Happy Birthday Facebook: 10 Things You’ve Taught us About Public Relations

February 7, 2014

Facebook celebrated its tenth birthday this week. Facebook, along with other forms of new media, has changed the business of public relations forever.

Happy Birthday Facebook! Here’s what we’ve learned in the last 10 years.

1. Two-way engagement – Public relations is not a one-way street. The profession’s obsession with mainstream media has frequently led us to forget the role in engaging an audience, or public, in a conversation. Facebook pages that pump out marketing messages from noisy brands don’t work. Pages that listen and engage an audience on its’ terms do. We’ve been quick to transfer our skills.

2. Brand marketing – Related to the last point, our understanding of editorial engagement and reputation has put us on the front foot, compared with colleagues in advertising and marketing. You can’t control a message. You can’t even manage it. But you can lead and participate in a conversation. It’s one of the reasons we are sought out to help promote brands and build communities online. It’s a great opportunity for us.

3. Influencers – Journalists aren’t the only influencers that we should engage in a bid to reach an audience, or public, with third-party endorsement. People and organizations are building communities on networks such as Facebook and leading conversations. Seek out the influencers that have a community relevant to your organization.

4. Communities – Businesses have the opportunity to become influencers in their own right by building a community. This provides the means to communicate directly with an audience, or public, in a two-way conversation. At its most basic it’s a branded form of media, think interactive online newsletter.

5. Real time – Much of the workflow in the public relations business is more than 100 years old. It is built around the press release as the primary form of communications. You no longer have two weeks to carefully craft messages, draft an announcement and get approvals. Social networks such as Facebook operate at the pace of real life. Organizations have begun to rebuild their communication function around a real time newsroom model.

6. Paid media – Progressive media such as Facebook are constantly experimenting with new business models to generate income. Today, that means if you want your content to be widely seen in the newsfeed, you’re going to have to pay. It’s completely transparent: promoted content is clearly labeled in your community’s newsfeed. The future of the media, like the future of public relations, is a work in progress.

7. Data – Third-party tools allow practitioners to listen to conversations and extract insights. Facebook itself provides Insights for pages enabling us to understand the reach and engagement of content. The objectives of a public relations campaign should be focused on business outcomes. Outputs provide a good intermediary step and help inform how a campaign is developed in real time.

8. Content development – Content in all its forms is the drumbeat of modern public relations campaigns. We need to get out of our comfort zone of text and images. We’ve added skills to our teams to enable to us to work across all forms of content. We all carry devices with us capable of creating audio, images, text and video, and are increasingly confident in helping brand tell their stories via all forms of media.

9. Story telling – Social business analyst Altimeter published data last year which suggests that we are exposed to more than 3,000 brand messages per day. Most are corporate messages that don’t resonate with their intended audience and are lost in the noise. We’re back to the issue of marketing versus public relations. Those that engage with their intended audience are almost always based on a creative idea that is integrated with other forms of media.

10. Value and purpose of public relations – Interchanging public relations for media relations with the emergence of mainstream print and broadcast in the 1950s was a mistake. It fundamentally devalued our business. Public relations is a strategic management discipline focused on building reputation by promoting mutual understanding via all forms of media. It’s a lot more valuable to organizations than pure play media relations.

Stephen is a Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University. Chairman of Future Proof policy unit and Past President, CIPR. Author of Brand Anarchy and #BrandVandals; and editor and contributor to Share This and Share This Too.

Connect with him on Twitter: @wadds