Does social media belong in the hands of PR professionals?

March 18, 2009 at 4:55 am (1) (, , )

Recently, there has been much debate about social media, and its use by PR professionals.  Using social mediums, such as twitter, as a means to market a product or event, is considered somewhat taboo; especially, if the organization is not being transparent about it. 

As a marketing tool, social media offers an advantage to reach new audiences in creative and dynamic ways. However, I must question, is that its intended use? 

I don’t actually think the creators of Facebook, twitter or Digg feel that filtering information is necessary, or even appropriate (to a certain extent, with explicit and offensive content aside).   But, in the recent Facebook fiasco, where companies can sign up to target personalized ads by using a technology called beacon is a complete contradiction of what social media should be.  In Malik Om’s blog post titled Is Facebook Beacon a Privacy Nightmare?, he explores how Facebook is using these more focused ads as a way to capitalize off of the site.  The use of the beacon device allows subscribers to control their privacy, by selecting if they want or do not want personalized ads on their page.  The beacon tool is a clever enough tool that the average person would probably not notice the specific ads.  Let alone, think that focused ads are mere coincidence and never turn their privacy filter to a higher setting. 

What about social media and the not-for-profit sector?  In such volatile market conditions, fundraising efforts have turned to social media as a way to beef up donor lists.   The non-profits such as Pledge to End Hunger, use social media to encourage others to join in their plight and to promote their site.  The unique part is they also use social media against itself, by encouraging twitter users to write a blog about the Pledge where the Pledge’s logo is prominently displayed and referenced. 

 In Beth Kanter’s blog How Non-profits Can Use Social Media she discusses taking the pledge and lists names of others who have joined her cause.  She states that social media “is designed to make it easy to do something meaningful in the short-term and create a dialogue about solving root issues.”  From a public relations standpoint, social media has opened a way for donor-based organizations and corporations to spread the word and promote their cause or business. 

Since the economy is at the forefront of every one’s mind lately, corporations and non-profits have to find creative ways to ‘stay afloat.’ Social media offers a relatively free access to marketing techniques to broader audiences and with more expansive tools at their disposal.  In his blog, How Could Social Media Save Your Favorite Brand?, David Finch explores how brands are increasingly using social media to communicate to find out how to engage audiences, participate in the organization and discuss brand experiences.  His claim is that: “brands need to figure out how to best participate in such an environment,” he continues to say that “the weaker brands that fail to recognize, adapt and exchange with this behavioural shift are likely to suffer.” 

Social media used in these methods offer a make or break situation for some corporations and non-profits.  The problem faced is the ethics behind how to properly use social media, how to engage the audience without seeming like you are trying to sell your product or overtly promote your website.  My answer is simple: be transparent.  If people want to engage with your company they will, do not try to shamelessly try to plug it because then people will just ignore your brand.

Ultimately, social media are not tools that should be limited or have restricted use policies.  They are shared communities and networks where the freedom to exchange information, opinion, rants or whatever, are perfectly acceptable.  To be used however, and by whomever one chooses.  

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