Where PR pros are heading with the social Web

December 20, 2010

Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication honored ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer as its 27th Award for Excellence in Journalism recipient on Nov. 12. During an award luncheon, Sawyer reflected on her three-decade journey, calling it a career highlight rather than choosing one particular moment.

She cited as her motivation a desire to talk with people, ask questions and tell stories that people need to hear.

“Our job as communicators is to travel all the pathways and have something valuable to say while we’re navigating,” Sawyer remarked. She also praised social media’s ability to help bridge those pathways as well as expand a story’s awareness.

Sawyer’s comments triggered my own thoughts about the social Web and where we’re heading.  While we have more channels at our disposal now, focusing on stories, the people involved and strategies for telling them continue to guide our way.

Abbie Fink, vice president and general manager of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, says that her firm is not doing much fundamentally different to assist clients — now, they’re just doing some of it in different places.

“In addition to examining if a client’s message is ideal for broadcast or publication, we’re asking: Is this a better blog post, a Facebook page engagement or perhaps best suited for a new digital tool we need to research?”

Christine Perkett, CEO of PerkettPR, a U.S.-based virtual agency, believes that social media hype will persist as we head into 2011.

“PR pros have used social media for a while, so it seems [familiar] but for clients, the hype is right now,” Perkett says. “Main Street America is just starting to understand how social strategies can return business value.”

Perkett says businesses struggling to make the transition from control to collaboration need to think about people first rather than promotion. She sees our profession heightening this focus to help brands and clients make the leap.

Most practitioners agree that more hands-on experience is required to achieve greater digital communication benefits. Keep in mind that social media a journey, after all. Consider the following for the New Year:

• Keep talking. Conversations breed collaboration, whether you are pitching ideas to media or connecting with your audience to solve problems. Fink references the mid-term elections as an example.
“Politicians who engaged online, even those who didn’t win, need to continue doing so if they want to be elected again in four years,” Fink says. “There are still issues to advocate and maintaining conversations, no matter what business you’re in, is how to remain relevant.”

• Ask questions. People now expect to be involved in major brands’ and organizations’ public decisions. Perkett points out how Gap and Nordstrom experienced negative backlash online this year while attempting changes without considering fan preferences. Each recovered after opening up dialogue and incorporating customer feedback.

• Tell stories that haven’t been heard. Creating content that attaches you to stories is a successful digital strategy. For example, UCLA posts YouTube videos on its newsroom that draw national media attention to the unique perspectives of its professors.

“Good content paves the way,” says Perkett. “It must be savvy to inspire action.”

Ryan Zuk, APR

Ryan Zuk, APR, is a media and analyst relations professional, Phoenix PRSA Chapter member and Sage North America representative. Zuk can be reached @ryanzuk on Twitter. He also blogs at criticalmasspr.com.

Email: ryanzuk at gmail dot com


Abbie S. Fink says:

Ryan -- thanks for including me in this story. Here's to a great 2011.

Dec. 21, 2010

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