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PR in the Face of Web 2.0 and Social Media – Part II

PR Stereotype
PR Stereotype

In Part I, I stated that all things 2 dot oh were now the cattle call heard round the world for marketers to update their service menu, increase prices, and start offering a brand new, shiny set of new media services – most at the expense of the companies they represent.

With Web 2.0 attracting mainstream attention, PR 2.0 (and everything 2.0) has become the holy grail. Suddenly almost every marketer now offers new media services trying to cash in on PR two dot oh, social media, and even PR 3.0 (bleh) – when in fact, they are further contributing to the perception of why PR, in general, just doesn’t get it.

The game is changing and it’s survival of not only the fittest, but the most capable. PR in the era of social media requires a fusion of traditional PR, Internet marketing, HTML, and the ability to listen and engage in conversations – without speaking in messaging. And, contrary to popular belief, PR is not a commodity – but bad PR is available anywhere and everywhere.

Again, PR 2.0 is not because of Web 2.0. It is not about simple blogger relations. Nor is it about corporate blogging, wikis and communities. These, my friends, are simply the tools we use, and tools change – while people, more often than not, remain the same.

The concept of PR 2.0 as I defined it, is the evolution of industry practices forced by the shift, and the process, of influence in a social economy that has created a new layer of influencers. I’m not a proponent of labels, but for the time being, it is different and requires explanation.

New PR is a milestone that documents the shift of PR from a broadcast machine to community participation. It is a chance to not only work with traditional journalists, but also engage directly with a new set of accidental influencers. It is also our ability (and opportunity) to talk with customers directly so they can, in turn, spark additional conversations. This is the new live Web (as coined by Doc Searls).

It is no longer about audiences. It is now about people (as so eloquently introduced by Jay Rosen). And, most notably, it’s not about technology. This time it’s about sociology and the interaction with people. Whereas content was king in Web 1.0, conversations are now king – as is community and the participation therein.

Let’s just take out the BS and hype, and let’s start understanding what it is we represent and why it matters to those we’re hoping to reach. And, while we’re at it, let’s also take some time to read the publications and blogs that reach our customers. This is about an understanding of markets, the needs of people, and how to reach them.

This is PR for the mass market as well as the people that comprise the long tail – reaching out the disparate markets that collectively represent your customer base. And no steps can be taken, without first listening.

It’s the difference between sending press releases and engaging with communities.

It’s the difference between spin and relevance.

It’s also the difference between speaking in messages versus genuine conversations.

At the end of the day, PR can not exist if we don’t carry the confidence of those who trust us with the brand of the company we represent.

This was the foundation for the panel which I moderated recently at the Web 2.0 Expo.

PR, regardless of revision numbers, is evolving, and in order to survive, we have a lot of learning and listening ahead of us. And, we also have quite a bit of PR for the PR to embrace, as it was obvious that CEOs, investors, and business leaders at the event felt less than confident that PR actually brought value to the table.

I opened up the session with a series of questions.

I first asked how many PR people were in the audience. I wasn’t surprised to see about 1/2 raise their hands.

I then asked how many company representatives, developers or founders were in attendance. It seemed that they represented the other half.

So the next natural question was how many people felt that PR brings value to the table…of course the PR side raised their hands.

The next question was how many attendees actually believe that PR people should? It was, of course, tipped in the direction of 2.0 company representatives.

The last question was how many 2.0 leaders believed that PR could actually “get it?” You could hear crickets.

With that, I thought it would be a good idea to provide some perspective for the panel, so that we could help narrow the gap between the existing perception of company leaders and the PR’s misperception of its true standing. social media.

Web 2.0 has created a new channel of online influencers – forcing an evolution in the practice of PR – dubbed PR 2.0.

I would say the Web in general forced this, 2.0 is only its evolution.

PR 2.0, like everything 2.0, is the new buzz word, but does that make it legitimate?

Traditional PR is not PR 2.0.

It’s the difference between sending press releases and engaging with communities and storytelling vs. evangelism

Is PR 2.0 dead or does it represent a new, more effective platform and methodology for successful PR in a new tech/social economy?

As evil (or lame) as PR is perceived to be, it (meaning good PR) actually works regardless of the rev number. However, you first have to participate as a person – not as a marketer – in order to truly understands what it takes to engage today.

Panelists included:

Tom Biro, Title, Sr. Director, New Media Strategies, MWW Group

Pepper, Director, Social Media Strategist, Weber Shandwick Worldwide.

Michael Pranikoff is the Director of Emerging Media for PR Newswire.

Donna Sokolsky, Co-founder, Spark PR.

What is PR 2.0 and What’s the Difference Between Traditional PR and New PR?

Tom: Essentially it’s working with a larger community than just the traditional media we’re used to working with, down to the individual members of any online community. It’s also about treating all media less like a place for our news to be published because we want it to be and more about all media being interested parties in what our clients have to offer.

Michael: PR 2.0 is the next evolution of PR. Today it isn’t just about what the media is reporting, but it’s about all of the encompassing conversations. PR 2.0 is still very much like traditional PR, it’s just that there are new tools and practices that can help PR people reach and be a part of new audiences and new conversations. It’s more participatory than ever before.

Jeremy: PR 2.0 is the rebranding of PR to showcase the industry’s understanding of social media. The paradigm shift – and it is a paradigm shift, in the way that it is revolutionizing PR – is that people PR is being forced to go back to its past, and be part of the conversation beyond media (the P in PR is public). It means being less a goal-keeper, and more a bridge maker to a bunch of new and old audiences.

Donna: In the 2.0 era, if everyone is a self-publisher then they are an influencer. And by definition, if they’re an influencer, then to some degree they’re a PR person. Today anyone is able to promote or influence their communities so PR 2.0 is about publicity becoming more prominent, immediate and dispersed. The difference is that control has shifted from corporations to consumers. Companies can’t hide from their issues anymore – they are forced to lean into the conversation and communicate with their customers.

Is PR 2.0 Dead?

Tom: Plenty still alive, but I’m not sure if we’re not just in the infancy stage of the “gets it” vs. the “doesn’t get it” groups as far as agencies go.

Michael: Definitely still alive – and more important than ever before.

Jeremy: Still alive. PR always adapts to new technologies and new thinking. It may be slow on the uptake, but it will adapt.

Donna: PR is still alive but it needs to morph. PR 2.0 is less about being ‘corporate’ and more about being real. In the old days, a few folks acted as the gatekeeper to a company’s brand and were able to control how the media portrayed them. Today, there’s less control and more to manage. I think that presents a huge opportunity and a learning curve for PR. Also increasingly, people want to be influenced by people just like them, so PR firms will have to come up with ways to deliver the message from the people themselves. Firefox is an example of a company that did an amazing job engaging the community to spread Firefox.

Does traditional media matter to Web 2.0?

Tom: Absolutely. Take a look at what Web 2.0 communities and individuals are still linking to and writing about – traditional media, for a significant amount of their content development and building. TechMeme is probably a prime example of how valuable traditional media is to those who make their bones in the Web 2.0 world.

Michael: Traditional media is still the norm with the vast amount of the country. There are so many blogs today, but still most of them are very niche. Traditional media still controls much of the influence and credibility with the majority of the public.

Jeremy: It does – even though Web 2.0 does not realize it. The blog reading audience is growing, but the mainstream media audience is still huge and has influence on the economy. The Web 2.0 companies that ignore traditional media do to their detriment, and likely, their death.

Donna: I think Web 2.0 recognizes that traditional media is important. Many traditional brands like The Economist include blogs and podcasts already. They are becoming part of the fiber. Also if you saw Technorati’s keynote yesterday, predominantly the top online news sites are the traditional media. A lot of Web 2 companies are great about promoting themselves on new media, but few companies are great at both.

How Does Traditional PR Add Value in a the Web 2.0 World?

Tom: Traditional PR can offer access and other things previously only offered to “big media,” and can add the most value by staying out of where it doesn’t belong, and becoming *part* of the community rather than trying to co-opt the community.

Michael: It’s all about the content and the conversation. PR professionals can now take the practices and tools that they’ve been using for a long time and adapt them to new conversations with new audiences. It’s not re-inventing the wheel, it’s building upon the foundation that’s already been set….with possibly some new nuances.

Jeremy: Through relationships that Web 2.0 world is not likely to have. PR can help move companies into new conversations, mainstream conversations.

Donna: PR is on the front lines figuring out the new rules and taking risks. There are more mediums to get your message to and we’re helping a lot of companies innovate with their communications. But fundamentally on the flip side traditional PR is still used every day. We still analyze how to enter a market and at what decibel; decide what will resonate and what won’t. We do the same things but have layered new tactics on top of what we were already doing.

There was a CEO of a well known Web 2.0 startup who was quoted, “I would rather have a blog post about my company in Scoble’s blog than an article in the WSJ by Mossberg.”

What do you think about this position?

Tom: It all depends. If that company were only concerned about getting 20-somethings to visit a site and sign up for something, then Mossberg probably isn’t the highest target for you to aim at. If you’re trying to get VC funding or be bought, then that’s a different story. At the same time, Mossberg reaches a lot more of what could be considered a “mass” audience that isn’t necessarily in a top percentage of readers in any one group – Robert Scoble doesn’t necessarily have mass appeal with the general population, but there are other bloggers/podcasters who might replace him in that way.

Michael: Well, the CEO doesn’t understand PR fully. That’s why a company has a PR person and a CFO – different people have different knowledge and different skills. Scoble is a great hit, but Mossberg has a greater readership.

Jeremy: And, where is his company now? And, he sure did pitch his version 2 of the software to mainstream press, instead of just concentrating on bloggers. ‘Nuff Said.

Donna: It really depends on the company. We have clients like Moo cards who garner more sales from a blog writeup than a traditional media story. But conversely, it’s foolish to underestimate the power that Walt Mossberg wields. A positive review can bring even the hardiest website down and a negative one can bring a company to its knees.

There are Social Networks, Blogs, How Does Social Media Change the Landscape?

Tom: If anything, it forces everyone to be more vigilant in keeping track of what’s being said about your brand, products, or executives. You can’t respond to everything, and not everything is a crisis, but there’s now an opportunity to see the story “form” whereas a few years ago that “buzz” was only generated by local, regional or national media. Now, one person could theoretically push a button that creates an issue for your company.

Michael: The more avenues that a PR professional has to reach audiences the better. All of these new mediums add to the importance of the PR person to use all of their skills to reach multiple audiences. If anything, PR 2.0 is not for the lazy.

Jeremy: It changes it by showcasing new audiences, and a new way to reach the audiences. At the end of the day, PR is supposed to be about reaching the public. This only helps us – if it is done smart.

Donna: A bunch of ways and they all empower and benefit consumers.

First: The conversation is now interactive and more transparent – there’s nowhere to hide and everyone is able to comment on it.

Second: We have to move at the speed of blogs and that means crystallizing and executing a strategy with oftentimes only a few hours notice. Embargoes are painful because secrets have become inefficient.

Third: Social media is a democratization of sorts which means PR needs to adapt and innovate or die. Dave Sifry of Technorati mentioned that many of the top blogs this year weren’t on the list last year. It’s the same for PR – social media is weeding out the bad PR.

Does SEO Matter in PR?

Tom: SEO is obviously important to PR 2.0, as everyone is concerned about it for their press releases, etc. That being said, it’s about being smart with SEO tactics, not gaming the system.

Michael: SEO is a tool – but it’s not the end all be all. It definitely has a role in public relations, but it’s just one skill in the toolbox.

Jeremy: Social Media does have an impact on SEO, but SEO is a bigger part of the marketing and communication mix.

Donna: SEO is driven largely by the number and nature of stories about a company so PR and social media does help here.

How Do you Measure / Quantify / Justify the Overall Impact?

Tom: There are lots of ways to measure overall impact of social media. Tonality, volume, links. What we have to go away from is the “old way” of looking purely at ad value or readership. In a world where Google and Technorati can put a random blogger just as high as a so-called “A-list” blogger, who’s to say what a good item on your client is, or more valuable item anymore?

Michael: That’s a good question. Measurement is a difficult thing to do, but there are a lot of good tools that can help people do that – and depending on how much time someone has to do the research, there are many free tools to help them. It’s all about getting your information out there and trying to track and understand the conversation that you’ve hopefully begun. I agree with Jeremy that you have to be a part of the conversation.

Jeremy: That is the golden ticket, but how do you measure word-of-mouth campaigns? It comes down to taking current measurement tools, and expanding. The best clients, though, understand the need to be part of the conversation(s).

Donna: We always try to measure our impact on our clients’ business objectives. But I also agree with Jeremy that the real holy grail for marketers now is about owning the conversation and attaching your brand to it. We have metrics to measure page views, impressions and blog traffic but these are new marketing practices that are really important to Web 2 companies and it will be interesting to see how they evolve. I thought it was fascinating that YouTube overtook Yahoo and Google in six weeks – they owned the conversation even though VideoEgg, Grouper and others were already out there.

Is the Press Release Dead?

Tom: Absolutely not. It might be evolving a bit and be used a little differently depending on your company, but it’s not dead.

Michael: No, but then again, I am a little biased there. The press release is a living document that is adapting to a new age and new technology. It’s been adapting for the last 20 years, and it will continue to happen. There is an need for companies to put information out and the press release is one of the best secure, credible, and most adaptable way to do that.

Jeremy: No. The press release hits a different audience that will always be interested. It can be the investing community, the smaller newspapers, the various Web sites that are subscribers and use the wires to get basic information.

Donna: I can’t wait until it is. Press releases have devolved into legal documents. We have some clients that refuse to issue press releases but when it’s time to fill their Dun & Bradstreet file, there’s no other way to chronicle a company’s major milestones. They are largely unnatural and today’s reporters need to see pitches and news on one screen of their Blackberry. As a culture we have shorter attention spans so we’re modifying the way we get our messages out.

Thanks to Donna, Jeremy, Tom and Michael for contributing to the evolution.

To view the Word version of this post, click here (Courtesy of ThinkFree Docs)

3 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “PR in the Face of Web 2.0 and Social Media – Part II”

  1. Ryan Clark Holiday says:

    This ought to be plastered on the wall of every media company:

    “Let’s just take out the BS and hype, and let’s start understanding what it is we represent and why it matters to those we’re hoping to reach. And, while we’re at it, let’s also take some time to read the publications and blogs that reach our customers. This is about an understanding of markets, the needs of people, and how to reach them. “

    Seriously. It seems so common sense, but no one is saying it, let along doing it.

    Enjoy the book, btw.

  2. Leslea says:

    Thank you, I’ll be linking to this one!

  3. mesmerized says:


    The post was truly enlightening. Im have just finished my graduation in Media, and have joined a web2.0 consulting firm, in their PR department. Hence this post truly gave some insights into PR.

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