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There’s Spinning and Then, There’s SPINNING

Posted on | July 6, 2009 | No Comments

Don’t know if you saw the story in yesterday’s New York Times entitled “Spinning the Web: PR in Silicon Valley.”  It describes how the new social media tools are changing the PR “dynamic.”  The link is here if you haven’t seen it:

It’s well worth the read, but before you go there, consider this:

Yes, blogs, Twitter, YouTube, FaceBook, LinkedIn and others like them are certainly important ‘channels’ that PR professionals never had to contend with before.  They certainly seem – as the article points out – to flatten the information distribution process, making news distribution appear to be more direct.

But. BUT!  Is that really what’s happening?  I’m not so sure. The news ‘gatekeepers’ are still there.  They’re just blogging or tweeting now, instead of writing 500 word articles for the NY Times or Computerworld.  Isn’t re-tweeting another form of intermediation?

And, instead of a newspaper, which I can carry around for days and read at my leisure, these important news pieces are blowing by me 140 characters a nanosecond, or a post a day, and so, I ask:  is this progress?  Is getting 1.5 million mentions of a product’s name across a hundred or so social media sites really more effective than a half dozen stories in standard media outlets?

The truth is: you won’t know until you measure.  And I’m not talking about counting web page ‘hits,’ because that’s no better than counting clips was.  The real measure of PR is when you see behavioral change that results from one strategy versus another.  Which means it’s less a measure of the single tool than a measure that determines which of several tools has effectively generated the momentum needed to get real business results.  And those tools could be newspaper articles, blog posts, email marketing, events, or survey results.

True PR – the kind of PR that Ed Bernays, the father of modern day PR, practiced – had little to do with writing press releases and more to do with good research and with resulting promotions that included everything from parade marches to WWII propaganda posters dropped behind enemy lines.  I’m sure if Bernays was alive today, he’d be fascinated with Twitter, and put it to use, but not exclusively!  (Ironically, Anne Bernays, his daughter, had her own article in Sunday’s paper — – talk about how times change!)

My point, simply, in all of this is that PR professionals can’t become one trick “Twitter” ponies.  It puts us into the same narrow framework that a reliance on writing press releases did.  If we come to believe that Twitter is THE answer to every problem, if we let clients badger us into doing what’s ‘trendy’ instead of doing what’s right, then we deserve the slang  ”flack”  tag that many people have given us, and we deserve to been seen as “spinners” and as less than what we really are, or what we ought to be: strategic communicators and smart business counselors.  

Opinion submitted by Carol Wolicki

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