How public relations is adapting to the social media environment

The past decade has seen huge changes in the media industry but for many companies, this past year was when they sat up and started taking notice of what was being said about them in the digital space.

It presents a huge opportunity for Public Relation (PR) practioners to show their mettle, but is also a very dangerous space to be offering advice and playing in if you don’t know how it works.

Managing client reputations online

The growing online community is a volatile one, populated with opinionated people who are great to have on the side of your brand but who are often easily offended.

This year will see an increase of companies making use of the digital space to promote their brand and this will undoubtedly grow in the years to come. It will be essential for PR experts to take the time to really understand how social media works, how it affects brands and what makes opinions change in an instant.

My advice — contact the bloggers you want to engage with and find out what makes them tick. Take the time to make sure that they are the right people to engage with on your brand.

Getting to grips with social media

This year will be the year that we will have to come to grips with social media, and figure out how to adapt ‘traditional’ PR to this new platform. Because if we don’t do it soon, the media will do it for us.

Already, journalists are more time-poor than they have been in years, working to increasingly tight deadlines with fewer staff to support them. Attention spans are dwindling, and it is becoming ever more difficult to convince the press to attend all-day seminars and media roundtables.

The traditional dry and clunky press release will have to be replaced with “social media press releases”, which capture facts clearly and succinctly and offer the media a host of supporting information in multimedia formats such as pictures, podcasts, graphics, videos etc.

Many companies, such as GM in the US, are already making use of this new version of the press release, which gives journalists access to the kind of information they would have spent weeks gathering only a few years ago with the simple click of their mouse.

In the same vein, PRs will also have to start working with their clients to convince them of the importance of social media newsrooms to replace the usual static online news centres.

Understanding the blogosphere

But understanding how to ‘live’ and engage with the media online is just one side of the equation. A host of powerful bloggers are on the rise, many of whom can make or break a company’s reputation in minutes.

In the past, PRs have tended to consider bloggers as an afterthought, approaching them to supplement their list of traditional journalists. In certain sectors — such as IT, fashion and culture — bloggers are already being recognised by PRs as the primary targets for any media outreach. But in others their influence is still being vastly underestimated.

This is something that will have to change in 2011, and it is up to us as PR practitioners to start putting bloggers on an equal footing with traditional journalists, or risk falling behind in the rapidly evolving digital space.

Yet with the plethora of bloggers out there, PRs need to be prepared to spend time on identifying those that hold — or will hold — the most power in their respective sectors. This can be done through a variety of means, such as using social media aggregators.

Having said that, in many countries around the world, PR practitioners will have to continue to use the traditional media channels if they want to reach more than a small percentage of the population. Because while social media is growing, it is still very much in its infancy in many places.

Substantiating the impact of PR

With company budgets becoming leaner and Return on Investment (ROI) now a standard requirement for corporates, showcasing the effect and the impact of PR is becoming more challenging. Irrespective of whether an agency is implementing traditional or non-traditional PR tactics (such as digital PR campaigns), clients are demanding more proof to substantiate the value of any coverage/exposure they receive.

Hence the standard AVE and PR values are no longer sufficient to showcase the effectiveness of our discipline. PR agencies will need to start encouraging clients to allocate more budget to a variety of measurement tools, such as Media Tenor™, Newsclip or Monitoring SA, Brand Intelligence, Dow Jones™ etc.

We will also need to start consulting various research companies to identify and assess the change in perception of a company’s image and reputation linked to specific PR activities – particularly those involving social media.

Recognising the power of PR

And finally, if we want to prepare ourselves for the battle of opinions in social media, we can do so by recognising and better utilising the power of PR in traditional media. To influence people through earned media can be done over time with good ideas and well-written arguments in thought-leadership pieces and news articles.

There is nothing wrong with give-aways and events when you want to position a brand or communicate a company’s values, but the PR business is ready for an upgrade, or is it a make-over?

Joanna Oosthuizen is the MD of Ogilvy PR, based in Johannesburg



Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Memeburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.