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
- Problem solving
- Data handling
- Insights processing and management
- Digital literacy
- Stakeholder analysis
- Environmental scanning
- Systems monitoring
- Channels identification and management
- Curation and data processing
- Reputation monitoring and tracking
- Risk and issues identification
- Risk and issues analysis