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Has social media impacted PR negatively?

There are few fields in the world that have not yet been touched by social media.

Communications and PR are industries that lead the new media transformation. From getting information, consumer opinion to effective reach, PR professionals are using social media networks on an everyday basis. ING research has shown that a large 78% of PR professionals consider social media important for the performance of their daily activities.

Here are some of the ways in which social media has helped PR professionals and is allowing them to reach audiences in a completely new way:

  1. Audience reach - Social media networks are allowing PR professionals reach their target audience directly. And with PR agencies that are a part of large online communities, it is possible that the story distribution is amplified through social media, potentially leading to a further string of PR stories.
  1. Creative content: PR agencies can convert social media comments, graphics, and user generated content (e.g. about a brand) into stories for distribution. Finding relevant content on topics is no longer a 30-day research project. Apart from using always-on channels like Twitter and Facebook, PR professionals are actively scouting for stories and comments using communities like HARO.These specialised channels allow them to ask experts for their views and add meat to an existing story. CEO of PR firm Rice Communications, Sonya Madeira noted, “before social media platforms, we were limited to what traditional media will publish. Today, you can have infographics, interactive infographics, short films and the possibilities are endless. PR professionals can now explore different ways of communicating the story depending on the target audience.”
  1. Focus-groups online: More than ever before, it is possible to gauge the mood of an audience around a theme or a topic and use that almost like a focus group, before sharing a story. This allows the PR professionals to test the waters beforehand ensuring higher chances of success.Madeira supported this perspective and remarked, “we are more in tune with what’s on the ground – We used to gauge interest and perception through what was reported in the media. Today, we have direct access to these conversations that are happening online. We are in the business of shaping perceptions and this has been a massive change because we can now determine if our key messages are hitting the right notes.

But it’s not all good, because social media has also brought new challenges to the PR world.

  1. Focus on deadlines not quality: The headline driven social media world is challenging the focus on quality and it is not uncommon to see the disappointment in brands and consumers alike. Whether it’s the lack of fact checking, or sensationalism to do better on social media (e.g. create a viral campaign), many stories are mere link baits and not authentic or original content.
  1. Competition with bloggers/online influencers: Many bloggers and content creators have a healthy social media following associated with their content brands. There are many social media gurus and bloggers, who thus advocate working with online or social media “influencers” as opposed to traditional PR companies. The decision of the best channels clearly depends the target group or positioning and needs of the brands, but social media has indeed made the market crowded. Social media expert and head of marketing, Unified Inbox, Ken Herron talked about this new influencer media, saying, “now, in a world of social influencers and people who have become the voices for their specific demographics — mommy bloggers anyone? — it is much easier to directly reach out to the people your target audience trusts.”
  1. New success parameters: Publishing a story in the mainstream print media is no longer what a client is satisfied with. To be seen also means, being seen on “Google” or “Twitter”.For this reason, it is essential for a company to not only get their presence on traditional media, but earn social media mentions, SEO benefits and more importantly leads or relevant business with each press release. This has made the work of a PR professional highly demanding bringing forth new challenges and success criteria.

However, PR agencies are still hopeful of this new paradigm shift and do thing that traditional media and this new digital PR will continue to compliment each other and remain important. To this end, Madeira noted, “we had to adapt but social media platforms remain as communication channels we can use. It has not changed the fundamentals of public relations. At the end of the day, we are just trying to ensure that the messages reach the right target audience and that will continue to be relevant for traditional or digital PR.”

The auther is Upasna Kakroo,  co-founder of a content marketing and branding startup, brandanew.co.

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