I'm in Regina at the national conference of the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS), an event which I attend every few years, and which always leaves me with a renewed passion for our profession. This year it's even more exciting for me, as I pick up information and resources that'll be helpful to my students, as well.
In addition to all that good stuff, today I picked up a little knowledge that surprised me a bit, but which actually means good things for my students. And what was it?
That there are still PR pros ignoring (or is it denying?) the influence of social media.
I attended a session this afternoon given by Joe Thornley and Martin Waxman, two of the three hosts of the PR podcasts on Inside PR. Their presentation, "Social Media Trends to Watch," gave an overview of the impact social media are having on the way we communicate and on the practice of PR, and was pretty well-attended.
From quick show-of-hands polls Thornley and Waxman did during the session, it appeared that a significant portion of the crowd was not yet active in social media other than LinkedIn, which it seemed a majority had used.
Just so there's no misunderstanding...
I don't think everyone should be using social media (yet). Social media are only effective in reaching audiences which use social media (or are influenced by those who do). If you know your audiences don't use social media, it would be irresponsible to be investing significant client resources in them.
The folks who came to this session without much experience with social media were doing exactly what they should be doing. They came to find out what the big deal is about, and to learn how these tools can be used, which will help them be better counsel to their clients than they would be if they were unaware of the potential social media offer.
But then... overheard in the elevator...
In the elevator back up to our rooms after the session, a number of the people who'd attended started talking about social media. "Oh my God, that stuff just went right over my head," said one. "I don't think we really need to know about all that," said another. And a third: "Oh, you don't."
They then reassured each other that it's just very niche groups using social media, and that if they aren't targeting those groups, they don't need to worry about it.
Don't believe it.
Unless you plan to retire next week, don't believe that you can ignore social media if you want to be competitive in the job market, and if you want to be able to provide solid strategic advice to your clients.
While not every audience uses social media, and only audiences using social media will be receptive to PR efforts that employ them, a good PR counsellor needs to know about them and how they work in order to provide sound advice.
That advice may well be to direct resources to other efforts – traditional media relations, special events, community relations, whatever – but unless you understand what's out there and how it may touch your client's audiences, there'll be a blind spot in the counsel you provide.
Making yourself aware of and conversant only in the issues and tools you know to be of interest to your audiences at this moment in time is like wearing a suit that only has a front. If your audience stays in that perfect spot right in front of you, you're fine. But if anyone moves, you'll be... exposed.
And one thing all PR pros should know is that someone always moves.
Ignore social media – or any significant communication tool – at your peril
Now may not be the right time for your client to be undertaking social media efforts. But maybe your client's business will change; or maybe your client's audience will change; or, maybe, you may just want to go work for someone else someday. Someone, that is, whose audiences are talking about – and wanting to interact with – your client online.
In any of those cases, my colleagues from the elevator will be out of luck – and a practitioner who's more open to embracing change in communications, like a recent Red River College CreComm grad, for instance, will be waiting to step in.