During my two years of New Media Evangelism, I’ve had the opportunity to spend lots of time with Public Relations folks. During these times, I’ve witnessed a common theme — bloggers are viewed as some sort of communications underclass, that can’t hold a candle to a bona fide journalist. To many PR people, bloggers are The Boogeyman.
I first ran into this fear while listening to the PR Director for a Fortune 1000 company explain her reasons why bloggers were evil. She had spent her entire career working with the “legitimate press,” consisting of journalists who played by a well-defined set of rules as opposed to bloggers who had no rules whatsoever. “Bloggers can say anything,” she’d say, and that fact alone kept her up at night, because the Boogeyman could strike at any time.
* * *
I saw him lurking in the back of the room, periodically floating above the crowd of Public Relations professionals. I watched him as I settled into one of three chairs waiting in the front of the room. Sitting next to me was an industry journalist-turned-blogger. On the other side of him sat the owner of a well-known PR Agency. Together, the three of us formed a Social Media panel that forty PR professionals from a Fortune 50 company could question over the next two hours.
As this crowd’s most recognizable panelist, the journalist-turned-blogger fielded the first question, thus setting the tone of the afternoon’s discussion. A gentleman in the back of the room, with the Boogeyman breathing heavily into his ear, asked how PR should deal differently with a journalist and “just a blogger.”
“Just a blogger?” I thought, having a flashback to the PR Director’s “legitimate press” description. The journalist-turned-blogger answered the question, but I had to challenge the term. “Why do you say ‘just a blogger?'”
The answer, straight out of the Traditional’s Handbook, listed journalistic integrity, writing sans opinion, verifying sources, editorial control, etc…I couldn’t argue with the list, but I had a problem with a term designed to marginalize everyone else.
Parents help their children deal with their fears. We teach them not to be afraid of the dark. We show them natural explainations for the things that go bump in the night. We show them that there is no monster under the bed. As active members in New Media, we also have a similar responsibility to help Public Relations folks learn to deal with the Boogeyman.
And that’s exactly what the panel did. We described the different types of bloggers. We taught them methods for determining the relative importance of a blogger. We offered suggestions for when to engage and when to ignore.
Slowly, the panel chipped away at the Boogeyman. By the end of our two hours, while he was lying on the floor and gasping for breath, we were asked to wrap-up our thoughts individually. My goal was to put the final nails in his coffin. I suggested that each person in the room experiment with one or two Social media sites. Read blogs, leave a comment, do something — anything — to participate and get a feel for New Media.
The journalist-turned-blogger agreed. He too gave the audience some power over the Boogeyman, by adding a few more suggestions to help them take control of their fears.
With the Boogeyman flat lining, the owner of the well-known PR Agency spoke. “I disagree with both of them,” he said.
The Boogeyman sprung to his feet.
The owner of the well-known PR Agency explained that you just can’t just try this stuff. You needed to have a strategic plan, one with objectives, goals, and measurable outcomes. The journalist-turned-blogger and I exchanged glances as a rejuvenated Boogeyman soared over the room, re-injecting his doubts into the PR professionals heads.
As the event coordinator thanked us for coming, the Boogeyman winked at me. He had lived to see another day.
* * *
New Media is an odd duck. Because it’s “new,” it challenges “old” ideas. Because it’s “new,” it forces people to do something that they don’t typically like to do — change.
The Director of PR had optimized her job. She knew what the messages were, who to call and how to write her press releases. Since bloggers didn’t fit within the pristine confines of her perfectly tuned PR engine, she cast dispersions — inferring that they were the illegitimate press, much like the Fortune 50 PR professionals with similar preconceptipons about being “just a blogger.”
From a corporate adoption standpoint, the owner of the well-known PR Agency is 100% correct — a strategic plan is vital to New Media success. But there’s a prerequisite. The success of any plan is determined by the quality of the people used to build it. A New Media plan needs employee authors who aren’t afraid of the Boogeyman. Sure your company can hire consultants to bring expert-level opinion into the document (Shameless plug for your New Media Evangelist inserted here!), but without employees who can blend their individual New Media experience with the nuances of your organization, the resulting plan will fail.
Strategic plans cannot be built by people who still believe in the Boogeyman. If an employee has never subscribed to a blog, has never followed someone on Twitter, or has never participated in some Social Media site, then they are the wrong employees to architect the plan.
I just got invited call to sit on another panel and I’m sure he’ll be waiting for me. I’m ready for him. Are you?