What Does Social Media Really Mean for PR?

Filed as Features on March 9, 2007 12:00 pm

Allow me to put my skeptic hat on for just a few minutes.

Those of us working in public relations understand the challenges associated with trying to get our clients’ message out to their desired audience. Sometimes are easier than others, depending on the client and the story, but generally the mass media aren’t falling all over themselves to write about our client’s latest widget or sprocket.

For the time being, a terrific alternative to pitching our stories to the mainstream media is the blogosphere. In it, there are millions of people writing about the most obscure and specific topics known and unknown. Chances are pretty good that some of the people who make up the audience your client is trying to reach are reading the blogs associated with your client’s work. If your client sells ice cream, chances are that they would be interested in reaching the ice cream aficionados reading the ice cream blogs of the world. They’re the people who are engaged in the subject matter. They’re the people who tell ten friends. They’re so attached to the subject matter that it helps them create their own identities. Clients tend to like those people because they’re like walking ads.

So you have your influencers on the left, and you have your mainstream media on the right. It’s impossible to determine for certain, but a question we need to be asking ourselves when creating a campaign is which is more important right now, in today’s world: great exposure in mainstream media or great exposure within the blogosphere? Two different audiences, yes, but which do you think PR people today would rather have, and which would you take if the client left the choice up to you?

At this stage of the social media game, I’m not even going to blink before I answer: give me the big news media hits over the blogosphere today, tomorrow, and the day after that. Each have shortcomings, but the shortcomings of the blogosphere today far exceed those of mainstream media today. No matter how many times Dan Rather screws up, I’m betting on his reporting every time over the blogosphere. The news organizations of the world have facts, data, evidence, copy, budgets, salaries, experts, and most importantly, trust. What does the blogosphere have? Opinions, virtual information, link bait, buddy lists, spam, and the freedom to grab stories from mainstream media and make it their own.

Are bloggers faster than journalists at getting stories out? Absolutely. Do journalists make mistakes sometimes? They sure do. Does everyone trust the mainstream media? Of course not. But, for the most part, journalists are the ones reporting (and thus, making) the news, getting it right the first time, and holding the majority of people’s trust for it. That isn’t changing overnight. That hasn’t changed in ages.

Don’t get me wrong – we still want to reach the influencers, trend setters, and overall “cool” people. But are we sure we know where to find them? Is it fair to say that I’ll find the influential ice cream lovers reading ice cream blogs? I think that based on where social media is at right now, we’re jumping to conclusions. We might find it fair to say that there are a few places that everyone in a certain sector or industry are aware of, but it’s wildly irresponsible to say that everyone interested in any given topic are reading about any given topic in that topic’s corner of the blogosphere.

Taking my skeptic cap off and putting on my full-on skeptic spacesuit, are we really sure that this is all going to work out? Are we really going to change the way we put our clients’ “news” in the hands of journalists thanks to social media? Will we be changing the way we pitch stories? Are we going to kill the press release altogether, or maybe just tweak it a little? Where is all this hoopla headed? Certainly, there are more questions than answers at this point, but I think the excitement surrounding social media might be getting wildly out of control.

People make predictions all the time about these social media. Think back – “You” were named the person of the year by Time Magazine, which is all fine and good, but what exactly did you do to earn such a distinction? Give yourself a pat on the back if you uploaded a photo online, and a bonus point if you tagged it. Woo. Hoo.

What’s 2007 the “Year of…”? Is it the year that PR finally comes through selling social media to clients? A lot of us hope so because if it isn’t, 2007 might be the year we hoped would come but never did, or in other terms, “2007: The Year PR Looked Foolish”. Conferences, meetups, geek dinners, email groups – all for what exactly? Networking purposes? I don’t know exactly what the dotcom bubble felt like as it approached it’s peak, but PR people have been over excited for almost a year about social media and it hasn’t really proven itself yet.

I feel like we’re waiting for a train (made of clues?) that we’re not sure is even coming. A crowd has formed, people are excited as to where the magical train might take us, and the anxiety is feverish. And we wait. And wait. And the platform is getting crowded. And we’re hungry for having waited so long – we’re hoping there’s a snack car on this train, of course. And we wait.

Does anyone know if the gravy train is coming? If you really think it’s coming, would you say it’s running late?

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 Cathy Kurzbock posted on March 9, 2007 at 3:17 pm
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    Great post, Chris.

    You seem to have captured the essence of most of my questions about PR and social media (can we call this PR 2.0?), but I’m newer to this than you. I haven’t yet been waiting for the snack car – I’ve just bought my ticket.

    But I do believe the train is coming, especially with the increasing number of cases like the YouTube-induced bankruptcy of Kryptonite and the success of Dell’s new Ideastorm blog.

    I think Stuart MacDonald made it clear for me the other night at the CPRS blogger relations event. He said that bloggers sure are an influential audience, but clipping, monitoring, and pitching them is only half of the story. I don’t think a lot of CEOs realize that. Stuart noted that those CEOs should strive to be those influencers and I think he’s on to something. Maybe I’m just an optimist.

    P.S. Nice pluralization of social media – I hadn’t thought to do it until Dave’s post on PR Works.

  2. By Tony Hung posted on March 9, 2007 at 6:28 pm
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    Tempering the enthusiasm for all things “2.0” is a wise thing — particularly when most average folks either have no idea, nor any inclination to participate in a “2.0” sort of way.

    Having said that, I’ll echo Cathy’s sentiments … the train is coming, and the question will be how fast the adoption of a new set of these kinds of interests and behaviours will become the norm.

    cheers
    t