PR and Social Media: Is a Crisis Management Plan Required to Adapt?

There was a moment, way back in 2006, when I realized that everything I had ever assumed about public relations was changing. My strategic communications plan seemed sadly out of date, lacking what we like to call a ‘robust’ set of tactics for social media marketing. I was a public relations specialist with my own consultancy and I was scared to death. The new generation of digital natives was about to render me obsolete. Fast forward: I got over it. I embraced social media on a personal and a professional level, availed myself of courses and seminars, and brushed off the chip on my shoulder.

I am now in charge of digital communications for a small NYC non-profit. Our non-profit marketing is focused exclusively on social media and SEO strategies, and this shift has propelled the organization forward, increasing our influence with physicians – our core constituency – and helping to change opinion and behavior around adolescent mental health issues.

So, as we start 2Q of 2012, I find myself more than a little concerned over a new survey from Dell computers which finds that while 98% of companies do some form of social media marketing, only six percent value on-line listening. Less than half regard social media marketing as integral to their marketing strategy.

Similarly, lots of PR agencies are pushing out content to Twitter and Facebook, but neither the agencies nor the clients are listening or engaging. What they are trying to do is shoe-horn a series of tweets and posts into a traditional PR model, which misses the point entirely. Social media is not about pushing out messages. It’s about connecting with your constituencies — via blogs, social media platforms, and aggregates — around issues they care about. It’s about listening so that you can build relationships that give you a basis to influence their conversations, their opinions and their actions. It’s about creating digital content that interests them, engages them and has them coming back for more.

Prior to social media, the PR that we practiced was about control – a top-down, “push it out” model that was all about ‘awareness’ – that vague objective that was difficult, if not impossible, to measure. We focused our relationship-building on journalists as our only conduit to the ‘consumer’ and the only way we had to shape perceptions and change behaviors.

It’s no longer relevant to practice PR using the old model. And, to be fair, that can be disconcerting for the over-40 PR pro. But, speaking for myself, working within the new framework really isn’t as hard as it sounds. It does require some humility and self-assessment. Yes, the PR world has changed, and yes, you’re a bit behind the curve. So what? Social media is neither hard nor mystifying. It is a new discipline, demanding of your time and focus. You’ll have to learn it and practice it. Nothing fancy, just some time, effort and appreciation for its ability to make a meaningful difference.

PR people – famous for our Type-A personalities — can’t control the new environment. And I think that can be hard for agency pros. We’re used to being in control — creating messages, pushing them out through channels, and building our clip files. But, now, it’s the consumers, the citizen journalists, that are at the controls and that feels unfamiliar and maybe a little scary.

But, regardless, it’s a fact. Your resistance won’t change that. So, time to take a deep breath, and a few on-line courses. Embrace this new career development you hadn’t planned on. And smile. All of that control was getting a little old anyway.

Written by Patricia Garrison

Pat has more than 20 years experience in communications, public relations and media relations. A strategic thinker with a hands-on orientation. Pat has created and implemented integrated communications programming for companies and non-profit corporations in the health care, education and arts/cultural sectors. Her programming combines digital, social media and traditional applications to help shape the national discussion on issues of public health, educational disparity and cultural relevance in the digital age. In addition to being a Newsmaker Group contributor, Pat directs digital communications and content development for the TeenScreen National Center, a division of Columbia University’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry department.

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