We enjoyed this guest post contributor’s last article so much that we invited him back for more advice! This week, PR pro Matt Whittle (@mwwhittle) is discussing the effects of social media.
Be honest, you read that title and clicked on this link to see who could be so dumb as to post such an obvious question. Your first thought when you saw it was, “OF COURSE SOCIAL MEDIA HAS CHANGED PUBLIC RELATIONS!”
You know what, you’re right. But stick with me.
It’s been slightly more than a year since I left the world of journalism and began as a PR pro. Among the many lessons I’ve learned has been how to really take advantage of social media and social media analytics to get to know and connect with your audience. As I follow conversations on Twitter and read various blogs, the question of how PR pros should use social media keeps coming up.
But for all the discussion surrounding the effects of social media and how it’s changing the way we do business, I feel confident in saying that social media has not fundamentally changed public relations.
At its core, public relations – including media relations, community relations and marketing – is still all about creating relationships. It’s even in the name – public RELATIONS.
Now, note what I am not saying.
I am not saying that social media hasn’t changed how PR pros do their jobs. Of course it has. Social media has given PR pros new tools and methods to reach people. But the age-old rules of creating and maintaining good relationships – the core of what good public relations should be – has not changed!
As I was learning more about how to be a good PR pro, one of the first people I happened to strike up a Twitter conversation with explained that his business philosophy focuses on relationships – relationships with his clients, with the media and with customers.
And as a PR rookie who came from the world of journalism where creating and maintaining good relationships was crucial, that was a relief. It reassured me that PR wasn’t just all about message and spin and eyeballs – it was about actually connecting with those eyeballs, and that was something I knew how to do.
As I continued my quest to learn about public relations, the two most common comments I kept coming across were that companies and PR pros need to “act more human” when interacting with people online and that PR pros can’t just “[blast] information out at an audience.”
Now stop for a minute and think about what those ideas mean.
They mean that PR pros have to be pros at communication – at interacting with people, engaging with people and answering their questions and complaints. It means PR pros have to be interesting enough that people want to engage, join you and help you spread your story.
Now, what does that sound like?
It sounds to me like what businesses and PR pros should have been doing all along! It sounds like you should interact with people online just like you would if they walked into your office or called you on the phone or wrote you an email. There’s no difference. Social media just makes having those conversations easier and more common – and potentially more impactful because of the ability to respond quickly.
Was there ever a time when just blasting information out at people and not acting human and creating relationships was the preferred strategy? I mean, maybe it’s one way of doing business, and perhaps information blasting does have its (very limited) uses, but has that ever been the best way? I can’t find any evidence that it has.
Public relations, marketing, media relations – it’s all about making strong and deep connections with your audience whether they are customers, clients or the media. Social media has just changed the ways we make those connections – not the fundamental essence of public relations. So the next time you’re working on your social media strategy, remember that it’s really just an old-fashioned conversation – in a new medium.
So what do you think? This guy must be crazy, right? Maybe so, but join the conversation in the comments below and let’s talk about it!
Matthew Whittle is a former reporter and editor with 10 years of newsroom experience for community newspapers in Virginia and North Carolina. Today he is a digital media communications specialist for the State Employees Association of North Carolina, the largest state employee advocacy organization in the South. In his spare time he seeks to help bridge the gap between public relations professionals and the media. You can talk to him on Twitter @mwwhittle.