It seems everyone is talking about social media. Journalists are all a-Twitter, business conferences now include sessions about “being social,” and a few colleges even offer a social media degree. But looking beyond the hype, companies need to view social media from a pragmatic perspective.
Although social media can transform the way we do business for the better, it’s a set of tools, not a panacea. It’s important to formulate a plan, strategy and process to use these tools effectively if they’re to have a positive effect on your business.
So how should companies incorporate social media into their business plans?
Let’s take a step back for a minute, and look at the role of public relations (PR) in business. PR is more than publicity (i.e., “spin”). PR is responsible for facilitating and maintaining relationships between an organization and its publics, the target audiences that can impact a company in either positive or negative ways.
Company success hinges on building and nurturing successful relationships. PR encompasses media relations, employee communications, government relations, customer relations/service, crisis communications, reputation management, and much more. As a management function, PR supports strategic business planning, and aligns with company goals and objectives. As such, PR professionals, whether from an in-house team or an outside agency, can assist company management in determining how best to use social media.
PR is most effective when interwoven with all aspects of the business, and deploying a mix of communication methods and tools, from traditional media to today’s technologies to the intriguing possibilities of Web 3.0. Working from this knowledge base, a PR pro can help a company identify the role social media should play, and where to allocate resources based on goals and priorities. Social media tools can be used by companies to allow employees to share knowledge across the organization, to improve customer service, or to glean market insights that inform product development – these are just a few of the options. Determining how to use social media effectively requires the input of experts in relationship-building and communications.
PR can help guide the strategy and process, even if the PR agency, or the person responsible for PR within the company, isn’t solely responsible for social media execution.
Brian Solis’s blog post “PR Does Not Stand for Press Release,” sums up the evolving role of PR well:
“The difference between PR of yesteryear and Public Relations of today and tomorrow is our ability to understand the pains and challenges of our customers and connect our value proposition to those specifically looking for it, where they’re looking for it. Our job is not deceive or mislead stakeholders. Our job is to establish an interactive channel where we share and learn, directly participating within the markets that define our business. And, we not only engage, but we also listen to and absorb feedback in order to have a meaningful impact internally that ultimately engenders a more customer-focused organization that’s in tune with the needs of valuable users.”
As Brian states, social media provides PR pros (and the companies they represent) with new tools to listen to, and collaborate with, their target audiences, often in more meaningful and profound ways than ever before.
Have you given your PR team a seat at the executive table to help make critical decisions about using social media and more?