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This is the second part of a two-part series on social media’s impact on the practice of PR and the profession itself. The thoughts in this mini-series were articulated in response to an interview with British uni student Hayley McDonald (@HAYCMAC).


In the 21st century, PR should be leveraging its logical leadership of social media for all its worth and use it as an opportunity to position itself more favourably as a management discipline that delivers business-relevant results.

The most potent and potentially meaningful characteristic of public relations remains its ability to transform organisations so that they are more aligned with their stakeholders’ needs and wants.

No other business discipline has this capability. Social media can help it achieve this goal and it is already – partially because it is inherently a dialogic communication mechanism, rather than a broadcast one like traditional media, direct mail and sponsorship – doing this. It is in this area of transforming organisations that PR must shine and provide business worth, or else it will become marginalised.


The social media tools I use and ‘rate’

On a professional and personal level I am very comfortable with, and pretty knowledgeable about, blogs. I contribute to a couple of professional blogs, Public relations and managing reputation and Blueblog, the home of the public affairs and corporate communication consultancy, Bluegrass, I work with. I also use Twitter on a professional and personal basis, but keep Facebook pretty much for fun and personal uses.

All of these tools have professional ‘world’ potential, depending on the business objective, the target audience preferences and what you are actually communicating about. I don’t think any one of them is necessarily any more important than the other.

If you want to generalise, however, Facebook is the medium going ballistic. I am not sure why anyone would want to use Facebook to become a fan of a service or product provider, however. That seems pretty superficial to me, other than on a fun level. I can’t see how communication for a product or service on this platform can really engage and turn people into advocates, but perhaps I am being a snob. I can see its utility for the arts, cultural and sporting entities, however.

As content is really a very important issue in this Google-censored world (if you are not ranked by Google, then you may as well not, in many senses, exist – in fact, you don’t exist!), I think blogs are extremely important. They are the quickest and easiest way to update content and by doing so this means the Google spiders love you! They provide a great platform on which to exhibit thought leadership, which helps with organisational POD and reputation enhancement.

I am also a big user of LinkedIn.

Why I use LinkedIn for strategic communication

  • I promote my blog posts there
  • I engage in conversation with more people here than on my actual blog
  • I have started using it to try to generate new business for the public affairs and corporate communication consultancy I work for, in tandem with interpersonal contact (check back with me later 2010 to see if I have any success!)
  • I ask and answer questions to enhance my professional knowledge and to help out others
  • I think it’s a wonderful way to make contacts, learn and to have fun with peers all over the world
  • It enhances my reputation: by having others visibly associated with me; by having recommendations from peers visible; by providing a platform through which I can exhibit my experience, qualifications and thought leadership
  • I have used the input of many global peers in posts I have created for my blog, enriching the content and, hopefully, making it more attractive for professional communicators
  • One day I may try to leverage it further to promote any free or paid-for books or e-books/e-reports I produce.

I find it interesting, if not surprising, that many of my blog posts create more extensive conversations on LinkedIn discussion groups than on my blog. I guess LinkedIn provides a huge chat room-like environment that cuts straight to, probably, the biggest global aggregation of its blog’s target audience: PR and marketing professionals.

(I have already written about why I think why LinkedIn is a must-do for PR and marketing pros.)

Making comments in LinkedIn discussion groups is possibly more convenient than making them on my blog, though I don’t know why. If you read the post, then you have to go to the blog. Could it be that many people are making comments based on the excerpt I provide on LinkedIn, or on other people’s comments alone rather than reading the full post. Surely not…? :)

The main reason I think it occurs is for a mix of ego, grandstanding and networking. By commenting on LinkedIn it is more likely their peers will note their existence than if they make it on my ‘outpost’ blog. I don’t mind – many of the discussion group participants add a lot of genuine value – but of course it would generate a greater momentum and profile for my blog if the comments were primarily there and not on LinkedIn!

PR practitioners dealing with social media successfully

Students yet to enter the profession yet need to skill up in a big way whilst you are at university. Immerse, experiment and learn. Get as much practical internship experience in this area as possible.

The most important thing for any emerging professional is to get as much hands on experience as possible. Sure, get an understanding of two-way symmetrical communication and its importance to the discipline and society, but get your hands dirty and have fun.

Also, remember whatever goes online stays online. PR people need to be more careful than most to manage their professional and personal brands. If you don’t want your girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s mother reading it, don’t put it up or don’t let it be put up.

What role do you think PR will play in the 21st century?

Because of the synergy between social media and two-way symmetrical communication, public relations is the logical owner of social media from a strategic and tactical perspective, not least because dialogue and accommodation are essential to both. As such, if the profession has a gram of sense and capability, it will leverage this for all its worth and use it as an opportunity to position itself more favourably as a management discipline that delivers business-relevant results.

The underlying characteristics of PR mean that it can make a profound difference in helping society become more equitable and help protect the natural environment. We should be more assertive in claiming this ground, this opportunity and this responsibility.

Social media and CSR, two of the most important aspects of public relations, are helping to give us this opportunity.

Sally Falkow has a really useful presentation on Slideshare called Social media: the future of PR. Obviously, quite in sync with the discussion on this post, so I encourage you to check it out.

View more presentations from Sally Falkow.

Public relations’ most potent and potentially meaningful characteristic is its ability to transform organisations so that they are more aligned with their stakeholders’ needs and wants. At the end of the day, no matter whether it is lobbying, events, community liaison, sponsorship, website content, digital and social media communication, or any of the other dimensions of public relations, transforming both organisations and their stakeholders is what PR is about.

We can always help sell more product and services, but as a profession we have the capability to leave a much greater legacy.

What use do you get out of LinkedIn? What role do you think PR will play in the 21st century? What social media tools offer the best ROI?