The Power of Thank You

Despite me extolling the virtues of face-to-face, there are occasions when the power of a social network proves to be invaluable.  And on no fewer than five occasions over the past two weeks, social media has helped me re-connect with former students of mine in such a powerful way.  Sometimes, it really helps a teacher to know that the message has finally gotten through. A former student of mine contacted me a while ago to tell me that he was working at a brand agency where he was heading up “all the online research” for a really big client. He told me “during an internal meeting the other week, we were discussing ways of segmenting the information and then reporting back on it etc. So after a few ideas I suggested a bit of content analysis – which to my AMAZEMENT no one had ever heard of before. So the more I explained the more they liked, and by the time I’d finished they thought I was a genius! Thanks for the invaluable knowledge!”

Then a Masters Graduate of mine tweeted that “Quoted James Grunig in a meeting today. @CSweetPR will be proud.”- and I was- especially as he is social media community manager for Microsoft in the UK!

That sort of feedback is just…rocket fuel to a teacher.  And then one of my first students got in touch five years after she graduated to say “I received an industry award today and wanted to send you a personal note of thanks for the support, mentoring and teaching you gave to me on my course at Solent.”   Yeah…that kind of made my day, too.

I keep a watchful eye on my graduates through LinkedIn. Sometimes the students are fabulously clever and I know that they will do wonderful things even if I’d never met them. Other times, students who have doubts about their own abilities need a little TLC and patient support to realise they’re brilliant, too. So, this week I had two good pieces of news via LinkedIn and e mail.  One said, “I was just thinking about you the other day when asked which women have inspired me in the past. I just want to say thank you, because without you I would not have been able to graduate. When I was having a very difficult time, you were there to help me through it, and be able to finish my studies….Just wanted to say thank you.”  She’s a commuications specialist now with a major financial services firm.

And then when I opened my home e mail, what did I find but an email headlined “Good News!” from a graduate that I had seen a few months before. He’d been frustrated with not finding the right PR job, several years after graduating. He wanted to do social media work, but was finding it hard to break into it. After some practical career advice over a coffee when he was briefly in the UK, two months later I got the message that he had just landed a six month internship “as a Community Manager/Social Media Manager with Publicis K1” in Paris. RESULT!

Students who take the time to say thank you- well, you know who you are. And this is a big THANK YOU back at you.i_thank_you1


Face-to-face in a digital world

synchronous-vs-asynchronous-Today I attended the CIPR’s first PR Show in London. And what an experience! I’ve organised events (in my previous incarnation as a PR practitioner) all around the world, for audiences in the tens of thousands, with keynote speakers including Ministers (even “Prime” Ministers!). But I rarely get the opportunity to attend one as a delegate, so this was a welcome opportunity to see things from the other side.

I have no doubt that there will be lots of discussions about how the event can be improved. But one thing stuck out in my mind. I met face-to-face a number of people that I had only ever “known” before on social media. And it was fascinatingly BETTER.

I had a brief twenty minute conversation with Stephen Waddington- the CIPR president elect for 2014, and Ketchum’s Digital guru about an event we are collaborating on next March. I came away enthused by his enthusiasm. And no amount of exclamation marks or emoticons can do the same thing- make a real, genuine commitment on a person to person basis.

When I first arrived at the event I was surprised at how quiet it was. The stands were manned, and there were plenty of visitors- but a surprising number of people were standing around looking intently at their phones- hooked into twitter, and e mails and phone calls with clients. It took a while…but by 3pm the place was positively humming with people talking, exchanging ideas, making connections.

And how stimulating that is! I came away from the event buzzing with ideas about new things to explore and try, new contacts to see where we can work together.  And I was also there to help my twenty or so PR students, both MA and BA undergraduates experience an event not only as a participant but also take the opportunity to do some critical analysis and reflect on the power of personal contact in a world that is increasingly intermediated by social media.

Return of the Blog, or why Content Matters


Yeah- I know….it’s been a while. I have spent more than a year communicating with my chosen audience- PR students, academics and practitioners- via Twitter. But, it must be the writer in me. I find 140 characters a great way to signpost, to advertise, to promote something, but when it comes to offering insight? Well, it just isn’t enough.

Twitter now lets you add video and photos and all sorts of bolt-ons, but content? Well, it just doesn’t seem to be there. So, I shall return to the blog, refreshed and renewed in terms of enthusiasm.   Maybe that’s because I have spent the past year trying to convince students that PR is more than just “raising awareness”. That’s only step one. Beyond that, there are other mountains to climb- knowledge, interest, support and, oh yes, that elusive “reason why we are actually doing this” – changing behaviour.

Can 140 characters actually change the way you think? What you think about? Whether you like what you are thinking? Or, even change how you behave? I don’t think so.  Don’t get me wrong, I will continue to use twitter as a one way promotional tool. But, if you want to change the world, then 140 characters is just not enough.  So, watch this space….Cobweb

You are never alone with a phone…

I have begun to realise just how addictive a smart phone is…

I used to have a “dumb phone”. You know, the kind you actually use to make telephone calls. It took a lot to get me to join the real world, and even longer to learn the full functionality of my blackberry. What is interesting is that over the past few months, I have realised that whenever there is some “down time” I turn my phone on, take a look at Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, my emails.  Waiting for a coffee, standing in a queue, riding a bus, the time I used to spend just staring into space being annoyed at having to wait for something or someone to arrive. Now I fill up those times by networking.

And it WORKS! I find I am so much more on top of what my students are moaning about, what they are raving about, or just what’s happening in the world. When someone gets desperate about their dissertation, irritated by a sick lecturer or just amused by the latest talking cat on YouTube, I am now part of that conversation and can respond. It does more than just pass the time.

This is something remarkable for me- because as my students all know, I HATE talking on the telephone! That has come from years of fighting fires, arguing with journalists and being hassled by people calling with their latest disaster, crisis, horror story or whatever.  Social media means you can observe and decide when to answer, and when to leave it alone. It isn’t intrusive; it’s inclusive. It empowers the conversation.

OK, I KNOW you know this! It is just a bit of a revelation to someone who wasn’t born a digital native, but rather someone who has had to learn this all the hard way. So, for those of you who have followed me and let me follow them- this is a big THANK YOU!

Six Months’ Silence

ImageTo those few of you who might have noticed, this is the first blog posting I have done in almost six months. I decided to take a “sabbatical” from the blog in order to spend more time with another social medium- Twitter. As a teacher of PR students, I needed to understand how it was used, and that meant using it. So, like a guilty adulterer, I have been cheating on my blog to satisfy another love.

I didn’t start out that way. Like someone you initially dislike but grow to love, Twitter had to work at capturing my affections. I have had a twitter account for ages, but was like millions of other people who sign up but then aren’t active, I had just been using it to promote my blog postings to my students and other followers. I wasn’t entirely sure it was going to be a positive experience- my few forays into the twittersphere had been unproductive. At first glance, a lot of the content on twitter seemed banal beyond belief or, even worse, full of hashtag jargon and totally unintelligible.  

Six months on, and I am in love. I have discovered loads of useful content for PR students and practitioners, and made new friends, extended my network of contacts and had some fun along the way. Above all else, I found it meant that I could connect in a direct way with students who had been rather shy about commenting on a blog.  Fewer characters mean fewer inhibitions, it would appear. I’ve also realised that people expect a persona to be more evident in your Tweets than they do in a blog, so I have decided it is OK to share some personal stuff, if it makes the point that I am listening to what they are tweeting (reassurance to the occasional dissertation students in serious melt-down, for example). The immediacy and reach of Twitter is an added bonus.

The challenge now is to avoid serial monogamy. If I go back to the blog, am I just whistling in the dark? Is anyone out there listening? What are your experiences? If I have to choose between them, which do you think I should go for?

Don’t shoot the messenger!

If it’s in the Middle East, we get media coverage that trumpets the triumph of social media in the hands of young people, creating an Arab Spring that topples dictators and kick-starts a revolution.  “Demonstrators” in the streets are defined as a good thing, and the social media that helped fuel the fires was applauded. Now fast forward to August, and suddenly in London, youths are using social media to gather and demonstrate against police action in the death of a young black man in north London. But the participants get called “rioters”.  By the end of that same weekend, all over London and in several other metropolitan areas in England, social media is being used by “criminal gangs” hell bent on a looting rampage.

UK politicians, the judicial system and mainstream media climb onto their high horses and start a campaign against “feral youth”, “criminal under-classes” and “gangs of agitators”. Is anyone but me noticing just how similar all this moral outrage is to the response of the dictatorships in the Middle East to their demonstrators? Some of the rhetoric being levelled at youth in England could be interchanged with the language being used by the Syrian regime.

While there is a serious debate to be had about the causes of the demonstrations, riots and looting, and whether there are any similarities in motivations between the Arab Spring demonstrators and the London rioters, what I also find interesting is how the establishment’s views of social media change so quickly.  Social media users in the Arab world are called “brave”, “spirited”, “irrepressible”, and the regimes that tried to shut down the internet, censor facebook, and curtail the mobile phone texting systems are described as reactionary dictatorships.  Yet, within a matter of months, the UK government is talking in the same language about shutting down Blackberry messenger (the communication channel of choice in London’s riots) whenever they deem it “in the public interest” to do so.

A gun is a weapon, whether it is used to keep the peace, or to murder someone. So is social media. To blame the channel for the content of the message, and its affect on the local community, is to miss the whole point. Social media will be used by groups to achieve all sorts of things- from bullying classmates, to sharing photos with loved ones, to organising a picnic or a looting expedition. Get over it, and try to solve the problems that are underlying the demonstrations and riots.

Social media metrics re-visited

It’s happening again….The reason why I teach is to have an excuse to learn, and marking my students’ media communication projects has set me off on a steep learning curve.  Over the past week, I’ve learned more about social media analytics than I ever thought possible. Thanks to my students, I’ve learned about bounce, about stickiness, about curation  and about how to apply the new Valid Metrics Matrix to social media campaign evaluation.

But…interestingly, it is surprising that in all the social media stuff out there about social media that too few people talk about whether social media driven PR campaigns are actually changing behaviour in the real world.   And that links back to proving PR’s credentials in the boardroom, proving return on investment, demonstrating the strategic value of the latest gadget in the toy box.

So, I thought about whether any social media campaigns that I have been on the receiving end of have actually led me to part with real money.  And, to my surprise, the two that actually have produced that all important revenue generating moment came to me in an extremely old fashioned, non-trendy way- by email. 

So, how many of you have ever clicked through on an advert that sits alongside the Facebook page, or a sponsored link on Google, and even if you have, did you actually spend some money online as a result?   Shouldn’t PR be measured on its impact on the bottom line?  For more interesting insight on the subject, check out Craig Pearce’s excellent blog on the subject.