Seven ways social media changed PR

Research by Cision UK finds that while the effects of social media on PRs have been positive, any increasing dependence on social as a primary medium of communication can be hazardous, so view the channel as complementary to other efforts, advises Priyanka Dayal.

Social media is cool – it enables companies to experiment with a different persona, a fun one expressed in succinct, creative ways, away from long, drawn-out corporate jargon. This explains why businesses, big and small, are all over it. Yet as digital technology advances and becomes the backbone of every industry, social media has evolved from a networking tool to a marketing function. Social has become as much compulsory as cool for businesses embracing smart technology to become, well, smarter.

While social media posts, with the help of exclamation marks, hashtags and emoticons continue to ease communications, the purpose it serves is moving towards optimising business strategy, forcing PRs into the boardroom with new responsibilities and added pressures.

To analyse the full effect social media has had on PR, Cision UK in collaboration with Canterbury Christ Church University, has conducted a survey among UK PR professionals, the results of which formed our first Social PR Study 2015, published last month.

Drawing on the findings of the study, below are the seven ways that social media has affected and changed PR as we know it:

1. Turnaround time

Digital media has shortened the life span of news stories, pushing journalists to turnaround stories in a much shorter time. This in turn has forced PRs to keep up. Gone are the days of long lunches between journalists and PRs. It’s as much about reporting in real time as it is about pitching. Our study found that only 8% of the PRs surveyed meet journalists face-to-face. Social media meanwhile, is the third most common method used to contact journalists, after email and telephone, with 30% of PRs opting for this route.

What’s more, journalists welcome the approach taken and are increasingly leaning towards social media to contact PRs as well. According to the study, the majority (57%) of PRs agree that journalists are receptive to being contacted on social media.

2. The PR role

Of the PRs surveyed, 82% indicated that social media has changed the work they do to some extent. But what does this ‘work’ consist of? Everything PR used to be about and more. Apart from pitching stories, writing and distributing press releases and maintaining media relationships, social media has made sure PRs do their bit in building the brand’s voice online by way of content sharing and more importantly, managing and protecting the online reputation. As a result, tasks like content promotion, publishing, media monitoring, community engagement and measurement have all been added to the PR toolkit.

This explains why 64% of the respondents agreed that social media has improved their productivity, but nearly 70% believe it has added a new layer of work for them.

3. Dependency on media professionals

Social media has added a new dimension to the long-standing love-hate relationship between hacks and flaks. Can they finally part ways amicably because of social media? Far from it, but flaks have an alternate medium to communicate with their audiences if they are given the dreaded cold shoulder.

The study found nearly half of all respondents said they are less reliant on journalists because of social media and a further 34% of PRs agreed that journalists were no longer as important to them because of social media.

4. Connecting with the audience

Building on the point above, it is first important to note that PRs still believe that journalists are the most important channel of communication. The study found that the majority of PRs (59%)
are happy with their relationship with media professionals. However, 87% of PRs agree (to some extent) that social media has affected their relationship with the audience. This also explains why public sector and not-for-profit PRs are the most optimistic about social, as it lets them directly engage with audiences at a relatively low cost.

5. Publishing content

Social media has put a new spin on press releases. According to the study, PRs use social media most for publishing content. Sharing and retweeting posts on Twitter and publishing original comments on networking sites are the two most popular uses of social media for PRs. This is because PRs (69%) believe that social media is no longer just about pushing out information and news to audiences but more about conversations.

Whether it’s a press release, corporate announcement or some other interesting piece of content, PRs know that social media is very much a part of the integrated content marketing mix.

6. Response to queries

Social media is demanding more time from PR professionals with 60% of PRs using social media for more than one hour per day. However, upon deeper analysis of social media use among industry professionals, it is clear that despite their faith in ‘the conversation’, PRs are not using the channel to its full potential. The study found that while there is a strong awareness of the importance of building conversations, 38% of PR professionals admitted they never respond to questions from the media on networking platforms, and 21% said they never respond to queries from consumers or community outreach. This raises questions and concerns about the nature and extent of conversations PRs are having online and if it is worth the time spent.

7. Channels

The press release has been sent, the emails and follow-up calls made, what next? This is when social comes into its own, and it doesn’t just stop at the most popular of channels such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. In fact, the study shows that while the networking giants are favoured by PRs to promote and publish content, they also rely on 50 other social tools including YouTube, Google+, Instagram, and other less-likely suspects such as Ping.It, Topsy, Banjo, Tango and Vimeo.

While the effects social media has had on the profession are mostly positive, patterns that show an increasing dependence on social media as a primary medium of contact and communication are hazardous. While social media has undoubtedly given PRs more power to publish content and reach audiences directly, PRs would do better to view social media as a channel that complements their overall outreach efforts.

A LinkedIn discussion thread based on the results of our study generated interesting viewpoints from PR professionals. One professional puts social PR in perspective: “Social media is exciting but let’s not forget that it is another channel, not a replacement. In the same way that the arrival of radio didn’t destroy newspapers or TV didn’t destroy radio, neither will social be the replacement for all our communications activity.”

He’s right, social media has added new life to PR. It has given unknown brands the potential to become a viral phenomenon at the cost of a single tweet or post, or conversely, die anonymously. It’s all out there; PRs just need to learn how to navigate it to their advantage.

Download the study at