The new face of public relations

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I believe that social media is a game changer for public relations.

It forces public relations people to come out from behind the curtain. No longer can we be the "unnamed source" who talks "on background."

We now are in a world in which the traditional news cycle has been replaced by a constant flow of breaking news and immediate commentary. We must start to monitor conversations well before we ever wish to enter them in order to find where people are talking, listen to what they are talking about, identify the new influencers, and understand their point of view.

And then, when we have done this, we join the conversations where they are occurring. This helps us to build credibility and trust among those who are already engaged in the issues of importance to us.

And all of that occurs before the words "corporate blog" are ever spoken.

Social media demands transparency and authenticity. That means that we must be front and centre as individuals when we are playing the role of spokesperson for our organization. If you want an example of what I’m talking about, take a look at RichardatDell . Richard Binhammer has been one of Dell’s most high profile people in the blogosphere since mid-2006. He is part of the conversation through his personal blog , direct outreach to bloggers , Twitter and real world presentations . And he does this with transparency and authenticity. The corporate spokesperson becomes a real person – and our trust increases because of this.

And that’s the template for the new PR practitioner.

And I’m not alone in my view. It was encouraging to read other industry leaders underline the importance of social media during a recent roundtable discussion organized by PR Week (April 14, 2008, p.12). A couple of statements that caught my attention:

"Traditional PR is getting completely redefined. I won’t say it’s dying, but I think people need to get with what’s on the cutting edge, in terms of building communities and starting conversations – as opposed to that traditional one-way dialogue." Karen Kahn, Vice President, Global Communications, Sun Microsystems.

"The bigger evolution in our job is not learning about social media and digital. It’s about changing from a [text] storyteller to a visual storyteller. I think as PR pros we always related to the written word, and these new Web 2.0 applications relate to being more visual…" Luca Penati, Managing Director of the global tech practice, Ogilvy PR.

Things to think about when you’re planning your own career and growth path.

UPDATE: Shel Israel posted this video interview with Richard Binhammer on Global Neighbourhoods TV shortly after I posted. It’s worth looking at for an illustration of the "up front" PR person. There’s very little (if any) "corporate speak" on Richard’s side. Just a PR person speaking in plain language about what he believes about his company.

  • I think you really nailed it when you said all of that work must be done BEFORE the corporate blog is considered. I think consumers and the general web-saavy public are turned off by companies and organizations that come barrelling into the 2.0 sphere without first making an effort to understand what is going on and what is being said.

    It’s naive to think that a dynamic environment like the web circa 2008 is going to be free of corporate influence and voices. The fact is we live in a heavily corporatized society, for better or for worse. But this time around, the ‘public’ (for lack of a better term) has an expectation that such corporate participation will be done on their terms and, for the first time, they have the tools to make a noise if it isn’t.

  • I couldn’t agree more, Joe. Because I live in Austin, I get to see Richard at local events and even catch up with him for drinks or dinner now and then. He hasn’t managed to pry my Macbook Pro out of my hands yet (and to be fair, he hasn’t tried), but he has certainly influenced my opinion of Dell — just by being himself.

  • I don’t see RichardAtDell to be strictly PR. He sits somewhere between PR, customer service and the IT help desk with a terrific dash of seniority/authority to make things happen for the customer. And a community manager like Tommy Vallier at Talkshoe also sits partially in the customer side as well (he is like a “super user”).

    It seems to me there is a whole new role being created here. This kind of role does really help organizations address a lot of the negatives that can come out of the social aspect of the web, and help to turn things into a positive.

    These folks definitely should be part of the PR strategy, but I don’t see them strictly as PR.


  • Connie Crosby,
    Thanks for your comment. But I think that you’ve made the mistake that a lot of people make. You’ve put too narrow a definition on public relations. The new PR that I practise and that my company practises incorporates the roles that you’ve identified.

    The point of my post is to signal to other PR practitioners that they should break out of the strait jacket of narrow definitions and join the move to the new, broader PR.

    Richard is a great example of the new PR because he is indisputably a PR guy. But he doesn’t let himself get defined into a confined box. He joins the conversation and becomes part of the glue between the company and its customers.l

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  • Your post echoes what I have been learning at school. (I am a corporate communications/PR student at Centennial College.) PR is about having conversations with your audiences and social media facilitates that.

    This idea is reflected in my curriculum. We spent the last four months learning about traditional means of communication (e.g. news releases); we are now immersing ourselves in all aspects of social media, including Twitter, blogging and Social media will not replace traditional media; it is simply becoming another way to communicate. Is it a better way? That depends on the audience you want to reach and the way it wishes to be reached.

    The one thing I am taking away from all this is a comprehensive toolbox I can bring to my future employer. Which, as far as I’m concerned, puts me ahead of the game in this industry.

    P.s. Thank you for the great session at the CPRS 360 Degrees event last night. I’m always learning something new!

  • Another good resource for up and coming trends, information and resources, even networking for this topic is The Public Relations Summit, Topics like this are on the roster. If you have other resources for professional development that might provide additional topics with this in mind, please advise.

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