13 October 2011 By Northern Lights
I am so frustrated! Why has our PR industry completely lost out in positioning ourselves as the natural leaders to advise clients on social media?
I reckon it’s because we – and I include ourselves in this – have failed to get technical. In our case we initially tried to do this through social media technical partnerships which have not delivered. Hopefully we are getting there now with new partners.
So why the frustration now? Over the summer I bought a feast of social media and search engine optimisation books to get technical. One or two are fantastically technical – but most cover more about the approach needed for social media than the detailed hows and whys that will make blogging or tweeting actually work.
The gurus give endless tips as if they are ‘lightbulb’ moments to the reader – when in fact they are simply the basics of communication and the core skill of a good PR practitioner.
It is clear that most of these ‘gurus’ are working with companies and marketing teams who advertise and push messages out – unlike PR people who have always had to be engaging and added value or nothing we do would ever work.
Let’s see what the gurus are giving as their tips and advice – which most PR people will say are stating the obvious. In PR we have always had to understand the mind-set of people we are communicating with. Half of PR is about engagement.
In Shama’s book she talks about someone who asked her ‘Why do we use war terminology (campaign, tactics, strategy, target) to refer to social media?’ Shama points out that traditional marketing ‘had to make someone get your message. You had to convince and convert.’
She also adds ‘Marketing was a one-way street. Companies talked at the consumers and this was expected because there really was no viable way for customers to talk back….. Traditional marketing is about dominate the market, shout out loud, push the product or service, control, pursue ‘leads’. Social media marketing is about create a community within the market, listen and then whisper, word of mouth, allow and nurture relationships.’
So what are the skills that PR people have (in abundance)?
– We are writers and write ‘good content’ that journalists want to use (often without any changes) in their newspapers and magazines
– Our content has to be independent, unbiased, factual, backed up, helpful and with a ‘so what’ about it – everything that social media and Google love
– We design events with speakers and content that people want to attend and take part in
– We engage with customers – get into their heads and understand their mindsets and issues and come up with ideas to address their problems
The PR industry is at the same crossroads as we were 15 years ago when websites began to take off. At that time few PR professionals had web skills – so the designers led the way in creating (mostly) truly awful sites. Gradually PR and marketing people started writing the copy and moving into influencing the approach, usability and content of websites – and eventually into managing the process.
Now the PR industry is gaining a foothold as an expert in social media communications – but do we really (as an industry) have the skills to lead on driving numbers and hits? I don’t think so, not really.
We need help from our professional body to create cutting edge training bespoke to the needs of PR professionals. And practitioners need to be prepared to go into the backroom of Google and their websites – and be happy to get technical.