You Can Find Anyone on Social Media, But Can you Get Their Attention?

Social media has not made it easier for either brands or businesses to get attention. It’s like going to SXSW and missing the two people you really needed to connect with while seeing hordes of other attendees. It may seem as if things have gotten more transparent, they haven’t. And that’s because along with all this transparency has come an accompanying fragmentation of attention. The real time stream goes by more and more quickly, and we risk missing more and more.

I haven’t really had my PR/marketing hat on since I left Intel. That is, I haven’t done the kind of research I used to do, spending hours compiling lists of targeted media, and trying to reach journalists with information. In the mean time, several significant and by now familiar shifts have occurred: 

The rise of blogs. Many of the most influential people in journalism are now bloggers, and they are always in need of new material. They have no real deadlines, except  vague numbers of posts a day. Less and less are they being judged on quality, more and more on quantity. The list of media outlets is much larger than it used to be, and the idea of a deadline is way in the past. Everyone’s in on the 24-hour news cycle.

The decline of print media. There’s surprisingly little of it left, either in the newspaper of the magazine industry. And every print magazine and newspaper has a web site that at least partly reprints and markets its writers.

The decline of obvious mastheads on web sites. Try to find contact information for individual writers; their phone numbers and email addresses are not usually there. Nor are many physical addresses. Instead, we are referred to Twitter and Facebook.

The growth of Twitter handles and Facebook pages.  If you want to find a reporter, you had better be on Twitter, because that’s where they all are, as are their brands. And their brands are also on FB asking you to “like” them.

What does this all mean? Well, it obviously means social media has become the tool of choice for talking to journalists, bloggers, and influencers, just as it supposed has for talking to customers. So that should mean it’s easier for PR people than it used to be. But, ironically, it is not, as I found out tonight trying to reach reporters for one of our companies. Just as it isn’t easier for businesses to reach customers.

And what does THAT mean? It means that now you may have no way to reach a journalist or a customer with information unless he or she has already friended you on Facebook, or has so few Twitter followers that he/she has time to read @replies. Even if they are in plain sight on social media.

Most people on Facebook and Twitter are drowning in the real time stream.

So how effective is social media as a PR/Marketing tool for ordinary brands and small businesses? Despite a proliferation of monitoring and measuring tools, we still don’t know. Because it’s tough to tell when you have really gotten someone’s attention unless they buy. Or at least write about you.

I’ve done a relative 180 on this in the past couple of years, going from telling everyone that social media was the one way small businesses could reach potential customers to telling the small businesses at Stealthmode that social media may be a complete waste of time for some of them.

Clearly, we are all still trying to quantify the ROI of social media. If I were still in the PR business, I’d feel as though it was easier to see the journalists, but not easier to penetrate their overworked brains. And as a brand, I can see the customer, but how do I get her attention? It’s like being in a zoo where you can see the animals but not pet them.

My conclusion?

Everything old is new again. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and in social media what is important is the relationship, not the Twitter handle. Life is still about community. But it may not be about community “management.”