Public Relations and Social Media

This guest post details how social media has changed the way businesses interact with consumers and has radically changed the role of PR. The one problem with conversation through social channels is that it is out of your control. It is better to steer the conversation onto your own site so that you have the authority and are able to moderate comments. This is also a great way to improve traffic to your website and gain content for free from comments! Content Marketing is a great way to engage with your users and build up a good brand reputation. Learn how to put together a content marketing strategy and how to write great content with Content Marketing training in Brighton.

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Image by @El Payo on Flickr

It’s very easy to miss the real importance of how social media networks are changing our society by focusing on the obvious. The obvious aspect of social media is that they provide a new medium of communication. The not-so-obvious aspect is that they radically change the nature of communication itself. This follows logically from the more formal name sometimes used for social media, “user-controlled media.” Social media isn’t just a way of communicating to. It is a way of communicating with. In all cases, it represents interaction, a two-way street, and this is such a fundamental change to the way we disseminate information that it is very hard for our minds to fully comprehend. This is very important for public relations, just as it is for commerce, politics, or any other field dependent on communicating.

Consider how social media differs from older media. Set aside the electronic nature of the beast; that’s not so important.

A newspaper, book, or other printed form of communication repeats the same words, pictures, and whatever many times, disseminating copies to people who may be interested in the information provided. The communication is one-way: from the author, by means of the publisher, to the reader.

A radio or television broadcast or a motion picture follows essentially the same format, although the technology differs and although it is more auditory or visual and less verbal than printed material. The broadcast goes out or the movie appears in theaters or is made available on DVD or by download, and as with printed material the communication is one-way: from the producers to the recipient.

In all these cases, the reader, radio listener, TV viewer, or moviegoer is a passive recipient. He or she cannot readily reply to or comment on the material being presented. It’s not a conversation.

That’s the big difference with social media: it is not just means of communicating. Social media networks are a means of holding a conversation. As a result, for public relations purposes, groups, corporations, government agencies, and individuals must engage in conversation, receive and respond to feedback, and in general behave more politely and democratically than in the past. The “press release,” which remained essentially the same from its invention in 1906 until now, despite evolving into film and electronic media, has finally and fundamentally changed. Today, the most important “press releases” are social media releases targeted more narrowly at a target audience, and providing a platform for interaction and dialog. Attempting to use social media as just a faster form of radio broadcast are doomed to failure.

The bigger, underlying question is how this will change the nature and behaviour of the organisations that engage in PR efforts. The safest prediction is that it will be harder to get away with deception in the future, as fact-checking and BS monitoring become much more rapidly disseminated. Just another way in which the Internet revolution is changing our lives.

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