5 ways social media has totally altered the nature of PR

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, social media has probably changed the way you interact with friends, family, colleagues and random people who follow hashtags. Further, this change probably hasn’t been incremental or subtle. You’re likely conversing with, sharing with, being with others in a fundamentally different fashion.

“It’s amazing to step back and realize that social media, as such, barely existed a decade ago,” says Rosemary Plorin, president and CEO of Nashville-based PR and marketing firm Lovell Communications. “As ubiquitous as it seems today, in many ways, we’re still figuring out the implications, both good and bad.”

Plorin isn’t a social scientist by trade, but she does know a thing or two about social media’s implications in one key area: public relations. Plorin spent the better part of three decades working in the PR world, and she’s seen some incredible — mostly technology-driven — changes along the way. Here’s her take on the five most important reasons social media is changing the PR game — and what it means for producers and consumers of information.

1. News Is Happening in Real Time

The news cycle began shortening decades ago, but social media has certainly accelerated the trend. In very real terms, news now breaks as it happens, not in an orderly future time slot with plenty of commercial breaks.

That’s a big change for the healthcare industry, which prefers a methodical, get-it-right approach to issue management. Plorin’s Twitter handle is a great example of the possibilities and pitfalls of real-time healthcare news: she’s constantly tweeting out in support of her clients and their interests, even as followers (and proverbial people on the street) confront her with new information that needs to be addressed yesterday.

2. It’s Easier Than Ever to Connect with Key People — If You Don’t Get Them in Trouble

Hospital systems, insurance companies and other big healthcare players generally hold their employees to strict social media policies.
“There’s usually a very clear line that you can’t cross as an employee,” says Plorin. “Even in private communications, your words and actions can be taken as your employer’s official party line.”

That’s true even for employees who put up the standard “tweets are my own” disclaimer, she adds. It’s gotten lots of medical professionals in trouble over the years.

But, by the same token, it’s easier for patients and non-medical decision-makers to find and connect with key people in the medical field. That includes people like Plorin, who make their living as liaisons between providers and non-providers, and front-lines workers themselves.

3. Information Is Omnichannel

The press release isn’t dead, and maybe it never will be. Hospitals, insurers and other healthcare players will continue to announce news and accomplishments by connecting directly with their contacts in the press, or by blasting out releases whenever warranted.

The difference today: press releases aren’t the only ways to get the public’s attention. Virtually every hospital system has an active Twitter and Facebook presence, and they’re not shy about using them to announce things that aren’t worth drawing up a whole release for. It’s an omnichannel world, people, and we’re just living in it.

4. Patient Support Is Easier to Come By

One of the sunniest implications of healthcare social media, according to Plorin: stronger patient support networks. It’s never been easier for patients and their loved ones to connect with others in similar situations — nor for relatives to get the support they so desperately need during the grieving process.

5. Misinformation Is the Norm

Smart social media consumers know to take everything they see on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat with a grain of salt. As Felicity PR correctly points out, social media makes it easier than ever to produce and spread misinformation.

“I can’t tell you how many issues blow up because of a provocative post or tweet that later turns out to be false,” confirms Plorin.

Just as hoteliers and food merchants must remain vigilant for fake reviews 24/7, healthcare providers and professionals need to watch what’s being said about them at all times — and be ready to take swift action when necessary. That means many more sleepless night for already hard-working PR professionals.

Just Scratching the Surface

These aren’t the only five ways in which social media has reordered the public relations game. And, as time goes on, social media — and successor technologies — are likely to disrupt the PR business in ways we can scarcely predict. If you’re involved in public relations in any capacity, you’ll want to pay close attention to social developments. It’s a brave new world out there, and we’re just getting started.

What’s your take on social media’s relationship to public relations. Is it an unbridled force for good or a disruptive threat to the established order?



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