Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
June 27, 2011

Social Media as Starting Point, Not Focal Point

Oh, the wondrous things we have! We can access so many new electronic tools, gadgets and mobile applications to make our media relations efforts more productive. However, can email ever replace a face-to-face conversation? Can a Facebook page convey the interplay of emotions at a live news conference? How can 140 characters explain the complexity of health care policy or do it without the cynicism that too often creeps into pithy, short bites?

In order to engage reporters, we should not give up our YouTube channels, LinkedIn accounts or Flickr photos. They all are part of the arsenal that media relations professionals use to help tell clients’ stories. However, I do think it is time to refocus ― social media is a means to the end, and not the end goal itself.

A report released this month by the Federal Communications Commission points out that the abundance of social media platforms for communications does not necessarily mean an abundance of journalism. Likewise, having a reporter’s Twitter handle does not necessarily translate into a relationship. It could be the beginning of communication, but it’s not a rapport. The growing and exciting variety of social media tools provide us with a starting point for catching a reporter’s attention. These tools also can help us understand reporters’ wants, needs and preferences. They help us construct engaging presentations that tell the stories we want to share. The PRSA Health Academy recently held its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., and there were several stellar presentations on the best uses of social media.

But social media can’t replace the human factor.

The public relations community has a role in helping reporters understand the local impact of national issues, infuse greater depth and understanding into their stories, as well as accomplish their assignments while struggling with shrinking resources. By working with reporters and editors, we can help create a better-informed citizenry, which in turn can have a positive social impact.

Personal relationships are built on trust and transparency, and that’s the same when working with the media. How can you create trust and transparency without personal interaction? I propose it’s time to look beyond the creativity and gee-wiz factor of social media, and instead place these tools where they belong in the public relations tool box.

Firstly and foremostly, let’s honor human beings and human relationships by taking the time to personally engage the reporters and editors who can help us. Let’s not forget to develop real relationships, not just avatars of what they might be.

Nancy Hughes, APR, is the assistant vice president of communications and marketing at the National Health Council. Prior to joining, Hughes served as vice president of communications and information services at the American Academy of Physician Assistants for 15 years. Hughes began her career as a radio and television reporter in Colorado covering politics and local government. She transitioned to the other side of the microphone to work as the deputy press secretary for Colorado Governor Dick Lamm. Hughes has also served as press secretary for Colorado Congressman David Skaggs, vice president of communications for the Denver Chamber of Commerce, and public affairs manager for MCI-West Division.

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