By: Carmine Gallo
Outsourcing your social media initiatives to a high-priced public relations firm isn’t always a good idea. I wasn’t surprised to read a story in The New York Times about a large public relations firm that tried to fool foodie and mom bloggers into thinking they were attending an intimate and “delicious four-course meal” prepared by a celebrity chef and to learn more about food trends. What the bloggers didn’t know was that meal was actually a Marie Callender’s line of frozen foods. Hidden cameras were installed to capture the bloggers surprise. Well, they were surprised and took to their social networks to condemn the practice.
The intention of this article is not to criticize the public relations firm but it is meant to remind all of us that social media is, by definition, building relationships through conversations. No relationship built on lies, fabrications, or deceptions can be expected to survive very long so why do we expect anything different online?
For the past year I’ve been interviewing small and large business owners around the world for a new book on mobile social media that will be released in October. What I discovered is the most successful social media “experts” became experts themselves by diving right in. As a result they had more authentic and effective conversations with their customers. I talked to people like Joe Sorge, a restaurant owner in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who learned everything about social media on his own and began reaching out directly to customers on Twitter, Facebook and foursquare. In eighteen months Sorge had built more buzz for his restaurant than his closest competitor had achieved in ten years. He owes his success to his own social media efforts and not to an outsider.
One of the most empowering books on the subject is The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott. It’s been on my bookshelf for years since it first came out and I was glad to see that a revised and updated third edition has just been released. Scott points out that old habits die hard among traditional marketers and PR professionals. “Naturally, marketing and PR people who learned the old rules resist the new world of direct access. But I’ve also noticed that many enlightened marketing executives, CEOs, entrepreneurs, nonprofit executives and professionals jump at the chance to tell their stories directly.”
The key phrase in Scott’s quote is tell their stories directly. Traditional PR professionals insert themselves in between their client and its audience, much to the frustration of bloggers and media. PR practitioners would be well served to continue to offer advice but also to encourage their clients to have direct conversations with their customers through all forms of online and mobile social platforms. It’s perfectly okay—and advisable in many situations—to outsource some of your social media efforts. After all, we only have so many minutes in a day. I certainly wouldn’t consider promoting my books without outside counsel. But today’s customers embrace and crave authentic conversations. An outside firm should never replace a business owner telling his or her story directly.