Today, Dr Georg Kolb – Executive Vice President Practices and Methodology at our firm and passionate advocate of peer to peer (p2p) media was in town and he came to talk with us about blogging and peer media and how these are going to affect public relations. It was an interesting session and I’m waiting to see if some of this translates into some real ideas for clients. The biggest block is that people are still very sceptical about the potential of peer to peer media. This can be traced to a number of reasons:
1. Active versus passive media: Some people are used to ‘passive’ media such as newspapers and television where they can consume information without responding or reacting in any way. Blogging and p2p media moves the focus from consumption to participation. Some people just don’t want to have to make choices, push buttons and click on links to get their content. Therefore, they instinctively reject these forms of media and prefer traditional media such as newspapers or television. Often, PR practitioners who belong to this category are unable to sufficiently understand what drives the blogosphere or online communities.
2. Online introversion: P2p media has very few options for the mute observer. The emphasis is on making contact, entering into discussion and committing to opinions. Just like some people are uncomfortable doing all of these in real life, there are others who are edgy about doing them online. They are just not good with online networking, and yes, this includes PR professionals who are every bit the extrovert in real life. To such people, the web represents a vast minefield of potential ‘social’ gaffs just waiting to explode in their faces.
3. Credibility: Mainstream media is considered more credible because journalists are presumably gathering and disseminating information for a living. Bloggers, on the other hand, are a vast, often anonymous mass of people who probably lie around in pyjamas drinking coke, and typing with one hand while they shovel chips into their mouth with the other. PR practitioners who hold bloggers in such (low) esteem find it difficult to admit that they are important stakeholders and audience and are reluctant to commit time and attention tto understanding them. Amit Verma at India Uncut throws some light on Generalising about bloggers.
4. Confusion: Many public relations professionals are confused about what role they can play in the topography of this new media. As Tom Foremski of Silicon Valley Watcher puts it:
You can get a company message out to your potential customers far more cheaply and far more effectively through the blogging medium.
However, the company message in the blogosphere cannot be delivered by hired communicators. It has to come from the people inside, or close to the company, who are passionate about the company and its products. It has to have an authentic voice. You cannot fake an authentic voice.
Therefore what role can public relations professionals play in this new world? They cannot be “authentic-voices-for-hire” because that doesn’t work in this medium. (Try it and you’ll see…it will look and smell fishy.)
Alongside confusion about what needs to be done, there is also fear. Many, including Tom, believe that traditional PR is being disrupted by new media. The biggest worries for many PR professionals is: will my job still be here after the dust settles? What new skills will I have to learn to survive? What if I am not good at this new form of PR?
5. Lack of control: Blogging and other forms of p2p media are moving the focus from control to conversation. Traditionally, PR has been about drilling tightly controlled messaging into spokespeople and using consistent and disciplined methods of delivering these messages. Suddenly, people are being forced to unlearn all of this and speak more freely and honestly. This also means there is less control over what is being said, and the message that will ultimately be conveyed.