Brian Solis Vocus Online Conference

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The final keynote speaker of the 2010 Vocus Online Conference was Brian Solis, the founder and principal of FutureWorks, with his talk "Engage or Die!" on the way PR must adapt to exist in the world of social media.


Social media is having a massive effect on public relations, media and business. Within social media, marketers are actively working out the future of media before media itself. Solis emphasised the need to lead the transformation from traditional PR to the level of engagement that social media demands. He believes we are in the era of "Engage or Die!"

Traditionally, public relations is a one-way street; press releases, pitches and advertising all spam customers with information that they have no way to interact with. Marketers need to earn the right to engage with consumers, and with social media they are given the opportunity to do so. Pitching and broadcasting are becoming techniques of the past - conversation and interaction are the techniques of the future. But how do we accomplish this?

"At some point, we have to stop asking questions, and start answering them for ourselves."

Solis advised that although researching existing case studies and success stories can be useful, but shouldn't necessarily influence your approach to social media. By thinking creatively and appropriate to your business, your customers and your market, you can find a niche or solution that will work in the best way possible for your own situation.

There is no magical short cut with social media. To improve, businesses need to find answers appropriate to their own company and learn, develop, measure and innovate to improve. It's not a case of 'controlling' your brand, but taking the opportunity to steer perceptions the way you want them to go, through personal engagement and appealing to your audience.

When starting a social media campaign, the main contenders are an obvious choice: Facebook has hit the 500 million user mark, Twitter has over 190 million, YouTube hosts 9 billion streams per month and Foursquare is fast growing with 1.6 million users. But there are also hundreds of other very important channels where individuals are communicating with each other on subjects that interest them. Find out where conversations relevant to your business are taking place. Research your targeted keywords, your competitors and your brand's reputation. Investigate where you should be making an impact and earning attention: the "major currency in content commerce".

Social media moves fast. The length of time an object stays alive in social media is a measure of its resonance and its value. Your audience's attention span is spread thinly and to have your content stay afloat in the reams of conversation and streams of information that pass by every second is what you are aiming for. One way of doing this is by publishing fresh, relevant and valuable content that people will strive to keep visible. Measure your success by monitoring individual social objects, for example a tweet. Measure the click through rate, amount of shares, follows, retweets etc, and find out how long each item is visible and engaged with.

By contributing valuable content and participating in conversations which benefit your audience as individuals and as a community, you will earn significance and prominence. If people want to listen to what you have to say, they will also share it, distribute it and shout it from the rooftops for you.

Putting the 'Me' in Social Media

It takes time and effort to establish a presence with social media marketing, but the more people who follow and respond to you, the more chance you have to learn how to participate within your networks. Your audience has its own audience, and you want them to benefit from your insights and experiences, you want them to want to know what you think, and pass that message on.

It's important to investigate how information travels, where it clusters, the lengths to which it spreads, and through which networks. Find out the best time to tweet, to 'disrupt' the flow and make the most of that attention aperture.

Then think about what you're posting - our actions equate to social media currency. Everything we say and do helps to define our reputation, credibility and presence online. Relationships are gained through actions and words that resonate and inspire. Monitor what people are reacting to through tools like Klout, URL shorteners like and social management programmes like Hootsuite.

Become the Influencer

Invest some time in developing a strategy and an overall aim. What are you trying to achieve? Followers, brand strength, conversions, awareness? A great example of a simple plan of action that Solis gave was Starbucks giving free coupons to the most influential tweeters of coffee related subjects. These influencers took their coupon, got a free coffee and then shared their experiences and opinions with the world and their audience of coffee-loving contacts. Strategic customer relations can work fantastically within social media because you are connecting on a personal level to what people really want.

Simply sharing content is not enough, you need direct interaction with people who will influence others. Get the right people to see what you're sharing and they will provide you with an appropriate audience and connect more people with your content.

The process of transaction generally follows these steps - for example, take a tweeter looking for an exciting new pastime:

1. Need - "I really want a boomerang!"

2. Awareness - "Hey tweeple, know where I can get a cool new boomerang?"

3. Consideration - "Hmm, this one's a bit too expensive, any other suggestions?"

4. Decision - "I've found the perfect one! Cha-ching!"

5. Satisfaction - "Wow, this boomerang is the best darn boomerang I've ever seen... "

6. Recommendation - "Everybody, you've got to get one of these boomerangs, they'll change your life!"

You can explicitly identify the stages of a decision making process here because they are defined and shared through social media. Find out what people are looking for, why they want that particular product/service/information, where they're looking for it, what they find and what their evaluation is.

Now, imagine you sell boomerangs. You want to listen and explore conversations and exchanges concerning boomerangs and find out how people are communicating, what questions they are asking, what problems they are coming up against. Entering into those conversations and groups and providing the advice and answers your customers are directly looking for will expand your network and gain you influential followers.


Marketers need to break out of the public relations box and change the way they market. No more yelling at people "come buy my product!" but instead producing great content that helps people and sells products through "unmarketing".

Can you distil a press release into 140 characters or less? Brevity is a skill which will provide you with focused messages which are concise and eye-catching. Make the most of the social media available to you and make your social media newsroom or company blog a place to interact. Social media is rich with emotional connections - we share things because they resonate with us or move us in some way.

Communication is more important than a pitch. You need to make people feel that they are part of your network by encouraging them to become your ambassador. Social media has its own society and you must participate in a genuine way for people to believe in you and pay attention to what you are saying.

Tips and Hints

- Don't just target the A-listers as your main influencers. Consider the 'magic middle', populated by people who may have less of an audience, but who have a following of highly concentrated individuals actively seeking the information from that person. Gaining the support of one of these influencers can be more effective than an A-lister.

- Gaining influencers is still, despite the many tools out there, mainly a manual process. You need to research and investigate the best people to connect with, and achieve that by reading what they are writing, finding out what they are about and forming a relationship.

- Find an angle or approach that interests people. Targeting the right individual with the right angle will make a story reach further than you can imagine.

- Personalise - don't just bug someone because they are going to be influential in your targeted field - engage with them on a personal level to build a beneficial relationship.

- Invest time in your research and identification of your niche. Monitor and track content to see what works and what doesn't. Have clear goals in mind before you make your move.

- Be prepared to stand out in front of your company and represent them personally. You don't just have to ghost-write for the brand - make connections on a personal level.

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