Public Relations: Still Learning Social Media

Filed as Features on January 12, 2007 11:00 am

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…Or at least I hope that’s the case.

Public relations is a business in a state of change. When the Internet emerged as a force roughly ten years ago, I suspect that PR practitioners were wondering what the future would hold for them. Since that time, the ‘net has boomed, busted, and recently re-emerged, yet PR practitioners as a whole aren’t ready for the new media that we call “social media”.

How come? For starters, most PR practitioners don’t have time to learn new things. This is probably true of every industry: you’re so busy trying to catch up on yesterday’s work that you can’t even begin to think about what tomorrow will bring. It’s no different for PR, as we’re talking about an industry that hasn’t changed a whole lot historically.

Another reason PR professionals aren’t catching on with social media: nobody is teaching them! Personally, this is my biggest issue. Working in my office, everyone is expected to “get it” but nobody takes the time to teach anyone what “it” is. No matter how much everyone else talks about, unless you sit down with some people and show them exactly what this Technorati thing is, or how to sign up for a del.icio.us or Bloglines account, they will never even begin to understand what everyone is talking about.

Another group who aren’t jumping on the social media bandwagon in PR are the skeptics. I appreciate the skeptics because without them this would be one big love-in. I find there are two kinds of skeptics though: those who have a clue and those who don’t. Those who have a clue are the intelligent people who check things out, formulate an opinion based on facts and experience, and voice it. Those who don’t have a clue are the ones who use sweeping generalizations and make wild assumptions without any tangible evidence, facts, or even much thought. Clearly, one is more important than the other as we move forward as an industry.

I grew up in front of a computer screen, whereas some of those who have been in this business for decades are still learning basic computer skills. Personal computers have been around for a very long time in the workplace, which makes me wonder why most people haven’t figured out how to get their Google through the tubes. But like those who don’t understand social media, they were probably given a PC and expected to figure it out on their own.

The technological gap is huge. While I may be listening to the two premier PR-industry podcasts, For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report or Inside PR, there are thousands of other PR practitioners who aren’t listening, or aren’t aware of the podcasts themselves, or aren’t even aware of what a podcast is. There is so much to learn from these two shows and many others like them. If I were to walk into a PR firm today and announce that two leading PR professionals were going to have a chat in their boardroom about current happenings in PR, I’m sure many, if not all, would attend. Call it a podcast and you lose over 99% of the audience. Frustrating? Absolutely!

The PR community online is still growing. According to our official scorekeeper Constantin Basturea, the community almost doubled in 2006 to 630. Terrific, right? One would hope that with more PR blogs, the industry would be increasing it’s awareness of social media. More PR bloggers means more individuals telling their friends and colleagues, “Check out my blog.” Sadly, the second most-trafficked PR blogs is the self-appointed potty-mouthed ombudswoman of the PR community, Strumpette. Even when we do good, the bad stuff seems to stand out above the rest.

Here’s hoping that 2007 will be a year where PR practitioners lend each other a hand and we can all come to understand social media a little bit better.

Chris Clarke works at Thornley Fallis, a PR firm in Toronto, Canada. He also blogs at Student PR about public relations and social media.

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  1. By John Stauffer posted on January 12, 2007 at 12:17 pm
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    Chris,

    I enjoyed your post. I’m a young pr pro and one of the new pr bloggers you mentioned. I couldn’t agree more in terms of the frustration that you feel toward those who simply throw up their hands when it comes to podcasting, blogging, etc.

    Though, it seems if you strong arm senior pr people into the medium we’ll only get an increase in the number of flogs, astroturfed sites and a variety of other less than positive campaigns.

    I think the young pr pros with knowledge of web2.0 communications tools will have to quickly rise in the ranks of pr firms to ensure our profession can keep up…

  2. Starked SF, Unforgiving News from the Bay » Blog Archive » Linker Barn: Friday January 12January 12, 2007 at 12:58 pm
  3. By Amanda Chapel posted on January 12, 2007 at 3:05 pm
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    Chris,

    These two sentences seem to somewhat contradict: “I appreciate the skeptics because without them this would be one big love-in.” And, “Sadly, the second most-trafficked PR blogs is the self-appointed ombudswoman of the PR community, Strumpette. Even when we do good, the bad stuff seems to stand out above the rest.”

    Apparently, there’s a lot to be skeptical about. Apparently, an honest voice in that regard is unique, oddly popular and valued.

    Regards,

    Amanda Chapel
    Managing Editor
    Strumpette

  4. By Chris Clarke posted on January 12, 2007 at 3:45 pm
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    Thanks John, I enjoyed your comment. I don’t think we young web 2.0 PR flacks need a promotion. I think all we really need is to lend our knowledge to the programs involving social media and ensure it’s done properly.

    Amanda, Strumpette isn’t skeptical, it’s usually mean and sometimes vulgar. Somtimes it’s silly and sometimes it’s tame. I guess there’s a fine line, but I’d put Strumpette on the other side of skeptical. I think being provocative and making a spectacle of yourself explains the high traffic, not the need for an honest voice in the community.

  5. By Amanda Chapel posted on January 12, 2007 at 5:43 pm
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    Chris,

    Excuse me! And how much experience do you have?

    What you have and what you cocksure defend is a business that is so utterly full of sh*t, so imbued with hypocrisy, that provocative and spectacle IS balanced and constructive criticism. All to say, you are on FAR less stable and defensible ground my little friend, morally and intellectually, than Strumpette has ever been or will ever be. Bottom line: that coupled with your arrogance, any wonder why you (plural) are an easy target.

    Careful… you speak for your firm!

    Sincerely,

    - Amanda

  6. By Chris Clarke posted on January 12, 2007 at 6:13 pm
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    I speak for my firm when I say this: relax. I don’t know why you’re so upset, but you’re welcome to keep writing angry comments if it helps.

    Oh, and I’m in my eighth month now. Exciting, isn’t it?

  7. By David Jones posted on January 13, 2007 at 2:17 am
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    I realize there are all sorts of people who don’t “get” “it”…whatever “it” may be. There are also lots that don’t get PR. But, unfortunately, far too many people have no ability to laugh at themselves.

    We’re Canadian, Chris. We’re supposed to have a thicker skin, a more acute sense of humour and a deeper appreciation of satire than most, save for the Brits and Aussies.

    You sound a little like the people who were shocked that Stephen Colbert stayed in character at the White House press dinner.

    I appreciate what Strumpette does, writes and stands for. We all need to be brought down a peg from time to time and sometimes slapped in the face with a little reality. The PR business is as cutthroat as any other…it’s not all slaps on the back ilike it is n the blogosphere. The day-to-day can be everything Amanda highlights and more.

    Amanda, to me, is a tonic I have to take having listened to people in our business get offended by terms like “spin doctor,” “publicist,” “press agent,” “flack,” etc. We’re not all noble. We’re not all honest. We’re not all upstanding citizens. Why pretend we’re above reproach?

  8. By Chris Clarke posted on January 13, 2007 at 5:46 am
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    Biggest problem with Strumpette: she always takes you off topic. I didn’t even want to go there, but Dr. Jones jumped in and took the bait, so now I have to go off on a rant.

    David, I can laugh at myself. You know better than most that I barely even work in PR anyway – I mostly answer the phone and eat a bag lunch – so I really have no qualification to write anything on the subject of PR at all, especially for the Blog Herald (and get paid for it!).

    I’m not going to pretend that I have a higher PR IQ than, well, anyone. I know this much though: Strumpette just goes too far to make a point (mean, personal attacks aren’t going to do any good at all) and the point is…what exactly? That our industry isn’t perfect? We certainly don’t need Strumpette to tell us that. Heck, I barely even work in PR and I figured that out all on my own.

    Nobody is perfect – I’m sure whoever Strumpette is isn’t perfect – so what makes them the judge, jury, and executioner for an entire industry? Especially when they live and die for transparency but sign everything under a pseudonym.

    I’m sure Strumpette will reply saying something long and wordy that I won’t bother reading. I don’t actually read Strumpette for that reason – I don’t have the time to look up all the big words. So talk among yourselves because I’ve lost all interest in this conversation beginning with the end of this sentence.

  9. By Paulo Araujo posted on January 14, 2007 at 1:09 pm
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    Good Blog

    sds
    Paulo Araujo
    http://planetacelular.blogspot.com

  10. By Amanda Chapel posted on January 14, 2007 at 1:45 pm
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    Chris,

    In rereading your piece, there a not-so-subtle little irony. You say, “Another reason PR professionals aren’t catching on with social media: nobody is teaching them!” Excuse me, if you are any indication, doesn’t sound like PR “professionals” are willing or capable of learning.

    Just in case you’re interested: http://www.strumpette.com/archives/282-Corporate-Turrets-Rears-Up-at-Thornley-Fallis.html . I recommend that in the interest of Thornley Fallis, you do not respond.

    - Amanda

  11. By David Jones posted on January 14, 2007 at 5:14 pm
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    Politicians probably know they’re not perfect either…but Frank and The Daily Show still exist. Strumpette’s stuff may be close to home for us, but to me, it’s in the spirit of satire. Sometimes it’s mean, personal and offensive. And that’s a problem?

  12. By Joseph Thornley posted on January 14, 2007 at 7:44 pm
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    David Jones said: “Sometimes it’s mean, personal and offensive. And that’s a problem?”

    Yes, Dave, that’s a problem. Why would anyone want to be mean, personal and offensive? Surely, intelligent people can make their point without causing hurt.

  13. By Dave Forde posted on January 14, 2007 at 10:38 pm
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    Chris you said “nobody is teaching them! “, so are you suggesting that it is the “clients” job to teach them?

    If you’re in Toronto on the 31, come by the “Social Media” breakfast seminar that I’m hosting.

  14. By Amanda Chapel posted on January 14, 2007 at 11:06 pm
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    Joe,

    Hurt!? Excuse me! What business are you in. Do you know? How much harm does the PR business do? You don’t think all the surreptitious selling, the bubbles, and the outright lies and hypocrisy we sling causes harm? That’s either naive or totally self delusional.

    As I said earlier here, the provocative spectacle that is Strumpette is absolutely balanced and constructive criticism, all things considered. Bottom line: you are on FAR less stable and defensible ground Joe, morally and intellectually, than Strumpette has ever been or will ever be.

    As I said to your young agent, careful… you speak for your firm!!

    Sincerely,

    - Amanda

  15. By Chris Clarke posted on January 14, 2007 at 11:34 pm
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    Dave, it’s absolutely not the clients’ job to teach them. Those who know enough about social media within the organization/firm should be the teachers. I’ve done a lunch-and-learn with our staff about some aspects of social media, and plan on doing another one soon.

  16. By Amanda Chapel posted on January 14, 2007 at 11:50 pm
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    Chris,

    With 8 months experience… how can you teach anything in PR? Knowing how some web tools work, knowing how a typewriter works, does not make one a communications consultant. That underscores another problem we have today: we’ve got young geeky web techs trying to tell seasoned experience how to redefine what communications means. Silly. It’s why companies like Edelman as such easy targets.

    So… is Joe selling that bill of goods to clients? I will surely find out.

    - Amanda

  17. By Chris Clarke posted on January 15, 2007 at 12:06 am
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    Amanda, I clearly said social media – I don’t know why you’re trying to spin everything I say, but just to reiterate I am teaching members of our staff some aspects of social media. I’m not trying to redefine anything, just trying to help some people understand how some things work on the web.

    And no, Joe isn’t selling that bill of goods to clients. You’ll surely find that out on your own though.

  18. By David Jones posted on January 15, 2007 at 3:53 am
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    Joe Thornley said: “Why would anyone want to be mean, personal and offensive? Surely, intelligent people can make their point without causing hurt.”

    Joe, I’ve been mean, personal and offensive in the past. Sometimes all three at once. The truth is sometimes painful.

    How about you?

  19. By Joseph Thornley posted on January 15, 2007 at 7:00 am
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    Dave,

    Never knowingly or intentionally.

  20. By Amanda Chapel posted on January 15, 2007 at 12:16 pm
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    Joe,

    The fact that you do not show raw contempt for those in our business who pollute it (for profit!) is VERY VERY troubling. You are complicit all the way to the bank.

    - Amanda

  21. Canuckflack / Just a thought about StrumpetteJanuary 15, 2007 at 4:02 pm
  22. By Just a guy posted on January 16, 2007 at 2:50 pm
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    I’m shocked to learn that Strumpette is the 2nd most trafficked PR blog! Is this really true? What kind of figures are we looking at here?

    Given that she only averages the odd comment here and there on most of her posts, I assumed she was just another self-important PR flack, writing for her own ego rather than any kind of audience.

    Maybe it’s her hostile nature that puts people off commenting. Sometimes people like to just put their opinion on the table and say “There it is, that’s my opinion, agree or disagree”, without having to face a verbal barrage or be forced to defend their point to someone who is, ultimately, insignificant.

    In looking at other blog postings about this little tiff, I saw that David Jones made a tongue-in-cheek comment about his own consulting ability in the comments section of Ed Lee’s post. I wonder if Strumpette will now try to humiliate him and his employer by pointing to this self-deprecating remark in the same way she was quick to pounce on Chris Clarke?

    I’m guessing she won’t because, whilst some might find her amusing, others interesting, I suspect many recognise her for what she really is – a small, spiteful bully who tries to enhance her own (dubious) credibility by preying on the young and inexperienced.

    At the end of the day, Chris is a young guy just finding his way in PR, and she is a seasoned professional (according to, well, herself) who should have had a thicker skin and a little more wisdom in interpreting Chris’ initial post. She clearly took it to heart and decided the claws were going to come out, and I just hope that Chris is at least experienced enough to realise that, in PR, he’s going to meet a lot of sh*t-spouting, pains in the butt like Strumpette.

    And they just aren’t worth the time of day.

    >I’ll just point out here that I am totally unrelated (personally and professionally) to all the people and companies mentioned in the above post and comments. Choosing to remain anonymous was a completely arbitrary decision.

  23. By Amanda Chapel posted on January 17, 2007 at 1:19 am
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    Anonymous,

    You’re late. I suggest next time you take a minute and read the material before commenting.

    I’ll summarize: The head-up-your-ass Kool-Aid-induced PR blog fad, is by-and-large driven by namby pamby lightweights like Joe. It’s not Chris’ fault. He just doesn’t know to keep his mouth shut about subjects he knows nothing about. Joe taught him that and continues to encourage it.

    For the record, sadly, this isn’t over. Joe hasn’t learned a thing. Bush-league players play by bush-league rules. We are confident that he will be indirectly contributing copy again to our publication in short order.

    Stay tuned.

    Amanda Chapel
    Managing editor
    Strumpette

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  25. By Doug Haslam posted on January 17, 2007 at 6:58 pm
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    JAG, I somehow doubt David will be attacked by Ms. Chapel, as he actually seemed to “get it” in his very brief post. Also, he failed to call out Amanda by preemptively attacking, and dismissing, the premise of Strumpette. That is exactly what Chris did in his article. My first reaction to Strumpette’s post, which I saw first, was “Poor Chris,” since I am a fan of his entries on the Inside PR podcast–then I read this article, and saw that he asked for it.

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