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The impact of social media on public relations


By The Drum Team | Editorial

March 21, 2012 | 8 min read

The Drum caught up with a number of agencies to discover their views on how social media is changing the face of public relations, looking at whether the role of PR has become synonymous with social media, and whether the PR’s toolbox lends itself to leading the way in social media campaigns.

What effect is social media having on PR?Nigel Ferrier, director, Optimise PR and executive chairman, FPCGSocial media lets us reach people more directly, through Twitter and Facebook and an ever-growing array of new platforms. It used to be B2B and B2C but now it’s B2P, with P being people. Social media cuts across channels and is all about engaging with individuals, holding conversations not relying on press releases and launches.There are huge opportunities there, but the 24/7 scrutiny brings new threats, too. The key is to have a strategy: think carefully about the resources you have and how you can keep control of any conversations you begin. Anyone can set up a Twitter or LinkedIn account, but you need a strategy to make it a success. If you treat social media as a key part of your PR and wider business strategy you can achieve real business results.Tom Malcolm, head of consumer, DiffusionSocial media is not only forcing PR agencies to become much more integrated. A thread on a consumer forum can quickly become headline news and as such PR professionals need to have an understanding of how a brand’s reputation online and offline are intrinsically linked.The rise of social media has also had an effect on media organisations which are now in search of unique and engaging content which will drive traffic to their websites. This in turn has transformed the role of PR. To feed the media’s growing appetite for engaging content, successful PR campaigns are now increasingly reliant on their ability to create engaging content that people want to share and talk about online. This has also forced PR agencies to work alongside and focus a lot more like creative and ad agencies.Andy Heaps, operations director, Epiphany Social offers a host of opportunities to integrate different parts of the digital marketing mix. At Epiphany we have a creative development team who work hand in hand with our online PR and SEO teams to create content to fulfil strategic search objectives, drive online visibility and build brand engagement through social media channels.The advent of the social web means that it’s now more important than ever to create, seed and promote great quality content. By using a hybrid approach, it’s possible to generate a much larger and more meaningful digital footprint for the brands you’re promoting.Pete Goold, managing director, Punch CommunicationsThe advent of social media is forcing PRs to be ever more accountable and transparent, not only in terms of measurement but also in terms of cross-team working. Increasingly, in our experience, the open nature of the social media team tends to promote better integration with other marketing disciplines – leading to a more positive working arrangement and a better outcome.Also of course, Social Media requires a PR person to think less about an intermediary – such as a journalist or blogger – and more about the end user, which results in catering for a broad spectrum of needs. Rather than targeting a single individual with an idea, PRs that manage social media now need to think about the response of a broad demographic – which arguably forces the thinking to be more robust than ever before.Have social media and PR become synonymous with each other?Tom Malcolm, head of consumer, DiffusionSocial media and PR have become much more integrated but that does not necessarily make them synonymous. The agency landscape is very fragmented with ad agencies, search agencies, digital and design agencies all vying for social media budget. Marketing Directors are looking for agencies that can take a mature approach to a brief and work closely alongside eachother to achieve business objectives. Pete Goold, managing director, Punch CommunicationsThere is an element of social media which lends itself perfectly to PR thinking – which is the creation and management of an engagement strategy and the narrative that runs through any given social profile. However, social media also comprises major elements that are better managed by digital creative and paid media teams respectively.The ideal is to have the appropriate areas working harmoniously and irrespective of which one leads the activity; ensuring that there is openness across the team is likely to create the best outcome.Nigel Ferrier, director, Optimise PR and executive chairman, FPCGThey should be. Companies live and die by their reputation, and since the advent of social networking, they live and die a lot quicker. Consumers look online for information and reviews; last year the Social Media Statistics Compendium found 75% say purchasing decisions are influenced by what they read online, and social media is a key element of that. Companies can’t afford to ignore it. So social media is integral to most PR campaigns in some shape or form.Does the PR's traditional toolbox lend the profession to leading the way in social media?Nigel Ferrier, director, Optimise PR and executive chairman, FPCGYes in that PR’s all about engagement, whatever the platform, and social media mirrors that. But we need new tools, too, to keep abreast of rapid technological change and engage effectively with new audiences. We find many SMEs are struggling to know where to start with social media. That’s why we’ve developed a new monitoring and analysis tool, Social Sleuth, to help companies protect their good name and respond to threats.It’s more immediate than a focus group. Social Sleuth shows companies what people are saying about their brand and where they are saying it: whether on news websites, forums, blogs or social networking sites. As well as recording the volume of mentions, it crucially records in real time whether mentions are positive or negative, so companies can respond if their reputation is challenged.Tom Malcom, head of consumer, DiffusionThere are significant strengths in PR’s traditional toolbox that lend it to run successful social media campaigns. However this is not an exclusive position. Just as PR agencies will claim an innate ability to communicate with audiences so an ad or creative agency will claim a heritage in creating unique and engaging rich content. The days of the traditional agency bun fight over budgets are numbered with brands expecting a much more mature and collaborative approach to briefs with agencies honestly outlining what strengths they can bring to the table.Adam Lewis, managing partner, immediate futurePR people are well equipped for social because they know how to tell a story. They know how to create dialogue and they think beyond campaigns to relationships. All of which is essential for effective engagement on social media. But the traditional toolbox might be limited when trying to keep pace with the innovation that’s happening in social media. I can say this having worked in the PR industry for many years. The PR industry arguably lacks the tools for using the raft of technology and mindset for analysing the vast amount of data and metrics that social media can yield.Column inches, circulation and the dodgy old advertising equivalent value have been the mainstay of PR measurement for far too long. In contrast social media provides hundreds of potential KPIs, covering not just reach, but engagement, sentiment and loyalty. Understanding the value of social media means having a more analytical mind that can decipher the relationship between things like retweets, comments and authority. Most PRs are not naturally technically minded.- they are creative, people. But they need to know the difference between an API, BIT.LY, App, CSS and CMS for example.Pete Goold, managing director, Punch CommunicationsIn terms of managing the narrative, yes absolutely. And, provided that a PR has a broad enough frame to be able to understand how best to take advantage of other disciplines through integration, then PRs are also well suited to devising the overall strategy – although it's important that ideation can come from any part of an integrated team, from junior to senior, irrespective of discipline. A PR's approach to measurement – with a high level of attention to detail that is designed to result in actionable outcomes – is very well suited to social media. Ultimately, many of the best social media campaigns are those which do the basics well and continue to improve week on week through detailed analysis and taking advantage of the resulting insight to rapidly evolve the strategy.Public Relations image via Shutterstock

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