Monday, October 06, 2008

The Digital PR Dilemma

Public relations used to be straightforward. A company would manage its reputation through communications to the "press" which would then diseminate these points of view through various media channels. Perceptions would be measured periodically. Damage control was also straightforward--after a crisis, go to every media channel you know and give interviews to control the spin. This model has gone extinct over the past 36 months as online dialogue has taken a life of its own.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in politics. While McCain and Obama can release factoids or give interviews, these factoids are very quickly shaped and distorted online. A vivid example was McCain's announcement of his campaign suspension to focus on the financial rescue two weeks ago. This was twisted very quickly across media channels and on the blogosphere. The message boards on Digg were full of people proclaiming their cynicism. Varios media pundits across all kinds of channels were analyzing and twisting, and within hours, it was apparent that McCain's tactic had been twisted into something negative.

One could argue that Obama has this figured out more than McCain. Granted, he has a much more positive online personae, but his "slow and steady" approach is much less vulnerable to the digital PR twisting machine. If you don't give the "digital machine" too many things to work with, it won't engage and twist.

So what is a B2B marketer to do? PR is still important--in fact I'd argue it's more important than ever. With this being said, it's also a totally new discipline vs. what is was five years ago. A digital PR manager has to understand the digital environment from three perspectives--"inbound", "outbound", and "community."
  • The inbound function is the "listening" function. This isn't a quarterly or even a monthly function, it's someone who's out there listening to what's being said across various online feedback mechanisms. There are tools to do this, but it's possible to do without high tech "scrapers." A PR professional should map out his core audiences and understand where they congregate and exchange ideas online, and monitor them on a daily basis.
  • The outbound function is putting out information--through formal company channels--to attempt to control the online discourse. There is a careful "empathy" to this, though. Through trial and error, the digital PR expert must disemminate information that does not insult the audience's intelligence but still gets the point across.
  • The community function is perhaps the least understood. There is all kinds of buzz about "engaging the community" with "influencers" but I haven't seen it done effectively unless the brand is already strong. Apple has engaged its community... but it's really more like its community has engaged it. How does an unpopular brand actually engage its community, other than through "better behavior?"

Maybe that's the upshot of this. With the democratization of information, it's harder and harder to put out false spin. It is, however, possible for those companies with compelling value propositions and messages to get the truth out there and correct falsehoods. In any case, PR is clearly more important--and more complicated--than it ever has been for marketers.

1 comment:

angelinjones said...

To meet the challenge head-on, public relations firm Edelman has formally expanded its digital entertainment, rights and technology practice in Los Angeles. The group's title reflects its mission: to provide a PR strategy that strikes a "balance between protecting intellectual property, encouraging new technologies and meeting the evolving needs of global consumers.
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