Jeremy Pepper, who blogs at Pop! PR Jots and manages PR & social media for start-up Boingo, is joining us at BlogPotomac this week to talk about strategy. I asked him to give us a sneak preview of his session.

It’s not too late to register for BlogPotomac, BTW. There are a few seats left. We’re calling BlogPotomac the premiere social media marketing unconference for the Washington DC area and we’re expecting a sell-out crowd at The State Theater in Falls Church on Friday, June 13, 2008. More at bottom of post.

Debbie: When people talk about social media they almost always mean the tools (blogging, Twitter, YouTube, etc.). What’s the difference between social media tools and a social media strategy?

Jeremypepper_head Jeremy: The tools are nothing without a sound strategy behind them. Yes, there are tons of tools out there – that includes the various blogging platforms, the widgets and add-ons to blogs and Websites, the video sites (Yes, YouTube is huge – but is it the right one for your program?), microblogging (Twitter, Plurk, Tumblr), social networks – but just because you join all of them does not mean you are thinking through what you are doing.

What is the goal? What is the objective? An old boss always gave me the D Day analogy – you have your goal (take Normandy) and you had your tactics (air and ground, via water) and strategies (each army had its own beach, including countries). Okay, the tools here are just the basic premise of what needs to be done … but are not going to get Normandy – they’re just going to get you to the beaches.

The first question before jumping into social media because it’s the buzz right now is to ask “why am I doing this?” – if you can answer that, then put together what tools are going to work best to reach the right community. Decide what you want to accomplish with your strategy and start building it out.

Debbie: In one or two sentences, what is at the heart of a social media strategy?

Jeremy: It’s not an audience, it’s a community. If you are merely looking to use people (a big no-no in Kantian philosophy) and treat them as a means to your end, it is going to fail. Treat each part of the community as a part of the whole, and as an end unto themselves.

Debbie: Are there types of companies or industries (public, private, governmental, non-profit)  that are better suited for employing social media than others?

Jeremy: Does not really matter – social media / social strategy does not depend on the industry, but rather the people in the industry. More to the point, it really depends on the culture of the organization. I have worked with companies that would seem to fully embrace social media, and there was a definite push back and fear. And then there are other companies that are fully into social media, where you are surprised that it has been embraced so fully top-down.

Debbie: Where do you see the social media industry (i.e. consultants, PR 2.0 shops, Web 2.0 companies, etc.) going in the next three to five years?

Jeremy: Disappearing. Actually, I thought they’d be gone by now – the practice groups just absorbed into traditional PR strategies and firms. While we’re seeing that happen at the smarter firms, the other (dare I say dumber) firms are still getting their arms around it. And, they might be too late.

A lot of these Web 2.0 PR shops and consultants are unnecessary, and have a short shelf life. The firms – be it advertising or public relations or marketing – will fight to keep that money in their coffers.

Unfortunately, what we will see more of are flim-flam snake-oil salesmen and women, selling in programs that make no sense, but are just buzzwords. No strategy, no thought – just money making scams.

Debbie: Tell us a bit about Boingo, the company you’re now involved with.

Jeremy: Boingo is the world’s largest Wi-Fi network, with more than 100,000 hotspots worldwide. It’s about seven years old, and I was brought in for both traditional and social media relations.

It’s something that I have been talking about for the past couple of years, though – that there is no reason to have public relations and social media separate. While the media landscape has changed, and made PR somewhat harder than it was in the past, it still boils down to communicating to your community, and listening.

That’s what I’m doing at Boingo.

NOTE: I’m co-chairing BlogPotomac with DC’s PR & social media celeb Geoff Livingston. That’s why I get to talk it up so much. Seriously, we think this will be an extremely useful event for marketing and comms professionals across DC – government, corporate, non-profit, etc.

Please note that as an unconference this is not a money-making event. Nor is this an event solely for techies. The unconference format – emphasizing audience participation as a major part of the discussion – should make for a uniquely informative day.