The widespread use of social media has fundamentally changed how people communicate and share information. According to recent data from comScore, Facebook now accounts for 12.3 percent of the time spent online in the U.S. versus 7.2 percent just a year ago. Twitter now counts approximately 200 million accounts and over 110 million tweets per day.
This downright addiction to social media has made an impact in virtually every industry as companies seek to create strategies to engage on the social web. Public relations is certainly no exception as practitioners seek to communicate with, and hear from consumers, as well as using social channels to share information with key audiences.
Conversation Versus A Speech
PR pros can no longer get away with blasting information out at an audience. Two-way communication directly with the consumer is a tremendous opportunity for businesses to gain real-time feedback on messaging coming from the company. The live interaction allows for ongoing refinement and improvement to make a deeper connection with the target audience. Human connections made possible by listening and replying via social media bring the audience closer to a brand and softens the barrier that exists when people feel as if they’re talking to a company that views them strictly as a potential sale.
The speed of information sharing is faster than ever before and PR professionals have access to a wealth of content that can be shared with consumers seeking solutions to a problem. Creating a simple keyword based search on Twitter can connect companies with people at exactly the right time to serve as a helpful resource. By engaging proactively, PR teams can create new opportunities to create a favorable brand impression that can lead to the beginning of a social media relationship and a potential business relationship.
Social media has also positively changed long-standing dynamics of the PR/Journalist relationship. Journalists seek information and sources online and PR professionals have benefited from the added access available thanks to social media. Some reporters maintain blogs and others are active on Twitter but gathering information about potential stories is significantly easier than the days of heavy, out-of-date media guides.
With the advance of social media, there is an expectation from consumers that they will not be subjected to mass, non-targeted information and any concerns will be addressed quickly and personally. This one can be challenging for PR staff managing social media efforts. One upset customer on a Facebook page or a challenging blog post can send brands into a crisis mode.
When dealing with this expectation of 24/7 personal service, take time to evaluate what is a real crisis and measure how to respond. The field of public relations is always an environment of on call issues but social media has expanded both the base of potential complaints and the public visibility of these issues.
There are a number of ways that the field of PR must continue to adapt as the social media tools of today will change tomorrow. Rather than focus on the channels, focus on the expectations of the audiences and how to serve as a valued resource for them.
If you’re a public relations professional, how has social media changed your day-to-day PR work? And, what remains the same despite the new channels of communication?