Posted by: blackvector | April 7, 2009

Social Media is a Buzz Word

I have been in the field of Public Affairs for 20 years and in that time I have seen several changes to processes and methods, yet I remain to see one thing constant:  the job of PA/PR firms is to communicate.

Lately I have seen many Social Media Experts on Twitter and FaceBook and other sites touting the value of SM. Well, it still comes down to communicating to me. Several of our offices have asked me if they should create a Chief of Social Media position, to which I say, no. Social media should be incorporated into existing processes in PA/PR offices. I see these sites as a tool, not the means to an end. Creating a Chief of Social Media in an office is a redundancy since, for example, the person ends up doing the same thing the Chief of media is doing, just using a different method – sending out news releases or talking with media. I see great examples of people incorporating SM into their processes ever y day. For example on Twitter @LindyKyzer is a PA specialists with the US Army that uses Twitter to send out information about the Army, a sort of virtual press desk officer. She does not use Twitter to talk about how the Army can use SM like I see others do.

A recent post on Wisebread.Com called 7 Ways to Spot A Social Media Snake Oil Salesman got my attention. It has some great points and unfortunately there are a lot of people I have seen that meet these criteria. I liken it to the Strategic Communication experts or the Influence Operation experts or the Desktop Publishing experts or the Digital Camera experts and so on.  Each new phase of PA/PR had experts selling us on paying them for advice, yet few could deliver on the actual expectation: increased communication and outreach.

David Meerman Scott is maybe one of the best presenters I have seen discuss how PA and PR firms need to incorporate SM into their processes. His book The New Rules of Marketing and PR is certainly a must read for anyone in this profession. His latest book, World Wide Rave gets at the heart of the argument here. Companies do not need to hire SM Snake Oil salespeople or expensive firms to market their product, they simply need to integrate SM into their existing PA/PR offices and realize that their own employees are the best way to create what he calls a World Wide Rave about the organization, product, service or issue.

Every new process has an “expert” but I would argue the experts are those in the industry who can take the shiny new tool and incorporate it into existing processes to maximize the effect: communication and as David Meerman Scott says, create a World Wide Rave about their organization, product or issue.

What do you think? Maybe I am a SM Snakeoil salesman, but then again, I am not selling you this concept or asking you to buy into it, I am simply asking you to; listen – talk – transform, how we do the business of communication. One thing is for sure, it is changing whether we want it to or not and we need to hop on that train for the long ride.



  1. Good blog. Communication is the core and SM is a tool, just like a phone, computer, television camera, digital SLR camera, pad, pen, paper, and that oh so vital communication tool — people. Integrating SM into comm strategy with a specifi effect in mind is key — it’s about just doing it. Otherwise we’ll end up spinning our wheels and wasting our time on worth-less (sic) blather — think announcing intramural softball scores for base X via SM as the blather (not being done, but it’s an example). Guess it’s time to dust off the Joint Course professional journal research skills and see what the egg heads are saying about SM’s role/value in our society, too. I’m on the train, just want to make sure all the cars are hooked up :O)

  2. Great post. A couple thoughts:

    1. This is absolutely true. Gone are the days when tech-savvy PR firms could include “blogger outreach” or “Facebookering” as unique offerings (apart from traditional media activities) to clients. Likewise, it’s unnecessary — and perhaps even counterproductive — to create an entirely new staff position to handle day-to-day SM exclusively.

    2. Altho SM is becoming a part of our collective vernacular, it’s important not to underestimate the investment of time to get smart on the issue: i would assert that “[companies] simply need to integrate SM into their existing PA/PR offices” is much easier blogged than accomplished!

  3. On the mark again Mr Black. We do not need a director of Social Media, New Media, ???? Media. We have that. Nor do wereally need to go out and get experts. We already have them. They are the Airmen in our ranks that have grown up with the, email, internet, blogging, MySpace, Facebook, etc. Like any good business we have to manage our experts and give them the direction we want them to take, with realistic expectations in regards to the results we desire. We need to provide the appropriate guidelines. We need to be willing to accept that some of our “sales force” will come up with unique and ingenious ways to expand the product, and we need to provide them an avenue to bring those ideas back to the table so that we can all reap the rewards.

  4. Transformation in any organization or platform is never easy, even in career fields like PR where it is constantly happening. However, relevance relies on the ability to adapt in a constantly changing environment. In the business of communicating – one needs to communicate the way the audience does – not how one wants to communicate. It all comes down to trial and error – experimenting with it. We can call social media a buzz word or whatever – but
    right now it’s working and growing and its one train one train communicators don’t want to miss. Bear in mind while many will be quick to jump on the train – conversely there will be others quick to jump off or miss it all together. Those are the ones we need to be concerned about.

    There has to be a wiliness and openness to transformation to overcome the hurdles often in the way. As communicators we need to not only be able to understand the best methods of communication, but ensure our leadership understands why we use those methods. Maybe titles and formats change, but Mr. Black is right – the basic need to communicate remains intact. Don’t get caught up in the semantics within it. Once clearly on board I think it’s important to help others get on, too. Right now some people or “some experts” “tout” social media because not everyone grasps the value of these tools and some who do are genuinely trying to help others do just that. To be fair though what works for some won’t necessarily work for others even if properly engaged. But you won’t know unless you’re willing AND able to try. Speaking
    of – lacking the capability to utilize these tools from certain workforces shouldn’t be the argument why one doesn’t – we all know there are ways around the system.

    Social Media encompasses the tools du jour in communication – but does it have mainstream power for the long haul? It will be pitted against the same Darwinian fate as the rest of our PR methods and some of these apparatus’
    will stand out – and some won’t. However, there’s so much flexibility within these tools – so what works and doesn’t depends on understanding, utilization and need for them.

  5. Social media holds the potential to facilitate 2-way communication with the American public — but will the Air Force ever use it that way? Will we devote resources (people+technology) to establishing and maintaining on-line social relationships with the public or will we simply continue the generations-old practice of issuing one-way statements?

    I submit that our people are our best spokespersons and will continue to be so through their own social media. The Air Force needs to reach out to its people first and so equip them to speak for the Service around the firewalls.

    I worry there is a rush to make social media a “program” or “initiative.” There can’t be a social media “program” or “initiative” that directly supports Air Force communication efforts unless the Air Force commits resources to doing it right; which means increased manning or cutting back other programs — some which have been around since the Nixon Administration and deserve a hard look.

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