steve-rubel interview

Steve Rubel is SVP, Director of Insights for Edelman Digital, a division of the world’s largest PR firm.

He will be speaking at the Thinking Digital conference in Gateshead at the end of May, at which Econsultancy is one of the sponsors. 

I’ve been asking Steve about the issues around ‘content decay’ on social networks, and what he thinks are the most significant trends in PR and marketing… 

Can you describe your current role at Edelman?

In my role at Edelman I am focused on the long view. Specifically, I study how technology is globally changing how consumers and the media operate and then advise our clients accordingly on how they can innovate in how they communicate.

The overall goal is to help Edelman expand the role of PR in the marketing mix. As part of this I identify actionable insights, work with clients to innovate around these concepts and then also share some of what we are seeing with a broader audience, such as the Thinking Digital attendees.

What are you planning to talk about at Thinking Digital?

I will be discussing something we have been thinking a lot about – attention; and specifically what we call Attentionomics.

The essence here is that attention is linked with economic value creation. However, with infinite content options (space) yet finite attention (time) and personalized social algorithms curating it all for us, it’s going to be increasingly challenging to stand out.

To make this work in their favor businesses must obey the laws of Attentionomics (e.g. time and space). The talk will offer some actionable recommendations.

I read a recent post where you mention the ‘decay’ of Twitter and Facebook content within a short period of time – can you explain this concept?

This is one of the most overlooked issues in marketing today. Much of the content on social networks, even the best stuff, can decay before the intended audience has a chance to see it.

In other words, tweets are whizzing by every minute. If you’re not logged in constantly you may not see it, unless it gets amplified time and again.

Yahoo looked at this further. On Facebook the situation is even worse. Branded content can be pushed out by EdgeRank, a highly personalized algorithm that shapes what you see based on interests, who you interact with on Facebook the most and more.

How can brands and marketers ensure that their content doesn’t decay so quickly?

The first step is to solve the space issue by scaling your surface area where your audiences are most engaged.

This means setting up Digital Embassies that involve a) hand-crafting your content for each particular venue (links are best on Twitter, images/videos on Facebook for example), b) activating subject matter experts and c) tightly integrating owned and social content.

The second step is to focus on time and to make it your ally with dayparted engagement. This means: a) practicing situational awareness; a deep understanding of what’s happening around you in these communities (and micro-communities) and how it impacts your world, b) optimizing for the best times to engage and c) planning, testing and measuring.

This is what I will discuss in more detail at the conference.

How has digital changed the role of the PR agency?

Digital has helped to expand the mandate for PR into transmedia storytelling. Agencies today are helping clients and consumers tell/share stories across four distinct media clovers:

  • Mainstream media (big media). 
  • Digital upstarts (Econsultancy). 
  • Owned platforms (a website). 
  • Social embassies (Twitter, Facebook and the like). 

This means that it’s not all about earned media. It also includes content creation too. Edelman is helping every company become a media company.

What’s the most significant online PR or marketing trend at the moment? 

We’re entering the next great era of digital influence. 

During the first epoch, Commercialization (1995 – 2002), only companies with significant capital could command influence in the digital space, e.g. media companies and corporations. 

The dot-com crash and the rise of mobile devices gave rise to the next epoch: Democratization (2002 – 2010). During this era any one could become influential, either alone or in collaboration with others (witness Egypt, Tunisia, etc.).

However, another shift is taking place. We’re entering the next age: The Validation Era (2010 – ?).

The root cause is social overload. In developed markets there’s been a ton of over-friending. An arms race has escalated to see who can accumulate the most social connections, be it on Facebook or Twitter.

According to one study people don’t know 20% of their Facebook friends. There are signs people are cutting back. According to the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in peers has declined over the last five years.

However, trust in experts has risen. 

What this all means is that people are going to be more discerning than ever in who they will listen to. This bolsters the case for developing integrated programs that span all four clovers of media, as described earlier.

Earned media coverage, content (owned media), social cache all can bolster a company’s position as a thought leader.

How has online PR changed over the last couple of years?

Increasingly it includes owned content – helping every company become a media company. That’s new.

How much control do PRs have in the digital space? How can PRs deal with this issue?

The reality is that, in a PR context, we have the same degree of control today as we ever did, which is really none. This is why the PR industry has done a better job than the ad industry in adapting to the Democratization era and why we are well positioned to succeed in the era of Validation.

You moved all your blogging activities to Posterous recently, how has this worked out for you?

So far well. I like the elegance of the platform and how it integrates with my workflow, email. Also it allows me to easily syndicate my content across all of my social streams. 

They are also rapidly innovating and advancing the platform. I don’t use it to the full extent that I could be. That said, I am exploring potentially jumping to another platform.