PR is about more than “highly trusted conversational participants”

Todd Defren has taken a run at a SWOT analysis for the PR Industry.

It’s well written and whilst (as usual) I agree with the vast majority of Todd’s content, one thing kept recurring to me. 

This isn’t a SWOT of Public Relations, this is an analysis of online media relations or a sub-set of Public Relations.

Under “Weakness”, Todd writes:

I’ve been talking about this forever, but the single biggest weakness of PR in the Social Media age is related to scale.  As I noted back in June 2006, “[How can] PR practitioners possibly find the time & energy to create, monitor and nurture the hundreds of relationships that might (or might not) aid their clients?”

I agree, time is a massive issue for everyone, PR people included.

But it’s also a big issue for our audience.

We’re making the assumption that (all) our audiences will be reading 300 online sites, or that our targets (I just put that in to annoy the digeratti! :-) ) or should I say our “highly trusted conversational participants” will all be reading hundreds of different sites, channels whatever.

That’s not confirmed at this point.

The continuing deluge of blogs, sites, forums, networks, tools (Twitter, Jaiku, Plurk) is mind bending.

However, how many will stand the test of time? Just because it’s hot today, doesn’t mean it’s here to stay [there’s definitely another post on the value of tactical, transient social media relations..]

How fast is the audience moving online?

How influential is the online audience outside some well worn niches?

Personally I think the vast majority of our PR discussion online is too thin.

The PUBLIC RELATIONS environment is far more interesting, diverse and broad than just social media.

Social media is important, but before we really understand the challenges we probably need to see how these new tools and channels are adopted, by whom and for how long.

Time is definitely an issue, scale will be a greater challenge moving forward, I’m in agreement on that.

But PR = just social media relations?

Nope, I don’t buy that one…. yet.

I think as people who are specialists in helping individuals and organisations to communicate most effectively using the best channels and tools, we have a professional duty to continue to focus on the entire breadth of communications and not solely follow the moth-like orbit around the new new thing.

Do you agree? Or am I an outdated luddite?

8 thoughts on “PR is about more than “highly trusted conversational participants”

  1. Well said Tom. I agree that it seems more of a ‘social media relations’ approach than a focus on how new social media tools (alongside existing efforts) can build deep relationships and community with stakeholders.

    I’d say it comes down to Todd’s definition of PR here:

    My simplified definition of “PR” would suggest that it’s all about developing relationships that lead to positive, public proclamations by influencers and consumers.

    I’d love to see Todd flesh it out more and I know that he’s super smart in this space, but it seems like media relations 2.0.

    In the kind of social media I practice (and yep, I’m in an agency as well – but a social media consultancy, not a PR shop), I feel that Grunig’s definition of PR as the building of organization-public relationships is more useful.

    Yes, positive public proclamations are good, but I feel that the deeper relationships that can be built with all customers (even the quiet ones) are much more important.

    Relationships don’t just form through social media, but social media enables the forming of relationships amongst globally dispersed communities of common interest unlike any other tool at our disposal.

    And of course… far greater than anything you’ll see from media relations :)

    Great post!

  2. Interesting points, guys. I promise to ponder further! FWIW, there’s only so much analysis one can get through in a simple blog post. 😉

  3. @Paull: Yes I agree completely, though media relations has life in it yet :-)

    @Todd: I know, time is an issue for us all, and there is a limit, I guess my key point is that we need to keep an eye on the bigger issues rather than just losing ourselves in the smeedia world!


  4. Of course you’re right Tom. There’s a real tendency for those wrapped up on a daily basis in social media to assume that it’s pervasive across all audiences, markets, geographies and demographics. Meanwhile, back in the real world…

    And it’s good to get back in the real world now and again. I was recently asked by a healthcare PR agency to deliver an hour’s 101 on social media to the staff…real nuts and bolts basic stuff. About 20 people in the room, intelligent, professional, ages from early 20s to late 40s. To get a feel for the knowledge in the room I did a show of hands for a bunch of questions. These were, “Who here…”:

    Reads blogs regularly?
    Comments on blogs?
    Writes a blog?
    Uses an RSS reader like Bloglines or Netvibes?
    Has a Facebook page? MySpace? Bebo?
    Watches videos on YouTube? Has ever uploaded a video to YouTube?
    Is a member of a niche social network?
    Does anyone here Twitter?
    Use Flickr for photo-sharing?

    Three or four hands up at question one, nothing until a handful of people confessed to having a Facebook page and a few more had watched the odd YouTube video. And that was it.

    That, to me, is the real world. Influence is still largely coming from the traditional places, with people dipping their toes into online and social media. Social media is increasingly important, but (depending on audience, naturally) the balance of any company’s efforts should remain in what we’ve always understood public relations to be.

  5. @Mark: I’m glad I’m not turning into an old luddite just yet. We must keep a sense of perspective, and a clear understanding of the best way to communicate whether that be online or offline. My experience mirrors yours completely.

    How is life now that you’ve gone legit?


  6. Busy! But good. I’m still resisting an entirely legitimate lifestyle…or at least I’m hopefully still being a little subersive, though from a position of increased legitimacy. If that makes sense.

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