The real value of a PR firm's role in social media

We still haven't arrived at a definitive answer to the question: "What can we do with social media?"

It's an exciting time. Even now, as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter make way for Google+, Google Buzz, BlogFrog, and location-based platforms like foursquare and Loopt, we still haven't arrived at a definitive answer to the question: “What can we do with social media?” Its reach and potential continue to grow, providing seemingly endless opportunities to help clients engage with stakeholders.

However, in the land rush for social media real estate, we've seen some companies jump to adopt the cool tools before doing the hard work of understanding the audiences, the business objectives, and the quantitative and qualitative metrics that will define success. Driving a well-honed strategy to the total communications effort, including social media channels, is a critical way for bona fide PR firms to bring true value to our clients.

While we realize the value of kicking the tires of new social services at Linhart Public Relations, we're not losing sight of the most important thing we can offer our clients: strategic thinking and insight that helps clients chart a course for social media success.

While aligning digital media strategy with clients' business objectives is job one, it is also key to understand and align with their corporate culture. Social media tactics must reflect the brand or company voice and resonate with the community of stakeholders. If transparency and authenticity are lacking, and the communication comes across as billboard clichés rather than dialogue among real people, there's little point in pursuing it. If companies adopt social media merely to get hits, likes, and smiley faces, it's a wasted effort.

With each digital media success for our clients, we are advancing our expertise and contributing to the industry's social media body of knowledge, but the specialization in big-picture counsel has always been — and will continue to be — our sweet spot.

Today, we are continually experimenting with the “shiny objects” that seem to emerge weekly from the imaginations of social services developers, while keeping our focus on long-term brand- and reputation-building strategies. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sharon H. Linhart, APR, is managing partner at Linhart Public Relations.

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