The Problem With Social Hucksters

The problem with social hucksters
The problem with social hucksters
Social Hucksters are everywhere

Chances are you’ve got social hucksters in your networks. They’re often hiding under the guise of being social media experts, ninjas, gurus or influencers without every really being specific about their credentials. They’re often the people you see the most frequently in your social streams and if they’re not posting about what they are doing they’re making motivational statements that are designed to make you think their lives are better than yours.

The problem is that most of their posts are the result of some kind of ulterior motive. They’re at restaurants, bars, parties and appear to have access to things that you don’t and use these things socially to feed the need to use social media to tell everybody about them. But the truth is that the brands or companies that are providing a product or service, or extending the invitation are using them to get at you. They want you to aspire to be part of the ‘in’ crowd or to tell you how great a product or service is, without ever having subjected it to serious consideration or critique.

These people are seen in some circles – both brands and consumers – as social media influencers, when in reality they are social hucksters, being use to hawk a product or service because they have a large audience, rather than a critical eye or considered opinion. They move from brand to brand without consideration of conflict or confusion and will sell on behalf of a third-party simply because it strokes their egos.

So, next time you see something in one of your social feeds that covertly promotes a random company or product and service consider whether it’s a legitimate fan comment or whether it’s a social huckster hard at work hawking in the hope that they inflate their own perception of their social importance. Most importantly, consider whether engaging them will deliver any noticeable value to your organization – or whether you’re just stroking their ego.

What Is A Social Media Influencer Anyway?

PR Espresso : What is Inluence from COMMS BAR on Vimeo.

Attracting the attention of Influencers is, we’re led to believe, the Holy Grail of modern communications programs. While influencers have always been important to traditional public relations and marketing communications campaigns of old, it’s reached almost fever-pitch for any social media marketing activity.

But what is an influencer? It’s a question that I’m not sure anybody really understands these days. In the traditional communications world it was anybody that influenced the decision maker. It could be the CFO – because they were the person holding the purse stings. It could be a systems analyst who was going to use a piece of software that helped a procurement ‘guy’ make the final decision from a shortlist. It could be a personal assistant that had the ear of the CEO or Managing Director. If you knew who your audience was it was always relatively easy to identify the influencers responsible for helping the decision maker pick you over a competitor.

In social media it’s not so clear. Actually, it’s not clear at all. Most social media campaigns are digital megaphones, used by companies to shout loudly about a new product, a piece of content or a brand message in the hope that the right people hear. I say hope, because the social influencer appears to be measured by their ability to share a company’s message with a larger audience than the company itself. The only influence that most social ‘influencers’ appear to have over their fans, friends, connections and followers to share a message with their friends, fans, connections and followers.  These people are rarely the people that matter to your business.

And that’s the problem. Social media influence don’t appear to have… well, any influence. They’re social megaphones that are often incentivized to share a company’s social content, but often that’s where it stops. Their ability to get others to do anything substantial is limited. Sometimes the influencers are incentivized by companies to talk about them, whether in return for free stuff or another form of payment. A few companies offer financial rewards, in the form of speaking opportunities or in return for guest blogs; sometimes simply fanning their egos is sufficient.

Most of the time it’s hard to tell what the arrangement is and most ‘influencers’ have never heard of disclosure. And yes, I know – there are tools that measure social media influence.  Influence can now be quantified by a secret algorithm – so if your score is high enough you can use your social networks to proclaim that you’re an influencer. The only problem is that I’m not convinced that the accounts of Barack Obama, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and other supposed influencers are entirely their own handiwork… so are they really the influencers or is it the social media managers that help them?

Then there’s the social media influencers who claim to be influential about social media and spend most of their lives sending out, what I can only assume are, scheduled tweets telling me that a high profile magazine or website thinks they are an influencer.  Either that or they’re recycling blog posts that compare cell phones or offering generic advice on how to be a social media influencer.

Sorry, I thought they were supposed to be influencers!

Traditional Public Relations is Insanity

Einstein, Insanity, Public Relations
Einstein, Insanity, Public Relations
Einstein once said insanity was to repeatedly do the same thing expecting a different outcome!

Albert Einstein is quoted to have said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  On this basis most public relations programs are insane!  Despite new technologies, new distribution channels and the real-time internet, that gives people the potential to communicate with almost anybody else instantly, public relations has remained the same for more than 100 years and fails to deliver the results that many businesses expect.

It might be reasonable to expect that having tried the traditional approach to PR unsuccessfully that more businesses would try something different.  And yet the majority of new customers for PR agencies are companies that have recently fired an agency because they were dissatisfied with the results.

There are two main scenarios:

  • The first is where an agency has been unable to secure the coverage in key magazines, websites and blogs that they promised [and that the company believe their product or service warrants] and feel they haven’t got the return on the investment they have made. The customer has often spent many thousands of dollars a month for, usually, for a minimum of three months].
  • The other is that a constant stream of press releases, intensive media relations, interviews and the resulting coverage in publications, on websites and in blogs has not translated in to the business outcomes they had hoped [and, in some cases, been promised] for.

Small businesses that try public relations and find that it doesn’t deliver results do one of two things: they start a beauty parade for a new agency, hoping to find that the same combination of resources – press releases, media outreach, interviews and coverage – will deliver better results.  Or, they stop doing public relations and divert the money in to another marketing activity or, in many cases, another part of the business.  The companies that choose the first approach invariably end up at the same place they were with their previous agency and do one of two things.  They start a beauty parade to find another PR agency that they hope will use the same combination of resources… you get the picture?

If traditional PR hasn’t delivered your business the outcomes you’d hoped for then you might want to think differently about public relations.  You might be surprised at the impact it will have on your business.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Ditch the press release.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The first press release was developed as a crisis communications tool by the Pennsylvania Railroad as a way to communicate information about the 1906 Atlantic City train wreck to journalists en mass. It was designed to control speculation and control the message – not as a way to build long-term relationships with an audience.  It was later adapted and, in conjunction with another staple of the PR industry – the wire, became a way for companies in regulated industries to communicate information to multiple audiences simultaneously in order that they met regulatory compliance rules that required them to ensure nobody gained an advantage from prior knowledge of information.
  • Don’t pay others to talk to the media on your behalf.  Your audiences, whether the media, prospect, customers or purchase influencers want to hear from the entrepreneur behind the business, not a paid spokesperson.  As an entrepreneur you are the best person to talk about your business: while PR people can talk on your behalf, they’ll never tell the story as clearly, passionately or honestly as you can.
  • Paying a PR person to be the voice of your business is paying somebody to act as a gatekeeper for all of your business’ most valuable relationships.  If you stop paying the PR agency then you lose the relationships so why not develop and nurture them yourself?
  • Focus. Too many PR programs are coveralls: they try to find ways to communicate with multiple audiences as efficiently as possible.  They are a short cut! Often these audiences have hugely different rules of engagement, languages, frames of reference and burdens of proof yet companies attempt to use the same tactics and collateral to build relationships with them all.  Identifying a small number of target audiences, understanding how they think, talk, where they hang out and which communications channels they use will help you fine tune PR tactics in order to increase their effectiveness.
  • Look beyond the media.  Public Relations has become synonymous with media relations – when in reality, the media is just one public [or audience] for a business.  When you are planning a PR program consider who your other audiences are and develop strategies for building relationships, based on mutual benefit and trust, with them.
  • When traditional media-based public relations hasn’t delivered the results that you want in order to grow your home business it’s insanity to continue to do the same thing hoping for a different outcome. What non-traditional PR tactics have delivered results for your home business?

The key to any successful public relations program is to deliver the right message to the right audience, at the right time and via the right distribution channel.  To find out more about how your business can benefit from thinking differently about public relations contact Lyndon on 1.647.773.2677 or email

Public Relations lessons every entrepreneur can learn from Rob Ford

Rob Ford, Lessons

Today Toronto Mayor Rob Ford finally admitted that he has smoked crack cocaine.  Having dodged media questions for more than six months, issued repeated denials there was a video of him smoking crack, that he had used crack and that he had a substance abuse issue, and accused the media of being out to get him today we saw a clearly contrite Ford acknowledging that he has smoked crack on at least one occasion.

From a PR perspective the crack is now a side-issue.  It’s a serious issue, but had Ford done what he has done today when the allegations first surfaced he wouldn’t find himself in the mess he does today.  Had he provided clear, honest answers, accepted that there was a video, that he had a substance problem and taken a leave of absence to take care of his personal problems he would have killed the story.  He could have dealt with the problems away from the spotlight and worked with his advisers on a strategy to return to city hall and run for a second term as Mayor.

What are the lessons that entrepreneurs can learn from Rob Ford?

First – get ahead of the story.  Had Ford admitted there was a chance the rumors of a video were true, that he has an alcohol problem and taken an immediate leave of absence he would have avoided the media feeding frenzy that has descended on him and City Hall over the last six months.

Second – be specific. Vague arguments or semantics will only encourage the media to seek clarity.  Had Rob Ford been specific about, what he is now saying is a single use of crack cocaine, it would have avoided the media speculation.

Third – change the story.  An admission that he had smoked crack cocaine, had a substance problem and was taking a leave of absence to seek help would have meant the story would have quickly moved on from him smoking crack.  There is no long-term story in a man who is seeking treatment for a substance abuse problem.

Fourth – the truth will likely be known.  It might not be immediately, but – like Lance Armstrong found out – repeated denials, threats and protestations of innocence only make the situation worse when the truth does eventually emerge.

Read more about Rob Ford’s PR and Media ‘Strategies’

Apple Marketing: then and now

Apple, iPad, Fall Keynote

The difference between Apple marketing under Steve Jobs and with Tim Cook at the helm was encapsulated by two videos in Tuesday’s Fall event.  The first, demonstrating the impact that the iPad has had on the consumer electronics and computer industries since its launch, was typical Steve Jobs: it communicated the values of Apple and the value of the product without the need for a single word.

Apple, iPad, Fall Keynote
Apple Fall Keynote – the impact of the iPad

The second, a ‘design video’ for the new iPad Air highlights everything that is wrong about Apple marketing under Cook.  It focuses more on speeds and feeds and self-congratulatory back-slapping.

Jonny Ive, iPad Air, Design Video
The Apple iPad Air ‘Design’ Video

Don’t believe me? Take a look for yourself.  The first video starts at 62′ 20″ in Apple’s keynote video and runs for 1′ 56″, posted on the Apple website; the second starts at 71′ 55″ and runs for a full 3′ 09″.

Due to copyright restrictions I’m not able to post the video here, but it’s worth spending 10 minutes to watch both Apple iPad videos.



BlackBerry MUST Die!

$BBRY, BlackBerry, Mobile, Telecommunications
$BBRY, BlackBerry, Mobile, Telecommunications
BlackBerry MUST Die!

Whether Fairfax Financial, Google, Cisco, Samsung, former founder Jim Balsillie or, my favourite, Apple end up with all or part of troubled Canadian telecoms company BlackBerry one thing is clear: the BlackBerry name must die. This won’t be a problem in the event that the company is broken up, but should Balsillie or Fairfax chief Prem Watsa succeed in their bids and take the company private the chances of succeeding will be small unless the new owner changes the name.

Here are three reasons why:

  • The BlackBerry brand is irrevocably damaged. It’s become synonymous with delays, undelivered promises, disappointment and, ultimately, failure. If the company has any chance of successfully re-establishing a serious place in the handset market then it will need a new identity.
  • Once BlackBerry hangs out the ‘under new ownership’ sign the company will likely take on a new direction and that fresh start predicates a new identity. BlackBerry is synonymous with the world of the early 2000s, not the sort that are currently being sold by the likes of Apple, Samsung, Google and, even, Microsoft.
  • BlackBerry says Enterprise. If the new company has visions of providing handsets and services to a wider audience, whether directly, or as a service running on third-party handsets, it needs to shake off those Enterprise perceptions.

The truth is that whatever the company is called, in order for the startup formally called BlackBerry to succeed it needs to go back to the start and re-think its value proposition, target audience and validate its marketing assumptions.  It needs to go back to basics and create an entirely new strategic communications plan.

If you were running the startup formally known as BlackBerry, what would you call it?

Steve Jobs Was Wrong! Marketing Isn’t About Values…

Steve Jobs, Public Relations, Marketing, Apple

In a presentation I gave this evening on PR for startups and small businesses I explained why Steve Jobs got it wrong when he said that marketing is about values. Public Relations, in my mind, is about values, while marketing is about communicating value. I explained to a large group of entrepreneurs at a great new networking event, called Entrepreneur Evenings, that the key to a successful public relations program isn’t about media – it’s about delivering the right message to the right audience at the right time and using the right delivery mechanism.

Here’s a copy of the slide deck that I used.

Do you agree or disagree? What PR and marketing tools do you borrow from the Steve Jobs for your startup?

If you have any questions or disagree with anything I say then I’d love to hear from you on, @THINK_Lyndon on Twitter, or call me at +1 647.773.2677.

It’s us, not you! How PR agencies calculate retainers.

Public Relations, Retainers, Retainer, PR, Startups
“The CFO will determine the baseline hours, and the available client hours, for each staff person… [and] can create budgets that will be the basis of your fee quotes.”

You know when you talk with a traditional PR agency and one of the first questions they ask is, “what’s your budget?”.  This question often comes long before important questions about desired outcomes, commercial objectives, the target audience and what you’ve already tried. It should be no surprise then that, when the proposal arrives, it matches the budget you told them you have.

Have you ever wondered how they come up with the number that most PR agencies use for their average monthly retainer?  This article from PRNews explains how it’s more about their needs than it is about yours.  It explains that agencies should use the CFO to use their budget as the basis for setting their retainer fees, rather than one based on value and creating a plan that helps your business achieve its commercial goals.

This is one of the reasons that I started THINK | DIFFERENT [LY].  Your business deserves a PR plan that will help you deliver the outcomes it needs, rather than one that is built based on the number of billable hours the agency needs to meet its payroll.  It’s why we publish our hourly rates, give our customers control over what they spend – down to a single hour – and develop custom plans for each startup and small business we work with.

If your current agency doesn’t pro-actively look for opportunities to reduce your PR costs then we need to talk.  You need to THINK | DIFFERENT [LY]


New Owner. Same Problems Remain For BlackBerry.

The announcement that BlackBerry has entered in to a tentative agreement to sell the company to its largest investor, Fairfax Financial might appear on the surface to be good news.  The deal reported to be valued at $4.7 billion – or $9 a share – will take the company private and likely bring about a clean house.  But, while the deal would bring an end to the public bleed-out of the company it is unlikely to change any of the fundamental problems that face the beleaguered brand.

I’ve written regularly about the problems faced by BlackBerry as it planned what was billed as the start of its renaissance.  I’ve criticized the company’s marketing and public relations approach, it’s focus [if you can call it that] on the wrong audience, it’s attempts to chase a consumer market that had moved on and the abandonment of its core customer – the enterprise user, and its bungled BlackBerry 10 playbook.  New owners won’t fix much of this.

A renewed focus on Enterprise customers, a new marketing team and fresh ideas will definitely help.  The delivery of the right message to the right audience at the right time via the right delivery mechanism will also make a difference. But, the company’s biggest asset – it’s name – is now also one of its biggest problems.  BlackBerry’s new owners need a clean slate and must consider renaming the company as part of its turnaround plan.  The BlackBerry brand is, sadly, tarnished beyond redemption.

Another problem that isn’t fixable is timing.  BlackBerry’s long overdue BB10 launch has only served to make the company and its products more irrelevant in the eyes of many smartphone users.  The company was behind the likes of Apple and Samsung when BB10 was announced; by the time it landed Sure, there are the BlackBerry die-hards, but how many of those remain will become clearer when the company reports its latest quarter at the end of the week.  Of those that remain it’ll also be interesting to see how many switch to a competitive platform within the first six months of the company going private.

So, while many see the acquisition as a new dawn I still believe that it is merely an exercise in slowing the blood-loss and preparing for the inevitable – the transplant of many of the company’s most valuable assets in to the companies that need [or, in this case, can afford] them.

I wrote more than a year ago that I expected Apple to acquire BlackBerry for its patents and I still expect to see BES and BBM as a part of the Cupertino-based company’s ecosystem within 18 months.

Read: Why BlackBerry must die if the company is to live