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medianetz 2011 Social media – challenge and chance for public relations (PR)

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Tags: Amelie DuckwitzcrowdsourcingDavid SchommerMartin Eckhardtmedianetzmedia studiespublic relationspanel discussionPRsocial commercesocial webWeb 2.0

Last Saturday (29th October 2011), medianetz Trier and the media studies (University of Trier) organized a panel discussion regarding "public relations in the age of social media". What do social media mean for public relations (PR)?

The moderator presents a film, the participants watch
Impressive numbers – Amelie Duckwitz, Martin Eckhardt, David Schommer, and Daniel Reichard during the panel discussion, photo by Sabrina Schmitz

Three media scholars who studied in Trier participated in the panel discussion, moderated by Daniel Reichard: Dr. Amelie Duckwitz of Werbewelt, David Schommer of Audi and Martin Eckhardt of KetchumPleon. After a film introduction and a short presentation, the discussion started.

According to Martin Eckhardt, public relations in the age of social media is shaped by "diversified channels" and an "unfamiliar back channel", causing the fear of losing control. Users take thus the role of opinion leaders, a role formerly taken by traditional media. One example for this is the rising social commerce.

Public relations in the age of the participatory web: ways of influencing

Amelie Duckwitz gave one of the most important arguments to participate in discussion on social media:

People talk about you on the internet, if you like it or not. Via social media, you have the opportunity to participate in this discussion.
Amelie Duckwitz

However, if public relations (PR) are to happen in the social web, there are a couple of challenges. You should not distinguish between channels and consider social media in a way related to its specifics as a medium. The discussion gave the following advice:

  • "One face to the customer": Amelie Duckwitz stressed that a customer who observes a company thinks of this company as a unity, not in terms of various departments. This means that she expects a unified communication without any contradictions.
  • "Content rules": Martin Eckhart pointed to the fact that "the internet works based on content", so that the PR communication should also have content. In this regard, Amelie Duckwitz called for continuity, causing a lot of difficulties for various companies who cannot take the position of their users, considering their content as not interesting. She proposed looks behind the curtain as content as well as the possibility to include users via crowdsourcing.
  • "News is a river": David Schommer encouraged companies to think about how they could participate "in the existing flow of opinions".

Evaluating social media: qualitative methods are indispensable

The participants agreed that the complexity of social media and the number of channels call for special methods of evaluation. It is impossible to cover everything, and quantitative tools should be handled with care. They should be seen as a "part in the puzzle" (Amelie Duckwitz), for instance to measure the number of fans or retweets. However, qualitative methods are indispensable. David Schommer mentioned the method of content analysis, causing a considerable effort, but also offering good insights into the consensus and tonality of the discussion. In doing the research, it is important to concentrate on the important aspects. This often does not call for scientific rigor, but for the concrete judgments of the experts. "You have to live with the resulting half knowledge", said Martin Eckhardt.

Social media PR as a profession: find pleasure in networking

As it is typical for an event to prepare for a profession, the panelists had a lot of advice for the prospective PR people. Amelie Duckwitz suggested a broad knowledge of network communication, journalism and structures of media in general. It is also important to actively use social media and have fun communicating. Martin Eckhart answered the question of how his studies helped him for the work with the ability to become acquainted quickly and profoundly with a topic. David Schommer agrees that this "eye for the essential" is a critical instrument in order not to lose orientation in social media.

Chat bubble with various social media services
If you want to participate in social media, you should do this on a personal level, as well

License: Chat Bubble by Kathleen Donovan, CC BY NC

You should also consider the large flexibility that the profession needs. According to David Schommer, you will have to be available 24/7 in case of a crisis. Outside of these crisis communication, there are also normal working hours, as Martin Eckhardt explained using the example of the Twitter channel fo telekom_hilft, which is active until 5 p.m.

Privacy and dependence on Facebook: a problem of generations?

Following the event, there was the possibility to ask questions. One of these questions concerned privacy and the reservations connected to it. Amelie Duckwitz stressed how important data are for a useful analysis as well as the role of consulting and following the terms of service of the platforms. David Schommer distinguished between public and private data, stating that monitoring stops where private data of users is concerned. Martin Eckhardt considered the privacy problem as a problem of generations, though I am not convinced of this statement given the insights of Peter Kruse about digital residents and digital immigrants and the different approaches of friends of privacy like netzpolitik or the Chaos Computer Club versus the privacy critical Spackeria.

In case you do not know Peter Kruse's presentation from the re:publica 2010, here it is: