Peter Shankman is becoming a household name in the PR industry. He has taken on one of the longest-standing industry tools, ProfNet, and built a tool, Help A Reporter Out, that is proving to be very valuable to many PR professionals. There’s been a lot of recent debate about HARO vs. ProfNet, much of it turning unnecessarily nasty. At the middle of it all is Shankman, whose personality makes HARO unique and has driven its rapid growth.

Beyond the daily HARO e-mails, Shankman encourages subscribers to follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook and also looks to meet-up in-person during his travels. It was on a recent tweet of his that he grabbed my attention with a post titled “ Why don’t you do some work?” Shankman details how a friend recently reacted to him describing his day with the question of “Why don’t you do some work?” Shankman details his personal approach to mixing work and play, claiming “On any given day I’m working twice as hard as you if not more so, and if you’re hating, you’re simply not as adept at playing the game.” I’m not doubting him, though that seems a little intense. Shankman admits that he says it “with absolute respect, and no insult intended.” When you follow him or read his updates, it is truly amazing how much he accomplishes every day.

In the age of Twitter, Facebook status, FriendFeed and more, we’ve given a window into our lives that leaves us open for the very skepticism that Shankman faced. I noticed a colleague tweeting last night about explaining Twitter to her father and how it further confused him to what she actually does. I think every PR professional has experienced at some point trying to explain their role to a family member or friend and getting that confused/judgmental look or reaction.

The addition of social media opens this skepticism up even more. Why is it important for me to be on Twitter during the day? Why am I taking time away from my work to put in status updates? The bottom line is that it makes me better at my job. Every day, team members here at Airfoil have numerous conversations about updates we saw on Twitter that might be relevant to a client or provide us additional insight on how to work better with a reporter that we have been targeting. Social media allows us to form relationships on a personal level with reporters and influencers all across the country.

There is a science behind the use of social media that is slowly, but surely emerging. You have to approach it carefully and not be too overbearing. I noticed a reporter tweeting the other day that he had been friended on Facebook so many times by a marketing executive trying to get his attention that he was considering (sarcastically) getting a restraining order. There are also community-based guidelines for places like Twitter that help to make you more successful (like don’t tweet about what you are eating for breakfast.)

All that said, it doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t feel a bit odd about spending time on social media. It needs to be efficient time, but it also has to be a genuine effort. And while you might get the occasional, “do you actually do any work?” question, social media participation is an aspect of the PR industry that isn’t going away anytime soon. As I think about a conclusion to this post, I’m wondering why I just spent the past few minutes hacking out this blog. But in truth, it’s all part of the bigger picture, even if in the moment I can’t see the immediate result.

— Tim Wieland

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