The other night I went to the CIPR Fifth Estate/Bloggers’ Party, which was an event designed to give PR/marketing folk working in the charity sector some ideas on how to engage with those pesky blogger types. Darika from Grapevine Consulting gave a talk to raise some points on how social media could be harnessed to help charities spread their message, before a Q&A at the end.
At this point I chipped in to help answer a few questions, as did my esteemed colleague Gemma. It was interesting to note the range of knowledge of social media among the PR folk – some literally didn’t know how to start finding blogs related to their area of interest, while others clearly read blogs but were unsure of the best way to contact a blogger with related PR material. On this point Gemma soon made it clear that commenting on a post out of the blue with a related link was definitely not advisable.
It struck me at this point that engaging with bloggers does entail learning a new and foreign set of behaviours. Yes, comment on their posts – but only if you have something to add to the discussion. If you comment with a link and a tone that makes it obvious you’re just there to flog something, you’ll be sniffed out. Yes, email bloggers – but show that you’ve read their site, are interested in what they’re covering, have a little knowledge about the area. Hell, give them a little compliment if you liked something they wrote. But don’t start an email with “Hi guys” and expect a blogger to help you out.
I think the ensuing exchange was useful for a lot of people, although I got the sense that a practical demo of some of the things geeks like me mentioned might be required in order to “prove” to the third sector how easy it is to use free web tools to track brands, follow blogs and so on.
As I’ve discussed with people in the office previously, it’s very easy to get lost in your little Web 2.0 bubble and assume everyone else is floating around in there as well. The fact is, despite the recent press interest, the majority of people aren’t on Twitter. They don’t use Google Alerts to track mentions of their company/website. They don’t drool over Netvibes and subscribe to so many RSS feeds they sometimes forget to eat (I’m guilty of that one).
The PR execs representing charities at the CIPR event were clearly interested in using social media to improve their campaigns; they’re just approaching the notion from an outsider’s point of view. That, and other parts of this post, might sound unbearably smug and superior, but it’s not intended that way. What I mean is that when I became interested in what the web could do it wasn’t because I was seeking to “connect” with anyone, or “engage” anyone – it was because I’m passionate and fascinated by music, culture, sport, whatever, and suddenly I realised how the internet made following these areas so much easier.
I love reading about music and hearing new acts, and suddenly here was an opportunity to take that to the nth degree – thousands of passionate, knowledgeable, funny music blogs, places that aggregate music and sites like Netvibes that allow you to gather it all together in one place. I had little or no previous knowledge of “using computers”, but I managed to get beyond The Fear and make the web work for me.
Trying to communicate these possibilities to people who haven’t yet encountered them, and are a little apprehensive about the internet (or even computers generally), is always going to prove challenging. When one of the PR ladies said she didn’t know how to start finding relevant blogs, I kind of wish I’d mentioned that you only need to “find” these places once – the tools available to you mean you can track such sites with little or no effort. In that sense perhaps this event was almost one step too far along the track; or, perhaps, it could have done with another session showing how RSS, etc can help.
Chatting to Charles from The Red Cross, and hearing that he had literally needed to “explain the internet” to someone in his organisation, was a good reminder that what seems obvious and second nature to web-dwelling nerdlingers is a completely foreign land to others.