Evolving Role of PR in the Digital Age

Social media has changed the world as we know it, and PR is no exception. For decades, PR communications traveled one way – from the PR desk to the press – but today it is a two-way conversation between PR professionals and the public.

A press release no longer serves only as a tool to notify the press about news. Press releases can optimize search engine results for a brand name, serve as direct marketing or facilitate conversation through social media.

Though most PR professionals rely on e-mail for distributing press releases, social media press releases (or SMPR) are becoming more common. SMPRs benefit the online reader, which is especially important in the digital age where traditional media is waning. They also allow PR pros to approach the release in extremely creative and diverse ways.

Social media platforms support different types of multimedia and easy distribution through a variety of channels. For example, PR pros can create custom landing pages for a specific announcement and then use social media channels to funnel readers to the page. Companies can also release a YouTube video with a direct announcement via Twitter or Facebook. Tools such as Pitch Engine can help manage a variety of multimedia approaches across different platforms.

PR is evolving to suit audiences, media channels and social trends; and PR professionals are assuming the role of facilitating a larger cultural conversation in the context of the businesses they represent. Though there is ample room for creativity when using a social media platform, the trend for all PR communications is to keep it socially relevant and concise.

When approaching journalists, PR professionals need to be aware of the shift from mass media consumption to personalized media consumption. The standard of the old PR – where PR writers supply direct content for the media – is all but dead and gone.

Today, the role of the PR professional is to pitch a story in terms of how the news might suit the reader’s interests. Because mass media (including social media) offers a generic, overarching platform; PR professionals are searching for industry-specific niches within media and social networking avenues.

To target a niche field, PR professionals must be familiar with the business culture of their clients and their customers. The PR professional may also need to familiarize clients with the ins and outs of social media so that business leaders can establish a social media presence if desired.

For example, a PR pro may search for topic conversations via Twitter that include keywords in his client’s field. If there is a question that can be answered, he can help and simultaneously promote his client’s brand.

Making pitches is more about connecting experts in a field to those who are seeking more information. This is why it may be beneficial to encourage business leaders to participate in Twitter. However, if this intimate approach doesn’t appeal to a client, the PR professional will be required to stand in as an expert or a connecting hub.

Journalists using sites like HARO, PRNewswire’s ProfNet, NewsBasis and Media Kitty are actively searching for experts in various fields. By participating as a source, you can take the legwork out of connecting with the press.

Trends are requiring PR professionals to become well-versed in their clients’ fields, but social media is also demanding that PR professionals are in tune with the target audience.

Blogs are an excellent way to promote anecdotal and personalized information. Sharing stories beyond the press release appeals to customers and allows them to gain insight to the human elements that comprise your client’s business.  Today most PR professionals are using blogs, Twitter and Facebook as broadcasting channels; but these outlets also as a sounding board for clients to express feedback.

Social media is about people connecting with people, and PR professionals serve as the human voice of a company. PR pros can use social media platforms to answer questions or share information with customers who express concerns and opinions. Listening to and participating in this conversation are vital to understanding a target audience and building a trusting relationship.

Maria Rainier is a freelance higher education blogger who loves to talk about online education. She believes that online master’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees will become the norm for 21st century higher learning.

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