The power of social networks has dramatically and quickly transformed public relations in a way that very few could have expected.
Understanding how social media has disrupted modern PR helps us wrap our heads around aligning our communications programs in a way that puts both disciplines in lockstep in order to amplify our messaging.
With that in mind, here they are:
PR used to broadcast a one-way message and hope it resonated. Social media engagement changes our target message into a conversation that anyone can start, transforming the monologue message into an ongoing dialogue. We can enter this dialogue anywhere, but it cannot be controlled.
In a social marketing model, our target audience becomes a community. The core difference between an audience of individuals and a community of friends is that its members interact with each other and socialize a message (“conversation”), rather than being attuned to a single message source.
What makes the social share so powerful isn’t just that it gives us earned media in a network wherein the members are inclined to pay attention to one another. That message amplification can also lead to more engagement and more shares, and it’s at that point that our conversation can go wildly viral. This is why we measure engagement as a core social media and PR KPI: the engagement – whether it’s engagement of journalists who share with their readers, or of people who share with their social channels – is an achievement. That achievement gives us (the opportunity of) more impressions. (For more on that, check out this article on vanity metrics vs. actionable metrics.)
Source credibility was one of the earliest concerns about user-generated content from PR circles, with a lot of initial questions about how to work with bloggers. While journalists are – by the nature of their profession – more inherently objective than a social influencer, the advantage of earned media on social channels is that peer:peer word of mouth leverages personal trust. In today’s socially-networked communications ecosystem, a messaging campaign is most powerful when there’s a handoff between sources: the journalist uses social media to research stories, or the story on the traditional media publication is shared socially.
PR & Social Media: Same Program, Different Channel
Public relations is the original social media marketing: PR pros were looking to socialize communication on behalf of a company, with the ultimate goal being spurring engagement in a target audience. (For more on that, check out this article on social PR.) By the same token, social media marketing is the most public of relations: rather than having a middleman between the message and the medium, we interact directly with our consumers via our owned media channels.
With that in mind, both social media and PR programs share the same fundamental goal: to deliver communication that spurs positive action on behalf our brand, thus earning media (“impressions” or “reach”). By understanding how social networks have disrupted the old PR paradigm, we can transform our programs with strategic campaigns that use the strengths of both disciplines to achieve quantifiable results.