Editor’s note: This is the second post in a series of guest commentary pieces from PRSA 2011 Leadership Assembly Delegates focusing on five key strategic areas within the public relations profession. Today’s post focuses on the business value of public relations.
The permeation and rapid omnipresence of social media presents numerous challenges and opportunities for its natural curator: public relations professionals. At the PRSA 2011 Leadership Assembly in Orlando, Fla., a discussion group talked about these topics as well as how future public relations professionals can be prepared for their organization’s use of social media and the role that PRSA can play.
First, let’s look at how public relations professionals are currently participating in social media initiatives. Even though technology is involved, public relations professionals are largely the leaders and managers of social media thanks to social media being a two-way conversation. This aspect of social media is similar to other areas of public relations and, as such, public relations professionals are responsible for educating those outside the profession about social media and advocating for appropriate social media strategies. Just like public relations, organizations find value in social media when it drives business results.
Finding the value in social media is one of the challenges to public relations professionals establishing a leadership role within their organizations. There seems to be a lack of understanding by the C-suite, and measurement can be difficult. In addition, IT or legal departments may limit employees’ access to social media for various reasons. Another challenge is limited resources and commitment — after all, who wants to dedicate a lot of time and energy into a social media tool that fades into obscurity?
While challenges exist, there also are tremendous opportunities for public relations professionals regarding social media. Social media presents an opportunity for our profession to lead and to connect with other departments in the corporate setting. It offers the opportunity to target audiences directly, quickly and with real-time feedback. And that measurement issue? It’s also an opportunity for public relations professionals to develop standards for social media success and to correct any misconceptions.
In terms of what should be done to better prepare current and future professionals about social media, one Leadership Assembly delegate put it succinctly: “Younger practitioners need to understand strategy, while the Baby Boomers need to understand the tools.” Delegates suggested that social media be built into college curricula, and that education could range from developing strategy to managing one’s personal brand.
Finally, delegates praised PRSA for its leadership in social media best practices through advocacy, research and education. A case in point is PRSA’s social media policy, which members can use as a baseline for their own organizations. Participants also suggested that PRSA develop a two-way mentoring program between young and experienced professionals as well as more webinars on social media strategy.
Social media is here to stay. Its impact on public relations professionals and our organizations will continue to be strong, and that provides us the opportunity to make a quick — and long-lasting — impact. What challenges have you encountered and what opportunities do you see for public relations professionals working with social media?