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#PR – Ask The Experts – Andrew Bruce Smith, MD of escherman & CIPR social media trainer

Written by Paul Stallard
Andrew Bruce Smith

Andrew Bruce Smith

I am happy to publish the latest in my #PR – meet the experts interview series. This time around I have spoken to Andrew Bruce Smith whose work I have admired for a number of years. Amongst other things he is now a social media trainer for the CIPR and has some great insight for PR practitioners on the subject. Enjoy

Paul Stallard: Andrew, would you please introduce yourself and explain why readers of this PR blog should be interested in your insight.
Andrew Bruce Smith: Thanks for having me 😉

I’m Andrew Bruce Smith, Managing Director of escherman – a specialist consultancy focussed on helping organisations get the most out of integrating PR, social media, SEO and analytics.

While never presuming that anyone should pay any attention to what I have to say, my experience spans 28 years of journalism, PR and marketing communications. I was fortunate early in my PR career to get exposure to Silicon Valley in the late 1980s and thus got exposure to technology such as email and the Internet a long time before the mainstream PR world.  I also was one of the very first UK PR practitioners to get access to the Web back in 1994. I started blogging in 2001. I’ve always endeavoured to stay at the forefront of tech developments with a potential impact on PR and comms.

I’m also co-author of two books on social media for PR: Share This and Share This Too (launched at the British Library on September 9th 2013).

PS: You run training through the CIPR – why this organisation?
ABS: I was approached by the CIPR back in October 2010 to look at running an initial social media training workshop. The CIPR wanted someone who had not only social media expertise but could translate this practically for a PR audience.

Over the past three years, we’ve expanded the offering substantially. There are now three levels of social media workshop: beginner, intermediate and advanced; as well other digitally related courses and webinars including PR and SEO; digital marketing for PR; and Google Analytics.

The CIPR has a big role to play in leading the PR sector today. I very much enjoy helping to upskill the industry in new digital techniques. I also get incredibly valuable feedback from PR professionals as to how they are able to apply these new skills in the real world. I get a buzz from hearing about how people have been able to adopt more effective and successful campaigns as a result of their social media and digital training.

PS: Why are you best placed to train people on social media?
ABS: I like to say I have over 24 years experience of dealing with social media.

In many ways, early online bulletin boards like CIX Online were the forerunners of the social media networks we see today (example: Facebook made a big song and dance about introducing threaded comments. CIX had this over 20 years ago).

Back in the early 1990s, it was possible for a PR professional like me to hang out in online bulletin boards with journalists and try things out. In other words, experiment – and make mistakes, and learn from the experience.

Other than Frank O’Mahoney (who was at the time Apple’s UK PR Manager), there were no other PR people around in these places. We were able to talk to journalists in way that no other PRs had access to.

For example, one of the journalists in those early CIX forums was the late, great John Diamond (Nigella Lawson’s first husband). Here was a hugely respected national newspaper journalist who freely gave his valuable time to comment, critique and engage with a couple of PR guys in way that could never be replicated in any other format. Looking back this was a hugely valuable experience. It opened my eyes to the future.

Ironically, many of the issues that I encountered in those early days in terms of online etiquette, protocol and behaviour still exist today. I had the benefit of being able to make mistakes in a relatively benign online environment. The social media world today is a lot less forgiving. Hence why training is so important.

PS: How have you learnt this stuff? Who taught you?
ABS: I taught myself because – being among the first – there was no one around to teach it. As one of the very first PR professionals to exploit online technology and the Internet,  I had to work out for myself how the tech worked and to what purpose it could be applied.

PS: What is the most common mistake that you see?
ABS: In terms of social media approaches (or PR generally), the most fundamental error is a failure to define robust, concrete and measurable goals for a campaign or activity. At best, the goals are framed in a vague way eg “raise awareness”. Or vanity metrics are employed. Worse still is where people simply run off “doing things” with no real sense of what they really want to achieve by the activity. Too often the activity dog wags the goals tail.

PR has always suffered from weaknesses in measurement and evaluation. However, the old excuse of cost has largely disappeared. It is now more a mindset issue – a real desire for accountability.

PS: What tool couldn’t you survive without – for both implementation and measurement
ABS: I don’t think you can have one single tool that would cover both social media implementation and measurement. But if I had to pick one for each area it would be Hootsuite for implementation and Google Analytics for measurement.  Hootsuite ticks more boxes than most other tools in terms of your ability to monitor and manage multiple social properties in a team-based environment. Google Analytics remains criminally under utilised in the world of PR – not least because of its ability to show both the direct and indirect contribution of social media and PR via attribution analysis.

PS: How do you measure success with social media?
ABS: Success is always relative to the goals you define for your campaign or activity. And success that is calculated in terms of cold, hard cash is always going to be treated by HIPPOs  (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) with more respect. I heartily recommend Olivier Blanchard’s book Social Media ROI for anyone who is serious about these matters. He has a “take no prisoners” view of ROI. He also has some interesting insights into the distinctions between financial and non-financial metrics. PR has largely focussed on trying to use non-financial metrics to justify ROI – which may go some way to explaining the perennial challenge of trying to justify the value of PR. However, I’m very optimistic about the fact that the ability for PR professionals to measure their worth with credible financial metrics is available here and now.

PS: Who should be responsible for managing social media in the marketing mix?
ABS: I don’t think any one person or department has a god given right to be responsible for social media. An organisation’s overall objectives should drive the structure of responsibility.

That being said, there is no question that PR and comms teams will often have a good prima facie case for at least having a big say in what happens. Not least because of the reputational thread that runs throughout any social media activity.

PS: What do you make of the recent changes by Google regarding links. How do you see this impacting the world of PR?
ABS: The whole “no follow” links in press releases issue is a bit of red herring. Anyone listening to Google over the last few years would have realised that Google has a burning desire to give link credit to authoritative and trusted sources. Or that they will give more link credit to genuine third party endorsement, rather than where money has changed hands. The fact is a press release is paid-for endorsement – and a link from a press release is thus viewed by Google in this light.

Google have pretty much said it themselves. The best links come from high authority, high trust sources. Media sites typically fall into this camp. Thus links from editorial content should be considered high value digital assets. And don’t PR people have the best skill set to be able to secure high value editorial content and links?

PS: I know you love gadgets. What is your new favourite toy at the moment and why?
ABS: Not so much a new toy, but one that I still really love is my Livescribe smart pen. I’ve had one for years, but I see more and more of them around now. The ability to make automatically synched written and audio notes that can be shared in digital format is very powerful. I also love the fact you can jump to any point in your written notes and hear what was being said at the time. I’ve actually changed my note taking style to simply put markers in the text because I know I can go back to hear exactly what was being said. You can also pay more attention to what the person is saying rather than worrying about capturing their words in written notes. However, it does mean that the old excuse of “I never said that in the meeting” is somewhat redundant!