In the online world, which function should lead?

Is public relations about controlling the conversation, and therefore antithetical to social media, or does PR play an important role in shaping brand message? Not surprisingly, the panelists for the “Facebook for Public Relations,” weren’t in alignment. Some were associated with online marketing companies while others represented PR companies. A woman in the audience from Fleischman heatedly told the panel that PR should lead the parade because PR had been successfully managing content for 65 years. Hoo boy.

From crowd comments, it was pretty clear that PR is not well understood. One guy went so far as to say that his attitude toward PR was “meh” because he got plenty of press releases.

Adele Cehrs of Epic PR Group made one of the better comments by noting that PR can play a critical strategic and tactical role when bad things happen, whether to your company or to a competitor’s. Companies have the potential for thought leadership across channels by paying attention to conversations on and offline.

Why bother with traditional media at all, an audience member asked. “Third party credibility,” Adele suggested. Chris Brubaker of Roost noted that traditional media may have a more immediate and material impact on sales than social networks.

“PR has a certain smell to it,” one person said. Sally Falkow of PRESSFeed acknowledged that there is good PR and bad PR. People expect 2 way channels with real people, not with the PR people. Authenticity is critical. That means admitting if there’s a problem with your product or service.

Cultivating relationships with journalists and bloggers, in advance of need, is a precondition for effective PR. That requires not only knowing who they are, being familiar with what they write about, and being helpful. Sally noted that many journalists actually post about what they’re researching.

The speakers mentioned several tools for finding bloggers and writers who have an interest – and following – for a particular topic for example, Socialmention and tracker.

Is this the end of PR, the moderator asked, or at least the name of the function? A journalist commented that he didn’t want to be bulldozed; he would write what he wanted and, good or bad, it would be better than a news release.

“The Internet is another medium. We have to learn how to deal with it,” concluded Sally.

As a former senior marketer, strategy officer and senior leader in a national PR firm (three different hats, three different companies), I found the whole session SCARY.

(live from All Facebook Expo from my iPad with apologies for errors)


Filed under public relations, Social media

2 responses to “In the online world, which function should lead?

  1. Well, don’t be too scared…this has been going on pretty much since the Gutenberg bible, and at a faster and faster pace since Marconi invented the radio. Changes come along, and people need to figure out new ways of doing things. Whether the PR function changes its name, which in my opinion it should, or just adjusts with the times, it is still the function in the business world that knows how to communicate a message.

    What PR (or whatever it ends up being called) needs to learn to do differently in this environment is to get customers and fans to talk about the product/service in new and interesting ways, and to entice them to interact with the brand, vs. just pushing information at people.

    This has been reality since about 2001 (when blogs started becoming popular…social networking is just a really revved up version of blogging) but you look at most major corporations in this company and you would never know it. Until PR gets comfortable with the reality that all they can do is “mold” the message, they can’t control it, it is going to struggle as a profession. If PR hangs on too tightly to what the profession used to be. it will be left behind and someone or something else will take the PR profession’s place.

    But no matter who it is or what it’s called, it will still be necessary to have an understanding of how to convey a message that resonates with people and how to measure whether it is resonating or not. That’s the hard part – it’s always been the hard part – and the folks who learn to do it are the ones who will be the leaders in this environment.

    Affectionately yours, your loving niece, wearing her other hat.

  2. That was “corporations in this country.” Oops.