Do social media reshape PR strategy? MSM tell one story, PRSA tells another

My return to the classroom this fall has been rough. But if you’ve read my last few posts, you know that, eh? Still, I won’t ask for pity from folks who work real jobs that operate 12 months a year.

free-jena-six.jpgIt took this story from today’s Chicago Tribune to jolt me back to serious blogging. The story tells how civil rights leaders are using blogs and social media to mobilize tens of thousands in support of those kids charged with assault in Jena, La. The case already has drawn the attention of mainstream black leaders (Sharpton, Jackson, King III), but social media are getting credit for raising $130K for legal fees and 220,000 petition signatures.

Regardless of how you view the case legally and morally, PR pros need to pay attention. It shows how a disenfranchised public is finding its voice — and its power — in Web 2.0. The civil rights movement has always been grassroots, but now the grass is digital. How will this new grassroots power affect your organization or clients?

images2.jpgCan you believe what’s happening on Facebook? Membership, now open to the masses, has more than doubled in the past year. And it’s not just a place to meet and greet. Facebook is now a place for serious business networking.

Savvy PR types have been working it in earnest. I see daily activity from PR bloggers Todd Defren, Kami Huyse and Kevin Dugan. Another blogger, Shel Israel, last week credited FB for “three speaking invitations, two new business inquiries and at least 10 leads for my SAP Global Survey.”

That’s ROI, folks. From Facebook!

More than bloggers and geeks are jumping into Facebook. A while back I was friended by the CEO of Ohio’s oldest firm, the venerable Edward Howard. Kudos to Kathy Obert for testing the social-media waters, and encouraging everyone on her staff to do same. (Aside: I welcome friend requests, especially from PR professionals and lunatic bloggers.)

A wait-and-see approach to social media isn’t the answer. You don’t have to shift your world view here, but you need to view the world, at least in part, from a Web 2.0 perspective. Alas, the Sept. issue of PRSA’s monthly, PR Tactics, has me wondering if our leadership is doing much leading in this area.

An interview panel on “How to Ethically Engage New Media” tells me that some of PRSA’s thought leaders are running hard to catch up. I won’t single anyone out, but if you want to see the article, contact me and I’ll share. If you’re are PRSA member, you can link from the website.

One of the experts in the group says conventional strategies and tactics of PR are still valid and that social media are just another channel of communication. If I remember correctly, some folks said this about the Web in ’94. Yeah.

Much of the article reflects a cautionary tone, exhibiting more worry about who might attack our clients online than how online tools might create conversations and enhance relationships. Yes, the speed and autonomy of social media make them more powerful — and in many ways more dangerous — than those other tools. Social media allow us, and our detractors, to go direct to audiences and to say what we please.

We all know these things, or should by now, but another article in the same issue of Tactics (“Working to Make Sense of Social Media”) presents a primer on social media so basic it’s nearly devoid of value. The author admits he’s new to the social media world, and bless his heart for jumping into the pool and writing about it. But it makes me wonder why PRSA isn’t tapping some of the bloggers I mentioned earlier in this post to write articles that offer more information and substantive guidance.

I’m also wondering why PRSA’s National Conference in Philadelphia isn’t hosting a few Web 2.0 luminaries as keynoters (e.g., Weinberger or Rosen) instead of a Mia Farrow. But I’m just a rube from Ohio.

I feel a rant coming on, so I’ll shut up.

10 Responses to Do social media reshape PR strategy? MSM tell one story, PRSA tells another

  1. Kathy Obert says:

    Hi Bill – a long time ago some opinionated people said television would never amount to anything. More recently, people said the same thing about the ‘information superhighway’ (when was the last time you heard THAT phrase???) and the internet. To those who are pooh-poohing social media, I say, wake up. Social media isn’t just ‘for kids anymore.’ And besides that, the kids are growing up and becoming customer, clients, suppliers, members, donors. So … organizations who fail to participate in the dialog will be – well – left out of the dialog. Not a good place to be. So yes, we’re digging deep into social media here at Edward Howard. We know we don’t have all the answers yet, but how can a PR counselor COUNSEL one’s client’s without being aware of the risks, the opportunities, and the rules of social media?!?! Thanks for noticing that we’re paying attention, Kathy Obert

  2. Bill Sledzik says:

    Social media is also fast as lightning, but so are you, Kathy. Other readers should know that right after I published this post, I sent Kathy a message, via Facebook, to say that I’d “plugged” her and the firm on my blog. Kathy read the post and had her comment posted in about 10 minutes.

    Paying attention isn’t enough in social media. We need to pay attention all the time. I’m struggling with it, to be sure. Maybe that’s why I don’t Twitter.

  3. lespotter001 says:

    Bill, my valued brother-in-cyberspace, your problem is that your commute is too short!

    Seriously, it appears that the top communication/PR professional associations have been left at the station by a fast-departing social media train. It is sad. Organizations like Melcrum and Ragan have developed useful social media products.

    As you mentioned, it might be accurate to say that social media are just another channel of communication. But that downplays their increasingly growing importance. It is a new world. It’s time to catch the train.

  4. Kait says:

    I think we can all finally say with confidence that social media is, without a doubt, changing the way PR is done. It’s time to jump in…you can still hang onto the edge, but for crying out loud…get in there! PR is on a figure-it-out trip through social media right now and we can either join some quality folks on the journey, or be left alone to catch up later. Based on the characters I’ve met in social media-land, I’m packing my things!

    Which leads me to…”Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”

    And I thank Kathy for reviving the phrase “pooh-poohing” … this could be dangerous.


  5. there is no need to protest for those who are guilty .
    thy were charged on being assaulting . .so we must think before using the media resources ,before.

  6. Great post, Bill! The social-networking stuff is incredibly interesting, fun and flexible.

    At my job, I’ve had a lot of success doing “Web 2.0 relations” — or whatever it might be called — by going straight to each market a client might be in and finding the bloggers and social-networking sites that are influential in that category. Sometimes this takes a little work and poking around. Find something useful? Add the feed to Google Reader.

    Just this week I made a connection with a blogger/reporter in a client’s core market. I secured a placement (complete with a link to the client’s own blog!) and forged a great relationship. The fascinating thing is, this reporter writes for an industry resource that has no print component. It’s all online, and to our client, getting on this site was more important than a placement in a traditional newspaper or magazine. It wasn’t easy either. I came at them for months before I finally hit the right note.

    Niche social-networking sites are great too because you can go straight to an interested audience to share your information. I am a member of a social-networking site that is focused on home DIY projects. People post crazy things like how to paint your bedroom with blueberries or build a bookshelf out of toilet paper rolls. The audience isn’t enormous like MySpace, but when a client is doing something like a home DIY contest, I can post it there and know that the 1,000 people who read about it will probably be interested and might even send the info to their friends and family. Off course, I always make it clear in the posting and my profile that I’m sharing the information on behalf of a client.

  7. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks to all for the comments. Every time I say anything about the role of social media in PR, someone usually calls me out for buying into the alchemy of Web 2.0 — you know, the whole “drinking the Kool-aid” nonsense. But if you’re a regular here, you know I’m pretty cautious about social-media, and I’ve pointed out its dangers more than once. Still, the example of the Jena 6 — and yesterday’s massive protests — demonstrate the new online landscape so well. We need to pay attention.

    As for our “social media consultant,” who has “over a decade of building communities online,” (Yeah, I followed his link) what can I say? If this were a blog about legal matters, I suspect I’d offer a lecture about due process. Were it a human rights blog, I’d present a lesson on distributive justice. If I were a philosopher, I’d try to reincarnate John Rawls.

    But I doubt it would matter to our friend who seems ready to skip the trial. Besides, my point was not about the case itself, and I made that clear. It’s about the use of social media to effect change and to empower the disenfranchised. That said, you are right to imply that we must consider moral and social responsibilities before applying social media. At least, I think that was what you said.

  8. mediatide says:

    How a about this? A fan lost his camera at an Ohio State football game. The finder tracked the guy down through social media channels and returned it to him…

  9. Chris Sledzik says:

    Relying on social media as a networking tool also presents risks in terms of quality of information and source. In regards to the Jena Six, I think of the sadly misinformed protester in Cleveland who was quoted saying something to the effect of, “I don’t know who this Gina is, but I hope everything ends up all right for her.”

    As the “disenfranchised” become enabled we have to be aware of who we are connecting to and where our information is coming from. As social networks expand, every chump with a laptop and Wi-Fi is empowered along with the rest of us. Plus with the Web providing anonymity, we’re bombarded with useless information from mystery morons (See above post from “social media consultant”)

    Not only should PR professionals be eager to jump into the Web 2.0 pool, but they should be aware of how they do it–and who they’re connecting with (which is often a much broader range than people imagined). Otherwise, the next thing you know you’ll have some naive nepotic creeping into your social network barking about something useless.

  10. Bill Sledzik says:

    Wow. That’s one intelligent guy in that previous comment. And people say intelligence isn’t in the heredity! You do articulate the dangers of social media well, Chris. And I don’t have the answer. At least the material in MSM is vetted, and it seeks some level of truth (excepting Fox News, of course). Online you never know what you’ll get.

    Andrew, I saw the story about the Ohio State fan who get his camera back thanks to social media. Of course, had I found the thing and discovered it belonged to a Buckeye fan, I’d have probably solid it on eBay. Nice to see you back in the b-sphere, dude.

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