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Social Media Summit 2009: Lack of Control Looms Large in PR's Mind

I was privileged to present at last week's Social Media Summit 2009 in Melbourne. 

It was a stimulating two-day conference (unfortunately I could only attend day one) featuring an array of knowledgeable speakers including Matthew Gain from Weber Shandwick, Norg Media's Bronwen Clune, Keep Left PR's Sarah StokelyStephen O'Farrell from Sputnik and editor of, Paul Colgan.

Lack of Control = Fear

Judging from the questions asked of presenters and having chatted with a broad range of participants during the day, one major theme kept recurring: a lack of control when it comes to implementing social media as part of a broader communications strategy.

Indeed, the fear was almost palpable, with the perceived 'threat' of social media almost totally overshadowing the tremendous opportunities to be gained from opening up a brand online.

The bulk of attendees (and it was a good turn-out) worked in public relations and communications roles within government (local, state and federal levels), as well as for government authorities, not-for-profit organisations and blue-chip corporations.

The issue many of them had was the potential for negative feedback if they opened up their organisation via social media. It seems the powers-that-be are not all that welcoming of the thought of public criticism.

Also, how can they 'control' the organisation's voice via social media? 

Many of the PR people remarked that only certain people were allowed to 'speak' publicly on behalf of the organisation, thus the issue of empowering of staff to engage with the public via social media channels was a vexing one.

Personal Versus Professional

Another bone of contention among conference participants was the blurring of lines between 'personal' and 'professional' use of social media.

Some companies were concerned staff using Twitter, for example, would make comments that could be construed as having come from the organisation itself.

Believe it or not, many organisations are still blocking social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook in the office.

There was the story of one company CEO who, overcome with enthusiasm following a workshop on social media, wanted to rush back to his office to set up a Facebook account. He was promptly told by one of his executives he wouldn't be able to do that - the company's IT department had blocked Facebook...classic!

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