Monday, June 25, 2007

Who are the media?

I just looked up the definition of media from, and found the following:

"me·di·a: (usually used with a plural verb) the means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, and magazines, that reach or influence people widely"

This definition, however, is a bit shortsighted considering the world we live in today. Media are no longer just radio, TV, newspapers and magazines (though they are still all very strong media). We need to expand the definition of "media" to include bloggers, podcasters and, to a certain extent, users of social networks (i.e. MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, etc.). These are what constitute social media.

Last week at work we held a pilot session for what we hope will become on ongoing series of classes on the basics of social media for GM employees. Christopher Barger, director of global communications and technology at GM, was quick to point out that our team (the social media team) is not out to try to tell people that social media is good or bad; people just need to understand that social media is here and we can choose to embrace or reject it.

Professional PR and communications practitioners need to avoid a common mindset that social media people are not really the media. If we only ever think of print, TV and radio as the only media out there then we are doing our organization and our publics a big disservice. When we invite traditional media out to cover events, we should be inviting bloggers and podcasters as well.

Social media is here. We as PR practitioners can either accept it or not, but it's here to stay.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Tour of The Detroit News

As part of an internship activity yesterday I had the opportunity to take a tour of The Detroit News newsroom. Our host, Mark Truby, business editor at the paper, was more than accomodating when it came to answering our questions and showing us around. Upon entering the actual newsroom we were greeted by piles of different newspapers, stacks of various books, a large collection of Pez dispensers and an even larger collection of bobble head dolls.

One of the interns in our group asked Mark what he thought the future of the newspaper business looked like. Mark replied that while the paper's circulation had decreased (as I'm sure is the case with the majority of the papers around the country), readership had actually increased due to more people reading online. Mark also made a point of saying that news still has value today, and that mass media makes money from the masses. They want to print the news that will sell papers and capture those "impulse buyers" who may buy a paper simply from what they see "above the fold." This has some serious implications to PR practitioners who often engage in "pitching" news to the newspapers. It's important that we not only pitch news, but pitch news that will sell papers. This is a self-interest of journalists that I have never thought of before.

We also had the opportunity to speak with another editor and to get her opinion on what are the best and worst ways for PR people to work with print media. She told us that the most helpful PR people are those who understand what journalists do and allow themselves or their client to be accessible to the media as much as possible. She recommended that we do all we can to help the journalist get the story he/she wants.

One thing she told us to beware of is something I've heard before: stop blanketing journalists with news releases. I've always been taught that doing this is a bad PR practice, but she put a new spin on it for me. By inundating journalists with news releases some of the really important, newsworthy information may be lost in the mix. She also recommended shortening releases and maybe even just bulleting the information out so they can read through it quickly. It seems the news release is becoming an increasingly irrelevant part of the PR industry.

It was a great experience to visit The Detroit News and see more of the behind-the-scenes work that goes on in a newsroom. Now I want to visit a broadcast news studio! I recommend that all budding public relations professionals take some time to tour their local newsroom and visit with the journalists.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Interacting With Bloggers

This blog seems to be morphing into more of a commentary on social media, but, hey, that's what I'm immersed in now, and it is a vital part of public relations.

This past Thursday I had the opportunity to participate in a news conference for Challenge X, an event co-sponsored by GM. Given that Challenge X is a contest for college teams to create more fuel-efficient and decreased emissions engines for the Chevy Equinox, the Social Media Team here at GM decided to invite a group of "green" bloggers to attend the event and news conference. Our guest bloggers included Sam Abuelsamid from AutoBlogGreen, Phillip Proefrock from GreenOptions/EcoGeek, Matt Mayer from Groovy Green . Lyle Dennis from Chevy-Volt Forum, Matt Kelly from NextGear and Todd Kaho from Green Car Journal.

It was interesting to note the differences between interaction with social media and the traditional media. GM brought the bloggers out to Michigan to participate in the events at Challenge X and to attend the news conference where this year's winners were announced. Following the news conference and driving activity the bloggers had the opportunity to sit down with Micky Bly, director of GM Hybrid Intergration, and ask him questions about GM's efforts in alternative propulsion. Later that evening the bloggers joined us for dinner with an engineer and scientist from GM, and were able to ask more questions about energy diversity, the Chevy Volt concept and other topics.

One thing I noticed about the bloggers was how passionate they were about the subjects they write on. The entire conversation at dinner was focused on cars and cars only. There was no small talk! The bloggers all seemed to be very down-to-earth and grateful to be included in this event. More than one of the bloggers told me how honored he was to be there and how exciting it was to see what GM is doing.

Bloggers quite often have day jobs and blogging is just something they do on the side. I was impressed to learn that one of the bloggers, Lyle Dennis, is a neurologist in New York and does his blogging in-between patient visits.

The reason I want to include this in the blog is to show how companies should interact with bloggers. Bloggers are a critical "public," if you will, for all PR practitioners. We can't afford to ignore bloggers and their immense influence on our other publics. This experience showed me how to host bloggers at a media event as well as how important of a voice they have.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Social Media Blunders

My boss sent me an interesting article today that highlights a few companies who have made some big errors in trying to engage in social media. The article, titled "What Kills a Social Media Campaign," goes through a number of blunders various companies have had in working with social media.

Being an intern in New Media Communications at General Motors, I have learned so much about how to correctly engage in social media activities. An interesting thing I've learned here is the importance of being completely transparent about who you represent in the social media sphere. For example, any time I start or participate in dialogue on social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace, I have to identify myself as a GM employee.

Another thing I've learned is the importance of being sincere. Anything less than complete sincerity sounds like a cheap marketing or public relations stunt. Social media users do not want to be marketed to and willl not put up with it. Each time I engage in dialogue on social networking sites I try to solicit input and advice from the users, while still identifying myself as a GM employee.

While the use of social media can greatly benefit an organization, misuse of it can greatly harm it as well.