Engage or Die: A review of Engage by Brian Solis

29 Jan

Having spent more than a year reading countless dry and difficult academic books, I can’t describe to you just how refreshing Brian Solis’ Engage! actually is. It is perhaps the most ‘unacademic’ academic book I have ever read. The methodologies and principles presented are career changing and it is disarming delivered as if the author is having a conversation with you in the pub. He is passionate, knowledgeable, humorous and inspiring.

Solis begins by exploring why embracing new media is vital to the future success of your business. Important to this argument is the concept that new media has changed everything, creating a world where the public is back firmly at the centre of public relations.

“Content is the new democracy and we, the people, are ensuring that our voices are heard.

“This is your chance to reinvigorate the tired and ageing models of marketing and service, build a corporate brand, and increase revenue; all while paving the way for a brighter, more rewarding and more prosperous metier”

For business to thrive in this new environment Solis suggests that we need to do four things listen, learn, engage and evolve. Simple you say? Well, Solis spends much of the book explain how hard this can be but what rewards you will get if you do so.

He patiently takes you through all the tools at your disposal before exploring the strategies and guidelines and may help you make the most out of these mediums. He then ends by exploring a number of specialist areas, including branding, marketing and customer service.

Throughout these chapters it is clear that Solis believes new media has made PR the responsibility of everyone in an organisation, from customer services to HR and marketing. He takes a holistic approach to the subject, rather than protecting particular departmental silos. e.g. marketing. As a result he presents a strong case for why new media will force businesses to change the way they are built and the way they operate.

Particularly interesting for me were the chapters on syndication and aggregation and the rules of engagement. But there are gems throughout this publication, including the wonderful Conversation Prism.

All in all this is an exciting book. I would perhaps even go so far as to say that I have never been so inspired by a book before. I now aspire to be a life student, champion and perhaps even leader in this field. Solis successfully welcomed me to the revolution and I have embraced the battle cry ‘Engage or Die’.


How to integrate privacy into your social media guidelines: An Intel case study

26 Jan

With guidelines and instructions playing such an important role in the success of a company’s social media programme I thought it would be interesting to look at how one company tackled the issue of privacy within these documents.

I chose Chipmaker Intel and compared the integration of privacy within its social media guidelines with how privacy was reflected in the Top 10 guidelines for social media participation, as suggested by Todd Defren, president of SHIFT Communications.

Overall I thought Intel integrated privacy very well. They were clear and explicit about objectives, consequences and areas of best practice, both on privacy issues and in general.

However, I did feel the guidelines could have been more detailed. I found myself asking questions that weren’t answered in the text and I would have loved some scenarios to work through. I admit that I might be being a little unfair here because this material may exist but just not readily available online.

What I found particularly good about Intel’s document was that they managed to strike a balance between promoting transparency and protecting privacy where appropriate, and without sounding like Big Brother. No mean feat!

They encourage workers to be transparent and state who they are, their role, real name and declare any interest they may have in the topic of conversation. They are also encouraged to be truthful in their communications.

 However, this was balanced with statements regarding company privacy such as:

Make sure your efforts to be transparent don’t violate Intel’s privacy, confidentiality and legal guidelines for external commercial speech.

Both these points are highlighted by Defren as areas of good practice.

They also did a good job highlighting the issue of personal privacy. Explaining to workers why and how they should protect themselves is another guideline that Defren suggested is important.

Interestingly Intel places responsibility for social media participation firmly with the worker, which I can understand from a legal point of view. However, it left me wondering what duty of care companies have to their employees?  

But perhaps the most glaring omission to the guidelines is that there is no mention of how to behave in a crisis, never mind the privacy issues that go hand in hand with such situatons,  something that is a must in Defren’s Top 10.  

Never participate in social media when the topic being discussed may be considered a crisis situation……Refer all social media activity around crisis topics to PR and /or Legal Affairs Director.

Embracing the perils of a busy social life

23 Jan

With almost three months blogging under my belt I thought now would be a good time to reflect on how this blog has influenced my development as a public relations professional.

 Somewhere near the top of influences has to be a general increase in my understanding of just how much easier the web and social media make it for business to communicate and build relationships with their publics. However, alongside this understanding is also a general acknowledgment that these opportunities also present public relations personnel, trying to integrate new media into strategy, with some of their greatest challenges many of which are outlined in Mapping the Consequences of Technology on Public Relations by John V. Pavlik.

These  include:

  1. Increased risk of information exposure. As well are facilitating better understanding between organisations and their publics, new media are also an easy conduit for leakage of sensitive or inappropriate information with consequences for operations and personnel.
  2. The unpredictability of user-generated content. Perhaps the greatest challenge of holding these public conversations is that businesses cannot manage or control them and need to accept this as one of the rules of engagement going in.
  3.  Increased speed and reach in communications. When someone mentions your brand in the social media, it is  simpler for conversations to spread more quickly and to a wider audience, but it is also very easy for organisations to be left out of this chat entirely or be ill-equipped to deal with the consequences.

But perhaps the biggest influence this process has had on me is that I no longer fear any of these challenges. I have gone from seeing every comment and post as a potential threat to embracing and even getting a tad too over excited by the perils busy social life.  What a sea change!

Things to consider before you jump into the social media trifle

15 Jan

During the time I have been writing this blog I have come across an extraordinary number of people who believe that the way to tackle the issues related to privacy and new media is by using commonsense. In other words, use the grey matter and don’t be stupid.

But as I delve further into the subject, the more I disagreed with this idea. What is commonsense anyway? And how can you use it if you don’t understand the technologies and platforms you are using? Thank god for Brian Solis is what I say. Here are his thoughts about the issue, as captured in his 2010 book Engage: The Complete Guide for Brand and Businesses to build, cultivate and measure success in the New Web.

“One might believe common sense is pervasive and prevailing: however, I believe that ‘common sense’ is mostly uncommon. In the new media world where many of us are literally learning as we go, commonsensical behaviour usually acquiesces to a more likely set of circumstances that resembles common nonsense, rather than sense and sensibility.”( Engage, P182)

For Solis one way to encourage the wise use of new media is through education. He believes that before companies create and implement social media programmes they should first educate their staff on the benefits and hazards associated with it.

 “Everything starts with education and the institution of policies to protect individuals and brands.” ( Engage, P205)

But what does this actually entail. In summary it means……………..

  1. setting guidelines and regulations for how and when employees should and shouldn’t engage online
  2.  holding regular training sessions that suit the level an employee is within an organisation
  3.  teaching spokespeople how to leverage the potential of social media
  4.  giving employees the experience. There is nothing better to develop understanding than actually experiencing the scenarios, hazards and nuances associated with engaging online


For me these points cannot be over emphasised. Perhaps we should all just stop for a moment before we jump blindly into the social media trifle and think about the great responsibility that comes with any social media programme?

Wikileaks v the US Government: Where is this all leading?

9 Jan

Despite good intentions that today I would explore the topic of privacy and education, I failed to deliver. The reason, I became sidetracked by the latest WikiLeaks developments. Big stuff really, however you look at it. And what does it mean for business?

Are internal company documents far game for public consumption? For many people I talk to the answer is, quite simply, no. They believe the  WikiLeaks revelations will cause businesses to retreat further inwards, causing the actual open sharing of information to decrease.

But why must businesses hide and protect themselves? Is it just because this is the way it has always been? Or are they actually doing something wrong? Or is it because they fear the way social media is changing how they need to operate to succeed?  

Some social media advocates would argue that Web 2.0 actually offers businesses a huge opportunity. By building transparent, authentic and meaningful relationships with stakeholders, the possibility of perceived wrong doing is actually lessened and, with careful negotiation,the communications tools and channels on the Internet can actually help businesses build partnerships of mutual benefit.

But how willing are we to introduce transparency to all aspects of our business? I really don’t know?

Relationship management and customer privacy- PR bedfellows

5 Jan

A picture of a freshly made bedLast week we heard that Apple is being sued by two groups of iPhone and iPad users for leaking identifiable data. The groups’ main complaint is that they want to stop their personal date being passed around without them being notified or compensated.  

Although not strictly connected this started me thinking about what defines ‘good stewardship’ of customers’ personal information. You may think this has nothing to do with PR or New Media but I believe it is vital.

Firstly, it is imperative that your company follows the law, which in the UK mainly comprises the Data Protection Act 1998 and Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 I believe. By helping your organisation follow these guidelines you can help avoid it getting into hot water and thus any embarrassing public gaffs for PR to handle.

And secondly, if you subscribe to the systems family of approaches to PR of J.A. Ledingham and S.D. Bruning then maintaining and improving relationships is your objective. What could be more important in building trust and favour, two dimensions of Y.H Huang’s scale for measuring public perceptions of organisations, then how personal data is collected and what is done with it? Does this then not put customer privacy at the heart of PR?

I wonder what importance organisations place on their privacy policies, both online and off? Perhaps it is time for a review?

Naked and standing in Knobs and Knockers

28 Dec

An Iphone showing the Facebook menuA few days ago I ‘checked-in’ to Knobs and Knockers. Now I wish that was as exciting as it sounds. In reality I was standing in a hardware shop in Yorkshire and perhaps the most interesting thing about my visit was that I used a location-based service for the first time.

I used Facebook Places and from the feeling this gave me, I might as well have been surrounded by personal parts of people’s anatomy. I felt completely naked. I had not only shared my location with my friends but also let them know who I was with and why I was there.

As I played around I began to understand why some web commentators are so passionate about warning people of the dangers of location-based services. They, like much social media, are built on trust; trust in your friends and trust that the person behind the screen is who you expect. Otherwise, it is like shouting your name, address and that you will be out all day, in the middle of Leeds train station.

However, despite these personal hesitations, I also began to grasp their huge potential as PR and marketing tools. As Brian Solis explains in his book , Engage, businesses can use them to develop a local presence, identify customers in the local area to attract new business, develop relationships with loyal customers by offering them special deals and ‘extend online interaction into a full-blown community in the real world’. And, every time someone checks-in the business receives a free advertisement – what could be better.  It is no wonder then that, although in their relative infancy, there is so much hype around these services.