Buckle up PR pros

Here’s a piece I wrote for Ragan.com about social media and public relations in 2011:

Buckle up PR pros: 2011 promises an intense ride on the social media roller coaster

The avenues for dispensing information will multiply, so communicators of all stripes will need to understand and manage numbers as well as words.
By Ari B. Adler | Posted: January 3, 2011
In 2011 the hunger for information will grow in intensity, and how it’s consumed will grow in complexity. PR pros will have to deepen their understanding of social media beyond the “shiny new toy” it was in 2010. 

“PR professionals will be expected to consume information faster than ever before. It’s just the speed of doing business now,” says Arik Hanson, principal of ACH Communications in Minneapolis. “It means you have to work smarter, not harder.”

Hanson suggested that using effective online tools, such as RSS and news feed readers, will be crucial to keeping up with the information flow.

Though social media will continue to play an important role in all the information sharing, at least one PR pro thinks we are already seeing some numbers plateau.

“I’ve noticed that trend in organizations, mine included,” says Angela Minicuci, communications coordinator for the Michigan Association of Counties in Lansing. “Fans and followers are becoming harder to find, and online social spaces are developing more niches.”

Minicuci says that just browsing the home page of tech news site such as Mashable shows a focus on buzzwords like “optimize,” “personalize” and “integrate.”

“The bandwagon has been jumped on, and now everyone is scrambling to find a seat and hold on,” Minicuci says. “It’s not enough for companies to just be in the social networking space; they have to utilize it and utilize it well.”

For corporations, that means a focus on video, says Mary Henige, social media and digital communications director for General Motors in Detroit. “Corporate video storytelling will expand, since this medium helps to humanize companies and brands,” Henige says.

Are ‘gurus’ goners?

Could 2011 finally be the beginning of the end for social media “gurus,” as more professionals start to understand its power and become familiar with its use? Henige noted that with more marketers engaging on the Web, the concepts of simply monitoring social media versus becoming an expert user will blur even further into one necessary practice.

It’s that blurring that will require PR professionals to “get smarter about the numbers” if they want to stand out, Hanson says.

Predictions for 2011
• Just being in a social space isn’t going to be enough for companies anymore. They will have to learn to use the space well. 

• Corporate video storytelling will expand as a way to humanize companies and brands.

• To stand out, PR pros must learn to translate data from places like Google Analytics, not just talk about it.

• New and traditional methods will become more important as the public becomes less enamored of the shininess of social media.

“Sure, at heart most of us are wordsmiths; we don’t like math,” he says, “but those who embrace the numbers and know how to translate them into real, actionable ideas for business will continue to win and excel.”

Hanson says it’s about translating the hard data from places like Google Analytics, not just talking about it.

“You can’t simply report the data anymore; you need to be able to dig into it, understand it and translate it for the client or organization,” he says.

Hanson, Minicuci and Henige agree that PR will have to continue to evolve as social media evolves, with Henige adding that the profession will see more influence from out-of-work journalists entering the field.

“Journalists will continue to vie for public relations positions as traditional reporting jobs and newspapers continue to shrink,” Henige says.

In addition, Minicuci says, PR folks will be dealing with a public that wants more.

“I don’t see the general public accepting social media as the be-all end-all solution to public relations, but rather I see social sites having to better define themselves in markets in order to stay relevant,” she says.

“Social networking will prove to be a very useful tool,” she says, “as the growing pains are worked out and practitioners find ways to integrate both new and traditional methods into their efforts.”

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