Public Relations and Social Media:Keeping a Balance

By James V. D’Ambrosio

The explosion of social media in PR messaging – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, and numerous third-party applications – has resulted in increased efficiency, cost savings, and expanded reach for many nonprofits. However, it comes with a cost: the risk of dismissing a core truth about communication: face-to-face is the most effective. Public relations practitioners in nonprofit and private business still need to use interpersonal skills for interviews, workshops, presentations, press conferences and other functions. The following examples are illustrative:

A television commercial some years ago depicts a manager expressing dismay to staff over lost sales he attributes to lack of personal contact. He then distributes plane tickets to employees to meet clients in person across the U.S. While this likely won’t happen in today’s economy, it speaks to the importance of establishing meaningful relationships based on trust and credibility, something the written word cannot match. 

The banking industry provides another example. Why are so many new branches opening? Because banks have learned that when it comes to money, people want the confidence and trust that comes with regular personal interaction with people they know. So they invest $3-5 million for each new branch to serve their customer base.

Finally, PR pioneers Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee could not have imagined technology impacting public relations so swiftly and profoundly. After all, they were busy making the case that companies needed professional communicators to engage stakeholders (many PR folks owe their jobs and livelihood to them). Were a rapidly-evolving advancement transforming the field during their time, they too would examine it.

To be sure, social media is white-hot, here to stay, and a great business tool used by many.  But practitioners can benefit from taking a step back to see how much ‘face time’ they are actually getting with key stakeholders. There are some contacts that are far too important to become purely digital.   

What is your perspective on this issue?

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