The 20-something research scientist and data team lead for Facebook, Jeff Hamerbacher, put it best: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.”
From Clay A. Johnson’s book, The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption
The Age of Boringness for social media
I’ve become increasingly frustrated when it comes to social media for business about the excitement generated by really small ideas and things, which become hyped (i.e., “marketed”) to the heavens—or maybe I should say the Cloud(s)—regarding innovation. From a public relations perspective, it’s particularly discouraging when these glorified (usually technology) products or services are designed for individual use, rather than a societal benefit or business focus.
I’m not alone in noticing this. Recently Nicholas Carr, journalist and (Pulitzer-nominated) author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains wrote an OpEd for The Wall Street Journal, Why Our Innovators Traffic in Trifles. Carr’s subsequent interview on CBC Radio’s Q Show, Whatever happened to big ideas? is listening time well spent about how and where 21st Century innovators and businesses should be spending their resources and energy.
Also making me social-business jaundiced and weary is the jostling for mind share, influence and thought leadership for what basically amounts to the inconsequential or the recycled (sometimes “borrowed” or riffed off without attribution to source) presented as original work. I addressed this, in part, in last month’s Nutrition Byte column.
If you spend the majority of your time online on non-traditional media sites you’ll find bubbles of seeming obliviousness about the things going on in the world that have a major impact on huge swaths of sectors, industries and various populace. For example, at present there are a lot of public relations practitioners not having an easy time of it in the banking and financial sectors….
And you’ll find Internet-famous personalities reigning supreme in social media, with lots of pithy sound bites and surface expertise, usually about marketing, but very little direct professional business and financial training, responsibility or accountability (especially at the C-suite level).
This is one of the hardest Bytes I’ve ever had to write.
Not because I consider its focus uninteresting or derivative, but rather because I feel so strongly about the subject matter’s importance. Basically, I have a concern that social businesses with “character” rather than personality—let’s say steak, rather than sizzle (maybe eggplant, rather than a zesty tomato sauce and fine cheese, to be inclusive of vegetarians)—are similarly getting discouraged; perhaps feeling like there’s no viable social media “public relations” presence and profile for them amongst the chattering, highly extroverted social business classes of sexy marketing promotions, shares and tons of engagement with champions (or detractors waiting to be won over) talking about various brands.
And that is so wrong. My ongoing resolve is to persuade self-doubters about the advantage of polishing what are perceived as dull businesses (and stereotypes) into social PR gold, by playing to your quiet strengths and attributes.
Think of it as your opportunity to capitalize on true expertise, originality, mind share, influence and thought leadership, which become accessible to a greater community through indexed and authoritative search.
Let’s all be Quiet…for a bit
Several months ago when I wrote in Profile Byte (linked to above) about “character” rather than “personality,” I had yet to read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
I’ve now read it.
And I’m a big, big fan of not only her book, but how she’s grown my appreciation of how much value introverts provide to their businesses and society, as well as to family and friends. According to Cain, “Depending on which study you consult, one-third to one-half of Americans are introverts—in other words one out of every two or three people you know.” (Although this statistic references Americans, Cain’s book is full of introvert examples and subject experts drawn from around the globe.)
Okay, so I think Quiet is a great book. Yada yada yada. What exactly does this have to do with the intersection of public relations and social media for business?
Or perhaps a better question: is there a place for introverted business-types and businesses in social media?
Although the path to get here might be a bit convoluted, my hypothesis is simple:
Just as one-third to one-half of any given workforce is likely introverted*, I propose a similar percentage of businesses could be classified as being of an introverted variety. And in the (at least North American) Extroverted Ideal world, these businesses are probably considered boring by many (extroverts) when it comes to their socialized expression.
But just as the most-effective workplaces and businesses deliberately employ a significant percentage of introvert employees—and that includes the CEO, more often than you’d think—so can the online world accommodate and welcome businesses that may be less overtly exciting, but still have much to offer on the interwebs.
And as the “social” norm remains extroversion, an introverted business can actually be a valuable differential of a “quietly persistent” knowledge and sharing ecosystem, rather than loud marketing broadcasting and chattering.
In particular, I think this is a great strategy to develop: deliberate public relations for sectors and disciplines that have an inherently introverted bias. Think about it—reputation, value and relationship building can be tailored to the normative behaviours, needs and wants of significant segments of stakeholders—who likely comprise at least 30 per cent of businesspeople.
They may be in the technology, accounting, architecture, mathematics, science, engineering or writing fields. Many of the companies will likely be B2B, focus on communities of practice or be involved in some form of society building, health, welfare or infrastructures.
*Note: Even if your business is not of an introverted variety, if I was writing Employee Byte post-Quiet, I’d suggest deliberate inclusion of introverted employees into the cross-mentoring mix, because “…you’d want to make sure that important corporate decisions reflect the input of both kinds of people, not just one type.”
Social media platforms with an introverted bias
From a public relations perspective, I believe the most effective, external social media platforms for mind share, knowledge sharing and engagement of introverted businesses and individuals, in this order of current importance (and for different reasons), comprise:
- Company blog
And I predict the major, third-party enterprise/social business player—particularly for B2B companies—will become Google+, likely at some expense to active LinkedIn participation (rather than Facebook), although I don’t believe LinkedIn is going anywhere, soon. Nor would I want it to.
The reason for this is simple: just like Microsoft’s (boring) Windows operating systems and Office productivity software, Google is developing the whole social enterprise external enchilada, based around Google+. Not only is almost every type of business option you need at hand—even if not always the most exciting version—just think about how your business core offerings and programs will be better noticed and served in regards to the world’s dominant search engine.
My favourite kind of social public relations is focusing the bulk of the time on quality online content and then letting search engines do most of the work.
The boring party poopers
I’ve noted that extroverted marketing individuals appear to enjoy bashing the boringness of both LinkedIn and Google+. That’s fine, introverted businesses. Let those extroverts have the majority of third-party sharecropping spaces on Facebook, Pinterest, Foursquare and Groupon, complete with all of those ads for clicking….
Guiding principle of Tim O’Reilly, publisher of O’Reilly Media:
Work on stuff that matters. Please, don’t let your entire career be about figuring out new ways to deliver advertisements. Even if it pays the bills, find an additional outlet to use your skills to make a difference. The Information Diet
A closer examination of boring Microsoft
As a technology company Microsoft is often compared, unfavourably, to Apple, when it comes to corporate culture and innovation, impact and influence. Yet if you’ve read Walter Isaacson’sbiography, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates comes across as the more reasonable, transparent, collaborative and caring business CEO and worldview individual. For example:
- (Like Google, but unlike Apple) he is an advocate of the open source philosophy regarding systems and software.
- Microsoft partners with many companies.
- Microsoft has a well-developed corporate social responsibility program and division (where my Irish public relations colleague and friend, Tom Murphy was recruited to play an important role, including in social media).
- Bill Gates voluntarily stepped down as CEO to devote himself full-time to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where they are researching needs and allocating funds to worthy endeavours and thereby making a difference in numerous countries—monies derived from technology deliberately allocated to better the world.
Are these truly boring values and attributes?
In Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, Bill Gates makes several appearances as an introvert CEO role model of success. Ergo, despite its huge size and profitability, I would propose that Microsoft reflects its co-founder Gates in being an introverted business.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t innovative. Check out this recent article by respected independent technology analyst and journalist, Carmi Levy, Microsoft lost its cool with its Rolling Stones Start Me Up to Windows 95 launch. Is it regaining mojo? In particular, how Levy classifies Microsoft’s acquisition of internal enterprise social network, Yammer, as being incredibly forward thinking.
If yours is an introverted business, think what an incredible addition into the online enterprise system it will be, to have an internal social media communication platform like Yammer for (amongst other advantages) insourcing your social communications.
In Quiet, Susan Cain speaks to the disadvantage introverts have regarding business meetings, brainstorming sessions and various team-building exercises, except when it comes to online brainstorming:
“Groups brainstorming electronically, when properly managed, not only do better than individuals, research shows; the larger the group, the better it performs.
The same is true of academic research—professors, who work together electronically, from different physical locations, tend to produce research that is more influential than those either working alone or collaborating face-to-face.”
Cain indicates passive forms of [electronic] collaboration include things like e-mail, instant messaging and online chat tools.
Not-so-boring social platforms and businesses
So here we have boring companies like LinkedIn and Google+ providing excellent external platforms for social businesses based on communities of practice and knowledge sharing, and we have boring Microsoft (spending slightly more than what Facebook did to buy oh-so-fun Instagram) acquiring what most see as the current industry standard for internal social networking.
It makes you go Hmmm, doesn’t it? That’s not actually business boring; instead, it’s nonconforming to individuals and popularity-oriented social media norms.
From a public relations perspective, having a physical manifestation—whether externally or internally—of an introverted business’ online collaboration, knowledge sharing and thought leadership is a tremendous boon to the role—social gold. Why?
- Because the organizational narrative is being detailed through a variety of people—without overt prodding from corporate communication—both externally and internally.
- Relationships can be begun or solidified, online, by companies and individuals who wish to formalize a connection with your social business, based on the knowledge ecosystem and thought leadership witnessed.
- Much of the organizational narrative will be available, online, for “conscious consumption” by journalists and other stakeholders. In most cases it will be found through indexed and authoritative search rankings, which may or may not receive social shares.
- The profile and reputation of the social business will be dependent on the quality and originality of what is being produced or innovated—a meritocracy of ideas, rather than flashy presentation or slick marketing (areas that extroverted individuals and companies excel at).
Social PR gold case study
The plan was to point to an online case study (in interview format) about Geosoft Inc., a tech company with B2B clients around the world, which provides software and services that advance subsurface earth exploration and contribute to resource discovery. In 2006, Geosoft began publishing, Earth Explorer, as a way of connecting and giving back to its community by providing a place to profile the ideas, expertise and success of geoscientists and resource industry professionals as “earth explorers” making discoveries. The magazine hass moved from print to online over the years, with Earthexplorer.com now a rich, digital magazine (still sponsored by Geosoft) that’s become a hub of customer and community engagement and a powerful source of insight for the company’s content development. This online publication and community has moved the company to being considered a thought leader in its sector and various complementary industries, above and beyond its core software products and services.
That’s social PR gold!
I suspect both the tech company and the average geoscientist or geologist could be classified as introverted…yet Geosoft has now moved quickly and successfully into building an active and passionate online community through various social networks—at this stage I’m told its most effective channel is LinkedIn.
I’m hoping my interview with Geosoft Inc.’s director of corporate communications and editor, Earth Explorer Magazine (whom I heard speak at a Brainrider-sponsored #torontob2b Marketers Meetup V), will publish in August (or September) 2012 on PR Conversations.
Your turn; input appreciated on one or more of the following questions
What companies, organizations or occupations do you perceive as being inherently introverted, yet who have successfully implemented a social media presence? How did the organization do it?
Do you think digital public relations is harder or easier for an introverted business—which perhaps is quieter and less exciting in nature (albeit with great thoughtfulness and depths), but likely has less noisy and extroverted competition in the space?
Finally, do you think that social media for business increasingly is going to focus on relatively trivial ideas, things or advertising/marketing or will calls for change by individuals such as Nicholas Carr help to mature the landscape…and maybe help introverted businesses to truly shine?