26,500,000. That’s how many Google search results you’ll find for the keyword “blockchain.”
With a topic that captures so much attention and raises such strong discourse, it’s worth speaking to folks on the frontlines to find out what it’s really like.
Cue Soh Wan Wei, a public relations practitioner and the founder of IKIGUIDE: Singapore’s first crypto-education portal. As one of the missions of IKIGUIDE is to help people find their reason of being, the company run interviews of “inspiring” people.
Soh is convinced that blockchain technology will radically redefine wealth and money for many people, and hope to ignite more online discussion in this area.
In this piece, she sheds some light on this merky subject and shares what it’s like behind the bitcoin PR buzz in Singapore.
1. Escobedo: Tell us more about what you do at the Global Blockchain Alliance.
Soh: The Global Blockchain Alliance is a non-profit with a mission of educating the masses on blockchain technology and cryptocurrency. As the head of PR for this non-profit, I manage the outreach, communications and strategy of the organization.
Concurrently I represent several other for-profit organizations as well, such as Katalyst, Ikibook, and a couple of other new and upcoming initial coin offering (ICO) projects.
2. Escobedo: Is public relations (PR) important to the blockchain industry? If so, how?
Soh: PR is definitely important to the blockchain industry because the value of an ecosystem is directly proportional to the number of people who are engaged with the ecosystem. This can be mathematically expressed in various ways, for instance via the Fisher equation or Metcalfe’s law.
So the role of the PR practitioner is to ensure that people identify with the mission and vision of the foundation or organization. Two of my favorite blockchain foundations include the Ethereum foundation and the Stellar Foundations. I’m personally invested in both foundations as well.
3. Escobedo: How is public relations perceived in the blockchain industry?
Soh: I guess reactions are mixed.
On the one hand, most boards do strongly value PR practitioners. On the other hand, some people regard the work of PR practitioners in a condescending manner. Because this industry is relatively new, I also know some PR practitioners who reject work (although each project can be valued from upper five to lower six figures) because they could not understand the fundamentals of a prospective blockchain company.
Recently I met a gentleman at the De/centralized 2018 blockchain conference and he described what PR managers do as “smoke and mirrors.” He also happens to define “scams” as “incompetence” and independent of intentions.
I was rather amused by his answer. To me that seems like a rather harsh definition since all failed projects are “scams” to him. So I asked him: “Since you’re an advisor in some ICOs and you seem to have a negative impression of PR, does it mean that the ICOs you advise in do not use PR practitioners?”
After all, if a person thinks that PR practitioners are “smoking” others and covering things up, should he not be consistent with his beliefs and therefore advise the management of his projects to not hire any PR managers?
Unsurprisingly, in spite of saying that quite a lot of projects are “scams,” this gentleman is still invested in ICOs which hire PR practitioners. This to me does not seem to be very consistent. However, I do recognise that we can agree to disagree.
So you see, ethically, I understand both sides of the discourse. PR might have a bad name in the blockchain industry because there can be some really scammy projects around. On the other hand, PR can get great projects even more public support, engagement and goodwill.
I choose to fight for companies that I personally believe will make a change in the world.
4. Escobedo: How can PR and marketing teams work together? Do you have any specific examples from your experience?
Soh: I’m thankful for this question because some people do think that PR and marketing are the same. Haha. Marketing is more about distribution channels while PR is more about strategy, positioning and ensuring consistency in messages across channels.
In other words, marketing is about structure and PR is about winning over minds and hearts.
Let me give an example of a recent case where this particular company has an excellent marketing team but no PR team. Unsurprisingly, because they had no PR team, their PR was subpar.
What happened was that this company’s social media manager once blocked me off their Telegram because I asked questions like: “how is it possible that you guys raised seven digits and have less than 200 people on your Telegram?!” As a measure, the industry benchmark is around a five digit following for every seven digit sum raised.
I was asking then as an investor in their project and not as a PR practitioner! So I was pretty shocked that they would block investors off their Telegram as well.
What happened after that was that I went to raise this issue to the management of the ICO project. I did it because I bought their coins, right? I was concerned that their coin value will drop to zero because their PR was just so badly done. The founders apologized and subsequently made efforts to better their PR, which they did. I was humbled by their sincerity, even though I felt that their marketing team was still rather defensive.
On hindsight, I would be defensive too. If I had put in all the hard work as a marketing manager ensuring that the structure of the business is sound and some PR lady is there “making noise” that the public outreach is not done in an engaging manner.
So this was one thing I learnt that marketing people might sometimes get defensive when PR folks “tell them what to do”. This might occur perhaps because PR is perceived to be “soft skills”. But whoever said that soft skills are easy to master?
The solution therefore, is for PR folks to be humble and draw clear boundaries of what the PR folks are expected and not expected to do. It would be easier to work together if the PR folks make it a point to show appreciation to the marketing team whenever they made some sort of verifiable progress.
5. Escobedo: How can public relations increase sales?
Soh: Some PR practitioners I know do not believe that PR should be expected to increase bottom line directly.
I beg to differ, at least for my industry. Successful PR campaigns should be able to increase certain metrics, which has to be measurable and thereby verifiable.
So how can PR increase sales? I always start with the end in mind. And my end goals are usually “hard” metrics that can be measured, such as “number of media”, “increase in social media engagement, likes, following” after a press release is published.
There is no hard and fast rule or formulae to measure these two variables as the market is always changing quickly. However, it can be quite surprising to find out that some PR practitioners don’t even measure these basic metrics!
And I work closely with the sales people as well, to see if the sales cycle is shortened because of our PR efforts.
For example, let’s say we plan for a new PR campaign using influencers. Immediately after the launch of the campaign, there should be an increase in social media engagement and following across these key platforms: Telegram, Reddit, bitcointalk, Facebook and Twitter.
The call-to-action can be to encourage people to whitelist our website, as part of the Know-Your-Customer (KYC) procedure that most ICOs will impose on their users. Technically this coefficient between increase in social media following and number of whitelists can be measured. We can then track the percentage of people who subsequently buy the token as a result of the additional number of whitelists from this PR campaign.
In the event of doing PR for ICOs, the correlation between sales and PR should be pretty strong. If the coefficient is not large, then we have to think about how to make it larger. The way to tally is this: we will track the sales data before and after each public relations exercise and monitor for spikes. When there is enough such raw numbers, we can then derive the coefficient which will then form some basis of insights for future public relations exercises.
6. Escobedo: How will public relations change in the future for the blockchain industry?
Soh: There will be more earned instead of paid media, as the mass media gets increasingly acquainted with blockchain technology.
As more and more people learn and are educated with the social use cases of blockchain, the press will be more willing to cover updates and news in the industry.
I do see this total number of blockchain pieces increasing. The ratio of earned: paid media should increase as well. This can be viewed as a natural progression of more and more blockchain use cases being adopted for social purposes.
The discourse is likely to develop into one that is more social than technical.
7. Escobedo: What’s your best piece of advice for PR professionals who want to be in the blockchain industry?
Soh: My one piece of advice: Be grounded. Always have an internal compass of what is verifiable (defined as “can be measured numerically”) and what is not.
I came to realize that most people want and are drawn to things that are popular. The masses tend to be emotional when making purchase decisions. Most people don’t really go back to fundamentals, such as the business model, mission and vision of the project.
In other words, most people don’t do due diligence on their own. They follow people whom they perceive as legit.
At the start of this year, a gentleman asked me about my cryptocurrency portfolio at an investors’ meeting. I replied “I just bought VeChain and I think it’s an amazing project!” And after that, I went on to describe to him about VeChain and its applications into supply chain and even fashion marketing.
Unknown to me, this gentleman took my experience as “advice” and bought $10,000 worth of VeChain that very night. And guess what? Two months later the price of VeChain appreciated by 5X, and he made $40,000 off my “advice.” He then called me one day to thank me and wanted to treat me to lunch.
This sort of experience is humbling because I started to become aware of the power of my words. Sometimes because of my position in this industry, even casual statements become “advice” to some. I was fortunate because this gentleman made money off what he deemed as my “advice” but what if he lost money?
So such experiences humble and remind me to always stay grounded in this industry.