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How has social media changed PR?

posted on 22/11/2011

From the current edition of IMJ.

The social media revolution has had a huge influence on the PR business in Ireland and internationally. 10 years ago, when we set up Elevate PR, we were standing over fax machines sending hundreds of individual press releases and couriering out photography. In those days, coverage targets consisted of landing in a daily or Sunday newspaper, glossy magazine or on TV or radio. Since then there has been an explosion of radio stations and new domestic TV channels, as well as the birth of user generated content (USG), blogging and social media. Online is just a new channel, but it has turned traditional PR and media on its head, leaving lots of media owners, journalists and PR people somewhat bamboozled.

Twitter regularly breaks news stories and consumers can now live tweet and Facebook directly from events and help brands/events to trend on Twitter. This revolution has led to a whole new world of crisis management, as people can upload videos of celebrity indiscretion in nightclubs or on the street to a captive audience of millions.

Within the PR industry alone, there is now a whole range of new job titles including, roles such as Community Manager, Head of Digital, Digital Producer, etc. I’ve no doubt that there will be more to follow in the coming years.

PR agencies have a strong role to play in providing compelling content for social media platforms. This makes the PR industry a key player in the new digital world. Of course, there are new competitors with the rise of digital agencies, but the question remains; can they deliver on service?

Services like PitchEngine, PressLift, PRX Builder and MindTouch are bringing the press release into the new millennium with embedded multimedia and easy distribution through various channels, including social media and e-mail.

Clients are asking for online promotions and online reputation management, they need PR agencies to run Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and to work in community management. Recent Facebook changes mean that brands have to put more effort into custom builds for apps. Having a digital aspect to campaigns is now a must. The first things successful brands do online is listen, so we often kick off with an online audit of sentiment.

PR agencies help to devise a strong content strategy and have invested in listening software. Measurement is still very challenging. KPIs can include traffic to website, referrals from social media, tracking growth of share of voice, number of retweets etc. As Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) is still the main measure for PR success, it is very disappointing that media monitoring agencies will not value online mentions/blog posts etc. So you are not comparing like with like.

According to a recent article in Business Week entitled “Driving Business Results with Social Media – how do you get a proven return on investment from your company’s blogosphere activity?”, most midsized companies in the USA doubled their investment in social media in the last two years – the majority of which experienced no return on investment, (survey of 100 US companies). Only 8% of respondents said that social media efforts actually drove business results (“social media exemplars”). Twitter topped the list of social media outlets with 74% of respondents active, with Facebook at 71%, Youtube at 53% and company blogs at 36%. The piece advises that it is important to approach social media measurement with the goal of reducing ambiguity.

Social media is more than just a marketing or public relations channel – it’s a way to enhance competitive position. It is more than just another communications’ channel, it’s a new vehicle to collaborate with customers.

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