Archive for the ‘Module 6’ Category

How best can a PR practitioner charged with the community manager role serve both the needs of the online community and the requirements of his or her organization to meet business objectives?


In order to ensure success, the story goes that the greek goddess Ceres employed lesser gods to assist her. Among them was Conditor whose job it was to be maker, builder, framer, establisher, founder, author and compiler (1). Add to this list energetic – and energizer, patient dialoguer, and strategist and what you have is a PR practitioner charged with the social media community manager role.  In some ways, this conditor has a long history, in other ways we’re breaking new ground, and in all ways the job requires an investment in time and resources in order to ensure that an organization meets their business objectives.

a long history…

Public relations has always been about communication for the purpose of achieving organizational objectives. The public relations practitioner must understand the organization’s business goals, develop strategies, create relevant content, engage with stakeholder publics, analyze data and stay up to date on topics, trends and tools.  This list could have been developed for any number of public relations practitioners for the past hundred years  – but it wasn’t. The list appeared on February 20, 2013 in a post titled, “The 6 Things Your Social Media Manager Must Do To Expand Your Online Presence.” (2)  What we recognize from this list is that the core responsibilities of public relations practitioners has remained the same.  In carrying out these activities, it’s often been referred to as managing, because it’s been very much about controlling.  The public relations manager’s job has been to control what was said about their organization, who said it and who it was said to.  The messaging has been meant to engage the key audience (publics) by appealing to their needs and interests for the sole purpose of achieving the organizations objectives.  In order to identify needs and interests, publics were listened to, but that “listening” was in very limited, and again, controlled ways. The public relations conditor was always a maker, builder, framer, establisher, founder, author and compiler. It worked.  And then, the world changed.

breaking new ground..,

Along came social media and with it not just the ability to connect and communicate like never before, but a shift in expectations about how publics can and should interact with organizations, and how in turn organizations should interact with them.  The most telling shift in the role of the public relations practitioner is the change in referring to the organizational audience as “communities” rather than stakeholders or publics.  Quoting Dr. Michael Wu, Lithium’s Principal Scientist of Analytics, communities are:

  1. Held together by some common interests of a large group of people. Although there may be pre-existing interpersonal relationship between members of a community, it is not required. So new members usually do not know most of the people in the community.
  2. Any one person may be part of many communities.
  3. They have overlapping and nested structure.  (3)

In the connected online communities, for public relations practitioners it has become less about managing or controlling the organization’s brand, and more about engaging with the community – as the voice or face of the organization.  To be successful on behalf of their organization, the public relations conditor needs to be an energetic and energizing strategic dialoguer who continually engages with the organization’s communities.  The use of the word “dialoguer” is an important one, because it is meant to convey what William Isaacs describes as “the promise of thinking together”.  He writes, “The problems that even the most practical organizations have –in improving their performance and obtaining the results they desire –can be traced directly to their inability to think and talk together, particularly at critical moments.” (4)  By dialoguing with our communities in the way Isaacs encourages us to do, public relations community managers – or conditors (since it’s not about controlling) will lead the dialogues instead of worrying about what is said about our organizations.  Organizations who are taking this approach from Oreos to Starbucks to Virgin have proven this works.  Their organization are viewed as “in tune” and they not only prove themselves relevant to their existing communities, but find themselves growing their communities – and, brand loyalty along with it.

investment in time and resources…

It was no accident that I chose the story of Ceres.  In greek mythology, she is the goddess of agriculture.  In order to have a successful harvest, she called upon her specialists, her conditors. To succeed the conditor knew what the group wanted to grow.  They knew where and how to till the ground.  They closely monitored the environmental conditions, and how what they had sewn was growing. They used the best tools available to them, and hoped for the best weather conditions.  If the weather didn’t cooperate, the skilled conditor adjusted.  This analogy could have always worked for public relations.  It still does.

What is too often overlooked in a story like this one is not just the skill that is required, but that the conditor, in this case the public relations conditor, must also be given the time and resources to succeed.  This requires both recognition and investment from the “C-suite”.

conclusion… summing up

According to the “2012 Global multichannel consumer survey” conducted by PwC, “60% of respondents use social media to follow, discover, and give feedback on brands and retailers”. (5)  As discussed here, the expectation that comes along with this is that the PR practitioner charged with the community manager role needs to be directly engaged with both the organization’s business objectives and their communities. In order to successfully serve both the needs of the online community and achieve their organizations business objectives, the public relations practitioner can no longer be a manager in the traditional sense, but instead must expand the role to one of a conditor that energetically engages their communities in dialogue.  And, as stated above (cannot be too often repeated) this requires investment from the C-suite.

giving credit where credit’s due!

(1)Perseus 4.0 , Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University (n.d.)  Latin Word Study Tool 

(2)Curry, Jenna. (February 20, 2013)  The 6 Things Your Social Media Manager Must Do To Expand Your Online Presence

(3) Wu, Michael Ph.D. (June 6, 2010) Community vs. Social Network

(4) Isaacs, William.  Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together  (1999) New York: Currency and Doubleday, at page 3.

(5) PwC. 2012 Global multichannel consumer survey