Social media is like wielding a lightsaber. In trained hands, it can parry and block barbed comments and criticisms, while offering a very precise tool to pierce through all the information clutter. For the untrained,it becomes a liability that can create more mayhem than intended.
But its importance cannot be ignored. After all, a single comment can ignite a flame war, start a social media rebellion, and even incite a call for boycott of (inter) galactic proportions. It has also flattened the market landscape. A savvy newcomer can now easily leapfrog, disrupt and even carve out a big market share with a well-timed social media campaign against an unsuspecting incumbent.
So it comes as no surprise that social media is now seen as a valuable tool for public relations (PR). According to a 2014 ING study, 81% of PR professionals already rely on social media for their job, with 78% feeling that it is vital for their daily work.
More importantly, it is having a profound impact, and changing the way we do PR in four important ways:
- Building Social Media Contacts
Studies have shown that journalists increasingly rely on social media networks for story angles and getting key viewpoints. They also prefer to be contacted via social media, instead of fielding phone calls and emails. This trend will only grow as more journalists start relying on social media feeds to gain story ideas and develop their stories. PR professionals who are able to build a solid contact base via social media and engage journalists in real time will be sought after.
- The Power of Both the “Light” and “Dark” Sides
A decade ago, journalists used to quip that becoming a PR professional is like going over to the “dark side.” In today’s social media-driven market, PR professionals need to master both the “dark” and the “light”. As journalists look to social media for story ideas and quotes, PR professionals need to be able to pitch well in this sphere. But social media pitching differs from the usual routine of publishing press releases, marketing story ideas and creating bylines. Now, PR professionals need to be able to become bloggers themselves, and engage an audience that journalists may be part of. By becoming part of the media, you will gain the attention of other media. After all, it is an open secret that media likes to report on other media.
- Spot the Influencer
A decade ago, meeting the right editor and building a strong relationship was the right path to travel. If your story had the right angle, there would be a high chance the editor would consider it. This is no longer enough in today’s world of citizen journalism. Instead, PR professionals need to start identifying influencers in whose opinions a community believes. In the entertainment world, this has already begun. Influencers are now being hailed as mega-stars and getting paid handsomely for commenting on key products or services. The same will eventually be true for all industries. The PR professionals who are able to keep tabs on who’s who beyond the media sphere and build strong relationships will have an edge.
- Seeing Is Believing
The right word still matters. But increasingly, images, video and infographics matter just as much. This means PR professionals need to become graphics or video experts themselves in order to help clients create content to capture eyeballs that go along with the copy. As media becomes more visual, the ability to interpret the written word and make it more attractive with the right visuals will matter greatly in gaining the media’s attention and getting noticed.
The above only offers a glimpse of the impact of social media on PR. But the future belongs to those who see social media as not just another PR tool, but part of the PR process itself. As the world becomes increasingly reliant on engagement via social media to influence and sell, PR’s social media force will awaken.