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PR pros: Overwhelmed by social media? Stop complaining and start taking action.

July 7, 2009

LAF Sidenote: This is a guest blog post written by Arik Hanson, (@arikhanson on Twitter) Principal at ACH Communications. You can read his blog by clicking the link above.

It’s a common excuse. One most of us have heard from our colleagues for the better part of a year.

stressed_out “I’m overwhelmed by social media.

That claim is usually accompanied by an assortment of other excuses: “I  don’t have enough time.” “I don’t understand it.” “I don’t think it has merit for my organization.”

All relatively valid notions. And to be honest, I used a few of these excuses myself about year-and-a-half ago.

But, as I keep hearing these excuses, I can’t help but ask myself the following questions:

* Don’t we work in a fast-paced industry that thrives on change? How is keeping up with these new tools any different?

* Isn’t keeping up with new tools and technology part of the expertise our clients pay us for?

* Aren’t most PR pros curious by nature? Most of the folks I know claim they have an insatiable thirst for new knowledge. Doesn’t keeping up with these 2.0 tools fit into that equation?

Here’s the bottom line: Social media is not going away. What we’re seeing now represents a 5.0 Richter scale shift in the way we communicate, market and exchange ideas. So, I guess the real question is “how can you afford not to start learning more about these tools?”

For those who know me, you know I don’t like to rant and rave and not propose solutions. So, the next time you encounter a colleague who’s claiming he’s overwhelmed, try using the following as conversation starters:

  • Stay focused. Keeping up with this evolving space doesn’t have to be overly time-consuming. Try checking in with your social networks three times a day—in the morning, over lunch and in the evening.
  • Try to take half hour each week to learn one new tool. Yeah, there’s a bevy of new tools out there, but you can knock them off one by one.
  • Start small. Don’t try to bite off too much right off the bat. Start a Twitter account and commit to engaging 1-2 times a day. Jump on Facebook and do the same. Buy a Flip and record a family video and upload it to YouTube. The small successes will compound and build momentum. Sooner or later, it won’t seem that time consuming or “hard” anymore.

Ok, I’m done ranting. What do you think? Am I right to feel frustrated?

24 Comments leave one →
  1. July 7, 2009 8:03 am

    Listen to your interns, but take everything you hear with a grain of salt (and check their research/work out!). You’d check everything they do, so why would this be any different?

    Often, hackneyed solutions come about through ignorance and a b.s. mindset. You can’t bluster your way through SM. The field and tools just don’t work that way.

    Working it into the flow of your day is an absolute necessity and definitely don’t bite off more then you can chew. Doing nothing isn’t as bad as doing something wrong…despite what conventional wisdom tells you.

  2. July 7, 2009 8:07 am

    Great post! I agree with you – social media is NOT going away, it’s only going to continue growing so those who feel overwhelmed really just need to get over it and start using these tools. There are only going to be more as time moves forward so it’s better to bite the bullet now before there are even more things to learn and get in the habit of using.

    Plus, social media is so useful! When I explain Twitter to those who haven’t used it yet, they get confused and don’t understand it…but then once people start using it, they realize the value and get addicted (like me lol)…

  3. July 7, 2009 8:11 am

    Good heavens this is such a good post…This post is part of the reason I dispute the notion that we can just entrust social media in the hands of our younger colleagues. Guess what? Some of the people saying they don’t understand it or don’t have time for it are young!!!

  4. July 7, 2009 8:18 am

    Stuart/Chuck: And the part that makes that scary is that in most ways the social space is much more nuanced and difficult to navigate and understand than traditional channels. Why wouldn’t we ALL want to know more about it? I just don’t get it. As Denzel Washington said in Philadelphia, “Will someone explain this to me….like I’m a 4th grader.”


  5. July 7, 2009 8:23 am

    Here’s my point for younger PR professionals: They should understand traditional channels before approaching social media in a professional capacity. This might alleviate the “I’m overwhelmed!” excuse because they are learning and knowing 100 percent the traditional channels. They can learn about SM in a personal capacity and investigate it after work.

    I, too, hate excuses like this. People should understand their strengths and try to learn as much as possible – which is why I asked Arik to write about this topic. 🙂

  6. July 7, 2009 8:44 am

    IMO, if you’re feeling overwhlemed by social media, you need to get outta the communications industry (be it in PR, marketing, whatever). Because, like it or lump it, you’ve got to have it ba part of your arsenal.

    WHY?…Among Other Things…
    * Your customers are involved with social media
    * Your potential customers are there
    * People are talking about you/your client there
    * You have to be a part of ‘the conversation’

    So, fellow communicators, let’s BUCK UP and make ourselves not only relevant, but LETHAL!

  7. July 7, 2009 9:29 am

    Narcisco – great point. I always try to point out to people that SM is an enhancement of communications, or can be viewed as another communications channel to get your strategy out. That is why it’s imperative that you understand goals and traditional media before embracing social media.

  8. July 7, 2009 9:53 am

    Arik, I think it can be frustrating to see communicators who at this point have (for whatever reason) chosen not to participate in the social web. You are correct in your assessment that the barriers to entry for many SM tools are small. In fact, at this point, they are small in comparison to the larger barriers to communication being built around audiences if you are not participating.

    – @vedo

  9. July 7, 2009 9:54 am

    This is so very true. Those who think SM is just a fad that will eventually fade away are sorely mistaken. It will only continue to evolve and become a bigger part of our everday life and our business.

    It’s often harder for people from older generations that are set in their traditional-media ways to see the value in SM. I have been impressed by my co-workers from my parents’ generation for even knowing how to text and e-mail on their phones. (My poor mom-bless her heart- doesn’t even know how to save a number in her phone, let alone set up a facebook account.) HOWEVER, there is one BIG difference that excuses my mother that would not excuse my co-workers: My mother is not in the field of communications.

    Narciso, you expressed the exact point I planned make. This is the COMMUNICATIONS industry, and SM has become a vital means of communication with all different demographics and audiences. If you’re not willing to evolve with the field of communications, you should consider a different profession.By not utilizing SM tools, countless opportunities are missed to communicate.

  10. July 7, 2009 9:58 am

    Fear of the unknown is a powerful force. Many professionals have become comfortable with how they’ve been doing things for years and so it is easier to pass social media and new technologies off as useless, rather than get involved.

    Perhaps the traditional PR professional can still help the traditional company who has traditional customers…if that still exists.

    The professionals that come out of this communications shift on top will be the ones that can effectively integrate the old with the new, the traditional with new social technologies. The others will ultimately be weeded out of the system.

  11. July 7, 2009 10:00 am

    I think this boils down to having a passion for what you are doing. I do most of my interaction on SM platforms at night and on the weekends (my work still blocks it!), but for me, it’s a passion. I love social media, I love interacting. So I don’t mind working a full day and then coming home and going online. It doesn’t seem like work.

    So PR pros need to ask themselves – what are you passionate about? It may not be social media – it may be traditional media. That’s fine – social media isn’t for everyone. But if you honestly want to evolve and advance yourself professionally, you need to start being involved with the change. But if you aren’t passionate about learning and evolving your industry, then don’t get involved. It’s ok, like I said, it’s not for everyone.

  12. July 7, 2009 10:16 am

    Thanks, Arik, for this post, especially the tips to help people make it feel more manageable. I’d add a fourth point: learning to let go. With only so many hours in the day, we simply can’t read everything, and that’s ok.

    I speak regularly to communications graduate students, and I frame learning about social media as a “literacy,” just like learning to write in AP style or any other part of a communications curriculum. In today’s job market, understanding social media is a literacy skill that they need to know and understand – it’s not optional, just like good writing skills are not optional in this field. For younger professionals, as Lauren pointed out, it’s crucial to tie learning about social media into learning about traditional communication channels, as well as how both tie into larger business goals.

  13. July 7, 2009 10:39 am

    Great post Arik and Lauren. I feel, though, like we’re preaching to the choir here as most people reading are already using at least some SM tools. In August, I (a seasoned PR professional) will be talking with PRSA about the future of the profession. You can be sure it will focus on SM and there will be any number of questions asked of me. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

  14. July 7, 2009 11:13 am

    Once again a great blog and great conversation starter.

    Lauren, I absolutely agree with you. Young PR professionals need to understand traditional media before diving into social media. PR is about listening just as much as communicating. We need to understand all facets of media (traditional and social) to be successful.

    In reply to Narciso, I started a career in PR because it is always changing and sure at times overwhelming. That is what makes it interesting. However instead of succumbing to the feeling of being overwhelmed we should be open to change and take on the challenge of learning something new.

    My boss just sent around this quote, that I thought was fitting:

    “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
    — Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

  15. July 7, 2009 11:14 am

    Arik, I had a similar conversation about information overload and people becoming overwhelmed by the content that’s out there and instead of taking in the meat of it, they tend to skim through it or just read headlines.

    Same goes for your broader stance on social media as a whole. People definitely need to take a step back, pare down what they’re doing, and slow the hell down. You’re not going to be ‘left-behind’ if you don’t learn every single tool and read every single blog, but take it at a slower pace and organize yourself where you are more efficient and actually learning.

    Good points, bud.

  16. July 7, 2009 11:14 am

    Great article Arik, I couldn’t agree with you more. I can’t tell you how many times people have said they ‘don’t have time’ or just don’t understand what Social Media is, or why it is important.

    It’s tough to explain, when someone closes their ears to hearing its merits. While, that is somewhat understandable in career sects outside of communications — in communications fields it’s just one tough cookie to swallow.

    I don’t think the biggest hurdle is getting them on to Social Media platforms, in order to move with the times.

    I think the biggest hurdle is getting the people who don’t want to hear/already closed their ears to Social Media — listening to you to begin with.

    Once that happens, it’s simply about getting them to understand the applications, platforms and how to properly utilize each of them.

  17. July 7, 2009 11:39 am

    Yes, yes, oh lord yes to this post.

    Your frustration is understandable. In past positions, I have marveled at the lack of curiosity and the inability to explore change, even when the change was critically necessary. I’ve heard all the arguments against using web 2.0 tools and social media: “We don’t have the budget” cracks me up the most. Guys, I wanted to say, you won’t have ANY budget if we don’t–

    Oh, but I’m just getting myself riled up.

    The best work I can do right now is engender my workplace with a feeling of charged enthusiasm for new things, continually offer to patiently teach people to use new tools, and keep up my own development. Crazily enough, it’s all about working together. Just like social media.

  18. July 7, 2009 11:52 am

    Arik, most definitely you have a right to be frustrated.

    To add a slightly different take on this issue: How many times have we heard fellow PR people complain that they don’t have a seat at the decision-making table? In many companies — not all, but many — PR isn’t as highly valued as advertising or marketing. And, that’s unfortunate. But, now we have the opportunity to embrace social media — and be the agents of change at our own companies (and for agency people, for our clients). We can deliver measurable results to justify integrating social media into our overall marketing communications efforts. And that makes PR more valuable to management.

    If PR people aren’t willing to rise to the occasion — learn new skills, take on additional responsibility — then they can’t complain about not being taken as seriously as other departments in an organization. Just my two cents. Great post! 🙂

    Heather (@prtini)

  19. July 7, 2009 12:09 pm

    Good guest post. As suggested here, I mapped out a plan, elected to start small with LinkedIn, Twitter (@3HatsComm), and committed to updating my blog. And I just keep learning (still tackling that WordPress Codex).

    As someone fairly new to social media, it is a combination of being overwhelmed, and as others have mentioned, being under prepared.

    Social media and social networking pushes us into using new platforms and new tools. More importantly, we’re forced change our strategic marketing mindsets from the standard and traditional to the (scarier, less controlled) changing dynamics of SM. FWIW.

  20. July 7, 2009 2:15 pm

    What a great conversation. Apparently, I touched a nerve 😉

    Laurel: Love your fourth point. That’s one I personally have a tough time with. More often than not, I try to be all thing to all people. I know that can’thappen, so I’ve tried to be more diligent about focusing on what’s important. It helps narrow things down a bit.

    Mary: You’re absolutely right about the echo chamber. But, first I wanted to validate my thinking and see what others out here thought. Next, I think it’s our roles, as the uber-engagers, to seek out our colleagues and answer questions, educate and inform. As frustrated as I am, I also know we’re all in this together.

    Christina: Love the quote. I’m going to use that in an upcoming presentation. Thank you for that.

    Heather: Not surprisingly, you nailed it. As communicators, we’re supposed to be the ones on the cutting-edge of change. To be bringing these new tools to bear for the organizations we serve. If we’re not doing that, quite honestly, we’re no employable. Simple as that. And as you said, this is our chance to prove ourselves as strategic partners to senior management. The time could not be more ripe with opportunity.

    Davina: Glad to hear the approach is working for you. It worked for me. It doesn’t have to be so overwhelming if you don’t let it. You and I are walking case studies of that, it appears.


  21. September 11, 2009 12:25 pm

    Great post Arik… I think keeping up with social media is just an added day-to-day responsibility. At first it may seem overwhelming but I also think the user makes it overwhelming. The key with social media/networking is only to be involved with the sites you’re able to put 100% into it. You don’t have to be everywhere. Explore sites that best work for you and your company reching your desired audience. The quality of content and engagement is far better than having profiles everywhere with little to no interaction.


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