Media, in all its forms – new, old, traditional, print, digital, social, etc. – has evolved to the point where the lines once separating production and consumption, brands and their patrons, outlets and readership, are blurred, if not altogether obliterated. Of this, there is little doubt. But it raises a vast multitude questions that plague many of us who reside in this nebulous field that is Public Relations, Advertising, Marketing, Communication, Customer Service, and Social Media.
Question #1: Under Whose Aegis (of the aforementioned disciplines) Does The Realm Of Social Media Fall?
Marketers would argue…well, Marketing, for obvious reasons. To those outside the industry, and thus unfamiliar with its nuances, this is often the first inclination. Others might try to woo you to the side of Customer Service, winning you over with tales of happy customers who have had their problems solved upon textually screaming “Help! My PC Crashed,” unknowingly calling forth a veritable army of Dell’s finest minds who scour twitter in search of such opportunities. As a Publicist & Digital Strategist, I would have posited only weeks ago, and still might, that Social Media and platforms like Twitter & Facebook, should be run, or at the very least, curated and moderated, under the auspices of the Public Relations Department or Agency. Why PR? Because Public Relations is about defining and promoting a brand through said brand’s message, values, and principals. While traditional media was a one way vehicle, social media, by definition, is an open conversation. Public Relations professionals can, and do, continue to take that message and engage consumers and mass audiences, but now on the level of the individual or micro-community, as this degree of interactivity is presently expected of, though not necessarily delivered by, most brands. The popularity of blogging and platforms like Twitter, built on an ongoing public dialogue, allow publicists and digital strategist to identify, interject, and engage those who would be interested in learning about and associating with the brand’s values and core beliefs. Facilitating this discussion, in my opinion, should fall to those who have been doing so until now…publicists.
Question #2: Who Made The New York Times (or WSJ, CNN…) King?
That is to say, we live in an era characterized by the public’s ability and desire to produce and disseminate their own content, whether via Blogging, Tweeting, Facebook, YouTube, FriendFeed…etc. So, why do brands still rely on traditional media outlets to broadcast their message, insisting that these are the more powerful channels? Obviously, most reputable organizations have, at this point, begun reaching out to bloggers and utilizing social sites. In this light, a Daily News article begs the question “Will it matter who you watch anymore?”
My answer would be a resounding NO. In fact, for people and brands alike, I’d go so far as to pose a corollary that may be even more telling of our times, “Why should I watch them, when they should be watching me!?”
I recently attended GasPedal’s Blogwell Conference in Chelsea Piers, at which I was privy to the social media insights and experiments being conducted by some of today’s most recognized national brands, including, Microsoft, GE, Coke, Nokia, and Johnson & Johnson.
GE struck me as really having taken advantage of some of these sentiments, in the creation of their GEReports website, which acts as a hybrid between blog & media outlet. The site is designed to serve as an additional voice for GE and a portal for niche audiences to find relevant, interesting information – an innovative and seemingly effective way to employ social media and capitalize on the public’s unwavering desire to be heard and have their specific interests catered to. Yes – I ended a sentence in a preposition…deal with it.
After fighting my way through the crowd, I was able to catch GE’s Communications & Social Media Specialist, Megan Parker who kindly informed me that one of the foci of the site, and the primary basis for both content and measuring success, were the comments posted by their readership…and I thought “Brilliant.”
I pondered the connection between these questions and concepts for a while, implicitly understanding a significant relationship existed between them, but unable to articulate it, even to myself. That is, until I came across a series of blog posts rallying the PR industry to step up and embrace the evolving landscape of media. Almost simultaneously, though perhaps not coincidently, I stumbled onto a twitter conversation about “People Relations.”
Ari Herzog directed me to a post by David Mullen in which he coins the term (as far as I understand it) People Relations, resultant of a discussion with Shannon Paul. The post, The “P” in PR Should Stand for “People” is an enlightening one and hits on some very interesting and very true points about today’s society.
As Mr. Mullen eloquently puts it,
“Shannon Paul suggested that integrating social media into communications strategies was putting the “P” back in PR, renewing a focus on public instead of media. I agree with Shannon a bit, but wanted to up the ante.
Shouldn’t the “P” stand for People? My wife and I aren’t a public. We’re people. I’m willing to bet you’d say you’re people, too.
Yes, I know that “public” refers to groups of people, but that still feels a bit cold to me. This is more about changing our mindset, for those of us who need it. People expect more personal relationships and one-to-one conversations. People want to share their dreams and fears. People want to be heard. People want connections.”
I say, we take this one step further. These once disparate, yet intimately intertwined and overlapping, arenas of PR, Communication, Customer Service, Advertising, Marketing and Social Media, are now coalescing and ‘People Relations’ is the resulting amalgamation. A new industry is developing, borne of necessity & experimentation; Social Media agencies, in order to actualize their eponymous mission, must become People Relations agencies, and they must draw lessons from their predecessors in order to succeed.
The New York Times & CNN are no longer the kings of content and the importance of blogger relations, so recently the epitome of successful digital marketing, is now losing meaning (though not value), as everyone’s voice becomes equally valid. I don’t need to be an avid or established blogger to tweet a scathing, 140 character, early adopter’s review of some new tech gadget that can result in the same damage as a comprehansive, half page analysis David Pogue might give the same product in the New York Times a month later. As soon as I have an opinion on anything, I have a plethora of media vehicles – textual, graphical, audio/visual, even musical – at my disposal by which to express myself.
One does not need to be a veteran video journalist to capture groundbreaking events on a phone and upload it to YouTube (or snap a shot of a plane in the Hudson River and ‘twitpic’ it before major news outlets are aware of what’s (not) flying. Not to mention the ever growing mass of new media celebrities such as lifecaster, Jill Hanner, comedian/musicians Rhett & Link, and the TMI group, whose show was recently picked up by an NBC outlet, all of whom must have ventured to, at some point, ask themselves, whether implicitly or explicitly, “Why rely on Big Media to broadcast our content when we have the means to do so ourselves?”
People Relations means catering to each and every individual – it means that marketers, publicists, customer relations specialists, and advertisers must understand – The single person is no longer a small fish; individual voices rival, or have the potential to rival, even the largest, most authoritative of the old media outfits. This is why & how brands should employ twitter. Not by barraging innocent followers with an endless stream of promotions and marketing propaganda; nor should they limit themselves to mere customer service. They must learn to treat each and every individual, to the extent that it’s feasible and cost effective, as if they were the editors of the Wall Street Journal, the way tech start-ups have come to treat TechCruch’s Michael Arrington.
The sense of entitlement associated with today’s youth and adolescents will only grow with each new generation. Publishing giants will flail and fall, and eventually fail. And while the rest of us wax nostalgic, this ever-growing legion of young producers will simply proclaim “New York Times? I AM the New York Times.”
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