Monday, June 25, 2007

Planning Online Campaigns - its tougher than you think

The recent posts have examined risk and uncertainty planning tools to manage change and risk, how can we apply this to development of online public relations?

Most practitioners use a search engine to see what is available about their clients online.

Few organisations are not involved.

There are rules about online campaign planning.

* The first is that at each stage risks and opportunities become apparent. They have to be managed.
* Events online including what people do, technologies that emerge and competitor activities will mean that we need to re-visit assumptions that may be only a few weeks old.
* Monitoring and evaluation is a constant. Stuff happens all the time and so it has to be monitored.
* There is no substitute for a structured approach.
There is a process which includes the following:


The Internet offers ever new and evolutionary forms of interactions for relationship building as a matter of course. These affect all forms of communication and social interaction.

This means that the practitioner needs to follow events, know what kind of online interactions are attracting attention. In 2005 it was blogs, 2006 it was YouTube and huge interaction between photos from cell phones being loaded onto MySpace and facebook.. By 2007 Twitter was became fashionable and the ability for people to add application, Web Widgets, to social sites like Facebook took off in a big way. We also saw the first changes in time shifted TV viewing and streamed Internet Protocol TV. The first digital posters appeared on the London Underground and Games online meant that the massive games demographic joined the online community with Xbox and Sony Play Station. Newspapers offered blogs, podcasts and video online. Radio podcasts meant that time shifted radio programmes were available.

Consumer habits have and continue to change. The Internet is the biggest high street by factors. People spent less time reading newspapers and watching TV and much more time online. The channels for communication changed.

This speed of change affects organisations. Learning to be aware of these developments and finding time to stay abreast of developments is crucial to the communications specialist.

In the PR industry, we are fortunate in that many practitioners provide free insights into these developments on blogs, in podcasts and at conferences. Trends are provided by research organisations.

Sources that help include:;;;
Ofcom Research and Market data;;;;;; and

2 Channel Analysis

Checking out the presence of the organisation and its competitors' online presence in a wide range of web and social media is next. In the chapter on channels for communication we identify some methods for each channel. The structured way of doing this is involves identifying the extent of exposure in each channel (web, blogs, podcasts etc.), the key subjects in the conversations, the most regular sources (e.g. bloggers, Twiterers etc) who are adding content and the extent they are referenced by others. These are, for want of a better word, the opinion formers and a key public for each subject.

Internet mediated interventions come in many forms. Of course, there are the visible channels such as web sites, emails, forums as well as blogs and Social portals, virtual worlds like Second Life and the newer forms used in communication online. For the technically minded, the Internet goes further because its protocols (Internet Protocols) have been adopted by other channels such as television (IPTV), mobile telephony platforms and computer languages which describe the nature of the content so that computers can manage it (e.g. XML, Micro-formats and tagging). The practitioner has need to be informed of current, emerging and new platforms and channels for communication.

3. Organisation analysis

In preparing any Public Relations plan, there is a need to understand the organisation. With the potential for unimaginable numbers of people to find, and evaluate the direct and indirect statements made by the organisation, regulators, information aggregators, the media and social commentators online, there is a need to be precise in statements about the organisation. Claims served up with spin, hype, exaggeration or bling draw a rich and often lurid repost in cyberspace at a time and in circumstances not of the organisations choosing.

Value systems evident online need to analysed and defendable. Wenstop & Myrmel, (2006) offer virtues, duties and consequences as three types of value systems that need to be identified and organisations often need to modify un-realistic claims to be able to compete online.

Such analysis will affect evidence and content published in online corporate backgrounders (history, financial and management structure, products, markets, associates and regulators, endorsers). Some of this will be provided by the organisation (or it will point to it – often using hyperlinks sometimes selectively using web widgets) bearing in mind that for most organisations, they are not responsible for the majority of data about them that is published (starting with Internet data, government, regulatory and trade data provided by third parties as well as web site and social media content).

In addition, analysis of the content offered online will indicate the kind of organisation behind the website facade. Using a form of Uses and Gratification analysis of web sites and other online content quickly exposes the nature of the organisation not by what is said but by how it is presented.

Practitioners need the tools, expertise and authority to present and construct the online persona of organisations.

A useful method for examining the online image of an organisation is by examining its web site and selective commentary of the online audience for the values that are identified. Statements such as 'reliable delivery, most advanced product and similar statements - most marketing departments insist on adding such statements in product literature and web pages. There will be statements that are made by corporate leaders as well. These are are statements by the organisation about its values. These need to be examined and catalogued as the value systems of the organisations.

Because the online community is critical (not frequently adversely critical), its will examine these statements and where there is dissonance - i.e. the claim is unreasonable or unbelievable - will expose such statements for a an Internet user generated version. many companies have fallen foul of this form of online analysis. If an organisation makes a claim on or offline, it must be able to defend it. Risk/opportunity analysis is a useful tool for evaluating value systems.

Situation analysis is a valuable tool for identifying a profile: This will include analysis of the organisation on and offline and a typical profile would include analysis of:

* Company (Product line, Image in the market,Technology and experience, Culture, Goals,
* Collaborators (Distributors, Suppliers, Alliances)
* Customers (Market size and growth, Market segments (including Internet user groups), Benefits that consumer is seeking, tangible and intangible, Motivation behind purchase; value drivers, benefits vs. costs, Decision maker or decision-making unit, Retail channel - where does the consumer actually purchase the product? Consumer information sources - where does the customer obtain information about the product?Buying process; e.g. impulse or careful comparison, Frequency of purchase, seasonal factors, Quantity purchased at a time. Trends - how consumer needs and preferences change over time).
* Competitors (Actual or potential, Direct or indirect, Products, Positioning, Market shares, Strengths and weaknesses of competitors)
* Climate - or context (The climate or macro-environmental factors are, Political & regulatory environment - governmental policies and regulations that affect the market, Economic environment - business cycle, inflation rate, interest rates, and other macroeconomic issues,
Social/Cultural environment - society's trends and fashions, Technological environment - new knowledge that makes possible new ways of satisfying needs; the impact of technology on the demand for existing products.

An additional analysis might include a PEST analysis is an analysis of the external macro-environment that affects all firms. P.E.S.T. is an acronym for the Political, Economic, Social, and Technological (and Gregory 2006 adds legal) factors of the external macro-environment.

Organisations are exposed in a range of channels for communication. Some have a different view to values systems than others. Televisionaudiences will accept hype statements with little qualm unlike blogging community.

One final test is useful which is to examine how the online community regards online content.

The Uses and gratification theory, first identified in the 1940s by Lazarsfeld and Stanton (1944), attempts to explain why mass media is used and the types of gratification that media generates.

Denis McQuail (McQuail, D. (1987): Mass Communication Theory: An Introduction (2nd edn.). London: Sage) offers a schemata to help establish the quality of web sites. When reviewing a site, this is a method that may be valuable to gain insights into how people will regard and use a web site (or a blog) and Morris and Ogan (1996) poit out that U&G is a comprehensive theory and is applicable to Internet mediated communication ( see also McLeod & Becker (1981).

Using McQuail, practitioners can create questionnaire to invite people to evaluate web sites, blogs and wikis or any other online property to identify its value as an online resource.

The basis by which this can be done are these:

1. The first is information, where we use the media to educate us in certain areas, such as learning more about the world, seeking advice on practical matters, or fulfilling our curiosity.
2. The second factor is personal identity, where we may watch television to associate an actor's character with our own. For example in the comedy 'Friend' all the actors have different personalities, we as the audience imagines or desires that we were them or resembling them.
3. The third usage of media is 'integration and social interaction', and refers to gaining insight into the situations of other people, in order to achieve a sense of belonging. For example, when watching a movie, we may get very emotional because we experience a sense of connection to the movie, and experience symptoms like crying, or covering our eyes. Television also facilitates us in our personal relationship with friends as we are able to relate and discuss details of media texts that we like in common with our friends.
4. The fourth usage of the media identified by McQuail is 'entertainment', that is, using media for purposes of obtaining pleasure and enjoyment, or escapism. For example when we watch TV shows or movies we end up going into a new world of fantasy, diverting our attention from our problems, wasting time when we are free and even sometimes acquiring sexual arousal or emotional release.

Academic Darren Lilliker would add Interesting as a fifth element.

With this analysis, the practitioner is well armed to develop the plan further.

4. Value partners

Online, there are no messages hidden from users which might give rise to a view that there is little need for segmentation. This is a misleading view. There are platforms and channels for communication as well as types of content, written and semiotic, that are more significant for some audiences than others. These people who have an interest in the values and value systems of the organisation will be drawn to them and where there is dissonance will, at some point take issue.

Using segmentation techniques offered by Smithi (Smith 2002) and Grunig and Huntii (1984) among others as described by Anne Gregory and Alison Theaker in their books as well as Freeman (Stakeholder theory) and a multitude of others (not least the many market segmentation theorists and practitioners) are now joined by User Generated Markets. Users are now beginning to decide that they would select issues, products and brands which undermines segmentation theory used by most organisation. The evolution of online behaviour whereby User Generated Market segments, (often confined to closed communities such as Facebook, MyRagan and Melcrum), form round brands, issues and organisations makes discussion of these networked social groups (mostly very small groups) important. There is nothing new or revolutionary about the concept. Small communities through history have behaved in the same way aided by the normal discourse of daily lives leavened by gossip. The Internet, a place, has many networked communities. There is a temptation by many of us who are used to mass communication and mass markets to imagine that because we can find references to issues and brands online that these sites and post are a homogeneous market. The evidence suggests they are comments in relatively small often transient online social groups. It is typical for people to use search engines to identify what the online community is saying. This is far too simplistic. The online community is predominantly active in small groups and cares little for views expressed across the whole Internet unless seeking to selectively 'pull' new information. Online social groups range from the intense and academic to hard news and simple family snap shots. To imagine that all comments about an issue, brand or event from a single sweep of comments across all such groups would be a mistake.

Segmentation is needed. It is needed because the language of different channels is different (Twitter versus Times online) and the channel is a message in its own right and to be able to hold a conversation through such channels needs to be adapted to meet user needs.

Historically is was considered enough to frame some public relations communication in a few succinct messages. In a conversation, this is simply rude. Statements need to be supported, users need to be able to explore further and frequently seek to 'pull' more information. This means that the content available needs to be comprehensively available through devices such as hyperlinking. Where information is not provided by the organisation, online communities will go elsewhere online to meet their needs. The attention to the organisation is broken and the link lost. Value partners are valuable when they have all the information they need to hand.

5. Aims and objectives

In landscaping and organisational analysis the practitioner will have identified the organisation's aims, corporate objectives and mission statements. In addition, there will be a driver that prompts entering into the online world. It may be a brief or thepractitioners own initiative but there is purpose.

It might be a corporate desire to be evident online to extent the 'eFootprint' to add to the asset base of the organisations (online presence and online relationship are significant assets), it could be a need to establish relationship offering products or services, knowledge, need and satisfaction. It can be political, commercial, charitable, public sector or something else. The key is that the online activity is becoming critical for an organisations.

The first question is why. What does the organisation want to achieve. What does it seek to achieve.

Setting online objectives is not as simple as many other forms of PR. Online objectives have to coincide with organisational objectives and organisational values and both will quickly or probably already are transparent to the world. Setting objectives requires risk analysis and a view of how to mange the unknown. What, in other areas can be a campaign will soon reach further both inside an organisation and beyond it. Employees, customers vendors and other partners will have compete visibility. Its an axiom that all you do and say online is available to everyone - forever - however embarrassing that may be.

Objectives need boundaries - most often they need to be SMART
1. Specific – Objectives should specify what they want to achieve.
2. Measurable – You should be able to measure whether you are meeting the objectives or not stage by stage.
3. Achievable - Are the objectives you set, achievable and attainable with manageable risk?
4. Realistic – Can you realistically achieve the objectives with the resources you have?
5. Time – When do you want to achieve the set objectives? Or can you sustain objectives to the point where the online community is satisfied you have served their needs.

To sum up: Do your objective chime with the organisations objectives; are they compatible with values held by the organisation that are defend-able in any forum, is risk and opportunity manageable, are they SMART and agreed with the organisation?

6. Strategies

At last! here you are in a position to get to grips with what you want to do.

Online strategies have to be creative in concept. There are so many platforms and channels for communication. There are no boundaries. You can use eposters or SMS, blogs or wiki's, podcasts or virtual environments. The online media and media online can be part of a campaign that includes Internet mediated television or games machines. There are exciting ways you can monitor, measure, evaluate and report. There is also considerable strategy theory from experts like Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., Philip Selznick, Igor Ansoff, and Peter Drucker.

Some of your objective will be strategic because online the consequences will be felt at the highest level. Some will be more functional. Certainly they will be explicit.

Strategy is adaptable by nature. It will consider availability of resources (financial, time, technologies). Allocation of responsibilities and reporting with associated training and management infrastructure are all considerations.

There is an imperative for good clear communication inside the organisation and there is usually a need to involve internal 'stakeholders' because online initiatives will affect them and they will be well aware of your programme almost as soon as it goes public. All online activities require a capability to manage change.

Using management aids to decision making and project planning (ibid) you will develop a plan and processes for management monitoring and reporting and progressively you will include elements that have the right pay off when they are applied. They need a reality check. There is so much online that it is easy to imagine a Second Life presence but difficult to execute. and the process of developing the strategy will include even more risk and opportunity testing.

7. Tactics

I have an ever growing list of media channels available. They will be deployed to meet the strategic plan. There is no online PR campaign that only uses one tactical device. There will always be a proactive element, a monitoring element and a capability to respond to events and actions by the organisation and or its online community.
There are things we need to know about channels for communication which I listed here.

To be able to deploy tactics, they need to be well understood:

Are they technically possible

Do you make of buy (use an existing service or develop your own - who hosts, who has copyright, is your information confidential, are you sure about the nature, even nationality of your vendors.

Can you sustain the activity for the duration. Online interventions are very time hungry.

How are you going to test and evaluate the concept (e.g. channel) and technologies?

What are the risks and are there other opportunities?

When do you deploy your programme?

How will you launch what you propose?

How does this tactic integrate with other tactics in the strategic plan.

8. Monitor

We have mentioned that there is a need to maintain landscaping. It is valuable that such monitoring is structured (create your own - closed - wiki) and include the process for assessment including risk and opportunity management.

In addition to this, there is a need to be able continuously monitor what is happening and for each social media you have identified, you will include methods for monitoring and evaluating. The new book in print from Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, Groundswell (2008)iv, identifies people in social media with five characteristics: Creators, Critics, Collectors, Joiners, and Spectators. These are five elements that offer structure to your monitoring and evaluation techniques.

Monitoring these five elements is essential when using social media.

Monitoring traffic on your web site and its competitive ranking and capabilities will be needed by every practitioner but monitoring and evaluating much of what is happening online is simply impossible. Chat is a case in point. A busy chat room generates huge content as do many brands in blogs and social networks.

Using the monitoring tools available, makes evaluation and reporting difficult. But there are a lot of tools to help. In some areas far more than for media relations. To cope with such activity it is worth creating a resource where real time information is available (a wiki?) and is available to a wide number of people who are involved in the project.

Online public relations is one form of PR that has to be monitored and evaluated. The risk in not doing so are far too significant and dangerous to leave it to chance.

That just about covers it I think.