Profile Byte: PR Fly Zone on Social Media’s Radar

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Channel Goldilocks in determining the right amount of PR “personality” for your social business profile—not too little, not too much. Just right.

On CBC Radio’s The Current, a recent guest was Susan Cain, author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking; she described introverts’ preferred forms of interactions and contributions to society. A sound bite that stood out from a public relations and social media perspective was about how the 19th century focused on “character,” whereas the last and current centuries promote a culture of “personality.”

From a social business perspective, what makes more sense for the PR management function:personalityorcharacter?

This is important when determining the fly zone (either as PR advisor or hands-on tactician practitioner) on a social enterprise’s real estate space (i.e., its social capital).

Too little, too much social personality

In my inaugural column, I stated the public relations management role is “central, fluid and relatively untested [regarding] effective reputation management and value in the social sphere.” Since time, I’ve been searching for examples of individuals doing it right. Alas, I see too many with an excess of personality and not nearly enough character. By this I mean too much unrelated-to-business information, negativity and “opinionating.”

There are notable exceptions, but it appears that many PR people doing an exemplary job in their traditional roles don’t have an adequate social profile—or too little, per my Goldilocks analogy.

Defining too little

It’s too little profile if various stakeholders don’t know who is in the lead public relations role and how to connect easily with him or her. This translates to missed opportunities in the social realm in regards to raising the profile of a social business and enhancing an organization’s reputation, value and relationship building. Journalists are an obvious example; others include potential B2B partners and relevant community groups.

At the “Tweeting a Business Beat” session at Social Media Week Toronto, two of the four panelists indicated they didn’t follow company Twitter accounts, but did engage with individuals. Alas, one panelist casually used the word “publicists” interchangeably with “PR,” thus undercutting the extent of his engagement with people in the PR function (probably limited to receiving media releases about new widgets). Speaking to the Globe and Mail’s senior communities editor (who served as moderator) post session, I indicated that being a publicist was a sub-set of public relations (as is media relations) and asked that this influential business publication’s journalists be educated on the difference.

On reflection, probably the journalists who indicated this preference mainly engage on Twitter with more-showy “personality” publicists than “character” PR individuals employed in businesses who cultivate relationships with a variety of publics, beyond consumers. For example, senior-level public relations reps responsible for:

  • reporting on investor relations and corporate social responsibility
  • relating with stakeholders in government and community groups; and
  • internal communications initiatives

Call to action: Ensure relevant PR people are identified on social business channels. Indicate personal account information where relevant.

From a social business perspective, I queried whether the Globe and Mail’sSmall Business LinkedIn Group lent itself to developing article ideas for journalists. The business editor confirmed they were “probing [its members] for stories.” I noticed many attendees taking notes and it was one of the most-tweeted areas of the session, leading me to surmise that not many of my #smwto colleagues were aware of this LinkedIn resource. Judging by the looks on their faces, I suspect the existence of this Group surprised some panelists, too.

Call to action: Check out what relevant media properties have LinkedIn Groups. If Open, join and participate in discussions.

Recruiting a second opinion on too much

Now in her early 30s, earlier in her career Philadelphia-based Jennifer Mattern specialized in PR and social media consulting for creative professionals, plus small and online organizations. Currently Jenn is a professional blogger, covering social media and business. Although neither of us are shrinking violets in the social space, Jenn concurs that there’s often an excess of online personality:

“A brand’s social media identity shouldn’t revolve around a single person unless that person essentially is the business. That’s not the case with the in-house member of the PR team or a social media consultant. People leave positions willingly. They get fired. And duties are sometimes re-assigned to other employees or consultants. If an organization’s social media efforts are tied too directly to one personality, those kinds of changes could completely alter the public identity of the social business through its social media engagement.”

She continues, “There’s nothing wrong with injecting personality into social media interactions as an individual; that’s what personal accounts are meant to do. But the ‘personality’ of a brand in the social media space should be relatively consistent, even in light of a staff change. It’s important to pull yourself out of it to a degree so that relationships built between a business and its customers, fans or other stakeholders, so that the social business can continue with or without you, with minimal effect on members of that network.”

So who is just right?

I liked the take of columnist Joel Don about who, ultimately, owns the capital “developed” by a social lead. Regarding Joel’s “what if he leaves” example, I think Ford’s Scott Monty (although not specifically in a PR capacity) is a role model on the “just right” amount of character or personality. Other examples that come readily to mind are Dell’s Lionel Menchaca and Richard Binhammer, MSF Canada’s Avril Benoît, Genome Alberta’s MikeSpear and the Stratford Festival’s Lisa Middleton.

Why? Because in all of the above examples the business comes first, including strategy for engagement and the telling of the organizational narrative. The individuals’ own points of view and personalities come a distinct second, although they can shape stakeholders’ personal appreciation and respect for an organization’s PR and its chosen “social” representative.

PR fly zone on social media’s radar analogy

To underscore the title of this Byte, picture a small airplane flying above your city or at a public outdoor event—the ones that have a message trailing behind. (A similar, more obvious example: the Goodyear Blimp.) We’ve all seen them.

If the right set of stakeholders see the plane, plus its “tale” (sic) is “just-right-creative” enough, the message flying on the radar can influence a call to action to do something or find out more information. If it’s a lame message of blatant marketing, those same publics will stop looking and quickly revert to whatever they were doing.

Think of the pilot of the plane as being the PR representative, but this time flying in the social business sphere. The pilot works diligently in the hopes that you pay attention and engage with relevant communications or calls to action relating to or around the business. Navigation plays an essential role in flying the vehicle correctly, including being in front of the right stakeholders (quite possibly aided by the sales and marketing teams). But ultimately, any success relates to the brand being profiled (i.e., offerings and reputation), not to the pilot’s flying skills or personality.

In conclusion

Again, I channel the words of Toni Muzi Falconiregarding, “Who do you think has great public relations?”

“In most cases successful organizations do not have overt public visibility. Or, when they do have a high profile, they don’t betray their anxiousness or obsessive need to be liked.”

I suspect septuagenarian Toni is thinking of organizations and public relations representatives who have more of a 19th-century-style of character than 21st-century personality. Although in today’s optimal integrated communication environment, most companies would benefit from injecting more profile and character into the corporate DNA, in order to enhance organizational public relations fly zones on social media’s busy radar.

Which individuals have the “just right” amount of profile and fly zone in their organizations’ PR and social media roles? I’m interested in the “why,” plus whether their strategic and tactical influence is likely to continue past representatives’ affiliation with their social businesses. Think of it as the difference between a contracted, short-term “campaign” and a long-term “business communication plan.”

From a Profile Byte perspective, the most-useful examples are public relations practitioners who:

  • fly competently in the middle of the social media radar
  • have a Goldilocks just-right amount of character/personality; and
  • possess a laser-like focus on furthering the vision, goals and objectives of their social businesses

…rather than online aerobatics designed to build up personal reputations.

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.
It's interesting the difference of opinion between "people on the street" vs. marketers re: success (or not) of Burger King's #mcwhopper ... - 36 mins ago
Judy Gombita
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  1. Daniel Trujillo says

    I found the Goldilocks analogy very illustrative of your point. A very clear way of taking on the subject, indeed.
    I have often wondered as to the relation between high engagement on Twitter, and low awareness, and therefore low engagement, on LinkedIn. It seems to me that SM engagement and interaction are still largely perceived as mere friendship seekers rather than as alternate platforms of meaningful participation. On Twitter you can only go so far, and on LinkedIn is where you actually have the time and means to contribute to a discussion. Most people are not very prone to take part on discussions, and I find that strange seeing as SM is indeed about interacting.
    Now, on the matter of PR being seen as publicity, I believe this has much to do with the fact that some companies, or individuals as you well mention it, are seeing PR channels as advertising ones. Would you agree?
    This has been fun to read. Cheers.
    Daniel Trujillo.

    • says

      Thank you for weighing in, Daniel. When I attended Social Media Week Toronto one of
      my objectives was to get a handle on the different platforms available to us. People are pretty much in agreement that Twitter is primarily a real-time communication tool and that the other tools lent themselves more to engagement. Let’s face it—engagement is a lot more work. That’s why I think people are visible on Twitter a lot more than the other major vehicles.

      Advertising and marketing people definitely see social media as promotional vehicles. That
      was to my point—publicists fit closer to marketing PR than they do to reputation, value and relationship building. And I’m not saying being a publicist is bad or wrong; simply that it is a much narrower role, with specific objectives. Like trying to get people to buy a book or go to a certain film. But if there’s an organizational upheaval or crisis, likely it’s not the
      publicists answering the questions. It’s the PR representative.

      • says

         Nice post Judy.  Specifically on this comment though, do you think it is wise to necessarily separate out promotion from reputation?  Aren’t the two very closely interlinked?  Likewise, not sure what Daniel means by PR and advertising channels (the old distinction between earned and paid is fast disappearing).  Surely like the telephone, people use social media for all sorts of different purposes.  Much as a call (or SM exchange) with a CEO, PR practitioner, sales rep or customer relations exec can turn out to be good/bad publicity and impact positively or negatively on reputation.  The real art (and science) is in understanding what is appropriate at the specific time with particular people.  Much like the reference to humour (or humor) :-) 

        • says

          I’m not really understanding what you mean, Heather. In my response to Daniel I used the examples of “book” or “film” publicists. As inanimate things, I’m not sure “reputation” would come into play overly much. The QUALITY of the book or film is another thing. I guess someone who was really good at publicity would be able to “sell” a lesser-quality book or film, based on the writer or director/producer/actors’ reputation(s).

          Maybe you are defining a publicist different from me?

          • says

            Are you saying that publicists seek publicity and are involved in promotional activities?  But that is all they do?  I would agree with that – but see that a lot of PR practitioners also seek publicity to promote a particular idea, reputation, policy or indeed products (books, cars, films, blogs…).  But, this is to my mind integrated – so that they are able to utilise promotional skills beyond supporting a sales objective. 

            Interestingly if we take someone like Max Clifford in the UK – who built his reputation as a publicist – he is now pitching himself (promoting?) as a crisis expert.  Is he a role model?  Is he a PR practitioner?  Both debatable – but I reckon his work is as much about protecting reputation as generating publicity these days.

          • says

            The use of the term “publicist” plays a very small part in this Profile Byte, Heather. I’m not really “saying” anything.

            So, do I take it to mean that you are offering up Max Clifford as a self-proclaimed “publicist” who has the “just right” amount of character (or personality) and fly zone on social media’s radar?

          • Heather Yaxley says

            I was responding to the thread of comments rather than the original post.  Hence my reference to Max Clifford as a publicist was in the context that people like him don’t simply promote goods as you had used as an example.  

            Clifford’s reputation (character/personality) is so well known that he has little need to flypast himself in social media – and his clients primarily focus on his strengths in the traditional media sense.  So no, I’m not holding him up as an example in respect of the post itself, but illustrating a point I made in the thread of embedded responses.  

          • says

            Understood. But this column is specifically about public relations in the social media realm. That is my understood part of the mandate from Neal Schaffer.

            Ergo, the example of Clifford would not qualify, per my request. Except as a PR person who has “too little” profile/personality/character in social media.

            I recognize you were responding to the comment thread, as well as to the fact that exploring PR as a primarily “promotional” role is your current area of study (for the book chapter). But it’s not the focus of this particular column, so sorry if my responses don’t suit your purpose. :-)

    • says

      Hello Arthur—thank you for stopping by. As someone who thoroughly enjoys humour in
      the “just right” amounts, I hear you. Now when I hear the word “community engagement,” I’m thinking more of the dedicated person or people interacting with brand champion consumers on a company’s Facebook page.That’s not really the role I’m focusing on here. To put it into perspective, think of the PR person speaking for an elected representative or a financial institution. There can be some personality and humour…but probably the
      “just right” amount is less than the community manager in the Harley Davidson or Doritos Facebook page. Do you see what I’m saying?

      And I would really appreciate hearing your “golden” (great play on my analogy) examples of folks doing it right.

  2. says

    Nicely done and thanks for the insights.  You speak to the need for balance; can’t argue with that.  Plus companies need to strategically map out the way their social business image is promoted, and plan for the many personalities that will play into the process, today and in the future. 

    • says

      Thanks, Joel. Given that your earlier post (which I linked to) was part of my inspiration, I’m delighted you found it insightful.

      I’m 100 per cent in agreement with your pointing out the need for “many personalities.” After all, I’m an advocate for leading in social media, not “owning” it. Certainly not working alone or in isolation from other PR representatives or organizational departments—silos are bad. Does part of your PR counsel on social media initiative to clients include allowing for diversity, whilst still ensuring the correct balance and gravitas when it comes to a social business’ image? I know, for example, that the Stratford Festival’s Lisa Middlteton has quite a few direct reports who have their own Twitter accounts that reference their employer, but also stay on message for most of their tweets.

  3. Tonimuzi says

    Judy. at a certain point you say:
    Although in today’s optimal integrated communication environment, most companies would benefit from injecting more profile and character into the corporate DNA, in order to enhance organizational public relations fly zones on social media’s busy radar.

    Yes but this is not a policy issue, it is
    a situational one.

    In general, I believe sober is the
    best, but agree that sometime this is not tenable.

    Yet, beware of the consequences! What happens more than often
    (as far as I can tell) is that once corporate leaderships with pr’s as pushers),
    get used to visibility it is a drug that sticks and yearns for more… if
    negative they spend out of proportion to turn positive or neutral, if
    positive they want more and more.

    In the early eighties I helped brief
    a psychoanalyst to ease a client’s urge and, since then, a subprofession for
    analysts has emerged that involves artists, writers, directors,starlets. managers and what have you. The whole celebrity pr business is a pusher’s paradise and this accounts, yes, for a thriving  and profitable market but also for our profession’s reputation….


    It is a growing market and I believe
    that pr’s are more responsible than others for this….

    • says

      Fascinating response, Toni. Thank you so much for stopping by.

      I understand that this type of low-key PR profile is not a “policy” one…but I would argue that it’s probably more a “cultural” one than strictly a situational one.

      (Think back to the CPRS webinar with Maple Leaf Food’s top communications person, where she talked about its CEO, Michael McCain. Although being a spokesperson was not his first choice, he felt compelled to address the media and public directly, because of the cultural values held dear at MLF. The fact that its products had made people ill or killed them was devastating to not only the leadership, but all employees.)

      Interesting you describing having a “high profile” (whether offline or online) as being similar to a drug, including assigning the PR people as “pushers.”

      Your work in the early ’80s sounds fascinating. Heather Yaxley thinks we should encourage you to write a guest post about this topic for PR Conversations. That is, if you want the additional “social media and PR” profile….. 😉

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