With the growth of digital media and the online space becoming a primary source of information there has been a serious shift towards digital communications, which have provided the PR practice with a number of opportunities. Today PR professionals have a new set of available tools to use not only to deliver messages, but also to properly engage with audiences.
Utilising social media for PR purposes has now become one of the major new tools to directly connect the business to the consumer. By making use of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter PR pros can engage and build relationships with publics. What’s more, the power of social media lies in two-way communications, which means that people are able to publish their own stories and to talk back to brands, allowing PRs to engage in a conversation. Such a dialog can be extremely beneficial, as it helps to find out what customers and other stakeholders think, believe, want and need, i.e. to perform ‘free’ research. Getting such feedback offers enormous opportunities to gather ideas and develop new products, services or stories.
With people now spending the majority of their time online on social media PROs can effectively reach target audiences at the times they are most active on the relevant platforms.
By engaging in two-way conversations and fostering relationships on social media on behalf of a client digital PR activities can help build or improve a brand’s reputation as well as identify brand ambassadors, but also promote products and services and thereby increase brand awareness. Direct, real-time conversations furthermore allow PR professionals to shape public opinion instead of just reacting when negative situations arise.
Typical PR functions that have been strongly affected by digital are copywriting and content creation. When it comes to online communications, PR professionals now need to make sure that their copy and content for clients is keyword optimised to improve SEO. Optimising all content that goes online, be it press releases, media features, blogs, website copy, social media updates, copy for videos or presentations etc. helps it rank higher on search engines. This is extremely important because it means that SEO PR activities could increase the chance of the client to be ‘found’ – as we know, online search has become the primary way of how people find relevant information, including products, companies, jobs etc.
Furthermore, journalists and bloggers increasingly use the web to perform research, which means that if PR content has a higher visibility in search, then this would help increase brand awareness and potentially create media opportunities. According to Cision’s research that I covered a while ago, a large number of UK journalists use content communities and crowdsourcing sites such as Wikipedia not only to source, but also to verify information. Furthermore, 80% of journalists say they are active on Twitter. These are another good reasons whz PR pros must ensure they are utilising social media platforms to both offer information as well as to engage with the media and pursue opportunities for clients.
The same applies when it comes to blogger relations. Pitching to bloggers can admittedly be a lot more effective when done via social media, for example via Twitter, because bloggers tend to extensively use online platforms to promote their own content, research stories etc.
Of course, social media can be used as an information provider – PRs can share relevant company updates such as new recruits, new products, charitable activities etc. in order to keep customers and other stakeholders informed. The same applies to publishing and promoting whitepapers or research findings.
The digital era has furthermore had an impact on the standard press release, offering a lot more choice than just text. PR professionals can now make use of visuals such as videos as well as links in their copy to get better results – according to PR Newswire, including visual elements can increase the visibility of a press release by nearly 10 times.
Another use of digital communications in PR is writing for corporate blogs. The copy here needs to be well optimised too. However, the benefit of a company blog is that it is part of the so called ‘owned media’, which means that the choice of what goes online is made by PROs (or with the suggestion of clients) and so the message that needs to be delivered is developed by them.
Another way in which PRs can make use of digital communications is to monitor what consumers and other stakeholders are saying about a brand. This gives PR pros the ability to perform research and so come up with story ideas, or identify areas, which require improvement in order to aid organisational reputation. For example, PR pros can run polls, ask questions on Quora or LinkedIn Answers to do research for features; they can even run entire surveys and promote them on social media.
Active and regular social media monitoring is also a necessary tool in crisis communications. The tools available to perform such activities are numerous, for example setting up Google Alerts, or using Social Mention and the search sections of Facebook and Twitter.
Monitoring the competition is essential as well to keep an eye on the industry and to help stay one step ahead.
Let’s not forget the corporate website, which is also part of the digital spectrum. Through it PRs can communicate company news and other relevant information. The popularity of websites may be decreasing, as a recent research shows that 50% of consumers value a brand’s Facebook page more than its website; but the corporate website is in my opinion still the primary place where people go to learn more about a business and its products. What’s more, a brand’s website is a part of the owned media tools, which means that the brand controls more or less everything that goes on it; therefore it can very specifically choose what it wants to communicate.
The growth of digital communications has offered PR new ways, channels and tools to directly communicate with various publics by engaging in a two-way conversation, which has allowed practitioners to easily and quickly reach target audiences both locally and globally. Most importantly however, just as Colin Byrne, the UK & Europe CEO of Weber Shandwick, said in an article for PRWeek, the digital era has allowed PR pros to “tell engaging stories in a visual way.”