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Is Social Media Changing Public Relations?

It seems as if all the interviews I've been doing with journalists lately have been about the impact of Social Media on public relations. The latest was in FORUM, the quarterly newspaper of the Public Relations Student Society of America. Chris Atwood interviewed me for the story, "Web 2 point 0."
 
For the record, I consider Social Media -- the rise of online resources that enable and encourage the "audience" to contribute to the exchange of information -- to be a powerful trend for communicators. But I do not think these new tools fundamentally change the underpinnings of public relations.
 
When I assess a client's challenges and the role communications can play in helping achieve various business objectives, I try to keep an open mind regarding the spectrum of conceivable communications vehicles that can provide the greatest benefit within the client's budget. In the past, it was often a no-brainer that mainstream media would come into play. That was the most efficient way to reach a broad audience with a highly credible message.
 
Today, the mainstream media is still important -- especially if you are interested in reaching an older audience. But if you're interested in reaching a younger audience, the nightly news or newspapers no longer are a particularly effective method. In fact, The Daily Show, the Comedy Central fake news program, does a better job of reaching a young audience than traditional news programs.
 
This is why I have made it a point to become acquainted with the various new methods of reaching, engaging and exchanging information, known as Web 2.0 or Social Media. They can do a great job of reaching a younger audience in an intimate and meaningful way. Here is an excerpt of what was in the FORUM article:
Dan Keeney, president of Dallas-based communications firm, DPK Public Relations (www.dpkpr.com), said he agrees that the blogosphere is small, but said he does not feel it will ever be a large demographic, because not every single person has a point-of-view to articulate, and also because things such as e-mail, instant messaging and text messaging are more private way of communicating their messages to those who are important to them.
 
Keeney also said he believes Web 2.0 is more valuable as a listening tool, than as a tool to disseminate information. He said there are some "super bloggers," who are very serious about reporting and blogging, and they give a great indication of what is going on.
 
"I think the most valuable aspect of Web 2.0 technology is to use it as a listening tool, not as a dissemination tool," he said. "You can keep your finger on the pulse of trends, it's a very small population, but very useful."
The basics are to set up an RSS reader and subscribe to a few of the blogs that tend to write on subjects of interest to you. You can find these either by doing a Google Blog search or by searching Technorati.  Post comments with your point-of-view, but be sure to clearly disclose who you are and any interest you have (company you represent). Starting your own blog is simple and can be free. I don't recommend it unless you are willing to make a long-term commitment and realize that it will probably only be read by a small number of people. But with some promotion and great content, it can help position you as an industry thought leader.
 
Establishing a presence on Flickr the photo-sharing Web site, is simple. Other networking sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn can also help you connect with others who share your interests and concerns.
 
Start small and learn as you go. You'll find that like grassroots campaigns, Social Media requires a great deal of work to reach a small number of people. The idea from a public relations perspective is that it can help you reach the highly influential few, who then can amplify your messages to their sphere of influence.
 
Give it a shot.
Dan Keeney
(832) 467-2904
(214) 4432-7555
Author: Dan Keeney
Phone: (832) 467-2904
Fax: (214) 4432-7555
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Tags: media, , PR, public, relations, , social