Live from #SMWF: PR in a social media world

How has social media changed the role of PR, the speed that communications teams have to work and the access that they have to audiences?

Unanimously, our star-studded PR and Social Media panel thought that communications have been fundamentally changed. Peter Devery, EMEA PR lead at Microsoft, agreed with the panel, but made the interesting point that, at its heart, it’s still PR. “At the core, we still do the same thing,” he said, “no matter what the channel. Social media works in a different way, but it is just one more channel.”

This kicked of a fascinating debate about the nature of modern communications. Nick Sharples, director of European corporate communications at Sony, said that the conversations brands have with their customers have to happen in the channels that they inhabit.

The panel went on to discuss how social media has been integrated into large organisations, and touched on the territorial friction that many of us will be familiar with, as departments and individuals, from sales to PR to customer service, tried to work out whose responsibility it should be and grab a piece of the pie.

Customer service issues now occur in an entirely public space, and PR teams see the pollution in their space when things go wrong, while call centre staff sit their oblivious. Spotting the barriers between departments and bringing them down is a key part of the challenge of integrating social media into organisational PR, said the panel.

“These types of communications should be done across the organisation,” said Pete Devery. “You cannot do this in a silo.”

Sony’s Nick Sharple added that social media across his company is now performed in a joined up way across many departments, with sales, customer service, PR and others all using the channel in its own way for its own purposes.

A question was fired from from the audience about how to measure engagement, drawing an enthusiastic response from the panel. Engagement is exactly what we should be measuring. Don’t measure outputs, like re-tweets, likes and Facebook mentions, measure outcomes, how what you’ve done has changed your business for the better.

Colin Douglas, director of NHS communications and the Department for Health, gave us an interesting glimpse into how social media is being used in Whitehall. Policy makers, he said, are getting involved in online conversations to help them gauge public opinion and make policy making decisions.

All in all, another fascinating panel; and we’re not even half way through #SMWF, phew!