Is the practice of public relations any different today than in years past?
That’s one of the more frequently asked questions in blog communities, LinkedIn discussion groups and Twitter streams. While changes to our profession continue unabated, I’d argue that many of public relations’ core elements remain the same.
Whether you categorize it as traditional, digital or social media, public relations still is the discipline responsible for strategic communications between a company and the public. It engages consumers to create brand advocates and build beneficial relationships. It requires critical thinking and excellent writing and speaking skills. And it involves applicable research, adequate resources, ethical conduct and ongoing measurement and evaluation.
What has changed, though, is that social media has expanded our approach to public relations, giving us an opportunity to take what we know and apply it in new ways. And as we adopt new approaches to connecting with today’s consumer, we gain new opportunities to raise public relations’ profile among business leaders and the public.
One of the greatest opportunities we have is in technology — a field we used to acknowledge as separate and distinct from our own. Public relations professionals now are becoming public relations technology (tech) testers, which requires us to have a slightly different mindset; one that embraces technology and motivates us to use new tools and tactics to carry out our daily roles and responsibilities. The more we immerse ourselves in the different platforms and applications currently available, the more we’ll realize that technology provides incredibly efficient ways to build relationships. It allows us to target particular groups directly, to create more customized and meaningful stories, and to measure our communications with greater accuracy.
A 2011 pilot study, “Evaluating Employer Communication Competency Expectations in Kazakhstan,” uncovered interesting findings with respect to public relations professionals and technology. According to the study, professionals entering the public relations field are expected to have information technology as a core competency. The study found “… competence using new information technologies, relationship building, self-control, ability to initiate dialogue, persuasion and negotiation as the most important skills criteria for young professionals.” In an age of globalization and a changing media landscape, there’s increased demand for this new breed of communication practitioner.
As social media continues to dominate consumer time online and companies are increasing their social media spend, we are quickly learning how tech testing can help us achieve our communications goals. We’re now making better use of technology to monitor and measure, to visualize relationships, to “listen” for keyword mentions and relevant conversations and, generally, to offer better brand experiences. Because technology is no longer “someone else’s job,” tech testers roll up their sleeves, experiment with finding the right technology for their tool kits and make technology and collaboration an integral part of a communications program. The end result is better engagement and greater consumer impact.
“Social” consumers have no shortage of creative online experiences from which to choose, so brands must have a presence where these consumers congregate, and be willing to deliver news and information in the ways these consumers prefer. One of the best ways for public relations practitioners to offer senior-level counsel is to understand this new type of collaborative experience and be up-to-date on the technology that can facilitate it.
For some public relations professionals, the tech tester role is an easy and natural progression; for others, it’s an awakening to a whole new (and challenging) world. Either way, we’re now being asked to possess greater professional knowledge, to exhibit increased skill with information technologies and to take on added roles and responsibilities. Social media and emerging technology can help us meet these “new” requirements and expand our influence, so long as we continue to carry forward the core essence of what public relations is.
How are you using technology? Are you a public relations tech tester, too?
Deirdre Breakenridge is CEO of Pure Performance Communications and an internationally recognized blogger and speaker. Her most recent book, “Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practices for the Public Relations Professional,” helps public relations professionals use social media to identify, understand and engage online audiences effectively.