A headline like that is likely to polarise opinion. Before you shoot the messenger, let me explain. The claim is based on the Global Alliance’s new survey of 280 heads of PR industry organisations worldwide.
38 percent of respondents cited social media as the greatest threat facing PR and comms pros today, thanks in part to the competitive pressure it has generated from other marketing disciplines. Respondents ranked social media as the biggest industry threat, above industry relevance; economic uncertainty; budget uncertainty; and, negative business ethics.
On the flipside, rather neatly, more than two-thirds also saw social media as the industry’s greatest opportunity, ahead of globalization; executive tools; stakeholder communications; and, new technology.
Some of the comments generated by this section of the survey are worth noting, and speak to widespread concern over a loss of organizational control. One respondent sees social media as a threat because “this form of instant communication stunts the ability to craft a message with thorough thought and reflection.”
Another calls it “hard to control”, while a third points to “reduced knowledge/control of stakeholder influencers/media/messaging”.
It strikes me that some of these people may be missing the point. Doesn’t public relations become more important in a situation where fast, accessible information is now expected by a rapidly growing variety of stakeholders?
Luckily the “opportunists”, as I’ll call them, appear to see things this way. “The web and new technology potentially make ‘everything’ available to ‘everyone’,” says one. “To some extent everyone is now a stakeholder or, at least an audience.”
Adds another: “Using social media to make synchronized, two-way communications the dominant model.”
The survey is a worthwhile exercise from the Global Alliance, and contains some other interesting nuggets. Global consensus around definition or accreditation of public relations is not rated as a high priority by respondents, compared to the more prosaic fare of demonstrating the value of PR to organizations, and engaging stakeholders outside the profession.
The survey also shows that leaders of the major PR and communications industry associations see five major roles for the profession:
- Applying ethics and responsibility to communication decisions;
- Researching organization’s reputation & stakeholder environment;
- Engaging stakeholders to define the organization’s character (or DNA);
- Developing a listening culture within the organization; and
- Integrating mainstream and social media communication.
Unsurprisingly, business leaders are seen as primary targets when it comes to promoting the industry’s global value. On one thing, the global PR industry can agree: the importance of those holding the pursestrings.