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When Getting Started with Social Media, the Biggest Sin Is Inaction

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When I speak to public relations professionals about social media, I’m frequently greeted with dazed and fearful looks. Public relations professionals are witnessing a wholesale change in the world of media, and they tell me that they feel overwhelmed, confused and even afraid.

Well, relax. Yes, the past five years have witnessed the beginning of an epic transformation in the relationship between institutions and their constituents. Change of this magnitude creates waste and uncertainty as people struggle to define a new world order. That’s normal.

But there are huge benefits to change as well. We are privileged to play a part in creating new ground rules for the profession, and this can be enormously exciting. I remember my grandfather telling me about the experience of watching the first automobiles rumble down the streets of San Francisco. I was fascinated and a little jealous that he had the opportunity to witness such a turning point in history. In the media relations world, this moment is no less defining.

At a time of uncertainty like this, people have a tendency to assume that everyone else is figuring out the answers ahead of them. That’s simply not true. Over the last three years, I’ve been privileged to spend time with some of the most influential thinkers in social media. Most of them will admit, after a couple of beers, that they have no idea where this is all going. Take some comfort in that.

So what should you do? In my view, there are only two unpardonable sins in the current environment. One is fear. Fear not only stops progress in its tracks, but wastes time and resources in the pointless exercise of chasing the past or hoping that change will just go away. That leads to the bigger unpardonable sin, which is inaction. Tumultuous change creates great opportunity for experimentation. When no one knows the right course of action, there is very little downside to taking chances.

In my next entry, I’ll outline some basic and inexpensive steps that PR pros can take to start learning and engaging with new media.

By Paul Gillin is a writer, speaker and content marketing consultant specializing in technology and new media. He’s a veteran technology journalist with more than 23 years of editorial experience. His book, “The New Influencers,” was published in 2007, and his next book, “Secrets of Social Media Marketing,” will be published in the fall of 2008. Gillin also manages a blog called Social Media and the Open Enterprise.

Join Gillin for his teleseminars and Customer-Generated Advertising: Leverage Customer Creativity to Build Grassroots Campaigns and 10 Secrets of Social Media Marketing: Learn How to Leverage Your Social Media Efforts.

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Paul Gillin


  • Well said Paul.

    In fact I was just saying to someone this evening – commenting on a brand in social media it’s similar the days of the wild west when Billy the Kid yelled at the top of his lungs on Main St., “I’m calling you out Sheriff.” Now whether the sheriff just wasn’t listening or he/she was hiding behind the window in fear, to Billy the Kid and all of the other townsfolk listening to the exchange one thing was clear – the Sheriff wasn’t engaging. The longer the Sheriff didn’t engage the more his/her reputation began to slide.

    Now what’s great about social media is that it’s generally not life and death and alternatively the “calling out” could be a compliment or even a shout out to a competing brand. Either way there are lots of opportunities to engage in order to protect and build brands.

    Looking forward to the next installment.

    David Alston

  • Thanks for your comments and I like your analogy. There’s little downside to experimenting right now. Even if you fall flat on your face, you’ll be forgiven, as long as you don’t deceive or mislead.

  • I think that social media is important, its a new channel in internet public relations and marketing. The big buzz of social media has already gone down a little and many companies find that they can use these platforms to get to know their customers better, making it easier to target potential customers. This can be done with integration of ads in social media websites and analyzing the behaviors and trends that people follow until they decide to purchase a product or service. One thing that is “in” right now is the Facebook Ads, they are very low cost in comparison to other internet advertising, and have a potential to be very targeted. You can basically target by the age, location, sex, and more. Great stuff!

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