It’s the outcome, stupid

Couple walkingI have never been a social media apostate. I have had a twitter account since 2009, I blog, I have been on umpteen courses on digital strategy and evaluation. I teach its effectiveness to under graduates. One of my campaigns aimed at getting kids involved in positive activities was even praised by the CIPR for its innovative use of social media.

But I have my limits. When all I hear from either marketeers or PROs that the digital strategy is king I cringe. Because the bottom line in public relations is not the channel. It’s the audience. And anyone plotting a single layered PR campaign is plotting a failure.

"Great branded content” goes the cry back in the twittersphere. Maybe. And it maybe the loveliest, most moving bit of online content ever. Spielberg would be proud. But was it effective though? Did it actually achieve anything?

I have asked this question many times in PR. What was the bottom line here – what were you were trying to achieve? Sometimes you get the deadeye, but most times its more a look akin to that of Homer after Marge has just told him something clear and logical but his brain just repeats the word "steak". And after the look, they point back to the Youtube movie, the retweet stats and look pleased with themselves.

I know there are plenty of great digital strategies involving social media. Obama swept to glory, lives saved, more holidays sold etc etc but it’s all too simplistic. Successful campaigns never rely on one thing or one channel and social media is not all powerful.

There are some amazing things going on in the world of digital. But there is also an ocean of crap.

If, in life, you are known by the company you keep, then in the social media world you are known by the links you share. There are landfill sites full of opinion pieces and articles which replace hard evidence with anecdotalism and show not a shred of professionalism, depth of understanding or discernment. I don’t know what is worse – those that write this stuff, or those who share it.

The thing is, I am currently working with the NHS. One of the things I am interested in, for example, is encouraging older people to seek advice early - particularly men, who won’t "bother" anyone until they absolutely need to be admitted and when they are, they have incredibly complex needs, meaning it is worse for them, it’s worse for the staff trying to unpick the problems, it’s worse for their families and it’s worse for the taxpayer who pays more. So where do these older men sit in the digital strategy? I know digital is starting to cut across all age ranges, but you can guarantee that those that need help most will be those 80+ in deprived communities and not online and haven’t got access to the latest apps.

Perhaps digital should target their grandchildren or children with key messages? But for the men themselves the old fashioned letter, the leaflet in the GP surgery - even, goodness forbid, going out to tell them about the help available or even using the local newspaper or radio - may be more appropriate and ten times more effective.

We do need to get more digital savvy, we need to do more and more of it but let’s not exclude people on the way. We still live in a world where not everyone is a digital native. We will do one day, but it’s not today, not tomorrow, not this time next year.

Remember, kids – objective, audience, channel. Not channel, channel, channel. I don’t care about your "great branded content". I care about the end result. Show me how you’ve had a REAL impact and I will show you my gratitude.

STUART BAIRD