PR 2.0 Taboo Words

What words do you think of when you see a blog post titled, “PR 2.0 Taboo Words?”  Are there really any taboo words?  Well, there are a few words that immediately pop into my mind because I think they apply more to traditional communications. I’m not sure if they have a home in the new PR landscape, at least not the same way that they did before social media.

Here are a few words that keep coming up in conversations and are debated among PR peers:

  • Messages:  I remember being in Brisbane, Australia for the PRIA National Conference 2009, when I explained in my presentation that the word “messages” is a mass communication term.  When we talk about “messages” we imply a broadcast communication model and how many brands push out information about their organizations.  Immediately I was questioned: why should we stop talking about messages?  A large part of public relations is developing key messages?  My response: I didn’t think we would completely stop developing overall key messages for our organizations.  I discussed my response in an earlier blog post, stating we should stop with the canned messages that show up in news releases and other types of communication.  If we listen first and start to customize our stories, not just craft messages, then we will have better conversations with people and build stronger relationships.
  • Audience:  This is another interesting word that’s difficult to stop using when you are in the field of communications.  I was brought up using the word
    “audience.”  However, today in the social media communications, the word “audience” implies a mass communications model and that we look at people in terms of the demographics rather than psychographics.  In web communities, demographics still exist.  For example, examining how the various age groups participate in social networks, but people don’t congregate because of their age, income, sex, geography, religion, etc.  Rather people band together because they are like-minded and have similar interests and passions.  Psychograpic values play a large part in how people behave and interact with one another.  We’re observing emotions, interests, and lifestyles.  In web communities, people who have different likes, dislikes and opinions and understanding psychograpics, and the behavior in social networks, helps us to learn the right way to engage with a group of people.

In Putting the Public Back in Public Relations, Brian and I discuss the “forbidden” words.  Here’s a brief excerpt about audiences:

“Audiences, as you typically knew them, were lumped into general categories. However, with choices so vast, PR in the Long Tail has the ability to reach individuals and influence their behavior— whether it’s an opinion, a referral, or a purchase. In addition, the audiences of the past did not typically have access to the power of the press. Now people in Web communities are listening and learning, yet at any given time, they are ready to influence their peers by publishing their own interpretation, insight, opinions, and meaningful information. And finally, the audiences of the past might have craved messages. However, the people formerly known as the audience now control the information they want to consume—when, how, and with whom they want to speak, sans the media broadcast mechanism.”

  • Pitch: When I started in PR, about 75% of my job was media relations and pitching journalists.  I took great pride in scouring newspapers and trade publications, understanding a client’s business and market and coming up with interesting, newsworthy angles to pitch to the media.  Along comes social media and the word “pitch” has almost a negative connotation.  When we pitch, it’s usually a story that we find and want to tell. It’s not necessarily based on listening to conversations of the people that we want to reach.  I used to do my homework on journalists and the stories they had written in the past, but I never had the opportunity to go into a web community to really learn what people were thinking and to hear what they needed from a brand.  This is an incredible opportunity to offer meaningful communication directly to the people as well as sharing it with other stakeholders, including the media.  So, it’s not that we won’t pitch again, but we will talk less about pitching in the social sphere and simply focus on sharing communication and great resources.  We don’t need to pitch if we listen closely.
  • Control: Here’s a word that comes up quite a bit in boardroom conversations.  Yes, that’s right, “we were going to control the communication” and only distribute the information that we wanted the public to hear.  This certainly has changed and definitely doesn’t work in social sphere.  Actually, brands never really had control over the conversations.  Just because they sent out messages didn’t mean that consumers (1) accepted the information and (2) didn’t talk about the brand based on their own experiences, good, bad or indifferent.  Brands have always been talked about, however, social media perpetuates the conversations and shares them virally on a much larger scale.  What do I tell brands that want to control conversation?  We need to look at conversations differently and focus less on the word “control” and concentrate more on better monitoring of communication and formulating appropriate responses to help people, solve their problems and build better relationships.  Control is one of those words that will not work in social communities.

What do you think of the PR 2.0 taboo words?  Do these words have a place in social communities?  What words would you add to this list?