Social media and PR: a match made in web 2.0 heaven

A senior, seasoned technology client quipped to me the other day that the growth of so called ‘social media experts’ reminded him of the rise and rise of the dotcom gurus who sprouted like mushrooms in the late nineties. But you know what? Not only does the prevalence of social media seem familiar, for someone like me (and those of my vintage), it’s actually reassuringly old fashioned.

To paraphrase Sir Martin Sorrell from WPP, social networking, blogs and citizen journalism are all a form of letter writing, gossiping at the bar with your mates or chatting with someone who lives in the same hood.

They’re also a kind of throwback to the 18th century pamphleteers like Thomas Paine, and so in that regard social media is very much a case of ‘Back to The Future’.

Here’s Sorrell in New York, a few years back, giving the annual distinguished lecture called ‘Public Relations: The Story Behind A Remarkable Renaissance’.

“Blogging emphasises that editorial publicity is more powerful than paid-for publicity – a fact research consistently proves. Today, after two centuries of institutionalised media, content creation has democratised and the voice of ordinary people is increasingly as loud as that of mainstream media . . . and this is where public relations comes in. In all this clutter and fragmentation, it falls to public relations professionals to lead companies into this conversation between consumers, mainstream media, employees, analysts, investors, bloggers and competitors around brands.”

Then the other day a different client (this time in the media industry) remarked that the listening and monitoring phase of his social media strategy also seemed strangely familiar.

He suggested it was reminiscent of the days when now defunct media clippings service Chong used to track references to brands and business and send them through in stashes of folders, articles included within them.

Despite the fact it might seem old fashioned, it’s still important, because the four phases of any social media strategy invariably involve helping clients migrate through crawling, walking and running, before learning to fly.

It’s vital they hear what’s going on in the background about their business and brands before embarking on the first phase of that journey.

The dotcom years left a trail of bloated firms, fattened by easy account wins and inflated fees, and the public relations industry suffered right around the world as a consequence.

And as we head into a new decade, it’s clear we still live in a skeptical age.

If there is a consistent thread that weaves consumers together it’s lack of trust. And the speed of communications that come courtesy of social media can easily multiply that mistrust.

So the implications for exponents of social media are clear. Keep it simple and take the key learnings from the past then apply them to the present. But do it for your clients and consumers in ways that are clear, concise and commercially beneficial.

Now, more than ever, is the time to dispense with the smoke and mirrors. It’s true there are many ‘social media experts’. But here’s to the rise of true experts in the social media space.

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