“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” ― Toni Morrison

How social media is putting the public back into public relations

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Over the years, the world of public relations has undergone significant changes to how information is being delivered to the public. There has been a major shift from relying heavily on third party media sources to deliver information on companies’ behalves, to now having companies directly communicating to their customers through a variety of social networking sites. It has gone from marketing “at” the public to having meaningful, genuine conversations with them.

We have now reached a new era where people are expecting honest, straightforward facts on what’s really going on, whether it is news related or regarding a product or service. Honesty really is the only policy now. With social media being accessible to everyone all over the world, people are being held much more accountable for their actions than in past times. The truth will eventually come out, so you might as well do yourself a favour and be the source that’s providing it.

Brian Solis, author of Putting the Public Back in Public Relations, and social media guru, states, “The very people we had wished to reach through traditional channels are now the very people we need to convince and inspire directly in order to remain part of the industry-defining and market making conversations. This is a new era of influence and in order to participate, we have to rewire our DNA to stop marketing “at” audiences in order to genuinely and intelligently humanize our story to connect with real people and the online communities they inhabit.”

Connecting with your audience is going to be crucial in the years to come. If your business is not online and active in the social media community, you will run into many challenges. Whether you like it or not, most of your competitors are probably online right now building relationships with their customers, maybe soon your customers too. It is simply not enough to have a phone number, email and storefront for customers to be able to get information from you. Being readily available where your customers are spending time online will provide you with an opportunity to answer any questions or concerns they may have. Being an active member in the online community can really go a long way. Keep in mind, however, that allow free to use, maintaining your online presence will require a commitment of time each day on a consistent basis. With only so much time being in a day, you really have to make sure you are using the right social media sites for the type of business you’re in to avoid wasting valuable time. I really enjoyed reading this article from Business Insider called The ROI of Social Media for Direct Sales by Cindy Razlaff. Her article states that the time spent by direct sales consultants on social media builds not only credibility, but also likability and trust. As a result, the return on that time investment is brand visibility, accelerated growth and leveraged referrals and sales. Razlaff’s analogy is, “Facebook is the new living room. Twitter the new networking party. Pinterest and Instagram are the new catalogs and blogs like WordPress or Tumbler are the new brochure or leave behind.”

But social media isn’t just transforming the way that businesses are communicating with their audiences. You can see the shift in public relations across the globe in many other ways as well. Clay Shirky often discusses the rapid changes on Ted Talks. In one of his videos ‘How social media can make history,’ he discusses the media becoming much more collective. Shirky uses China’s 7.9-magnitude earthquake hitting Sichuan Province on May 12 2008, as an example to explain the impact that social media can have in a country that spends a great deal of effort filtering the information accessible to their citizens on the web and in the various forms of media. When the earthquake happened, there was such a massive amount of activity on social networking sites from the citizens of China blasting out up-to-the-minute tweets on the earthquake. All over the world, people were listening via social media updates. The BBC even found out that the earthquake was happening through Twitter. The severity of the earthquake killed about 70,000 people and left over 18,000 missing. Over 15 million people lived in the affected area.

The last time China had an earthquake of this magnitude, it took them 3 months to admit that it had actually happened. Chinese government would have ideally liked to keep things concealed this time as well, but the citizens beat them to it by posting pictures, video footage and updates all over different social networking sites. More than 250 million people in Mainland China have access to the Internet and there was such a massive blast during this quake that the government could not successfully filter all of it- it was just too much. Since Chinese government has always been known for censoring publications and broadcasts… you can imagine their reaction when the news of the earthquake was all over the web. The widening usage of Internet and social media is destabilizing government efforts to try and control the flow of information.

The earthquake in China happened during a school day, which unfortunately led to many school buildings collapsing and killing thousands of children. The citizens began realizing that corrupt government officials had been accepting briberies to have those buildings not be constructed up to code. Having lost so many dear children in their lives, the citizens were outraged and broadcasted this immorality all over the web as well. It got to the point that government officials were on their hands and knees begging them to stop posting on the Internet. The usage of social media ultimately made someone have to be held accountable for this horrific outcome.

Paul Lewis, a British journalist describes the utilization of social media as being a new way of journalism. Lewis is best known for his remarkable investigation into the death of Ian Tomlinson at the 2009 G-20 summit protests. Police authority had unlawfully killed Tomlinson during the protests, beating him to the ground while Tomlinson was just trying to make his way home. Tomlinson was reported by London police to have died of natural causes, and that police were actually trying to help him get up off of the ground. Lewis questioned this, as the stories that police were giving weren’t quite adding up. He began investigating further when he was told that missiles, which then turned into bottles, which then turned into bricks were being thrown at police while they tried to aid Tomlinson… likely story isn’t it? He started by turning to the Internet and utilizing twitter to try and find witnesses and bystanders who were at the protests. He managed to find many other people who were questioning what had happened to Tomlinson and eventually was able to collect 20 witnesses with both images and video clips to back up Lewis’s concerns that Tomlinson had been mistreated. Even still, Lewis was shut down over and over by authorities saying that there was not enough evidence.

Finally, truth was staring everyone in the face when someone reached out to Lewis with clear as day footage from the moment police authorities started following Tomlinson to the moment they beat him to the ground and did nothing to help him up afterwards. The video shows the public helping Tomlinson and calling from their cellphones for help- not the police- as was reported by them. Lewis urges people to capture those moments where you’re gut is telling you that something isn’t feeling quite right and to start being an active member of sharing the real, honest information on the web. Bring out your camera and capture footage wherever you can (if safe of course), as this could be the golden ticket to fighting injustice.

So what does all of this mean? There are still unfortunate events happening in our world (don’t even get me started on the case of Bradley Manning vs. U.S. military), and there is always going to be at least some dishonourable people taking part in corrupt actions… but it is interesting to have a look and see that, through the development and utilization of social media, people are going to be held much more accountable than ever before for their actions. The truth will always come out if we all take part in sharing our knowledge and being the eyes and ears for information and news all around the world.

Would love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to leave a comment or get in touch.

*KS

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