By Sarah Ann Noel

As a PR professional, I’ve been called a lot of things.
Spin doctor.
Media suck-up.
And of course, I shudder at most of these misconceptions, public relations being my livelihood. It demonstrates a valid point, however; public relations leaves a lot to be defined professionally speaking.

While I appreciate the creativity floating around what it is I do, from my standpoint, there is a good definition of public relations: Communicating controlled messages. PR professionals are not just communicators; it’s a different skill set because you must incorporate a strong focus and a missional sixth sense, to varying audiences.

This is why I love social media for PR, in the midst of questions whether it is a PR or a marketing function. Messages are direct—short and sweet. They’re targeted—you know who you’re reaching. They’re intentional—people are seeking the information.

For example, I know that consumers seeking my organization’s services are going to the website first. I try to include the most pertinent information for those consumers, alongside additional sources of information. The messaging on the website is succinct, severely controlled, and offers only the hardest of facts.

But in my organization’s LinkedIn group, the ideas fly. Industry professionals ask questions and answer questions; they promote projects and events; they offer updates on legislation and programs that affect our key players.

Then there’s our organizational blog. Knowing that this serves a predominantly internal communications function, I can include short updates, event notices, and resources for our employee network.

Three very different mediums serving very different purposes, but all achieving that same public relations goal: Communicating controlled messages.

I think there’s another benefit to social media in PR too, one that maybe goes unnoticed—there’s exceptional opportunity for increased two-way communication. In this industry, if you’re not on top of what the public is saying, you’re not doing your job well. And if you’re in PR and your social media outlets haven’t told you what the public is thinking, you’re not using your online tools well.

I mean, where did my disgruntled Sprint-customer-of-a-husband finally get his customer service questions answered? Twitter! After months of frustration, he stumbled across a Sprint manager on Twitter, made his concerns known, and the problem was resolved in a number of days. Social media outlets open the gateways to conversations, often times between a basic consumer and a decision-making member of any given organization. It creates a two-way communication stream essential to customer service (and public relations!) success.

Good public relations offers controlled messages, but it also puts power in the hands of the people by providing the information and opportunities that they need. Social media gives any PR professional the means to do exactly that. That’s not being a truth-stretcher; sheesh, I’m a truth-giver.

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