Social media and (not or) PR

There’s a level of frustration I and a few other colleagues have been feeling lately about social media and public relations. The issue seems to be that people are thinking of social media as a discipline — as something separate and distinct from public relations. That’s a false premise. It’s time for the thinking to switch away from social media or public relations to social media and public relations.

I was at an event this afternoon where Scott Monty from Ford was speaking to a group of PR students from several Michigan universities. The question was asked of Scott when Ford would be launching a new model solely via social media. His answer was, “probably never.” Scott noted that social media is just one component of an overall strategy that would be used for a product launch. It was refreshing to hear.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of speaking to PR professionals from across the country at the Ragan Communications Social Media for Communicators conference. I’ve embedded a short portion of my presentation that was shot on a Flip camera. It’s not the greatest quality video, but it gets the job done. So, rather than trying to type out the point I was making, I’ll just say, “Roll the video…”

All the world’s a stage, and all your employees can play a part

I heard Scott Monty speak yesterday at the Lansing Economic Club and, as well as being an engaging speaker, he also has the advantage of delivering a message from a company that really seems to “get it” when it comes to social media and its potential. For those who don’t know who Scott is, his official title is Global Digital & Multimedia Communications Manager for Ford Motor Co.

It probably helped that I saw Scott right in the midst of my prep work for a presentation I’m doing at a Ragan/PRSA conference in February. I’m preparing to talk to people about why they have a huge untapped potential in their employees as brand ambassadors via social media. Coupling that with Scott’s presentation about Ford’s incredible foray into this realm has me even more impassioned about the issue.

Employees have always been brand ambassadors. Successful companies learned how to keep employees happy and may have offered some training on how to express that happiness.  They probably talked to them about how to answer the phone and how to transfer calls to the right department if they couldn’t help. Maybe there were some tips on what to say to friends and neighbors if they asked about something going on at the company – with most of the tips being to say as little as possible or to say that’s not really your area and so you don’t know what’s going on.

But that kind of simplistic, command-and-control style of employee engagement simply won’t cut it anymore. The Internet is widespread and faster than ever, with broadband access sometimes giving people faster upload and download speeds at home than they have at work. With smartphones, Blackberries and iPhones, people now are able to receive and send information to anyone, anywhere, anytime. There are hundreds of news sources available 24 hours a day and there are dozens of ways for stories to be rebroadcast, repeated, re-tweeted and shared around the world in the blink of an eye.

There’s an old quote that goes, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on.” It’s attributed to Winston Churchill. Imagine what the English prime minister would say about the way news, rumors and information travel today compared to what was happening during the WWII era.

If you ever get a chance to hear Scott talk about what Ford is doing and why, I highly recommend taking advantage of it. After his presentation, I cornered him with my Flip camera asked him to reiterate something he said on stage. He had mentioned that people easily recognized the Ford name and the iconic blue oval, but that it’s important for people to now see behind that oval — to find out what’s really making Ford tick. Social media allows them to take that peek. I asked Scott why that was so important.

Here’s what he had to say:

Banking their way to collapse

Despite being frustrated over the Detroit 3’s lack of business acumen that has led to their near demise in recent months, I’ve also been a staunch supporter of government assistance to bail them out. You’ll note I call them the Detroit 3, because they’ve driven themselves out of the Big 3 rankings. And you’ll note I call it a bailout, because it’s saving their asses and that’s a pretty good definition of bail out. Still, I’ve supported the initiative because the impact on this country of losing GM, Ford and Chrysler is nearly unimaginable.

But after reading an Associated Press article this morning, I can’t help but think of the old saying, “We have met the enemy, and they are us.”

The Jobs Bank has long been a subject of disbelief for folks who found out about it. Imagine getting “laid off” from work, but still reporting and still receiving most of your pay and all of your benefits. Not too shabby, eh? Kudos to the UAW for strong-arming the car manufacturers into putting that sweetheart of a deal into the contracts. But then Congress — the bastion of pork-barrel contracts — easily recognized this scheme and demanded something be done about it before handing over billions of dollars to the Detroit 3.

So, according to the article, Chrysler is leading the way by eliminating the Jobs Bank. Well, sort of…

Workers will continue to be paid at least a portion of their wages while the company negotiates the program with the UAW.

And of course…

Workers will continue to get medical, dental and life insurance benefits, but should apply for unemployment, the union official said.

And, don’t forget…

…the jobs bank changes are temporary until negotiations with the company are finished.

So, essentially, a program designed to take care of you when your job is eliminated has now been eliminated but there’s a program to take care of the program so the government will take care of the companies so they aren’t eliminated.

It seems to me the only thing that’s been eliminated lately here is common sense.

I don’t profess to know the ins and outs of working in a car factory nor to fully understand all the nuances of labor contracts. I also am not writing this post to suggest that I could run a gargantuan international company. I’m just a guy viewing all of this from my location in a little place I like to call “reality.” And from what I am seeing, the Detroit 3 and their union brethren are banking their way to collapse.

Hey, Big 3, reality is 90 percent perception

There’s been a lot of discussion everywhere I’ve gone in the past couple of weeks about “the Big 3” automakers, which many in the media are now more correctly referring to as “the Detroit 3.” People are frustrated and angry at the mistakes of the past by these corporate behemoths but they are more scared and anxious about what happens if one or more of them fails.

There are many who have misconceptions about what’s going on inside the walls of the automakers’ headquarters, what happens inside the production plants and about the engineering and quality of American cars versus their foreign competitors.

Each of these areas is a victim of the concept that reality is 90 percent perception. What people believe about something, what they have heard from others and what they see in the media defines what they “know.”

In the long run, I think most people would agree the federal government should do something to help GM, Ford and Chrysler stay afloat and most people can live with some kind of bridge loan (even though $25 billion is an unfathomable amount to most of them).

That also is why, however, I’m amazed at the audacity of the auto companies’ CEOs, flying on private corporate jets to Washington, D.C. to plead to Congress for their bailout. Chalk that one up for the “What the hell were they thinking?” chapter in any new public relations textbook.

A quick Google search of “big 3 and corporate jets” lays out pretty well the news stories, the blog entries and the rants against the corporate leaders who each took, reportedly, $20,000 trips to D.C. to tell Congress their companies are broke and must be bailed out.

When asked to explain themselves, the companies claimed “security” as the primary reason their CEOs couldn’t fly commercial airlines. They also refused to disclose information about the types of private planes used or who was on them.

Another chapter in the next great PR textbook should use that example, too. The chapter can be called, “Hey, spokesperson, how stupid do you think your audience is?”

At the same time the CEOs were swooping down on Washington, the companies were ramping up their public relations machines. They’ve purchased massive ads in newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, commissioned public opinion polls and bought banner ads on Web sites. They also have put out a call for help to the public on their Web sites, claiming times are tough and taxpayer help is desperately needed.

OK, one more textbook chapter the automakers need to read: “The View from Down Here: How a Chevy driver feels about corporate jet travel.”