What is PR in the Age of Social Media?

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One of the challenges facing the public relations industry is that the general public does not seem to have a clear idea of what we do.

They might think PR is just about throwing events or parties — like The Spin Crowd or Samantha on “Sex and the City.”

Or they might think it’s about trying to “spin” the facts, as was the case with several major crises last year (such as BP’s oil spill).

But based on anecdotal experience from many years in the business, while the general public understands what advertising is all about, they don’t have a strong grasp of PR.

That’s why, I think, people seem to think they don’t need PR in the age of social media.  Interestingly, at a panel I moderated late last year, several journalists thought PR could be on its death throes.  They seemed a bit gleeful about it, too.  As if traditional journalism isn’t go through the same challenges.

Dave Folkens at CommUnity Business wrote a blog post last year, “Five Ideas to Repair the Credibility of PR,” that contains some good ideas about what the PR industry should do.  (Interestingly, more than 15 years ago, the industry made similar points about its failure to communicate the value of PR; I guess we have not made any progress.)

I think it’s more important than ever to make the case for PR because we can help organizations engage with key public via social media channels. 

So, to get back to the headline for this post.  Social media can be used to announce news (instead of press releases) and to engage with reporters and customers.  But PR can help organizations to communicate via social media and a range of other channels.

A lot of companies now use social media as a customer service function — without eliminating their call centers or email support.  The same should be true for PR.

And then the PR industry needs to do a better job of communicating the value we bring and do a better job of engaging with our key audiences.

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