PR must adapt to social media era

Social media sites have clout. They are the virtual malls and burger joints of earlier eras. They connect people through social networks. More kids hang out in them than you can imagine.

Social media sites have clout. They are the virtual malls and burger joints of earlier eras. They connect people through social networks. More kids hang out in them than you can imagine.

You're nobody without your own MySpace profile or until you're invited into somebody else's space. More and more advertisers have MySpace accounts where they are talking directly to kids about hamburgers, movies, videos, CDs, and more.

Some sites have more clout than others. For instance, 81% of visitors to social networking sites go to MySpace. Another 7.3% (mostly college students) prefer Facebook. What these sites really are about is one-on-one communications.

So the question is: Are they only about one-on-one communications, or are they the newest great battlefield for the PR industry?

Wherever you turn these days, you read about PR 2.0, with more and more agencies coming out with their own versions of the user-friendly press release. The established wire services, like Business Wire, have optimized their press release delivery, focused on direct-to-consumer delivery, and stretched the bounds of the multimedia news release.

Your job, and mine, is to identify new communications channels. These social media site users don't want to get poorly targeted press releases - traditional, multimedia-enabled, or 2.0 versions. They do, however, want to find and post those releases they consider relevant. If Mariah Carey's publicist puts out a press release, for example, they want to link to it. But it's their choice, not ours. Therefore, the role of PR is to have news that is linkable, searchable, accessible, and useable by whoever wants it.

While social media sites might lack the intimacy of other forms of communication, they have scope of size and the speed of communication that is crucial to the new silent generation, or Generation Z. This generation wants to communicate with lots of people about myriad subjects in seconds.

It is crucial that the PR industry take a deep breath, not get caught up in the hype or the buzz, and not panic. It is our responsibility to adapt thoughtfully and respond to these changes in communications.

Traditional media is alive and well, and, frankly, it goes hand-in-hand with the online community, which is crucial to know. This was confirmed in a study initiated by the Online Publishers Association, which found, "The power of the Web is strong, especially when combined with other media."

The reality is, and every veteran PR person knows this, direct-to-consumer marketing is comparable to working with journalists. It is our responsibility to anticipate where people are looking for news and make it available to them in the format they prefer.

There is still a lot to be said for the third-party endorsement of The New York Times, Fortune, and NBC, and a lot to be said for the filtering role of The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, and CBS. Journalists, even respected bloggers, give credibility to corporate news; they also help interpret it and put it in perspective.

What's significant about social media is that we're communicating with the public of one. We are attempting to influence the influencer. And we can do this in myriad ways. It is our responsibility to select the best tool to fit the situation.

Michael Lissauer is EVP, marketing and business strategy, at Business Wire.

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