Peter Shankman — A Social Media Tool?!

By Katie Sheehan

Peter Shankman, entrepreneur, author, speaker, and worldwide connector, spoke to a large NCBPMA crowd last month in an evening talk at the lovely Hotel Rex, where food and libations were delicious. Peter is recognized worldwide for radically new ways of thinking about social media, PR, marketing, advertising, creativity, and customer service. 

The event was well attended and a spirit of high-energy and irreverence prevailed. He regaled us with tales of his internet antics back in the day, and he encouraged us not to take social media too seriously, although it’s worked out phenomenally for his career. Granted, he did poke fun at himself by quipping to  the audience that he suffers from ADOS, his translation – “ attention deficit…oh shiny!” – get it?  Peter jokes that he can’t stay focused on one thing for more than a few seconds. This was obvious as his presentation was all over the map, but highly entertaining. 

Peter started his career in Vienna, VA, with America Online as a Senior News Editor, helping found the AOL Newsroom and spearheading coverage of the Democratic and Republican 1996 conventions, which marked the first time an online news service covered any major political event. 

Peter's Book, Can We Do That? (Wiley)

Peter's Book, Can We Do That? (Wiley)

Peter is perhaps best known for founding Help A Reporter Out, (HARO) which in under a year has become the de-facto standard for thousands of journalists looking for sources on deadline, offering them more than 100,000 sources around the world looking to be quoted in the media. HARO is currently the largest free source repository in the world, sending out over 1,200 queries from worldwide media each week. HARO’s tagline, “Everyone is an Expert at Something,” proves over and over again to be true, as thousands of new members join at each week.” 

Peter shared many of his opinions with the audience and poked fun at Twitter and what he calls “pissy twitter people,” even though he has 45,000 followers. Although he is not a fan of Twitter he is a fan of tweeting because he can get a message out quickly to his followers. He is not a fan of LinkdIn because of the boring, static nature of the “resume only” format. He IS a fan of Facebook and he encouraged everyone and anyone with any relationship to marketing or PR to create a page immediately. He recommends it because it is growing by leaps and bounds beyond Twitter and it’s simply much more interesting. 

Despite his fast-talking, ADHD, presentation style he did manage to give the audience some important tips to success in the realm of social media. His relevant points are: 

1)      Make it all about you! – Whether it’s your blog, Facebook, or LinkdIn page make it personal and honest. Read this for an example of a successful Facebook page.

2)      Be Transparent — In other words, be honest about who you are and what your interests are. If yours is a company blog or page be sure to own up to that. Don’t create a fake persona like Wal-Mart did and get caught. Wal-Mart staged a big PR stunt that appeared authentic, but when the media found out it was a set up they really came down hard on Wal-Mart. So be honest about your intentions.

 3)      Be Relevant and be Brief – Pare down your message to one paragraph. If you are trying to get the attention of a reporter or a customer work on becoming a better writer so that you can say everything in one relevant paragraph. According to Peter journalists receive between 1000 and 5000 emails per day. Provide only relevant information to your audience.

 4)      Stay Top of Mind – Do things that keep you in your customers mind. Peter takes time out of everyday to recognize birthdays. He has 11,000 friends on Facebook and everyday he creates a birthday list and sends a birthday greeting to 50 to 70 of his contacts. This authentic gesture is meaningful to the recipient and keeps him relevant to their lives. According to Peter we only “talk” to about 3% of the people in our network, so take a minute to reach out overtime to the rest of them. They will say nice things about you. Take the time to do this because the best PR comes from the nice things that other people say about you . If you say it about yourself it’s nothing but advertising. Do nice things for your network or community.

 Peter’s final observations were perhaps the most interesting in terms of seeing the overall benefit of social media and the way that communication has changed. He explained that before the internet the channel of communication about anything came from “inside” the network, or from the media. For example, we went to movies and restaurants based on what critics and experts told us, now we look to places like Yelp to see what the people tell us. We buy products based on forums and podcasts and the testimonials of real people. We are now getting our news and information from a wide array of outlets from “outside” of the network and not just the main TV networks that used to control the message. The flow of communication has completely reversed. Information used to flow from the network or the gatekeepers to the people and now it flows into the network from millions of people on the outside. The internet is now a medium of the democratic distribution of information, from the people, to the people.

As a visionary in the field of social media there’s no one quite like Peter Shankman. He truly believes that in the not too distant future our there will be 187 million voices on one network and each of us will have a “life stream” streaming at the bottom of our screen (computer or otherwise) that let’s us know what’s going on in our own personal network.


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