Key Takeaways from the 2014 PR News Social Media Summit

Key Takeaways from the 2014 PR News Social Media Summit

Yesterday, PR News convened its Social Media Summit and Taste of Tech in New York. It is an excellent forum in which smart and thoughtful communicators examine some of the most pressing and exciting issues facing our profession today. This was my second experience with this professional development conference and PR News deserves great credit for creating this forum.Key Takeaways from the 2014 PR News Social Media Summit

For those who had the benefit of attending, please add your own takeaways in the comments section of this post. I am anxious to hear what you thought were the most critical points in the discussion. For those who did not attend, there is a treasure trove of information available on Twitter if you search the #PRNews hashtag.  I offer below my own takeaways as a presenter and participant in the event.

R.I.P. S.O.S. (Shiny Object Syndrome)

The PR Industry is finally getting over the dreaded “Shiny Object Syndrome” in relation to social media.  We are realizing that it is far more effective to establish a presence on the right social platforms, and do those few really well, instead of being everywhere and doing it poorly. After five years or so, we have figured out that we gain the most when we determine where our key audiences are, go there, and add value and voice to the discussion. Rather than forcing the newest and sexiest toys to work for our brands, we are instead sharing really good content in fewer places.  This is proving far better than sharing irrelevant, self-important content everywhere.

Automation is the Enemy of Engagement

Social media have made it possible to communicate one-to-one in ways that were never before possible. That human connection cannot and must not be automated. Scheduled Tweets and Facebook posts are perfectly acceptable and sometimes necessary, but it is the genuine, often spontaneous personal communication between brand and consumer that has the most value and delivers the greatest return. The real power of social is its capacity to humanize brands in ways that were unthinkable 10 years ago. And it takes real human beings to maximize the potential of such engagement.

We Haven’t Cracked Crisis

As Mary Grady from Los Angeles World Airports reminded us yesterday, sometimes a crisis is a man with a gun, not an errant Tweet or a disastrous Reddit AMA. As an industry, we tend to think of social as the source of a crisis rather than a tool for communicating during one. In the case of the November 2013 shooting at LAX, the actual first responders were travelers inside the terminal using smart phones. Even before EMS, fire and police arrived on the scene, first-hand accounts – complete with video and still images – emerged and were shared through traditional and social media channels.

Those individuals communicated on the aftermath using their devices. The LAX communications staff was prepared for them. What they weren’t prepared for was the large number of airport patrons who weren’t glued to their phones – or who had “dumb” phones that couldn’t access Twitter – and were left feeling scared, uninformed, and ill prepared to deal with the potential danger.

Humans come in all shapes and sizes, and with all forms of technology.  They may be active sources of information or passive recipients of it. Organizations must be prepared to address both. Another note from Mary’s riveting presentation is that she has 17 pre-written, pre-approved tweets and hashtags at the ready to address the top crisis scenarios likely to face LAX. She also has a new plan for reaching those who don’t know what a hashtag is.

Images are the New Headlines

Credit for this final point goes to my co-presenter, Serena Ehrlich of Business Wire, but it was corroborated throughout the conference. Brands need to learn how to use visuals to “show” while they leverage written content to “tell” their stories. Compelling (and, sometimes even not-so-compelling) images are shared more often than text-only social posts.  Studies show that visual information is more readily retained than text or verbal communication.

Given the full house at yesterday’s summit, it is clear that the communications industry is still hungry for information and perspective on the intelligent use of social media. The good news is that there are a lot of smart people willing to share their experience and wisdom with their professional peers and competitors. I was gratified to see so many my fellow PR and marketing pros striving to adapt to the evolution of social media. Staying current with that evolution is something we are all in together.

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