Color me sanctimonious

This morning, I read John Cass’ post on Sterling Hager’s post, Sanctimonious 2.0. (I also went and read Sterling’s post because there is nothing more annoying than people who comment without reading the original article.)

Sanctimonious or not, the communication landscape has changed and is changing. Social media has created community-based conversational communications and the conventions of traditional PR just aren’t going to be effective or well-received.

Hager seems to be arguing that the medium doesn’t matter, that the message is the message and PR practices – having reached their zenith – shouldn’t be monkeyed with. This doesn’t make any sense at all.

Whenever new technologies have been introduced they have forced change. Where people resist change they can look kind of silly in retrospect. Here’s a non-PR communication example. If you watch early silent movies, the performers are using stage conventions and it looks really overblown. As sound came in, the overly-emotive style of silent films lingered as people sought to understand the new medium. Technology drove changes in convention.

The same thing is happening here. Traditional PR has been an effective way to reach audiences through the mediated channel of the press. That will continue to be the case – to a greater or lesser degree – in most businesses. Social media though has changed the definition of audience. The audience is no longer an anonymous group of passive content consumers. Technology is allowing them to become active participants and contributors to the conversation.

The traditional media understood and accepted the conventions of the relationship between the press and PR. The social media has no reason to. Hager poses the following question:

I’m assuming these holier-than-thou distinguished panelists have stopped inventing quotes for news releases that portend to speak the words of the client’s senior executives? Or is it OK still to be inauthentic and opaque when it comes to that kind of scribe work… that old, traditional, yukky, not hip PR? It’s OK to pen words that are not transparent or authentic for media consumption… just not blog readers?

Sanctimonious 2.0 » AgencyNext

You bet people are still drafting quotes for client press releases. That is an accepted convention – just like wildly exaggerated facial expressions were in silent movies.

He goes on to equate blogs (and presumably by extension social media in general) with traditional PR vehicles:

I think the sanctimonious are trying to convey that blogs are oh so special. Alternatively, somehow, things like white papers, viewpoints, web site copy, user stories, feature articles, news releases, speeches and all the rest of the things we write — with authenticity by the way – are old testament rituals that just don’t qualify any of us inauthentic unwashed to near the altar to commune directly with the people on behalf of a client.

Sanctimonious 2.0 » AgencyNext

The fact of the matter is that they are different. The examples he cites are, for the most part, one-way channels. They might be authentic but they are also largely static and don’t invite participation. They are not social media. A blog does invite conversation; and for a conversation to really work you need to know whom you’re talking to (that’s why the issue of identity in social media is so important to me).

Traditional push PR has its place. It isn’t going to be going away in the foreseeable future; but it also has its limitations. It isn’t conducive to community participation, it isn’t social and it isn’t especially transparent. Those things are all critical to social media.

For a while I expect that we’re going to continue to hear this debate. In the end, social media is going to require PR people to rethink how they communicate. It isn’t a bad thing.

[tags]sanctimonious, PR, social media, public relations, communication, blogging[tags]


4 thoughts on “Color me sanctimonious

  1. Excellent post Greg, love the examples from the silent movie era. It was interesting how few of the silent stars were able to make the transition from silent movies to talkies. Harold Lloyd was one of my favorite examples. I think we all owe Sterling a word of thanks for sparking this discussion.

  2. gpc says:

    Indeed. The silent film example is thanks to having attended the MIT Communications Forum on Remixing Shakespeare.

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