The Information Age is a perilous time, especially now as the one-time Information Superhighway has sprouted so many access ramps in the form of social media. It is no longer that everything recorded can be saved, nor even that everything can be found. What should give us pause is that what has been recorded can be shared immediately. Think about it this way — just two weeks ago, did you know what Brett Favre looked like naked?
Businesses are feeling their way through this new paradigm like the rest of us, simultaneously exhilarated by the possibilities of reaching limitless customers and terrified of that one second they let down their guard. It is a lot like the growth of TV news coverage during the Vietnam War. No one fully respected the power and reach of television cameras, even as people called Walter Cronkite the most trusted man in America. It was only after the torching of My Lai that the American government realized that it had to take its public image very seriously, whether it liked it or not.
Companies today are just starting to see the same dynamic in the development of social media and digital information sharing. And they are learning that they are not so different than the infamous American GI who applied his cigaret lighter to the roof of a grass hut in ‘Nam. They are starting to take seriously the meaning of their public image in a world that can and will find any flaw in that image and channel it around the world instantly.
According to #b#Robert Dilenschneider#/b#, founder of the Dilenschneider Group, a New York City-based public relations and communications firm, every company, cause, and career with a stake in positive public exposure depends on successful public relations. In his latest book, “Public Relations: Leveraging PR in the Digital World,” Dilenschneider discusses how the PR industry has had to come to grips with the promise and dangers of the Internet. Where once the PR industry knew how to operate, it now needs to be aware of so much more — including the fact that the Internet never forgets.
Dilenschneider, best-selling author of “Power and Influence,” will speak at NJ CAMA’s “Communicating in a Web 2.0 World” event on Wednesday, October 27, at 6 p.m. at Rider University. Cost: $20. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 609-397-3737.
Writes Dilenschneider: The only effective way to deal with the challenges companies face today is to integrate the old-school approach — newspapers, mailers, appearances — with emerging Web 2.0 outlets. There are no tried-and-true formulae in his book, and, he writes, the true reach of the Internet is not the technology. Rather, it is how people are using technology to shape and share their beliefs. Coupled with this is the fact that the world’s attitudes are changing. People no longer put blind faith in a company’s benevolence, and as we have found, if a company decides to say nothing about itself, people will start asking what it must be hiding.
Also, people today want the businesses they support to be responsible citizens. They want to know a company’s stance on social issues, its environmental policies, and what it is giving back to a community that is feeding it money. Companies need to communicate as its customers communicate and they must use social media to listen as well as speak.
Most of Dilenschneider’s advice is common sense — whether your business is a website or a store, you need to know who you are, what your focus is, who your customers are, and what your competition is doing. Analyze what makes one website, such as JupiterMedia.com, sell for $23 million, while so many other sites go belly up. And pay attention to the PR triumphs and fiascoes that other companies experience.
His book, however, does apply old-school wisdom to new technology, calculating how to contend with media relations, trade media, organizational communications, rumor and crisis management, government relations, investor relations, travel and tourism, and the annual report in the wired world. Dilenschneider contends that the technology, ultimately, is not at issue. Rather it is how it is used.
“Overall, the winners in digital communications have not been those with the best technology, the best IT consultants, and the most money invested in getting and keeping the technical edge,” he writes. “Those hitting the home runs have been the strategic plodders who took their time to try out different personas, simplification techniques, keywords, attention-grabbing tactics, rhythms, and timing. Those who succeed are those who keep at it and those who take the offense and not just play defense. They understand that the web presents a unique opportunity to make a human connection.”
Dilenschneider started in public relations in 1967 in New York, shortly after receiving his master’s in journalism from Ohio State University and his bachelor’s from Notre Dame. He has gone on to be a prolific business author and frequent speaker on communications and business.
Dilenschneider formed the Dilenschneider Group in 1991 after having served as president and CEO of Hill and Knowlton Inc. from 1986 to 1991. While there he tripled the firm’s revenues to nearly $200 million and brought in $30 million in profit. He had been with Hill and Knowlton for nearly 25 years before he took over.
Though technology is itself not what will win out, Dilenschneider says, we would be wise to respect its emerging power — and the reach of the common man in using it. “The democratic quality of the Internet and the resulting flattening of the influence playing field,” he writes, “means that money, contacts, family pedigree, Ivy League education, and a senior title at a public relations agency, lobbying firm, or marketing communications boutique have become, to some extent, irrelevant. Worldly education is as important today as formal education.”