Like most people I know, I've been spending more time than is healthy on Facebook in the last few weeks (which is why my blog posting has slowed to a crawl). However, the more I use it, the more I'm convinced it offers a model for the way PR will be conducted in the future (especially media relations).
Take for example the concept of journalist relationships - every agency will wax lyrical about the strength of its journalist relationships. The problem in the past has been that it is nigh on impossible to actually quantify this. With Facebook, journalists can choose who they want to have on their friends lists - so presumably only trusted PRs would get on there (I think people are very relaxed at the moment as to who they accept as Friends - but the option to remove people you don't want is there - and I'm sure people will use it if they feel they are being used/abused). If a client wants to verify whether someone has a relationship with the journalist, they simply check the friends list - if you aren't on there, it suggests your relationship isn't that good.
In the past, agencies have made great play of their level of knowledge of journalists interests - both professional and personal. Now, journalists can provide this information to whoever they see fit. The need for all those tedious briefing documents simply disappears - because the journalist will, by default, provide that information on their Facebook page - at least to those they consider appropriate to have access to it. And if an agency tries to construct a profile that doesn't match what the journalist has on Facebook? Again, more flanneling is exposed.
And what about how journalists want to be contacted (the possible answer to Charles Arthur's prayers?)
By using a status alert, it is very clear what they are currently up to eg I'm busy for the next 2 hours - only contact me if urgent. They can provide a landline or mobile number that only trusted contacts have access to - so hopefully ensuring that they really do only get the urgent (and relevant) stuff. Or they can have a Skype app on their FB page which shows whether or not they can be contacted in this way (again, only those PRs in the trusted circle would have the Skype ID).
And if anyone breaks the rules? They will simply get de-listed from the Friends list - or the journalist can post a public note about serial offenders on their wall.
Perhaps will also see the death of "liaising" with journalists from PR reports eg we have a great relationship with journalist X, but we couldn't get hold of him. If you aren't on the friends list, then that's a porky - or if his/her status alert for that day clearly said he/she was in the office and contactable, then this sort of flannel will be easily rooted out.
Journalists are also beginning to use Facebook to research stories, etc. Even books.
I can see a time where journalists routinely use Facebook to ask for input for stories - either via their trusted network of PR friends - or cast their net wider by Wall posts, etc - whatever they prefer (a threat to Responsesource?)
And why spend a fortune on surveys when you can run them on Facebook. Or the dreaded media survey when journalists get contacted by PR agencies trying to get their feedback on a prospect they are pitching to? Clients themselves can check out a journalist profile and see which PRs really do have a relationship with a particular PR.
What does this all add up to? I really do think it has the potential to provide a much great degree of transparency into the PR process. For too long, PR agencies have treated media relations as a black box exercise and milked client's ignorance - Facebook does offer a glimpse of a more transparent model - which should hopeufully reward the PRs who really do have genuine relationships with the press and come up with the best stories.
I could go on - but I think you get the idea.
So if your boss asks you why you are spending so much time on Facebook, just tell them you are upskilling to ensure you have a long term career in PR.