll also be live streaming video from the conference - I'll post the link when I have it. If you have questions for the speakers or commentary, just include the hashtag in a tweet or send to @ealbrycht... Update You can follow the #prsa_di Digital Impact Conference conversation real-time @ #prsa

PRSA Digital Impact Underway


The PRSA Digital Impact conference is getting underway today in NYC. You'll see lots of tweets from me, which you can follow at #prsa_di. We'll also be live streaming video from the conference - I'll post the link when I have it. If you have questions for the speakers or commentary, just include the hashtag in a tweet or send to @ealbrycht...

PRSA Digital Impact 2010: Twitter Chat Upcoming!


For a second year, I have the honor of being a co-chair of PRSA's Digital Impact Conference with Eric Schwartzman at the beginning of May in New York. We've spent the past several months thinking about emergent trends, strategies and tools and how they are impacting the practice of public relations, and have put together a really fantastic program (if I do say so myself!). One reason I like this conference so much is that it is completely focused on public relations. It is great to get together with colleagues to learn from each other. This year the focus is maximizing your online presence. Now that we have so many different tools, approaches, strategies etc., it is time to really think about how to put it all together. I've written before about how I think brands need to become media, by building platforms for interaction for stakeholders. This is an idea I see gaining traction around the web (I certainly can't take credit for that, it is just that many people are coming to similar conclusions). Participants will hear keynote addresses by Jeremiah Owyang, Partner at Altimeter Group; Kate Preston, Social Media Editor of The New York Times; and Gabriel Stricker, Director, Global Communications & Public Affairs, Google, Inc., as well as many presentations and case studies from practitioners and thought leaders. Our goal was to provide a program that people could walk away from full of practical ideas that could be put into practice immediately. You can download the entire program here. @ericschwartzman and I (@ealbrycht) will be participating in a Twitter chat on Wednesday, March 24, 5–6 p.m. EDT We've asked our presenters to participate as well. You can follow the conversation at #PRSA_DI. Please feel free to ask questions about the conference as well as current trends, events. etc. I am looking forward to seeing everyone in New York!

Thinking Back 5 Years: Global PR Blog Week


John Cass has asked alumni of the first Global PR Blog Week to answer some questions. I find it impossible that it has been five years since that great event! 1) What was the significance of the Global PR Blog Week for you? It was the first time the nascent PR blogging community came together to work on educating our peers. Those of use who were early bloggers saw the potential of all the emerging conversational media, and were eager to share it, as well as frustrated by the huge amount of skepticism we were running into every day. Now, five years on, our enthusiasm has been vinidicated. But there is still lots of work to be done! 2) What were the lasting effects of the Global PR Blog Week? Many fruitful collaborations were birthed as we all got to know each other and met new people. I think we made a read impact on the global PR community, and many of us continue to strive to educate, encourage, criticize our peers. The spirit of open collaboration and open learning continues. 3) How did the Global PR Blog week influence you and the industry? I'd like to think it was successful in opening people's eyes to the possibilities of social media (before that term was widely used). As I review what was written, much of it remains valid today. Certainly we have seen changes, successes and failures, as well as a myriad of new tools, but many of the fundamental attributes -- or perhaps I should say attitudes -- of the online world haven't changed at all. 4) Reviewing the post(s) you wrote for the Global PR Blog week what has changed? What has not changed, since you wrote the post? Certainly I think that people have become more sophisticated in their knowledge of how social media works, how to successfully use the various tools and so on. But I think the emphasis on a human-centric approach has not, and will not, change. That is the most important, and most difficult thing about communicating with people. We still have a long way to go in loosening control and changing our mindsets about our "audiences". 5) Give an update on what you've been doing in the last five years, and what you are doing now? The biggest change for me has been becoming a mother. My daughter was born 2 1/2 years ago, and you can see the dramatic downturn in my blogging frequency since then! I use Twitter and Facebook to fill in the gaps, but time for the type of writing I do has been difficult to find. I miss it very much, but Ellora takes precedence. The other big change has been my becoming a teacher. I teach at two schools in Paris: ISCOM, which focuses on marketing and communications, and the Paris School of Business. I really love it and feel like I am making a positive impact on my students' lives. I keep a hand in by consulting, and I finished my master's degree and am working on my PhD. No wonder I don't blog as much these days!

In Defense of Noise


So many of the recent screeds against Twitter deplore its chaos, its triviality, its NOISE. Recently, Maureen Dowd asked, “Is there any thought that doesn’t need to be published?” She thinks that Twitter helps “destroy mystery.” Since the debut of blogging, it has become common for the literati to deplore the triviality of social media: the burrito lunches, the cat vomit, the rain, the coffee and so on. Whole systems of search and refine, both user created and top-down engineered, have and are emerging to cut out the dross, to help you find the nuggets of gold that will prove the ROI of engaging in social media. I hear PR practitioners deploring the amount of time they have to spend trawling Twitter, looking for the 10 potentially valuable tweets out of a 1000 (work generally relegated to the interns (twinterns). I acknowledge the sheer and increasing difficulty of following that first rule of social media (endlessly recounted in books, presentations, blogs and so forth): LISTEN (damn it). (Or else.) And yet, I can't help but think that through our quest to reduce the noise, we are, in fact, getting rid of that which is most important to the formation of a sense of community. I have a hunch that it is exactly from the noise that community arises. That the emotional connections we are making with members of our networks (friends, followers, etc.) come from the noise, not the facts, the links shared, etc. I fear that through cutting down the noise, we are handicapping communications. I have a lot of work to do to support this argument, work and research that will eventually form the basis of my dissertation. In my thesis, I wrote: While it is seductive to think that distributed, many-to-many, loosely coupled web connections foreground a new political power to the people, it is certainly not that simple or straightforward. From the point of view of so-called mass communications, for example, the dualism of command/control vs. distributed/neworked communications conceals the fact that both play the same game, just in a different way. Crucially, in both schemas, technology is used as a means to an end: power. Either in terms of concentration in the hands of a few (e.g., media conglomerates) or via collectivities of individuals that form around certain themes, the underlying goal of both of these schemas is to control the message. In consideration of Twitter I wrote: What is significant to me is that the so-called trivial remarks and everyday language of the observation of personal minutia is given the same status or place as directed questions, commands, persuasive attempts, factual discourse, etc. While sometimes jarring, I would argue that this inclusion of so-called trivia in fact plays an important role in the formation of the community itself. Granted, it is a rather amorphous community, with highly permeable borders and “members” which drop in and out, almost at random, yet, if you ask participants, they all confess to feeling part of a strong community, one they are emotionally attached to. I think it is this ability to witness and to attest to the passing of life – the ability to say without expecting response -- that brings in a human authenticity missing from other more constructed and tightly policed (in terms of acceptable topics of discussion) communities. Due to these traits, I think that Twitter represents a hint of what an authentic online, power-sensitive communications environment and practice would look like. (My thesis was a philosophical exploration of what a framework for authentic, power-sensitive communications might look like.) I think that as organizations seek to nurture community, to create and sustain strong networks, they need to embrace noise, not try to limit it. This phrase from an essay by Michel Serres (see note 1 below) on noise is very interesting. (To Serres, noise is the foundation of everything – chaos. Information rises from this noise) “Form – information[...]

Reflections on A Year of University Teaching


In October 2007 I faced my first classroom as a teacher. It was a disaster. Maybe it was because I taught that class in French, from which I am far from fluent (even further back then). Maybe it was because the classroom was far too small for the 30-odd student or the too-close projector beaming strong light directly into my retinas (I saw spots for hours yesterday). Hell, I even forgot to introduce myself! I left the classroom disheartened at such a poor performance, but determined to improve. Happily, I have (based on student evaluations!). This past year has been both frustrating and exhilarating. I have no training as a teacher; I only know my subject pretty well (public relations/digital communications/marketing etc.). Happily, my first classes stuck to this core knowledge -- until this past fall when I had to develop two brand new courses in eBusiness and Customer Relationship Management (the second a bit further from my core competency, although I have certainly touched upon it in my career, esp as I worked for vendors and associations in the space). My greatest difficulties came with trying to deal with challenging student situations from a position of total rook-i-ness, with little administrative support. Oops - hit publish (Typepad changed its interface!). More to daughter is waking from her nap.

My Remarks from Today's Connect Conference


I don't usually write out remarks for the speaking that I do, but given I was Skyping in, I thought it best to do so. Here they are. Connect Remarks September 20, 2008 “Engagement” is certainly an important concept today in the fields of marketing and communications. We seek to encourage it and measure it. But what is it? What does it mean to engage someone? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that to engage is to attract and hold by influence or power, to induce to participate. Let's repeat: to engage is to attract, to hold, to induce – but what? First, attention, then participation. We do this through influence, through persuasion – the core competencies of PR. And this is what hasn't changed in the fact of social media. In traditional communications schemas, influence and persuasion were and remain key. What has changed is the structure of power that informs how we work with influence and persuasion. With the movement from command/control models to distributed or networked models, power has increasingly moved towards the consumer. But not totally, of course. There still remains the tension between institution and its stakeholders that has to be negotiated everyday by professional communicators. This has made our jobs more challenging, but has also opened up new opportunities. Today, I'd like to speak to you about two opportunities I have identified. The first has to do with persuasion itself. The second with branding. Studies have shown that there are three pillars of persuasion: competence (qualification, expertness, intelligence, authoritativeness), trustworthiness (character, sagacity, safety, honesty) and goodwill/intent toward receiver. I have written that the first two factors of persuasion, competence and trustworthiness, are arguably covered adequately by traditional marketing/communications techniques and tools. However, brochures, ads and press releases are not tools for handling the third factor: goodwill. The latter is handled much better via social media tools like blogs and social networks, for example, because they tend to embrace the human voice, and because built into those tools are mechanisms for communicating understanding, empathy and responsiveness. So why is goodwill important to persuasion? Because it is a "means of opening communication channels more widely" and is a significant factor in believability/likeability overall. (I am relying here on McCroskey & Teven's article on goodwill.) According to them, there are three elements of goodwill: understanding ("When we see someone exhibiting behaviors which tell us they understand our concerns, we feel closer to them."); empathy ("This involves behaviors indicating that one person not only understands the other's views but accepts them as valid views, even if he or she does not agree with those views.") and responsiveness ("Responsiveness is judged by how quickly one person reacts to the communication of another, how attentive they are to the other, and the degree to which they appear to listen to the other. We tend to see people who behave responsively toward us as caring about us."). So, what does this means for persuasive communication using social media? Used in conjunction with traditional tools, they can quite possibly increase the persuasive impact of your campaigns. And let's remember, these new tools can also support the first two factors: competence and trustworthiness. I would argue that in order to address the situation we are in with this large degree of lack of trust in institutions, we need to encourage goodwill more than ever before. The second opportunity I'd like to speak to you about – and I think Dell is well on its way towards doing this – is the opportunity for brands to become media. What is a brand? It’s a promise: information from a firm promising you a set of costs and benefits from the consumption of a good or service. Brands shape your expecte[...]

Brands as Media: Platforms for Value Creation


Back in April I wrote that I thought brands today have an opportunity to become media companies themselves: What is tremendously interesting here, is that consumer brand companies are finding themselves becoming media companies. Not in the traditional sense of media 1.0, but in media 2.0, or participatory/social media. This shift flies in the face of the old “core competency” business strategy where companies focus on what they do best, shedding or outsourcing the rest. But the shift in technology and audience expectations is driving a major evolution in marketing, which, at least initially, is leading companies to develop, purchase and/or maintain/support media properties, be they online forums, blogs, and social networks. (This is already starting to result in brands competing with traditional media, the very places they have supported by their advertising over the past decades. With large consumer products companies in better financial shape than media companies, this might result in some odd marriages in the next few years.) Since then, I have been putting a bit of thought into what I meant by that, with a special focus on thinking about what Umair Haque has been writing about branding and media economics. Let's start with Haque's definition of a brand: What is a brand? It’s a promise: information from a firm promising you a set of costs and benefits from the consumption of a good or service. Brands shape your expected value. A lot of people have taken him to task for this definition in the comments to this post and follow-up posts, but I tend to agree with him. Contrary to what some commenters seem to think, this definition does still keep the idea of social meaning, happy associations etc. The brand compresses information – it is a symbol – for everything a consumer can expect to achieve when he/she consumes the object the brand represents. Economically, this can be broken down into costs/benefits (even if we don't usually think about it in that way). The challenge facing brands today is that a brand can no longer be only a symbol; it has to become much, much more than that. This doesn't mean it stops being a symbol – its shorthand promise will remain important, simply because not every consumer is going to have the time or desire to read and interact with all of the incredibly rich detail located behind the brand. My argument is that brands have to become media itself – the medium or platform on which the symbol is co-created with its consumers. Let's back up for a minute and look at this from a couple of different directions. What is media? The dictionary definition states that it is “a medium of cultivation, conveyance, or expression”; whereas medium is “the means of effecting or conveying something” (a channel, environment, or mode). Let us define it this way: “media is a platform for shaping expectations.” By platform, I mean a place for the production and distribution of information. I think we can agree that this meets our usual thinking of what media is (a newspaper, TV station, radio station, even social networks). This brings us to a few important questions: Who owns the platform? Who shapes the expectations? In what directions does the information flow? The answer to these questions are quite important in characterizing the media/medium, because as we have known since Marshall McLuhan, the medium itself is a message (especially about power). In traditional mass media, publishing companies owned the platform and publishers, editors and journalists shaped the expectations (under the influence of readers, of course, but often not directly). The information, for the most part, flowed outwards to readers, with limited incoming channels for interaction. Brands purchased space/time on these platforms in order to distribute their symbols. Today anyone can produce and distribute information. Anyone [...]

Seminar on Innovation & Branding


I have been asked to teach a seminar on innovation and branding at ISCOM the first week of June. This is for students pursuing a fifth year (BAC +5) - kind of like a master's degree in the US. As part of the seminar, teams of students will give an oral presentation. I am going to ask them to present an analysis of emerging mobile strategies across a couple of countries, with a focus on B2C. If you have recommended sources or ideas, please drop them into the comments. Thanks!

Book Review: Groundswell


I reviewed Groundswell, by Forrester analysts Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, (thank you Jeremiah Owyang for offering me a review copy) for two purposes. The first was in my quest to find a good overall strategy book to use for my upcoming classes in new technologies for PR and marketing. The second was to, hopefully, learn something new (given I am so immersed in the field of social media, I am always on the quest for new empirical insights vs. the same old rehashed assumptions). I am happy to inform you that the book is a success on both fronts. I am indeed going to use it as a core text in my fall classes. On the second point, the book nicely mixes data analysis, case studies and a strong eye for spotting and describing trends. The result is a refreshingly well written, interesting and fact-based book that doesn't hesitate to make definitive statements while serving as an essential guide for senior managers. I would say that the authors have demonstrated their ability to listen (they interviewed lots of people for the book) as well as a gift for storytelling. For example, their description of Dell's movement from Hell to IdeaStorm is great. I think it is because this and the other case studies in the book tend to revolve around individual people. From Rick Clancy of Sony, introduced at the beginning of the book, to Bob Pearson and Lionel Menchaca of Dell, and others, we get a glimpse into their thinking, their challenges, their anxieties and their drive. In other words, we see leaders at work. The one exception to this -- a case study about an initial failed effort -- remains anonymous, and, quite honestly, fell flat for that reason. There is real authenticity in their case studies (stories), which is rare in business books. Given that the book is about engaging with people through social technologies, this is a crucial point. As with most business books, you will find a variety of checklists, such as four "techniques for talking with the groundswell" and five suggestions for "getting started with a community." While I often find the endless lists of business books boring (who wants to read lists for hours on end?), happily, these steps are nicely rounded out with both context and case study support, and don't simply appear as pompous aphorisms. I also found it refreshing that Li and Bernoff are not afraid to take definitive positions. They baldly state, "Your brand is whatever your customers say it is." and "Strategies based on deception are doomed to failure." and "The groundswell swallows up people who don't have the right approach." There is no hedging or waffling in this book. Groundswell is a book about strategy. You won't find in-depth discussions of the technologies they are introducing, but you will find enough detail to give you both a basic understanding of what it is (blog, wiki, viral video, tags), and, more importantly, what its impact is on traditional institutional power structures. This is one of the features of the book I really liked. The clear discussion of how social technologies impact power relationships is quite good. While the authors keep their discussions clear and simple, there is a lot of thought going on underneath (in fact, they have me thinking more deeply about the power shifts they record, but that is a discussion for another time). That was satisfying to me, as too many business books seem like fast food, quick and easy, but with an empty core. Finally, they address one of the thorniest issues of social technologies - ROI. In every section, they attempt to assign real numbers, based on the case studies, as to how ROI was calculated. While acknowledging the difficulty of measuring engagement, and the lack of professional consensus on measurement techniques as a whole, they do offer useful guidelines and examples. Bottom line: This is an excellen[...]