Who’s message is it?

For decades the role of PR professionals and communicators/marketers has been to shape the corporate message; whether it be for a press release or marketing campaign. The professionals did the research and prepared the message and off it went to any combination  of newspaper, wire service, television, radio…it was put out there and it pretty much stayed that way. The corporation could control the message. Not anymore.

Those heady days of crafting The Message and then watching a successful campaign take hold in traditional media are fading away with the advent of Social Media and the Social Web. The message truly belongs to the masses now. This puts entirely new spin on “the medium is the message.”

A PR pro can spend hours painstakingly crafting the key message(s) for a press release or an ad creative doing the same for a new ad campaign. The client approves The Message, the team is prepped, the ad buy or wire service selected and off goes the message into the public doman. With the Web today, anything in text, audio or video format will end up on the Web. Once it’s there, it’s fair game for anyone to re-purpose. If it’s really good or really bad, it will be re-purposed. How? That’s up to the imagination and capabilities of the people who want to re-purpose it. This is where control is lost and “guiding” becomes the only option.

Your message may be edited in completely unpredictable ways. The Message may be turned into a parody, put into a mash up or simply sent all over the Web. If the re-purposing is interesting enough, it may end up back on television in news coverage or on the radio or a podcast.

Sometimes this may not happen at all. That can be both good and bad. Maybe the message didn’t appeal to the target or they didn’t think it needed changing. Perhaps the message was so well crafted it simply spread virally, which is excellent. But even having your message re-purposed is good, as long as it still carries back to you and is positive. If it’s negative, there isn’t much you can do. Sometimes you migh have legal recourse. This does not happen very often however.

There are strategies to manage your message (not control it) and thinking about how your message might be adopted once it hits the public domain is good practice – but don’t spend too much time fretting over it, you’ll be on the valium far too quick. This is yet another example of how Social Media is shifting the old rules of the communications game. It’s not your message anymore.

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