Whaddya mean it’s a brave new (social media) world?

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By Francis Moran

I just got back from CNW’s excellent “Breakfast with the Media” featuring reformed journalist and now digital marketing and social media consultant Mark Evans along with the Ottawa Citizen‘s own Vito Pilieci, who covers business and technology and so is on speed dial here at inmedia. Both had a lot of value to contribute, and you can see a full Twitter stream of their better pointers here.

The bone I want to pick is not with Evans and Pilieci who shared a lot of excellent counsel about, in Mark’s case, what the new social media tools are and how to make best use of them and, in Vito’s case, how best to engage with him as he toils in a more traditional newsroom. Hint: Don’t send him a fax to draw attention to the email you sent to remind him about the voicemail message you left alerting him to the news release you couriered over! It pains me grievously as a 30-year veteran of the journalism and PR game to think there’s anybody in our business still operating like that but apparently there is!

Equally painful, though, were some of the questions from self-professed communicators in the audience who utterly betrayed their abject grasp of the most fundamental principles of effective communications.

Here’s the crux of the issue.

Everybody seems to agree that you can’t engage bloggers and other social media channels in a spray-and-pray approach that spams your messaging out to hundreds or even thousands of targets. Everybody seems to agree that it’s essential you adopt a personalised approach based on a clear understanding of what your target is actually interested in and how that intersects with what you’re pitching. Evans put it well when he said you need to “understand the motivation” of your target blogger who “wants to feel some love.”

What has me utterly gobsmacked is the number of public relations professionals who believe this is a brave new way of doing things and who are having trouble adjusting!

Here’s your knock on the head, people: If you’re finding it a real wrench from how you used to do things to engage on a personalised basis in a two-way dialogue with your target audience, you’ve been doing it wrong all along. How dare you waste your employer’s or your client’s money by reaching out to even a single journalist without first establishing their clear interest in what you have to pitch.

One poor woman talked about her role monitoring media coverage of her organization and how that now needs to be expanded to include bloggers, of which there are many, many more. How, she asked plaintively, do you figure out which bloggers are worth the effort? Well, exactly the same way we always determined who the genuine influencers were in our marketplace, whether they were journalists, analysts or other stakeholders. It’s called “research,” people, and there are no shortcuts and — Knock on the head warning, again — there never have been.

It is not a brave new world out there. But not because there aren’t exciting new communications channels and tools that we all need to learn about and integrate as appropriate into our strategies. It’s not a brave new world because those communicators who have been doing it properly all along are having absolutely no difficulty extending their capabilities slightly to accommodate these exciting new tools.

One final note: Please don’t confuse adopting a personalised approach with a requirement that you have a personal relationship with the target journalist or blogger or whoever. I went up after the session to introduce myself to Vito, whom I’ve never met. In short, he couldn’t pick me out of a line-up. I have no personal relationship with him. But he knew exactly who I was and he knows every one of my consultants here at inmedia because of the personalised manner in which we pitch our clients’ stories to him. We know what he writes about. We know his information requirements. And when we think it’s in his and our client’s interests that he be pitched, we pitch him. It’s the only way we know how to do it, and we’ve been doing it since long before the first blogger ever put pixel to screen.

Update: There is one important way in which the new environment differs from the past. In the old days, if you were a spray-and-pray artist, the peeved journalists whose time you were wasting merely ignored you. Today, you’re going to be publicly outed as the spammer you are.

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