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Are we Conformists to Social Media and PR 2.0?

August 24, 2009

I was talking with a CEO over the weekend, and we had a very interesting discussion on authenticity, CEOs posting to social networks, Whole Foods debacle, etc. He posed an interesting question to me: “Do we conform to social media standards or should social media conform to us?”

conformityWe tend to jump on people if they “don’t use social media right,” so my first instinct was to tell him that social media should conform to the brand and user.  But there is also the right way to use social media (which varies from person to person) so is it maybe a little of both? As PR professionals, we are used to conforming to brands and what clients ask of us. Does that mentality from PR 1.0 transfer to PR 2.0? Do we try to achieve what “experts” and “gurus” say is the right way to use social media?

I’m on the fence about this one. I really think it can be a blend of the two, but is this possible?

Pro to conforming to standards:

1. We are accepted by community and have a network to fall back on and learn from.

Pro to conforming to brand:

1. We use the space to benefit the brand, and set our own standards, being a leader in the space if used successfully.

What are your thoughts? Are we conforming to social media standards or do they conform to us?

34 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2009 8:17 am

    Great question, Lauren. One that I honestly haven’t seen anyone pose yet. I think I tend to lend myself to a combination of the two: Early on, I probably conformed to the standards set by many ahead of me in social media. But as I have forged ahead within PR and social media, and begun to create my own presence within both landscapes, I have veered more toward setting my own agenda. This is party to set myself apart from the pack and create my own presence, but also because the standard practice aren’t always the best.

    One of the interesting things I find about social media is that because we are still trying to figure the landscape out, even some 15 years after widespread use of the Internet began, we still have a tremendous amount of opportunities to forge our own paths in terms of how we engage in social media, without being a complete outcast. Perhaps that’s a good thing. If this were 10 years from now, and you or I were saying or doing something within social media a little out of the norm, we might not be as accepted by our peers. But because we are all still trying to figure this out, I think we have a great opportunity to do both: conform to standards at times, and throw caution in the wind, take some risks and think about how we can help our brands and organizations best.

    I actually talk about this some more in my guest post today on The Lost Jacket:

    Keith Trivitt

    • August 24, 2009 8:29 am

      Keith – Love your point about forging our own paths since SM is still so new. Rock on. 🙂 Let’s keep trying to figure out standards and make it conform to us. I, like you, use a balance of the two.

    • Jackie Adkins permalink
      August 25, 2009 9:31 am

      I was going to write my own nice little reply, then I read Keith’s and realized that is exactly what I was trying to put in words. Standards are good initially for when you are trying to get your feet under you, but nobody makes a name for themselves by following the rest of the pack. You have to walk to the beat of your own drum eventually. You never know, if you strike a chord, others may be conforming to your new standards!

  2. August 24, 2009 8:24 am

    Are there truly social media standards at this point? Yes, there is a language, there are rules of engagement, but have we really set a benchmark for how to behave or use SM?

    In regards to your question, I think you have it right in terms of a blend of the two ideals. Life is all about the gray area. To say it’s entirely black or white wouldn’t be correct. We are always balancing the two. Plus, social media in essence is about people. We become leaders in the field by being genuine, engaging our audience, and providing useful information and feedback. That can only be produced by using both means.

    • August 24, 2009 8:26 am

      Bryna – Such a great point. I think people say that they are standards, even though its more rules of engagement, as you state. I think we have set a benchmark – we post lists of top people to follow, and those examples set the stage in a way.

      You’re right on point about balancing the two and becoming a leader- by being genuine and really engaging, how can we not?

  3. August 24, 2009 8:44 am

    Agreed about the benchmark! I hadn’t thought of it that way but I guess it’s because, as Keith mentioned, it’s all so new we’re still forging the path. Even having been named a Top 30 Under 30, I still don’t think of myself as much more than a girl with a computer, a passion, and a couple brands (myself included) in tow. We’re so fortunate to be able to use a media that’s so new and flexible. Good post today!

  4. August 24, 2009 8:49 am

    Hi Lauren,

    Thought leaders are leveraging social media to their advantage in terms of brand management on their quest to find a solid balance between conforming to social media standards and maintaining brand standards.

    I also think consumers can see through a lot of corporate speak that some brands are putting (pushing) forward. In my opinion, consumers are looking more for the human elements in corporate brands and rely on personal brands for relationship building. In the PR world, one good way to manage a corporate brand is through advocates with strong personal brands.

    So, I guess I lean more toward conforming to social media. I am curious to see what others think, too.

    Caitlin @TravelPRgirl

    • August 24, 2009 8:51 am

      Thanks for the comment, C! I think you present a very good case for conforming to social media – especially when it has to do with thought leaders.

      You’re right about consumers – I am big into “brand ambassadors” and grass roots marketing. That’s the balance we need, IMO.

  5. Kate Robins permalink
    August 24, 2009 8:50 am

    Anyone outside the brand is the customer, so asking people to conform to the brand is backward. Brands only lead as long as customers feel like following them. No followers, no leadership. Brands and their p.r. are as good as their “last party,” one day at a time. Brands need to heed the followers’ system or create a new and improved one into which they, and others, can fall. But then it’s still the system, not the brand.

    • August 24, 2009 8:52 am

      Kate – What if you as the individual pushing the message conform to the brand? Isn’t that what so many are always pushing – that we represent brands through SM platforms, even our personal one? Would that change your thinking?

      I like the one last party analogy – really makes me think on how to heed to the brand’s followers.

  6. chuckhemann permalink
    August 24, 2009 9:06 am

    Wow. I need to chew on this topic a little more, but I wanted to at least provide my gut reaction. First and foremost, PR people are representatives of some other entity – corporation, non-profit, association, whatever. PR pros get in trouble when they lose sight of that primary goal. So, with that being said, I’d argue that conforming to brand is really the only route.

    Again, this is just my gut reaction…I’m still mulling. Thanks, as always, for providing content that makes us think, Lauren.

    • August 24, 2009 11:08 am

      Hey no problem! It was a topic I had a problem with as well…. and knew I had a wealth of knowledge that could discuss it. I really dig your point about how representing your brand is first and foremost. Do you think social media makes us lose track of that goal – since so much of the time, we try to personalize the brand?

      • chuckhemann permalink
        August 24, 2009 11:33 am

        Tough question…typically when we are “sharing” on social networks we are sharing information that WE might think is useful for OUR communities. Not necessarily the brands we represent. That being said, if we’re sharing interesting stuff and engaging with our communities then we are indirectly benefiting the brand we represent.

        As I said, tough question and I’m still noodling. May come back for more commentary if that’s ok?

    • August 24, 2009 11:34 am

      Of course it’s ok to come back once you’ve had a chance to ponder. 🙂

  7. August 24, 2009 9:17 am

    Morning, Lauren! While I don’t think there is, necessarily, one single *right* way to use social media, I do think there is a way to use it WRONG. So, in that way, I think we’re conforming to social media.We know how NOT to use it. As for what’s right, what’s right is what works best for us. I think that as long as we’re contributing to the stream, as a whole, that’s “right”. This is all so new that I don’t know that there are any set standards as yet.

    Our personal brand management, I think, can be a real asset to the corporate brands that we’re helping to promote. How each brand, including our own, personal brands, interacts and uses social media is different. So I don’t think your question can be answered, unequivocally, one way or the other. I think the answer lies in a marriage of both.

    • August 24, 2009 11:10 am

      Melissa – Thanks for reading, and I agree. There are so many ways to use it right – and you really have to cater to yourself and your brand – but there is def a way to use it wrong. I think we can conform to social media in the fact that there are standards to be met – using it properly – but there are definitely ways to be blacklisted.

      Another great point is your personal and corporate blend – something I try to instill in my company’s SM strategy. It personalizes it to a degree you can’t do in other platforms, doesn’t it?

  8. August 24, 2009 9:53 am

    There are two ways to use social media – your way and everybody else’s. There can be a lot of synergy between the two but, ultimately, what you do and how you use it impacts you and your clients/customers.

    If a case study or example shows you a great way to utilize social media for something you need, use it. If not, don’t. Never be afraid to approach a project with a little fear in mind – it’s when you don’t have that fear that you become monotonous. Not many succeed through monotony.

    The main thing to remember is that you use social media; not the other way round.

    • August 24, 2009 11:11 am

      Synergy is a word that makes me giggle every time, KittyKiltzilla. Haha.

      I like your example of using case studies – I haven’t really gone that route too much, but I might have to try it.

      Always making me think, Danny – and you know fear is a very hard obstacle to overcome.

  9. August 24, 2009 9:56 am

    Great post, Lauren! I agree with you that it’s a combination of the two: we all use social media for different reasons (so it conforms to us), yet once we discover those reason, we then conform to it.

    I agree with you that it’s a hard question to answer, but I like how you brought it to the table 🙂 People really can use social media to fit their own lives, so there’s no right or wrong way to use it per say. (Although the way some people use it does annoy me lol)

    I actually wrote a post on my own blog this morning about how we all use Twitter for different reasons (in response to a Mashable article about how Twitter is becoming entertainment-dominated):

    • August 24, 2009 11:16 am

      I get annoyed as well, which is why I think there is definitely a wrong way. However, if they are suiting their audience and goals – whatever that may be – does that make it wrong? Something I’m always pondering.

  10. August 24, 2009 10:15 am

    Interesting question. I agree with most of your commenters that although there’s a set of rules for engagement, there isn’t one particular method to using social media tools, and when it comes to engaging on behalf of a brand, or conforming your messaging to that of a particular brand, well, I’m just not sure that’s overly possible. There are too many variables these days that allow people, despite who they’re working for or what message they’re representing, to still be themselves, because the medium begs for that kind of personal behavior.

    Does Scott Monty conform to Ford’s messaging? Or did Ford latch onto him because of his personal involvement with social media? Probably a little of both, I’d think.

    I agree our interactions are a combination of both — the reality is we use the tools in whatever way works for us, because our situations are always fluid. Tomorrow, we might have to represent a new brand…are we going to conform our behavior to it? I doubt it; I bet we’d tell that new brand to work with us because our own methods of social media use stand out over the current brand message we’re pushing.

    • August 24, 2009 11:14 am

      I’m glad you brought Ford up, T. I grew up in a Ford family – my uncle worked for Ford as a plant manager – and I think they really try to instill in all of their employees, the Ford mentality. I think it’s a great example of conforming to a brand you believe in – and they are now pushing that message across social media platforms.

      I def agree that it’s a combination of both.

  11. agathakubalski permalink
    August 24, 2009 10:35 am

    This is something I’ve personally been struggling with lately. When you’re working for an entity that has specific business goals, it’s your job to find a way to achieve those, regardless of the medium.

    Realistically, you can talk to clients about social media standards all you want, but if your client has a specific business goal in mind, that will be the first priority, as opposed to “using social media right.” I’ve been pushed to come up with creative solutions that go beyond the norm in this space, and while it’s very difficult, I have to admit that it helps me grow and challenges me to find new ways to use social media channels.

    These really are the situations where leaders emerge – I think that’s one of the most powerful points you make. It’s the people that “break” these rules(successfully) that keep the social media space evolving.

    • August 24, 2009 11:17 am

      Great points. As Chuck said above, your brand really does come first – and you have to mold that to whatever goals and strategies might be laid out.

      Thanks for reading!

  12. August 24, 2009 12:12 pm

    First of all, a really nice topic and in my opinion. Yes we are conformists in Social Media in our point of view. Although if there is a fact, and you accept it as it is. You couldn’t play with it too much. But in Social Media facts are changing and customizing with the brand, with the product and also whoever is marketing it. Sometime its nice to combine the traditional PR marketing efforts with the new Social Media tools. Still it depends on the clients aspect and budget. When my clients asking me if there is a specific ROI in Social Media; until couple days ago I couldn’t give the exact answer thanks to the analytics in Dell, now I can. So we are all playing hard, working hard with Social Media and PR 2.0 tools. Everything is versatile in this field and we all create and implement what we accept as a fact in our point of view 🙂

    • August 24, 2009 2:35 pm

      Jade – thanks for some great insight. I think we always need to combining traditional PR with social media – it’s an enhancement. Beth Harte and Shonali Burke are very knowledgeable on ROI, you can connect with them on Twitter at @bethharte and @shonali.

  13. August 24, 2009 12:32 pm

    As always, this is a very intriguing topic.

    In PR 1.0, there were rules, like format of a media alert or inverted pyramid.

    In PR 2.0, there are NO rules, just results.

    In PR 1.0, the effort was rewarded by clients.

    In PR 2.0, success is rewarded by clients.

    Basically, the training wheels are off. As publicists, what we can and can’t do has been thrown out the window. In many ways, it’s as if clients and organizations tells publicists: “Get the results…we don’t care how, just be careful!”

    In a lot of ways, it’s liberating, that our “canvas” can be painted any way we want it to be.

    On the other hand, when there are no rules and guidelines, when something doesn’t work, you can’t fall back and say “We followed the book.”

    • August 24, 2009 2:37 pm

      I think we still need to bring our ideas with the specific platforms in mind to strategy meetings. It can’t really be a free for all. We have to have set goals in mind.

      I think we are currently defining the book of SM – and it depends on who you talk to with what success they have had.

      Thanks for the great comment M.

  14. August 25, 2009 10:30 am

    Great, thought-provoking post; great comments many of which I agree with.

    Traditional PR and Social Media PR are both still about balance. The strategies and tools may have changed, but PR & marketing are still about connecting an organization (or brand) with its audiences. Effective PR has always walked that balancing act between providing a message true to the brand, that will still connect with the brand’s audiences.

    It has also been, and remains, about building relationships and trust. That too has not changed, although the playing field is wider. We are no longer just building relationships with editors, producers, and freelance writers, but more directly with the public.

    Our task as PR pros is to find that balance both for our own brands, and that balance for each and every client.

    Again, thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  15. Mike Coombs permalink
    August 25, 2009 12:00 pm

    It’s a great question that I don’t understand. Maybe because it doesn’t include the customer? I have certainly seen this question as a “political” question inside organizations, and as a vendor or employee you can end up in tough spots. Are you being asked to execute to their standards or yours? Whats right?

    I think doing a “good” job of listening to customers, understanding customers, how ever you do it… answers the “what approach” question. Isn’t social media all about conveying your brand? Every interaction is a brand interaction. If I am hearing in my sm conversations, (and elsewhere) that the brand approach is weak or inauthentic.. or if I hear that they love us… that is valuable and we can change the brand from there.

    Marketers ultimately don’t decide on what the brand really means or stands for. Customers do. Old school thinking here but we ignore them at our peril, right?

  16. Stephanie Danielle Martinez permalink
    August 26, 2009 9:47 am

    Of course, a great question as usual Lauren 🙂

    I think what we consider the “right” way to use social media is what has proven beneficial to professionals and brands thus far. When someone does something out of the ordinary, it can be perceived as bad, but sometimes innovative.

    This new age of social media didn’t come with a set of rules and many companies and PR people are still trying to figure out how to form some guidelines at least, most of them don’t know where to start.

    As far as using a combination of conformity of brands and standards, you are right in needing a combination and as someone mentioned earlier, there is a lot of gray area. We as PR pros need to know what works and what doesn’t and when taking the client into consideration, we better do what works standard first, while keeping the brand as inspiration. It is then our responsibility to create an exciting and inventive way to make our clients’ brands prominent, and our own for that matter.

    Main point: We conform to standards to get our foot in the door and kicking, but reconfiguring SM to the brand is how you find your niche among a plethora of conformists.


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