I probably don’t come to this in the best frame of mind, having just listened to several hours of rant about how social media is ‘The New PR’. I am a little jaded by this, as it has become something of an ‘old story’, particularly if you have been involved with the ongoing application of online communications tools. As each new group of practitioners comes across Pandora’s social media toolbox they tend to either blanche in horror at the enormity of it all or realise the potential and start building applications into their strategies. The other dreaded course of action is that they become ‘New PR’ evangelists, filled with the kind of zeal previously found only among reformed smokers. So I’m going to take a moment and add my own contribution to the melee…
Social media tools – blogs, podcasts, video casts and so on – are just that. Tools. The rate of development in the field is such that already, in certain quarters, there exists a certain nostalgic fondness for the days ‘when a blog was just a blog’. If you listen to the twitter, you will, as a practitioner, realise that these particular tools simply allow us to connect more quickly with those who populate the communities we serve. Take Twittervision as an example. In 140 characters we tell the world (or our community) our story of that moment. This mix of bulletin board, instant messaging and signpost blog becomes our own personal newsflash. We can alert our communities to the most recent activity our organisation has undertaken, stay in sync with other developments and within seconds – using our tinyurl -communicate in real time so we can exchange goods and services, explain the intricacies of a new development or simply use that real time to further build the relationship.
Fabulous. We can connect with millions in a second. But do we want to? Really? From a practitioner perspective, the answer has to be no, we really don’t. I am much more interested in creating a precise and lasting connection with the communities that my organisation serves than a heady rush to the top of Technorati. Creating meaningful conversations with the individuals within our communities so that we can, together, build something a bit more lasting than a one-laugh wonder viral campaign.
If you want to use a blog to build a personal following, earn your money from GoogleAds or similar, then by all means go for the mass-media model. Over the last five years or so, many people have done that extremely successfully and some, sadly, have fallen victim to the dangers of online celebrity. But from a practitioner perspective, social media conversations need to enhance understanding, share knowledge, add some value and create discussion – but within the context of the relationship building process. Social bookmarking, variations on Twitter, services like MobaTalk and of course good old VoIP will develop further but ultimately the content we create and share will act as the initial parameters for our organisational relationships.
So while some have dubbed social media interaction as the “NewPR’ or PR 2.0, it isn’t. Public relations is about building relationships and while social media tools and tactics have provided considerable food for thought, altered the approaches that can be taken and created new models and methods of operation, the central purpose of building relationships hasn’t changed. As practitioners we need to be well versed in the use of these tools and while some of them are a bit more exciting than others, they are the means to an end, rather than an end in themselves.