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Social Media Impact on PR

Last week I heard an outrageous story: A college doesn’t receive coverage in its local newspaper as the man in charge has a grudge against it. The only way they get mentioned is by buying advertising. On the one hand I’m outraged by this, but on the other, sadly, it doesn’t surprise me. History is littered with examples of news or opinion being limited by those controlling the media.

Luckily, we now have social media. Now we can interact directly with our constituents, now we can send our messages without anybody but the intended recipient filtering them, now we are in charge of all misunderstandings, now we can feedback and feedforward. Excellent. Being in control of one’s own destiny is the best feeling in the world.

Once again social media alters the media landscape and accelerates the need for reinvention. Not only for the media per se, but also to its cousin, the Public Relation Professional.

Here comes the disclaimer: There are several PR practitioners I have worked with that I can only recommend, some practitioners that I admire: both understand the power of communication and influence.

But there are even more PR agencies that stick with the usual approach of survey, press release, sell-in, celebration of being mentioned, press clipping, doubtful value attribution. These old ways have lost effectiveness – and I doubt that they were ever effective in the first way.

The idea that people will sit in a pub discussing the latest survey results and mentioning and remembering the brand is unbelievable and – in my experience – never stacks up.

I remember the time when a PR told me that she brainstormed with a journalist articles he would be interested in writing, so that we could provide him with the relevant information.

Their network of and relationship with journalists says more about the standard of journalism than the effectiveness of a PR agency.

These three examples highlight the dilemma of PR – they are too closely linked to the journalists and the media outlets, too far removed from the individual and far too clueless about impact & value to a brand.  It ultimately results in irrelevance.

Once again we can learn from politicians: Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, as an example, always understood that the viewer/listener/reader, the individual, is much more important than the journalist asking the questions.

Social Media is about the individual – direct communication and engagement, delivered by every brand citizen, encompassing every single response, via every single email sent, phone call made and presentation given. So PR becomes much more about creating and directing communication messages in general and less about clippings and coverage. Instead of the traditional PR method, companies are better off in investing time into finding the appropriate communication positioning and ensuring its consistent yet differentiated delivery.

Painting by Clay Vajgrt

Posted in Brand, Marketing, Social Media.

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  • Stephen O’Donnell

    Good post Felix. However, wresting control of the message away from the older established media channels means that it can be much more difficult to appear authoritative. We used to refer to some broadsheets and trade magazines as “publications of record”, meaning that we trusted that all content therein was an accurate record of events, and could be relied upon.
    Readers want a definitive source of trustworthy information, so that they can use it and pass it on with confidence. Having a wide range of blogs or internet publications written by individuals, or on behalf of companies and institutions, inevitably means that no-matter how independent and and impartial they truly are, they cannot be taken as gospel.

    Authority is what all blogs strive for, despite the fact that every new source fragments the message and dilutes trust. Every online publication has it’s own agenda, and finds it difficult to be scrupulously impartial. Even those that are, find it hard to be trusted.

    Looking at the content and ownership of The Times, Telegraph and their like, people have regrettably lost trust in print media, and very few TV sources (bar the BBC) can replace them.

    10 years ago I pitched a story idea about to Philip McMullan at Recruiter Magazine, only to be told (quite rightly) “I’ll be the judge of what’s newsworthy”. This happens less and less these days, and we are the poorer for it.

    Social media is indeed altering the media landscape, but having let go of the firm ground on this side of the media river, we have yet to make it to the other side.

  • David Martin

    Having spent a great length of time working at strategic level within the traditional publishing industry my views may well be skewed!

    Social and web provides amazing speed of news and rumour far faster than any media company is capable to react. For headline info social continues to destroy the publisher impact and it won’t be slowing down!

    The web and social should be any editors barometer as to what is newsworthy! If it generates newspaper sales it is newsworthy, if web users want to read it then it is newsworthy! The web metrics of news sites has embarrassed many editors up and down the country! I observed subs betting the story they felt should be lead would get more visits online- normally they were right!

    We are currently half way round the media Circle of Change. We are yet to see publishers accepting social headlines and delivering the authoritative detail. We have yet witnessed editors being sacked and social chatter dictating what a publication runs.

    But we have seen a east European newspaper put it’s editor in coffee shop and have news delivered by the community!

  • Glenn Le Santo

    Stephen’s point about press authority was once valid but I fear that validity has all but vanished. The public, and business, simply don’t trust traditional media (including online) in anything like the measure they used to. Those who know the PR game trust it even less.

    The ‘news’ that doesn’t involve genuine events such as natural disaster or an air crash, is so often merely PR feed. It’s often so blatant as to also be completely transparent. Just watch the BBC’s breakfast news and count the stories that have obviously been fed by PR, they are many and are likely to outnumber stories properly sourced by journalists working at the source of the story.

    When real news does happen, it is invariably accurately reported on social media well before traditional outlets have fact checked it all enough to feel confident to run it. Away from the news, there are articles. These appear in traditional media regularly but I wonder how much weight they now carry. Increasingly, the fact that one read it somewhere lends less and less credibility. People now like to ask their friends on a social network for advice, opinion and verification.

    PR companies and professional would do well to learn and adopt new strategies, ones that uses social media to help get their clients’ messages across.

    The times they are a changing, and fast. Those who resist change rather than go with the new flow will be swept aside.

    • Stephen O’Donnell

      I did state, Glenn, that the trust has gone from even these newspapers.

      It does seem that the news, at all levels, national, local, commercial, has been led not by trained independent journalists, but by PR firms who know how to play the game. News organisations don’t have the funding or the rigour to insist upon telling stories that they have personally verified at source. Initially they began to report what other news organisations had reported, and then gradually outsourced fact checking, news management, and whole articles elsewhere.

      All of this, means that it is far easier for a clever PR person to set the news agenda – whether it be based upon a real event, political posturing, celebrity tittle tattle or spurious survey. Surveys are a great way of getting traction with the press, as they seem authoritative and newsworthy. Phrases like “A survey said …” or “In a report revealed today…” litter the airwaves, on radio and TV, as news outlets are grasping for almost anything to fill their bulletins.

      Social media has now entered into this mix. Not only is Social Media itself newsworthy (look at all the reports on the exponential growth of SM brands), but the content has now become key to many “news reports”.

      Any PR person worth their salt will have already factored SM into the mix, when planning a “news marketing strategy”. News marketing is already established as key to many firms development plans, and the established news outlets have proven to be willing accomplices.

  • Felix

    Thanks for your comments, guys. You all make some valid points. Here are some of my thoughts:

    1 – Blogs are opinion pieces and we need to be very transparent and learn from other media (including academia) – I’ve outlined some ideas here:

    2 – Blogs – when written by industry experts – are as valuable as trade press, especially when the context and background of the author is explained.

    3 – I’d like to see more academic research being made more accessible and published in a more readable format.

    4 – Stephen, you have a point and it will be interesting to see how more authoriative blogs/online news like Mashable and Techcrunch will be seen in a couple of years time. Will they adopt/continue with the traditional media model?

    5 – User generated content is very interesting (and very Big Society) & I can see it working on a local level. The content needs to be aggregated somewhere, so comments are seen in context. maybe the role of the editorial team here, would be to contact the person/brand/shop that receives positive/negative comments to give them the opportunity to respond.

    6 – Glenn, I completely agree with you – PR companies and professionals have a need to adapt. My main point is to focus on people (brand citizens)/impact and in using internal data that is connected to the overall brand position.