Spontaneity of comms today necessitates rapid education in social media tactics

Networking means one thing to Mark Zuckerberg, but quite another to those of us in the business of strategic communications.

Networking means one thing to Mark Zuckerberg, but quite another to those of us in the business of strategic communications. Zuckerberg's Facebook is only one conduit in the stakeholder network that helps organizations in a radically new world enhance their brand, move market share, and achieve their public policy objectives.

It is clear the traditional hierarchical - or pyramid - structure of communications is no longer applicable. It has been replaced by a new paradigm - and one that's really not a paradigm at all. Instead of top-down or bottom-up communications, which can be anticipated and managed, communications now flows in near-spontaneous combustion from the middle - and is far more difficult to control.

Thanks to digital technology, every network has within it smaller networks - not to mention a whole range of unique constituents and stakeholders. The click of a well-connected mouse can now carry as much or more weight as a leader's endorsement from the business or labor arena, or it can exert as much or more influence as an editorial board session at the local newspaper.

Tapping technology to build and manage dynamic networks has become the single-most important asset in a public affairs campaign. However, social media is not yet fully understood by many in public affairs and efforts remain stalled at stage one of the social media revolution.

Institutions need to socially engage stakeholders, constituents, and other critical audiences through a broad array of digital and social media tactics and quantify their impact in the context of public affairs.

Those tactics must enlist non-traditional allies and stakeholders, such as activist bloggers and committed followers of an issue or cause, and amplify the impact of both paid and earned media. And those efforts can be quantified through today's social media analytical tools that provide better insight into the influence and effectiveness of online outreach.

Who knows what will aug-ment Facebook and Twitter in the not-too-distant future? We can be sure of this much, however: social media will get sharper, more ubiquitous, and even more important in helping organizations advance their public affairs agendas.

Mark Irion is CEO of Dutko Grayling, the public affairs affiliate of the Grayling global network, and Dutko Worldwide, the 30-year-old Washington-based government affairs agency.

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