Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Putting the 'Public' In Public Relations

The goal of public relations since its inception in the 1920s has always been to interact directly with people in society. Back then and over the past 90 years, the main channel for doing so has been through the mainstream media with the help of our colleagues and dangerous friends, our fellow journalists and broadcasters. With the development of internet-based communications tools, the barriers to entry for anyone who has something to say is virtually none. This means that anyone can say anything about an organization, true or not— whether or not that organization has an online presence on any number of platforms and online communities.

What does this mean for PR?

First, practitioners need to start by adapting, adjusting and integrating new information and communications channels into strategic communications planning and processes. How do we do this? By becoming participants and engaging in these mediums. The way we advise our clients and employers to explore these mediums, so too, we must bite the bullet and take our own advice.

But where do we start? There are microblogging sites like Twitter, social networking platforms like Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, and online communities like Kaboodle and Stumbled Upon, among countless other interesting and influential sites. The chart above is a helpful guide not only to Chief Marketing Officers but also to PR professionals, students and general internet users who are seeking an understanding of what the major sites are to learn and know.

For example- if you are looking to generate major traffic to your client's blog, you would probably not pick Facebook as your platform of choice because it's great for fan pages but will generate only a marginal increase in traffic with its share buttons. Instead, you would look to a more challenging but rewarding approach: social media news channels like Digg and Stumbled Upon. The key is to be active on these sites and not to approach them as though you are 'pitching' an idea. Instead, it's all about symmetric engagement on the medium -- learning and leveraging opportunity.

The PRSA has a great post on their blog called 'The Game Has Changed' which goes into more detail on what a thorough knowledge and engagement in the social media space can mean from a brand perspective.

Second, realize that you are part of the bigger picture. What we do today has an impact on the future, not only for our careers and clients, but also for the profession which is still in relative infancy. The whole concept of PR practitioner roles is in dynamic shift. Grunig argues in Paradigms of Global Public Relations in An Age of Digitalism (2009) that the practitioner's role as centered on publicity-oriented campaigning where 'messages' are disseminated for 'audiences' is shifting to a new paradigm with the wide-spread use of internet-based technologies. It is evolving toward its essential nature if you will-- toward a more behavioural, strategic management function that conceives of the practitioner as a participant rather than a conveyor of messages. With at least about a dozen distinct practice areas in PR, this paradigm shift has a breadth and depth that we are only now starting to understand. In Online Public Relations, 2nd. ed., Phillips & Young argue that this change centers around the fact that organizational discussion in society is becoming more about what an organization does (ie. with their products and services) vs what they say (media relations) - an important shift. One which has positive implications to the profession as management teams seek experienced and credible practitioners to manage this complex relationship.

I say, dig your heels and get busy because there's a lot of work PR has to do :)

See how these ideas work for you, and let me know what you think. I always love to hear about real examples and welcome your comments below.

Ciao for now!

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