Wasn’t it PR that told Australians they could eat pork?
Isn’t it interesting how people flick through magazines and newspapers, scroll through websites and change the TV channel purposely ignoring advertising. Although, they are much more willing to read an article or a news report about the latest product or medical discovery without feeling like they are being sold to.
People trust their favourite presenter on the Circle, their nightly 7pm news reader, the editor of the magazine they religiously buy and that blogger who talks about stuff they can relate to. They trust these media authorities and believe they have their best interest in mind.
Given the opinion of the media are so valued by consumers, why isn’t there more PR dominating campaigns being developed to take advantage of the influence PR has? Why is there this sense that PR comes last and is simply an additive to a campaign rather than a tool that drives a campaign? Yes, I’m aware there are many successful, award winning and forward thinking PR driven campaigns, although they are in vast minority in comparison to advertising campaigns which are constantly recognised on industry news platforms. Is it because brands don’t fully understand how valuable PR is?
If this is the case, I can see why. The impact of PR is less measurable than other types of communications. But this should not be a reason brands don’t view our communications methods as valuable, if not more so, than other communications. If consumers subconsciously confide in the media first, shouldn’t brands look to PR first… or at least as a huge priority?
After all, wasn’t it PR that told Australians they could eat pork in the midst of the swine flu epidemic in 2009 and didn’t PR disseminate all the news around the Queensland floods earlier this year?
PR also has the power to change consumer perceptions of brands. PR made Levi’s jeans cool again through rigging cameras on the back of two girls jeans to catch people checking them out, it also made people really feel the break up between NAB and the big four banks, not to mention remind us to get flu vaccinations annually.
An armchair guide to crowdsourcing
As the use of social media matures, we are starting to see new social methodologies emerge into mainstream business practice. The social media discussions are moving away from how to attract an audience or build a community and on to what to do with them once they are there. Crowdsourcing is an excellent example of this trend and is one of the first to attract attention from business leaders, Governments and leading authors like James Surowiecki (The Wisdom of Crowds). It was also recently discussed at the SXSW Event in Austin Texas*.
Crowdsourcing is where random strangers self-organize via the internet to develop solutions to a problem. Many creative thinking authors agree that its strength comes from breaking the logical and linear thinking process of a single organisation or individual. It has the capacity to solve a problem faster and cheaper but before you get too carried away, it also comes with risks.
As we have seen recently in the Middle East, when you set the crowd free, dangerous things can happen. From a corporate or brand perspective, we just have to think back to the iSnack 2.0 project from Kraft. This is clear evidence that crowdsourcing is vulnerable to being hijacked by Groupthink (a phenomenon where the group accepts an idea without critically evaluating alternatives because they want to minimize conflict). Or a bunch of nerds with lots of free time.
Like all social media techniques, crowdsourcing needs an armchair guide on how to get the best results while avoiding brand disaster. Below are some of the lessons learnt that were shared at the SXSW 2011 Forum.
Lesson 1: It’s great for start-ups
If you’re in business start-up mode and you don’t have money to spare but you want to kick start your marketing, crowdsourcing is a great way to get a new brand out there and solve some of the common problems of businesses that are just starting out. Whether it’s designing a new logo, promoting an event or building a brand community on Twitter or Facebook, the power of the internet means that if you have a great idea, but not a lot of money, the crowd can help you raise awareness (if they buy into your vision).
Lesson 2: Established businesses can also build their brand
Crowdsourcing is a great way to build brand recognition on the cheap for established brands for all the reasons listed in lesson 1. The best recommendation is to use social media to extend current marketing activities and get the crowd involved once your audience is in place. But beware, established brands carry baggage and this can make the crowdsourcing experiment painful (but still useful).
Lesson 3: Sharing the workload
If you have a daunting task and not enough people to complete it, turning it over to the crowd in bits and pieces is a great way to get things done. Wikipedia is a good example of how a crowd can share its knowledge to create a massive central knowledge repository.
Lesson 4: It’s great for Foundations or Charitable Trusts
Rather than increase admin costs to hire staff to assess applications, crowdsourcing can uncover great causes or provide a link to why they will resonate with your brand. If given the right guidelines, they can produce a phenomenal shortlist.
Lesson 5: It is the ultimate brainstorm
Arguably, the most effective way to use crowdsourcing is to solve complex problems. Crowds can solve amazingly difficult problems when they are given a challenge – and a suitable prize. The best prizes are those that are valuable to the crowd – they don’t necessarily need to be expensive.
Lesson 6: Don’t use crowds for compliance
When it comes to compliance, your accountants and legal counsel have the experience to advise you properly. Anonymous members of crowds don’t tend to stick around to be prosecuted if things go awry.
Lesson 7: Crowds are like committees when it comes to prioritising work
Tasks that require a high level of attention to detail and a medium-to-long term focus are best left to the people who work for you full time. They know your brand best and turn up to meetings every week. While the crowd has a high level of passion for the brand, they are just outside observers.
Lesson 8: Don’t take advantage of its free-ness
Crowdsourcing can be tremendously useful for getting work done cost effectively but don’t make the mistake of exploiting the crowd for work you should be paying for. Too much reliance on the crowd could be construed as unethical and once the crowd turns on you, it could be terminal for your business (there is nowhere to hide online from an angry e-mob).
Lesson 9: Don’t use it to build a community
Crowdsourcing is a product of galvanizing an existing community rather than building a new one. You need to build trust with the community before you expect to get work done for you, like idea generation or problem solving. Without that goodwill, crowdsourcing won’t work.
Lesson 10: Experimentation is vital
Digesting the thousands of armchair guides about social media techniques will keep you in reading material for the next decade. You will only really learn what works for your brand by experimenting. Small steps are the key – be mindful of the risks – and document your lessons learnt so that the entire organisation can ultimately benefit from your experience.
*This article was written using a variety of sources who attended the 2011 SXSW Event.