“Social media is not a hobby, accidental or an afterthought;it must be treated as a planned communication.”  – Bob Fish,Co-Founder and CEO of Biggby Coffee

This quote has stuck with me since attending the Public Relations Societyof America (PRSA) 2010 Michigan Conferenceon April 22.  I had the privilege of co-chairing the conference, themed PRevolution:Creating Stability in a Shifting Landscape, which featured programming aroundthe latest trends and challenges in the ever-evolving PR industry.

The fact is that the definition of media is changing. Everyday in public relations is an adventure with new technologies shifting the way wethink, work and communicate. Social media is at the heart of this change, andthe challenge for communicators is not simply to understand how to use socialmedia, but to know when and IF to include social media as anelement of PR programs for their organization or clients.

Many of the conference session speakers and panelistsdiscussed best practices and lessons learned for strategic communicationthrough social media. During a student panel discussion on social media fornewbies, there was an interesting debate around the management of conversationson social media sites, in particular, Facebook.

One audience member expressed reservations about starting aFacebook page and asked if it was acceptable to delete negative comments ormisinformation posted by followers.

The students’ answer: transparent, honest and opencommunication is essential. While organizations should create guidelines forremoving comments with profanity or violent language, it is unacceptable todelete a comment. The best way to address any negative comments is to jointhe conversation. Respond rapidly, correct misinformation with thefacts, and address concerns with understanding.

Another audience member respectfully disagreed with the students,stating his company avoids this “problem” by disabling comments on its Facebookpage. Rather, they push out information to their Facebook followers as a way toestablish the company’s executives as thought leaders in their industry.

But, wait … that’s not thought leadership, it’s thoughtdictatorship!

A thought leader is a strategist who actively promotes anddiscusses ideas and information relevant to their industry withtheir consumers. A thought leader builds trust and credibility through open dialoguein a way that purposefully engages consumers in the conversation.

And social media is all about giving control to consumersthrough the same kind of proactive, two-way communication; it’s not aboutdictating what the consumer should think.

The most important thing I took away from the discussion isthat it is OK to not have a Facebook page, Twitter handle or LinkedIn profileif it does not make sense for the organization or client’s culture and targetaudiences. Communicators have a responsibility to fully understand theintricacies of each social media tool in order to design an impactful socialmedia strategy to support the organization or clients’ business objectives.

— Jennifer Wilt