When I saw Brian Solis tweet that social media is about social science and not technology it piqued my interest and I knew it was a link I had to follow. Firstly, because I've studied the social sciences and I wanted to see how he would develop this point but also because I firmly believe that social media, like public relations, is about people in the final analysis.
The idea of getting emotional about customers is not that far fetched and may indeed be a most advantageous practice. According to Nigel de Bussy in the SAGE Handbook on Public Relations, "engaging with stakeholders should be one of the most important core competencies of public relations". He notes that in customer oriented organizations managers believe the customer is king or queen and take the time to get to know them personally. Such organizations always listen to customers and they do everything possible to give them what they want.
As many organizations and even PR practitioners try to catch up or keep up with all the changes in technology and social media, many tend to focus on the number of "likes" their Facebook page gets or the number of times a message is retweeted. While these are not completely useless measurements, they fail to capture the experiences of customers and other publics. Is the organization meeting its public's needs? Are consumer concerns being addresed on social media fora in a timely manner?
Michael Kent (also in the SAGE Handbook) suggests that the future of social media and PR lies in embracing technologies as tools capable of solving problems and engaging publics in real world issues. As it stands, he argues that we currently study tweets but not publics. I would suggest that organizations use social media as a way of continuing and enhancing their relationships with their publics instead of hoping that technology can create those very important linkages. Public relations and social media revolve around interaction and regardless of how technology evolves, the actions, thoughts and feelings of people remain key.