What’s the shelf life of the PR selfie?

saycheeseIs it a trend, a craze or a band-wagon? Regardless, does the selfie as a PR tactic have a limited shelf life like charity wristbands, naked calendars and any similar idea that works the first couple of times and then becomes increasingly irritating?

The problem becomes how the first few examples are touted around as ‘successful’. In social media terms, perhaps it started with Cadbury’s Wispa and Facebook (thanks Mark Borkowski!), where everyone who subsequently created a Facebook campaign expected the same results (instead of generating likes from a few pets or other random followers). Same with clicktivism campaigns and so called ‘viral’ videos.

So the past week has been all about the #nomakeupselfie – which according to Sophia Moir was actually not the PR brainwave of Cancer Research UK, although it has supported the attention and fund-raising that has been generated. It has a group on its website and used the hashtag for search engine advertising. Add in a bit of controversy regarding the initiative’s relevance or the sense of ‘lazy social media marketing campaigns’ (as Kristina Egan writes in Huffpost students), and there’s a story with legs here.

Cue the #cockinasock testicular cancer selfie awareness campaign (not sure I am recommending clicking onto the Facebook page) to give the guys a go at the pointless personal pictures (yes, puns intended!). But another good cause that’s generating plenty of social media talk and maybe increasing awareness of the issue and some research funds. Again, whether or not the hand of charity PR is involved here, seems to be debated.

There’s no doubting that the #drivingselfie story was originated by the insurance company, Confused.com – of course with a disapproving air whilst touting statistics that reveal this is just the age old pretty standard publicity tactic of the PR survey. And, yes, it continues to work in catching the attention of journalists as an easy story – who cares that the same story generated coverage back in November? It will undoubtedly be around again before too many months. Goldfish PR anyone? To be honest, I cannot be bothered to look up which PR agency suggested the idea to Confused.com this time.

Does this all mean there is actually a long PR shelf-life for various selfie-stories? Or will we soon get so sick of them, they’ll be tired and dusty ideas within weeks? Well, I can guarantee PR practitioners (consultants and in-house) will be pitching selfie ideas to their bosses over the coming months – and in fact, there is likely to be an inverse correlation between the likelihood of generating interest in the selfie story and ideas getting the go-ahead. That’s because many managers are social media laggards and by the time they’ve heard of the trend/craze, and approve hopping on the band-wagon, it’s rapidly losing momentum.

Originality and creativity are important in public relations. An ability to be opportunistic and spot an emerging trend or opportunity is equally valid. But so too is timing – and having a strategic purpose. It is easy to use the fizz of today’s word of mouth idea to come up with extensions for clients. I’m anticipating for the toilet roll promotion or bowel cancer awareness version, alongside dozens of April 1st selfie spoofs next week. dynamic agenda

But to be honest, what I’d rather see is real agenda setting within public relations. Let’s not rely on being able to launch a me-too idea off the back foot. Rather, we should be leaders in driving forwards critical issues that capture public attention and really make a difference.

Whether you are delivering public relations within a charity or cause-related organisation or have commercial motives in mind, the real art and science is in achieving your objectives by harnessing the public, media and political agendas to your organisational one – with the added energy offered by the ever-changing social media agenda (as proposed by my Dynamic Agenda Setting model – featured in the Public Relations Strategic Toolkit).

UPDATE: Yet to see the on-the-toilet selfies, but the #AfterSex Instagram ‘trend‘ has got the mainstream media in a bit of a lather at the start of April.  And somehow I’d missed the promotion of the ‘couplie‘ around Valentine’s Day by One4all 


Arrogance is the enemy of public relations

arroganceThe current Instagram furore is being touted as a PR disaster, with the company’s co-founder Kevin Systrom appearing to blame poor communications of the new Terms & Conditions for the resulting crisis.

However, I wonder quite what the involvement of public relations within the organisation was prior to the issue of the revised approach. Was PR involved in the discussion and decision making process? Indeed, does Instagram have an internal PR function – or a retained agency? Its online press centre is as vague as the wording around the controversial T&Cs – with zero information, including on the latest issue. Its Twitter account is one-way rather than engaging.  Instagram’s statement intended to sooth public concerns is carried on its blog and promoted via Twitter (ironic given its recent spat there too).

This approach to communications is common with online and tech companies. Mark Zuckerberg announced the Facebook acquisition of Instagram via a post to his 16+ million subscribers. The direct route offers the benefit of complete control over the exact timing and wording of an announcement.

Missing out the traditional media gatekeeper may seem a great step forward – particularly for those in PR who tout their ability to control communications. But it misses a critical point – that others are going to talk about you, and there will still be interpretation particularly by influential people and a spread of information increasingly by new gatekeepers who react emotionally, instinctively and rapidly.

The ability to announce information direct to millions – or at least thousands – using ‘owned media’ reflects a marketing mindset. In contrast, public relations practitioners should understand that earning a positive response takes more than making a statement. Relationship building with the media and other influencers is an essential element of effective PR.

It isn’t just relationships with these intermediaries that are important. Employees and customers are both strategic stakeholders. There is a clear arrogance in the way that these groups of people are often addressed. Terms and conditions are changed with immediate effect – often within small print or a sense of arrogance that there is little that those affected can do about it.

Redundancies and restructures are routine with employees forced to accept whatever occurs. My brother recently went through a situation where large scale cuts were made with little consideration or care even of the legal requirements.

As customers, we’ve all experienced the hubris of companies. Banks, utility companies, mobile phone providers, train firms and airlines, numerous shops, professional services – and the public sector – are all guilty of such arrogance. They presume they have the power to do as they wish.

Social media combined with traditional media attention may be able to change the response of companies like Starbucks and Instagram. There are small people-powered victories.

But have any valuable public relations lessons been learned? I doubt it. Arrogance is not so easily tempered. Instead, resentment is likely to be the internal response with ways around a situation being sought. That means employing legal and other counsel whose advice seems to count much more than that of expert PR people.

I can only conclude that such arrogance is the enemy of public relations.

Welcome to Facebook – all hope abandon ye who enter here


Is it time Facebook changed the “mission statement” on its log-in page?  Does it really do what it says, as the unofficial facebook blog states?

In September 2006, founder Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook’s mission statement was “to help people understand their world.”

However a recent BBC Money Programme showed he now sees Facebook as a powerful advertising tool.  It primary stakeholder group then is not “you” but advertisers who are interested in marketing or otherwise accessing your connections.  That is your social network is for sale.

If a mission statement is “a brief statement of the purpose of an organisation”, it gives direction to those, including the PR team, determining strategies and plans within the organisation.  From the external perspective, it should similarly clarify organisational aims.  The current statement portrays a benign purpose for Facebook, that doesn’t seem to reflect the reality of the business strategy.

Although I can’t quite imagine people being so lax about their personal and professional information at Facebook if the log in page reminded users:

Facebook is a powerful advertising tool targeting you and the people around you. 

Or maybe it should adopt Dante‘s immortal words:

Through me you pass into the city of woe:
Through me you pass into eternal pain:
Through me among the people lost for aye…

All hope abandon ye who enter here.