Public Affairs: Soap Box | PRWeek

This week’s PRWeek Public Affairs: Soap Box is a short op-ed by me on the importance of social media to public affairs professionals. This is the original piece, before I edited it down to fit PRWeek’s word count.

As party conference season ends we’ve seen how all of the political parties have enthusiastically adopted social media from Labour’s ‘Back the Apple‘ campaign to corporate sponsored tweetups at all three party conferences. Similarly governments – European, central, local and devolved – have all started to embrace social media. The public affairs profession perhaps hasn’t been as fast to adapt.

Every aspect of public affairs has been changed by the social web. If you benefit from this change, or are disadvantaged, depends on how you respond. It starts with counselling clients on strategy where you need to be aware of the changed nature of society and realise that transparency, trust and openness are not just buzz words, but reality. It goes on to relationships. We all know that lobbying and influencing public policy is about far more than just contacts and cosy drinks in a bar. However, although contacts may only play a small part in what we do they still matter and social media and social networks provide a third way to establish and maintain that vital network of contacts.

Conversations and discussion on the social web can also provide a great insight into the topics and issues that matter now. You can track trends over time to see what is being talked about, by who and when. You can find out what subjects people are searching for, what they are finding and how that’s changing. You can use that data to build search optimised social media platforms such as blogs and social media newsrooms that can rank highly on specific search terms and ensure that you’re one of the first places that hard-pressed journalists, civil service researchers and parliamentary assistants look for more information.

The social web not only gives an insight into the zeitgeist of the nation, but also provides potent potential for changing it. If pressure groups are using the social web for campaigning and lobbying for their agendas then the corporate world must understand what they are doing and how business can respond without unleashing a negative backlash from disgruntled citizens, consumers and campaigners. Strategically planned and professionally implemented online advocacy campaigns can create real world public policy changes.

The world has changed. It’s not just the Arab spring where Twitter, Facebook and YouTube made a difference. It’s happening right here, right now in Westminster, Brussels and town halls up and down the devolved nations. The public affairs profession must be ready now.

If you’re interested in learning more about how public affairs professionals can use social media then register for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations webcast on public affairs and social media that I’m doing on Friday, October 21. It’s cost effective training and you don’t even need to leave your desk. Or if you want to know more about social media and public relations overall and you want a day out of the office you could always attend the CIPR Social Media Conference: The conversation never stops on November 14.