by Bong R. Osorio
For many PR professionals and communication agencies, there’s a frantic need to seek constant improvement to continue to thrive, to stay relevant and spirited. You either innovate or expire. Companies like the Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) are impelling their external and internal communications operations to become accustomed with new media and social technologies to remain discernable to their stakeholders --- employees and clients alike. Consumer movements in discovering information, consuming them and sharing them have altered the hubs of power and authority from traditional communications media outlets to a combination of offline and online communicators, bloggers, website owners and social media-savvy publishers.
Now DAN communicators have a key role in building the right communications culture across the organization. They take on the role as communications ambassadors, initiating a culture of collaboration and open, honest conversation. They lead and deliver cross-network updates regularly and inclusively, build trust and confidence by creating opportunities to speak with teams --- to listen and to respond.
PR, marketing and advertising are bonded practices. They work best in synergy. They have surfaced to create mass-market appeals using conventional protocols to reach defined targets. And when you scrutinize the basic connotation of the words “public” and “relations,” what emerges is the principle of “people connecting with knowledge of something or someone.”
Companies have adopted communications tactics to manage communications for their own benefit. That’s what’s happening through the years. However, the purposes have gone from corporate goals to individual goals. People, inside or outside the organization, are now empowered to influence relationships with defined publics because they have been given a booming “voice,” since the signal is not only coming from one but from a multitude. People now connect with other people to learn new data about things companies do, sell and say. If a company implements things that aren’t socially acceptable, traditional communications practices cannot drown the noise of “people connected and equipped with the knowledge” of what the corporation has completed or intends to complete.
Brian Solis, a foremost thought leader behind the emerging dynamics in PR, and Deirdre Breakenridge, a leading creative PR mind, wrote, “Companies need to change their entire marketing, advertising and PR ecosystem in the firm belief that the foundation of any company rests with what people know. Individual knowledge about anything is now everyone’s knowledge about everything. Soon everyone’s ‘knowledge’ will become easier to find and use.”
And that will impact on communications since the company’s intentions can no longer be concealed behind a facade. Solis and Breakenridge posit these intriguing ideas that communications people can munch on:
Communications is about dialogue, not monologue. The practice is rapidly changing as you operate in a wired environment. Instead of information mouthpieces, communicators need to be an element in the narrative and the banter. However, you need not totally dump long-established practices and tools, as you accept and embrace social media as the future of communications. And just like major disciplines, you should not continue to appreciate the importance of the beginnings of corporate communications.
Humanizing your intent and story. It’s critical that you understand that communications is no longer rooted in broadcast methodologies and the single-focused, key messages that drive them. Corporate communications have to follow the reliable exchange, where it takes place. It has to answer questions, clarify confusions, defend the brand, or develop relationships for the long term.
Understanding the new world of social and digital communications begins by having a grip on the language. This entails dropping old-fashioned terms like “users,” “audience” and “messages.” What you’re trying to reach with information and stories are your customers, and not generics like “users.” You attack the marketing challenge more as a consumer and less like a “communications person” to demonstrate your investment in information, your deep compassion for customer needs and your clear understanding of what’s valuable.
Communicators should invest in learning and using new tools, where the highlight is on listening, reading, learning, and understanding the intricacies of the customer. Solis and Breakenridge observed, “There is no one tool, one release, or one story that will motivate your customers to take action. It all starts with becoming the person you’re trying to reach and then reverse-engineering the process.”
Social media is not about the technology, it’s about the people. Social tools can be awe-inspiring, so it’s critical to keep in mind that tools will change, but the substance of engaging with people will always be an imperative. Implementing conventional marketing tactics and messages with social tools does not lead to engagement. Communications specialists must set their sights on the sociology of Internet communities more than their need to distribute data. Involvement with social networks like Facebook and micro-media such as Twitter and helping those platforms to reach your communications objectives is more about communicating with people, not at them. Solis averred, “Social media is changing the communications outreach paradigm from pitching to personalize and genuine engagement.”
The future for communications is about community. The role of community relations is essential in an online strategy. You must participate in communities and share your brand and product stories, listen to customers and gain valuable insights from your efforts, as well as new communications opportunities. The focus is on the incorporation of social media within the communications practice. Breakenridge noted, “Putting the public back into public relations, for example, is humanizing the entire process of communication and service — not just keeping customers happy, but also cultivating loyalty and engendering enthusiasts along the way.” To ignore the people making the rants and raves is to ignore some of the very voices that make up a community. He added, “When enough individual voices pool together, the whisper becomes a roar — transforming micro-media into macro influence.”
To move forward, you must take on the changes in practice. The convergence of offline and online approaches emphasizes the communications industry’s need to embrace the changes brought on by the social web and incorporate expertise from other disciplines such as web marketing, web analytics, viral marketing, customer service, social tools, focus groups and crowdsourcing, cultural anthropology and market analysis. “The shift from passive and reactive communications to proactive, hands-on, participatory engagement absolutely requires you to embody everything you represent,” Solis opined. This declaration highlights the rule that to step up in the practice you must adapt and adopt in order to build meaningful relationships with target publics.
Survival of the fittest. “Social media is forcing changes that should have happened a long time ago in everything related to business. Whether or not you jump on board, these changes will continue to occur. And, to be honest, not every current communications professional will survive the transition: The fittest and those most willing and able to adapt will be the survivors,” Solis proclaimed. In fact, you see every division of every business finding itself embracing social strategies. What will be telling is whether or not communicators will embrace the conversations with, for, and by people as opposed to focusing just on the tools themselves.
Solis and Breakenridge not so subtly implied that you should stop being just a “publicist” or a mere “communicator” and become what your clients or company really require: an indisputable fan and evangelist for the product you stand for.
Communications work is by no means going away. Traditional strategy and tactics simply aren’t as effective anymore. You have to re-purpose corporate communications by adapting to and utilizing online strategy in concert with offline strategy to make things work better.