The great social media revolution swept in on the heels of the tech downturn in the first few years of this decade and buoyed the PR industry with optimism, thousands of new voices and plenty of cash. But what if tech PR’s great savior is doing more harm than good to the industry in the long run?
With the rise of online communications, PR pros and clients saw and seized the opportunity to use their professional ability to convey messages, ideas and, ahem, products. But it seems that the more pervasive social media becomes—especially as PR pros increase contact with bloggers—the more PR has become the whipping post.
On the media/blogger relations front, Robert Scoble, the former Microsoft engineer/blogger who became the poster boy for online evangelism and communication in the Web 2.0 world, has soured on PR, big time. This week he praised the “PR-less” launch of a tech application, which followed an earlier post criticizing PR for working too well and drowning out voices that deserve to be heard.
Edelman’s Steve Rubel followed Scoble up with an indictment of his own industry yesterday. Rubel, who says he is inundated with sloppy pitches, argued that bloggers are un-pitchable because they want to discover things on their own, without PR. Where does he get this idea? From himself. “If I didn't find it on my own or stumble upon it early myself, I don't bother,” he writes, chalking it up to the same feeling that has “fueled the egos of reporters for years - partly because it sells.”
Those are pretty brazen words for a prominent online PR pro at one of the industry’s largest PR firms.
The question is how much of the angst between PR pros and bloggers stems from bad PR and how much comes from the quasi-journalists who are blogging to large audiences and are possibly a little tipsy from their newfound power. Or as BusinessWeek’s Sarah Lacey put it: “At some point, the tech blogosphere has to break itself from the junky-like addiction of having to get a story two seconds before the competitor. Can it really drive that much traffic when every other blogger got the same pre-brief? Isn't it better to wait a bit, use the service and write something smarter?”
She was talking about the somewhat rocky launch of the so-called “Google killer” Cuil, but she could be talking about anything that’s devoured by online communicators these days.
It’s also important to note that the majority of the PR critics are focused on media/blogger relations, which is only one aspect of what PR people do these days. As the U.K.’s Heather Yaxley asks: “I wouldn’t stereotype all techies or geeks by their most extreme behaviour or bad habits, so why can’t they give PR a break and realise there is more to the profession than what Scoble writes?”
But with dozens of social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and Digg converging to spread messages and memes like wildfire, how necessary is blasting out press releases going to be, even in the near future?
Technology, specifically social media, gave PR a new vitality a few years ago that is just beginning to pan out. But whether it’s a cyclical rise and fall like the dot-com boom or it can be harnessed to guide the industry for years to come remains to be seen.