As we take stock of 2010 and look ahead to 2011, it’s a good time to think for a minute about our skill sets, and what new skills are required of today’s socially-connected, search-optimized, completely-wired public relations pros.
I’m not suggesting – at all, whatsoever – that core PR skills have fallen by the wayside. In fact, the opposite is true. Social channels offer brilliant opportunities to tell stories and showcase excellent writing. And the meteoric rise of of social media poses all sorts of new and interesting challenges to PR strategists today.
But I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who disagrees with the simple fact that the connectedness of information, people and networks has created a host of new demands on the PR department.
So what skills are required, if one is going to thrive and succeed as a PR pro today? Here’s my take, divided up into strategic skills one needs to develop, and tactical know-how required today.
Strategic skills – the underpinnings of success.
Learning: If you’ve been away from learning from a while, it can be difficult to get those muscles working again. And finding the time to process information is a real challenge. But staying on top of how your audiences find and consume information is central to keeping your skill set honed. Technical learning is just as important. Find time in your day (starting small) to read those books gathering dust on your night stand. Use an RSS reader like the one from Google to organize content from industry blogs in one convenient place. Follow a key industry hashtag or two on Twitter for daily doses of the latest developments. Learning requires discipline.
Selling: You may not be in sales, but I’d be willing to bet that you’re in a constant state of selling. We have to “sell” concepts to clients, ideas to management and stories to constituents. These transactions are powered by influence, authority and authenticity, and information is the currency. The ability to convey ideas effectively is a key to success, if you’re going to successfully pitch a journalist on a story, or your boss on the need to ramp up your organization’s social media program.
Time management: Our HR director is fond of asking what one should start doing, stop doing, and continue doing. “Start/Stop/Continue” has become one of my mantras, and I take stock of the things I do regularly, happily chucking time-sucking but now-obsolete tasks out the door. Time management is crucial these days, as many communications departments are running on lean staffs, but have more than ever to do. Take a few minutes to really think about what needs to go, what needs to stay, and what you really should start doing.
Tactical know-how – the stuff you need to know, now.
Search engine optimization: Understanding how search engines serve up information (and keeping abreast of the changes the engines are constantly making to the algorithms that drive the results our audiences see) is important for any communicator. Having knowledge of how to optimize content is a key aspect. Understanding how content from social networks is informing search results is another.
Multimedia production: We all know that writing is a core PR skill. And we also know that a picture is worth a thousand words. So what is the value of a video that goes viral? Or is valued and consistently shared? To borrow from a popular ad campaign – priceless. You can shoot HD video with devices that cost less than $200 and fit in your pocket. Cameras are ubiquitous. Audiences crave multimedia content. So do search engines and social networks – both of which often give video and images preferential treatment. Developing the ability to set up a decent photo, shoot a compelling video to share with an audience and create podcasts will help you leverage content in new and useful ways, build online visibility for messages and create ongoing engagement with your audiences.
Writing & Editing: This seems obvious. Writing has long been a core PR skill. And those who love to write can rejoice, because there’s a greater demand for content than ever before as companies launch blogs and add content marketing to their promotional arsenals. Writers find new challenges wherever they look – and new applications for their skills. Twitter is an ongoing exercise in writing headlines and ultra-pithy pitches. Facebook posts require tight editing, and a friendly, conversational voice. Blogs need to inform, tell stories, and on some level, entertain. Press releases, white papers and case studies remain ubiquitous, and demand clear and factual news writing. The ability to write for different media, in different voices, and to edit oneself accordingly, are crucial skills for PR pros today.
Social Media Competency: Social networks have changed how people find and consume information. Along the way, our customers’ expectations and buying behaviors have changed, too. Today’s PR pros absolutely need to know where the centers of influence are for their respective niches, how information ebbs and flows on Twitter, and how to interact appropriately and effectively with folks on social networks and within online communities. The best way to start? Get on Twitter and stay there until you’re eagerly checking your Twitter streams and it’s become part of your life. Build your professional network on LinkedIn. Have some fun and reconnect with friends on Facebook. These three steps will help you get connected to your online constituents, and develop the necessary understanding of how relationships and content work within social networks.
So as 2010 comes to a close, I am taking my own advice. On the top of my list of things to do are tackling my reading list, at the top of which is the recently released Content Rules by CC Chapman and Ann Handley. And I am slowly improving my video skills, and hope to post something soon that won’t make viewers seasick. What are your PR resolutions for 2011?