Review: Spin Sucks

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Spin Sucks: Communication and Reputation Management in the Digital Age By Gini Dietrich
Spin Sucks: Communication and Reputation Management in the Digital Age By Gini Dietrich

This is a book review by Iliyana Stareva.

Spin Sucks: Communication and Reputation Management in the Digital Age
By Gini Dietrich
QUE, 2014, 176 pages

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

I am a big fan of the Spin Sucks blog. It’s one of the first blogs I subscribed to back in 2011 and I continue to follow today.

Why? Because Gini Dietrich, founder and CEO of comms firm Arment Dietrich, has done a great job at creating a community of writers and readers eager to learn more about the business of communications, social media and digital.

And so when Gini Dietrich’s new book came out, I was curious to find out whether the book would have such an impact on me as the blog.

“Spin Sucks: Communication and Reputation Management in the Digital Age” is a great read for people starting their PR careers, but also for those who want to understand the collision of old and new communications channels and the power of digital.

The book is written in an easy to grasp and follow language. David Ogilvy’s saying “Write the way you talk. Naturally.” comes to mind here. Gini must have followed his advice (although I think she always does considering her blog pieces).

Spin Sucks is not a collection of existing blog posts, but a thought-through and well-structured guide.

What I really like about it is that it not only explains how the world of communications has changed and why brands and PR pros need to adopt social media, but it also gives practical tips, snappy checklists and actionable techniques to apply right away in this new digital reality.

There are many case studies, personal stories and examples that back up Gini’s arguments and illustrate dos and don’ts when it comes to crisis or potential crisis, content optimisation and SEO, online reputation management and storytelling for the web.

The book also addresses some major issues such as spinning the truth, black-hat tactics, whisper campaigns, keyword stuffing and backlink strategies, astroturfing and trolls.

My favourite part is where Gini talks about the art of storytelling.

She stresses how important trust is, because without trust people won’t buy. The only way to build that trust is by telling compelling stories and humanising the brand to build lasting relationships.

Control is out – Creating humanisation around the brand is key.

Important here is to listen to customers’ experiences and encourage them to tell their stories, but also taking your own and your customers’ stories to the next level. That means developing co-created content in the form of videos, photos, Vines, etc. and making them available everywhere on the social web as well as the corporate website.

There is no need to spin the truth to drive attention. Stories don’t have to be about sex or tragedy or violence, they just need to build a natural connection to inspire people and challenge their intellectual consideration. They need to be created and told honestly, responsibly, openly and authentically.

People starting to tell stories about the brand is the Holy Grail, but brands need to actively jump in and dig deep.

Gini makes the point how imperative it is for PR pros to read fiction in order to tell better stories. Fiction for PR is a must, but unfortunately still an underused tool. Reading fiction, novels, blogs posts and articles, business books, listening to podcasts, basically consuming loads of content is how PRs become natural storytellers.

But, no matter how great your stories are, if you try to control the conversation with them, you will “burn”. What companies need to really understand is that it is customers who control the brand. It’s how they define your brand that matters and your operations and messaging need to match that customer experience.

Manipulation and lies are always found out. Better be honest when something is wrong and say that you are working on fixing it than postponing the inevitable – on the social web the truth always comes out.

As Gini puts it, ‘”I’m sorry” works wonders’.

By being first to admit your mistakes and telling the story from your point-of-view, i.e. owning the message, you can avoid others, that includes the media and your customers, speculate and tell inaccurate stories.

Another key topic in the book is Google.

For those of you unaware or unfamiliar with how Google works, you will learn a lot!

Google’s ever-changing search ranking algorithms (Panda and Penguin) and how they affect PR activities are explained in detail throughout each chapter.

Today it’s not just about new and fresh content, it’s about whether people share it or not on their social networks. To be sharable that content needs to trigger a human emotion: it needs to be unique, educational and ethical; it needs to provide the WIIFM – what’s in it for me. Having a customer-centric focus and “removing the French (the we, we, we)” is crucial.

For me, it was at times a bit too repetitive and perhaps a little too much because practically 70% of the book stresses how to be on Google’s good side, but at least I got to reaffirm my knowledge. (By the way, the latest Panda 4.0 update has been recently released – something to watch out for too.)

The major learning from the book is this:

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Content creation, optimisation and social engagement need to be part of a long-term, non-self-serving strategy, not quick fix tactics. Brands need to develop a holistic approach that combines all media types (paid, earned, owned and shared) so that they can connect with customers at all touchpoints.

To be effective and solid, these digital strategies need to be fully aligned with the business vision and goals.

Having a “marathon mentality”, ie striving for long-term results, is key because building relationships with human beings doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, patience and hard work.

All in all, the book is a very useful, quick and clear read for those seeking to learn how digital and social have impacted the PR industry and what is expected of those brands and professionals willing to accept and act upon these changes.