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Is social media taking the ‘spin’ out of PR?

January 8th, 2008 by Lloyd Gofton

Reading on the Telegraph website this morning about Gordon Brown’s hiring of PR guru Stephen Carter to become his new “principal” adviser, along with a viewpoint entitled “Are spin doctors taking over the world?“, has got me thinking about the role of spin in social media.

To put in context, The Telegraph comment piece makes the point:

“When did PR become so important? Are spin doctors taking over the world? If so, does it matter?

“Is there any hope of curtailing the influence of spin in today�s media-savvy society?”

I would argue to begin with that spin in journalism was certainly curtailed in 2007 with the rapid uptake of social media, and news reporting by the masses. Just yesterday I was reading an apology on the BBC editor’s blog for censoring an interview with the late Benazir Bhutto. As Simon Collister points out in his post on the subject, “social knowledge allows a record of the multifarious voices in any situation (news story) to be heard and mapped out, ultimately providing us with a slightly messy if not better and more accurate version of reality”.

The same is becoming true for traditional PR as we know it. Politics is one subject in particular that is becoming harder and harder to ‘control’, with so many opinions and arguments being voiced across social media networks. The influence that spin doctors can have on political matters is rapidly being diminished, and in my mind will very soon be a thing of the past. There is no pulling the wool over the public’s eyes, when social media offers so much opportunity for the truth to come to light.

So why has Gordon Brown appointed a PR to manage his affairs? The answer in my mind is simple. Despite the changes in media as we know it, the ability to engage with audiences effectively, and understand what grabs attention, is still the realm of PR professionals. There has been a push within the digital industry to make this appear scientific, but at the end of the day, you can’t place an algorithm on the way people communicate. Understanding this is a fine art within itself, and Stephen Carter through his experience at Ofcom and later Brunswick PR is in a great position to assist Gordon Brown in the digital age.

So although social media might take the ‘spin’ out of PR, it can’t undermine the continuing importance of PR.

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One Response to “Is social media taking the ‘spin’ out of PR?”

  1. Simon Collister Says:

    I think you’re absolutely right… but while this ostensibly good news for democracy/civil society I have two major concerns:

    1) PR in the UK is still not getting social media. There’s little or no industry leadership from the CIPR & PRCA and just look at how some of the industry are engaging with the online space (http://simoncollister.typepad.com/simonsays/2008/01/google-warns-pr.html)
    It’s still spin, albeit online spin with Google becoming the regulator.

    2) Political parties seem to be recognising the value of this transparent medium, but they’re turning to advertising to roll out online campaigns. I think this is partly due to tradition but also because PR in the UK is far behind the curve on understanding and implementing social media strategies.

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