From the early days of MySpace and Friends Reunited to the growth of Facebook and Twitter, and more recent location-based networks such as Foursquare, social media platforms have changed.
However, social media have been responsible for big changes in people's lives, as well as business comms.
As the fourth show in the PR Vision series reveals, the phenomenon is here to stay and needs to be embraced.
As Diageo corporate relations director Ian Wright, BT customer service MD Warren Buckley and Mynewsdesk COO Jonathan Bean advise, there are important rules to follow if you want to avoid the pitfalls encountered by brands such as Eurostar and BP.
Wright believes social media are both a threat and an opportunity, but are here to stay. It is a simple message but all three studio guests urge communicators and brands to get involved: 'Clearly, the change social media have brought to both our working and personal lives is huge, and the main key to managing social media is to use them.'
There is a caveat: 'You have to be aware of the limitations and dangers. One of the big dangers of social media is the unmoderated conversation.'
Bean is positive about social media: 'As long as it ties in with a clear business objective, it can be an opportunity for an organisation. PR and comms have been changed fundamentally by social media but what fundamentally has not changed is the customer.'
A challenge for agencies and brands is that they no longer dictate the channels used, as they might with an advertising or a PR campaign before the internet developed as a comms channel.
As Buckley explains: 'The nature of social media is that it is the customer who decides how they want to use them. Building a team that works together across PR, customer service, marketing and sales is really important.'
Bean concurs: 'The business is becoming social - not just the PR department or the comms team.'
Content is core in the way you think about social media, Buckley believes. But this is also about how content links with your above-the-line advertising, such as TV and press, and messages. 'It needs to feel consistent,' he says.
Diageo handles many different brands and social media have a role to play with all of them.
However, they also have something to offer the corporate brand, says Wright: 'It is an indication that people see Twitter as an important way of remaining up to date.'
Mobile devices have added another dimension to the debate. 'Mobile has truly made it real-time,' says Buckley. 'I have to think about the smart phone environment - what content is right for a smart phone that works on a PC. Speed is what it is all about.'
Social media can help brands reach people they do not normally reach. 'They have a huge "splash" effect,' concludes Wright. 'They can reach millions of people.'
- Philip Smith, Head of content solutions, PRWeek (presenter)
- Jonathan Bean, COO, Mynewsdesk
- Warren Buckley, Managing director, customer service, BT
- Ian Wright, Corporate relations director, Diageo
TOP SOCIAL MEDIA PR TIPS
1. Get involved - don't prevaricate
2. Using social media is a long-term journey, not a series of campaigns
3. PR does not 'own' social media
4. Do not broadcast; engage
5. Responses must be immediate
6. Channels and platforms change, so do not put all your eggs in one basket
7. Use the language that the medium demands.