One thing that really stood out from the debate we had in class about social media is actually how PR practitioners use social media. Even though we were on opposite sides, both our teams came to agree on the fact that if two-way conversations are far from being the norm right now, it is mainly because practitioners use social media as any other traditional media.
For my Consumer PR module, I had to produce a social media monitoring report. My brand was Eastpak, a brand that I really like, as I used to own one of their bags when I was younger. Before starting, I really thought their online presence and activity was quite important but surprisingly, I found out that it wasn’t the case. Of course, they have a Facebook and Twitter account, a Youtube channel and an Instagram account but what they do on these accounts do not trigger much engagement from their audience. As a brand who wants to seek stories, share them and create resistance against boredom, I didn’t feel like their social media activity was really reflecting those values. Their competitors (Jansport, Kiplings, The North Face) are actually more active and create real content to gather their audience around their brand story. Eastpak, as many other consumer brands, hasn’t mastered the art of social media yet.
What struck me most is the fact that social media is first and foremost about exchanging and sharing with the community, and most brands do not use social media in that way. They use their accounts to promote their products and gain feedback, almost as an after-sales service would do, when the potential of social media is much bigger than that.
So, I wondered if there were any sectors that actually used social media to its full potential. And I found the answer in my dissertation topic, which is music festival PR. As I started monitoring festivals in France to start my research, I realised that festivals were actually using social media to create a community around their festival. As the music business has changed so much in the past few years, live performances and festivals have become the real players today. Now that people buy less and less CDs, they are really seeking the live performances of their favourite artists and want these experiences to be memorable. Festivals and concert venues have become major players in the music industry and this has led to a real shift in the way they communicate around their event. Their audience has gained power with social media and a real voice. Festival organisers no longer see their audience as mere consumers, they want to involve them in the whole festival experience and this reflects in the way they use social media and other PR tools today. Their goal is to build a community, create two-way conversations and fully engage their audience before, during and after the festival, which is no longer a one-time event but lasts throughout the whole year until the next edition.
So, there are sectors where PR can really be used to build communities and where social media is used to its full potential. The question is : can it be applied to other sectors though ? I think it can, if only practitioners would change the way they perceive and use social media. As to how festivals have made this shift in their communication strategies and if older festivals have made it differently than younger festivals (who have social media in their DNA), you will have to read my dissertation to find out.
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