It's impossible to talk to anyone in the PR Industry these days without the subject of social and digital media dominating the conversation. In fact, it sometimes seems as if there is nothing else to talk about. This week, I was in Washington, DC, for a roundtable discussion on public affairs (coverage will appear in our November issue) and next to healthcare reform it was the most popular topic.
In the public affairs space, as in every other industry, there is a struggle between agencies and their clients over the use of social media as part of an overall PR strategy. Reluctant clients need to be coaxed into having a presence on Facebook. And overzealous ones think of every social media tactic as “a shiny new tool” that they should use because everyone else is.
Both of these schools of thought are actually perpetuated by some agencies. Though there is constant talk about how social media is “just another tool in the toolbox” and how it should be part of “every communicator's arsenal,” it simply isn't the way that most firms approach it. It's hard to tell a client that social media is just another tool—and not some scary leap into the unknown-- when the agency has gone out of its way to create a separate digital practice and have a team of “digital stars” that are called in during the new business pitch.
Perhaps that was something that was needed five years ago, when blogs were a novelty and Facebook was still a college experiment. But at this point in time, social and digital media skills need to be truly integrated into the skill set of every PR agency employee. It's something that most firms talk about, but very few do right.
Much has been said about PR's struggle to “own” the digital space. Yet no one ever argues about who “owns” media relations; it clearly belongs to the PR industry because it is a core skill that is expected—and performed—by nearly all PR practitioners. Once social media has attained the same status, then perhaps the hype—and fear—surrounding it can finally come to an end.