Distraction Byte: Weaving Social Snippets into PR Narratives

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“The Roman philosopher Seneca may have put it best two thousand years ago, ‘To be everywhere is to be nowhere.'”

From The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

Competition for attention and loyalty

As I’m writing this column I’m distracted by the CBC Radio morning program, The Current, interviewing a Facebook policy and communication staff member from Washington, DC, detailing one of its newer social initiatives of making use of the online platform for organ donations.

Would you stand by for a minute? This is quite interesting. And the segment shouldn’t take that long….

Thank you. As I was saying…oh, wait. I just realized I’ve received more email correspondence from an Edelman staff member in Melbourne, Australia, Katie Sheppet. She’s proposed a (PR Conversations) interview with John Paluszek (past chair of the Global Alliance of Public Relations and Communication Management) in relation to his upcoming World PR Forum presentation. What’s really cool about this is that John is a senior staff member at a rival PR agency (Ketchum). When it comes to global best practices regarding public relations, it’s great to see marketplace competition is a non issue. Plus I’m pleased it’s our international, collaborative online property earmarked for the narrative.

At PR Conversations we’ve staked out a unique position and global credibility in a competitive niche of the blogosphere, in spite of the fact that our posts are not mere snippets, list oriented or public bashing and lashing items. We’re the deep-thinking PR blog. We’re the PR blog many professors tell their university students to read, most recently by the UK’s Philip Young who is currently project leader for NEMO: New Media, Modern Democracy at Campus Helsingborg, Lund University, in Malmö, Sweden.

(Sorry. I got distracted waxing eloquently about PR Conversations and its ethos. Have I mentioned we launched in the spring of 2007? Meaning we have a decent history and SEO component to draw upon for our reputation, credibility and ongoing narrative….)

In my email, I also see some shoutouts and +1s from Google+, regarding a Big Data article in the Wall Street Journal I shared. Then there are reminder tweets about one of my favourite Twitter chats. Do I have time to play a part, given that this column needs to be finished?

Others are pinning things (note that “I have no Pinterest” h/t Mike Zavarello) handing out Klout points regarding influence, sharing their geo-location about favourite brands….

And so it goes.


Each and every day individuals and organizations need to make deliberate choices about where and when to spend online resources and time, particularly in regards to public relations.

And a reminder that I’m talking about long-term and consistent organizational narrative, in regards to “reputation, value and relationship building,” not simply short-term marketing campaigns or online advertisements aimed at bloggers, etc. Ergo, if you are an advocate of integrated marketing communications, which really does not have much use for public relations beyond “marketing PR,” I must be honest and say that my column, which focuses on the intersection of public relations and social media for business, probably is not the best place for you to spend time.

Although I aim to provide original ideas and opinions for your use, per Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows, this column’s typical narrative is probably too long, detailed and complex for many of your distracted attention spans. #justsayin

If working memory is the mind’s scratch pad, then long-term memory is its filing system. The Shallows

Carr’s Pulitzer-prize-nominated book, The Shallows,is frightening in revealing how those of us who play an ongoing, active role in social media unwittingly are having our brains’ neurons rewired, meaning it’s increasingly hard for most to dig deep into information, especially for long periods of time. When is the last time you read a book or a newspaper from cover to back?

The staccato quality of our hyperactive online world is in many ways a huge challenge for any social business wanting to make both a “working memory” and long-term impact regarding brands. There’s a great analogy in The Shallows about how adding to long-term memories is akin to filling a bathtub using thimblefuls of water.

The long-term ROI of social public relations

If you are a business owner or executive looking for the public relations ROI of your social enterprise, regrettably, it might take a crisis—whether online or off, self or externally imposed—before you realize the true value of your social gold (narrative) investment. During a crisis, attention directed at your company will be razor-sharp in its intensity, not at all distracted.

If your strategy (Why and What) has always been thoughtful and anticipated numerous scenarios, being online works to your public relations benefit:

1. For the timeliness of communication in a medium well-situated for frequent updates and engagement.

2. Because of the SEO component available to media or other interested individuals wanting to search the “never forgets” Internet for proof points as to your company’s history and integrity and ongoing communication and relationships with various stakeholders and publics.

Choose the right platforms for organizational narrative snippets

I continue to believe social media is a wonderful business complement, including enlargements and enhancements, to an integrated communication strategy for public relations.

But it does have limitations, not the least of which is the stretching of resources and all of the distractions inherent in the medium, which I illustrated above. Again, I was inspired by The Shallows in choosing theword “snippets” for this column title.

To understand my inspiration, insert “company” or “organization” (and think organizational narrative) in place of “books” in these paragraphs:

…. But the inevitability of turning the pages of books into online images should not prevent us from considering the side effects. To make a book discoverable and searchable online is also to dismember it. The cohesion of its text, the linearity of its argument or narrative as it flows through scores of pages, is sacrificed. What that ancient Roman craftsman wove together when he created the first codex is unstitched. The quiet that was “part of the meaning” of the codex is sacrificed as well. Surrounding every page or snippet of text on Google Book Search is a welter of links, tools, tabs and ads, each eagerly angling for a share of the reader’s fragmented attention.

The great library that Google is rushing to create shouldn’t be confused with the libraries we’ve known up until now. It’s not a library of books. It’s a library of snippets.

Referencing my Bytes history

I already devoted an entire column to the idea of dividing up social media responsibilities and platforms—with an eye to relevancy and healthy content—to various company departments in my Nutrition Byte.

To enlarge the idea and relate it to this column, I believe some social media platforms are better suited to marketing promotions and campaigns over corporate communication and public relations. I don’t think it’s by accident that a lot of social media “crises” happen on Facebook, where there is less opportunity for the host company to engage in a sustained organizational narrative or attract individuals wanting to research and truly learn more about a company beyond its products or services. People tend to drop in to participate in contests, Like some initiative, vote on a topic, sign a petition or offer some opinionating. It also appears to be the go-to place to vent, even if for a short-term bellyache about customer service. At best it’s a snippets platform for both proactive and reactive public relations, often of the damage-control variety.

Deliberately designing my column’s narrative

In introducing my Bytes from the PR Sphere column more than a year ago, my goal was to build an online and searchable body of knowledge regarding various relationships and roles of public relations in social media, in particular those that went beyond marketing or media relations. Each column is stand alone, but it is also an ongoing narrative, weaving in and out, updated for timeliness, demonstrating some best practices case studies, etc. From the second column onwards, I’ve referenced one or more of my past columns, because these really are building blocks for a comprehensive approach. I also occasionally insert snippets of information or even full names and links into Twitter chats.

I stand behind what I’ve written or adjust the information in later columns, as I change my mind. That’s the advantage of research and deep thinking, as well as relatively timeless communication and information—it tends to be distinctive.

If you make your organizational narrative and social public relations thoughtful and consistent, you will garner:

  • attention
  • credibility and trust
  • long-term memory; and
  • search engine optimization

It likely won’t be fast and it likely won’t trend on Twitter or LinkedIn. But it will be a solid body of online work that won’t be missed by those relevant individuals and companies who are interested and searching.

Plug “Byte” into your favourite search engine and let me know which of my columns turn up on the first few pages. You see, my choice of that word was deliberate, as is the use of it in every column title.

It’s the quality—not the quantity—of attention

In a recent #hbrchat about his regular, go-to resources, Steve Cassady indicated some well-known publications, as well as “a few blogs my Scoop.it [newsletter] follows.” One of those blogs is Windmill Networking and I know that some of my Bytes have made the cut, including last month’s Journalist Byte. When I thanked him for the inclusion, Steve responded:

You have great content to share and [it] also helps broaden me with my general business.

Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to read and share, as well as incorporating into your consulting practice ideas gleaned from various Bytes columns, particularly in a very distracting environment!

We should all have ever-so-gratifying Steve Cassady readers and connections in our online lives, especially when it comes to social businesses.

Some questions

1. Who are your social PR (Steve Cassady-type) champions?

2. How are you gaining mindshare and attention in this staccato, ADD online world?

3. Have I convinced you to shift your focus from short-term campaigns to longer-term memory and a solid body of knowledge, for public relations credibility and SEO purposes?

I promise that if you comment, you will have my full attention. I will carefully think out my response, as a thank you for reading this Distraction Byte in its entirety, rather than simply in snippets.

Judy Gombita
This monthly Social Media and Public Relations column is contributed by Judy Gombita. Judy is a Toronto-based public relations and communication management specialist, with more than 20 years of employment and executive-level volunteer board experience, primarily in the financial and lifelong learning nonprofit sectors. She is the co-editor and Canadian contributor (since 2007) to the international, collaborative blog, PR Conversations. +Judy Gombita
Judy Gombita


Sr/hybrid (social) public relations & communication management strategist. Mindful curation @PRConversations. Heart: travel, film, theatre, opera, books & food.
Juiced up @joshmccormack contribution #Chatwhirledhttps://t.co/a9TBLls15O - 46 mins ago
Judy Gombita


  1. says

    Judy – thanks for another thought-provoking byte. Continuous partial attention (coined by Linda Stone – 
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_Stone) is a pox on humanity, I’m convinced. I’m guilty of it myself. Even now, I have 5 tabs open on my browser, an email window open, HootSuite fired up and papers all over my desk, each distracting me from getting productive work done. Don’t even get me started about Facebook, LinkedIn and all the items on my Nook (which also is sitting nearby, though dark at the moment.)

    I used to read two or three newspapers a day. In print. We still get about 10 magazines, also in print. I don’t really read any of them they way I used to. I’m impatient. I scan the headlines, flip pages, use FlipBook to see my Google Reader stuff, and out of 100 items I probably read 3. 

    I try to bring my own experience to clients when we talk internal communication. I’ve selected 50 or 60 outlets that I’m INTERESTED in, and I don’t read 95% of them in total. I’m supposed to read all 700 words off the corporate intranet about something that has only the most tangential relationship to my individual work? Read canned quotes that no one ever really said in a story about people I have only a passing relationship with? Fugedaboudit. 

    I’m not getting as much attention as I used to, when I thoughtfully read stuff and commented from that foundation. I struggle reading important things, and find my attention span wanes too often. 

    But this byte made me slow down and read. So there. 

    • says

      Sean, thanks, as always for weighing in. What I found particularly encouraging is that I’m relative sure that you came to the Byte by way of my PR Conversations tweet that I scheduled early in the morning, where I mentioned that PRC was referenced in this Byte. You have contributed a guest post AND a PRoust Questionniare to our blog, and we definitely consider you a part of our organizational narrative—including being in our relatively small list of Champions from which our daily paper.li is drawn.

      We made a conscious decision to continue with paper.li when many had abandoned it. The reason being that the content shared from the list seems to be of a consistently good calibre and I’m quite certain is responsible for new followers on the PRC Twitter account.

      This is supplementary to tweeting about PR Conservation’s posts proper, of course. But my point is that it garners some attention in a crowded field. Hopefully you check it out at least some of the time, link to some of the Champions selections and find them worthwhile. When you have the time and not too many distractions, that is.

      Am I right in thinking you meant to say “thoughtfully WRITE stuff” instead of “thoughtfully read stuff?” Although I can’t claim to always read your personal blog because of time constraints, I do know that when I do read the posts I really appreciate them. That’s because they are researched and thoughtfully written and you have a distinct, non-corporatese voice and gorgeous style. After all, I knew OF you through your independent thinking and writing before we actually connected, both online and IRL.

      I know your greatest love (well, beyond your Esteemed Spouse) is internal communications. So my question to you is:

      Are there increased challenges in internal communications (particularly those not related to marketing communications, public relations or any other forms of external corporate communications) that are also related to distracted attention spans, caused to a large extent by online platforms and connections, whether during office hours or before and after them?

      And as to Linda Stone, Nicholas Carr does mention her work. He even experimented with his breathing and did indeed find it got shallower whenever his brain was “activated” by electronic connections, whether social media or simply a full email box. I hope you read his book, cover to cover. I can relate to the way he describes his brain as feeling like it is charged up; I think you will, too. It really is quite scary how rapidly it is happening; unprecedented speed regarding neuroscience and neuroplasticity. Especially for those of us working in the “sustained attention” communication disciplines.

      • says

        Ah, my modesty might not bear close examination,but thank you for your kindness. 

        The question of impact of online platforms on employee communications is a good one. There certainly is the case of so much content in so many channels (all of which are available largely on demand in one’s pocket or satchel) that employees are overwhelmed. It’s quite similar to comms outside the enterprise. One company talked in 1997 of “making employees responsible for their own information.” That comment negated the role of content curation — a virtual buzzword now — employees WANTED to be told what was most important, not be left to figure it out on their own. 

        Distraction can be self-inflicted, as we’ve discussed above, but cutting through the fog can be a vital means of closing the communication loop. This argues for internal communicators thoroughly inculcated into the leadership mind, so as to permit curation that gets the right info to the right people at the right time. When did we lose that mission? 

        As re the comment about getting charged up by ecommunication — have a look at people participating in Twitter chats — I’m eager to figure some way of being an ethnographer in that space to observe the emotional and physical impact of attempting to have a conversation among several dozen or several hundred people. 

  2. brightmatrix says

    Excellent essay, Judy. What I took away from this is not only that we need to concentrate on the long-term narrative to stitch together the short-term chapters (similar to how Dickens did with serials back in the late 1800s), but perhaps we need to consider how others read us, too. Sean makes a great point about not wanting to read through a 700-word post, article, or mission statement. I, for one, scoff at visions, missions, et al. “Where’s the chase, and how can I cut to it?” Most users read that way these days, so, while writing that credible narrative, we need to figure out the “sweet spot” of using the scannable bits to draw in those folks and encourage them to stick around for the entire story. It’s part of what some folks refer to as a “content strategy,” and it’s definitely an art form.

    Be well, Mike

    • says

      Hi Mike – I’ve got a bone in my throat about “content strategy,” let alone “content marketing” just as terminology, but I agree with you point. I think serialization seems to hold promise, but  moving away from right-brain content to left-brain content even more so… I co-wrote a 20-minute staged play performed at a corporate event that focused attention on strategy, mission, values, culture — all without a powerpoint slide in sight. It made people sit forward and pay attention to…wait for it…a compelling story!  That’s the deal – it isn’t so much blather repackaged to the short-attention-span world, it’s coming up with a story that people want to read/view/listen to. 

      • says

        Sean, “bone in my throat” is so YOU! I hear you about content strategy and marketing, but as long as the Why and What has been thoughtfully conceived, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’d rather the content strategy be about the core elements or things surrounding a social business rather than trying to “humanize” the company by allowing staff tweet about what they had for lunch…..

        This is the first I’ve heard of 20-minute staged play for the corporate event. Love the sound of it. What most readers will be unaware about is that you literally imbibed lessons about great theatre as a child. Is my long-term memory correct that your mother’s career was mainly spent as a radio actor, meaning that your wonderful communication skills are a result of both nature and nurture….?

        • says

          Guilty as charged. My mother appeared on Broadway three times — original company of “Inherit the Wind” among them — played one of the lead roles the last six months of the run, and started as a Supernumerarie — something like an “extra” in the movies and TV — for $2 per performance. She also was on the soap opera, General Hospital, in the 80’s…

          You’re exactly right about the nature of content == it’s the idea that content marketing is some newfangled sheep dip that makes my lanolin boil. 


          • says

            So I kind of remembered your Mother’s occupation correctly, an actor, but just not on radio. The nature and nurture influences still apply.

            Interestingly, I only appreciated the role of Supernumeraries in the
            context of opera (I had an extended conversation with one gentleman in that role during the intermission of a COC performance) and in regards to ballet. Being a Supernumerarie in the annual The Nutcracker ballet performed by the National
            Ballet of Canada is considered the ultimate compliment. I think…or at least hope…they get paid more than $2 per performance.

            I think the analogy of content marketing being “some newfangled sheep dip that makes my lanolin boil,” is another one of those thimblefuls of Sean Williams (ingenious) wisdom that might make it into my long-term memory bathtub…..

    • says

      Welcome to Windmill Networking, my twin from a different mother, country and generation! I’m impressed that you both know and reference the fact that long-form and distinctive writer, Dickens, serialized his work more than 100 years ago. On the other hand, you still manage to surprise me Mike with your passions, interests and independent thinking.

      That’s a great analogy, serializing things. Except that rather than in the linear version of the past, we need to find new ways of sharing that moves the narrative forward or around, just not in the conventional way. 

      For example, I was intrigued in the parts of The Shallows that devoted itself to the changing publishing industry—my longer, two-paragraph quote comes from that section. One of the things Carr mentioned that I found particularly interesting was “vooks,” which are basically conventional ebooks with videos embedded throughout, which can enlarge upon various parts of the book’s contents. Sometimes directly related, sometimes historical, sometimes an author explaining how he or she arrived at something. I think he said some even include outside commentary.

      The interesting thing about vooks is that both the content and the videos can be continually updated, for greater clarity, timeliness and relevancy. Of course I was thinking about how this could be adapted for social businesses. And what about pure audio embeds, rather than video? It must be obvious that I’m a huge fan of CBC Radio, not only because of the calibre of the journalism and the guests, but because I agree with (Canadian) Marshall McLuhan that radio is a hot medium, versus the coolness of television or, I would suggest, videos.

      Definitely how others “read” us—or our organizational narrative—is key. Although my columns (yikes—essays!) may be on the long side, I have been told that I write in a distinctive voice and that the way I describe and illustrate concepts—whether that of others or my own thoughts—is done in an interesting manner. But that’s the published versions. The rough drafts can sometimes sound pretentious or trite in turns. Sometimes I’ll read passages out loud. If I get bored or cringe, then I know I’m writing to impress rather than writing to communicate.

      I agree that a lot of mission statements are quite dreadful. On the other hand, the best ones set out to describe the ethos of the organization and might not be catchy—although they should never be overly corporate or dense in tone.

      What I like best is the company tagline that is clever and catchy—instantly going into both the working and long-term memory. One of my favourite examples is a former steel company in Hamilton, Ontario:

      Steel is our product; people are our strength.

      Alas, the economy proved that despite the strong people culture, the economics of producing the product stopped being feasible, at least by that company, which no longer exits. But its tagline lives on in a mini version of the organizational narrative and in my long-term memory.

  3. says

    Wow A lot to digest Judy, I love the way you put thought and challenge into each of your columns. Despite the shortcomings of all the distractions you mentioned I wouldn’t have met and interacted with you if not for this medium. For that kind of quality interaction i’ll deal with the rapids of distraction now let me get back to my ebook. 😉 

    • says

      Right from the start I’ve gone for the quality connections and attention spans (over quantity), Joe. Including the practitioners who already KNOW and UNDERSTAND that public relations is a distinct discipline in corporations, whether online or off. Either that or enlightened marketers, etc., who are willing to listen and possibly be convinced. :-) 

      The organizational narrative really does work best when all arms of communication–external/public relations, marketing, internal–work together in concert. Or in the weaving process, shall we say. Sean Williams would certainly agree with that concept. And NOT in silos.

      As you are about to embark on some prolonged travel(l)ing–presumably where you will NOT be online nearly as much as is your usual wont–it will be interesting to hear if you literally “feel” a sense of loss in your brain about not being constantly connected and stimulated. If you do, FIGHT that impulse to connect. We will still be here and ready to engage with you. Live in the moment and savo(u)r the opportunities to meet F2F with people and have long and deep conversations. Bon voyage!

    • says

      It really is serendipity when I’m at the tail end of my research and thinking process and just about to start writing and then people like Mike Zavarello, Philip Young and you reference things that I can use as proof points, Steve. So thank YOU for contributing relevancy (and playing a part in my Bytes from the PR Sphere’s cast of characters and narrative).

      You belong to a platform that does a lot of “tribal” sharing. You are aware that I’m not fond of the practice in principle, as I think promoting one another’s work should be organic and honest. On the other hand, I do know that YOU actually read my columns (hopefully in their “essay-like” entirety) prior to sharing. So I also thank you for that.

  4. says

    Thanks, Sean. If interested, I see a guest post about this topic…. Like you, I’m interested in any well-argued “essay” :-) about influencing leadership minds as to the value of internal communications, from a holistic perspective, particularly in regards to newer channels like social media.

    Regarding Twitter chats, I must admit I’ve gone through a trough of disappointment about some—but certainly not all—of my previously favourite chats.

    I have a standing invitation to do a Part III of “Tearing Out the Potential of Twitter Chats” on CommPRObiz. In regards to your ethnography comment, some of the things I’ve been mulling include:

    1. The importance of focus and weekly topic selection (i.e., useful knowledge for the many, rather than being self-serving, from either an organizational or personal perspective).

    2.  The key role of the moderator, whether assigned or guest, including previous and relevant experiences and skill sets. In particular, in terms of trying to ensure equitable attention is paid to the most valuable content offered during the course of the chat and the unanticipated directions it heads in, i.e., not playing favourites, when either highlighting or gently discouraging.

    3. And, lastly, the motivation of individuals who participate in numerous chats. Are they there to increase their knowledge base and network or are they simply participating for profile? In particular, when it is profile from a (marketing) business point of view, separate from the host organization. I’ve made working memory notes of both the good and the bad. I’ve highlighted some of the good ones in past columns, here. For the bad, usually I send an offline note to the moderator or organization. How that person receives the news and/or acts upon my concern determines, in part, whether I continue participating in a chat or not. Not to say that I should be the sole determinant of a chat, but rather that my thoughtful concern is taken seriously.

    One thing that makes me crazy is individuals who claim not to be fond of the Twitter chat concept, but will still happily accept a guest moderator role. It’s like being asked to talk about romance fiction, when your real joy is found in crime stories. It’s disingenuous to do it, simply to add it to your online resume, in my opinion. And the host company (or individual who established the chat, if not business affiliated) should also be aware of what, if any, is the vested interest of a non-chat regular being so agreeable to the role. Often it appears to be because the person has recently written a book or introduced a new service component….

  5. says

    The interview referenced in Distraction Byte published this week on PR Conversations, “Communication without borders…or marketplace competition”


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