A major question to ask in the midst of a social media boom is; ‘are PR companies are ruining the possibilities that sites like Facebook offer to businesses and companies?’ Well, with a few excpetions, it seems the answer is a resounding yes. Daniel Stein has written an article on the subject and has brought to light some very interesting points. Stein looks at the way traditional PR worked; usually by filtering through journalists to get messages printed somewhere. He then compares this to the advent of social media which has cut out this ‘middle man’ and allowed PR companies to chat directly to customers and fans of products and people.

Whilst this might sound like a dream scenario for PR, it truly hasn’t ended up as one. Stein mentions the fact that PR-led social strategies are not engaging and simply focus on “an endless. aimless stream… that focusses on news, offers and the occasional contest,” the latter of which doesn’t attract true fans to the product but simply bolsters the number of Facebook likes a brand has, rather than connect real fans with the brand or service.This is where the issue lies and where I agree with Stein. Just about every brand in the world has a Facebook profile page or fan page, and most have thousands (or millions) of likes. Yet, many treat our News Feed’s as simply a literal feed of news. As humans we crave interaction, fun and quirky ideas – particularly when browsing a social networking website. If a PR agency is only providing basic, formulaic interaction with the fans on the website, they won’t get a very positive outcome, and will contribute to the many other similar scenarios swamping the website.

If this is the case though, what can people do about it? Stein sums this up too in a concise quote:

Effective social marketing is about putting something directly into the hands of your audience. It’s not telling people what to think or trying to make branded small talk. It’s about giving people something to do and encouraging them to engage with your client’s brand between purchases.

This describes the key task brilliantly. You cannot, as a PR practitioner, force people to think a certain way, or even force them to discuss your brand in any way possible. You need to capture your audience’s imagination and get them involved with your brand – as subtly as possible, if possible.

On top of this, I think if you engage your existing fans, they are all the more likely to hit the ‘Share’ button or even tell their friends about the product or brand face-to-face. The more excited people are about a brand, the more likely they are to recommend it, and this is how fan numbers can spiral! I think this is where the PR behind social media can go wrong, every PR firm is looking for this magic moment, but very few find it – yet with the right push, a brand can become extremely successful and deliver a very positive experience. An example would be the BT Facebook Wedding. With this, they allowed their Fans on Facebook too vote for, and thus plan, the fictional wedding of the characters in their TV advertising campaign. Ths ad campaign has been running for years and has charted the couple through good and bad times, all of which have used the BT brand to show how they can be brought back together. By allowing BT customers and fans of the advert to engage with the climax of this campaign, they have allowed people to engage directly with their brand and get excited about it.

In summary, I think PR companies need to look at their online social media strategies before they stagnate the market for it too much. By simply finding something for fans to get excited about, Facebook’s PR-led brand pages could be a much less dull place.