Social Media – Reinventing Public Relations?

Today’s episode of the popular social media-themed soap opera “You’re ‘Avin a Digital Turkish, Ain’tcha?” revolves around a glorious piece of nonsense from someone who’s made the cut here before – a fond welcome, blog snorkellers, to Brian Solis, Principal at FutureWorks PR, San Francisco Bay Area. (As I may have said before, if you’re the sort of person who enjoys pulling their own ribs out and carving small netsuke figurines from them, then you can enjoy more of Brian here.)

It’s the blurb from his book ‘Putting the Public Back in Public Relations: How Social Media Is Reinventing the Aging Business of PR’ and I reproduce it here in full, so that you too can enjoy the sensation of your brain refusing to believe its eyes and doing its best to hide under its duvet until the bad mojambo goes away.

“Marketing and communications, as is, are dying breeds. They’ve moved away from the public and instead concentrated on broadcasting “top-down,” disconnected messages to as many people as possible.

What we’ve learned and what we know are quickly fading into irrelevance and obscurity.

We now need to expand our scope of participation and outreach by also identifying, understanding, and engaging the everyday people who have plugged-in to a powerful and democratized online platform for creating and distributing information, insight, and opinions – effectively gaining authority in the process.

The very people we had always wished to reach through traditional channels are now the very people we need to convince and inspire directly in order to remain part of industry-defining and market making conversations. This is a new era of influence and in order to participate, we have to rewire our DNA to stop marketing at audiences in order to genuinely and intelligently humanize our story to connect with real people and the online communities they inhabit.

Putting the Public Back in Public Relations is a critical and mandatory process to shine in today’s social economy. It will help businesses forge meaningful relationships with those who will bridge specific benefits to distinct groups of consumers in order to cultivate a loyal, vocal, and hyper-connected community of customers and influencers.”

Did you enjoy that? I particularly liked how we must stop marketing at audiences (did he deliberately use ‘at’ instead of ‘to’ – it’s not clear) and how we must genuinely and intelligently split infinitives and humanise our story. And what (in the name of all that’s holy) is ‘bridging benefits to distinct groups of consumers’?

Obviously, different people, and different schools of thought, will have different takes on Mr Solis’s meanderings. Personally, I’m not a fan of social media evangelism, I don’t regard it as life-changing and I’m not even sure it’s actually – when it comes down to it – very important as a comms tool. Mr Solis seems to be saying that the future is community and collaboration, and that, through social media, the audience will dictate the shape and future strategy of the business.

I’m not saying this is untrue – in fact I think it’s been true for quite some time. I just don’t think that social media invented audience participation, nor do I think it’s the best way of getting the end user involved.

Look at Microsoft (‘I’m a PC’) and RIM (Blackberry ‘All You Need Is Love’) – both campaigns are all about community, but they didn’t need (and in one case, didn’t really use) social media to get where they are. They (sensibly) used market research.

And as for social media reinventing the ‘aging business of PR’. Please. PR (Corporate Communications) is what it is – social media is simply a new channel, and whether it’s good or bad has yet to be seen.

To put it another way, a new type of hammer does not fundamentally reinvent the way you build houses. Nor, usually, does it require the acquisition of a specific hammering skillset, or the hiring of expensive hammering gurus.

This is Shiny Object Syndrome at its worst.

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