If industry conferences and pundits are any indication, the PR industry is finally waking up to the new world of online social networks, and the futility of trying to fit their outdated tactics in this new paradigm. This cogent blog by Sally Falkow is one several I’ve read recently from PR pundits and insiders that are embracing the Web 2.0 changes. But I am still a bit cynical about the deathbed conversion. I sense that many of these folks are simply figuring out how to change their tactics – and reluctantly accepting they must give up some control over the communication process – but not really changing their philosophy. Folks, it’s not about trying to come up with new “social” ways to generate a headline…it’s accepting that the headline itself does not mean what it used to. The whole game has changed – how people get their news, what influences their purchasing habits, how they perceive marketing and advertising, how they make friends, and how they share information with their peers and friends. A simplistic new formula designed to boost SEO results or engage a few influential bloggers is not the answer, though these steps may be a good part of a larger plan. Organizations (and their PR teams) should first accept they now must contribute to an ongoing conversation about their company or products in which they are one voice among many – and that’s if they are already active online. They need to be transparent and contribute value and insight or they will remain irrelevant, no matter what tools or channels they use. And to start, as Sally points out in her blog, they have to listen – really listen – before they start to spurt out messages or marketing programs. That may be the hardest lesson to learn.
Update: Never let it be said that I’m obtuse. My Canadian friend at Canuckflak makes an excellent point on this blog that the Web 2.0 revolution – so obvious and prominent in the wi-fi hotbeds like San Jose, Austin or Stockholm is still a twinkle in the stars in many other countries with far more limited broadband and computer distribution. Point taken. So PR as we know it may not be dead – or dying – in these parts of the world. But I’m willing to bet it will be dramatically different in the near future.