Social media is not "the end of the PR world as we know it"

Sally Falkow reports some indicators from a recent presentation by Katie Paine to illustrate that the world of PR “is changing forever.”  I can see how these are pointers to a changing world – but believe these indicate a need for more “traditional” PR skills.  Let’s consider the “indicators” in more detail:

People are spending more time on Facebook than email: This may apply to some people – but that does not make Facebook an appropriate means of communication for PR practitioners.  Unless journalists are willing for you to engage in “business” discussions, or you have an existing relationship, they won’t welcome your “friendship”.  Neither will relevant groups necessarily accept PR in “the conversation”.  Starting groups for PR purposes needs care – it can be done – as the showed, but it isn’t an easy option.  Conclusion: social networking  requires the same people skills that have always been the hallmark of good PR.

Deadlines don’t exist anymore – it’s a 24 hour news cycle.  This doesn’t mean there are no deadlines – just that responses are expected from PR practitioners ever more promptly.  Again, good PR practitioners have always recognised the need for responding quickly.

You don’t need the media to get your messages out.  Maybe not, but without mediators (agency), will anyone hear the message?  Of course PR practitioners need to enable people to “pull” our messages directly – but we still need to “push”, including using relevant mediated channels if we are to be heard. 

It’s possible to create your own podcast or video for just a few hundred dollars and reach more people than you would with mainstream media.  Possible, yes – but realistically, it is more likely that you will reach more people with a phone-in on a local radio show on a Wednesday morning than you will get to download most podcasts or videos – especially if the production quality is poor.

Companies like P & G are learning to let go control and co create marketing material with customers – isn’t this simply the latest marketing approach to take advantage of “user generated content”?  Companies have always used market research to get customer feedback, even on marketing material (haven’t you heard of advertising testing?)  It may now be done more publicly, but they know most of what is produced by customers is likely to be rubbish.  No-one is letting go of control here – least of all those with brands as valuable to the bottom line as P&G.

People believe what’s in Wikipedia and it gets page one position in Google for practically any search term – yes, Wikipedia may be an important channel for organisations – and PR practitioners should ensure accuracy in any relevant entries.  But the public are also increasingly aware that Wikipedia isn’t perfect and also that some PR practitioners have sought to manipulate entries. 

Google has replaced dictionaries, the thesaurus, encylopedias and yellow pages – it’s become much more than a search tool – like with Wikipedia, this just means people have an easy access to information.  Search engine optimisation is important, but ensuring good content is readily available is another classic PR skill.

Measurement is easy – in a digital wolrd you (sic) can track most anything.  However, intelligence remains rare.  Numbers and data doesn’t equal insight – which is what PR practitioners most require.  I believe online offers huge opportunities for increased understanding, but a lot of so called “measurement” is unreliable and doesn’t necessarily improve or inform practice.  Let’s not confuse data with effective measurement.

Size no longer matters – it’s who you reach, not how many.  Agreed, but hasn’t that always been the case?  PR practitioners haven’t always practised “spam” – when there were real costs involved in reaching people (time and postage for example), then a more informed, focused, and intelligent approach was standard in the PR profession.

Screaming at your audience no longer works.  You have to start listening. Screaming at someone has never worked – true PR professionals have always listened to the public, the media and understood the need to engage rather than talk at others.

Effective PR communications has never been about taking a mass media, one way approach.  Sally claims that “Markets are conversations. The new media landscape is littered with campaigns that used old PR and marketing methods and failed.”

Unless we recognise the same core skills that have always underpinned effective practice are as required today as ever, the new media landscape will continue to be littered with new PR and marketing methods that fail. 

Let’s remember that markets involve transactional and communal exchange – in the “old PR and marketing” world, this always has involved conversations. 

[Thanks to Judy Gombita for the link]


  1. Sally Falkow says:

    I think what I wrote has been somewhat misunderstood. Katie’s point was that these indicators show that our world is changing. When you find that you are spending more time on Facebook than you do on your email , something has indeed changed.

    I have always been a proponent of using basic PR skills in the new media. We need to apply the skills we use talking to people every day.

    Some PR practitioners have not invested the time and effort to make one on one relationships with journalists – they do ‘spam’ (for want of a better word) the media with their press releases. Witness the blog post by Wired’s editor saying he has blocked email addresses of some PR folk.

    I do believe markets are now conversations. And this online conversaiton has changed the way PR reaches and interactis with people.

    Some campaigns in this sphere have failed because they still used the one to many approach and the desire to control the message rather than a one to one conversational and collaborative approach.

  2. Bill Sledzik says:


    This is your second post in less than a week that has me saying, “I wish I’d written that.” (The other was at PRC:

    Many of the ideas that Sally writes in her post, and Katie in her presentation, apply regardless of which tools of communication we use. Social media have certainly enabled us to do PR in different ways, but the outcomes we seek — improved relationships to enhance organization success — certainly pre-date the Web.

    I intend no disrespect to Sally, whom I don’t know, or to Katie, who I know to be a strategic communicator focused on ROI. But each of the points deserves critical examination. Thanks for offering it.

  3. Jenn Mattern says:


    A lot of this is what I’ve been saying all along, only to have people look at me like I’m utterly insane. It’s clear that many of those who have jumped on the social media bandwagon truly don’t understand the core principles of PR, or they’d have realized that it’s a tool with PR benefits… not the death of PR, media relations, or whatever hoo-ha they’re spewing this week.

    I actually tacked the whole “death of media relations” garbage (due to social media) on a client’s blog not long ago… it’s maddening to see the same claims, but at least refreshing to see someone with some real sense tackling it, so thanks for that. 🙂

    I especially loved your point about measurement. Intelligence in this area is exceptionally rare, as even the big wigs like Edelman proved with the whole social media index joke. PR practitioners in general don’t understand a heck of a lot about these shiny new toys they’re playing with on the Web; nor how pretty much all of them are manipulated to no end by the far more Web/tech-savvy webmaster / IM groups.

  4. Sally – my apologies if I misunderstood your post in any way. The main problem with online is the transfer of the poor offline skills rather than understanding the opportunity to make the most of the potential of new media. I wasn’t disagreeing that markets are conversations – in fact, I believe they have always been so, and the most successful work will recognise the human to human aspects.

    Bill – thanks for your thoughts. It is always good to hear when a post reflects what someone else (especially someone I respect) is thinking. I don’t mean any disrepect either to Sally or Katie – but as you say, it is always helpful to critique, particularly in the case of online media, which can seem so exciting that we forget the essential principles are often unchanged.

  5. Andrew says:

    Heather – thanks for the post and the comments. Judy sent me!

    There’s no doubt things are changing in IT PR but things were always a little tense between journalists and PROs there to begin with. I still have my treasured copy of “care and feeding of the press” from around 1999 and use it to exemplify the arrogance of journalists and the ineptness of PR people in equal measure.
    There is still a whole world of trade, regional and consumer press that still has to be dealt with. The key, as you point out, is getting to know your audience. I am dabbling with social media releases because in general they make a lot of sense when faced with the inability of the wires to send anything than plain text. But a phone call still works wonders…

  6. Greg Smith says:

    Nice thread happening here. I immediately reacted when I saw “traditional media not necessary”. This is simply not possible. As usual, the key to good PR is to use the right technique for each situation. I also agree with the comments about measurement. Yes, it’s easy to count hits, views, visits. This is similar to just measuring column centimetres of publicity. But what action has been taken? Did the blog cause a change in behaviour or attitudes?

  7. dphillips4363 says:

    from 30,000 ft, your proposition is sound. At ground level, there are some problems. At ground level, convincing a marketing manager, finance direct, product manager or HR person that all they do and say is dappled sunshine on the scudding, morphing and changing cloudscape of social groups is not easy. Mostly they plough the furrow as they always have. They are not aware that they can, if they choose, fly among the clouds. Most just put up an umbrella in case it rains.

    I have run two experiments in two successive years with blogs to see how quickly and how much blog posts change the agenda in the bloggershere. On both occasions, the blogs have synthesised news relying on RSS feeds from diverse but subject related web sites, blogs and other media. In a very short time it is quite noticeable how rapidly the agenda is changed.

    I am now experimenting with Twitter as part of this agenda changing process and its amazing how fast it spreads the word about blogs and news all affecting web traffic.

    Last year it took 6 weeks to be in a position to see editorial change in print media.

    So the PR skills of influencing the media agenda by being an authority on a subject remains but the capabilities to effect change are different – and are not counted in hits but in the atmosphere in which the organisation ploughs it furrow.

  8. Judy Gombita says:

    Did you see Thomas Vander Wal’s new InfoClouds Solution image on Social Software Elements? The image seems to cover off a lot of these famous “conversations,” whether they be old-school PR traditional means or newfangled social media. 😉

    And I have to say that Sally was a good sport about her blog post being “highlighted” by Heather. Readers of Greenbanana may be interested in downloading the inaugural issue (this one is free) of The Proactive Report: Anticipating PR Trends Online (which Sally was kind enough to share with me). More information can be found here.

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