If your reading was restricted to social media purists, you'd think that PR and marketing had no role left to play, that the rise of the trusted peer has so marginalized the communications profession that agencies everywhere should just fold up their tents and encourage their employees to learn a new trade.
The purists are right, but only if marketing and PR counselors ply their trade exactly as their predecessors did 30 years ago. Most don't. Gone are the days of expecting a press release to generate media coverage; instead, they're used primarily for SEO, to reach consumers directly and for a few other reasons that have nothing to do with the reason their original mission. More and more, marketing professionals develop two-way efforts and interact with communities. These days, "spin" is more likely to mean ensuring the story is told in a way that's meaningful to the audience rather than twisting a client's response to an issue to make them look good.
And, as word of mouth becomes more dominant, communications professionals are adapting to help their clients and employers succeed in this environment, as well.
That's right. I'm calling bullshit on the notion that trusted peers are more powerful than marketing and PR. It's not an either/or situation; it's not a competition. PR and marketing, done well, inform and influence the conversations trusted peers have with their friends, colleagues and families. The marketplace is an ecosystem and communicatorsâ€"like all the other playersâ€"continue to evolve so they can contribute to the delicate balance.
How can communicators be every bit as powerful as trusted peers? Here are 10 ways:
- Promote a culture of transparencyâ€"Transparency is one of the five dimensions of trust as defined by the 2000 study, "Measuring Organizational Trust," a comprehensive research project funded by the iABC Research Foundation. How much information is shared, how accurate it is, and how sincerely and appropriately it is communicated will determine the degree to which trusted peers believe what the organization says. This is a communications job.
- Encourage and equip front-line employee participationâ€"Rank-and-file employees represent the front line of public relations. Their discussions of work and work-related issues in their social networksâ€"online and offâ€"can be random and haphazard or they can reflect a comprehensive understanding of the organization, its initiatives and its positions. This isn't to suggest that employees be given astroturf-style messages to repeat, but rather that they're well-informed and business-literate. How much they influence the conversation will depend on how well the organization communicates with them, how much the organization trusts them and the clarity of the organization's social media policies. That's a communications job.
- Find unique ways to tell the company's storyâ€"For your organization's story to rise above the din, its story needs to be compelling. When people are out there talking about your organization, it's not in a vacuum; it's based on the fodder that sparks the conversation in the first place. That's a communications job.
- Connect company leadership to the new marketplace realitiesâ€"There's a reason PR people are called "counselors": They counsel their clients on the communications implications of their actions and the best means of telling their stories. The communications function in any organization is the only function that is 100% dedicated to protecting and enhancing the company's reputation. It can be frustrating and time-consuming, but communicators are in the best position to help leaders understand the consequences of ignoring social media or engaging in it badly. This is a communications job.
- Recommend corrections based on intelligence gleaned from monitoringâ€"Integrating careful monitoring of social media into existing environmental scanning efforts can reveal customer sentiment and even provide an early warning to emerging issues. Most importantly, it can allow the organization to respond to an issue before it reaches crisis proportions. This is a communications job.
- Earn the media coverage that gets bloggers' attentionâ€"Mainstream media still matters. I have yet to see a study that suggests people have stopped trusting local newspapers and TV. And if you still think newspapers and TV news organizations have no influence, just select a random sample of 100 blog posts and count how many cite, opine on, analyze or pass along reports from mainstream media. Getting a story into the press can easily create fodder for trusted peers. This is a communications job.
- Create assets that help trusted peers grow their reputationsâ€"The idea of the social media news release is to provide digital assets that help citizen reporters (like bloggers) tell their stories. Images, video, audio, widgetsâ€"bloggers and others can easily inject these assets into their conversations in order to help them make a point or stand out. This is a communications job.
- Guide the company's adoption of social media toolsâ€"Anybody can throw social media tools against the wall and see what sticks. Knowing which channels, which communities, and which approaches will produce results that align with business goals requires a different skill set; knowing how to measure the results adds another dimension that is a communications job.
- Know when the old rules do applyâ€"The fact that there are new rules for communicating within a networked and social environment means the old rules have been augmented, not replaced. Organizations ignore non-social dimensions of PR at their peril. There is far more to PR than media relations. (If 76% of businesses don't understand what PR is, how can we expect the average blogger to comprehend what we do?) This is clearly a communications job.
- Become the trusted peerâ€"A number of organizations have shown that communications staff can be trusted voices just as much as anyone else. There's the crew from Dell, for example, Scott Monty from Ford and Christopher Barger from GM, and a host of other examples. By being human, involved, candid and interesting, PR people can earn the trust of community members and directly influence purchases. Professional communicators, as much as anyone else, need to understand what it takes to become a trust agent; they should read the book that explains it. This is a communicator's job.
Of course, dozens of books have been written on the role of PR and marketing in the networked world (To name just a few: Putting the Public Back in Public Relations, The New Rules of Marketing & PR, Groundswell, Now Is Gone, Word of Mouth Marketing). It's funny that the purists praise these books for their insights, then turn around and declare PR and marketing dead. Talk about spin...
What PR and marketing activities would you add to this list?