Monday, January 7

Overstating: Six Myths PR Brings To Social

As someone who works with one foot in public relations and the other in marketing/advertising (among others), I'm never surprised but always perplexed when one side attempts to trample the other. As communicators, we ought to be working toward integration while others don't think so.

Front and center on PR Daily was a post that screamed "6 Reasons PR Pros Should Manage Social Media." (Hat tip: Shelly Kramer. See her take on it here.) The article was written to prop up another article that carried much the same sentiment. Reading the original, however, was out of the question. The link was broken. Accuracy be damned.

Before tackling the six reasons, I ought to preface my position. Nobody owns social. In fact, I'm very much inclined to believe that anybody who claims "ownership" over the space demonstrates that they don't know much about it. Social media is an environment, one which not only helps integrate communication but will also increasingly converge with the real world. How can anyone own that?

Why Six Reasons For PR Pros To Own Social Are Really Six PR Myths.

1. Are PR Pros Experienced Storytellers? The claim is made that public relations professionals are experienced storytellers, mostly because many public relations professionals are former journalists. As experienced storytellers, they are naturally suited to manage social media.

This is a myth, four times over. The reality is that almost everyone in a communication-related field is an experienced storyteller, not just public relations professionals (and many public relations professionals are not great storytellers, which is why they pitch people who are). The only difference between these various storytellers is the medium in which they communicate and the creative restraints to which they are subjected.

Personally, I'm unconvinced that someone needs to be in a communication-related field to be a good storyteller or, for that matter, that all storytellers make good managers. Likewise, I don't believe there has ever been a study that proves 50 percent plus one of public relations professionals are former journalists, which even the public relations industry finds difficult to reconcile.

2. Are PR Pros Expert Communicators? The assertion is made that writing skills are essential to social media, which public relations professionals (as former journalists) possess.

Writing skills are essential to any position, but few people possess them. Not everyone in public relations (and maybe not many in public relations) are good writers. As evidence, visit PR Newswire. There you will find some of the worst abuses of the written language as supplied by the PR field.

3. Are PR Pros Are Always Relevant? The position is taken that public relations professionals are experienced in creating content relevant to a specific audience, which is needed for social media.

Most communicators, whether they are copywriters or marketers, are equally versed in demographics and psychographics. Many of them pore over data and establish connections with the same vigor. Unfortunately, for many public relations professionals, relevance is defined by whatever they think is important, which is why the field is sometimes subjected to public floggings.

More importantly, even if relevance can be important to social media, the concept of a specific audience is very different in the space. Social media simultaneously operates on a one-to-one, one-to-many and one-to-all scale, which is very different from the public relations world view of "publics."

4. Are PR Pros The Best Relationship Builders? The contention is made that public relations has always been better at relationship building and social media is all about relationships.

While social media is sometimes about relationships, it doesn't have to be. Many connections that people make online are relatively thin and a good majority of them occur based not the individual relationship between the social media manager and an individual, but the relationship between the individual and whomever pointed them toward some content. It's relatively complicated.

5. Do PR Pros Know Crisis Communication? The claim is made that public relations professionals are trained in crisis communication and issues management and are therefore equipped to handle things when something goes wrong.

There are scores of examples that both prove and disprove the claim. The truth is that most public relations professionals follow a standard step-by-step plan, which is better than nothing but not nearly enough. Risk management expert Dr. Thomas Kaiser said as much a few months ago. Crisis management and mediation require more than PR, especially as it relates to disaster planning.

Sure, some understanding of crisis communication is always a plus for anyone in social media. However, it's equally feasible for someone else to draft the crisis communication plan for a social media manager to follow in the event of an emergency. Every employee, not just those assigned to social media, needs to know about it too.

6. Do PR Pros Seek More Feedback? The claim is made that public relations has been charged with gathering feedback, but now they have the advantage of social media to collect and cull data 24-7.

Big data is certainly an evolving trend, but I think anyone would be hard pressed to prove that public relations has cornered the market. Marketers, researchers, and customer service managers have been working in the feedback arena too.

What is more frightening about this point is that the author went so far as to suggest that surveys and focus groups are largely absolute because of social media. It's not true. In order to make sense of big data, verification and additional insights are becoming more important, not less. It's all part of the changes and challenges sweeping communication today. Anyone in public relations should know it.

The net conclusion is pretty simple. Do you think public relations professionals are the right fit for social media? Yes, but not more or less than anybody in communication (or anybody outside of communication). And no. In some cases, they might not be the right fit at all.

What social media really needs is to be placed in a retrofitted and flexible communication model, with strategic planning at its core and tactical planning that can be executed across online and physical environments in such a way that people feel individually connected to a two-way communication stream that simultaneously reaches specific people and the public as a whole AND inspires internal spokespeople and brand loyalists to support it. (Yes, I purposely made that a long sentence.)

So is the person best equipped to head this up a public relations professional? I don't care. I'd be satisfied with whomever can get the job done and most executives would too. If that means the custodian who managed to create a 100,000 strong collation of good housewives and househusbands, so be it.

Why? Not a single skill set used as a reason for public relations to own social media is exclusive to public relations as a whole. Mostly, they are skill sets that come with individuals, not professions. And if someone happens to lack one of them, it's easy enough to enroll them in a class or two. What might be harder to teach, which is what the story seemed to lack, is empathy. You have to relate to people.
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