Caution: Social Media May Be Closer Than They Appear

I’ve just finished attending Day 1 of the PRSA International Conference in San Diego.

Arianna Huffington.jpg Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, was the Sunday keynote speaker.

Katie D. Paine, CEO of KDPaine & Partners, discussed Social Media Measurement: Establishing ROI.

And Peter Himler, founder and principal of Flatiron Communications, Rick Clancy, former senior vice president of corporate communication at Sony Electronics, Jessica Smith, Vice President of Fleishman-Hillard, Rob Key, founder and CEO of Converseon, and Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, participated on a panel entitled, “Looking Ahead: The Nexus of Social Media and Public Relations.”

If PR people seem to be very interested in social media, they are. But they aren’t alone. Search engine optimizers have been interested in social media for five years. And customer relations management is interested in social media, too.

Now, blogs started taking off in 2003. Facebook was launched in 2004. YouTube was launched in 2005. And Twitter was launched in 2006.

So, maybe we should cut many PR people some slack for waiting until 2009 to get their arms around social media. But life is unfair — and PR people who waited until now will find themselves saying, “Hey, that’s my job,” to other people in other departments who didn’t wait to get started.

Now, PR people bring a lot of relevant skills to the social media table, but so do SEOs and customer relations people. All this will generate some interesting discussions when it comes time to launch a company’s first social media campaign.

I remember similar discussions in the mid-1990s, when I tried to make the case at my old employer that the corporate communications department should be responsible for creating the company’s first website. I lost that argument — and the IT department was put in charge of creating a new way to interact with “the public” online. The result was a website that wasn’t user friendly — and it used a content management system that wasn’t search engine friendly, either.

So, we face another one of those pivotal moments when PR people will be asked why social media is important, how social media works, and which social media to use.

They need to be read with answers now, not next year. Anyone who looks at social media through the passenger side mirror needs to be cautioned: Social media may be closer than they appear.

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