Monday, May 4, 2009

How is Social Media Ultimately a PR Tool?

"How is social media ultimately a PR tool?"

Valorie Luther, founder and CEO, Creative Concepts, posed this question on LinkedIn, and it got me thinking.

Social media may not only be "ultimately a PR tool" but even the ultimate PR tool. If we go back to the idea of managing relationships, social media can work much more effectively than the old one-way, push-what-management-wants-to-say-at-stakeholders approach.

With social media there is a conversation. If they wish to participate in social media, the organizations we represent are forced to listen as well as speak, and that, frankly, is what has been missing from most PR in the past. PRSA, IABC and most schools teaching PR emphasize the importance of research on stakeholders and PR playing a border-spanning role. But in the real world, organizations and agencies kill research budgets first, PR is not given the responsibility or budget to scan and report on the external environment and, for the most part, organizations have not listened.

Social media changes this. Stakeholders now write about issues that concern them whether organizations like it or not. Because these comments are on the Internet, they are public. If an organization is so inclined, it can respond, and that, too, is public. This creates a transparent conversation that is more likely to expose the organization's real policies on various issues. Because the outside world can see this, it can create very real pressure on organizations to better align themselves with their stakeholders. This means creating better relationships based on how the organization is actually run, rather than how it talks about itself. And if the PR function were responsible for this change, even in part, it would be PR at its very best.

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