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Conference Recap: Brian Solis On the Future of Public Relations


October 27, 2013

Image credit: @leeodden
Image credit: @leeodden

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 today’s General Session at the PRSA 2013 International Conference in Philadelphia.

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 Altimeter Group. “And 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 Facebook page.

“We go through this journey 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. “If you 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 experience, user experience 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 costumer. Connected customers value things differently. This is our opportunity to create and collaborate what that brand, feeling and experience is. “

And 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.”

He 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

 



Comments

John D. Stone, Ph.D. says:

John. Good job of synthesizing the very poignant comments of Brain Solis. Public Relations, as much as any profession and more than most, is changing rapidly. Not only do we need to "keep up," we need to take "change opportunities" to truly advance our professional applications on behalf of our clients AND our profession.

October 28, 2013

Douglas Brown says:

Great comment from Brian - too many of the PR students I teach over here in the UK focus solely on the tools and technology, forgetting that our business is about people - their attitudes, opinions and subsequent behaviour. Yes we need to change, evolve and adapt to new tools, but we lose our focus on people at our peril.

October 28, 2013

Lyndon Johnson says:

Refreshing to hear something intelligent about the future of public relations - thank you Brian. I think that too many PR people think that if they talk enthusiastically enough about their products, services and businesses they can convince them to take action. The truth is that in order to change perception or get people to take action you have to have a relationship - and we've gotten away from doing this in favour of bombarding people with content and messages. Best wishes, Lyndon

May 6, 2014

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