Social Media Survey: Execs Have Motivation, Lack Confidence

The results of the PR News/Cision Social Media Survey are in, and one thing is for certain: Engaging with and tracking social media are now standard PR practices. That said, the more than 900 communications professionals who responded to the survey voiced a mixed bag of concern, skepticism and optimism over the value of the blogs and social networks that are currently being implemented within their organizations (for complete results, see page 2). "Engaging with social media is now standard PR practice, but respondents indicate most engagement is still mostly reactive," says Stephen Debruyn, vice president of Marketing for Cision North America. "Companies are asking their PR people to monitor and respond to blogs and social network conversations that have the potential to harm (or help) their brand images and corporate reputations." This is indicative that the world of digital media is still a Wild West for many executives, who have accepted the fact that these platforms are necessary pieces of communications strategies, but who are still fumbling for the best ways to engage with and implement them into day-to-day activities. However, this uncertainty at the highest levels of many organizations has slowly opened the door for communications professionals to "own" the digital space and to become the maverick leaders in leveraging its potential to create measurable value. "There is a major opportunity for PR people to become central to their organizations' strategic marketing efforts with C-suite level influence," Debruyn says. "Because of the high engagement levels, PR professionals increasingly will be asked to take the lead in orchestrating the corporate strategy for social media." This opportunity is supported by the fact that, when asked to choose which departments in their organizations engage with social media, PR/corporate communications came out on top at 50.2%. This is not to say that communications executives don't face their own challenges; they may have the most visible role in creating social media platforms for their/their clients' organizations, but many admit that the value of their own efforts are often eclipsed by the blogs and forums that already exist in cyberspace. Nearly 10% of respondents say that the blogs/forums they create are somewhat or much more valuable that existing blogs they visit/engage with; this is put into context by the fact that 29% reported that it was too early to tell, and 21% said they don't create blogs or online forums at all (for verbatim comments around this question, see sidebar on page 6). "It's clear we're still early on the learning curve when it comes to PR groups creating their own social media," Debruyn says. "Those who do engage are for the most part doing it carefully and searching for best practices [and use] the most constructive and responsible ways of engaging--for example, not 'flacking' or overpromoting, but actually joining the conversation." This points to the fact that those who aren't on the leading edge of social media implementation--that is, those who aren't creating their own platforms--are getting their feet wet by simply engaging with existing forums, whether it's in the form of monitoring conversations about their brands, pitching stories or commenting on relevant blogs. But Debruyn's mention of best practices raises the question of what specifically these best practices are. Consider the following thoughts on the matter: *Handle with care. "Bloggers and other players are new to the marketing game and are not as experienced dealing with corporations, marketing outreach and PR people as mainstream journalists," Debruyn says. "Therefore, it's more important than ever to use care in approaching social media influencers carefully and constructively." A few best practices with regardless to blogger/social media outreach: Identify the most influential blogs in your space. Use free tools such as Technorati, Blogpulse or Google Alerts to see which blogs most frequently comment on relevant issue. Once blogs have been identified, monitor them closely before attempting to engage with the content. Don't reach out to a blogger until you've read at least 20 posts along with the threads of comments. Don't create a blanket list of bloggers and send out press releases carte blanche. *Embrace empirical evidence. "Tracking social media is now standard PR practice--most respondents are aware they need to be in the game," Debruyn says. "Therefore, good research and data are a must. [If executives have their own blogs/social networking sites], information must be constantly updated because it is a very dynamic environment, with new influencers entering the conversation every day." Rob McMurtrie, account manager at Porter Novelli, speaks to the new media measurement challenge in the context of a campaign his team executed with HP to measure the messaging ROI around its Imaging and Printing Group. "Overall, three key learnings from our program stand out: Set a clear policy, ensure data and content consistency and be diligent on the technical development of the measurement program," he says. "These three items are the first step towards success." He also offers the following recommendations: Consistent Communication: "Without constant communication between account teams and the measurement leads, it's nearly impossible to achieve success." Content Is Content: "By separating the content delivery from the measurement processes, we can capture content today that we may not be able to measure until tomorrow. This allows teams to follow microsites such as Twitter in the same place they monitor the New York Times, even if they can't quantify the impact yet. Article comments can be followed and rated for tonality. Facebook applications can be ranked and linked to product sales. If your PR messages are public, they likely have infiltrated into social media platforms. Thinking outside a static report will bring you closer to how the public perceives your brand, product, service or solution." Start Now: "The best time to start measuring a PR program was yesterday." CONTACTS: Stephen Debruyn,; Rob McMurtrie, PR News/Cision Social Media Survey Results 1. Of the time you or your organization spends pitching media, what percentage is spent pitching each of the following types? a. Newspapers and magazines 50% of time 60.0% 70% of time 20.0% 30% of time 20.0% b. Trade publications 5% of time 40.0% 45% of time 20.0% 25% of time 20.0% 10% of time 20.0% c. Broadcast media 30% of time 40.0% 45% of time 20.0% 5% of time 20.0% No response 20.0% d. Online publications 10% of time 40.0% 5% of time 40.0% No response 20.0% e. Blogs 5% of time 40.0% No response 60.0% f. Social networking sites 5% of time 40.0% No response 40.0% 0% of time 20.0% 2. Specify which of the following online platforms you engage with on a regular (i.e. at least once weekly) basis in your capacity as a PR/communications professional (check as many as apply)? Social networking sites 24.7% Blogs 24.3% Online forums of interest to your organization or client 22.5% Microblogging sites 11.7% Social bookmarking sites 9.0% None 7.8% 3. Which departments in your organization engage with social media? (choose as many as apply)? PR/corporate communications 50.2% Marketing 29.2% None 11.9% IT 8.8% 4. Overall, how valuable to corporate communications and outreach efforts are the corporate blogs or online forums you have created (for yourself or for clients) when compared to existing ones that you visit/engage with (choose one)? Too early/don't know yet 34.5% Have never done this 25.7% Somewhat more valuable 7.0% Somewhat less valuable 6.2% Much more valuable 5.6% Much less valuable 4.4% No response 0.4% 5. For your organization, what is the most important identifier of success or return on investment in pitching social media? More and better media coverage 34.1% More traffic to Web site 29.8% More visitors and engagement in our online community 20.4% Increased revenue 15.3% No response 0.4% 6. How do you measure this success or return on investment when pitching social media? No response 40.0% Increase Web traffic and awareness 40.0% Quantity and quality (tone, prominence, inclusion of key messages) of social media coverage 20.0% Social media does not yet play a significant role in PR/marketing strategies 20.0% Editor's Note: Please look out for additional analysis of survey results in an upcoming issue of PR News, especially with regards ?to Question #1. Analysis will be provided to address the write-in answers, which are not presently included in percentages. Source: PR News/Cision Social Media Survey Results: 911 Respondents Verbatim: A Glimpse Into The Mind Of The Executive When asked by the PR News/Cision Social Media Survey to describe their perceived value of the blogs and online forums they have created as compared to those they visit/engage with, respondents gave the following verbatim explanations. "A blog isn't an island unto itself. It must be recognized to garner the amount of attention necessary to drive ROI. In the Web world, cross-links between blogs are necessary, so we make efforts to interact with blogs similar to ours so we can spread our message. In a sense, this can make other blogs as valuable as our own." "We use blogs in managing community crises to keep open, transparent dialogue about road closings, school impact, town hall meetings and other pertinent news for evacuated families in an emergency. They allow us to give real-time information without the need for media vetting. Direct communication allows constituents to experience our clients rather than be represented by third-party media. And it gives local media access to up-to-date information as well." "Being able to control the message being delivered is always more valuable than having to respond to what other people are saying." "Blogs and forums help my clients stay more engaged with their audience than traditional marketing methods [because they facilitate] listening directly to consumers, direct dialogue and the good PR associated with this kind of direct outreach." "Corporate-focused blogs and forums are typically not viewed as being as credible as third-party blogs and forums. Users are somewhat hesitant to be as transparent as they might be on a third-party blog or forum that was not created to advance any particular organization's agenda." "Credibility of corporate or institutional sites is still suspect." "As a government agency, we have yet to come to terms with how to deal with social media, in particular, blog writers and social media. Because nearly everything we do has to 'pre- approved,' it is very difficult to engage with more spontaneous media." As for responses to the question about how they measure ROI when pitching social media, responses included: "At this stage and for my level of clients, they are most satisfied with more and better media coverage. Some are tracking hits to their site in conjunction with media releases and pitches, but are not tracking where every lead comes from. I am encouraging them to change that. I try to insist that new accounts I take on have tracking accountability so we can track ROI to PR." "'Pitching social media' is a pretty nebulous concept. Social media ROI entirely depends upon the goal of a given campaign. It could be the total volume of blog commentary or a single post by an influential blogger. It could be acquiring and communicating with fans of a Facebook page. It could be the number of qualified leads or revenue from direct sales. There is no set formula for measuring social media ROI." "A valuable gauge in terms of identifying a successful return from the social networking aspect would be in the form of discussions or shared content as a result." (Editor's Note: For additional comments from survey respondents, visit

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