Friday, May 15, 2009

The Social Web is more valuable to PR than Social Media Tools

Recent conversations and blog posts have lead me to take a step back and look at the big picture for public relations professionals using social media tools in the age of the social web. (Photo: kimberlyfaye)

The Setup
I had the wonderful opportunity to conduct a session for the Greater Fort Worth PRSA's Professional Development workshop alongside media maven, Beth Harte and school PR colleague, Terry Morawski. Morawski and I gave an updated version of our The Nuts and Bolts of Twitter presentation to the group while Beth Harte took the group down the much needed path of planning and measuring social media.

The following day, Dan Keeney posted an video interview with Beth along with a post reflecting on the PR / social media relationship, “Are We Missing the Next Big Thing Because of Our Twitter Obsession? seems to be everyone who is out there speaking to PR groups about social media. I don't hear anyone showing those of us who have a cursory level of involvement in the space anything particularly new...If the PR community intends to annex the social media space, we can't just say that we are social media counselors and then suggest that all the rules we've always followed still apply going forward. They may not. Do we really need to spin our wheels examining the tone and frequency of every blog post that mentions us? To what end? I say go ahead and engage. Just like if you overheard a conversation about your company or product on a street corner. Listen and then offer your two cents. Connect! No need to over-think it!
This prompted some interesting comments and then a follow-up post by Beth Harte, "Social media’s dirty little secret"
The dirty little secret: social media is NOTHING new. If you want to look at social media plain and simple, it’s a bunch of tools that help us to network, share information and build relationships in a different way. The concept of social media from a human relationship aspect is nothing new either. It’s business development, which comes with engagement, professional etiquette, trust and respect.
Concept vs. Tools
To me there is an important difference between Social Media as a concept and Social Media tools.  The tools are just that, tools that can be leveraged for purposes that PR people can and should be using to effectively communicate with various publics.

That Social Media is a concept - people having online conversations - is why I believe we as PR people need to be better at understanding and planning for to address business needs. The point being the social web should be approached as the mindset of sharing, openness and authenticity needed to successfully engage your communities and ultimately benefiting the bottom-line. That is much more important and valuable than any of the tools.

Anybody can open up a Twitter profile or learn how to create Facebook fan or group pages, that's not anything too special and I agree that perhaps we should spend less time patting ourselves on the back for doing so and more time figuring out why we should use these tools.

Nothing New?
Keeney points out via comments on his blog why he thinks that none of this is new since we've had demonstrated two-way communication flowing between an organization and its publics. He even references an illustration from his 2nd edition This is PR textbook from the early 80s to make his point:

However, what this illustration fails to show are the conversations and community between Publics about the Organization and the Organization's competitors or threats.Yes, those conversations between publics have always been there, we just didn't have efficient if not more effective ways to listen to those types of conversations.

The way social media or the social web as a concept is still new for some is the idea that PR people need to be thinking about, listening to, measuring and monitoring, and ultimately engaging in those conversations that bypass the traditional institutions including our organizations and mainstream media.  It is unfortunate to me that social media is thought of only as a sum of its tools as opposed to a concept with value.

Simply put:
What do you think? How would you define the differences (if any) between social media tools and social media as a concept? The comments are yours.Reblog this post [with Zemanta]