In early May, 2016, I was asked by Mi-hye Kang, a senior staff writer for The PR, a monthly on- and offline magazine for PR professionals in Korea, to participate in their six-year anniversary issue. In celebration of the 6th anniversary, The PR asked to interview myself and Paul Holmes, Publisher of The Holmes Report. What readers in Korea may not have known until this interview is that PreCommerce has been printed and is available in Korean. Thank you to Professor Joon Soo Lim, a professor at the Newhouse School, Syracuse University for helping to make this happen. This interview originally appeared in The PR.
1. Could you introduce the W2O Group and yourself to Korean PR practitioners?
W2O Group is a communications and marketing firm with a foundation in data science. We decided to build our own algorithms, software and new models to understand influence, content, language and channel selection so that our campaigns for our clients can be more precise and aligned with what customer’s desire. We work in 20 languages today, including Korean.
For myself, I have been a leader of communications at several Fortune 500 companies, including Novartis and Dell and, at Dell, I was asked to build the world’s first global social media function for a Fortune 500 company. Now, I am president of W2O Group and spend all of my time with clients and in creating new models for our industry.
2. What are the most important needs among your company’s clients these days?
The greatest need is how to shift from a coverage model to an influencer model. Essentially, it is no longer enough to just get coverage. In fact, that is the starting line. With algorithms, we can see exactly who drives share of conversation, exactly who shares your story and exactly who forms your search engine optimization position. So when we get coverage, we have to syndicate our earned media into the shared media world. This can occur simply by sharing in the right channels, but it increasingly requires the use of small amounts of paid media as well.
3. I heard that your new book “Storytizing” has just come out. (We are sorry that we have not read the book yet.) What do you want to the book to convey and how have your ideas evolved since your previous book Pre-Commerce?
The big change involves technology advance and our audience. We can now see exactly who our audience is online (all forms of media) and understand who they respect, what they read and all of their public habits. This allows us to align what we share with them. It enables us to empower the key people in the audience to co-share a brand’s story more effectively and it changes how we measure. We want our stories to pull through and reach the entire audience we care about, which is how Storytizing works. Advertising can’t do this, it just catches our attention. Communications can if we know who our audience really is.
4. What did you mean when you suggested that all public relations activities begin with creating the audience architecture? How do social media analytics help practitioners do so?
Social media listening is evolving from “listening” to “audience intelligence”. If we just listen, we often don’t know what to do next. That is not acceptable in the future. Audience architecture means you define the audience you want to reach before you do a campaign, learn what they want, learn who has influence, and even learn what time of day to share content. We build intelligence so we know how to reach a professional audience (e.g. physicians), a certain customer audience (e.g. company’s partners) or a new audience (e.g. future customers). We can then keep learning and adjusting to our audience and get smarter with time.
5. What are the global conversation topics or trendy words in digital PR among practitioners these days?
It seems like everyone is talking about influencers. This is great to hear. However, what we often see are that agencies are just creating new media lists and calling it an influencer list. That does not work. The real trend here is the rise of micro-influencers. For example, if we are looking at who is influential for Samsung in mobile, there may be 20+ categories of importance from video to open source. Each of these topics has its own influencers with less overlap than we think. The ability to identify the right influencers by topic, sub-topic, issue, language and country is what really matters.
6. One of the challenges for PR practitioners regards how to plan and implement a marketing/PR plan that leads to sales increase. This is also directly related to the campaign budget. What’s your and W2O’s approach for this issue?
We live in a quantitative world so we can show how we are shaping behavior and, in some cases, how we drive sales via social media. The big trend here is what we call “agile campaigns”. This means that you are learning from your audience and figuring out what to share on a daily basis. Said another way, if your client asks you to lock-in a campaign plan for the year and stick to it, you will be far less successful. Even with big campaigns, you need room to make agile decisions and adjust to your audience. Then, ROI improves.
7. Like media planners in the multi-channel media environment, PR practitioners are also required to make a strategic and integrative use of diverse social media platforms. What are your suggestions for and effective social media mix?
PR practitioners will be doing media planning for earned and shared media. It is important to identify the exact channels and outlets where our customers spend their time. What we find worldwide is that customers tend to congregate in four channels or less (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) and this channel mix can change by brand, country or language. It is important that we know why we use each channel as well, since each channel serves a different purpose in the customer journey.
8. When it comes to a social media mix for a campaign, PR and marketing in Korea trend to rely heavily on Facebook. It seems that this trend is based on the potential reach and continued growth of the platform. How do you foresee the potential and limitations on Facebook?
Yes, Facebook has become our new television due to its reach. Facebook can be an effective channel if you know exactly who you want to reach. However, I always remind our clients that Facebook does not impact search, where 90% of our customers go to learn more on a daily basis. Google+ is a minor channel, but Google favors it in its algorithms, which impacts search. Twitter impacts search. In this case, think of the 1,9,90 model (1% create content, 9% share content and 90% learn from the 1 and 9).
9. We are observing a trend in which diverse areas of strategic communication gradually converge on digital and social media. As a result, we see the business boundaries between advertising, PR, and marketing gradually becoming diluted. How can a PR firm (or a practitioner) raise its (or his/her) competitive edge in this ever changing environment?
You are exactly right. The worlds of communications and marketing are converging rapidly. What this means is that communicators have to become more expert in search (the 90%), in use of strategic paid media (small amounts of paid media in social channels), agile campaigns and audience architecture. The world is actually moving in the direction of the expertise of the communicator. The ability to tell a story, build relationships and adjust to changing conditions are all skills communicators have. The Storytizing era is really our era!
10. What is and how do you know about the Korean market of social commerce and public relations?
When I was at Dell, we would always stay up to date on how leaders in Korea were utilizing forums to hold conversations, how gaming was changing habits and how social media was used overall. I’ve always viewed Korea as one of the countries in the world that innovates a bit faster than the rest of the globe. In fact, I am thinking of writing my next book on how innovation is occurring in key countries, like Korea, and what it means for all of us worldwide. A mega trends type approach.
11. Do you have any thoughts or comments that you would like to share with the readers who are Korean PR practitioners of the PR?
Yes, I know myself and my colleagues would like to hear more often about how Korean PR practitioners are seeing the media world evolve. We would like to learn from each other. This interview is a great example of the type of sharing that we should do, two-way, more often. Maybe we think about how to do this together?
Thank you for this opportunity. I enjoyed our discussion and hope this furthers the conversation.