PR and Social Media: cousins in conscience

I’m going back to school next week.

Sounds  ominous, doesn’t it? But I won’t be behind a desk, I’ll be up front as a lecturer in public relations at the University of South Australia.

Preparing for the role has had me hitting the books again. I haven’t pondered over PR theory for a long time, but revisiting some of PR’s evolution has had me thinking, again, about the similarities between “good PR” and “good social media” practice.

The two have a lot in common.

Both PR and Social Media are somewhat misunderstood.

Both can be powerful tools within any formal communications program or strategy.

Hitting the books again: Chia & Synnott
Hitting the books again: Chia & Synnott

And like PR, social media can be the ‘boundary spanner’.

What is a ‘boundary spanner’? Within PR theory, it pertains to someone that works in the internal and external environments of an organisation, dealing with both internal audiences such as employees or board members, and external audiences such as customers or the general public. A boundary spanner might gather information from outside sources and bring that inside, represent an organisation at public meetings and return with feedback, and so on.

Now, replace a PR officer with an online Community Manager – the person(s) charged with managing a company’s customer online forums or Facebook brand page. It is clear this is another boundary spanning role, where feedback and community sentiment can be absorbed.

So social media and PR professionals can act as conduits between an organisation and ‘the outside world’. And that’s not to say that  they’re the only professions to do this – customer service staff, marketing staff, HR staff and so on, will do this too.

What sets PR and social media professionals apart again, is that ideally they will also be the organisation’s “conscience”.

Seitel provided a definition of PR that said the role can be a “corporate conscience”. I like that definition and I think it’s important for professional communicators to consider that within their practice.

The good PR practitioner will ensure that management is aware  of community expectations, social responsibility, ethical considerations, and environmental impacts  and so on.

Again, Community Managers or Social Media Managers are also in a position to bring knowledge of community expectations and impacts to the management table. They can point to where things may be going wrong  for a brand,  where a community is feeling let down or what they want from an organisation.

Whether organisations and boardrooms are in a position to accept advice from  their PR and social media colleagues is another story …

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Jerome says:

    “Whether organisations and boardrooms are in a position to accept advice from their PR and social media colleagues is another story …”, left for a strategic theorist to tell.

    1. Prakky says:

      … Or a practitioner to share, which I plan to do from time to time.

  2. Gary Lum says:

    I enjoyed reading this although at first when I read spanner I was thinking tools rather than connecting.

  3. Ric says:

    … or what Hugh McLeod calls the “porous membrane”:

  4. there seems such a gulf (in my experience) between the boardroom and the ideas of social media. conservatism vs the new wave; entrenched values vs risk-taking. PR will have to have a lively approach to break through the barriers.

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