Digital Marketing, Social Media Case Studies, PR 20, Twitter Top 20 Interviews

Todd Defren – The Twitter 20 Interview About Social Media and PR 2.0

social-media-guru-todd-defren Todd Defren is one of America’s leading thinkers and influencers around the new era of public relations. Deftly blending social media, search marketing, and relationship building, Todd’s team at SHIFT Communications is breaking the mold for what a PR firm can and should do.

In addition to his work at SHIFT, Todd’s blog at PR Squared is a must-read for all social media and PR types. Todd is also the Dr. Frankenstein of the Social Media News Release (SMNR). Conceived in 2006, this content-rich approach to information dissemination is skyrocketing in popularity, pushed forward by entrepreneurial devotees like Jason Kinzler from PitchEngine.

Todd was interviewed live on Twitter on February 27, 2009 and knocked it out of the park on a variety of topics around social media, PR, fear, and community-building.

1. @jaybaer: 1. Your firm, SHIFT Communications is recognized as a leader in the PR 2.0/social media biz. How does it differ from trad. PR?

  • @tdefren: We believe SM and Traditional PR are merging; we have hybridized our approach. All SHIFTers read/engage/call both MSM & bloggers.

2. @jaybaer: Interesting. So everyone in the company is involved in social media? No social media-specific siloing of roles and expertise?

  • @tdefren: No! That flies in the face of our beliefs. “Silos” = short-term, cynical thinking; shortchanges staff dev and client work.

3. @jaybaer: Are all members of your team hired with pre-existing social media skills, or do you train them up?

  • @tdefren: Even if they’re hired with foreknowledge, they must go thru our training protocols; there’s a “SHIFT Way” of doing things.
  • Having said that, “Social Media experience” is a nice-to-have not a necessity. This ain’t rocket science.

4. @jaybaer: You’ve added luminaries to your team recently like @pistachio @dough How does that work? A consultant in residence approach?

  • @tdefren: @Pistachio is not a SHIFT employee, but we love having her here, “on tap.” @Dough is a BigManOnCampus with SM, natch. But …
  • …we are pretty egalitarian at SHIFT. Everyone at all levels is encouraged to provide their insights/ideas.

5. @jaybaer: Re: ” The SHIFT way” your new e-book is outstanding. You talk about “atomizing content” Can you explain?

  • tdefren: “Atomizing” content = “chunking” it; eg, make *all* content easy to point to & grab by others. Hard to explain in 140-chars! 😉
  • Rather than publish a big PDF, ALSO make each major paragraph a blog post, so bloggers can point to specific sections vs. download

6. @jaybaer: I agree that it’s not rocket science. But how come so many brands are still paralyzed regarding social media?

  • @tdefren: 50 years’ worth of broadcasting a controlled mssg via MSM has calcified brand mktg practices. Loss of control-scary (but necessary)

7. @jaybaer: Are agencies culpable? Should they be pushing brands harder to get involved?

  • @tdefren: Agency must inform clients that NOT participating in conversations *already occurring* about their brand is an abdication of duty.

8. @jaybaer: (From @stephanieSAM) What’s the agency role in social media operations? Should social media engagement be outsourced to a third party?

  • @tdefren: Hybrid: agency can monitor, advise & participate (transparently) but clients definitely need to get involved as the official voice.

9. @jaybaer: On being part of the conversation, how many of your clients are in listening mode versus engagement mode? (h/t @lorenmcdonald)

  • @tdefren: Small majority engaged. But keep in mind our clients may be self-selecting, i.e., many came to us ready to do so; wanted counsel

10. @jaybaer: How do you ensure that PR has a seat at the social media table, in addition to or instead of advertising and digital teams?

  • @tdefren: PR uniquely qualified: SM is about dialogue, responsiveness, relevance amongst people. Ads/Digital = clever but interruptive; 1-way

11. @jaybaer: Where is PR as an industry falling short in terms of leading the social media charge? (don’t worry, no PR people are watching)

  • @tdefren: Internal training, primarily, and, trying to silo/specialize Social Media expertise, secondly. Bad PR folks spam SM channels. Sigh.

12. @jaybaer: What’s been the biggest challenge over the years moving from traditional PR to communications enabled by the social Web?

  • @tdefren: Biggest challenge is convincing clients of benefits of engagement vs. risks. Second: internal training. Training is hugely impt.

13. @jaybaer: Training of agency & client? How do you feel about having multiple/many client people involved? SM around peeps, not brand.

  • @tdefren: Training agency folks to better counsel clients, to answer 1st part. Training clients impt too, of course. Re: multiple people …
  • I’m fascinated by prospect of “distributed PR” ie., if 00’s of client’s employees tweet/blog, how does that impact PR? It’s coming.
  • Re: SM around people vs. brands:

14. @jaybaer: Do you feel the team @zappos is an early example of distributed PR? @comcastcares ?

  • @tdefren: @zappos & @comcastcares are great examples of “professional engagement” but it has mission, structure. No, I’m talkin’ wild west.
  • The “distributed PR” concept I am alluding to is probably a rathole. Worth a blog post in coming days, probably.

15. @jaybaer: Substantial angst around ROI of social media sweeping the land. What’s your take? What metrics do your focus upon?

  • @tdefren: One reason ROI is so tricky is each client defines it difftly; look for difft metrics – so we approach it on a case-by-case basis.

16. @jaybaer: Do you use social media monitoring tools? Which one(s)? How do they fit in to your big picture?

  • @tdefren: Google, Radian6, Meltwater, and some other tools… Part of our daily life: monitoring constantly. No one answer for this yet.

17. @jaybaer: You are the Godfather of the social media news release. How do you feel about its usage today?

  • @tdefren: @Pitchengine tells me he’s developed 5,000+ and I’m encouraged that major brands have tried the SMR. It’s on right side of history.

18. @jaybaer: Do you pitch bloggers differently than traditional media? How so? Does the SMNR impact that approach?

  • @tdefren: “Respect=read+research=relevance” – same with msm and blogger outreach. SMRs=content additives; just more for folks to play with.

19. @jaybaer: Your e-book has an excellent section on search. How do you tie social media and SEO together at SHIFT?

  • @tdefren: GOOG loves fresh content: we put out a lot of it, and we try to make it worth linking to. Also always have SEO in mind (tags, etc.)
  • @jaybaer: Do you have dedicated SEO folks on staff? Do you recommend that for PR firms?
  • @tdefren: No, we just always keep basic SEO principles in mind. Where necessary we bring in trusted experts.

20. @jaybaer: How has your degree in Lit from Bard College assisted your career? Can you create Facebook pages in Chaucer-style olde English?

  • @tdefren: Believe it or not, just yesterday I discussed WB Yeats’ existential beliefs about the afterlife with a CNET reporter. So it helps.


Thanks very much to Todd for an outstanding interview. And to all viewers for the great questions and kind attention. 

Who do you want to see in future Twitter 20 interviews? Add names in the comments.