Talk about time flying. It’s been about a year and a half since the first of a handful of pundits began sounding the current death knell for the public relations industry. The suspected cause of death? Social media.
Like previous reports of our industry’s demise, this one has been greatly exaggerated. Public relations isn’t declining at the hands of social media; it’s gaining, as social media provides opportunities to build relationships in new ways, and as companies seek guidance on effective and credible ways to leverage the new tools.
Writing for her agency’s blog last year, Susan Etlinger pointed out some of the prominent commentary: Robert Scoble, Michael Arrington, Jason Calacanis et al debating whether or not social media’s rise would precipitate public relations’ fall (see PRSA’s response to Calacanis’ comments).
Granted, some of the early chatter was driven by starry-eyed technologists. And, it’s been fueled along the way by bloggers who don’t care to be pitched by means of a one-size-fits-all media relations strategy — if at all.
But Don Wright, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA, who is a professor of public relations at Boston University and editor of PRSA’s peer-reviewed PR Journal, recently told me just how wrong such predictions are turning out to be. By his estimate, approximately 70 percent of all social media programs are being driven by public relations professionals.
Writing on PR-Squared, Todd Defren gives an explanation as to why that might be: “The advertising industry will always have an edge in terms of sex appeal, and the future of advertising (particularly in a mobile online world) is still quite exciting. But advertising’s intrinsic, long-term value to the corporate brand is declining in the Social Media era. And the PR industry is the happy beneficiary.
If your clients or bosses still are asking who should be responsible for managing social media, tell them it should be the public relations professionals. And here are 10 reasons why that you can use to back it up:
- Social media puts the consumer in control, and public relations professionals are accustomed to operating in an environment that cedes control to others.
- Public relations has always been about engaging with key audiences to establish mutually beneficial relationships.
- Public relations is a two-way discipline. It disseminates information about an organization and brings back information for analysis and response.
- Like all the different forms of traditional media — television, radio, newspaper, magazines — social media is a conduit to engage audiences and build relationships. It’s not about the technology, it’s about the people who use it.
- Traditional media — while still important — is facing an uncertain future, encouraging public relations professionals to identify new means of engaging audiences and “earning” new media.
- Public relations is a content-creation discipline. The written word, certainly, but also photos, audio and video, which are expected with online engagement.
- In an environment where information moves at tremendous speed, public relations is one marketing and communications discipline that can keep pace.
- Social media are built on authenticity and the ability to trust “people like me.” Public relations professionals are — and will remain — the antenna, conscience and voice of the organizations we represent. We are the trust builders, speaking in credible voices while adhering to ethical communications principles.
- Public relations educators are some of the leading sources of social media research.
- Public relations is about connecting people and ideas. Technology is certainly a powerful tool for building relationships, but people and basic communication skills still come first.
On that last point, Edward R. Murrow may have said it best: “The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.”
Michael Cherenson is the 2009 Chair and CEO of PRSA.