Many in the public relations community have jumped on the social media bandwagon in the belief that it puts PR practitioners in control. It has turned into a turf battle, pitting PR against marketing.
This mindset misses the point of social media. Any effort to “control” a social media initiative will doom the effort. Instead, a PR practitioner needs to think like an improvisational jazz musician. You might have an idea of where you would like a piece of music to go and you can help to get it started, but nobody can dictate how the piece will develop because everyone collaborates on the fly.
In fact, successful social media efforts are largely driven by people outside your control or influence. Accepting and even embracing opposition can add to the credibility of your initiative.
The Proper Role of PR
Instead of seeking to control social media initiatives, PR practitioners should concentrate on the following four pillars of social media success.
Planning – Set realistic objectives (i.e., positioning the company as an industry thought leader, driving qualified leads back to your corporate Web site, and strengthening recruiting efforts). Take time to listen to customer feedback and examine the best ways to measure results so you can adjust course.
Recruiting – It is essential that you step back. Identify staff members who are blogging, connecting on Facebook, or posting videos on YouTube. These are the social media mavens in your ranks who should drive your program. Don't be discouraged if these are not C-level executives – your leaders probably don't have the time to devote to the effort.
Training – Participating in social media activities requires a great deal of trust and autonomy. Assess where best to devote time and attention, and build consensus for the initiative internally. Before going live with the effort, educate everyone involved about the subtle nuances of online interaction such as the importance of disclosure and being generous with credit and links. This work offline can ensure high standards and mitigate risks.
Promotion – Learn where the individuals with whom you intend to connect are congregating and have your mavens participate. You can reach a large audience, but never lose sight of the individual and remember that these are dynamic interactions in which what you receive is probably more important than what you send.
Notice that none of the four pillars describe actually participating in the social media effort itself, let alone leading it. Instead, the PR person's role is to cultivate an environment in which social media activities can blossom and succeed organically. In some organizations, the PR person is the only one who has the time or inclination to be involved in blogging or posting photos or videos online.
I can't think of a better indication that social media is not an appropriate strategy for a company.