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Social Media in Our Changing World: The Tools

Posted At: December 11, 2008 9:21 AM
by Jacob Summers

Business & relationships
The term “public relations” brings to mind two key concepts: “business” and “relationships.”

One cannot have effective PR without building a relationship, built by communication with the key publics. But there would be no need for most forms of PR if there were no businesses — be those business corporations, agencies, nonprofits or public figures.

Simply defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, “business” is:

“A pursuit or occupation demanding time and attention; a serious employment as distinguished from a pastime.”

This is the closest of 24 separate definitions for the word, most all of them implying one’s personal tasks. In fact, the word “personal” appears more often than the word “business” itself. That’s because business is personal — it is a set of goals set about by an individual or company. In the case of the company, its success still heavily depends on the success of the individual worker and the direct connection with individual consumers. Business is personal.

So, then, it makes perfect sense that in addition to the mechanical inner workings of each company, there would be a department to focus on building and maintaining relationships above all else — the business of “public relations.”

The OED breaks “public relations” down as such:

“(The state of) the relationship between an organization or an important person and the general public; the occupation of establishing or maintaining a good relationship between an organization or an important person and the general public; (also) a company department or group that deals with such matters; abbreviated P.R.”

Importantly, this is one of only two definitions the OED has stored for this term. The other provides shocking insight:

“The relations a person has with people outside his or her immediate circle; (also) the relations between persons, bodies, or nations at a public or political level. Now rare.”

Note that even by the standards of the OED, the phrase “now rare” is included. What does this say about the the current state of effective PR?

It says that consumer reactions to PR are high, and opinions are low. The OED editors apparently feel that this statement is concurrent with enough with the perspectives of other individuals as to be valid.

Adding more tools, upgrading the toolbox
As we all know, PR is nothing without the tools to help relationships along — even the best meaning, most talented, popular individual will need certain tools and skills at their disposal in order to gain larger numbers of relationships and maintain them.

So far, we have used much of the same for years — meetings, conferences, letters, commercials, video, audio. The problem is that these are becoming outdated and they really never were very interactive in the first place.

Now businesses are scrambling to make things interactive, and keep up with what has already begun this process among consumers themselves: social media.

Yet others are scoffing at the idea, and insist on no social media use or are ignorant of such. This would be remiss, of course, for many reasons. See any of these articles about the increased functionality of users and producers of social media or direct examples of social media in PR:

Not Wasting Time (Social media evolves the learning process, improves networking)

Hire 14 Year Olds (So easy, a child can do it)

Social Media Statistics (How many people can be potentially reached)

Are You a Social Media Expert (Get involved and see where you can go)

Hockeytown Blog (An example of a professional blog run by PR practitionersShannon Paul and Christy Hammond for the Detroit Red Wings)

However, mainly, social media is important because companies are already being targeted by consumers through social media sites like YouTube, where customers can voice their reviews to the world . . . including an overall perception of how the company succeeds or fails.

As an old axiom goes:

“If a cluttered desk is an indication of a cluttered mind, what is indicated by an empty desk?”

The point is that, sure, the rush to engage customers has become fuddled, but in order to engage customers, it requires some effort. This effort requires more than scrambling to create completely new means, and rolling with the software that is already out there: social media.

“The big problem with social media is that there is never really a downtime,” Jeremy Pepper, a PR practitioner and author the Pop PR blog, says. “Issues can come up at any time, but you have to draw a line in the sand and say when it is your personal time. In business, not everyone is ready for social media . . . Each business, company, product – well, each campaign needs to be individually crafted. Some companies aren’t ready, not should they ever really be in social media. It’s a case-by-case examination.”

One new multipurpose tool  social media
What is social media? Many definitions fit, but here are a few, as pointed to by some professionals in the field of PR, marketing and communications, via Twitter, a social media site.

As pointed out by Damien Basile (@damienbasile), a professional in user interface/experience design and where business & technology meet in Web 3.0,

“Social media are primarily Internet- and mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings. The term most often refers to activities that integrate technology, telecommunications and social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio. This interaction, and the manner in which information is presented, depends on the varied perspectives and ‘building’ of shared meaning among communities, as people share their stories and experiences.”

Basile is considered a younger user and has grown into social media at or around the time it began to develop — and his definition is fitting, yet rather broad and does a good job of focusing on the consumer and producer ends.

Richard Becker (@richbecker), ABC, president of Copywrite, Ink. had this to say about social media:

“This is the definition I currently use when I teach: social media describes online technologies that people use to share content, opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives, and media. Collectively, these technologies reach more people and shape more opinion than all other paid and unpaid media combined.”

Becker is an accredited business communicator and the president of Copywrite, Ink., a strategic communication and writing services firm. He currently serves as an examiner for the IABC International Accreditation Board; and as an instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It’s fair to say that Becker has a little bit of experience in the business and is highly valued, but his explanation is but one example, albeit a powerful one, and provides technical insight into the definition.

As pointed out by Shannon Paul (@shannonpaul), who works in new media communications with the Detroit Red Wings where she is the contributing editor for the organization’s Hockeytown Blog, Robert Scoble says it best

“When I say ‘social media’ or ‘new media’ I’m talking about Internet media that has the ability to interact with it in some way. IE, not a press release like over on PRNewswire, but something like what we did over on Channel 9 where you could say ‘Microsoft sucks’ right underneath one of my videos.”

Breaking down social media
The above quote, taken from is one man’s, Scoble’s, take on “New Media” or “Social Media.” Scoble, a proclaimed American blogger and technical evangelist, breaks it down as such:

1. The media above can’t be changed.
2. You can interact with it.
3. You can get some sense of the popularity of material in real time.
4. With the “new media” you can look at archives and see all posts.
5. Here on blogs you can mix media.
6. Here on blogs you don’t need to convince a committee to publish.
7. The new media is infinite.
8. The new media is syndicatable and linkable and easily reused.
9. The new media can be mashed up with data from other services.

Therefore, social media is incredibly exciting and rewarding – users can directly interact. This is not something scary. This means businesses/producers have the advantages of (according to a presentation by Platform Online Magazine to Capstone Agency, 2008):

—Gathering a large scope of information from users
—Gauging perception and popularity
—Correcting misconceptions
—Interacting with customers and other publics
—Reaching priority publics otherwise not readily reachable

In fact, many companies have already realized this and begun to establish themselves as the vanguards of the business world: Marvel, Nike, Edelman and Apple, to name a few.

However, none of this makes much sense without at least a vague technical understanding of the tools of the social media trade.

Social media tools enable the following online activities, and can be browser, desktop or mobile based (according to a presentation by Platform Online Magazine to Capstone Agency, 2008):

—Social Networking
—Social Bookmarking
—Social Notification
—Social Event & Planning
—Social Communication
—Social Gaming

Brand names & social media to trust
Now that social media (SM) has been generally defined, any reasonable PR practitioner (or general user for that matter) may be thinking “how in the world do I sort this all out?” It’s simple: social media is made with you — the user and producer — in mind. So simply pick the social media tools that suit your needs and the needs of your publics. In order to do this, start by:

—Determining your purpose in using social media.
—Determining what type of social media serves this purpose. This can range from instant messenger communication to blog posts.
—Determine which of the platforms for this type of social media is used by the most of your consumers.
—Follow up by making it easy for general users or passersby to use and grasp.
—Start using the tools to process this social media. If other platforms suit you better, invest some time in finding a platform that allows you to use your interface and reach the platform used by the consumers (e.g., Digsby, the all-in-one instant messenger client, reaches AIM, Yahoo, GChat users and many more).
—Make and keep your content relevant and current. This involves assigning someone to keep things updated.

Suggested tools:
Firefox. This Web browser offers many add-ons that allow for quicker communication and streamlined consolidation of SM. For instance, the add-on FastDial allows the user to open a tab that shows them their often used sites and switch over. This feature enables a producer to quickly open all SM sites he uses and post new material within seconds of any worthy content being made available.
Twitter. A social utility using one-liner statuses to quickly network with likeminded individuals — for professional or personal reasons. Many celebrities, including Shaq and Britney Spears, utilize this service. One needs only to look at the number of users to see the impact potential. An article here, published by Dave Butler of the North Colorado Beer Examiner, even suggests that Twitter may replace the common pub for low-key small talk and in-person socialization.
TweetDeck. This is a desktop application to keep Twitter feeds simple and easy to reply to, as well as to visualize the stream of information coming in scan for relevant content. Aaron Wall of Seo suggests using this tool in his article “TweetDeck, Ordering the Chaos.”
Facebook. A social network where common users can interact and businesses can learn more about users on a personal level.
Reddit. A social news site, where users can submit links to news they feel are important, then push the added links up or down in importance based on other submitted links.
Digg. Similar to Reddit, but for a different brand of users who desire a more pleasing interface.
Google. Google as a brand has launched many applications/utilities/gadgets that have caught on in user appeal. Any of their products are thorough and use user information to improve productivity immediately. And it’s all free. Suggested services:Google Search EngineGmail, Google Calendar, Google Labs, Google Alerts,Blogger
WordPress. Much like Blogger offered by Google, this blog site allows users an easy interface with which to create their own listings, or a place for you to do so and allow users to comment on yours. The upside to WordPress is that it offers lots of visual themes with which to work.
YouTube. A social video posting site that allows any user anywhere to upload videos up to around 10 minutes in length. This is a necessity for posting podcasts or other viral videos as well as to check on which videos — good or bad — are being posted about your company.

Just a tool, not the purpose
However, all of these wonderful tools and toys are great for our profession — when kept to tools and toys. They are there for our use, but only insomuch as to create that vital relationship with the consumer, regardless of our service provided.

Tips to establish and sustain that relationship using SM:
—Allot time for SM use.
—Establish key SM users, with allotment for other employees to get on and blog/post/update as appropriate.
—Update constantly.
—Value fewer quality responses over more pointless responses, but do ensure that the max amount of users are knowledgeable and subscribed to your site/SM/software.

Additional tips can be found here: “Tracking a SM Expert“.

In closing, social/new media and its relevance to PR can best be summed up as Pepper has summed it up for his professional use:

“One of the key things about SM is that it keeps you honest as a PR person – it keeps you engaged, it keeps you thinking about the customer, as well as the corporation. While many people like to talk about PR as dead, or PR as changing, social media is forcing PR people to think beyond press/media relations and go back to the public conversation.”

Sites to Consider & References:
Jeremy Pepper

Damien Basile
Perry Belcher
Christy Hammond
Rich Becker
Shannon Paul
Mack Collier


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