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Brian Solis on the Future of Public Relations


December 2, 2013

Despite his status as a noted author, blogger and social media expert, Brian Solis said that he never stops learning.

“I’m still a student,” he said during the Oct. 27 General Session at the 2013 PRSA International Conference.

And he implored attendees to keep learning as well.

“Everything you think you know isn’t all you need to know. It takes a new perspective to see what the future is,” said Solis, principal analyst at the Altimeter Group. “That’s why it’s such a wonderful time to be where you are right now. Everything can change, and everything will change because of you.”

But that change will come only if PR professionals look differently at they way they do business — particularly with social media.

“We try to amass followers and Likes as if it’s a ‘thing.’ We try to get views because that’s how we justify and substantiate our work. But why? What’s it all for? What does it mean? What does it matter?”

As he said, public relations is about relationships. And relationships are about people.

“Public relations is bigger than a department within an organization — it’s actually how your organization talks to people and steers and guides them in ways that they couldn’t get before they connected with you,” Solis said. “Public relations is an extension of everything that the organization does. Without it, it becomes social chaos.”

He talked about the journey that consumers have to take with organizations, whether it’s through a website, press release, an app or a Facebook page.

“We go through this jouney and that journey is a mess. Why? Because the people who own mobile don’t talk to people who own the website. The people who own the website don’t talk to the people who are running Facebook,” he said. “It’s the same problem over and over again. So you see multiple brands, multiple voices instead of one company. That is PR’s opportunity — redefine the whole journey, the entire experience.”

Social media gives PR professionals something remarkable — the ability to feel and to make other people feel, the ability to not just count the Likes and views but also to change outcomes, guide behavior and steer actions.

“I call it the ART of social media,” he said. “Think about it as Actions, Reactions and Transactions … if I have the opportunity to have your attention for a moment, what am I going to do with it? That’s why this is a new opportunity: It makes us think about what we want to have happen in a meaningful way.”

Understanding influence

Public relations sits at the intersection of brand, user and customer experience.

“You are responsible for communicating that experience and building relations upon it,” he said. “That means we need to start talking to people we don’t talk to right now, and giving them purpose and giving them direction, a sense of value.”

Public relations has the ability to be even more influential.

“If you define influence not by a Klout score, but by effect — the cause and effect that you have through your work — then you have a whole new metric system.”

He cited Old Spice’s much-heralded social media campaign in which its spokesperson, the Old Spice Guy, created more than 150 personalized videos for fans.

“They influenced how people think about the brand. They influenced a shift in perception. They also influenced a ton of sales. We have to move in this direction,” Solis said.

Reaching a connected generation

Using an iPhone as a prop during his 30-minute talk, Solis said that it is the job of PR professionals to think about what goes on the mobile screen and how they can prompt consumers to share that information.

“It’s about talking to someone and through someone at the same time,” he said. “When you try to talk through someone, you shift from creating content that is viewed or consumed to creating content that is shared. And it’s a different strategy. In order to share it, it means it had to touch you in some way.”

Sharing experiences

He asked attendees to think about what they consume and share on social media platforms.

“It’s always an emotion. It’s always something related to an experience,” Solis said. “The future of public relations is about creating those experiences.”

Too often, he said, brands die because companies fail to recognize how customer experiences are shifting or don’t bother to improve those customer experiences.

“They’re too busy competing for now. ‘We’re profitable right now,’” Solis said. “The future of public relations is to change that — it’s to be relevant now and relevant for a different type of connected customer. Connected customers value things differently. This is our opportunity to create and collaborate what that brand, feeling and experience is.”

He said not to get caught up in the newest channels, social media platforms or devices. There is always going to be something new.

“But what isn’t going to change is the experience and the value that you use these channels for, how you make things matter,” he said. “Those channels just become the outlets for you to do what it is that you do.”

Solis ended with another message about learning.

“If we learn, then we can lead. And if we lead, then we can bring about change.” 

 

John Elsasser John Elsasser is the editor-in-chief of PR Tactics and The Strategist. He joined PRSA in 1994.
Email: john.elsasser at prsa.org



Comments

Lana Moore says:

I'm glad you posted about not getting caught up in the new. With so many different social media trends happening at once, it can be beyond cumbersome to keep up. One minute we're tweeting our hearts out, the next minute Pinterest is defined as the leading platform for traffic generation. And let's not leave out the Godfather of SM, Facebook. Instagram is on fire like hot cakes (I've gotten new clients from IG!), and now I'm trying to tap into Vine to see how 6seconds can be used as a mini-PR tool and to pick up new clients ;) I haven't even touched some of the more newer platforms because there is just no time. Great article and recap, btw. I'm saving to use in my PR class and as a personal reference.

December 9, 2013

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