Afraid of Social Media? Don’t Be

December 9, 2008

Editor’s note: This is John Reinan’s weekly column for MinnPost.com. To view the original, go to http://tinyurl.com/6f5akv.

The traditional media are imploding before our eyes.

Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, just finished slashing 2,000 jobs nationwide, including a couple dozen at the St. Cloud Times. Cuts at Gannett’s KARE-11 are expected soon.

Blue-chip magazine publishers Conde Nast, Hearst, Forbes and Time are making significant cuts across all their properties. Book publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Simon & Schuster and Random House are doing the same.

Here in the Twin Cities, we learned last week that the Star Tribune, KSTP-TV and WCCO Radio are dramatically cutting news staff.

What this means for marketers is that social media will become increasingly important as conduits for delivering client messages. That’s why I was pleased to be part of a panel discussing social media at last week’s Professional Practices Conference of the Minnesota Public Relations Society of America.

Joining me were Lisa Hannum, CEO of Beehive PR; Matt Kucharski, senior vice president at Padilla Speer Beardsley; Maria Reitan, senior principal at Carmichael Lynch Spong; and Keith Negrin, director of public relations at Morsekode.

‘Age of engagement’
The event was well-attended by Twin Cities PR professionals, and there was clearly a hunger for more information on how to navigate the social-media world. Following are a few highlights from the discussion.

“We’ve moved from the age of influence to the age of engagement,” Hannum said. In the old model, those with money were able to get their message out. Now, she said, there are more options for delivering marketing messages, but they’re more difficult to identify.

“This is fundamentally a difficult change,” Hannum said. “It creates a lot of fear” among companies and the agencies they work with. Reitan agreed.

“A lot of our clients are unsure about this new media,” she said. “They’re very comfortable with old media.” Agencies and marketing professionals need to educate clients on new media: what it is, how it works, how it differs from the traditional models.

But there are principles that hold true for both the old and new models, Kucharski said.

“Research and objectives– that was key 20 years ago and still is,” he said. Marketers have always sought to identify media influencers and reach out to them. That’s just as possible with new media as with old. In addition, social media offer opportunities for direct communication with customers that were never possible in the old media.

(Side note: I was fascinated to hear Kucharski describe the “Smurfs,” a group of twentysomething Padilla employees who meet monthly to exchange new-media ideas.)

I agree with all sides. New media are an exciting opportunity for marketers, and they’re still very much a work in progress, with plenty of room for creativity and experimentation.

But, as Negrin pointed out, some things never change.

“Ultimately, we’re all in the relationship business,” he said. “Social media are another set of tools to build relationships.”