Why we’re now all public relations officers

A few years back I worked for a large telecommunications business (you can probably guess which one) where I was a junior manager.

Having come from a much smaller business background, adjusting to this large corporate organisation and its ways of doing things took some getting used to.

For example, publicity.

Where I’d come from, any good news was to be disseminated to the media as soon as possible so as to leverage the promotional opportunity that came with that.

The sooner you could get the story to journalists, the sooner you would get your story out there for a waiting customer audience to consume and act on.

Not so for the large telco.

A chain of approvals

Any news at all not only had to be prepared by a team of professional publicists (not such a bad thing), it also had to move through no less than seven signed approvals from senior staff.

Yes, seven!

And to a large degree you can understand why. When a company has billions of dollars of revenue, and shareholder funds amongst them, it’s critical to manage any information the public encounter.

So you can understand why social media was greeted with shock and awe by this and so many larger organisations.

Quite clearly the notion of a real-time conversation with the public that thousands or even millions could freely access was a concept that would send shivers up the spine of traditional public affairs professionals.

Why, not even one approval could be sought in the time an entire social media conversation had taken place.

Run for the virtual hills

It’s no wonder it took most large organisations many years to fully understand what social media meant for them and then how to manage it.

But the quandary underscores just how exposed businesses of all sizes are to the cut and thrust of lightning quick, warts and all social media.

Of course its not just pragmatism that smaller business has to weigh up. Are they even qualified to manage what might be a controversial topic? And if not, who could afford to pay someone who is?

It’s just one good reason why most smaller business have been so reluctant to start and maintain a good social media presence.

Fear of the unknown

It’s simply way too scary for them to manage, not only the public relations aspects of social media, but also the content and technical requirements that come so naturally to their kids.

Quite simply, they feel way out of their depth to even attempt such a venture.

I mean even well versed social media professionals can be challenged by competitive trolling. So how is the smaller business operator meant to have the skills to do the same thing when they have the myriad of other management and operational tasks to attend to?

The Sensis 2016 Social Media report tells us that 48% of smaller business have a social media presence. While that might sound relatively healthy, social media can mean many different things.

How serious a presence?

For example, it might mean that a staff member engages in online business groups, or that an ad has been purchased, or that you have a Facebook page with a handful of likes.

And there lies a quandary. Because half the population use social media. If a business isn’t using it regularly, it opens the door to a more willing and capable competitor.

Sure, you can still advertise on social media using the wonderful and affordable advertising tools they provide, but actual conversations with prospects are still being practiced by a relative few.

It’s yet another problem smaller business operators need to deal with in an already challenging business environment.

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