Read this post, “Things can go wrong in Social. Quickly!” for an update on this post.
At the end of last week I read an article on Technorati by Shane Paul Neil, entitled, “Technology, self-promotion and the death of public relations. It’s one of many to make this claim recently. It’s also one of many written by authors that don’t understand public relations – confusing publicity with PR.
Had the article focused on publicity I would have agreed with most of the points that Shane makes. The fact that it focuses on public relations means that most of his opinions on why he believes PR is dead or dying are wrong. Just plain wrong. The problem is that Shane doesn’t have a PR background: he works as a social strategist and while, when I questioned him on Twitter about his experience of public relations, he had the correct definition, his understanding of what that looks like is incorrect.
It’s a problem I’ve written about many times. The majority of so-called ‘professionals’ working in the PR industry don’t know the difference and have done an excellent job at misinforming customers and complementary industries like marketing and publicity about what it is we do. It’s something I want to change and challenging people that write in, supposedly credible media outlets, when they get it wrong is the first stage.
Having added a comment, which was in ‘moderation’ for almost a day [and which has subsequently been deleted] I took to Twitter. What were the author’s PR credentials/experience? It turns out I was right – he has none. But, what happened next is something that every company can learn from. It’s an example of how to use social media to engage people.
My usual experience of trying to have a conversation about an article – where I have constructive criticism [OK, sometimes the constructive looks a lot like frustrated irritation] – is that I get no response. Either that or I get a firm rebuttal or the digital equivalent of “f*@! you’ – people usually don’t like being asked to support their position with evidence or experience. A social ‘conversation I’d had with AirPR earlier in the week was a prime example of this approach. I’d questioned the company’s position that PR is actually customer marketing [it fundamentally misunderstands the difference between PR and marketing]
This was different.
After an initial back and forth, a conversation broke out. I went from irritation about the piece to appreciating the opportunity to have the conversation – to make and debate my opinion with Shane. What’s more – rather than trying to make sure that the publication didn’t see my comments, Shane got the Managing Editor at Technorati in on the conversation. There was talk about a series of views on the topic because the original piece had highlighted passionate responses from a number of people and with a range of differing perspectives.
This is social media as it is supposed to be used. It’s not about publicity – self-or otherwise. It’s not about broadcasting a message and labelling people that agree friends, while labelling those that don’t trolls. Social Media’s value is about the discussion; the conversation; the opportunity to change perceptions in real-time. It’s an extension of the owned internet, where organizations and individuals have the opportunity to publish their opinions – and start conversations where all opinions are welcomed [unless you really are a troll!].
Shane showed that, while he doesn’t understand PR, he understands the power of social media as a communications tool. I started out questioning whether he had anything of value to add to the discussion about the future of communications and found, where social is concerned, he does. He probably understands more about PR than most ‘PR’ people.
Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: social media is about conversation. The tools are just that – tools. You still need the basic skills required to use them for best effect.
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