The impact of social media on the
future business of the public relations (PR) and on society has
triggered wide discussions among PR professionals.
"Social media shall be used with social skills and social responsibilities," the United Arab Emirates (UAE)'s Minister of State Reem Al Hashimy said in her inaugural speech at the 20th Public Relations World Congress, which took place for the first time in a Gulf Arab country from Tuesday to Thursday.
She urged young people to learn and develop social media in order to have the skills a professional career requires in an ever competitive labor world.
While nearly all speakers at the congress agreed with the minister, some experts expressed the opinion that the PR industry has not yet understood the dimension of social media.
Lord Chadlington, Chairman of Britain's PR company Huntsworth which has high-profile clients such as the London Stock Exchange or the Singapore government, blamed his industry of "living in the past."
In a keynote speech, he said that "the social media network Twitter is today more important than the Financial Times. Using ranking of newspapers to measure the influence on public opinion is a thing of yesterday."
The debate over the power and influence of social media networks such as Twitter or Facebook triggered a lively discussion among speakers and delegates.
Roger Fisk, President Obama's former campaign director, said that social media was changing lives every day, " but history still matters. The digital has a foundation on what has happened in the past."
Fakher Daghestani, a delegate and communications director for U. S. aircraft-maker Boeing Middle East, said that social media is a tool and will remain a tool. "Claims that Facebook triggered the Arab turmoil are baseless," he said.
Meanwhile, David Baker, Managing Director at Cicero and Barnay PR in Dubai, also regarded social media is somewhat overvalued: " It is important but not critical, as social media brings people together, and that's what our business is about: connecting people. "
Noorah, an attending student from Saudi Arabia, said on the sidelines of the conference that she regards Twitter, Facebook, Google or smart phone applications as "very good means for keeping the public up-to-date, but they bear also the danger of quickly triggering mass movements, but the masses might not always be right in how they regard certain events in society or political developments."
But according to Dr. Herbert Heitmann, Executive Vice President of Communications at oil group Royal Dutch Shell, "the risk of losing out in reputation is ten times higher when a global company is not engaged in social media than when it is the opposite of the case."
Heitmann presented the audience Shell's way into Facebook and about the worries the company had at first about it of being attacked verbally by other users.
He mentioned that one of Shell's rivals was confronted with bad accusations against the oil industry when it entered Facebook. " Social media also exposes the gap between generations: we as senior executives are overwhelmed by the new technology, while my three children had to push me, to discover Facebook."
Shell's first steps into social media matched with Saudi PR Agency TRACCS founder and CEO Mohamed Al Ayed's viewpoint that the "PR industry is not like the car industry. We cannot develop a model and say this is how it will look like."
"As regards to social media, we are just at the beginning of a long journey with uncertain developments," Al Ayed said.
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