By Juan Iramain*
Social networks are only the symptom of the greatest challenge ever faced by companies in their history, and PR has a role in that.
We are not considering if employees should or shouldn’t spend their time on Facebook or Twitter during working hours. That doesn't really matter. What counts is that several million people that just entered the labor market do not understand hierarchical organizations, consider their Yoga classes as important as their jobs, and believe that there are a variety of ways to be happy. And this is serious.
Since 1850, and especially during the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of commercial initiatives have occurred around the world, and have done so with the logic of those times: whoever has more experience knows more; chief leads, others obey; the efficiency of processes is critical; information is not accessible to all (and whoever has information has the power). In this context, PR played a persuasive role: it attempted to persuade journalists to publish favorable stories, and the Government officials to generate favorable regulatory frameworks. Old times.
Cultural paradigm was control: control of the information that is shared with the Government, trade unions, NGOs, customers, consumers, etc. And this is what has been happening up till now: control is no longer possible, not only because the information about a company and its products are constantly being leaked out onto the Internet, but also because, above all, people think that this information should be there. This paradigm shift has first been mental and then technological. Or more accurately, the use of social networks has become more massive, has sped up a process that already existed in society by demanding more transparency of information, and considers that truth about people, organizations and things comes from a collective construction: Wiki-truth.
With some exceptions, companies have resisted these changes. It is not surprising: many of their leaders are baby boomers or belong to generation X, born and educated under the control paradigm. PR has a first mission in that regard: to open the eyes of the organization. Public opinion research reflects that people -starting with employees- expect that companies talk openly and honestly with their stakeholders, take into account their various points of view, and change their decisions when necessary.
The second mission of PR is, perhaps, the most difficult: no more persuasion, but confidence-building. Confidence is not achieved through a well-implemented business plan but is inspired by open communication between organizations and its public. Responding to the criticisms it received after changing its traditional logo, GAP stated on its Facebook page: “Ok. We’ve heard loud and clear that you don’t like the new logo. We’ve learned a lot from the feedback. We only want what’s best for the brand and our customers. So instead of crowdsourcing, we’re bringing back the Blue Box tonight”. New paradigm, right?
*Juan Iramain, PhD, isthe VP of the PR Professional Council of Argentina. He is also VP of Public Affairs & Communications for South Latin Business Unit at The Coca-Cola Company.