Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Why Media Relations Should Own the Social Media Strategy

A title that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has been following along, and today's entry is a cribbing of the excellent PR-based view of the same by Chris Lake. Lake's blog entry -- Why your social media strategy shouldn't be owned by a PR agency -- walks though many of the concepts that have been discussed here the past two or three months -- that the PR agency (in our world read: anyone outside athletics) isn't going to reflect the tone and culture of the corporation better than the people in the corporation.

I'm a big fan of the second and third points Lake makes up front: that you cannot fake it (social media) and you have to share the load. The team approach is best, and when that team is enabled across the groups which impact customer service -- in athletics that would be media relations, marketing, foundation/booster and ticketing -- you have a great chance to begin moving from playing around in social media to mobilizing it to your greater benefit.

Team approach means building that interoperable group, and being willing to let them speak for the organization. We've seen study after study that the fans are wanting more interaction with more voices. That's tough to accept in some ways.

Back to the outside/agency approach. I agree with Lake -- the people that know you, are well, you. When too much "branding" is applied, it can appear formula driven, and nothing turns those in the social realm off quicker than faux social. As Lake points out:

social media is a cultural and organizational challenge for most businesses of any scale

Or, as he his much more blunt in the next sentence:

Only by embracing engagement and by becoming more open - both internally and externally - can a business transform how it is perceived in public

But why is media relations the best place to start the team approach? My opinion -- these are the people with the deepest knowledge of the organization because they have to write about the department from all angles. They write game stories and advances, they do the marketing type stories often (free tickets, season packages on sale, etc.), they work with the media and as a result get a pulse on what they are interested in, they have to know the overall department structure (and often are the ones who may have written policies, procedures or other manuals -- so they know them forward and backward). Most of all, they are skilled in looking over the horizon, considering the impact of a statement beyond tonight's event and they are trained to deal with real-time reporting and crisis management.

Speaking of the crisis, Lake had a particularly apt passage about the PR world and outside agencies:

Nowadays a crisis will erupt on social media platforms, and there’s no way that a PR firm can ‘manage’ it. Twitter, as a broadcast medium, is in the hands of the people who use it, and it cannot be manipulated by PRs in the same way that a newspaper can be. The PR agency can provide guidance on how a brand should react in difficult circumstances, but the response needs to come from the brand itself. Twitter is a personal medium, a publishing platform for consumers, and they will use it to ask questions and complain in public. And questions and complaints are normally best answered by customer services reps, not PRs

Answering those questions, in other words as CoSIDA is fond of saying these days, is best served by a college athletic department's the strategic communicators. Chris Syme has something just this week on these same lines of creating your strategy on Facebook to begin your journey to an overall social media policy.

In the team, you need written standards of how to communicate, as surely as you'd have a style guide for a traditional media release or department logo sheet. Again, the leaders in this area should be the folks who have trained via PR or journalism degrees to be efficient communicators.

This is contrary to most athletic departments across the country. Social media usually belongs to marketing, or is shared with marketing and perhaps a dedicated social media person or media relations. And it often is simply abandoned by media relations.

Perhaps it is time to rethink those relationships.

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