International Relations: Social media Opens Doors, PR Builds Relationships

Last week I had the honor and the pleasure of Skyping into the 10th Annual Iran PR Conference. If you were to ask me 10 years ago about my international PR work, my answer would have been much different than my response today.  Social media plays a large role in opening doors to an international network, but it’s PR that makes the relationships blossom and grow.

We talk about how social media has no boundaries and that we can transcend borders. Yes, this is true. However, it’s your role as a PR professional, your ability to develop and maintain relations and it’s your expertise in communications that allows you to build credibility and trust with organizations and colleagues worldwide. I know I’m preaching to the choir when I say, “PR leads to the great relationships for the long term.”

Working with professionals in other countries is an amazing learning experience.  When it comes to international relationships, I’ve found some important best practices. These are not the only ways to build relationships, but they have helped me to work with friends in areas such as the Middle East, South America and Europe.  Here are a few ideas for you to think about as you expand your network and PR practices and social media continues to take you into the international territories:

  • Learn the Culture and Participate in Customs. For example, when I Skyped into the conference in Tehran, I honored Islamic code and wore a light scarf during my presentation.  It’s so important to find out what will create the best interactions and first impressions, when you meet your international friends. Make sure you do your homework to explore more about their culture and customs.  At the same time, when you interact, take the time to listen carefully and you will learn so much more about interesting and exciting regions that are new to you.
  • Understand Preferred Technology and Participation in Social Media.  As a speaker, it’s very important to connect on a level that relates to the audience. This tip goes for all presentations, national and/or international. However, on the international level, do the members of the organization participate in the communities that are among the top places in the US, such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn?  Are there social media communities that are favored by their own regions and, if so, what are they? Including personalized participation will go a long way in your connection, and interest in what you have to say.
  • Test and align your communications tools well in advance. Be very familiar with the technology that you will be using to inform or educate your international friends. This tip applies, whether it’s interactions with a very small group or a conference of 500 people.  Although tactical, it’s important to select the technology that will help you to get across your messages and for you to connect on a one-to-one basis. My remote discussion for the Iran conference was via Skype.  Knowing the technology in advance helps me to better prepare my discussion. With technology, there was a delay in transmittal and I had to keep in mind, at all times, the slight delay in translation.  Speaking clearly and slowly not only helped the translator, but also prevented the conference participants from becoming overwhelmed with an abundance of fast paced information.
  • Be aware of time zones when scheduling meetings and deliverable due dates. As simple as this may seem, when you are working internationally, be cognizant of the time zones, especially if you have deadlines, meetings or materials are due. You should also be very careful not to schedule meetings or presentations when you would normally be sleeping. Here’s a bit of transparency on my part. I made the error in the time zone difference and scheduled my Iran presentation for 1:30 a.m. Out of respect for my colleagues and for the relationship, I moved forward with the originally scheduled time, rather than simply offering a pre-recorded presentation.  We are all human and subject to error, so if that happens, just do the right thing and be accountable.

These are some of my best practices based on what I’ve learned over the years. Social media has played a major role in helping me to take advantage of new opportunities, but it’s the good PR practices that build and maintain the relationships.  What are your best practices for developing international relationships? Please share!