There’s a level of frustration I and a few other colleagues have been feeling lately about social media and public relations. The issue seems to be that people are thinking of social media as a discipline — as something separate and distinct from public relations. That’s a false premise. It’s time for the thinking to switch away from social media or public relations to social media and public relations.
I was at an event this afternoon where Scott Monty from Ford was speaking to a group of PR students from several Michigan universities. The question was asked of Scott when Ford would be launching a new model solely via social media. His answer was, “probably never.” Scott noted that social media is just one component of an overall strategy that would be used for a product launch. It was refreshing to hear.
Earlier this week, I had the privilege of speaking to PR professionals from across the country at the Ragan Communications Social Media for Communicators conference. I’ve embedded a short portion of my presentation that was shot on a Flip camera. It’s not the greatest quality video, but it gets the job done. So, rather than trying to type out the point I was making, I’ll just say, “Roll the video…”
I heard Scott Monty speak yesterday at the Lansing Economic Club and, as well as being an engaging speaker, he also has the advantage of delivering a message from a company that really seems to “get it” when it comes to social media and its potential. For those who don’t know who Scott is, his official title is Global Digital & Multimedia Communications Manager for Ford Motor Co.
It probably helped that I saw Scott right in the midst of my prep work for a presentation I’m doing at a Ragan/PRSA conference in February. I’m preparing to talk to people about why they have a huge untapped potential in their employees as brand ambassadors via social media. Coupling that with Scott’s presentation about Ford’s incredible foray into this realm has me even more impassioned about the issue.
Employees have always been brand ambassadors. Successful companies learned how to keep employees happy and may have offered some training on how to express that happiness. They probably talked to them about how to answer the phone and how to transfer calls to the right department if they couldn’t help. Maybe there were some tips on what to say to friends and neighbors if they asked about something going on at the company – with most of the tips being to say as little as possible or to say that’s not really your area and so you don’t know what’s going on.
But that kind of simplistic, command-and-control style of employee engagement simply won’t cut it anymore. The Internet is widespread and faster than ever, with broadband access sometimes giving people faster upload and download speeds at home than they have at work. With smartphones, Blackberries and iPhones, people now are able to receive and send information to anyone, anywhere, anytime. There are hundreds of news sources available 24 hours a day and there are dozens of ways for stories to be rebroadcast, repeated, re-tweeted and shared around the world in the blink of an eye.
There’s an old quote that goes, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on.” It’s attributed to Winston Churchill. Imagine what the English prime minister would say about the way news, rumors and information travel today compared to what was happening during the WWII era.
If you ever get a chance to hear Scott talk about what Ford is doing and why, I highly recommend taking advantage of it. After his presentation, I cornered him with my Flip camera asked him to reiterate something he said on stage. He had mentioned that people easily recognized the Ford name and the iconic blue oval, but that it’s important for people to now see behind that oval — to find out what’s really making Ford tick. Social media allows them to take that peek. I asked Scott why that was so important.