Part II: Q&A with Author and PR Expert, Deirdre Breakenridge

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In part two of this Q&A, Deirdre discusses how companies and individuals are using/embracing social media, and also where she sees the PR industry heading over the next several years.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Deirdre for participating in the first Q&A for this blog, and hope everyone found this interview helpful.

What is the no. 1 mistake that individuals and businesses make on social media networks – particularly Twitter?

Although there are many common mistakes that individuals and businesses make when social networking, the no. 1 mistake has to be: not listening.  Whether it’s personally or professionally within an organization, you cannot be a part of a community or a conversation if you haven’t taken the time to learn about the culture of the people, the topics of interest, and the norms or accepted behaviors. I see this a lot on Twitter because it’s very easy to just take Twitter for face value and answer a question; first it was “What are you doing?” and now it’s “What’s happening?” Unless you actually take the time to listen, observe and identify what is relevant to the members of the community, then no one really cares what you are doing or what is happening in your life or in your organization. The key to successful communication is to understand that social networks are made up of people who want to talk to other real people. And, the people driving these communities have strong interests and are looking for other like-minded people, who can relate to their situations, offer useful advice, share meaningful information and even help them to solve a problem. 

Businesses also need to think about engaging with people and to be seen as a helpful resource, whether they are on Twitter or another social networking platform. They have to listen through monitoring key words that are related to the brand, whether it’s in reference to their products, services or even their competitors. By listening and identifying important conversations, the information can be dissected and shared with the rest of the organization so that a strategy can be put in place and the brand can then share valuable insight and participate in a community the right way without looking like it’s being self serving or selling snake oil. The marketing messages of the past are not accepted in a social platform. People will immediately tune out the commercial like information and only engage with people and companies that are real and show a human side to participation. I think it’s key to listen and observe first, which enables you to be a much stronger contributor to a web community. 

It seems like all brands, from consumer to B2B and everything in between, are finally embracing social media (SM) and putting programs into place. However, would you say that companies as a whole are really buying into the SM effort, or are they doing this because everyone says they should?

For me it’s very easy to tell the difference between the brands that are really buying into the social media effort vs. those that are just doing it because someone said they should. The brands that are truly embracing social media are the ones that make it a company wide effort. These are the brands that believe in an employee culture of participation. Many of these organizations are empowering their employees to engage in social networks and providing them with the trust and the tools to do so. At the same time, they are training employees and educating them about social media and the value of conversations and engagement for the company. They are also framing employee participation around social media policies and guidelines so all employees (not just the blessed few) understand their roles and responsibilities and there is never a question of what they are suppose to say or not say in the social sphere. These companies realize that having a strong voice starts from within their own four walls, and if you can get your employees involved in social media, you will create an army of champions.

Is there a particular brand(s), outside of the Zappos of the world, that you particularly admire and would say is doing SM the right way? If so, what are they doing that others should look to emulate?

I look at IBM and it amazes me that an organization of over 386,000 employees can have its social media act together. Yet, I see companies with less than 100 employees who are still trying to control the communication. I think that if IBM can do it then any company can do the same. I like the IBM model and how social media participation is appreciated and supported from the top of the organization. The CIO of the company has been blogging as a means to interact with employees and to create global collaboration. IBM has many different social networks (both internal for employees to collaborate worldwide as well as external platforms to brainstorm on innovative ideas), including BlogCentral, Beehive, WikiCentral, InnovationJam and Greater IBM Connection. I also appreciate that IBM realizes that the closer it lets customers get to employees, the closer those customers feel toward the IBM brand. That’s a great lesson for other companies to embrace and follow.  

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career? How did you overcome it?

There are two large challenges I’ve faced in my career of equal importance. The first was the transition from being on the PR team to running a PR business, as the owner and President in charge of operations. My heart has always been with the PR team, rolling up my sleeves and getting the job done for a client. Although I still stay closely connected on the strategy level and customer relations, there are often times I still wish I was in the trenches with the team feeling the rush of success and even the agony of defeat, as you work together.  However, I’ve learned over the years that taking a leadership role allows me to mentor and encourage the team to excel and get involved in the many parts of the PR profession that I enjoyed for so many years.

Second is the entrepreneurial challenge. As an entrepreneur, I tend to want to do everything myself, but it’s near impossible to run a business by yourself, especially if you want that business to grow. When you reach this point in your career, and you know you want your business to reach a higher plateau, that’s when you have to learn to let go of the control. Not only was this a challenge, but also an important lesson I learned as the owner of a company. It’s critical to find the best and the brightest talent and surround yourself with these people. And, by finding the best and brightest, I was able to overcome the control issue and let my company flourish with a great team of professionals.

Is there a word or phrase that comes to mind when thinking about how much PR has changed in your 20+ year career? Secondly, where do you see it going over the next 20 years? 

When I speak to various groups of people about PR and social media communications I usually ask them what they think of two words that relate to PR:  Revolution and Evolution. As a matter of fact, the advertisement Brian and I used for our book, Putting the Public Back in Public Relations, was a blended version of these two words: R(e)volution. It’s fascinating that the changes in public relations have been happening over the years; yet social media makes many feel as if we are going through a revolutionary time right now, when communication has been evolving for a long period of time. 

For example, the news release after 100 years required a much-needed facelift. However, if you look at the many different variations of the news release, it’s clear to see that there were several different kinds of announcements that morphed and changed over the years between Ivy Lee’s original press release and today’s social media release (SMR). Although the SMR appears to be very different and almost revolutionary because it offers community building and social sharing options, I believe it’s the result of an evolutionary process. Other news releases have appeared in between including: the customer focused release, an SEO enhanced release, the Video News Release (VNR), the multimedia release, the VNR 2.0 and then the SMR. Using the different types of releases over the years makes the transition less revolutionary and more evolutionary for our industry. 

However, for many PR professionals the revolution is in the approach, more so than the tools we use to accomplish successful community building or engagement. PR 2.0 allows you connect in different ways through conversations and even directly with customers, when PR is accustomed to working through the credible third-party endorsement. I always say that whether you feel like it’s evolution or revolution, it really doesn’t matter. Either way, you should be a part of changes and it’s your participation that will make the difference for our industry moving forward.


2 comments on “Part II: Q&A with Author and PR Expert, Deirdre Breakenridge

  1. Great interview Andrew. I was wondering though what Deirdre and you think about companies currently looking to synergize backward overflow? Thanks.

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