The inaugural byte focused on two of the three pillars of PR: reputation and value. Now let’s gnaw away on the third pillar of relationship building to test its sturdiness, particularly in relation to social media (“engagement and information”).
As a framework, let’s revisit key definitions from the last Bytes from the PR Sphere column:
Relationship building – connections, informal or formal, short- or long-term, developed with various stakeholders through dialogue, actions or transactions.
CPRS definition of PR “…relationships between an organization and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals, and serve the public interest.”
Stakeholder – a person or organization with an interest or concern in our organization or something our organization is involved in.
A “relationship building” Thesaurus search produces synonyms such as:
- affiliation, association, bond, liaison, link, correlation, tie, union, blending, agreement, coming together, unification, amalgamation, merger, coalition, grouping, partner…
All of these are legitimate word substitutions for solid and formal, organizational PR goals and arrangements.
Notice what is missing? Words such as:
- friendship, companionship, acquaintance, camaraderie, social contacts, colleagues, banter…
Now here’s your social media and PR pragmatist’s thesis at the front end:
The majority of significant relationships related to PR are developed offline and quietly amongst relevant decision-makers in positions of influence and authority.
What is this heresy being claimed?
Where is the engagement, transparency and the democratization of social in this statement? What about empowerment and a sense of fulfillment by those important stakeholders: all employees? Isn’t PR 2.0 supposed to value input from customers and other stakeholders in two-way, symmetrical communication?
The type of “connections” listed in the second grouping may play a role leading up to a significant organizational relationship. But in the majority of scenarios they will not. That is the reality…and I don’t see it changing in the near future.
The critical difference is most of those elements pertain to personal and informal connections—publicized or realized in social media—versus organizational public relations(hips).
Note that customer relationship management (CRM) is a sub-set in this scenario, plus generally its direct report line in organizations is not to public relations (or marketing)—although I’d be most interested in learning about corporate examples proving otherwise.
So let’s keep our eye on the ball regarding the primary reasons for participating in social media, professionally, first, and personally, second, in terms of public relations:
- Organizationally “relating” and participating on various platforms, with an integrated communications strategy, to add to the reputation and value of your (employer/client) organization.
- Personally (either as advisor or hands-on tactician practitioner) demonstrating a knowledge base and skills set in effectively making use of these channels for the above (#1), with accountability and creativity, in proving why the organization and its PR department are worthy of the online attention of stakeholders.
In both the professional and personal online spheres and platform accounts, this may include making public existing connections and affiliations.
Now let’s examine “aspirational” relationship building in the digital sphere.
Other resources on relationship building
In a recent post by my PR Conversations colleague, Heather Yaxley, relationship advice for PR practitioners, she examined “organization-public relationships” including the focus and the skills needed by the practitioner. Here are a couple of pertinent extracts on critical needs:
“…to be translated into practical competencies to become recognized as a vital intelligence-based skills set to close the gap between the “friendliness” focus of relationship building in practice and an informed understanding of research and knowledge-based strategies.”
“…to know how to build professional, multi-dimensional relationships to help organizations manage conflict situations or seek co-orientation with a wide range of individuals or groups over time.”
Heather kindly references my own guest post on Mary Ellen Miller’s blog, Layers of relationship all fresh so far with online friendlie, Mel. Both of us believe it’s important to distinguish between personal relationships—including whether they are mainly peer-to-peer and/or potentially transitory in nature—developed in social media, to that of organizational public relations ones.
Prevalent types of relationships in social media
The majority of relationships I’m witnessing in social media relates more to promotion of personal connections—shout outs to “friends,” old and new. Advertising plans to meet up, sometimes in excruciatingly dull (and meaningless) detail. Public thank you’s for retweets, a past favour done or an introduction made. (Even I’ve been guilty of some of this “showy” excess, but I am consciously trying not to do it, unless there’s some value-add to others—for example, highlighting some knowledge gleaned after meeting a thought leader, etc.)
Some individuals (often consultants in the social media sphere) take tremendous pride in the blog “commenting communities” they’ve created. Kudos to them for attracting so much interest and attention, but it does beg the questions:
- Do you look at your blog primarily as a business…or as a place for personal expression? What is its focus? How do you bill it? How often do the posts reflect the blog’s stated purpose?
- If it is a business blog, are you attracting the right stakeholders from an organizational perspective and developing potential business relationships…or are you mainly having friendly debates with people who hold similar (or vastly divergent) opinions as you, who may even work in the same areas or sectors?
Enough about what’s not effective
Pointing out what’s not overly effective in online organizational relationship building is easy. Providing possible solutions is not. Here are some things to consider in building or solidifying online organizational connections with relevant stakeholders:
- Besides determining internal subject experts for things like blog posts (author, quotes or as an interview subject) or videos, think externally, for either existing or aspirational partners. Are they prepared to offer you information-rich and relevant content for other stakeholders, with full attribution and links, on your site(s)? Will the partner company similarly help to market/promote the guest appearance and make the relationship evident? If your organization is in service or manufacturing, existing or potential supplier-company partners are a perfect example of possible involvement. Particularly if the organization doesn’t have a well-trafficked blog or video channel of its own. It’s a win-win situation for relationship building (plus marketing and profile).
- Participate in Twitter chats and demonstrate sector knowledge and/or thought leadership (sometimes individuals monitor for these things). Same thing with LinkedIn, Facebook or Google+ group discussions. Invite members of your leadership team or specific areas (e.g., HR or engineering) to participate in relevant chats; alternatively, quote him or her by name. (It should be self-evident that quotes from leaders should not include proprietary information or unwittingly offer competitive intelligence.)
- Monitor these same discussions and look for senior-level or relevant subject experts at other organizations, which you can point the correct person in the PR department or leadership team to consider to approach, offline. Propose an outline of the parametres of a potential new relationship.
- If you attend an in-person event with a social media connection (e.g., a tweetup), look to promote similar things as above, to grow relationships. And for heaven’s sake, don’t spend the entire time talking to the people you already know through social media, particularly if they hold the same position as you, with a competitor or similar organization (e.g., an agency or consultant). Simply say hello and have a brief discussion before moving on to new people and possibilities.
(Help add to this list in the comments section with your success stories of making use of social media to build relationships for your organization, beyond the personal.)
Relationship building moving forward
In a recent Twitter chat, I posed the question of whether someone’s existing online network could or should be part of the employee evaluation process. Following are my favourite responses:
Kat French (guest moderator: Separating the Personal & Professional in Social Media…or Not): Employers need to be clear if leveraging your personal network is an expectation of a new hire.
Dennis Jenders (#sm132 active participant): In the digital world, I think it is assumed that social networks will be used to evaluate you.
Jason Breed (#socialmedia co-founder): What I’ve seen: personal social brands get you hired, but an employee’s social network is not considered as part of the promotion process as yet.
In moving “relationship building” forward in the social media sphere (from personal connections to organizational PR), I think this might prove a tremendous incentive for a bonus or promotion:
Helping to create and build a formal, long-term relationship with a stakeholder first “met” online.
Wouldn’t it be incredibly relevant and satisfying in merging the PR and social media fields of practice in this way—even if the bulk of the discussions and arrangements ended up being developed offline and quietly amongst relevant decision-makers in positions of influence and authority? Not a bad thing to have on your CV, either.