Chicago public relations executive Danielle Wiley was a social media expert long before the rest of the world knew how to tweet. For years, she worked as a copywriter and an information architect. When blogs and other forms of social media started gaining traction, she created her own blog and became otherwise known as the Foodmomiac.
“I literally fell in love with the medium,” says Danielle, senior vice president of Consumer Brands at Edelman Digital. “After about two years of blogging, I transferred my passion into a new career path. [Having the blog] is a wonderfully enriching part of my life. I’ve met some of my best friends, gotten a fabulous job and gained a very deep understanding of how marketers can use social media to engage their influencers.”
Undoubtedly, social media has burst onto the public landscape, enabling people of all ages to communicate in a way never seen before. Social media is a relatively inexpensive and accessible tool that enables virtually anyone to publish information for the whole world to see. Whether it’s updating a status on Facebook or tweeting about your favorite brand of jeans, the level of social interaction is at an all-time high, even if it’s often not of the face-to-face variety.
As a result, many local PR execs have seen their job purpose evolve before their very eyes. “We’re seeing our clients become more and more interested in using social media,” explains Lauren Eichmann of Walker Sands Communications, a Chicago-based public relations and marketing firm focusing on business-to-business clients and technology. “We’re here to make sure they’re using it appropriately.”
“Social media has really enhanced the world of public relations,” says Catherine Patterson, account executive at Chicago-based Kurman Communications, Inc. “Although I’ve been a PR professional for just about two years, I know that social media has had a huge impact. In fact, I can’t imagine doing PR without social media. I use it in every aspect of what I do as account executive – social media, like Twitter and Facebook, play into everything I do.”
Social media can include anything from blogs to picture sharing to social networking sites. But one false move and a company can find themselves smack in the middle of a publicity nightmare.
“Negativity can spread like wildfire these days,” says Lauren, who has worked at Walker Sands for the past year and a half. “Businesses can get slammed if they’re not controlling the message being put out there.”
Yet, as businesses take their social media campaigns into their own hands – it is, after all, essentially free marketing – does the possibility loom that they could take their business away from their external PR companies?
“(Social media) is definitely not seen as a threat,” adds Danielle of social media’s effect on the public relations industry as a whole. “PR has always been an industry that changes and evolves, and this is simply the next logical step. There isn’t necessarily a fear that clients will jump in on their own, but we certainly do all we can to make sure they are properly educated and trained on the right (and wrong) way to do things.”
This trait is of vital importance for many companies, whose customers now have easy access to the highest of executives.
“Social media has become a hotline for customers to have direct connections with these companies,” says Jeannie Walters, the founder of Oak Park-based 360Connext, a consulting firm specializing in employee engagement, customer communications and channel-specific connections like social media. “After years of fighting to reach an actual person on the other line, those walls have now come down.”
In order to educate themselves, PR executives are increasingly jumping into the social landscape once they leave the office for the day.
“Every member of my staff has his or her specialty, so we can stay on top of the latest trends,” says Danielle, who now oversees all of the consumer digital projects at Edelman Chicago, including Web development and social media. “With so many blogs, groups and Twitter profiles, no one person can know everything. That said, we can be well-versed in specific areas. In addition, everyone on my team is required to be very much engaged themselves. They have blogs, Twitter profiles and are active on multiple social networks.”
“Publicists need to understand social media,” adds Catherine. “For myself, social media has become such a huge part of what I do, and is something we look for now when we interview candidates. A knowledge of social media is crucial in succeeding in PR. It should become as basic a skill as composing a press release or pitching a story to a reporter. Social media is revolutionizing the way we communicate and it’s here to stay.”