The emergence of Web 2.0 and social media has created a platform for participation and a new set of tools for communication: blogs, microblogs, podcasts, wikis, social networks and virtual worlds. People are creating and sharing content online as well as reading it citizen journalists are taking news dissemination and analysis into their own hands while consumers are forming online communities discuss and critique products and brands. But what does this all mean for PR and aspiring practitioners?
For one it means less reliance on journalists and traditional media channels for broadcasting messages to mass audiences and increasing engagement with communities. Of course traditional PR still has its place but needs to be integrated with new for maximum impact. For example, although the press release continues to be effective in reaching certain audiences (if the news is worth hearing), the social media release has the potential to breathe new life into an old communications format by creating interactivity and context through use of multimedia, links and comments.
The emphasis is now on dialogue rather than monologue – engaging with online stakeholders and influencers directly and on a human level, without the corporate polish associated with traditional comms. Brian Solis, in the social media manifesto, calls it “putting the ‘public’ back in Public Relations”.
In harnessing the interactivity of the web 2.0 platform and social media, PR can now realistically claim to provide two-way dialogue and mutually beneficial relationships. Perhaps the transparency it brings will loosen associations with propaganda and manipulation and go some way to making the profession more ethically sound?
Or maybe I’m jumping the gun…
Regardess of this, for students and young practitioners social media means working in familiar territory. Many of us are more practiced in the art of online conversation than we are in producing press releases or other traditional PR copy. I see the paradigm shift to PR 2.0 as an opportunity for digital natives like myself to add value where more experienced practitioners can’t.
That said, I’m no social media expert (yet!) and there are plenty out there who are. I’m consistently impressed at the depth of knowledge that the PR professionals (old and young) possess on such a new subject and the enthusiasm they show discussing it. Social media is still in its infancy and its influence will continue to grow as more people around the world use it: those in the industry that don’t keep up with developments are likely to become irrelevant in the near future.
And one more thing: having new tools doesn’t necessarily make our communications relevant and engaging to audiences. It’s all well and good being able to master the tools, but another to understand the social processes behind it all and I believe this will be the key to success. I look forward to the challenge…