Social media isn’t the future. It’s the now.

ASDA’s head of communications Dominic Burch returned to his previous (and my current) university this week to hold a special guest lecture titled ‘Getting a coherent social media strategy off the ground’. I attended the lecture and I must admit – I learnt more in that hour about PR than I have in lectures in a week. He really outlined the future of PR, and admitted that when at university, social media wasn’t really the done thing. The quote I liked best, which really summed up PR today was ‘it has totally changed how we do PR… unless you understand social media, then you no longer understand public relations.’

I completely agree with this. I think that every day that I walk into a new lecture that PR has changed just a little bit more that day. By the time I graduate I truly believe the PR world will be changed significantly than what is being taught in classrooms today. For example, Facebook, Amazon and Zynga’s new investment in a fund to help entrepreneurs develop applications and services shows a new era for the social web.

Dominic opened the lecture with ‘five simple digital thoughts’:

  • The old rules don’t apply – Information can be visible in social media before print. Therefore there is a need to know what is being said about your brand before the media does!
  • Brands are becoming media owners in their own rights – Take the ASDA brand for example… the ASDA magazine has 50,000 woman readers and the ASDA radio station is being played in stores continuously (and people really enjoy it!)
  • “Connect, not collect” – Dom outlined that it’s not important how many followers you have on twitter, or how many friends on Facebook. All that’s important is that your connecting in the right way, with the right people.
  • The public is back in Public Relations – Back to the Gap logo fiasco! The public’s views are important.

It’s no secret that ASDA has become an extremely successful brand over the years and a major player in the supermarket battle. Dominic really demonstrated how their PR tactics had helped them achieve this. He outlined that their main focus was to communicate more with the customer – locally and nationally. A great example of this was the Chosen By You campaign; which allowed real customers to taste food and decide what went on the shelves. Other examples include Bright Ideas, Aisle Spy, Your ASDA.. all fantastic PR tactics that really engage the customer and allow the brand to communicate with them. It was obvious that Dom and his PR team really cared about their customers.

Let’s not forget; PR is reputation management.. and ASDA seem to have this nailed. Their approach to crisis management challenges the tedious approaches and offers a proactive and innovative approach that really works. Take The Chicken Licker incident for example (click for article). Most companies would launch a cliche campaign to show how fantastic the company really was. But Dom and his team took a more hands-on approach; getting in their car, driving to the store, showing six real employees the video and asking them ‘How did that make you feel?’. They chose the best three videos and uploaded them onto YouTube and received 3  and half thousand views in one week.

The one example that Dom gave which I favored was ASDA’s Kate Moss campaign. Kate Moss was seen in a beautiful dress which ASDA then remade (“there’s definitely a difference!”). Again – ASDA didn’t take the traditional approach to publicize the launch of this dress.  They used no other marketing but social media – Twitter and YouTube. 400 dresses were sold in one afternoon.

Dom closed the lecture with some insightful and interesting messages about social media..

  • Go now, or be dragged there later – Social media isn’t the future, it’s the now.
  • Be open, transparent and real – We may be perceived as ‘spin doctors’ but PR really is about being open with your consumers and building a honest relationship with them.
  • Publish the good, the bad and the ugly – Don’t be ashamed. If your doing it right – you will have loyal customers who respect you.

I learnt so much from this lecture as you can see. ASDA is definitely a company I want to work for – they are innovative in their approach, challenge the tedious and are not scared to take a risk. They care about their customers and really care about the communication they have with them and what their customers think. Their crisis management is impeccable and I think we could all learn a lesson or two from them. I know where my first job application is going!



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