Coming up for air from the PR world (after an exciting year spent at Capstrat, a PR firm in Raleigh), I now have the chance to pause and reflect on the role of social media in public relations.
What I realize now, more than while I was immersed in day-to-day PR is that the industry is being challenged in unprecedented ways. You see, PR is about controlling the message. PR dedicates its messaging to showing a brand or issue in the best possible light. It does this by using words and images that evoke a particular feeling or response.
Thus, the PR approach is to control the message. Make people think what you want them to think. It’s all about perception. But social media is moving the goal posts.
In traditional PR, you pitch a story and if you’re lucky, might get free coverage in a newspaper or TV channel. With social media you can distribute your story at practically no cost in whatever online channel best suits the message. If you get the messaging right, it will be picked up, spread virally and reach potentially millions. No luck required. You control the message.
In PR, your story is taken by the media and presented how they want, at the time they want. With social media, you control the channel (e.g., use a blog for text, YouTube for video or podcast for audio) and the timing. You’re in control.
There are many other ways traditional PR is being challenged by social media. But my observation is that most PR firms are seeing social media as a form of advertising. They rarely think about it as a challenge to their core business. PR firms that “get it” and who are willing to completely change their business model are the ones who are more likely to survive. If PR as we know it isn’t actually dead, many of the PR firms that rely on the traditional business models will be soon.