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The Back Deck

Our view on navigating today’s marketing landscape

14 Apr
2009

Bringing a PR Sense to Social Media

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about where social media should reside within the marketing world. And because it’s the hot topic that so many corporate marketing divisions and clients are buzzing about, everyone is vying for a spot at the head of the table.  Is it advertising, PR, direct, customer service – or a totally separate form of marketing that needs to be off on its own, while coordinating with other more traditional avenues?

Creating a separate social media “division” is a bit out of touch with reality – not only when it comes to the best ways to approach it, but also with what most companies can afford to do. For one, these tools will soon not be new anymore – they simply make up the world we live in and are part of a company’s overall communications strategy.  Because of that, isolating social media as its own area of expertise isn’t a sustainable long-term approach.

To maximize social media, it’s obvious that it must be driven by smart strategy, be well-managed and implemented, and live in tandem with other disciplines, as it touches many different areas. But first and foremost, it needs to be spearheaded by a fundamental sense of community, information sharing and the desire to foster long-term, ongoing relationships, directly with the public (which applies whether you’re talking B2C or B2B).

I’m a PR person, so my viewpoint is admittedly pretty biased, but I think there are some very good reasons why social media needs to be steeped in a solid public relations perspective:

  • Most importantly, the objective and strategy must be the priority (before leaping straight to tools). Following the latest, shiny new tool is distracting. The PR discipline has always emphasized setting strategy and measurable goals before delving into tactics.
  • The emphasis is on audience-centric content that attracts and compels, not pushes. In PR, if you don’t have something of importance to offer to the public or the press, you’re dead.
  • There is a fundamental need to build leadership, credibility and reputation in order to maximize exposure. As it has been since the beginning, reputation management is core to PR discipline.
  • Social media allows you to “become the media” for your audiences. It’s about great content, and essentials of journalism apply. The best PR practitioners are trained as journalists as well as marketers, and have a nose for news. In fact, many are former reporters.
  • The basic PR practice of community relations – how to interact, conduct yourself, deliver on-point messages, and relate to publics at deeper, more meaningful levels – is paramount.
  • Like any solid PR initiative, social media takes time, effort, planning and commitment to gain momentum and traction. It is not a flash in the pan approach.
  • Generating goodwill and influence means listening to input and becoming a credible, responsive and reliable source of information.
  • Proactively monitoring, spotting and responding to issues before they turn into crises is essential in PR, as it is in social media.

Now, I know a lot of people will say PR has no business in social media, as it’s about anti-spin and authenticity.  But keep in mind that social media is a very self-policing form of communication.  Similar to traditional PR practices, the bad apples will quickly get weeded out if they use these channels to be sneaky, self-serving or aggressive, put themselves and their own company’s interests before the public and the community, or behave unethically.  Those kinds of practices are and always have been shunned by the best in the profession. That said, smart PR practices: solid community relations abilities, corporate social responsibility sensibilities, and an eye for issues management and crisis communications as well as journalistic ethics and integrity are very much at home in social media.

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4 Comments

  1. avatar SharonG says:

    Great post Darcie!

    I really like many of your points and the thorough, well thought out way you got them across.

    I do, however, wonder about your title. I find we don’t need to bring a PR sense to social media – that is I don’t think those in social media need to relay their content in a PR manner.

    However I *do* think we need to bring a sense of social media to PR. PR practitioners need to see this as a new communication avenue, learn the tools and etiquette, and encourage/teach their clients how engage in social media spaces.

  2. avatar Jay Cosnett says:

    Great post! (You can thank Anthony Cain – @atlanta978 – from SMCpdx for pointing me here.) I agree with a lot of what you have to say, though I do think that the authenticity and transparency that social media requires can be at odds with some of the practices of traditional PR. You said:

    “the bad apples will quickly get weeded out if they use these channels to be sneaky, self-serving or aggressive, put themselves and their own company’s interests before the public and the community, or behave unethically. Those kinds of practices are and always have been shunned by the best in the profession.”

    Define “best.” PR has been extremely effective at bolstering the reputations of a lot of companies/countries/organizations/causes (Blackwater, “Clean Coal,” big pharma and the run-up to the Iraq war all come to mind), presumably delivering a healthy ROI for their clients, but using exactly the tactics and attitudes you describe as “shunned” by the best in the profession. I don’t think the clients for whom those tactics have delivered results would want their PR agencies to suddenly become “anti-spin” or authentic.

    I do think that brands that want to succeed in the SM space need to be authentic, engaged and transparent, and if PR can help them do that, great. But I also think that is one of the things that makes SM so “game-changing.” I can see why some consider it to be its own discipline, since it draws from the skill sets of not only PR, but also marketing as well as customer service and support. (In many was like interactive first pulled skills and best practices from advertising, film & video and software development, back in the day, when I was first at CMD myself!)

    Just like what works for brands in TV or print advertising doesn’t necessarily work in interactive, I think that social media is developing its own unique set of best practices–right now we’re all getting to see (and discuss!) what works and what doesn’t. Fun!

    Thanks for posting.

    • Thanks Jay: your insight and points are well-taken and I agreed that no matter what the discipline – there is always the good and the otherwise (unfortunately) and PR definitely has some reputation baggage as a result that the industry has worked for years to overcome.

      However, I do think PR as a whole will only benefit from the inherent transparency of social media. I would also point out that the Public Relations Society of America does have a strong code of ethics and a code of conduct that the best in the profession use as guidance http://www.prsa.org/aboutUs/ethics/preamble_en.html. As far as I know, there isn’t another marketing discipline out there that has incorporated and promotes such strong guidelines to its members as a key aspect of professional development.

      It is my opinion that most PR professionals are deservedly proud of the fact that rather than “spin,” PR has and is more than ever a major force when it come to helping clients and companies embrace the importance and value of things such as strong community relations and social responsibility (including within the online world). PR has been on the forefront of working to prove how corporate and brand goodwill and reputation is not only the right thing to do, it leads to bottom line ROI. I think and hope that social gives the profession even more opportunities to shine in these areas and the transparency of this channel can only help foster it.

      Thanks again for reading and your thoughts. -Darcie.

  3. avatar Jay Cosnett says:

    Since my comment is “awaiting moderation” (love that!), I’ll add to it!

    Check this out:

    PR Week: How Twitter saved public relations from PR

    http://www.prweekus.com/How-Twitter-saved-public-relations-from-PR/article/130530/

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