What is Public Relations in the Digital Age?
Writing Tuesday’s post about PR and SEO got me thinking about the question; what is public relations these days? Broadly speaking much of modern PR has focused primarily on securing media coverage for clients in order to influence their audiences, but the rise of social media has seen the power to reach large audiences become available to everybody, businesses and consumers alike.
Anybody can build a blog, set up a Twitter profile or Facebook page, or broadcast video on YouTube. This advance in technology has impacted the media in a couple of ways. Firstly, we’ve seen a new wave of independent media channels – from Mashable to The Daily Mash, the barriers to entry are so low that anybody with an idea can start their own media empire; you don’t need the resources of a publishing company or broadcaster to get started.
Secondly, a lot of businesses have realised that it’s now possible to go directly to their audiences by building their own digital media channels rather than relying on traditional media to share their messages.
So where does this leave public relations? Something that often gets forgotten by excitable social media pundits is that the traditional media is not going away. In the UK we now have more newspapers, magazines and broadcasters than ever before, and while they’ve had to adapt their business models in many cases, they are still highly influential. The key role of public relations in building relationships with and securing coverage in those media remains as valid today as it has always been.
What is public relations for?
We should also remember that, while media relations has been a key focus, there’s a lot more to public relations than simply getting coverage – as the name suggests, it’s about managing an organization’s relationship with the public, not just the media. So in this respect, social media is forcing business to put the public back into public relations because all of a sudden we’re dealing directly with them in channels like Twitter and Facebook.
Media relations is a means to an end, that end being public relations. While it’s still critical to maintain strong relationships with the right journalists, there are now new tools which help us manage our client’s relationship with the public.
So PR people need to learn some new skills, but none of this stuff is a particularly vast leap from the traditional skillset. Content creation, finding interesting angles, telling stories – all of these are skills that are as valuable in social media as they are in public relations, they just need to be adapted slightly for the digital age.
Perhaps the biggest leap is in community management. Public relations execs who are used to living in a world where messages can be tightly controlled may balk at the idea of managing a community, be it on Facebook, LinkedIn or elsewhere, that gives the audience licence to publically criticize their client. But these are the times we live in, it’s not about control any more – the new role of public relations is to both facilitate and steer the discussion.