Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Web without an advisor?

A week ago today the FT's Michael Skapinker was indulging in a few belly laughs at the expense of the PR industry, whose pretensions to expand their invisible handiwork into social media he claimed to find quite amusing.

I shared my response to the article with Michael and he kindly offered to pass it on to the editor for consideration for publication, but as I am yet to see my name in print, I'll reproduce it here:

Dear Michael,

You have some interesting insights there, but I feel there's still a good deal more thinking to be done between observation and opinion on this topic.

Back in the days when online chatter was going on in places like Usenet and Listserv groups, it was perhaps more understandable if companies elected to put their hands over their ears and make out that it wasn't happening. But the thing about blogs is that they are providing a more reliable conduit between spontaneous popular discussion and the commercial media, and it's this hybrid nature of the humble blog post that makes it so relevant to the communications professional.

Listserv users probably had no reasonable expectation that the companies whose goods and services they purchased would be using that particular channel to improve their overall consumption experience. Yet as you rightly observe, the internet is "teeming with people complaining about companies,"and much of this griping can probably be isolated to the frustration sensed by those who would rather these companies did not continue to pass up the opportunity to both listen and speak to them using newer channels that we are all increasingly native to.

You could in fact argue that campaign-style activities that treat blogs and social sites as nichier versions of traditional media should indeed be rare, because you wouldn't really expect them to be that effective anyway.

But the fact that spontaneous networks of conversation are emerging which are far more joined up with our increasingly fragmented mainstream media, should be inspiring emotions beyond fear and hope, and there is certainly room for the informed counselor here.

I would not expect that sending out messages with the hope that the network will do the rest of the work will be the primary activity of the PR profesional for much longer. There is a more nuanced role in the offing which, amongst other things, involves grasping (and fostering) the conditions which permit 'social' communications to occur online within the context of values shared by the brand owner.



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