People just don’t get information the same ways they used to, anymore. Okay, some people still read newspapers, and a sizeable portion of the population still watches TV, but more and more these days, the primary source of information, and especially the primary source of news, for most people, is the internet. In fact, internet version of older forms of media are even appearing now, to supplant their predecessors. Most television shows are now online, and both TV and movies are available through various sources such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Radio broadcasts are now being replaced by podcasts, which are like radio shows that you download and can listen to anytime you want. Newspapers and magazines all have their online counterparts, which are more convenient to read now than ever with the growth in popularity of tablets and e-readers. Basically, everything that any other media can do, digital media can do better.
Needless to say, this has big implications for public relations. It’s important to note that one thing the internet does not seem to be making obsolete is PR itself, although it is requiring PR to make huge changes in order to adapt. The goal of PR is the same as it has always been, to manage the public image of the client, whether that be an individual, such as a public figure or politician, or an organization, like a business or government program. Public Relations is, and has always been about managing the flow of information between a client and the public, as well as between the public and the media, in such a way that the public eye will look upon their clients favorably. With the advent of the web and social media, however, this job has become drastically different than it once was. It is more complex and technical, due to the level of technology that involved, and also holds a greater potential, for those who know how to use it wisely, or a greater potential for disaster, for those who don’t.
One thing that PR does well is focus on specific audiences, and social media brings a lot of tools to the table that can be utilized to that end. In a sense, social media allows people to organize themselves; people naturally form groups and subclades on social media, people naturally want to gather with those who have the most similar interests to their own. This means that part of the work that a PR professional would normally have to do is done for them. However, they still have to have the know-how to effectively reach these various niche audiences, and a skilled PR firm will. Social media offers untold possibilities for public relations, it quantifies and organizes people and the information they exchange with one another; in the right hands, this information is like gold, but in hands less capable, it is like a wild animal that can get seriously out of control, and can even ruin a business, if not handled properly.
A lot of people browse social media just to find anything interesting and share it. There’s almost a sense of pride to having found something first, to being aware of things before most people are, being one step ahead of the game, so-to-speak. These people serve as unwitting information distributors, at the hands of a crafty PR campaign. By knowing who these people are, and how to appeal to them, PR companies can, once again, have members of the public do a significant portion of their job for them. By appealing to these trend setters, so to speak, they covertly set trends into motion which will have a positive affect on the public image of their clients, and this is just one more way that social media actually makes PR’s job both easier, and more effective. By distributing information to just the right sources, with minimal effort, they can create very large changes in public opinion, and that sort of leverage is the key to good Social Media Management.
Say what you want about the intelligence of the average person, but most people know when they are being advertised to. This makes advertising no longer a particularly effective method at influencing public opinion. People are more likely to take something seriously if they read it in a third-party source that seems unrelated to the subject, and this is exactly where a PR Firm will the hardest. This means that a simple article in a popular online publication distributed on social media can do much more than a television ad ever could. In fact, the advantage that focusing on social media gives has led to such a drastic change in PR’s approach, that many former PR companies are now referring to themselves no longer by that title, but by Social Media Firm, or something similar. This shows just how much of a sea change the social media revolution truly has been for the field of Public Relations.