Writing About Social Capital: A Halloween Nightmare

Every week at PR News I’m tasked with coming up with two lead stories. Ideally, Lead 2 should be a tactical tome, like How To Send Tweets. Lead 1 should be a more strategic, Harvard Business Review-like piece (which is tough because I’m a People kind of a guy). So for the 11/1 issue, I decided to tackle “social capital” as the first lead. Knowing close to zilch about it, I called a friend, James Fowler, a professor at UC San Diego, who does a lot of research in social networks and co-wrote a popular book on the subject, Connected. James was busy when I called him. He and a colleague had just published a paper identifying the gene that causes people to be liberals. Needless to say, Fox News and others were all over him for interviews. James did manage to give me a few nuggets on social media (overrated) and social capital (hard to define and measure).

Later I called Don Bartholomew, VP of digital research at Fleishman Hillard and author of the MetricsMan blog. Turns out Don had done some consulting for a company whose model revolved around social capital. Later, however. the company decided that social capital was too “ethereal” and changed its strategy. The problem with social capital, says Don, is that there’s too many “intangible benefits.” I was beginning to believe the “ethereal” part and question the benefits of writing about social capital, but I did write about it, and you can read the story next week. You can also catch Don at our How-To Conference in D.C. on Dec. 1. He won’t be covering social capital—tying PR to sales is much more interesting. Have a safe Halloween!

–Scott Van Camp

Mets Pour On the PR

As we get closer to knowing which teams will play in the World Series, I came across an interesting baseball-related PR tactic today. Seems as though the New York Mets are keeping its season ticket-holders in the loop on its search for a new GM—in the form of an e-mail. The note, sent Oct. 21 from COO Jeff Wilpon, says that they’ve interviewed six candidates for the job, and names them: Allard Baird, Rick Hahn, Josh Byrnes, Sandy Alderson, Logan White and Dana Brown. Now, it’s well known that the Mets have had little luck with GMs, and that’s part of the reason why they haven’t made the playoffs for four straight years. So you could look at this e-mail in a couple of different ways: it’s part of a genuine effort to keep the fans in the loop about what’s going on in the front office; or, it’s part of a not-so-genuine effort to keep a bunch of irate fans from canceling their very pricey season tickets at Citi Field. I’d say it’s the latter, but I’d still score it as a double.

–Scott Van Camp

NFL: Get Rid of the Junk

The latest Brett Favre saga has taught me a couple things: No longer does the word “junk” mean stuff piled up in your garage; and the NFL is not fooling anyone when it talks of “seriously” investigating the hijinks of its players—like Favre/Jenn Sterger and the Jets/Inez Sainz. Case in point: The league just hired Sports Illustrated model Marisa Miller as a spokesperson, proving that yes, the NFL can talk all it wants about player decorum, but in the end, sex appeal sells. Between the player investigations, the concussion issue and the negotiations with the players union, the league’s communications meetings must be real humdingers. It appears to me that if the NFL can’t get its house in order and its messaging on point, what happens on the field will take a back seat to everything else, and that will be a shame.

–Scott Van Camp

Oxygen Mask: Check. Media Training Guide: Check. Even Miners Need to Be Media Savvy

The 33 miners trapped underground for two months at the San Jose, Chile, mine were all rescued yesterday to much fanfare.  And as with nearly every news or public interest story, there is a PR angle.  It was reported yesterday that the head of rescue ops for Chile’s workplace insurance company lent his hand to the situation by sending his media training guidebook down the slot into the hands of trapped miners who will surely be bombarded by journalists in the next 48 hours.  (Disclosure: PR News publishes a Media Training Guidebook and I frankly didn’t think about offering it up — or down — to the miners).  It is a smart idea to provide the newly famous miners with some media training. Their lives are about to change.  The media will most likely go easy on this crew, for, after all, this is turning out to be a heart-warming lifestyle story that gives us hope and even gets us thinking how we would be able to survive and thrive with our colleagues if we were stuck thousands of feet below the ground in  a space 12×12 and for days in the dark.  There will be many lessons to be gleaned from this crisis, stories about teamwork, morale, workload management, courage, health and wellness and patience.  And with their media training, there should be some outstanding sound bites too.

- Diane Schwartz

When Your Kids Call You By Your Twitter Handle

Are you a user of location-based services, like foursquare or gowalla? The answer is most likely no, since a tiny percentage of the population is using geolocation.  Yet it was a hot topic at the Digital PR Summit on Oct. 6 because, like Facebook, Twitter and Myspace, who knows if it will be the next big thing.  So you gotta prepare.  PR News hosted several digital PR events yesterday, including the Summit and the Digital PR Awards Dinner in New York City.  Hundreds of PR practitioners scored a day out of the office to talk about both the future of digital communications and the current best practices in this ever-changing arena.  What is most gratifying about gatherings like this is that there are STILL meaningful face to face gatherings where people come because they want to network and learn. You cannot learn everything you need in your job by Googling. Most studies about the effects of Facebook, Twitter, etc, point to in-person meetings increasing not decreasing.  To meet or reunite with 500 people under one roof is validating. You can’t replace face to face.  To wit, our keynote speaker at the Digital PR Awards dinner was Scott Heiferman, co-founder of meetup.com, which is an amazing organization that harnesses the power of in-person, like-minded gatherings.  You might be one of the 7.2 million members in 45,000 cities who gather around one of more than 45,000 meetup topics.  Scott is on to something big (and retro). One of his mottos is to “lead others to lead.” And that’s what we set out to do at the PR News summit by showcasing the thought leaders and implementers of smart digital PR. Check out the tweets on the day’s events at #prnews10.  Speaking of Twitter, we asked some of our attendees how they know when they’ve made it as a “digital leader.”  One of the responses was: “You know you’ve made it as a digital leader if your kids call you by your Twitter handle.”  Welcome to the future.

- Diane Schwartz    @dianeschwartz

PS:  Meetup has operated without a PR or marketing staff since its inception, but founder Scott Heiferman announced at our PR News event that he is looking for a PR agency to help him out.  Email him with your pitch at scott@meetup.com.

Goldman Sachs Gets Green

The timing was just about perfect. Goldman Sachs announces in a full-page ad in the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal that it is helping a clean energy company find investors, and PR News publishes crisis expert Jim Lukaszewski’s Tip Sheet on why CEOs shouldn’t hide behind CSR efforts. Of course, Goldman is now taking it on the chin for this rather obvious campaign to position itself as a good corporate citizen. Is the new Goldman campaign ill-advised? Should the company be talking instead about what it’s doing to clean up the financial mess? I’m of the latter opinion, but I’d be interested in your thoughts on this.

–Scott Van Camp

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