online networking makes life easier for pr pros

Web-Based Social Networks

This article is in response to my local PRSA Tampa Bay chapter’s Independent Practitioners Group; specifically, how to leverage popular social network sites like LinkedIn to enhance and streamline intra-membership communications.

Once, not so long ago, business communications were handled by A) analog telephone and B) bipedal mail delivery. But like the ad said, this ain’t your Daddy’s Oldsmobile. And those days – like Olds – are gone.

In today’s web-based environment most businesses and organizations require internet strategy and digital familiarity; essentials for maintaining online visibility and communications. There’s basic e-mail, then comes a blog and/or a web site, usually running some flavor of C(ontent) M(anagement) S(ystem) software.

Horizontal expansion’s next and might include a professional LinkedIn (individuals and groups) account and/or a social Facebook page or fan page. Social networking sites are media heavy; MySpace was the dominant destination for years before being overtaken by Facebook. Professional sites seek to emulate an electronic Dayrunner.

Most PR practitioners are familiar with, if not yet members of, LinkedIn. Founded in 2002 and now affiliated with search engine monster Google, LinkedIn’s focus is professional and currently claims in excess of 60 million members. Plaxo, another 2002 startup by Napster’s founder, was in contention as a parallel professional networking/address book service but today commands only a fraction of LinkedIn’s membership.

It’s worth taking a look at how these free-to-use online applications can be exploited to deliver a more effective communications strategy for managing organizational relationships.

E-Mail: Good For Some Things, Not For Everything

Typically, chapter membership is notified of local events by email from within the chapter website or by email lists individually maintained by committee chairs, chapter officers, and members in general. The website architecture used by PRSA Tampa Bay isn’t configured for threaded discussions, so email becomes the defacto method of interactive dialogue.

The norm is to send recipients addresses as a cc:, in the open, so members can see who’s on the list and respond accordingly. Generally speaking, this practice – as opposed to bcc: – virtually guarantees the transmission of a virus sooner or later. And because there’s no way to “opt out” prior to distribution, the primary address begins its cosmic journey onto spam lists throughout the universe.

Furthermore, these lists, lacking any centralized email address validation, depend on “reply all” for continuity, further complicating viral dissemination and quickly turning into a nonlinear, disembodied collection of uncoordinated participant responses; “Okay with me.” “I did – you?” “Fish sounds good.” “Be there in ten.”

A question recently raised in connection with a chapter function announcement was what’s the best way to conduct casual intra chapter communications? LinkedIn, with the broadest member base and most familiar interface, provides the easiest, most efficient connectivity by taking advantage of their Groups/Subgroups feature. Here’s why.

First, LinkedIn features a comfortable UI, or user interface, that in turn supports a number of interesting and useful optional add-ons. Customizable member settings range from travel planning to Amazon booklists. My profile includes automatic updates from my WordPress blog, a twitter feed that’s manually controlled (use the hashmark #li) and Huddle, potentially a very useful online user designated shareable file repository.

Second only to their Rolodex function are members’ group discussions. These are nothing more than outgrowths of the original message bulletin boards, cleaned up and dialed back. Any member can start a new discussion or participate in an established one, subject to approval.

These discussions begin with an original post (topic) that’s announced to all group members who have opted in to receive group emails. It’s my experience that discussions are just that: if the topic involves a long copy article, it’s usually linked.

All responses to the original post are published in a linear timeline that is viewable by all group members, participants and nonparticipants alike, efficiently and in real time.

Members choose to be notified of new discussions, and then choose to follow any or all comments.

Member back and forth comments are visible to all, not just those recipients on an email list as part of a “reply all” connectivity event.

Anyone new to the discussion sees all the information from the beginning.

One major shortcoming I’m hoping will be corrected is the ability to archive a discussion to disc. Right now, you can print – but not save – the entire discussion but only as formatted (html) output to hard copy or PDF. The ability to easily collect transcripts would be helpful.

The Tampa Bay PRSA chapter currently has 164 members. Our LinkedIn PRSA Tampa Bay online group is 114 and growing, though not all are local chapter members or even PRSA members. (Because LinkedIn groups are individually owned, a group member’s official PRSA status isn’t obvious.) Assuming every PRSA member has internet access and an email address, a 100% LinkedIn Group membership seems achievable, and with that universal one-click notification to every member is possible.

If you’re not yet a LinkedIn member, its easy to signup over on I’ve written a couple of social media articles, including this one about managing social media relationships over on my web site.