A few days ago, I received a friend request on Facebook. I admit, I wasn't as quick to join the social networking phenomenon as one would think, especially given that I've been writing about MySpace and Facebook as PR tactics for the past few years. But a few months ago, I finally gave in and joined – and reconnected with some old friends in the process.
However, on this occasion, I discovered that I was being “friended” by a PR firm that had set up a Facebook account, a move which could help their recruiting efforts. The odd, and frankly annoying, part was that I had no previous contact with this agency, aside from the occasional blast e-mail I've gotten. I ignored the request and thought that would be the end of it. Since then, however, I've received another request from the firm, as well as one from an employee there with whom I've never so much as exchanged an e-mail. I ignored both.
The age of social media has been heralded as an unrivaled opportunity for PR professionals. No longer are journalists the only conduit to getting a story out to the masses. Now those masses can be reached directly. And because PR people are the relationship experts – it is called public relations after all – they are the ones who can truly benefit from this cultural phenomenon.
Yet, while much has been made of the importance of reaching consumers directly through such social media tools as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, many PR pros will tell you that relationships with journalists remain as important as ever. And as the media environment has changed to include bloggers in that group of influencers, they are a key entity to reach as well.
Although social media, and social networks in particular, has taken the art of information sharing to a completely new level, it can sometimes work to the PR person's disadvantage, especially where relationships with journalists are concerned. Though I am “friends” with several PR professionals through Facebook, these are people with whom I have developed relationships during my career at PRWeek. The mere fact that I have a Facebook profile does not mean that I am open to invitations from people I have never met.
Though Facebook has become a networking tool for some, it's something I use primarily for personal reasons. A PR professional would probably never think of calling the home of a reporter he or she had never spoken to with a pitch. And to some journalists (myself included), a request to join his or her personal world of Facebook could be viewed as a similar intrusion. As I've noted before, the advent and explosion of social media does not erase the basic rules of media relations. With more tools available to reach consumers – and by the same token, journalists – than ever before, respecting the boundaries of the PR professional/journalist relationship is certainly more difficult, but it's still important.