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How important are social media in public relations?

Today, we’re in the throes of a major political windstorm. The breezes are blowing at gale force, and it’s anybody’s guess where this whole mess will end up. One of the major factors to date, and one that will certainly have more impact in the future, is the use of social media by candidates, also-rans and pundits.

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I recently heard that the Trump campaign has not geared up a “presidential-sized social media program or staff.” That’s bad news. He’d better get started. Secretary Clinton, on the other hand, has a robust, Obama-sized social media staff and budget. That’s a smart way to go.

A few years back, I was attending a social media seminar and the speaker was emphatic: If you are not part of the conversation, the conversation will occur without you. Right.

A recent study I read said that 80 percent of CEOs believed they would have a crisis in the coming year. The article went on to say that 50 percent of these execs expected the crisis would arise from social media. Now that’s impressive.

I like what Chiara Valentini said in “Public Relations Review” last June. According to her, social media have been warmly welcomed because they make it possible for individuals to communicate directly with public groups, thereby avoiding the filters placed there by journalists and other gatekeepers. I think the politicos have figured that out well.

See, here’s what’s neat. Valentini also points out that social media get high marks from public relations folks for their capacity to allow more symmetrical, two-way communication that is essential to building beneficial relationships.

But here’s the rub. There’s that little problem of one-way communication – you know, when a disgruntled former employee or customer goes ballistic and fires off a barrage of negative adjectives directed at you or your institution. And your public relations person says to hold fire because you don’t want to get into a digital shouting match. Frustrating, but probably good advice.

So, where does this all lead? It’s really hard to tell what the next development will be in social media. I am just guessing the next six months of the presidential campaign will see an enormous number of social media mishaps on the trail. But, then again, it’s a tool too important to avoid or ignore.

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