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Why social streams don’t work as well in business

​At last week’s National RCG Leaders conference, which MediaConnect was proud to sponsor, Ben Thompson from Think EI was talking about the benefits that cloud-based software could deliver to PR agencies.

At one point, he asked how many agencies were using social business software tools like Yammer, Chatter or Google Plus.

It didn’t surprise me at all when just a couple of people raised their hand.

We actually built that style of “social feed” into the core of our Influencing PR management suite, and we’ve had very little take-up of the functionality.

That initially puzzled me, as we use it internally to track all our conversations with journalists and it works unbelievably well. However, talking to customers, I’ve come to understand why it’s, to date, gained far less traction that we expected.

Firstly, PR agencies are, as an industry, horribly late adopters of new technology. So many still run their businesses on 30-year desktop software like Excel and Word.

I made the point during the event that you can pretty much make a spreadsheet do anything, and PR agencies pretty much have, but everything you do on a spreadsheet is a process done poorly.

Spreadsheets were made for accountants, not to run PR agencies on.

As I mentioned in a recent blog, that’s something they’re going to have to change if they’re going to keep up with the general pace of the marketing industry.

However, I think even outside of the industry, these social business tools, which you can think of as Facebook for business, have struggled to get traction unless you have a largish number of staff.

Our rationale for building a stream of activities into Influencing was all about how much intellectual property could an agency or PR department capture, if logging media activities was made as simple as updating your Facebook status. And that’s what we built.

However, what Facebook delivers that most social business software implementations don’t, is an immediate emotional response. When you post to Facebook, it’s been scientifically proven that all of those likes and comments triggers a release of endorphins. And that makes it addictive, and something you'll want to do over and over again.

However, when you post a status update about having just completed that research project you’ve been working on the past week, you’re team mates seldom jump into Yammer to congratulate you. When we’re at work, we tend to become particularly selfish as we seek to complete our own tasks and responsibilities, and spending all day giving other people pats on the back we tend to view as counter-productive. As such, there is little motivation to post work-related posts. It’s a problem that LinkedIn struggles with as well. It’s users seldom go back every day to check LinkedIn for what’s feeding into their stream.

If you’re in a company of thousands, there may be enough people who are bored enough at any particular time to jump in and like your latest work update, or carry on a fun dialogue about the latest office misadventure, but in teams that are the size of Australian PR agencies, the typical experience is most everyone in the office is just too busy to really care.

We had to go back to the drawing board on this one. Getting people to share their work day and collaborate better with their workmates is a massive pain point for agencies and PR departments who spend far too much time stuck in meetings or trawling through an endless stream of emails they’ve been CC’d into as an ‘FYI’. We actually think we’ve cracked it, and it’s based on our own experiences. But more on that soon, as we’ve got what we think is one of the coolest things we’ve ever created, ready to launch next month.

However, in general for PR agencies, I’d suggest it’s a matter of baby steps. Start by getting your media lists out of spreadsheets and into a database, whether it be a professional managed media database like Influencing or even if its loading your contacts into an online CRM system. Contacts are the lifeblood of any PR agency so it’s the ideal place to start modernising your systems and processes before moving onto more sophisticated technologies like social business software.