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January 12, 2008
Do Not Fear Social Media

Social and consumer-generated media continues to be all the rage. Look at Time magazine’s 2006 Person of the Year. It’s you. And, me. And, the person in the office next to you.

Look at the interest in social media like word-of-mouth-marketing, blogs, discussion boards, virtual worlds like SecondLife, video sites like YouTube, microblogging like Twitter, and MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks. Everybody’s doing it, right?

Look at the mainstream media’s early reporting on blogs – Forbes’ “Attack of the Blogs” (Nov. 14, 2005) and the Wall Street Journal’s piece, “The Blog Mob,” (Dec. 20, 2006). And, look how they are all getting on board with their own blogs like the New York Times, ABC News and local media outlets like my local daily The Toledo (OH) Blade. (Though, BusinessWeek has been around for several years with its Blogspotting blog.) It can be pretty scary in the blogosphere and social media if you’re not already there. Or, even if you are already there.

While there are those who say social media will kill public relations because it gives more voice and power to consumers, that’s not true. Social media opens up more career opportunities for PR pros in online marketing because it’s about relationships. It’s how you work with people to understand their wants and preferences, and then supply them with the proper information and access to achieve your clients’ or your employer’s goals.

Working in social media requires a different mindset than in traditional media relations and other public relations and marketing activities. That is because you are generally dealing with every-day people – not professional reporters who are at work. Think of it like you are communicating with your neighbor.

Though social media requires a different approach, do not fear it: social media is right up our alley. While there are some ground rules already established – like transparency – much of it is still evolving. You’re never too late to join in and be involved.

The main reason for us not to fear social media is because we already practice many of the skills needed for it. By definition, public relations and other communications professionals should know how to deal with and relate to... different parts of society.

We know how to develop trusted relationships with a wide range of media contacts. We know how to work with the various personalities at clients or agencies we deal with every day. We work with company CEOs, VPs and directors of marketing. We work with customers, prospects and vendors in organizing events and gathering information. We develop campaigns designed to communicate effectively with niche markets.

We are jacks-of-all-trades and chameleons who can relate to and work with a variety of personalities and peoples of all walks of life.

So, why should bloggers, discussion board and social network members be any different?

They are not.

Like the other environments we work in, we have to learn the established grounds rules – like being transparent and upfront when contacting bloggers, knowing the background and preferences of our audiences – and adapting. We can do it because we have done it before. It’s like learning a new client’s market, or the demographics of our company’s new product. You just have to get started, and get a feel for the established rules.

Dive right in

But, there’s no way of learning if we don’t do it. So here’s what you can do:

We all don’t have to blog, but we should read and monitor blogs. If you’ve never done it before, take an hour every day or every couple of days and peruse some branding, PR and advertising blogs. Search for and regularly read blogs that are in your clients’ or company’s market.

Search for your clients’ or company’s name in the blogosphere. See what’s being said about them. Use Google’s Blog Search, Technorati, Globe of Blogs, or check out one of the growing number of social media-specific monitoring services like Techrigy or Radian6. Heck, even post a comment if you find a blog post of interest – just make sure you state who you really are – no anonymous comments please. For PR pros, that’s one of the establish ground rules.

Discussion boards and forums are the most under-appreciated communities in social media. Blogs get all the publicity, but you can find many valuable industry discussions and research occurring on boards. There’s practically a discussion board for every industry, topic and geography. Many metro areas have an active blogging and forums community. Some require registration to read the discussion threads, but many do not.

Join Twitter or a similar “microblogging” tool. I have found that Twitter is great for getting feedback from peers and learning about news and posts I might not typically read.

Explore del.icio.us, Digg, StumbleUpon or other social bookmarking tools and see what sites and pages others think are of interest.

Social media is all about interaction – communicating, sharing, rating, connecting. Your employer or clients’ customers are not standing outside your door. But, many – in some industries, most – of them are online talking and sharing information you need to know.

If you as a marketing and public relations professional are not involved in the emerging, evolving and growing communications vehicles for clients or employer, you are doing a disservice to them. And, some other agency or individual may fill the social media need for them. You don’t have to be heavily involved. But, do be aware. And, fear not. Social media is right up your alley. You’re a natural.

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Michael  Driehorst, president and founder of Diamond Communications, is a proven public relations professional who knows how to develop the right set of strategies and matching tactics to achieve communication objectives for the right target audience. After an early career as a newspaper journalist, Mike has worked in public relations and marketing communications since 1994. He has been active in social media marketing since 2005; read his blog.

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