24 Sphere Bytes Reflect Core Learnings about Social Public Relations

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When you are recruited to write a monthly column about a specific area of practice—public relations—relating to maximizing social business, one tends to spend that dedicated time on the big picture, including focusing on matters that impact and resonate with the majority of enterprise leaders, rather than a localized, topical and transient organizational “campaign” or perceived transgression (in the popular vernacular, a “crisis”).

From the first Bytes from the PR Sphere column two years ago, my goals were to:

  • provide newer ways of thinking and doing
  • reflect upon and hone in on best practices to date; and
  • find and feature exemplary in-house practitioners doing exceptional work—even if simply of the slow-and-steady, managing-and-scaling variety—for their employers, by integrating current modes of interactions and platforms into the existing public relations and corporate communication management mix

An overarching Bytes audit

The three strategic pillars of public relations remain (organizational) reputation, value and relationship building.

Namely, the corporate character, culture and deeds or doing (not simply carefully crafted words in messaging), respected product or service elements (including agility and customer service) and the known (most-important) stakeholder relationships that come to mind when someone is asked his or her opinion about a business. By this I mean the understood and accessible knowledge and branding that coalesces in the court of public opinion and provides a business with an ongoing “license to operate.”

Reputation is (and always will be) listed first because it remains the most important intangible asset that a bricks-and-mortar and social business possesses. “as much as 30 to 70 per cent of the gap between the book value and market capitalization of most companies,” according to the Arthur W. Page Society. And reputation management is the greatest responsibility public relations is tasked with, in terms of frequent and honest communication (i.e., transparency and building or maintaining trust). That’s why it is advisable your business as a whole works to Do No Harm, and you as the lead PR practitioner demonstrate discipline and credibility as long-term reputation survival principles (per this referenced column) in social public relations.

The principles of good communication have not changed, but rather than the one-way push messaging favoured in earlier business communication (e.g., magazines, annual reports, media releases or information-dump websites), the social part of public relations is inherently human and interactive.

And technology and dedicated platforms, whether wholly owned (e.g., a business blog or a corporate media site like Cisco’s Learning Network or GE’s Colab) or third-party (e.g., LinkedIn, Google+/YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc.), allow for greater access (global and 24/7), not to mention freely available information and engagement to expand exponentially, far beyond the traditional stakeholder groupings (such as journalists) with whom public relations practitioners formerly dedicated the most attention and time.

With the increasingly important social component of public relations and corporate communication management, the remit and responsibility has only increased.

21st century public relations incorporates networks for knowledge creation and interactions

Although approached primarily from an agency perspective, a thoughtful, recommended read is the OpEd from Robert Phillips in the UK’s CorpComms magazine, The Future of PR, where Phillips asks if you, the PR practitioner, are “a sleep walker or a progressive?”

This excerpt resonates:

…PR people have for too long ignored the importance of organisational design. Deeper, structural issues are frequently overlooked in the rush to communicate. PR currently speaks to hierarchies in a world of networks and is therefore starting in the wrong place.”

When invited by Neal Schaffer to recommend a book for his list of social media books published in 2012 to read in 2013, I championed Dave Gray’s The Connected Company. This book also focuses on how the most knowledgeable, mindful and agile businesses in existence today focus on networks, both internally and externally. I’ve now referenced Gray’s book in three separate columns, most notably my Audacious Byte (which focused on the groundbreaking “Our Food, Your Questions” platform and program from McDonald’s Canada), as well as the later Access and Fidelity Bytes.

In fact, I’d posit the way going forward for most disciplines involved in a social business is to think of relevant stakeholders in terms of “networks,” whether related to partnership companies, media, customers/clients or other influencers.

Social may indeed be eroding traditional, hierarchical aspects of communication and relationships, but in order to remain relevant, business strategy and public relations goals and objectives need to be built on a larger scale than one-to-one relationships.

Social business reengineering is a planning process that moves systematically from strategy to technology. It begins by identifying natural groups of stakeholders who will see value in connecting in new ways…. With these stakeholders in mind, the process turns to the “who” and the “what”—the key players, business objectives and incentives that will garner social business buy-in and usage.” Social Business: Shifting Out of First Gear, MIT Sloan/Deloitte Research Report 2013, p. 18

Identifying, listening to and interacting with multiple, relevant stakeholder networks will play an increasingly larger role in social public relations.

It’s a role that requires a deep knowledge base and a skill set about multiple areas and internal and external people and subject experts related to an organization, about partner and competitor (social) businesses, various stakeholders and publics (known and unknown), as well as what is thought externally about your social business.

This despite the ongoing assault by some practitioners in the marketing discipline (happily, none of them contributors to Maximize Social Business) to relegate the public relations role and responsibility to mere promotional materials related to transactional business, plus media and online “influencer” relationships. Most often I see this characterized as “digital public relations.”

My PR Conversations co-content editor, Heather Yaxley, recently wrote a popular post about what PR is not. Much of her post focuses on disabusing this diminished, marketing-assigned role and stereotypes.

And yet it wasn’t until March 2013 (or my seventeenth column), that I enlarged upon the pillars of public relations from a purely social perspective to define it for social business, with the end result of:

Relating the inside out…and by extension the outside in (i.e., working with that very important “insourcing” internal network of employees).

The knowledgeable “relating” role—whether outside or in—is key. And per Heather Yaxley’s Rule #9:

PR works best when it is focused on strategic outcomes—that’s why so many smart executives have the senior PR person report directly to them.”

As a short-form definition, I continue to be satisfied with it. I’ve also found when I use it in Twitter chats, etc., as a personal role identifier, I receive comments of both approval and interest in hearing more (at which stage I provide a link to my Definition Byte).

Do you have the skills needed in social public relations going forward?

It should come as no surprise that I’m a big promoter—part of a network of global public relations practitioners who were approached for crowd-based input, as well as asked to help spread the word—of the Global Alliance’s Melbourne Mandate, which was voted approval in November 2012. It recognizes that the roles, responsibilities and value of PR professionals…are evolving rapidly in a world where audiences and stakeholders have unprecedented communications access and power.…

Because I believe it is also reflective of best practices for social businesses, I have referenced the Mandate numerous times in Maximize Social Business columns, the most comprehensive one likely Strip Search Byte: Opening the (Social PR) Business Kimono on Your Terms (as well as Fidelity Byte, which detailed how IBM’s Jon Iwata has influenced the Mandate).

Some (particularly those who focus on marketing communications) have declared the Melbourne Mandate too academic and not applicable to practice, despite the fact that it was predominantly public relations practitioners (corporate, agency and consultancy)—around 1,000 from 30 countries—who contributed and debated core components and areas of focus and then helped to write it.

Earlier this summer I worked with Daniel Tisch, APR, FCPRS and Jean Valin, APR, FCPRS, its co-chairs and editors, on The Melbourne Mandate: A professional beacon for PR. What was particularly gratifying was that Tisch and Valin chose this PR Conversations post not only to detail the year-long process and the importance of the Melbourne Mandate to the 21st-century public relations profession, but to debut the Global Alliance’s new Professional Development Wheel (for the Melbourne Mandate Toolkit), “a guide to the skills professionals need in order to practise to the full scope of the Mandate.”

Recommended professional development is divided into the three areas of emerging value for public relations and communication management, per the Melbourne Mandate:

1.  Leading the definition of an organization’s character and values.
2.  Building a culture of listening and engagement.
3.  Instilling responsible behaviours in professionals and organizations.

Although I had no knowledge of (or input into) the Melbourne Mandate until later in 2012, it’s personally gratifying that many of my social public relations columns instinctively focused on these three areas of value.

In looking through the PD Wheel, I determined that the Listening (and Engagement) areas are the most applicable to the social part of a public relations practitioner’s needed knowledge, particularly in terms of “relating the inside out…and by extension the outside in.” As a result, I’ve reproduced it below for your reference.

All good things must come to a close…

At the front end of this column I indicated August 2013 marked the two-year anniversary of contributing to Maximize Social Business.

When Neal Schaffer first approached me about the role back in 2011, the thinking was this would be a six-month to one-year commitment. And yet…there were so many social public relations Byte areas to explore and interesting things being researched and executed by smart practitioners, that one year effortlessly extended into two.

Although a decent number of potential social public relations Bytes still simmered on my back burner (e.g., customer service, outcomes-based measurement, use of big data, community outreach, government relations, etc.), by the 24th column it seemed I had contributed a sufficient number of posts that the Apple of Byte learnings was for the most part bitten down to the core about present-day social public relations.

Rather than letting the Apple get too brown (or the concept too hollowed out), two years of monthly contributions seems an appropriate time to bring my column to an end.

I remain appreciative to Neal Schaffer for his vision and wonderful opportunity to be a part of an innovative, respected and valued group platform at the front end. I also thank my contributor colleagues who really are some of the smartest thinkers and in-practice doers in their respective areas of this nascent social business world (and quality writers, to boot), plus the faithful commenters, readers and sharers of my column, despite every single Byte being a lot longer chew than 600 words and four easily digested core concepts….

And I will continue to look forward to seeing and relating with many of you in the (social) public relations sphere.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Per the Melbourne Mandate’s recommended Professional Development Wheel, focus growing your knowledge and skill set on these areas:

Build a culture of listening and engagement


  • Applied analysis—methodologies and techniques
  • Measurement—relationships, trust, reputation
  • Statistics
  • Evaluation
  • Reporting
  • Problem solving

Data management

  • Data handling
  • Programming
  • Curation
  • Insights processing and management
  • Digital literacy

Community identification

  • Stakeholder analysis
  • Environmental scanning
  • Systems monitoring
  • Channels identification and management
  • Curation and data processing

Risk analysis

  • Reputation monitoring and tracking
  • Risk and issues identification
  • Risk and issues analysis


Judy Gombita
This monthly Social Media and Public Relations column is contributed by Judy Gombita. Judy is a Toronto-based public relations and communication management specialist, with more than 20 years of employment and executive-level volunteer board experience, primarily in the financial and lifelong learning nonprofit sectors. She is the co-editor and Canadian contributor (since 2007) to the international, collaborative blog, PR Conversations. +Judy Gombita
Judy Gombita


Sr/hybrid (social) public relations & communication management strategist. Mindful curation @PRConversations. Heart: travel, film, theatre, opera, books & food.
Michael Maccoby for @harvardbiz: Why People Are Drawn to Narcissists Like Donald Trump http://t.co/B1y0Pjjqev #ceoreputation - 13 hours ago
Judy Gombita


  1. says

    Judy – Thank you for accepting my challenge and becoming the 2nd – and longest contributing – blogger for Windmill Networking / Maximize Social Business. You indeed, through 24 columns, have uncovered many aspects of the intersection between social media and public relations, and although your blogging efforts will be missed, your content will live on to educate and inspire others. Good luck to you on your continued mission!

  2. says

    Thanks, Neal. As I’ve told you on a few occasions, it was useful to build up a body of work on a specific area of public relations (i.e., “social”) on a platform dedicated to social business, as opposed to a more generic “public relations” site. And it did test and stretch my thinking in new ways, probably forever. Which means that doing this writing gig has had a lasting influence on me as a public relations practitioner, as well.

    I have a few writing requests lined up over the next month and I’m already quite certain that one of the articles (for PRSA) will be referencing one or more columns.

    That’s one of the best things about Maximize Social Business (and I would posit of my main online property, PR Conversations): the long-tail aspect of much of what the various contributors are writing about. Congratulations on (successfully) positioning it thusly. Cheers.

    • says

      Appreciate the comment Judy – and glad to hear that you will continue your writings elsewhere. We’ll be looking forward to your pingbacks – and to our own future public relations contributor linking to your posts as well!

  3. says

    I’ve missed a few of these posts, but learned a lot from what I’ve read; a very strong series Judy. Hat tip to you and Neal for delving deeper into PR, Social and what it means to an organization. Sometimes brands can’t see past the scale, or the marketing – but it’s the reputation and relationships that carry them through.

    I’ve often been piqued and intrigued by internal communications (why I write/comment so much about service and HR); turning the outside in, taking a closer look at organization and structure – that’s key to effective, strategic communications, part of what PR is really about. The bullets of listening and engagement, they highlight that and the skills and mindset of this kind of culture. PR is problem solving, it is curation, it is risk analysis, assessment and management, it’s communications, one-to-one relationships and the social scale, and so on. FWIW, you’ve given me more to think about – as always.

    • says

      Thank you, Davina, for the comments (and support) on both this final column and my Bytes from the PR Sphere series as a whole.

      It’s interesting that what you found the most intriguing is the “insourcing” aspect to (social) public relations. When I worked in-house in communication management and then later a public relations role, I did consider employees an important stakeholder, but that was more instinctual than it was strategic. Of course I was working for an association, which meant that I already had external/internal stakeholder groups in the board of directors, chapter officials and members at large, in addition to the physical staff. This meant there were actually a lot of bosses one has to be accountable to….

      My formal appreciation and instruction for the intrinsic role internal communication and staff play in the external manifestation of an organization actually came later. In my #PRin2013 submission ( see Internal culture and communication http://ow.ly/oK3xu ) for PRSA, I named some—although not all—of the people in my global network that evolved my understanding.

      I continue to believe that for mid- to larger-sized organizations ongoing social public relations is best handled in-house. On the other hand, there is definitely a role for consultants as strategists—teach them how to fish—and/or contracted agencies to handle specific work, either long- or short-term. For example, Ike Piggot talked about hiring an agency to help set up and populate Alabama Power’s Facebook page with relevant content.

      Within my global network, there is an interesting case study going on right now. In my Distraction Byte: Weaving Social Snippets into PR Narratives ( http://ow.ly/oK2T6 ) I mentioned a woman from Edelman Australia approaching me about an interview for PR Conversations prior to the Global Alliance’s World PR Forum or WPRF. You may be aware already that on a global basis Edelman is very supportive of local agencies providing pro bono assistance at educational or association conferences relating to public relations, communication, marketing and social media. Katie Sheppet was someone from the Melbourne office that was agreeable to this role. Although she did it as a salaried staff member, her commitment to playing a role extended into the off hours—doing research and writing in the evenings and weekend, etc. (And she is now a formal volunteer for the Global Alliance.)

      I don’t know if you’ve had the opportunity to read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, yet, but what has happened since November 2012 could have been an example in the book on mentoring. Katie and I naturally and quite happily developed into this role of mentee and mentor following our PR Conversations joint initiative. It just happened, although a few months ago we verbally formalized that this relationship existed.

      Anyhow…it seems that I wasn’t the only more-senior practitioner who was impressed by Katie. After interviewing him for the video series for the WPRF, the most-senior internal communication person at Europe’s venerable Allianz financial/insurance company indicated he wanted Katie to come and do a work term—almost like a post-graduation internship—at Allianz’s headquarters in Munich, Germany in its corporate communication department. Although Allianz does this fairly frequently with existing staff between country offices, Katie would be the first non-staff member to be given this opportunity.

      So…with the permission and support of her employer, Edelman Melbourne, Katie is currently in her fourth week of working at Allianz in Munich.

      This is a long introduction to say that being a part of the internal staff of a decades-old, respected company with offices in multiple countries has been an eye-opener for Katie. Although never with specific details about the actual communication work she’s been doing—which I wouldn’t expect or want her to share—Katie has told me on numerous occasions how impressed she is with the deep knowledge and understanding of Allianz’s present licence to operate as well as long history that corporate communication (and related departments) staff exhibit. And often people are hired for specific knowledge for a role. For example, the head of financial communications—a daunting role—comes from a journalism background, including some of Germany’s most-respected financial newspapers. Katie’s appreciation actually influenced some of my wording in this final column, which I told her. You see, the best mentees can also influence her mentors.

      It seems what Katie is able to provide to Allianz staff, in turn, is a fresh set of (Gen Y) eyes and an outsider’s perspective (non-staff and non-German national) about processes and procedures and outputs and outcomes. Agencies sell communication services, which makes them adept at finding and/or developing best practices and templates, which I think sometimes long-time, internal staff don’t think about. And of course Katie is a digital native, so her natural and trained skills in social communication are superb.

      This week Katie is working with the long-time communication staff member who initiated all of Allianz’s social media properties. What’s the nicest thing about this latest project is that apparently he is just as excited about working with Katie, as she is in trying to help him find and overcome any corporate social media pain points they identify together.

      Ergo, I’m living this incredible trans-global work experience vicariously through my mentee. Of course I’m also expecting Katie Sheppet to write one or more guest posts about it on PR Conversations, as her hands-on experience and observations is right along the lines of the mandate for our collective, global blog.

      Katie gave me permission to share whatever I deemed relevant and appropriate about her work term with Allianz. What is most relevant, though, is the incredible respect and liking she has for its employees. Even when back working for Edelman in a few weeks, Katie is certain she will approach her client work with a deeper understanding and appreciation about the existing knowledge, skills and dedication of in-house communication staff.

      (She’s also told me her favourite Bytes columns were the company social PR case studies and the interviews or quotes from in-house practitioners.)

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