Yesterday morning, many Winnipeggers (myself included) started the day with a bit of a challenge: how to get ready for work/school/whatever with low (and in some cases, no) water pressure. According to this morning’s Winnipeg Free Press, at around 7:30 a.m. a power outage affected three of the city’s water pumping stations, which caused the problem.
In my house, our first instinct was to check our own pipes (no problems). Second: check the street to see whether there’d been a water main break (no apparent problems). Third: call 311 (busy signal: uh oh, this must be a big problem – it’s not just us if 311 is overloaded). Wait it out, and rinse off.
But others had different ideas.
As I drove in to work listening to local radio station CJOB, I heard morning show host Richard Cloutier (who’d been at work long before the water problem) say that at the station, they’d noticed a momentary problem with the power, then their email system went dead, then the phones lit up with calls from listeners with shampoo in their hair – I’m sure both wanting to know what was going on, and wanting to complain about it.
Don’t discount mainstream media
These days, social media is the darling of PR conferences, webinars and professional development meetings; it’s our shiny new toy. There are people in our industry quickly re-branding themselves as social media experts, ringing the death knell for mainstream media, and recommending all-social media communication strategies to their clients.
For some clients, whose audiences exist uniquely in the online and social media space, that might make sense. But for the rest (who, I’d suggest, constitute the majority out there), it’s important not to ignore the power mainstream media continue to have to communicate with our audiences.
Don’t get me wrong: I am a social media evangelist, and I firmly believe that its tools give us unprecedented access to certain segments of our audiences – both for sharing information, and for building relationships. From my perspective, social media opens the door for PR to do what it has always strived to do: to establish and nurture two-way relationships with its audiences (at varying levels, of course).
But social media isn’t the be-all and end-all for strategic mass communication – at least, not yet. Many of our audiences are not using Twitter, and aren’t influenced by those who do. Many (it seems, more and more every day) distrust Facebook. Many don’t read blogs, or spend much time online at all. Many others do participate in social media, but aren’t able to determine whom to trust – and turn to mainstream media to make sense of it all.
These audiences rely on mainstream media, among other more traditional communication channels (e.g. calling customer help lines), to inform themselves about the issues that interest them. And as long as they do, good strategic PR will continue to take advantage of those means of reaching them.
As more amazing and revolutionary technologies come along, smart PR people will engage with them, will investigate them, will understand their strengths and weaknesses, and will figure out how to employ them to help clients reach their communication objectives.
But the really smart PR people will always remember to go where their audiences are.