Specifically, I'm interested in a couple of posts from Kristen Chase and Liz Gumbinner - you may have heard of them as the co-founders of Cool Mom Picks. In a very real sense, they represent an important case study in next-gen online entrepreneurship.
In addition to CMP, Kristen and Liz have built strong online platforms (i.e., personal blogs) that have attracted a significant readership - and in doing so, they've gained the attention of marketing and PR firms. No surprise there. Further, beyond the raw numbers of unique visitors and inbound links, the above-average flacks will see the value that Kristen and Liz demonstrate as credible and influential members of an important community. I still remember Liz essentially shutting up an executive from the Conference Board who questioned the validity of social media metrics with a single line - "how do you measure the value of placing a can of Diet Coke in George Clooney's hand?"
(WARNING: I'm gonna get all PR-speak for a second. I'm even gonna use pictures. Don't worry, though - we'll get through this.)
However, I think Kristen and Liz (and dozens of other online moms) are frustrated right now because they thrive in a multi-directional communications environment that depends on transparency and encourages people to participate in multiple community discussions. (You know, SOCIAL media. It's SOCIAL.) The environment they and other online moms have entered - the world where you get paid essentially for what you do and what you write - is still largely transactional and one-way, tends to be more opaque, and emphasizes hitting a very specific demographic and staying there. To me, the old PR/marketing world looks like this:
THE OLD LECTURE
So a company's message gets shaped and filtered through media to an audience, who simply receives it and acts accordingly. Companies and their PR firms simply expect bloggers to serve as one of those intermediate media outlets in the middle. It's much easier for them, because they've done this forever and really aren't interested in doing it differently because that would cost time and money. But then there's...
THE NEW CONVERSATION
Today's reality simply shows that companies are just one player in a larger group discussion. Yes, the traditional media is there and they still wield disproportionate influence on opinion and behavior. But in this world, everybody talks and (hopefully) everybody listens. I could put any number of communities up here and even more arrows, but I hope you get the picture.
(OK, I got that out of my system. It's ridiculous, I know.)
Call it whatever you want - new media rules vs. old media rules, the people who "get it" vs. the people who don't, or even good vs. evil - the bottom line is the two worlds operate on different terms and it's an enormous struggle to find a situation where both companies and bloggers are completely comfortable.
So Liz gets frustrated when she sees other moms who don't necessarily assert their position in the new communications environment, or worse, disclose that they're getting compensated for what they publish. And Kristen gets frustrated when the organizers of a marketing conference choose to introduce her with a "dramatic reading" of one of her sassier posts - positioning her as the "prominent mom" that transactional marketers value - and not with a rundown of her entrepreneurial endeavors or her expertise. That's more than a "personal branding" issue - it's a reflection of conflicting corporate cultures.
And they both get demonstrably upset when PR flacks treat them as they'd treat any other media outlet, only with less attention to detail.
I can say that some of us in the PR/social media world are struggling with the same issues that Kristen and Liz are. As they try to explain the new reality to flacks, we're trying to do the same to some of our clients, and even some of our colleagues.
Moving forward, I see three options:
- the moms (and everyone else) do everything they can to accomodate the institutional flackitude, since PR firms have the money and the stuff they want;
- the PR/marketing world moves to accomodate bloggers and other social media mavens; or
- the two groups meet somewhere in the middle.