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CWC 7: Shonali Burke on Social PR, measurement, & more

Shonali discusses her Social PR Launchpad event, where she promises to help “unleash your inner superhero.”

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Shonali Burke educates and trains public relations pros to use modern media more effectively. Later this week, she will be hosting an online boot camp for communicators. In this episode of Chats with Chip, we discuss her Social PR Launchpad event, where she promises to help “unleash your inner superhero.” Of course, we cover a wide range of other topics, too, with a particular focus on a shared passion of ours: measurement. In fact, Shonali is the founder of the #measurepr Twitter chat and serves as a tireless advocate for improved assessments of all communications efforts.

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: You’re listening to Chats with Chip on the FIR Podcast Network.

I’m your host, Chip Griffin. My guest today is Shonali Burke, and Shonali is a PR expert, social media guru, measurement maven, and all sorts of other things rolled into one. She is someone who’s been on PR Week’s 40 Under 40 list. She’s on the 25 Women That Rock Social Media list. She moderates the Measure PR chat, which she founded.

and she’s also an educator at Johns Hopkins, Rutgers, and probably some other places that I don’t know. And I could probably spend a full 20 minutes just walking through your biography, Shonali, but instead I’ll just say, welcome to the show.

Shonali Burke: Oh, hi, Chip. It’s so great to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Chip Griffin: It is great to have you, and, and, particularly as we, end a long hiatus, for Chats with Chip, you’re the perfect guest to start out with, because you’re taking a look at the online education space for communicators, and this is something that I’ve seen a lot of discussion about, and frankly, I’ve been dabbling in a little bit, on my own, so I, I think it’s, it’s timely and interesting, and in particular, in just a couple of weeks time, you have.

basically a, a mini boot camp coming up, for communicators and it’s called the, the PR launch, social PR launch pad. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Shonali Burke: Yeah, the social PR launchpad is where we are going to unleash your inner social PR superhero. And I’m sure there are some people who, when they hear that or when they see my landing page, kind of roll their eyes.

But, you know, Chip, you Said that you have seen so many conversations about, you know, delivering content and delivering education online, because that is where the world is moving. And the problem is that if with limited attention spans, if we don’t make our delivery engaging, regardless of how solid the content is, no one is going to pay attention.

So. I thought I would try and do this and make this fun because I see so many smart people, both my students at Hopkins, at Rutgers, the folks that I speak to, train, teach when I go to conferences and so on. And there is truly great demand for strong content and strong delivery, but people also want a little bit of entertainment while they’re about it.

That’s what my mini training is going to focus on. We are going to spend, three hours, not even three days, but three hours, one hour a day, November 13th, 14th, 15th, talking about how to unleash your inner social PR superhero and really getting a sense of what does that mean? What do you need to do? What kind of skills and qualities do you need to either acquire or really beef up to feel that you are at ease with today’s social PR space?

We’re all at different points in our career. We are all at different points of our own personal and professional development so that means that how you approach a problem for a client might be completely different than how I approach it and someone else and so on but When we think about what exactly makes social PR work, there are some things that need to be pretty consistent.

So the whole point of unleashing your social PR, your inner social PR superhero, is to figure out where you are on that, scale, as it were, of superhero ness. And Make sure that we give you ways to get there.

Chip Griffin: You know, Shonali, like me, you’ve been at the PR business probably for more years than you care to remember.

And so we’ve seen a lot of changes, and particularly in the use of technology and social media, there’s been quite an evolution in recent years. How well would you say that you think the industry as a whole gets social media and how it can participate in an overall communications campaign?

Shonali Burke: I think the PR industry actually gets it much, much better than it did just a few years ago.

And I say this based on the content that I see coming out of, major conferences that are put on by PRSA, IABC and so on. The problem is that the PR industry is so bad at PR that it has led a lot of our colleagues in other disciplines of communications really co opt a lot of what makes PR what it is.

We have let ourselves be deluded into thinking that quote unquote PR is publicity, and it’s not, or vice versa. we have let our content marketing brethren take away content from us, which is really the, the bread and butter of PR is content. And a lot of that comes down to, Not really being smart about strategy and not being smart about metrics.

So these are core gaps that I have been seeing in the, education of PR pros and the actual implementation that they engage in. And that’s the gap that I think all of us are trying to fill in various ways. And that’s the gap that I want to fill as well.

Chip Griffin: So I want to touch on metrics and measurement in just a minute, because I know it’s an area that you and I are both passionate about.

But before we do, I think you’ve touched on something important there. And that is, you know, where does PR fit in in the overall mix and, and there are, I don’t want to get into the definition of PR because that’s been, you know, hashed, rehashed and, and all that over the years. But you know, there’s this, this whole notion of is PR, in its own silo with measurement in its own silo?

Is there a bright line between them? Is it, has it blurred so much that they really just need to be together? And I’m curious where you come down on, on that thought process.

Shonali Burke: I honestly, I don’t think it fits in a box at all. I think it is so broad that it’s. Effects are felt along the entire gamut of a business as functions.

You know, I was in, India a few weeks ago. One of the workshops that I did was at the Tata management training center, and it was targeted towards internal communicators. There was a gentleman there who was presenting as part of that workshop. And he talked about the, experience that his wife had had with the vacuum cleaner salesman many, many years ago.

Very name brand vacuum cleaner, company. and this gentleman, you know, the salesman was doing his door to door thing and, and showed up at this gentleman’s house and his wife welcomed him in, you know, sat through the demo, was very impressed, asked a lot of questions, but decided at the end of the day, not, not to make the purchase.

The salesman was so irritated. Maybe it had a bad deal, whatever it was. We don’t know that he, all the dust that he had scooped up in the course of his brilliant demonstration, he opened up the vacuum cleaner and dumped it all. On her floor and walked out. And the gentleman who was presenting at the conference said that to this day, his wife refuses to buy a vacuum cleaner from that company.

Not, he knows that it’s a great company. It’s a great product. The products work well, but because of this episode many years ago. That brand’s image has been tarnished in his wife’s eyes to the point where they’ve lost one customer. Now, you could say it as just one customer, but if you think of how often this kind of scenario is repeated and how frequently it happens, the cumulative effects can be pretty, pretty great.

So when we’re engaging in PR, For this company, for example, we need to not just focus on our external communications, but we really need to make sure that the messaging we’re developing, that the brand promise and the brand premise are consistent across communications. Now, some people will say, well, that’s external.

This is internal. This is brand that’s corporate. I don’t know. I think, from the point of view of the relationships that companies and businesses need to build and maintain with their publics, the effects of PR are so wide reaching that, it is very short sighted to simply try and pigeonhole it into publicity or external comms or

Chip Griffin: Well, and I think that, you know, what you’ve cited there, the consistency of message has to be there.

You know, I come from the world of politics. That’s where I got my communication started a couple of decades ago. And it, you know, one of the things that I think politicians do, love them or hate them, more so than others, is they stay on message. And I think that, you know, you know, companies in, you know, whether you’re looking at the PR function, the internal comms function, the marketing function, you know, the, the message needs to be consistent whether you’re in a paid ad or in a press release or in your social media conversation or frankly even your emails to employees.

And that’s an area that I think that, you know, You know, probably needs to, to receive greater focus because too often I see larger organizations and frankly even some smaller ones where not everybody is exactly on the same page in repeating the, the elevator pitch, if you will. Yeah,

Shonali Burke: I absolutely agree.

As our friend Katie Payne would say, I’m in violent agreement with you.

Chip Griffin: Well, we’ll try to avoid actual violence on this podcast. But, you know, you mentioned Katie and that’s a great segue into the measurement and metrics piece of this because you know, folks always say that, you know, Particularly when it comes to social media, you know, you can’t measure ROI.

you know, on the marketing side, you know, we can tell you exactly how many people clicked and what it cost and what we sold and all. Which, you know, frankly, I think is garbage. You know, on the marketing side, there are plenty of things, and particularly if you look at You know, television advertising.

It’s one of the hardest things on the marketing side for for folks to quantify, and they generally haven’t done a good job of it over the years, but you know how important is measurement going forward, both for the social media part of PR as well as you know, all of the other things that PR pros are doing.

Shonali Burke: I think measurement is critical. I just, I, I don’t think you can have a smart plan. Let me rephrase that. You could have maybe a smart plan, but not a very strategic one if you have not incorporated measurement right from the start. So you, you just don’t know if you are succeeding, if you’re making progress towards your goal, unless you actually know what those goals are.

And the best question I think to ask yourself is. When you are thinking of the metrics that you’re going to put in place for your program or for your campaign is Is this going to give me? Information that will help me make better decisions if that is a metric that will do that and that’s a great metric to incorporate But if it’s not then you have to look for something else Usually you’ll have a range of these key metrics as it were but I think measurement is absolutely critical and and That is why a lot of times when I’m asked, when I’m asked to speak or present on strategy, I invariably talk about measurement as well, because I don’t think you can have a smart strategy that does not have measurement built into it from the outset.

Chip Griffin: And I assume this is something you’ll be talking about in the boot camp, right? This is central to your thought process, so I assume you’ll weave it into those three hours.

Shonali Burke: Weaving in, absolutely weaving in.

Chip Griffin: you know, so, I mean, let’s, I, I don’t want to recreate the class here or, or anything like that, but, you know, when, when you’re thinking about measurement, particularly from a social perspective, you know, what are the key, key considerations?

You know, again, we’re not trying to train everybody right here, but, you know, give us a little bit of a flavor for the things that you think organizations should be paying attention to in that arena.

Shonali Burke: You just said the magic words, and that’s pay attention. a lot of times, I think organizations will say that they want to participate in social, and they may even believe it, but they’re not actually paying attention to which conversations they should be listening in on.

They don’t even know what it means to participate. To, engage in smart listening because they are so time strapped and they’ve got so much going on that they just don’t focus on it. But that’s one of the most important things, right? You, if, unless you know what your, landscape looks like, then you cannot identify which key conversations you have to participate in and you, you.

Cannot even start to participate in a meaningful mindful way if you’re not listening. So that is something that’s really, really important and built into measurement from the point of view of giving you something to really get to grips with. So we will definitely be talking about that in the mini training.

But I do want to reinforce that simply by listening you are not necessarily measuring. Because listening is giving you some information and you know, you kind of, you have your ear to the ground, you know what’s going on. But then it’s up to you to actually take that information and make sense of it and see how that fits into your overall plan and therefore how you’re actually going to measure your progress.

So it’s for me to say, Part of measurement, but it’s not all of measurement.

Chip Griffin: Well, in fact, on the listening side, I think that I I, if you’re doing a lot of listening, but you don’t have a, a strategic way of measuring it, you, you have a tendency to overreact both to the, the good and the bad. And, and we see this quite regularly in social media where, you know, some mini scandal will pop up on social media and say, this is, this is the death of that brand.

Oh my God, the, the sky is falling. you know, or, or you see a brand, you know, manage to get a video that, that goes viral and they say, ah, that’s, you know, we’ve now hit it and we need to keep doing this. And so it seems to me that. That without having that real measurement plan in place, you’ll overreact in both directions.

Shonali Burke: Absolutely, and that again comes back to, you know, what are you tracking and why? Just because a video goes viral, what does that actually mean? Did that actually result in something? And did it result in what you need to have happen for your business to move forward? Nine times out of ten, I don’t think that happens.

You know, we get very excited over big numbers and video views and impressions and all of that. And it’s human nature, you know. We like to know that, that what we are saying or writing is resonating. But, that’s lovely, but so what? And I think that so what is a question Frankly, a lot of companies are just scared of asking because they don’t have an answer to it They don’t want to look stupid

Chip Griffin: when you’re focused on the so what is it is it about hard metrics or is there a role for your gut as well?

Shonali Burke: I think that’s always a role for your gut. you know because ultimately we are we’re people right and we ultimately are engaging with other people and The more attuned we are to them, the better we will, I was going to say the better we will engage with them in terms of our actual relationships.

So, you know, data could give you all sorts of stories. But ultimately, you are going to have to use your gut to decide whether or not to Act on the stories the data are telling you. Does that make sense? It does.

Chip Griffin: I mean, it sounds to me like what you’re saying is that that experience matters and our jobs aren’t going to be taken over purely by machines.

I don’t think they,

Shonali Burke: I don’t think they are, because if that were the case, then you know, everybody would be. Making a shit load of money right now. Can I say that?

Chip Griffin: Sure. It’s a podcast. . There’s no FCC requirement here. I mean, as long as Shell’s okay with it and doesn’t kick my podcast up, but I think shell will be okay with it.

So, you know, as, as you look at these things, you know, how do you figure out which data points to use? And, and I mean, look, I, again, tapping back into my political experience, I know that you can make data say pretty much anything you want. If you, if you give me a data point, and tell me that you wanna prove a particular message.

I can take that data point and achieve that goal sort of, you know, the glass half empty half full, you know, but it’s still the same data point, you know, how do you, you know, operationally think about how to construct something that, you know, gets you where you want to be?

Shonali Burke: I think again, it comes back to first of all, knowing where it is that you want to be.

And that is not as easy as it sounds, right? Because we all know in general terms that we want to be quote unquote successful, but we don’t really. know always what that means. Right. You have to define success. You have to define success. Exactly. And once you do, I think you have to really look at the assets that you have on hand.

You have to look at what your capabilities are. You have to basically do a little audit for yourself.

Chip Griffin: So as, as we’re looking at, you know, putting together these measurement programs and the different data points that you can use, whether they lie or not, you know, there’s a lot of conversation about measuring outcomes versus outputs.

And, you know, my question to you is in the campaigns that you put together and your experience, do you need to have Deep access into the business data, or is there a way that PR folks can do measurement, you know, even if maybe they don’t have the full measure of cooperation from all of their colleagues?

Shonali Burke: I do think you need to have a level of cooperation and access. However, I also understand that. Businesses are reluctant to give that access because there’s sensitive information involved oftentimes. so a lot of that then comes down to the relationship that you have as a practitioner or as an agency, executive with your client, because if they trust you, they’ll give you the information.

I think as long as they are very clear with you as to, What their strategy is, if they’re at least even willing to share the strategic plan or some form of the strategic imperative and tell you what their, their business KPIs are, then you can put a decent measurement program in place. If you don’t have any of that information, then you’re really just shooting in the dark and, you know, and then why bother, right?

Chip Griffin: Exactly. But what do you say to those folks who say, geez, you can’t really measure, measure social because, you know, it’s really about building relationships. It’s such a long term endeavor that, you know, you’re not going to have an immediate payoff. And so it’s, it’s unfair to be judged in the same way that you might on a pay per click ad campaign.

Shonali Burke: I think that there are metrics that will work at different ends of the spectrum. So that’s why there’s a place for output metrics and outcome metrics. Now certainly if you’re starting out with a campaign and you’re just starting out to build your visibility and credibility, via social media in addition to your other channels, then obviously you’re not going to be looking for outcomes right off at the back.

And so the kinds of things that you’re looking for. Your very basic follower numbers, and your engagement metrics are probably what you’d want to look at to start out with. That’s also where this whole notion of social PR comes in because what social PR does is help you educate your community that you’re trying to build and really make a community of folks who will start to participate in your endeavors and really tell your story for you.

And then once you have that community, In place and how you start to motivate and energize them becomes very important in terms of reaching your ultimate goals. So that’s the kind of thing we did, for example, with the Blue Key campaign, where we knew we needed to build a community of champions, as it were, to get the message of the organization out.

But to start with, when we were right at the beginning, of that process, we were definitely not going to be looking at only key purchases as, as a metric. Certainly it was something we wanted to keep our eye on and know what we wanted to work towards by the end of that year. But that would have been very foolish to have as the primary metric at the start of the campaign.

We were looking at how many champions could we bring on, how much were they participating in our initiatives, in our groups, and so on. And then as we really built those relationships, we started to look at how much they started to get engaged in the campaign, what else was happening as, as a result of them being champions.

And that’s really how the campaign grew. So it was, it was marvelous, I think, because we began with a campaign that was very focused in the digital space. But because of these strong relationships that we built with the champions, it started to have offline. ramifications as well, which ultimately made for a very successful campaign.

Chip Griffin: I think that’s a great example. And I think that, you know, anytime you can give hard examples for, you know, practitioners, I think it always helps, you know, in the time that you spent at conferences and in classrooms over the years, you know, how receptive would you say that PR folks are generally to your measurement message.

You know, do they resist it? Do they say, geez, it’s too hard. We don’t have budget or, or do they really seem to embrace the idea that, it can and should be measured? I,

Shonali Burke: I do see a lot of people very open to the idea and perhaps less incredulous, about it than they might have been a few years ago. So that’s really, really nice to see.

I see a lot of awareness around things like the Barcelona principles. I think the issue is that they keep coming back to, you know, their supervisor wants to use AVE or the report into marketing, which doesn’t know how to measure PR. they don’t have budget, et cetera, et cetera. And I get it, you know, I do understand that, but then my point is, well, okay.

So then measure the way. They’re used to you measuring, but do something a little extra, you know, create your own little case study that you can do, if you really, really, really want to test your premise. Because I truly think that’s how you show your colleagues and your bosses and your supervisors that you are trying to help the business.

what’s the worst that can happen, right? The worst that can happen is that they’ll say, eh, okay, great, no. And you’re done. And then you kind of know that philosophically, you are not a match with this company, then you have a whole other decision to make whether you’re going to keep working there or not.

so I’d love to see a little bit more enterprise quite frankly, because It’s not that the awareness is lacking. It’s not that the intelligence is lacking. I do think people get tired and I totally understand that. you know, they’re exhausted. They want that one size fits all solution, but there is no one size fits all solution.

That’s It just doesn’t exist. At least if it does, then, you know, it’s hiding under a rainbow somewhere.

Chip Griffin: I don’t know where it is. It would be nice if it did, although that would probably put us out of business, right? So maybe we don’t actually want that. You know, apart from the measurement piece, what do you think is the biggest challenge that PR has today.

What, if I’m, if I’m taking your launchpad course, for example, you know, what do you think my biggest challenge is that you can help me overcome in learning about what to do more effectively?

Shonali Burke: Well, I guess it would depend on where you actually stand on the social PR superhero spectrum. But I think one of the biggest things is understanding that social and PR are two different things.

Do not work separately that they really have to be integrated and that being a social PR superhero is really about Becoming part of that community, energizing your community, and starting to understand how to do that. Just because everybody has a Facebook page does not mean that they are good at this.

just because everybody can tweet and Instagram and post on Pinterest and whatever doesn’t mean that they are, are adept at the community building side of things. So, that is going to be one of the biggest takeaways from the mini training. That social PR isn’t just about you, it’s about truly being social.

Chip Griffin: And so, you know, as you say, what level of superhero is the best fit for the training that you’re doing? Is this a better fit for someone just getting started? Is it, does it fit just as well for someone who’s got, you know, five years of experience? You know, give me a flavor for, you know, who that training is really for.

designed for?

Shonali Burke: It is definitely designed for, I would say, mid level pros who are kind of on that cusp of being catapulted into senior management, and senior executives at agencies because they’re smart, they’re ambitious, they know theoretically what they need to do, but they just need a little bit of help to Figure it out and get there.

I do think it will be very valuable to folks who are relatively new to the business as well, because they might have a lot of preconceived notions that need to be scattered, and this would be a great way for them to get a fresh take on what social PR is. You know, and quite frankly, folks who are transitioning into the field, folks who might be coming in either from a completely different space, maybe they have a knack for communications or they are transitioning from another area of business communications.

Getting to grips with this whole engagement and conversation and community piece is what they need to do better It will be great for all of those people

Chip Griffin: and if someone who’s listening to this podcast is interested in signing up for it Where should they go?

Shonali Burke: They can go to social PR virtuoso. com And I hope that they do sign up quickly because There’s a lot of fun stuff we’ll be doing over the next few days, so the later they wait, the more fun they’re going to miss out on.

Chip Griffin: And you’re also a prolific creator of content out there. You know, where should folks go to learn more about you and make sure that they’re getting the steady stream of Shonali?

Shonali Burke: I don’t know that they’d want a steady stream of Shonali.

Chip Griffin: Of course they do. They should.

Shonali Burke: But probably, probably Twitter, where I’m just at Shonali, S H O N A L I.

And of course, my business website, ShonaliBurke. com. We do have a blog that is a community blog, and I’m very grateful for all my wonderful wonderful guest bloggers, both regular as well as one time. and it’s a blog that the industry has really embraced, which I’m very grateful for. So we do share a lot of great content and information and smarts out there.

So I’d love to see them either on the website or on Twitter or at social PR, but you also.

Chip Griffin: And I would certainly encourage folks to check out all three. it’s, I think they’ll learn a lot from the training and also from the content that you’re creating. it’s, it’s something I know I continue to learn from.

And, you know, I’d like to think that I have some decent experience in the field, and have things to offer myself. So, Shonali, it’s been fantastic having you as a guest today. I look forward to, continuing to see what you’re producing and hopefully having you back as a guest sometime in the future as well.

Shonali Burke: Oh, Chip, it was such fun, and I’m so glad that you chose me for your first guest. Thank you so much. It’s a huge honor.

Chip Griffin: Well, thank you, Shonali. Again, my guest was Shonali Burke.

Thank you for listening to Chats with Chip.

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