Friday, 20 August 2010

A Victorian lesson in the high art of war

We sometimes think that propaganda is a 20th Century invention but in reality it is a discipline as old as the hills. I was reminded of this when I went to the Leeds Gallery and saw two Victorian paintings which created two strong images of Great Britain at times of great British loses.
The first painting is the Death of General Gordon at Khartoum by George W Joy. This is a painting I remember from my History lessons at school and evokes quite a lot of memories to me thanks to George Benson my teacher. But I was seeing it through slightly fresh eyes as I’d not seen it for a while. The painting shows Gordon defiant, magnanimous and strong in the face of certain death – and a death unlikely to be quick nor painless.
The advancing Mahdi army are seen to be numerous and violent, having already taken the standard with one soldier urging his companions on. This images shows Britain defiant against the savagery of Africa, brave and true in the face of adversity and proud with it.
If you read General Gordon’s memoires days prior to the final defeat, it is far from brave and defiant. He is far from home in a dangerous place, full of strange noises and the sounds of battle all around. He was likely to have died an inglorious and brutal death; and needless as he had been asked to retreat weeks before.
The painting meant something else to the Victorian audience and the death was transformed into act of chivalry, bravery and spirit. A defeat was turned into a moral victory. Whether George joy painted this to demonstrate the Victorian ideals or whether he was compelled to capture the tale spun to him I do not know, but either way the tale was turned successfully and still makes an impression 125 years after General Gordon’s death.
The second painting is earlier from 1858, Retribution by Edward Armitage. The image here is not a real painting but an image of Britain’s relationship with India. A white, European woman is dead, a baby with two tears is lying by her side and a young girl hides from a ferocious Bengali tiger. Britannia is there with her sword of justice, come to rescue the innocents slaughtered by the wild and savage beast depicting the artist’s view of India.
This painting struck me just days after the Rupert Penry-Jones Who Do You Think You Are? Programme dealing in the same period during the Indian Mutiny. It is nice to think the British “civilised” Indian, but the rule of ‘English’ law didn’t really apply to India and commercial law left many Indians disaffected, dispossessed and driven from their lands. The Indian mutiny may have been brutal and savage, but it was not unprovoked. Equally, it was suppressed using military might.
It may have changed the way Britain ruled India, but it was not immediate and had little impact on those suffering at the hands of the commercial British interests. The painting doesn’t depict this side making the British subjects out to be innocents, pure and godly. Your empathy cannot be with the Tiger, digging its claws into Britannia’s arm seconds before the fatal piercing of its flesh from her sword. Yet this is an image for the British to justify the tough tactics in Asia Minor after the deaths during the mutiny.
Flash forward to 19th August, and images are flashed around the world of an American soldier leaving Iraq screaming “We’ve Won”. Have the US really won? Was this staged? Is this just the justification of the war by creating an image of victory over the ruins of a damaged country?

Sharing the benefits of a 'Social Event'

It wasn’t that long ago that I was trying to convince a client of the benefits of Twitter. They claimed it wasn’t a relevant media for their industry but were open to being convinced. We had a further discussion about a major conference and asked whether it was using twitter and was hash tagged.
The client said it wasn’t – but after brining the conference webpage up, the first eye catching thing on the screen was “follow this conference on Twitter”.
Social media is gaining popularity in events but you need to understand why social media can help improve an event. Equally, you should not be frightened of using social media no matter how small your event is. You don’t have to be hosting the next major conference event to use social media.
The benefit of using social media is to be able to hold a conversation without boundaries. This means you can have a simultaneous conversation with multiple people at the same time or have a discussion with one person thousands of miles away in real time. These conversations can be stored, returned to or discovered by people you would never normally be able to find. Integrating this principle is the first stage to making it work for you.
How else can you know whether your thoughts are similar to others or different? You couldn’t talk to 100 other people in this depth.
Equally, what is an event? My definition is when people come together to share ideas and discuss issues. This covers internal meetings, collaborative web-chats, networking events, festivals, conferences and much more. Also, how do you want to communicate?
• Informally to delegates
• Formally to inform delegates of the programme/etiquette
• To create discussion
• To ask for feedback
• To share information
Before an event social media can be used to attract an audience. Twitter can spread the word that an event is taking place, allied with a Facebook page or blog describing the programme, date and time. You can gauge your potential audience by adding open source event ticketing software like Eventbrite, for example. Creating a hashtag (the # symbol and an event identifying code used on twitter) will also allow people to discuss the event even before it has begun, but check it isn’t being used for another purpose. Create a community of attendees using a platform like Ning.
During an event you can continue to use a hashtag to open up an event. May be you could welcome guests, invite them for a pre-event drink, start a discussion by asking a question. If it’s a real event, you can project a twitterfall of the hashtags onto a screen. May be you can use polling or survey apps to help demonstrate or discover the answer to a question as part of a presentation.
Events can be recorded for those unable to attend or for future discussion. Flickr can hold pictures, Vimeo can hold videos of key speakers and Audioboo can capture up to 5minutes of audio. May be your event brochure could be made like the Skittles website – a series of links to other sites. Why re-write someone’s biography when it already exists on Linkedin, their blog or their website.
It is not just about content – it is about demonstrating the atmosphere of the event.
After an event there is more that can be done. Invite people to give their feedback using facebook, twitter or online surveys. Invite them for a drink at the nearest bar. Ask more questions using the hashtag. Create a review on a blog, Audioboo or facebook site and then share or encourage others to share their reviews.
After the event you can look at the data collected by collecting the survey data, hashtag responses and comments across social media. Use this to create press releases and share your peer’s view of the world. You can also share this information on the event page or your blog.
Here are some examples of events I’ve been involved with. The first category is online chats – a much underused tool that can bring vertical markets or different people together to discuss real issues. Deidre Breakenridge’s #prstudchat is a monthly event which brings together PR students, lecturers and professionals from across the world.
It works by asking anyone to submit questions. At a set time, the discussion starts and single questions are asked over the state of the PR industry and hot topics. It is useful for the professionals to gauge industry thought, while the students learn, ask additional questions or put forward a fresh look on a topic. People identify the question and whether they are student, lecturer or professional.
A similar chat event on twitter is #edchat for the education industry where a diverse set of questions is posed on a Tuesday. Further closed discussions sometimes carry on using Google Wave.
The social media is used for Barcamps I’ve been to, with promotion exclusively through facebook and twitter. At the events a twitterfall has helped gain an impression on what is going on and created discussion on presentations. Delegates are encouraged to bring laptops/ smartphones to engage in the un-conference.
I noted that an internal meeting of the CWDC used Flickr to display the results of training sessions and brain storms online so that the material could be stored and used in future. The images are used in future work.
All these elements feed into many TED events with presentations videoed for those unable to attend and a strong virtual discussion from those not attending as well as those who are there.
The events don’t have to be massive though. A local development organisation, Wakefield First, have started using hashtags to promote their monthly networking events - creating a community of local businesses through Facebook. This concept is extended by profiling delegates in a rolling presentation, allowing people unfamiliar with delegates to identify and find those they want to get in contact with.
A good conversation is always positive and that’s the benefit of social media, but if you can extend this into a community – you’ll find a small event could be turned into something really valuable and special.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Are marketeers failing to get social?

[This article is written in a generalising way to provoke discussion and creates a position that can and should be challenged. Please feel free to comment]

The argument over whether marketing or PR is the dominant force in commercial organisations has been going on for decades, if not a century or two. In one respect, it doesn’t matter much as long as organisations understand their communications and they are being delivered effectively.

But I spotted an article that concerned me in the CIM backed magazine The Marketeer. If right it, shows that marketing has a head stuck in the sand approach which could see it make itself moribund and irrelevant to the modern age we live in.

The way people access information is changing and there are socio-economic shifts means Generation Y behaves very differently to even Generation X. PR is routed in getting coverage in the media and has to mirror media to survive. If a PR function doesn’t deliver content relevant and of interest to newspapers, broadcasters, the web or and other journalist, there content won’t be picked up.

Marketing is more sheltered with a toolbox of strategies which have been successful so should work in the future. It’s ploughing its own furrow. Advertising has had to change its tactics to fit in with a media fragmenting to leverage the best opportunities from smaller audience bases, but, again the direct approach from marketing has left it vulnerable from a changing society.

And so to the article I spotted . It states almost a third dismiss social media as something for PR to deal with. A further 58% of public sector and charities are scared of it. That’s a lot. As someone in PR it should make me feel secure that the new ground is being taken up by people in my profession, but it doesn’t. It leaves me concerned that there are many people in marketing (and probably PR as well) who aren’t developing the skills they will need for their future communications programmes.

For example, I spoke to a marketing person in a hotel chain. They stated that their mailing list costs £500,000 or so each year but the returns were diminishing. The cost had always been recouped because the marketing tactic worked but it was becoming less effective. It ignored the fact that some people would rather receive this information in electronic formats and it ignored the cost savings of reducing print.

Some companies now no longer offer printed literature with the belief that people will either print it themselves or would rather access web based media for the same information. I no longer pick up the yellow pages to find a number; I’ll now look online first. (Incidentally they’re now only publishing paid for ads which totally erodes their previous USP). Look at Volvo and their brochures.

Why is this reluctance there? It’s partly fear. Discussing social media with businesses I’ve seen a lack of understanding not only with what social media is but what it can do. It isn’t a silver bullet, a medium to push communications, a drain on time, an opportunity to get slagged off on a daily basis. It’s a medium to create discussion and dialogue that can replace and enhance your reputation. This doesn’t just mean gaining reputation from your audience, it also means improving you SEO rankings meaning potential new customers find you even more easily.

Most companies have a marketing function. I’d suggest less had a PR function. This survey indicates marketers don’t see the need to up-skill in social media. This would, in my mind be a mistake and would accelerate this may be changing. The big FMCGs like Pepsi are already diverting cash into PR and social media taking resources away from marketing. There will always be marketing, but will it soon be a part of the Public Relations department. When will the PR/Social media spend start to become bigger than the marketing spend? Because that day is coming unless marketing departments start to take a look at this area.