It’s not tech, and it’s not magic, it’s your job.

Why is it that people stubbornly refuse to adopt new technologies even when they’re tailor-made for the work they do? I’m talking RSS and Google Reader here.

I have, in my mind’s eye, a sketch, and it goes a bit like this:

PR: “Hi.”
Tech: “Hi.”
PR: “I’d like you to develop some software for me please.”
Tech: “Sure, what do you want it to do?”
PR: “I want it to tell me when there’s news for a specific topic.”
Tech: “OK. Anything else?”
PR: “I want it not only to look at news, but blogs. There’s a lot of blogs out there and I want it to cover them.”
Tech (scratches chin): “OK. Anything else?”
PR: “I want it to be accessible from anywhere in the world.”
[pause]
“And I want it to be free.”
Tech: “Free?”
PR: “Yes, please. Free. I don’t want to pay for it.”
Tech: “I take it you want it to be easy to use as well.”
PR: “Naturally. I work in PR.”
Tech: “I see your point. So, to recap, you want something that grabs news for you, including blog conversations, that is freely accessible, and easy to use. Have you ever considered Google Reader?”

And so the conversation goes. This is fine in theory but the end of the sketch would be something like:

[several days later]
Tech: “Hi.”
PR: “Hi.”
Tech: “So, how are you getting along with that software that is tailor-made for your requirements, is free, and is easy to use?”
PR: “I don’t use it.”

This is something I go through often. Around Christmas time last year I made a list of things to find out about, and Google Reader and RSS was one of them. Within minutes I was up and running and within an hour it had transformed a large part of what I do at work and at home. To me, it seemed very easy and intuitive and obviously useful.

But the people I work with just don’t get it. Despite blogging specifically and social media generally being one of the most important developments in PR in recent years, I still have directors who say “Oh, I don’t read blogs” or “What’s Google Reader?” So I explain to the first that of course you don’t read blogs by visiting them every day, you use RSS and a reader (for ‘reader’ I may interchange Google Reader simply because that’s the one I use); and to the second, I explain how to set it up and what RSS is all about. On the outside I’m very helpful and approachable, but on the inside I’m usually pretty angry that I have to be telling people this stuff.

It’s the same with clients. I’ve been to clients to present this to them, and I use Google Reader to provide them with a page of the very latest online news for them to use. But they don’t.

I’ve even taken groups of people through it. I actually show them how to access the reader, how to subscribe, how to use nifty techniques such as subscribing to Google News and Yahoo News, or using Google Blog Search, or WordPress tag searches. I explain how tags work and how you can have feeds from them so you can set up a complete news syndication network delivering news direct to clients. But a week or so later, they’ve all stopped using it.

Other people look mystified. They ask how I know this stuff. I just tell them I spent an hour learning about it. And when I had learned about it, despite having only worked in PR for a very short time, I could see straight away how important it was for PR. Not because it’s tech, but because it’s PR.

I’d be interested to know if other people have the same issues. I don’t class myself as particularly forward-looking or visionary, but by the same token I hate having to class a large proportion of my contemporaries as blinkered.

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8 thoughts on “It’s not tech, and it’s not magic, it’s your job.

  1. Without wishing to sound like a particular scene from When Harry Met Sally, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”. But then, have you ever had to have a conversation about why targeting mainstream media online is better than offline and why a framed article in your bosses office isn’t the height of success? It’s like trying to persuade your granny to move to digital telly.

  2. I started off writing a long comment about all the things I have had to do for technologically-inept PR people but then I got depressed and deleted it.

    (The worst example was a PR who sent me a document I had written that two or three people had commented on using redlining. They hadn’t realised that you could go through them all and accept or reject each change. She asked me to retype it.)

    I don’t want to be mean. I just wonder what incentives most PRs have to learn about RSS, blogs etc. I mean, it’s really the death of PR as practiced by the majority of people. I would probably shun a free Google tool that automatically produced copy on any subject.

    Either that or PR people have a genetic defect that gives them the attention span of a speed addict.

    I think it comes down to a basic failing in PR: companies get paid for activity not for results. There’s no accountability and a lot of smoke and mirrors. Where are the billable hours in putting together a new syndication system for clients. Much better to charge for a media watch service and provide a big fat paper bundle of stories once a month and put some absurd ad-spend equivalent value to it.

    Sorry if this sounds cynical – I really like the people I work with at the moment but PR does sometimes feel like the emperor’s new clothes.

  3. Yes, this seems to be the way it is for a lot of people. It’s easier to resist any sort of change than move away from a comfort zone.

    I’m the oldest person in my office and the first one to really embrace social media. But it didn’t happened overnight. Like you (everyone, really), I spent a lot of time and energy overcoming the sense of frustration that comes with learning something new.

    And until I reached that tipping point of familiarity where I started to recognize names, applications and references, it can seemed a bit daunting.

    I guess my point is we have to continue encouraging our colleagues to test the waters. And this will take time.

    BTW, I especially enjoyed the playlet (above). And thanks for including my blog in your PR list.

  4. My favourite recent anecdote.

    Me: You know about RSS?
    PR: Yes. But I tend not to use it
    Me: Why?
    PR: Well, I worry about information overload
    Me: [although thinking, not saying] But isn’t that your job..?

  5. I have had the same conversations about feeds with those in PR – but even more depressing are the IT departments who block access for PR to the Internet (I kid you not).

    Is it no wonder that too many PRs working in-house are not tech-savvy when it seems almost impossible to get the IT people to help you do your job.

    Mind you, I remember the days of trying to get television and video recording for an in-house PR function where the view was that we’d just be watching sport all day.

  6. PR isn’t the only field. I work in computer programming and software engineering. People refuse to use tools that make their lives easier. Show them new project management software, and they’ll use it for a week before dropping it. People as a whole do not like change.

  7. Some people are really opposed to change. It gets fairly annoying after awhile, because I’ll spend my time teaching them how to use something as simple as Google Reader, then a week or so later, they’ll just stop doing what I’ve told them, even though it might be something that could really make their life much easier.

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