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London, Social Media Input for Brands and AVE. A Talk with Stephen Davies

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stephen_daviesIn a recent piece, Alastair Campbell says that London is the PR capital of the world, the home for reputational management. Do you see PR trends moving more from this open information culture that London is?

Yes, I would think so. I mean, I think what Alastair Campbell was referring to in the Financial Times that London has become a place for laundering reputation. And you know, probably true in some extent if you get a lot of London based agencies who would work for a "certain" individual. But you know if anyone is entitled to a lawyer, why isn’t everyone entitled to a PR person? If anyone is entitled to be represented in a court of law, everyone is entitled to be represented in the court of public opinion. From the international point of view, yes a lot of international campaigns get run out off London, particularly European, middle-eastern and Africa as well. Yes, London sets trends in certain industries, so yes I think it will spread.

How important is social media in the marketing mix and what’s the input specifically brought to the brand?

Social media is very important to some brands, to other brands not so important. So yes, they are changing the way people communicate, are changing the way traditional PR works. At the same time there are certain industries where social media didn’t lend itself so well to. There was a time when industries professionals didn’t want to adapt to social media. But over the last few years, you know, as the numbers keep repeating, growing and growing, becoming more important, social media is here to stay, is going nowhere. It has become more important in the last few years and in the next years it will become more important.

What’s the input specifically brought to the brand in terms of results?

It depends on the results, it depends on the objectives of the brand. But it can enhance communication, it can enhance reputation and given the cases that we’ve seen today it can impact the bottom line, increase sales, increase customer attention, improve customer service so it can affect a number of different facets of business.

Should clients integrate social media in the marketing mix?

Yes, absolutely. Integration isn’t difficult, not if you have the right people doing the right job, you have the strategy in plan. Integration is being done prior to social media, integration was done with PR, advertising and marketing. Integration in social media is one single element of the wider marketing mix. So yes they should do it. Is it difficult? No.
I think that the challenges that social media brings up is that affects not just the marketing mix, it affects the elements of business to such as human resources, customer service. So that’s where social media throws a challenge. But this is a case of overcoming those challenges trough experience and experimentation.

What is the power balance between the social media results and the business results and how do they interconnect?

Without social media you got to make something with all forms of measurements you have to make assumptions in term of what impacts are bought. So I think the key thing is to set benchmarks before you do any social media initiatives. So look out where your current customer really is, look out where your current sales are and track that all the time and track it along side your social media initiatives, your general marketing initiatives. So let’s just say that in July you did a certain reader an offer on Facebook if your fills go up in that certain period, you make an assumption that has something to do with that, obviously because you track it over time.

I believe you are familiar with some of the points that were debated last year at the European Summit of Measurement . How do you see the use of the Advertising Value Equivalency for the PR industry in the future?

Do I believe in AVE? No. Do I see it as a financial measure that some businesses demands? Yes. You have PR people saying: yes, I know it’s controversial, but at the same time my client says to me - put a financial figure on that. So, if that’s the only way that can put a financial figure on that, that’s what they’re going to do.

So this is the only way at this point?

Yes. It’s all well and good but you should educate your client, teach him about this. But some clients don’t want to listen and some say I just want a financial figure. So AVE is not great, there’s a huge debate about AVE, yet again they don’t admit of using it even though they do. But I think it’s going to be used for a long time in the future.

Do you see this process changing at some point?

Possibly. When clients will stop asking for a financial measurement, then maybe will stop using the AVE.

Katie Paine said "If you can’t measure a thing that means that you can’t control it!". How do you feel about this?

Well, if Katie Paine said that, I’m sure it’s true. You can’t measure it, you can’t control it. You can’t control everything in social media anyway. Despite being able to measure it, that doesn’t mean you can control it.

Coming back to what I’ve said earlier on, setting benchmarks to a set of infrastructure to measure it. So check where yourselves are, or check how much traffic you get via your website and track that over time. Referring to what Katie said, If you don’t know what you measure, how do you know it’s successful? Set the benchmarks at the beginning, set the objectives saying that this is what we want to achieve, this is how we are going to do it, and measure it afterwards.

Too many online channels of communications available, too many voices, too much information to handle and to acknowledge. How big is the impact for a brand and is it worth it trying to leverage all this?

No, I don’t think you should use every social media tool out or engage with every blogger in your industry. It’s about setting a certain criteria and evaluate what is going to work and what isn’t. There was a period when piers used to speak about bloggers, and everybody was important even though they put 2 readers and one is their mom, you’re still important. No, they’re not, not that important. A blogger that’s been blogging for years has high traffic and is well known in the industry is important. He or she is important. Is just a case of defining where you’re audience are and where the right channels to reach them.

Stephen Davies is currently a consultant at his online PR agency 3WPR, and also an independent social media consultant. He worked at numerous online PR  and social media campaigns for national and multinational companies (Europe, Russia or UAE), but also marketing agencies and FTSE 100s. He’s a frequently speaker on the topic of online communication covering events in the UK, Continental Europe, Russia and the UAE. Also guest lecturer at a number of UK universities and highly experienced in delivering formal training sessions.  Played an instrumental role in developing and introducing Europe’s first Social Media News Release platform.
Included in the PR Week PowerBook in both 2009 and 2010 which includes UK’s most influential people in PR.
From 2005 he writes on his blog - www.stedavies.com - once proclaimed Europe’s number one PR blog.

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