3 Major Ways that Social Media is Changing Public Relations

As an up-and-coming public relations professional, I have an interest in how the PR field is evolving in the digital generation. I realize the steady increase of social media has changed PR in a number of ways, and to be prepared for any PR career, it is important to understand these changes.

I conducted further research and found through Socialmedia Today that other PR professionals agree that social media is impacting PR:

Neil O’Gorman, Communications Professional:Communications has changed beyond recognition in recent years and for the better in my view.  While much commentary tends to focus on the challenges and risks in a world where control is no longer possible, the flip side is there are now boundless opportunities to listen, understand and engage with audiences and create advocates and communities – something which can be a powerful enabler for brands and organisations.”

Bernice BurnsideOwner/ Director of Irish communications agency:Social media has changed the role of the PR practitioner hugely. Not only has our job become a lot more demanding but we need to be able to move faster and think quicker than ever before.”

When discussing the expansion of social media and its role in changing public relations, three major factors stand out:

1. Conversational Interaction Versus One-Way Communication

The creation and increased utilization of social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest have provided companies with a more conversational and personal relationship with their consumers. These social media outlets allow for real-time interaction between company and consumer. Traditional PR tactics, such as press releases, share information in a one-sided manner, while social media sites create two-way communication that allows customers quick and concise information. In a society where instant gratification is greatly valued, these methods are increasingly utilized by consumers.

One company that takes advantage of the conversational relationship with its consumers through Twitter is Nordstrom. Nordstrom currently has over 200,000 twitter followers that it can instantaneously converse with. Twitter allows for customers to ask questions, praise a tweet that they like, or simply spread information by retweeting. It also allows the consumers to feel a more personal connection with the company.

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Photo: Nordstrom using Twitter to converse with a concerned customer. This utilization creates a more personal relationship through two-way communication.

2. Information Gathering

Social media can be used to help companies gather information more easily. Traditionally, companies mailed out questionnaires in hopes that people would take the necessary steps to respond. With social media, they are able to reach hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people more efficiently. Companies can simply post a survey link on social media sites to gather information about consumer opinion. Online surveys not only increase response potential, but also increase exposure. This increased exposure leads to greater feedback and shared opinions that ultimately allow companies to react and make necessary changes. Another way to gather information is to simply tweet a question and measure the public’s responses. Because of the 140-character limit, companies are provided with quick and concise opinions and responses to add to their database.

3. Advertising

Possibly the biggest advantage of the use of these social media sites is free advertising. Companies can create Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest sites for free and gain a great deal of exposure by utilizing them correctly. In regards to the aforementioned Nordstrom example, it not only has the ability to reach over 200,000 people on Twitter, but also has the potential to reach over 4 million people via Pinterest. With the right hashtag (Choosing the Right Twitter Hashtag for Your Marketing), the number of people exposed to their company, products and store information could increase dramatically.  The great thing about Twitter and Pinterest is that consumers do work for the company; retweets and repins allow for exponential growth of exposure to the company. If utilized to the fullest potential, social media could greatly increase brand recognition, website traffic and sales to the companies that use them.

For a further look into this topic, you can view Vice President of Public Relations & Community Investment at Comcast discuss how she believes social media is changing PR:

In the Pocket: How social media is changing PR and community outreach

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