Why social media matters for PR and marketing (hint – it’s all about the brand)

I spoke to a group of financial services communications professionals yesterday. It was a small, private event, with an impressively unique agenda. It isn’t every day that I present directly after Ari Fleischer and the Secret Service.

Given the current economic environment, and, specifically, the financial crisis that this crowd is steeped in daily, I wanted to make sure whatever I said passed the “Why does this matter to me?” test. Here is my take on that issue.

When companies are under incredible duress, the first priority rightly becomes fixing the fundamental problems with their business. Experimenting with social media isn’t the top of their agendas. Social media doesn’t replace simply doing business well. I agree with this approach.

In light of the huge issues these companies face, does that mean social media doesn’t matter at all? No. And here’s why: the brand. Nothing gets the attention of communications and marketing people more than talking about brand reputation or brand management. So how does social media influence the brand?

Take a look at this chart from an IBM study done earlier this year:

Note where the traditional levers used by PR and marketing are in the hierarchy of what really shapes people’s perception of a brand. Near the bottom. What’s at the top? People’s interactions with employees of a company. The opinions of analysts and third parties. The personal opinions of family and friends.

So why does social media matter? Because it’s the way we in communications can move up the value ladder illustrated in that chart. We can start to participate in the conversations that really shape people’s perception of a brand much more effectively than our traditional vehicles.

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