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The Impact of Social Media on the PR Industry – an Interview with Heather Yaxley

[fa icon="calendar"] 27-Oct-2012 09:35:00 / by Iliyana Stareva

Now that you’ve seen the survey results of my dissertation about social media’s impact on PR, it’s time to post some of the interviews I conducted with PR professionals from the UK.

The first one to go online is my interview with Heather Yaxley – a ‘Public Relations hybrid academic-educator-consultant-practitioner’ with more than 25 years of experience in the industry. Besides working as a consultant and a part-time lecturer at Bournemouth University, Heather is also a CIPR Fellow and Accredited Practitioner as well as a honorary member and director of the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association Ltd. She is co-author with Alison Theaker of The Public Relations Strategic Toolkit – a must read for anyone in PR. You can check out Heather’s blog here and follow her on Twitter @greenbanana.

Q: How do you think the emergence of social media changed PR? Is it a positive or a negative impact and why?

It has given a new focus to tactical skills primarily in terms of the perspective that younger practitioners are best equipped to undertake social media. I don’t believe social media have fundamentally changed PR – although they have increased immediacy, global reach and the need to engage (and build relationships) directly rather than just through intermediaries. I think it is positive, but also has negative sides especially if PR is restricting itself by viewing its domain as Twitter, focusing primarily on campaigns, outsourcing to agencies or not developing a strategic approach.

Q: What are the main differences between traditional PR and PR 2.0?

As above, I see it mainly in functional terms as speed and reach since the basic skills of understanding communications, relationship building and managing reputation are largely unchanged. It also offers great opportunity for research – although this needs to be balanced by recognition that not all sectors of society are engaged or participating in SM.

The real potential of PR 2.0 – is probably PR 3.0 – where aspects such as the semantic web and convergence of various ways of accessing information will escalate further. The future also is multimedia which in recent years PR practitioners have tended to ignore in preference for thinking in words only.

Q: What opportunities does social media provide? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

As above. Disadvantages are also that the focus is on something seen as “new and shiny” and so the facts that many sections of society are not digitally engaged (and don’t wish to be) may blind practitioners to the need to not automatically think of an SM initiative. I also think that belief that young people prefer this medium is overblown.

Q: How do you think the emergence of social media affected the Marketing Mix?

As with PR there’s been primarily focus on marketing communications at a tactical level through Social Media – particularly Facebook. There is the challenge for marketing in really understanding how to engage people beyond gaming them (likes on Facebook tied into competitions etc). It has potential to affect pricing and customer relations in particular, although the responsiveness of organizations is lagging behind what could be done. Obviously online purchasing has been a challenge to many brick-based retail organizations – but again there needs to remain a balance as not everyone can and will shop or research/seek information online.

Q: What are the main challenges of measuring PR and social media activities? What do you think is the most effective way of measuring them?

The focus has been on metrics that are technologically driven and so lack consideration of meaning. The example is Likes or Followers – this doesn’t tell us anything about engagement. Likewise cumulative measures of Followers is meaningless. There needs to be more engagement with qualitative measures and also looking beyond the ‘size’ aspects of data for data’s sake.

Q: Can you please briefly describe a normal working day? What are your usual day-to-day activities; how much of them are combined with social media, e.g. how much time of your workday do you spend in blogs and social media networks etc?

It varies depending on what else I have going on, but using mobile devices (Blackberry, iPhone and iPad) as well as PC/Mac to check SM is easy and I do this probably a few times a day. Blogging is something I’d like to do more in terms of reading and writing, but time is a consideration for me here. Getting to grips with new technologies becomes a real challenge – but I probably try once a month at least to undertake research to keep ahead of what is going on. I’ve found services such as Eventbrite, Mailchimp and Hootsuite are great in terms of how they enable you to use technology to save time and money, whilst tapping into digital and social aspects of communications.

Q: Does this change affect your personal life? Do you spend relatively more time working”, e.g. monitoring social media and networking, in your free time now in comparison to let’s say 6 years ago?

I’m self-employed so have viewed work as 24:7 pretty much over last 12 years. What I have noticed is that increasingly those in companies using mobile technologies respond to SM and email much more out of hours than say 2-3 years ago.

Q: What are your predictions for the future of the practice and what do you think would be the biggest challenges for the industry?

I think that PR needs to upscale from responding to all technologies in a tactical, new toy way. There will be more integration and PR practitioners are in danger of being one trick ponies (we know how to write…) and so losing out on the more strategic overview position that SM needs. The biggest challenge for the industry is the self-limitations of practitioners who don’t see the bigger picture and will increasingly be marginalized if they don’t step outside of the communications bubble to understand both the wider scope of digital/technological developments and the impact and challenges of organizations.




Want to know more about social media’s impact on PR?

Get the book here. The research was published as a book called "Social Media and the Rebirth of PR". Read it now!

Topics: University Experience, Social Media, Public Relations

Iliyana Stareva

Written by Iliyana Stareva

Iliyana Stareva is the author of Inbound PR - the book that is transforming the PR industry. She's also a keynote speaker and a consultant in inbound and digital for fast-growing companies and agencies. Currently, Iliyana is Chief of Staff to the EMEA President at ServiceNow. Before that, she held global and EMEA-wide positions at Cisco and HubSpot. She is also certified by the PMI as a Project Management Professional (PMP)®. In her free time, you can find Iliyana writing for her blog, dancing salsa or travelling the world.

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