Interview: Brian Solis, FutureWorks Principal, Blogger, Author

The last time we interviewed Brian Solis, PRNewser was a recently launched blog, still in “beta” on WordPress. Oh, how we’ve both grown since then!

We caught up with Solis – Principal of tech agency FutureWorks, prominent blogger and author – again this week to discuss his new book with Deirdre Breakenridge, “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations” (“What the book is hopefully empowering you to do is go out and recognize what your landscape looks like.”), why all the talk of a “turf war” over social media is misleading (“We assume that one organization is going to own social media and therefore we jockey for ownership of it within the company.”) and his take on sponsored Tweets and blog posts (“If these celebrities are getting $1,000 a tweet to talk about ‘True Blood,’ more power to them.”)

In the summary of the new book you say, “PR, as we know it, is a dying practice having evolved away from the public and instead concentrating its energy on broadcasting messages to audiences through intermediaries such as media and bloggers.” Can you give us some examples of how you are or would help companies “go direct” to the public?

I am on a big anti-case study crusade in the new media landscape. I think it is confusing and polluting what they [case studies] do.

I believe in the realm of new media, if you tell somebody to think outside the box, you are giving them a box to put parameters around. People say, “Here is what such and such a company is doing in new media landscape.” But we assume that one, they are doing right thing, two, they are measuring right thing, and three, it is applicable. When you look at all three of those things, it takes way from the true value of what media is about in the first place which is the public. When I say ‘here is blank slate, Joe, go build a campaign that is specific to your business,’ you’re going to do the things that fill in that void. What if there is no box? It changes how you approach things.

What the book is hopefully empowering you to do is go out and recognize what your landscape looks like, specific to you. Go pay attention, start listening, start researching and identifying influencers, where are they interacting. Start to answer your own questions. Do so through your own lens not through another organization.

How can PR make sure it continues to grab more or maintain its share of the marketing budget when so much is focused on digital/social stuff that can go to a variety of different agencies?

I’m in the middle of my next book right now and I’m writing it to a more general business audience. I have a whole chapter that talks about this. The problem of the new media landscape is in how we as individuals view its application within an organization. We assume that one organization is going to own social media and therefore we jockey for ownership of it within the company. The reality is that every single department which has an outward facing focus is going to have to socialize: PR, marketing, sales, etc. All of these things are going to need assistance, help and direction. And once it starts to proliferate it will look like this – who will own email within a company? No one, but IT was responsible for implementing email. Can PR tell customer service how to do its job better? Can customer service tell PR how to do its job better? Probably not.

IZEA fest is happening right now. What is your take on that company, which sets up sponsored Tweets and blog posts between brands and online influencers?

This always seems to surprise people, but I actually believe that they’re on to something. Here’s why: sponsored conversations, as long as there is disclosure and as long as they take into account the voice of person as it relates to the company are fine. Celebrity endorsements aren’t just for traditional celebrities. We can apply that to the world of micro-famous, micro-influencers.

People outside of our eco-system have no problem with it, as long as it’s not spammy, as long as it’s pretty clear. And if these celebrities are getting $1,000 a tweet to talk about “True Blood,” more power to them. The power of sponsored tweets and posts is not in hand of the influencer and the brand, it is in the person following that stream. They dictate whether it is effective or ineffective, right or wrong. At moment all indications point out that it’s cool. if it should fall off track, really they are ones that are going to say so.

You see the Interactive Advertising Buraeu (IAB) and advertising groups promoting the value of advertising. Are PR trade groups doing enough in this regard?

The most interesting thing about social/new media to me is that everyone is trying to measure it. In the past we’ve been able to skate by without ever having to quantify things. The infrastructure of PR is not doing enough as an industry to create standards and value systems in which to help.

I’m on a working group for the social media press release trying to standardize it for four years and it’s still a discussion. That’s not a bad thing, but the point is this is all so new, but leadership is siloed. If i were had of PRSA and IABC [International Association of Business Communicators] and any one of those organizations that’s helping to unite and lead PR as an industry, I would be tapping some of the most brilliant minds out there and form an alliance of people from within our own industry – there is to much confusion and chaos in the industry – “Are we dying or are we not dying?” “Can we still bill for press releases? Whats wrong with press releases?” There is to much mass disarray.

Who are you following now online that isn’t on everyone’s radar?

Beth Kanter. She is working with the Packard Foundation. I really enjoy reading her. I also enjoy Dr. Mark Drapeau. I’m really big on Paul Greenberg’s wrirting around social media CRM. Becky Carol of Customer Rocks. Oh and Jennifer Leggio of ZDNet.

[image: Flickr/InternetGeekGirl]