Social Media Moves Public Relations Past Proactive Stance.
By Thomas J. Roach
One of the distinguishing characteristics of professional public relations practice is that it is proactive rather than reactive. The proactive stance is achieved by monitoring national and international events impacting the aggregate industry while at the same time keeping track of trends within the industry itself. For quarry operations in or near cities, being proactive also requires anticipating public opinion and political issues within the community.
Traditionally public relations practitioners have kept track of emerging issues by subscribing to all the pertinent news publications. Someone would read the news every morning and look for anything that threatened the health of the organization, or possibly for opportunities to promote good will.
Like the early warning system for tornados, sometimes the process worked, and sometimes it provided too little information too late. Today, the predictive powers of professional public relations are significantly enhanced by the microblogging service, Twitter.
According to Twitter, it has over 140 million active users in 2012. Most importantly for public relations practitioners, the number includes journalists. The main incentive for journalists to use Twitter is that it lets them get breaking news out faster, and it promotes their publications.
Anyone with a free Twitter account can post short messages. Twitter members also register to follow other members and to exchange messages with friends. Most information on Twitter is insipid comments about things like breakfast or the weather, but for a discerning eye tracking the right Twitter accounts, the next day’s or the next week’s news can be observed in-utero.
Over the last 10 years journalists began publishing stories in online versions of their printed publications. Then they realized they could extend the stories and expand their interaction with readers by blogging. If new information came in after the story was posted, it was added to the blog following the story. If readers had questions or even corrections, they could be addressed almost immediately in the blog.
Tweeting for journalists has evolved into the pre-story counterpart of the blog. Through tweets, journalists are telling their followers what they are going to write about before they write it. This allows them to establish a kind of I-got-there-first ownership of stories before they are written, and it serves as a promo for their information product.
Twitter is accessible on almost any digital device and is mostly used spontaneously on cell phones. Because of its easy accessibility and the emphasis on quick, short messages, Twitter communication is much less formal even than blogs and email, and here is the real advantage for public relations professionals tracking news stories and the people who report them: it takes the public relations practitioner inside the mind of the journalist.
Journalists using Twitter might tweet who they are meeting for lunch, what seminars they are planning to attend, what they are reading, or even what they are thinking about.
This might seem like corporate espionage, but the news industry is actually encouraging the public to look behind the scenes. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal all list their Twitter accounts and invite people to follow them.
While it would be impossible to track all journalists on Twitter, tracking five or 10 journalists is easily managed. The list might include reporters or stringers for local news outlets and a few state or national reporters covering the industry.
A tweet from one of these reporters about meeting with a NIMBY group could serve as early warning of trouble, and a tweet about reading a book on mine safety could create an opportunity to call the reporter and offer a tour of a facility with state-of-the-art safety equipment and procedures. A few years ago, the word “proactive” defined the future for a public relations profession that was mostly reactive. Now through social media we are moving past proactive. Pre-proactive is where it’s at.