Social Media: A Catalyst for Corporate Darwinism

October 25, 2005 in Other Than That - news, business & other nonsense | Comments (0)


Unless you’re in PR, you probably don’t read PRWeek magazine, and unless you’re really absorbed in PR you probably don’t read it online.
So here’s some context. On October 21, one of that publication’s writers did a story about a conference at which I chaired a panel discussion.
His article was spot on, but I felt it missed some important points. So I wrote an opinion piece to augment his perspective. Unfortunately due to corporate decisions at the firm where I work, it was decided that submitting this article was not in our firm’s best interest.
So I’m posting it here.

Keith OBrien wrote an October 21 story BlogOn Event Confuses as it Informs PR Pros highlighting the confusion surrounding social media. He is right. It is confusing. But that isn’t the point. Any new market bears a hefty dose of confusion as the various players fumble for ways to participate. Confusion is good. To quote Henry Miller:

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not yet understood.

The problem here is not confusion. The problem stems from a far more basic weakness. There are far too many PR practioners who fail to follow basic best practices when it comes to engaging with the media. Period. A frequent result of this ineptitude is friction and even, at times, animosity between marketing/PR and the media with whom they try to work.
As far as confusion goes, events like BlogOn are a splendid way to expedite our collective education by bringing together participants from all facets of the ecosystem. Tossing the haves and have nots together enables learning and engagement … even if some of the players are resistant.
Disclosure: My firm, Porter Novelli, works with Guidewire Group. Though I am not on the account team for this business, I do interact with the team often, and have participated in meetings and planning for this organization. I also chaired a panel discussion on pitching to social media at the Guidewire Group conference BlogOn 2005.
The communications ecosystem has always catered to myriad constituencies. Social media increases that diversity by an order of magnitude greater than we have ever seen. The only difference between the old-school media (print, TV, radio) and the new world order (blogging, podcasting) is the extent to which transparency and accountability play into the mix. The Blogosphere has a powerful self-editing aspect that means poorly placed pitches could mean a public evisceration of a person’s credibility. The gloves are off, and anything is fair game.
It is time to remember the basics, starting with why the media need marketers and vise versa. One group has something. The other group needs something. One group believes that their thing has value to the other. The other may or may not agree with that assessment. It is an ecosystem, an elaborate web of communicators, each with their particular requirements and processes.
As in any ecosystem, there is a certain level of symbiosis. There are also contradictions and conflicts. Some members of the public relations community do not do their homework. Others still insist on spouting marketing puffery as if it were fact. The media have issues too. There are members of the media community who do not fact check, spell check or in any other way check their work. Some will refuse to work with PR people and others will collaborate without hesitation.
That is just the way it is.
By trying to shove a square peg in a round hole, all marketing folks do is perpetuate the perception of our industry as a group of not-so-smart people with a single-minded focus on pushing clients’ products. In doing so, we also perpetuate the sense that our kind cannot be trusted, and that PR people are a source of irritation rather than a resource or an asset.
How about in thinking about social media, the marketing/communications community puts the same attention towards reviewing and evaluating the new media as they should with the old media?
Even better, how about we realize that the delineation between one media outlet and another should be based on its credibility and relevance to the particular story, product, service or trend for which we may be working.
There is no question that this is how we should be doing business anyway, but we all know that there are those who do not follow these best practices. This is where problems arise and it is in those moments of conflict when you have situations such as the one described in Keith’s story.
What took place at BlogOn was a great start for the conversation, and should serve as a clarion call to all communicators. Our ecosystem is evolving, and in the interest of economic Darwinism we need to step to the plate. There will always be detractors whose modi operandi as naysayers will shoot holes in any new ideas. Generally I find that this is because overall people are rather adverse to change. (That is a different article altogether.) If we join their complaint cacophony we are part of the problem, and not the solution.


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