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I was reading a book the other day (PR 2.0: New Media, New Tools, New Audiences - check it out) that suggested that PR is moving back to it's original purpose - as a two-way street that allows communications pros to help companies both listen to and communicate with their important audiences. Succinctly put, PR has shifted from a monologue - as it has been in recent years - to a dialogue, allowing companies to engage with their customers rather than just speaking at them.

Similarly, in a recent conversation about social media, a colleague lamented, "Everyone is just blurting information out; if it was a conversation, that would be more interesting." A conversation - an exchange of ideas - is exactly what it should be, and if you or your brand are using social media channels simply to disseminate information, then you're not harnessing its full potential.

I follow several brands - such as Banana Republic - that merely use their Twitter or Facebook accounts to promote themselves and replicate content from their customer emails; some of them don't even follow anyone. I initially followed/became a fan of theirs because I had hoped to score special discounts or insider access, but several months later I still haven't seen either. In fact, all I've seen are links back to their site, which not only bore me, but also bum me out because I know there's much more they could be doing with social media.

The brands that I enjoy seeing on Twitter or Facebook are those that take the time to connect with their followers/fans, whether it be asking questions of followers or simply responding to comments with a "Hey, thanks for the feedback, we love to hear it!" Though this might not be the most dynamic content ever, as a customer, I love knowing that if I have a questions or an issue with a product or service, it'll be addressed quickly, by a real person. I also appreciate that the brand is taking time and making a concentrated effort to engage with potential customers via social media, and I'm probably more likely to use that brand myself or recommend it to others because I've developed a relationship with it.

The point is this: social media is much more than just another platform to spread your key messages - it's also a tool to listen and connect with your customers and develop brand loyalty. If you're still using it to spill content onto the web, you may want to revisit your strategy.