Let’s be honest about this, on the whole the PR industry is not welcome in social media. People consider their blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter streams to be their personal space, and they don’t want us oily spin-merchants barging in and shoving our brand messages up in their faces. Nobody likes getting cold-called when they’re at home, nobody likes clearing spam out of their inbox, and nobody likes it when a bunch of marketing suits crashes their social media party.

The PR industry has largely got itself to blame for this. We’ve not done a great job of protecting our own reputation and clearly differentiating professional, open and ethical communications from the kind of weasely propagandising that the public typically associates with the PR industry.

The irony is that while the general attitude seems to be that PR activity in social media is intrusive and undesirable, when we get it right people love us for it – as evidenced by this recent post at Mashable about brands successfully using Twitter.

The problem is that so many brands have blundered into the social media space, desperate to get a piece of the action, without really understanding what they’re doing and this has, understandably,  generated a huge amount of distrust and ill-will towards PR professionals. When somebody who’s never used Twitter or written a blog suddenly decides to incorporate social media into their PR strategy because they’ve heard a lot of buzz about it, you know that disaster and humiliation are just a few steps away.

Ultimately, people are happy to get involved in a dialogue with brands that they are interested in, and if the people managing a brand’s communications understand the right way to work with social media platforms, the outcome is positive for everybody involved. Consumers get to find out about stuff they’re interested in via the channels they prefer to use, brands get to create a valuable conversation with the kind of people they want to talk to.

Jumping blindly on the social media bandwagon out of a sense of obligation is counter-productive and will achieve precisely the opposite of what PR is supposed to do. Only by taking the time to understand how and why people use blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms can the PR industry hope to make a positive contribution and be welcomed by the audiences they’re trying to reach.

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