Access Byte: Resolve to Make Evident Your Business Connectedness Through Social PR

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As 2012 draws to a close, one would think being “social PR” accessible would be a no-brainer for the majority of B2C and B2B businesses, public utilities, charities, non-profits, governments and other formal organizations. There is much to be gained and little of value to lose in adding deliberate, considered social elements and hires into your integrated communication efforts and mindset.

So rather than provide predictions for 2013, I’m going to share two of my main observations from 2012—one related to platforms, the other to people—specifically in regards to strategic social PR.

Observation #1: Networks, narratives and platforms 

Regarding accessibility, I’m not referring to conventional networking or merrymaking kinds of social, often dependent on extroverted personalities or those with a marketing bent. Rather, think in terms of being a communicative organization (see the 2012 Melbourne Mandate voted acceptance at the Global Alliance’s recent World PR Forum), one that provides information sought, and engages with relevant stakeholders and publics, in a respectful co-learning, co-creation knowledge environment.

Organizations with robust yet fluid structures will find this works well both externally and internally. In the words of Dave Gray, author of theThe Connected Company:

“Connected companies are networks that live within other networks. To be effective in a networked world requires different ways of thinking and acting. It’s less about predictability and control, and more about awareness, influence, and compatibility.” 

And later: “Networks are interdependent and control is distributed. Power in networks accrues to those who have connections, can easily access them, and can make or deny connections to others.” Chapter Seventeen: Power and control in networks 

Our Food, Your Questions from McDonald’s Canada is a stellar example of what can be achieved with:

  • daring and innovative thinking and action
  • a cross-company team effort where an externally facing and engaging digital platform is the star (not staff); and
  • distributed control

And, as predicted in Audacious Byte, the year-end accolades and admiration continue to roll in about this game changer program and platform (although most continue to call it a campaign, despite Joel Yashinsky’s expression to the contrary).

In 2013, I need to revisit the concept of organizational narrative I proposed more than a year ago on PR Conversations (complemented and supplemented by Plotting PR narrative in social media from co-editor Heather Yaxley), as both provide a blueprint on how to be communicative in a non-broadcasting, non-marketing sense, recognizing that brands and their employees can only manage their reputation but not totally control them. Suck it up: today’s social environment means that (more than ever) online conversations exist about companies. Better to acknowledge that fact and provide communication access points and honest narrative, including social media, rather than stick your reputation and issues management head in the sand. Oh to not have to spend hours of time persuading ostrich CEOs problems and conversations won’t go away with time…. Suggest they do an online search for proof points.

Stop making it so hard for people to connect and get or give information

It was back in the 1990s that I was pulled into a discussion about the tiny organizational real estate space available on a series of print and broadcast ads,

“Should we show the toll-free telephone number or include our website’s URL?” 

It was a no-brainer to counsel, emphatically, that the website was the way to go, particularly as the website included further contact points for those searching.

Today it is blindingly obvious that if you have space limitations at least one social media address should be in the ad mix. And, of course, all social media accounts should link to owned media and other contact points for relevant employees, such as public relations or customer service.

All you need to do is look at conventional media—more outlets and journalists promote access through Twitter and other accounts than not. It’s to the media’s advantage to be accessible, in order to receive suggestions (and shares) for articles and segments, as well as constructive feedback on their reporting style and stories. In many ways it is easier for a media relations specialist to get in touch with journalists than ever before; they are so much more accessible. And human. And social.

Why oh why—numerous times over the course of 2012—have I searched for information and PR contacts for organizations only, too often, to be led to information-dump (i.e., corporatese-sounding) websites, with no or minimal contact points beyond an online form? No social media accounts listed and linked. Email addresses with a “pr” or “info” name only.

The website feels sterile with all of its doors closed and windows shuttered. Do real people work here who want to, you know, provide information and engage? It definitely doesn’t feel like a social business….

From a (social) business perspective I have to ask:

What are you hiding? What are you afraid of? Is your CEO a control freak when it comes to real business information beyond products and services? Do you know how much you are frustrating me? I’m not going to post or tweet my dismay, but I am going to dismiss you as an organization I want to have a relationship with and go find an alternative, competitor organization that I will value as much more social PR accessible, instead.

Here’s hoping this happens less and less in 2013.

Observation #2: Who or what defines a social business—is it sustainable to rely on stars for public relations? 

It was in 2008 that I began extending my own social profile beyond LinkedIn (which I joined at the beta group stage in 2003—my, how it has changed!). Over the past four years I’ve observed social media stars rise and gain followers and admirers and then get hired into important in-house or agency positions. I’ve noted popular consultants writing books and then, post-publication, going on the conference and event speaking circuit ad nausea—the better ones help with individual social business strategy; the lesser ones outline general prescriptives.

Other stars I got to know through their first-rate social business roles—the majority smart, social intuitive and creative, friendly and accessible.  Some I recommended as role models in my Profile Byte—a column that I felt was particularly useful, but which didn’t get as much traction as others. Check it out—all but one of these people are still in their roles, continuing to do a stellar job as social PR representatives. (And Avril Benoît only left MSF Canada because there are strict rules on the length of service any one person can be in this senior communication position for the NGO.)

But I noticed a big change in 2012, including lots of movement and a reduction in profile for many, in particular the hot-ticket Gen Y and Gen X social media stars. Some were poached from other companies and agencies. Some consultants were lured in-house with important social media titles.

Usually the news was accompanied by a lot of fanfare and social shares of congratulations, admiration and envy.

The interesting thing is that many of the best new hires tend to go much quieter, socially…because they are digging in deep for the long-term, learning about their new social business and role and adding to and learning from the connected companies to which they were hired.

What’s needed for the long term in social PR

Regarding a fair-sized chunk of the big movement, I have observed that many who developed robust personal brands in social media and returned to the corporate world to take on a role in public relations are no longer in these positions.

I think this speaks to the evolution of savvy social leaders and HR departments in realizing that too much personality in the social PR recruits and not enough teamwork and achievements does little to advance business goals and objectives.

From day one, social PR communication programs need to be developed for the long term. Same with succession plans, even if designed simply for anticipated vacations or an unanticipated long-term leave or illness.

I think realization also is dawning that the social PR hire with a lot of followers and fans probably is not bringing in too many useful connections or conversions—not necessarily of the sales variety; that’s the role of others—from a business point of view. Especially when the followers and fans are people just like him or her—maybe even competitors.

Reality byte

People who have studied and/or worked in public relations have always known that, for the most part, they take a back seat to the profile and reputation of the organization and (most-often) CEO. A social business isn’t any different. Why should it be?

But that doesn’t prevent you from being the lead in terms of external accessibility, plus internal connections and counsel from a social PR perspective. And that’s where the best people will shine, except more as a welcoming, enveloping illumination, emanating from open doors and windows on various owned and social media platforms.

Design activities and hire people for a connected company

“Network researcher Ron Burt has identified two types of activities that create value in small-world networks: brokerage and closure.

Brokerage is about developing the weak ties: building bridges and relationships between clusters. Brokers are in a position to see the differences between groups, to cross-pollinate ideas, and to develop the differences into new ideas and opportunities.

Closure is about developing the strong ties: building alignments, trust, reputation, and community within the clusters. Trust builders are in a position to understand the deep connections that bond people together and give them common identity and purpose.” The Connected Company

After making these observations, this is my hope: more platform accessand social PR people illumination for businesses in 2013.

What do you wish for?

A review copy of  Dave Gray’s The Connected Company was provided to me by O’Reilly Media. I referenced different parts of it in my Audacious Byte. The time invested in reading and making notes from it has proven very worthwhile. It is also gratifying how both author Dave Gray and O’Reilly Media have connected with me across a variety of social media platforms—they walk the social connected talk.  

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.
Read @PRConversations Champions ▸ today's top stories via @saturngirl @ciprinside @culpwrit - 1 hour ago
Judy Gombita


  1. says

    Thanks Judy, great read!
    I run into those ‘dead’ sites daily. When you work in PR and need to find information quickly, there’s nothing more frustrating than entering a query into a faceless online question form with no email address or phone number. You don’t know when someone might respond, if ever!
    I too wish for more socialised companies in 2013 to break down barriers of communication.
    Thanks again :-)

    • says

      Thanks for your comment, Katie. I have the same beef with Twitter and Google+ (brand) accounts, etc., that only show a company name and logo, with no indication of who is behind the actual communication.

      And isn’t it rather sad that journalists are more accessible than the public relations practitioners who might want to get some coverage?

      The online-form-only contact option is the absolute worst, though. That’s when I abandon the search expedition (PR shopping cart?).

  2. says

    Thank you for a superb article Judy. Less than three years ago, our corporate website was, as you described, “sterile”, with no social contacts provided whatsoever. Photographs of individuals were even discouraged with no social links being provided at all. I know we still have a way to go but if you access our website (e.g. you are presented with an image of the Deloitte Consulting South Africa CEO together with links to his social accounts.

  3. says

    Thanks for the comment, David. If it dates back to three years ago that the corporate website felt “sterile,” I think that Deloitte Consulting South Africa is doing quite OK. After all, not only is the managing director very visible and accessible on your current site, but YOU are all over the place opening doors and windows of contact (especially on blogs and social media platforms) and supplying information about your B2B employer.

    How comfortable is Thiru Pillay with social media? (i.e., was it hard to convince him to set up a Twitter account?) Is he active?

    I don’t necessarily think the CEO/MD *needs* to have his or her own social media accounts, but I do think it sends an overall message of “access” and of “listening” agreeableness if leadership does have one or more accounts.

  4. says

    Judy – Several things resonate quite strongly with me here. First:
    “Suck it up: today’s social environment means that (more than ever) online conversations exist about companies. Better to acknowledge that fact and provide communication access points and honest narrative, including social media, rather than stick your reputation and issues management head in the sand.”

    This is one of the biggest problems in all of corporate communication. Usually, it’s leadership who refuse to accept that their own version of communication (and that of their closest ‘friends’ or colleagues) is skewed against social. It’s almost as bad as accepting the reverse — the fact is, customers (and other publics/stakeholders) want you to be where they are. That means being in the social space AND the traditional media, direct communication and other spaces…

    To wit: “What are you hiding? What are you afraid of? ”

    Control was ALWAYS illusory — we didn’t ever have it (and one might say we actually have more now, with the advent of social and more direct communication with our stakeholders than ever before.)

    The fear, though, is a very strong motivator that’s totally understandable. There’s no effective way of combating it with mere words — it requires experience to overcome. Try pilot programs, test efforts, limited-scale projects to demonstrate that the world will not end by embracing (however marginally) the social wave.

    Next: “The interesting thing is that many of the best new hires tend to go much quieter, socially…because they are digging in deep for the long-term, learning about their new social business and role and adding to and learning from the connected companies to which they were hired.”

    It’s different when you can drop your bombs and leave — the “social media consultant” YouTube videos from a few years ago (“Now, shut up and write me a check for $5,000 or I’ll go to your competitors!”) weren’t satire, they were a business model. Companies have recognized they need the help – but now, in-house, the expert is subject to annual performance reviews based on actual results/value, not production and margin. Big difference.

    Finally (though I could go on and on): “People who have studied and/or worked in public relations have always known that, for the most part, they take a back seat to the profile and reputation of the organization and (most-often) CEO. ”

    It’s not about us, and it cannot be. It’s only about the value we create for our organizations (see previous observation…) Social isn’t different, it’s a continuation of the value chain of the communication function in organizations. If we do it right, our stakeholders perceive value. If not, well…

    No corporation has hired me because I built business for previous agencies. They have hired me because of the value I’ve created for the clients of those agencies. Social is the same.

    Thanks for yet another thought-provoker, Judy.

  5. says

    Thank you, Sean. What I appreciate is how onside you are with me on being bullish on the power and possibilities of INCLUDING social media into the integrated communication mix, but recognizing this does not mean dumping traditional and proven (or at least reasonable possibility) traditional options. There are still many, externally and internally, who want to receive (or search out) information in more established communication formats and channels.

    But what social does is allow a business to communicate and update FASTER and DIRECTLY to a larger group of stakeholders. Some CEOs and other staff (of less connected companies) only see the loss of control and the debated oversight over every single “message” that was formerly broadcast. And, the messages were often of the marketing variety, not about the business environment and culture, background or reasons why the humans behind the bricks-and-mortar—or cloud-based company—made them.

    As you said, to a certain extent control was always illusory. But in the past it was mainly unquestioned. Or mainly unheard.

    But that day is gone. Even if individuals don’t have inherent or logical reasons to know things, they are still going to have both reasonable and opinionated discussions about businesses, online. That’s why it’s infinitely superior to be on the platforms that make the most sense, monitoring and engaging whenever feasible or sensible. That’s why it makes sense to provide the access and information being sought…rather than trying to force-feed the messages the C-suite previously decided and authorized as desirable.

    I like your suggestion of pilot programs, test efforts, limited-scale projects, etc. to test the social PR role. Would you be able to provide some examples of how you’ve helped clients in this way? Only if it doesn’t violate a NDA, of course. You are a perfect example of someone who has gone quieter online in the past year, but I know the other side of the equation was your consulting business experienced tremendous success, both in terms of the number of clients and the challenges and sense of accomplishment in your contracted counsel and communication programs launched or refined.

    In the final paragraph of your comment, thank you for shining a light on something I missed, particularly regarding the PR/communication role: “the VALUE we create for our organizations…the value chain of the communication function in organizations…[done] right, our stakeholders perceive value.”

    And, from a PR/communication measurement perspective, that value is almost always OUTCOMES based: a change in behaviour or a change of opinion regarding organizational reputation and issues. Even if the outcome doesn’t result in immediate sales, etc., what it does is build up trust, enhance reputation and increase mindshare.

    And the value of those social PR outcomes is priceless.

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