Social media, Second Life – New thinking about PR

london10nov06One of the great things about conferences on social media (blogs, wikis, podcasting) is the wide variety of comment and opinion they tend to generate among everyone who participates.

With more than 120 participants, Friday’s Delivering The New PR in London was no exception.

This was the last in the current series of one-day conferences from the University of Sunderland which, as with every previous conference, attracted a sell-out crowd of communicators from the broad organizational spectrum across the UK – private sector, public sector, non-profits and charities.

All these different organizations have these things in common – the need to gain some knowledge about social media, where it fits within traditional PR, and how to use it.

As one of the presenters – joining Philip Young, Chris Rushton, Tom Murphy and Stuart Bruce – I found the day an exceedingly worthwhile event as it generated plenty of discussion among so many people.

The day kicked off with Stuart and I leading a pre-conference half-hour session on the basics of blogging for those attendees who felt they needed a quick starter on what a blog is and how to create one. We used TypePad as our blog platform example.

Even though 30 minutes is inevitably a bit of a whirlwind tour, I think the 25 or so who participated in that session found it useful, and helped them keep up to speed with the topics discussed in the conference itself.

So our day was filled with talk about social media and PR:

  • What is the New PR: Overview & Perspectives (Philip)
  • The New PR in Context: Threats, Challenges & Values (Tom)
  • Podcasting in the New PR (Neville)
  • Blogs in Business: case studies of blogs, building business and awareness (Stuart)
  • How to get Newsrooms to Notice PR (Chris)
  • Networking in the New PR (Philip and Neville)

Rather than me as a presenter telling you what a terrific day it all was, take a look at what some of the participants have to say – Simon Wakeman (great to finally meet Simon, a regular FIR listener!), Richard Millington, Rob Skinner, and Lydia Mallison-Jones of Indigo Red, the main event sponsor. Plus of course posts from my fellow presenters.

Andy Wake of Don’t Panic Projects, the excellent event organizers, took some great photos (such as the one I’ve used at the top of this post) and has written a great post including some of the photos.

A big highlight of the day for me was conversations with many of the participants, all with so many questions. Not just questions, though – many clear opinions about the pros and cons of social media in PR which indicates to me that general awareness levels among UK communicators have increased significantly throughout this year.

During the lunch break, I recorded one such conversation which you can listen to below (RSS subscribers, you may need to actually visit the blog to get the audio link).

What’s great about this conversation is the different perspectives on the value of an event like this from two people at almost opposite ends of the communication spectrum – Jeremy Swan, CEO of Cicero Consulting, a financial services public policy consultancy; and Victoria Newlands, a PR student at the University of Lincoln.

The last session of the day was presented by Elizabeth Albrycht in every previous conference in this series. Elizabeth couldn’t be part of this latest conference (expected new addition to the family, among other reasons) so Philip led discussion about networking.

My contribution to this was to talk about virtual communities, Second Life in particular.

That generated quite a bit of discussion and points of view, some of it quite passionate especially when I spoke about meeting people in Second Life for business reasons.

I used the example of a couple of meetings I have had with people at the diner on crayonville Island, where we (our avatars) get together in virtual reality and we (the real us) then get on the phone via Skype to talk.

One conference participant opined that she could see zero point in doing this and would rather stick her head in the oven. Each to their own, I say :)

I know even some of my fellow presenters are a bit skeptical about Second Life and really can’t see its business value. Keep an open mind, everyone. Two mainstream media articles I’d like to suggest you read:

I believe Second Life and other virtual communities (pay attention to Cyworld, for instance) are hugely important from a business perspective. Thus, communicators cannot afford not to pay attention. (I’ll expand on why I think this in a future post.)

So, to summarize, Delivering The New PR has been an outstanding series of professional development events that have helped introduce communicators in the UK to shifts in the marketplace and some new thinking about PR and their roles as communicators.

Stay tuned for news on the next level for 2007.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Stuart Bruce

    I don’t think I think Second Life is over-hyped. But I do have two concerns about it, both of which are reasonably easily solved.

    The first and biggest is the ethics. Quite simply I am not comfortable doing business when I have a false name and the people I am dealing with have false names. It isn’t just that one of the values of social media is transparency but is more fundamental than that. I don’t lie and don’t ever hide my identity in real life and can see little value in doing so in Second Life.

    That’s why I find Cyworld so exciting because it not only encourages real names, it forces you to use them (I think and stand to be corrected on that). Even if Second Life starts to let you use your own name (for no charge, I know you can do it now by paying) it will still allow and be populated by people who don’t.

    The second problem I have with Second Life is that the learning curve is too steep. I am a very tech savvy person, yet it took (and is still taking) me a while to get to grips with using it. Most social media has a very low barrier to entry – it is free or low cost, needs simple, low cost technology and is very easy to use. Second Life is none of these. It is hard to learn, requires a powerful PC and most of the most interesting things cost money.

    I can imagine how most people I know in real life could benefit from social media – blogs, photo/video sharing etc. I can’t see most people I know getting anything from Second Life. And unless lots of people can participate it is an echo chamber. Blogs started out that way, but have moved mainstream. The very small number of participants and high barriers of entry mean that Second Life will remain an echo chamber for a good long while yet.

    Second Life reminds me of Web 1.0 – lots of promise, but the world just wasn’t ready. Sometime in the future there will definitely be a place for the likes of Second Life, but at the moment we just don’t have the infrastructure in place (cultural, economic and technological).

  2. neville

    That’s a thoughtful commentary, Stuart, thanks. It deserves a better response from me than just a comment here, so a post to come.

    CycleIT, thanks for the pointer. Naturally I don’t agree with Chris. Or rather, his generalizations. I’ll add some opinion on that with the new post I mentioned.

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