Social media: getting on with it

This week I’m blogging about Frocomm’s New Media Summit, a digital conference for PR professionals that I attended in Sydney.

The thing that struck me was that leaders in the Australian communication field have finally stopped asking “What is social media? Why the heck do people like it so much?” or “Isn’t Twitter so inane?” Now, they’re getting on with it.

And although they may be a little nervous, they’re also excited.

Some key takeouts from the speakers were that they:

  • Are pushing through internal resistance and embarking on social media programs because they recognise the need for action and learning
  • Are recognising that if they need to reach some audiences with their message, they’ll only reach them via social media
  • Are moving to embed social media within wider marketing/communications programs, rather than seeing it as a standalone feature
  • Recognise that social media isn’t always about ‘branding’ or ‘marketing’. Often it’s a powerful supplement to customer service for example (and happy customers are good for branding in the end, right? Try selling something to people who are bitching about your widgets online every day).

I was also grateful that the presenters were not afraid to share their failures. There were occasions when their social media efforts fell flat. They learned from this, picked themselves up, and did a better job next time.

Michelle Prak & Ross Monaghan, #fro2011
Michelle Prak & Ross Monaghan, #fro2011

Here’s a few organisations that shared their experiences:

VicRoads There’s a few social media profiles for VicRoads, as you’ll see from its home page. It’s so important for a government organisation like this to reach out to the public: to keep it up to date with legislative changes, and address frequently answered questions online. It can help alleviate the workload on its customer service team.

As VicRoads’s Dionne Lew put it, it was time to move from brochures advising young people how to get their licence, to YouTube videos explaining the concepts simply. VicRoads couldn’t afford big TV campaigns, so its highly popular YouTube channel was the answer.

And they’ve seen some nice side benefits – the VicRoads online community is ‘self helping’ – finding answers from other responses already posted to the platforms.

NSW Police (part of a panel during the day). Around Australia, the police seems to be getting it right on Facebook.

They may not have been the first to the Facebook party, but they’ve clearly gained good advice and set out with the best intentions.

For NSW, the result is a Facebook presence that is more positive than they expected. The force expected some vilification on its page, but instead the experience has been overwhelmingly beneficial.

Look at Facebook pages for NSW Police , SA Police and Qld Police. They’re fantastic channels that are doing great things for community engagement, the police brand – and not to forget – crime stopping. I know that when I visit the SA Police page, I’m always astounded (and impressed) by the number of incidents they deal with, and the speed with which things are resolved. I don’t picture them sitting behind speed cameras anymore. It’s simply great PR for them.

Weight Watchers For an organisation that depends heavily on regular communication and support of members, social media is a no-brainer for Weight Watchers. Spokesperson Reichel Cheslett said their  successful clients naturally become strong advocates online. And Weight Watchers’s social media activity is producing sales leads, brand presence, retention opportunities and lots of other benefits for the bottom line.


The Frocomm conference points to the key question – “What are the risks of not participating in social media?” To understand this, simply turn upside down some of the benefits shared during the conference. Risks of not using social media:

  • Less opportunity to respond to customer complaints
  • More customer frustration; more unanswered venting online
  • Less opportunity to ask the public for help
  • Less opportunity to let the public know what you can do for them
  • Risk of young people (and other key audiences) not receiving your messages
  • Not being able to match your competitors because you don’t have the big advertising spend available

A big thanks to Ross Monaghan for kindly giving me a guest ticket to the event. And bravo to Glenn Frost and his team for pulling off a rewarding conference experience.

Please visit the PR Report website for the presentations available online and see the #fro2011 tag on Twitter.

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