PR and social media set for continued growth

Lots of new research around at the moment that point to a positive future for the public relations business. Yesterday, the Financial Times published the fifth FTSE350 Boardroom Bellwether survey which revealed that almost half the boards of the UK’s largest public companies have not discussed their social media strategies in the past 12 months.

The FT says:

“The social media result is particularly striking given that some companies have had high-profile failures in this area.

For example, last autumn, an initiative by British Gas, which is owned by FTSE 100 group Centrica, to use its Twitter account to promote customer service was greeted by hundreds of tweets pouring scorn on the company’s decision to raise energy prices ahead of winter.”

It quotes Robert Swannell, chairman of Marks and Spencer saying discussion of social media definitely belongs in the boardroom. “Increasingly, it’s part of the requirement to be a chief executive that you have someone who is digitally savvy,” he says.

In contrast Sir John Parker, who has chaired several FTSE 100 groups and is currently chairman of mining group Anglo American, is dismissive and thinks social media takes on greater importance if “you’re in the travel business or certain aspects of retailing.” He might have a point if you simply look at how social media can be used for consumer marketing or customer service. He apparently fails to understand social media’s importance for corporate affairs, corporate reputation, investor relations, human resources, CSR and crisis communications to name but a few. The flipside is the potential risk from social media for non-consumer facing companies is potentially far greater precisely because they don’t understand and engage which means they are ill-prepared when they inevitably need to deal with it.

The other interesting piece of research is reported in PRWeek and comes from Weber Shandwick which found that social media are expected to have the greatest impact on the chief communication officer’s (CCO’s) job over the next few years:

“An overwhelming 91 per cent of CCOs expected social media to increase in importance more than other comms responsibilities. The finding was consistent across every region in the study, including North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America. Globally, CCOs expected mobile (73 per cent) and video production (69 per cent) to also increase the most in importance.”

Similarly research by the UK Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) found that the growth of digital and social media means that reputation management is continuing to grow in importance. Of those questioned 51% thought that social media had great potential to grow their business, however 50% also thought it had the power to damage their business.

All of this growth is good for me as it means more opportunities to advise and train in-house PR teams and agencies how they can adapt to benefit from these changes and equally important to minimise the risks. The consumer social media market is saturated with agencies, advisers and social media ‘gurus’, but the corporate and public affairs space still has lots of opportunity.

This is especially true in the developing and emerging markets such as BRICS, south east Asia, the Middle East, central Asia and parts of eastern Europe. This is especially encouraging as much of my work these days is in these markets including Russia, Kazakhstan, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Poland, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and India.

If you’re interested in keeping up to date on the emerging trends in modern public relations then you can subscribe to my Future of PR Flipboard magazine Or you can contact me directly to talk about how I can help your team develop a social corporate communications strategy and train the team to successfully implement it.

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