Social-media know-how crosses practice lines

Logic dictates that social-media issues fall under the purview of a PR firm's digital practice. It's clear, though, that the pervasive nature of social media is making an impact across practice borders.

Logic dictates that social-media issues fall under the purview of a PR firm's digital practice. It's clear, though, that the pervasive nature of social media is making an impact across practice borders.

Corporate PR pros, who work with clients over a wide range of sectors, now face the added task of becoming involved with a client's social-media needs.

"[Clients] must have conversations with customers now," says Bonin Bough, EVP of social, interactive, and emerging media at Weber Shandwick.

To balance this, WS has dedicated corporate digital people who, through their digital work, are experienced in the corporate practice area. They look at the social-media aims of a corporate program, anticipate technological issues that may arise, help to create digital elements (such as blogs or widgets), and work with the outside digital team when necessary.

Everyone on the corporate practice staff, however, should have a strong grasp of social media.

"It's not about 'Here's a corporate program; let's throw some digital in there,'" says Bough. "It's about the whole corporate practice becoming digital, but still being media and crisis experts."

Not only are existing corporate practice pros being asked to become increasingly tech savvy, firms are now hiring those with knowledge of the social-media space.

"It goes back to the challenge to lead clients versus follow, which requires [having] folks on the team who have different skill sets," says Peter Harris, SVP and director of the corporate practice for MS&L.

MS&L takes a hybrid approach with corporate practice members handling certain digital endeavors. Other tasks, such as building blogs, require a close relationship with the outside digital team. But just because the corporate practice has the tech resources to take on projects doesn't mean it should.

"It's a challenge of the time that it take[s] for an executive to write, respond, and maintain a blog," says Harris. "That's why agencies are better suited to ensure the blog strategy maps back to the business objectives of the company."

With that in mind, a large part of the corporate practice area's social-media function these days is educating their clients.

"Companies that have long-established structures for corporate communications teams and hardware need to change," says Bud Greby, SVP of Waggener Edstrom's corporate practice area. "Outside perspective helps."

For one healthcare client, WE uses a training model focusing on the emerging trends and new communications tools that a company in its industry (one with vocal advocates and equally vocal antagonists) would need to know.

"We work with them to [grasp] the dynamics of new media and the implications it can have, bringing them a level of comfort and expertise with tools to communicate with stakeholders," he says.

WE works closely with its digital team on the new corporate practice responsibilities.

"We're now looking at the issues that [arise] and how to apply modern methodologies to these problems," Greby says.

Key points:

  • Corporate practice areas are working closely with digital teams to handle clients' social-media needs
  • Educating corporate clients about the new-media landscape is a major focus
  • Corporate pros must consider clients' industry and tech know-how when doing social-media work

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