Shifting sands – sink or swim?

Recently I have had a number of opportunities to speak with a variety of PR colleagues about the future of the industry and the changing communication landscape. It has been a great opportunity to reflect on the issues, challenges and opportunities that we all face, and to do it away from the workplace.

There is no doubt that we are, at the moment, on shifting sands with massive changes in the methods and delivery of communication. The PR industry needs to redefine itself if it is to survive and thrive in the new world. For many in the industry this means accepting they are not in control and recognising that now more than ever relationships are the key.

We are all running to keep up with this changing world but something that I am becoming increasingly concerned about is that many PR professionals are already losing touch. The longer this continues the more distant they become – estranged from the modern world. One of the most disappointing things is the number of PR colleagues who are not using social networks. For me it is like never switching on the television to watch the news, avoiding Sky News and BBC News 24 or never picking up a newspaper. I have huge concerns about the impact this will have on the communication industry.

Firstly, how can these people manage to advise clients or organisations about the most effective communication channel to use when they do not have full knowledge of what is available to them. In many respects at the heart of the PR professional is an individual who absorbs popular culture and then understands how their organisation can be positioned most effectively.

Secondly, they will be blind to the risks to reputation that exist within those social networks. How can they be doing the best for their organisation when they are unaware of complaints and praise from customers? Those comments will go unchecked and the questions unanswered.

Thirdly, the world of social networks is just the latest communication development. It may last, it may develop and in part it may disappear. So, why would anyone working as a communication professional see it as a distraction, or passing fad. They are putting themselves at a disadvantage in the workplace and should they be in the position of looking for another job they will be behind other colleagues who have embraced the changing world. Communication and the world around us are constantly developing. They always have and they always will.

I understand that for many people a job may just be a job, and that they are quite happy to continue to do what they did yesterday, and the day before that and the day before that. But in the fast-moving world that we live in those working in communication need to be able to understand and make sense of the changes. To do that they need to know what Twitter does, how Facebook works, the role that Google+ plays, and how YouTube and Flickr can support a brand.

Some will say that to put too much emphasis on the online and social networks is a risk, and I agree. The critical factor to communication in 2011 and onward is to ensure there is integrated communication. Communication that sits social networks alongside traditional media relations and advertising alongside online developments. All aspects are required for communication in the modern world.  Our role as PR and communication specialists is to keep on top of the developments, to understand them and make sense of them. It is not enough to remain with the world we have inhabited for years.

When I have had the opportunity of speaking to colleagues I have asked them if they are using social networks and where they are not I have urged them to get involved before it is too late.

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