2000 was a big moment for those working in PR. The Internet took off, Google arrived, social media went mainstream and the change of consuming and watching habits went from TV to digital and social media. With that, organisations were handed new and exciting ways to reach and communicate with their multiple audiences. However, along with these exciting new channels came consumer power unlike ever before. Organisations could no longer control the whole message that their publics received. A two-way conversational structure emerged between organisation and consumer. Consumers now had the ability to make or break an organisations reputation by publishing reviews. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) states “Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.” This highlights the fact that positive online conversation is crucial to a businesses success.
As stated in ‘Public Relations’ Digital Resolution’ by Stella Bayles, Google knows our publics better than anyone. With 3 billion searches each day, Google accounts for up to 90% of web searches in the UK and the US. Along with that, organisations have naturally evolved to use online platforms to target their chosen demographic. With people becoming more reliant on technology in a society where attention spans are shortening, we should be using the data that Google is providing for free in order to conduct research and make predictions. Due to the rise of social media and the number of people using the internet, as PR practitioners we can use tools such as Google Suggest and Answerthepublic.com to predict what it is that our clients’ audience wants.
Google Suggest is a free tool available for anybody to use. Google collects data from every person using the search engine, meaning that when you type in a word, below you will find a drop-down list of frequently searched terms other people have searched for relating to what you’ve already typed. To give you an example, I tried this by typing in “running” to Google:
Before I talk about how this is beneficial to us from a PR perspective adapting within the digital media landscape, I want to introduce you to another tool; Answerthepublic.com, this site allows you to type in a word, and instead of simply giving us similar terms searched, it will provide us with questions relating to your original word that people have asked search engines. You can also limit your results geographically which is useful if you’re interested in country specific consumers. Once you’ve entered your keyword, you’re provided with a visualisation of the data. It’ll look something like this:
As you can see, from using this in PR, we can see exactly what our consumer is looking for. We have the ability to research our audience just by using search engines, saving time and money on focus groups. This enables us to make predictions on their desires meaning we create a more relatable experience for the consumer via this consumer data insight.
Target audiences online are mostly already “market savvy”, making purchases on their terms and usually only using products and/or services that have either already been recommended to them or have high online recommendations. Everything is just a click away; if it’s pitched incorrectly to the consumer they won’t delay to go to another webpage. Agencies will have to converse in unconventional and creative new channels in order to preserve consumer interest.
To adapt to the digital media landscape, PR is going to have to get personal. We will have to work harder to keep human contact between consumer and organization active and coherent. The core roles don’t change, but the way in which we practice and achieve these roles will have to adapt and become creative if we are going to stay active in a world of Trip Advisor word-of-mouth reputation management. Thanks to technology, audiences now have the tools to decide upon what information shared is actually relevant to them, as well as being given the ability to create and share their own information on a service or product.
An alternative but still relevant argument is that the multitude of the media today is precisely why PR is still very relevant and needed in today’s digital media landscape. The expansion of the Internet has become so vast and sometimes unreliable, which has in itself created the need for human contact to remain active and coherent between company and consumer. As Stephen Waddington states, “shedding the shackle of media relations will be critical to the future success of the public relations industry. It is inevitable that as traditional media continues to fragment because of technological change, and consumer behaviour becomes increasingly participatory, that organisations must change how they communicate.” (Earl and Waddington 2012: 202)
To conclude, Public Relations is adapting to the digital media landscape by providing clients consumers with what they want, making predictions of the desires of various publics and identifying consumer habits by experimenting with new online tools. Due to this, there is a more considered methodology set in place as public relations adapts to the current digital media landscape in an honest two-way conversational fashion whereby public opinion is listened to and taken into account. “Clearly, the multi-directional nature of online communications challenges the traditional idea of public relations involving a straightforward distribution of a message to a passive audience.” (Yaxley in Theaker, 2012: pp 423) We should all be looking at the unquestionably changing media landscape as an opportunity, not a restriction when it comes to conveying messages and interacting with consumers.
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CIPR (2015) What is PR? Available from: www.cipr.co.uk/content/careers-advice/what-pr [Accessed 19 November 2015].
Bayles, S., (2015) Public Relations’ Digital Resolution: A PR pro’s guide to a brighter future and bigger budgets. [Online]. [Accessed 03 November 2015].
AnswerThePublic Available from: answerthepublic.com [Accessed 01 January 2016].
Waddington, S., Earl, S., (2012) Brand Anarchy. London: Bloomsbury.
Theaker, A., (2012) The Public Relations Handbook. 4th ed. Abingdon: Routledge.