School’s out for social media – a PR report card
As many of us take a break for Summer, it seems a good time to produce a PR report card for its performance in social media this term. Let’s look at the four As, where I’m afraid most PR practitioners would do well to score a B- at best.
Undoubtedly, PR practitioners have taken to social media in droves over the past couple of years. The late majority has arrived in terms of those in PR who were reluctant previously to participate, and likewise those companies or organisations who held out from setting up social media presence. But the entire class of 2013 needs to realise that they are now engaging with a different group of social media users, as the public late majority has also signed up. This shifts social media from the analogy of a more personal seminar or workshop, where people could engage and have conversations on a more individual basis, to the concept of a class of millions – few of whom are likely to be interested in, or listening to, the PR practitioners’ efforts at communications. A change in approach is required – that isn’t based on the old ways of believing we can have conversations with everyone, but doesn’t involve talking all the time, or gaming the class to get recognition above everyone else.
This is the most popular class this year – although big data has tended to catch the imagination of other functions rather than public relations. Undoubtedly, the PR world has latched onto evaluation as a must-do subject, but as K.D. Paine has noted in announcing her new direction, data and evaluation without insight lacks real purpose. [ht Judy Gombita for KDP's news]
There’s been some slacking off this year as overload with all those newbies in social media makes it harder to focus on what really matters. The solution may lie in ‘customised content‘ but beware of anyone telling you there’s a short cut to successful engagement and conversation in social media. Last week, an article on the Guardian website claimed ‘SEO is dead. Long live social media optimisation.’ As the search engines become clogged with meaningless pitching, the advice to communicators is to reach people through SM channels. All well and good, until those too become cluttered with marketing messages. The latest actions by Twitter and Facebook to target and track consumer activities, in partnership with brands, mainstream media channels and marketing agencies, all suggest increasing overloaded attention spans, which could lead to disengagement from social media by more and more members of the public.
The action may be shifting from the mass media nature of the big social media (such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn) to more niche areas where the app is top of the class. If you take something like Houzz, this combines a magazine, market and community seamlessly. You can personalise, discuss, browse and engage to the extent that you wish. Other publishers are looking at similar app based models (Autotrader’s Ignition is one example). This reflects the increasing trend towards mobile access of online information (including social media). The engagement of PR practitioners in this mobile revolution is arguably below par. There’s a tendency to crib off others who understand technological developments better – by relying on the traditional PR skill set of written communications. But this will certainly not get high grades in future years as the PR specialists risk being left behind.
The PR practitioner continues to show promise in social media, but this potential is not fully realised owing to a reluctance to engage with critical developments such as multi-media, new technology (such as apps) and big data. Simply having a presence in social media is not enough if PR practitioners wish to be leaders in their class. Technical communications skills may enable the PR practitioner to operate as a social media ninja – churning out content that is well crafted, but where this reflects attention seeking through poorly thought through marketing messages, a fail result will shortly follow. Going into next term, the PR practitioner must step outside their comfort zone and embrace developments which require skills other than an ability to communicate. Reputation management and relationship building remain core strengths, but need to be executed better to capitalise on the latest thinking in the social media class.