Social Media Has Changed Everything You Thought You Knew About Public Relations, Or Has It?

Liz Bracken-Thompson
Liz Bracken-Thompson

Over the past two or three years, social media has completely transformed the world of public relations, marketing and advertising for businesses large and small. At least that’s the perception held by many business owners and managers. It’s also a notion that is reinforced daily by an army of social media experts ready to step in and provide assistance in this area for a fee.

There is no doubt these developments provide businesses with myriad opportunities. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, which started out as social experiments, have gone mainstream, and businesses can no longer ignore them. You can throw in LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr and blogs — but you’re still only scratching the surface.

Given how much the online landscape has changed in 36 months, it’s easy to get the feeling that the principles of public relations, marketing and advertising that have guided businesses for the past century have all become moot – but before leaping to conclusions about how much the world has changed, let’s take a moment to acknowledge how much things have remained the same.

First, What is Social Media? Quite simply, social media refers to the use of web-based and mobile technologies that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content. In other words, where traditional media was mostly a one-way flow of information, social media allows and encourages a dialogue between the participants.

Is this a big development? Of course! One could argue it’s bigger than big – enormous, even, with game-changing consequences.

Does it render decades of public relations, marketing and advertising principles obsolete? Hardly.

Social media is a collection of tools, some that will be here tomorrow and many that won’t. These tools will be used by savvy businesses and organizations to amplify their message, provide value to their audiences, and to build communities. Those who succeed will understand that the foundation to all public relations, marketing and communications is built on understanding the market, and creating or curating content that will be valued by the people in that market.

The fuel that drives all media — including social media — is content and relationships. For decades, successful companies have been devoting significant resources to the creation of content, and the development of networks — social media only makes this even more critically important.

Too many businesses make the mistake of thinking that the value of social media is derived primarily from the individual social media tools. Dazed by the array of social media platforms, too often the focus is on tricks aimed at padding follower numbers, and and on short-term strategies, rather than building communities of real value. The truth is that the real value will always come from the content that is shared on the individual platforms, and the people in your networks who consume, share and react to that content.

Too many businesses are under the mistaken belief that ‘traditional’ media is dead. Certainly there are  profound changes taking place, but the public will always seek authoritative sources from which to obtain the information upon which they rely. Whether that information comes from a printed newsapaper, a television station or a website — there will always be a place for trusted authorities, who will be turned to when the public wants information.

What social media provides is an opportunity to leverage the valuable content a business has, and to engage with audiences in real time. When the New York Times runs a complimentary feature story about a business, social media provides an opportunity to share that great content with customers, suppliers, supporters, employees and the world. Whether a business is ‘on’ social media is no longer an option — your business is being talked about on the social media whether you like it or not — the question is only if you want to be involved in the conversation.

The successful businesses of tomorrow will certainly be leveraging social media to build communities, engage with their customers, and establish networks that create new opportunities. They will also continue to employ marketing and public relations strategies that have been improved upon and refined for generations.

Elizabeth Bracken-Thompson is Executive Vice President, Creative Director and Principal at Thompson & Bender, the leading full service public relations, advertising and marketing agency in Westchester County, NY. Thompson & Bender has been serving a diverse group of businesses and organizations in the New York metropolitan area for the past 25 years.

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