Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Losing Control of the Question

Occasionally, I have the opportunity to speak to our local student PRSSA group. And the most often requested is about the dreaded job hunt. Whenever I am leading one of those sessions, I typically start by asking, “What is the Number One rule of public relations?” They always give me what I’m looking for, “Know your audience.”

There is a lot of talk in the PR blogosphere and in the podworld about the slow rate at which PR pros are adopting social media (blogs, podcasts, RSS, social networking, etc.). One of the biggest reasons I’ve heard recently in several podcasts I’ve listened to is fear of “losing control of the message.”

Larry Weber of W2 Group counters this by stating there are lots of ways in social media to have control and that those will increase. (Listen to the For Immediate Release podcast interview of Weber.)

I’ve always thought that the question of losing control is really a misplaced worry. Could it be the wrong question? The whole point of public relations is to build relationships with our publics (or audiences). And if our audiences are online, then we should be too. But it goes way beyond that. This new technology gives us a unique opportunity to dialog and work in collaboration directly with very specific publics. Isn’t that our business?

Public relations is not about control anyway. Influence, sure. But not control.

Larry Weber talked about now being the time for public relations to shape the direction of social media and how it affects our society. They stated that we messed up and let advertisers shape the World Wide Web that was supposed to be a community building medium. But social media is “made for us!”

Then Weber made a point about social media that is messing with my head a bit. He said, “It’s not a channel. You can’t think of it like news-pa-pers or tel-e-vi-sion or ra-di-o. It’s everything. So you’ve got to think that way before you start organizing.”

Know your audience. It means being where they are. It means listening without judging. And now, more than ever, it means creating something new together. Relax. It's all cool.

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