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Public relations in the digital era

When the practice of public relations was first introduced to the world in the early 1900s, it looked quite differently from what it does now. Media largely consisted of newspapers and periodicals and there were no established public relations ethics or guidelines. The first PR campaign convinced young women that smoking cigarettes was an act of rebellion that supported women’s equality. (No, really.) However, the goal of PR has remained largely the same: utilize communications mediums to influence public opinion. Today, with the vast array of mediums to choose from, PR can look a lot of different ways.

In the digital era, public relations is…

Retweets + Hashtags
Social media are aptly named for their ability to connect people, which means they are an important piece of the PR puzzle. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn can be used to directly engage key audiences. However, brands must be strategic in their use of these media if they are to be successful. When companies are intentional about the types of posts they like, share, retweet and comment on, they develop an online personality. This digital persona is a useful tool for relating to followers and getting people to engage, which is why social media strategy plays a big part in clients’ campaigns at Hirons.

Research + Influencers
Although social media allow brands to share their own content, organic coverage from third party sources lends credibility to messaging efforts. PR professionals must conduct online research to find media members and other influencers who might be interested in sharing client stories. Software services such as Meltwater can help simplify that search by narrowing down publications, journalists and bloggers that cover specific topics. With such advanced targeting technology and the wealth of information databases available, brands can pitch stories to a few key individuals rather than rely on traditional mass media methodology.

Increasing reliance on digital tools doesn’t mean that traditional PR tactics are completely extinct. Even in the digital era, public relations is still…

Conversations + Events
Digital media can effectively portray a message or promote a brand, but sometimes there’s no better tactic than talking face to face. The combined power of speech and body language can completely change how messages are conveyed or received. In addition, many facets of an audience’s response cannot be transmitted via text or screen. PR professionals are trained to help clients plan and execute in-person meetings.

Trust + Relationships
As the worlds of paid and earned media become further intertwined, PR can get lost in the mix. But it shouldn’t. A combination of paid and earned media is often needed to successfully execute an awareness or outreach campaign, which means PR professionals still need to take the time to cultivate relationships with their key audiences and local media members.

What does all of this mean for PR professionals?

It’s important to stay attuned to advances in technology and the resulting shifts in societal behavior. But keep in mind that while people are increasingly communicating via screens, the power of human interaction should never be underestimated. PR professionals need to take the time to understand their audiences and find a balance between traditional and modern tactics.

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