A recent piece I wrote for PRWeek…I welcome your comments

What’s all this stuff about social media?

Social media sites have clout. They are the virtual malls and burger joints of earlier eras. They connect people through social networks. More kids hang out in them than you can imagine. You’re nobody without your own MySpace profile or until you’re invited into somebody else’s space.

More and more advertisers have their own MySpace accounts where they are talking directly to kids about hamburgers, movies, videos, CDs and more. Some have more clout than others. Eighty-one percent of visitors to social networking sites, for instance, go to MySpace. Another 7.3% (mostly college students) prefer Facebook. What they really are about is one-on-one communications.

So the question is are they just about one-on-one communications or are they the newest great battlefield for the PR industry?

Wherever you turn these days, you read about PR 2.0 with more and more agencies coming out with their own version of the user-friendly press release. The established wire services, like Business Wire, have optimized their press release delivery, have focused on direct to consumer delivery and stretched the bonds of the multimedia news release.

Your job, my job is really to identify new communications channels. These social media sites do not want to get press releases – traditional ones, multimedia-enabled ones or 2.0 versions; they do, however, want to find and post the those press releases they consider relevant. For instance if Mariah Carey’s publicist puts out a press release, they want to link to it. But it is their choice, not our’s. Therefore the role of public relations is to have news that is linkable, searchable, assessable and useable by whoever wants it.

While social media sites might lack the intimacy of other forms of communication, they have scope of size and the speed of communication that is crucial to the new silent generation or Generation Z. They want to communicate with lots of people, about myriad subjects in seconds.

It is crucial that the public relations industry take a deep breath not get caught up in the hype, in the buzz and not panic. It is our responsibility to adapt thoughtfully and respond to these changes in communications.

Traditional media is alive and well and quite frankly it goes hand-in-hand with the online community and that is crucial to know. This was, in fact, confirmed in a study initiated by the Online Publishers Association that found that “the power of the web is strong, especially when combined with other media.”

The reality is, and every veteran PR person knows this, direct to consumer marketing is compatible to working with journalists. It is our responsibility to anticipate where people are looking for news and make it available to them in the format they prefer. There is still a lot to be said for the third-party endorsement of The New York Times, Fortune and NBC and a lot to be said for the filtering role of The Wall Street Journal, Business Week and CBS. Journalists, even respected bloggers, give credibility to corporate news; they also help interpret it and put it in perspective.

What is significant about social media is that we are communicating with the public of one. We are attempting to influence the influencer. And we can do this in myriad ways. It is our responsibility to select the best tool to fit the situation.

Michael Lissauer is an EVP at Business Wire

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