PR pros have an opportunity to shape social media's future

In the coming year, we'll see a number of opportunities that will allow social media to become more aligned with the efforts of PR pros.

Certainly 2009 will be remembered as the year that social media went mainstream. But where will this nascent practice go next and how can professional communicators ensure a role in its development?

In the coming year, we'll see a number of opportunities that will allow social media to become more aligned with the efforts of PR pros. Here are three areas to watch and focus on:

Integration. Some spent 2009 arguing over who "owns" social media. PR? Marketing? It doesn't matter. The fact is, many have a vested interest in it and to customers, it's irrelevant. The benefit comes by better integration between communications and marketing team members, so that earned, paid, and owned media can all work in concert. Consistently leveraging all elements in a campaign and ensuring that they align the messaging will lead to success.

Crisis communications. This has changed drastically over the past few years. Rather than the quaint notion of executives huddled in a situation room with the luxury of many days to craft and deliver messaging, we find ourselves needing to respond at the speed of tweets. Incendiary YouTube videos or provocative tweets can't be fluffed off as being something separate from news. Mainstream media will pick up on a firestorm and make it even bigger news.

The key is to have a flexible plan in place and to respond quickly and first in the same context as the original content. And because a communications manager can't be everywhere, you'll also need to rely on the relationships you've built with your online community.

Location, location, location. Social networks have allowed us to connect with individuals virtually anywhere, but a lot of key interactions will still occur between people at the local level. Whether it's travel suggestions or friends planning an after-work gathering, we'll see more people looking to local news outlets, location-based social networks, and tighter circles of friends. Niche marketing and local media relations will become more important than ever.

These are exciting times for communicators. We're witnessing - and creating - the evolution of new forms of communication in our own time. It remains within our power to influence its direction.

Scott Monty is global digital and multimedia communications manager at Ford Motor Company.

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