Where's the risk tolerance in social engagement?

For the last four or five years, almost every time I've had a client or agency colleague speak with me about "getting into" social media, it's almost always with some sense of doing so because the "cost" - typically of a hard dollars perspective - is low, or at least perceived to be.

For the last four or five years, almost every time I've had a client or agency colleague speak with me about “getting into” social media, it's almost always with some sense of doing so because the “cost” – typically of a hard dollars perspective – is low, or at least perceived to be. While this may or not be the case (Second Life land and islands weren't exactly cheap, you know), why is it that we as public relations professionals are so fearful of trying something once or twice and not nailing it?

Think about it.

One of the “big” discussions of the last year or so that I've been a part of was whether or not advertising or public relations should “own” social media activities for a client. It's a curious one, given the vast differences in budget we've always had, to say the least. That said, it's no surprise that some of the more risky – and more “popular” – campaigns that have integrated social activities were executed with advertising in play…most recently, with Old Spice's YouTube video activities.

At the core of this argument is that we, as PR pros, are pretty much in the business of keeping our clients from making mistakes, or wasting their time, or just plain doing things that have some solid ROI (for the most part) as much as possible. Maybe, just maybe, however, we need to take a step back and bring ideas and strategies to the table that are a little out of the box or comfort zone when it comes to digital media…even if (gasp!) one of them doesn't stick to the wall within two minutes of being live on the web.

Time is the better portion of what our clients are paying us for (retainer, anyone?), and I'm certainly not advocating wasting any of it, but let's give it our all, and provide a true look into what kind of time and effort it takes to participate in a number of social channels. Some will work. Some will fail. Some will need another shot. People in the hospitality industry didn't find out that Twitter might work better for deals and need constant “flow” while Facebook seemed to have a different level of brand engagement by making it up in their heads, right?

We've all got a few Lewis & Clarks on our teams, so why not give them a shot and see what they can bring to the table. Worst-case scenario, you learn a little something about your team's capabilities. Best-case scenario, you surprise your clients and yourselves with a successful campaign, and something you can put additional resources against.

The world of digital and public relations has become a whole lot of hot air, if you spend any time “on the blogs,” if you will, with a whole lotta talk about “what's a great idea” and a whole lotta no case studies or results from a lot of those telling us what our clients should do. Instead of “continuing the conversation,” let's maybe hop on that horse and take it for a little spin over that mountain pass we've not crossed to date, shall we?

Tom Biro is a VP at Allison & Partners, and is based in Seattle. His column will focus on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at tom@allisonpr.com.

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