Last week, my colleague Chuck Hemann called for 2011 to be the “Year of Data” in public relations. Chuck is alarmed by the huge and growing gap between the amount of data available on social media use and the (relatively) small proportion of companies that are tapping into that data. In a world where 10 billion tweets are being pushed out every year on Twitter and 30 billion pieces of content are shared every month on Facebook, ignoring the PR value of that information is perilous.
I’m sympathetic to Chuck’s declaration of 2011 as the “Year of Data,” but I have even grander aspirations for 2011. I want this to be the “Year of the Conversation*.” We need to be taking what we’re learning, online and off, and turning that data into some sort of useful action. And that conversion isn’t happening enough.
My thoughts on this stem not only from my role as a PR pro, but also my side project: a parenting blogger. For more than 8 years, I have posted on fatherhood, always on a personal blog and, for a period of time, for the Washington Post. I’ve been quoted everywhere from AdAge to the New York Times. This means that I am on the radar screen of more than a few companies that, no doubt, pride themselves on their data savvy.
And yet, there has been almost no effort by any brand to have a conversation with me. Yes, I receive press releases and pitch e-mails. But engage me in a productive dialogue? No. This isn’t because it’s not doable: I’ve had a handful of authors and academics start deep, thoughtful discussions with me. But brands have seemed a lot less able to do that.
Living on the PR side, I can see why it’s difficult for corporations to jump into the fray. Finding the right people in a growing social media landscape that includes more than 500 million takes expertise. Conversations are timing-consuming and intellectually demanding in a way that “pitching” is not. They increase the sting of rejection. They don’t follow a straight line. And they aren’t always fruitful. Real dialogue doesn’t scale, and that can make it expensive. But our industry doesn’t have a choice anymore. Shotgunning the same tired press release to an ever-growing list of people is a dead end.
So while I want to join Chuck in pushing for more data, there’s no question that the next step is more engagement. If we get our way, 2011 is going to be one heck of a year.
* The word “Conversation” wasn’t selected by accident. The word is central to the 10-year-old Cluetrain Manifesto, the online engagement Bible. Cluetrain, amazingly, grows more relevant every year, and it’s going to be a big part of my 2011.