No spin please, we′re German

A new report by OnPR answers the nagging question about social media that perplexes many outside Germany: why don’t influencer programs work here? The conclusion we’ve come to is that Germany is the Galapagos Islands of the social media world.

In Germany, the social media scene is littered with the corpses of prominent firms that have tried and failed to leverage bloggers, Facebook and Twitter so they can get a “buzz” going by following the tried-and-tested formula that works well in many other markets.

However, many German bloggers misinterpret the motive when approached by a PR who is hoping that they might leverage a blogger’s good standing to add sparkle to a brand. And this leads to the blogger possibly even railing against that brand, more often than not resulting in negative instead of the hoped-for positive comments.

To understand why social media spin programs don’t work in Germany, it’s necessary to look at the mainstream media. In stark contrast to the clearly-stated political allegiance of news outlets in other countries (prominent examples being Fox News in the US, the Sun and the Mirror in the UK), German media is largely focused on reporting and analyzing the facts – without adding the political bias.

In turn, this stifled the growth of the blogosphere, where normally you’d find the alternative voices railing against mainstream opinions. In Germany, except for fringe extremists, there are few blogs that even provide a consistent alternative voice. When the media are striving to present a balanced, neutral tone, there’s not really any need to complain against bias.

And this explodes one of the pillars of a social media influencer campaign – the strategy of targeting the influential bloggers, or even the sub-net of niche bloggers who influence the big stars of the blogosphere, in the hope that these opinion formers will be “cool hunters” who have something new, cool or different to share, and in doing so, help to build brands.

In German, journalists using Twitter lead, they don’t follow. It’s their job to set the news agenda, not that of PR firms. The proactive media pitch is a rare thing – because journalists see through the veil immediately and will start to bristle: “We don’t just write up your PR,” is a common response. “It’s too niche” is another excuse.

Odds are that if you’ve read this far, you’re looking for answers, not questions.

The short answer is: there is no “Easy Street” to social media influence in Germany. There aren’t (m)any influential bloggers, and the mainstream media isn’t likely to pick up a story from them, or a stray Tweet, or a Facebook page. If you are really hell bent on setting the news agenda, you’d better be a journalist – or a professor, since the media does tend to favor ideas from the educational establishment. Or you need to be very rich, and simply buy a news outlet or two.

Copies of the OnPR report, No Spin Please, We’re German – are selectively available. If you’d like a copy, get in touch.

Simon Jones – OnPR GmbH – Munich

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