This is the question that I have been asked today by a PR student. She sent me the questions below to get my views for her dissertation.

The questions reflect the confusion of many of our clients as to what is social media and where does it fit in the overall marketing mix. How does it change what we do?

PR is fundamentally about understanding your audiences – usually the people who you want to buy your product or service, but it could also be MPs, your local community or potential employees.

And this hasn’t changed with the onslaught of social media.

All that blogging, tweeting and Facebook have done is to give us new and more direct ways to communicate with these audiences.

Do you agree with the answers I’ve given her?

  1.  Since the birth of blogging do you feel that your role as a PR practitioner has changed?

The role of the PR practitioner has stayed the same – the way we achieve the end goal is changing. Our role is still to help our clients or employers to understand how to achieve strategic business goals by communicating with their key audiences. Blogging is just an additional way of doing this.

  1.  Can you explain to me how you use blogging and new social media during a campaign?

We are running a social media campaign for Business Link to encourage people to go to this year’s Enterprise Shows. We have a Facebook fan page – keeping the content fresh and engaging with different case studies each day – as well as tips and comment from entrepreneurs who are talking at the events. We’ve used Twitter at a conference with a special hash tag just for that event so that delegates could share views about the conference and arrange to meet people with similar interests/discussions.

  1.  People read blogs to get an unbiased and unregulated view point on an array of different subjects. Do you think it is ethical for PR practitioners and Marketers to use blogging as a tool when promoting a product or brand?

A fundamental principle of good PR is honesty and the same rules apply for social media as in traditional PR. We spend a lot of time with our clients explaining that social media needs to be treated as another medium. You say ‘unregulated’ but a lawyer or financial adviser is still subject to their industry regulation, regardless of whether they are advising a client by letter, commenting in the media – or writing a blog. I do think it is ethical to use a blog as a tool to promote a product or brand. If you make it too ‘salesy’ or advertising, no-one will be interested or read it. Just as if you do a promotional press release, journalists will bin it. So you have to be as helpful, interesting and engaging as you would be when writing a press release or feature.

  1.  Through research I have found that most people only see blogs as credible if they have been written by an expert or a journalist, do you think this put pressure on the PR profession to seek out bloggers as the new opinion leaders?

The danger here is to look at blogging as a new discipline, not another tool in the PR toolkit. A common PR strategy is to position leaders as the ‘voice of the industry’ or as the ‘expert commentator’. Traditional ways to do this have been to get your expert to respond to relevant, topical issues in the media, to brief the media on technical issues ‘behind the scenes’ and get journalists to start calling your expert for their opinions. Blogging can be a quicker and more open route to doing this. We have set up an expert panel at Bradford University School of Management and their blogs are just one element in our total campaign of positioning them as experts.