Social media training is top priority for every PR professional

I recently attended the first NATO online ‘open’ massive training course dedicated to Social Media. The course confirmed that – even if I have been a Social Media user since its beginning – still there are many aspects that I had not focused on or was not aware of. I was far from being in a position to effectively exploit the powerful capabilities offered by this new environment while minimizing the many associated risks.

Last week, an internal report leaked from the New York Times reinforced my opinion that to acquire adequate skills in mastering ‘new media’ is today’s top priority for any professional communicator.

We all know that traditional media is progressively replaced by new media as main source of news. We also know that news organization themselves are using new media as their initial source of information: a tweet is now a common way to make sure reporters immediately notice a news release posted at our web page.  What the New York Times report confirmed is that also one of the most influential traditional news sources in the world is developing a strategy to become more and more integrated with new media.

For instance, the report states that

– the value of the NYT homepage is decreasing. “Only a third of our readers ever visit it. And those who do visit are spending less time: page views and minutes spent per reader dropped by double-digit percentages last year.”

– NYT  reporters have to submit 5 possible tweets when they file stories, and editors have a meeting regarding social strategy for every story package

the NYT can’t simply assume people who want to work for the paper; while ambitious journalists are drawn to the Times, digital talent wants the chance to create something new and experiment.

Convergence between all the different news distribution channels (print, radio, TV, Internet) continues and the PR/PA community cannot stay behind.  Actually, and it may appear a paradox, the new communication environment has caused a decrease in number of journalists and a parallel increase in number of  professional communicators who feed the news system.

This emerging need for priority to be given to digital skills was confirmed also during recent studies.

Last year I saw an article by Eric Schwartzman that anticipated Social media training to be  – for communicators – as important as conventional media training was a decade ago.  He also noted that Social media is unlike mass media; distribution alone doesn’t penetrate the social filter. In order to reap gains, conversations or action must take place. With no clicks, the whole exercise is for naught. Which is the essence of the new interactive tools.

This prediction was recently confirmed by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations with a post asserting that “Survey after survey over the last 6 months points to a profession that is seeing an ever greater share of its roles and responsibilities devoted to social and digital media management.”

For instance, the PR Census 2013  conducted by PR Week revealed that while general media relations is still the predominant task for 80 per cent of all PR people, online comms is the third most widespread activity, followed by comms strategy development and writing articles and newsletters.

ImageFurthermore, a recent research by Mynewsdesk into the role of in-house communicators in the UK, shows that 90 per cent are now working across more areas than ever before with more involved in social and digital activities (92 per cent) than media relations (84 per cent).

Video production is particularly increasing, with over half of in-house communicators questioned by  Mynewsdesk having produced video content at least once a month over the last year, thanks to the reduction in cost of production and the new technologies which make the creation and digital distribution of this format so much easier.

ImagePR Academy recently asked its students which one skills gap they would address in the next 12 months. Most students identified Digital communications/social media, followed by Strategic Planning and Measurement.  Here is the cover note accompanying their report:

“In a world where 90% of all media interaction is via a screen of some kind, it’s perhaps unsurprising that digital communications and social media top the list of skills gaps that PR professionals wish to address in the next 12 months. One of the key challenges is that digital communications requires knowledge and expertise on a broad front. It isn’t just about being able to create a Twitter account. Digital communications skills are also tightly coupled with measurement, research and evaluation, and PR professionals must get to grips with all of these skills to create more effectively planned and executed programmes. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging that PR professionals desire to improve their digital skills. They just need to bear in mind that digital communications is evolving at a rapid pace and accept that a successful career will be inextricably linked to continuous learning.” Andrew Smith, MCIPR, Managing Director, Escherman CIPR Social Media Panel member

Good news is that training in digital skills can be effectively conducted online, as the NATO experiment confirmed.  All major PR educational platforms offer remote learning on this subject.  There is no excuse. If a reporter has to draft five possible tweets per story, the same must happen with news releases, which is where many stories come from.

Whether we have our own Facebook page or not we need to roll-up sleeves and go to school again. Particularly if we got our initial PA training when the most advanced transmission means was a thermal paper facsimile and news were coming via telex.




About fveltri

Former NATO and military spokesperson, currently Public Affairs consultant and President, ComIPI (
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