Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
November 12, 2010

The Principles Are the Same: Young PR Professionals Still Need to Develop Credibility and Influence

There are almost 500 million Facebook accounts and 200 million people with Twitter accounts. There are more than 150 million pages that identify themselves as blogs. Newspapers and magazines are under serious pressure as ad dollars move online and to social networks.The line between public relations and marketing has been blurring for some time now, creating new ways to tell a story and influence key constituents.

PR professionals today confront a whole new set of tools and challenges, but the issues they face remain essentially the same. In PR, the primary goal has always been to tell a story using influential channels so that ideas, products and services are brought to light in a way that moves the needle for those involved.  This means engaging with influencers and becoming part of the conversation in a meaningful way. I was surprised to read a recent Twitter study that said only one in 300 users are re-tweeting. Remember, conversations are two-sided. If a lot of people are following you, but you are not re-tweeting and engaging your followers, then your level of influence is clearly limited.

If we’ve learned anything from social media, it’s that popularity does not equal influence. The way that PR professionals can create influence in the social media sphere is the same as it has always been for years in traditional media — by establishing credibility, trust and authority.

Many new evangelists of social media have taken the position that public relations and marketing are vastly different on the Web than in mainstream media. People like David Meerman Scott argue that anybody can earn attention by “publishing their way in,” using social media tools such as, blogs, podcasts, online news releases and online media. For more experienced professionals and companies, this is a great approach. For young professionals, this type of one-sided communications is exactly where most people go awry. The ultimate goal is to engage with others, and that often starts by joining the conversation through existing channels. So what’s a young PR professional to do?

PR professionals and companies seem to stumble into social media without fully understanding the scope and implications of what they are posting and how it will ultimately affect their credibility. Which social media sites are the most popular with your audience? What sort of information will you need to distribute through social media networks that will resonate with my prospective audience? If I follow a group of journalists and they follow me back, what kind of information is going to resonate with them, and how do I take advantage of this connection?

Young PR professionals don’t come equipped with a rolodex, relationships, influence or trust. These credentials must be earned over time, methodically, by providing content where content is needed. By tuning in to the social networks of journalists, bloggers and influencers and tracking them, they can learn over time to personalize their communications with these influencers and become a trusted resource with an intimate personal knowledge of their target audience. These professionals can’t really yet take their own destiny into their own hands by creating their own content altogether, as their ideas are not fully mature enough to reflect a full grasp of the marketing world. But they can reflect their own experiences and chronicle their thoughts. But their credibility is also dependent on the level of trust they establish with those around them and the sophistication of the ideas and arguments they pitch to the influencers in their field.

The tools of the trade may have changed. But the time-honored strategies of establishing trust, credibility and authority have not.

Hugh Burnham, founder and co-chief executive officer, Gutenberg Communications, blogs on the the TheGutes. Connect with Hugh on LinkedIn and follow Hugh on Twitter @TheGutes

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