There is no doubt that the public relations agency needs to develop its skill-set to help clients meet the challenge of social media. But we also need to accept that the changing media landscape has had a fundamental impact on client/agency relationships. With traditional, or even ‘tradigital’ PR, the PR agency typically creates all the written content and holds the majority of the relationships with the media on their clients’ behalf. So much so, that giving a client a full media list complete with names and contact details would be considered to be giving away our ‘IP’.
So, how does social media change this?
Well, for a start, by definition it breaks down the old barriers between a brand and its audiences. If you want to encourage customers or prospects to engage with your brand via Facebook or Twitter or any other online channel, then you need to be prepared to interact with your audience directly. The traditional PR approach of broadcasting content does not typically encourage engagement with anyone outside the media, but social media does. And your audience wants to communicate directly with the people within the brand, not a PR agency.
Where do agencies fit into this two-way conversation?
Well our traditional communications expertise means we are perfectly placed to advise clients on their social media strategy – but, unless there is a team of social media evangelists in-house – it is never going to take off.
So PR agencies – and their clients – must adapt. Yes, we can and do run Twitter accounts for our clients. And we believe there are certain scenarios where this is perfectly OK. But ultimately we believe it is our responsibility to equip clients with the training, skills and confidence to help them find an authentic voice and engage in the conversation themselves over time. Are we doing ourselves out of a job then?
Well, in some ways yes. But it is time to seize the bull by the horns and undertake a frank assessment of the value we can offer. As PR ‘consultants’ we should use our understanding of the social media landscape to help educate our clients and help them take a strategic approach to these new online channels. But it will still be in our remit to furnish them with content and ideas to feed their social media platforms and support PR and marketing campaigns, while maximising the return on their social media investment.
We understand that this isn’t going to happen overnight, and there will always be a need for agencies to provide the manpower to run campaigns when internal resources aren’t available. But on the whole, we think it’s better that we guide you through the social media maze and assist you in building relationships directly with your audiences, rather than continue to act as another wall between you and your customers.