Building bridges: PR and the 2.0 revolution

Historically, public relations activities were largely focused on companies “pushing” their message through mainstream media outlets such as newspapers, television and radio. Companies and PR professionals grew comfortable with these outlets, understanding how they functioned and how to control effectively the message and content delivered through these outlets. However, as online technologies were introduced and evolved, traditional PR practitioners and many companies found themselves struggling with not only how to handle and control their message, but how to drive successfully their message across this medium. A platform that does not respond to having a message thrust upon it, but instead “pulls” the message best suited to its own goals.

Especially challenging for PR has been the explosive growth of Web 2.0 technologies. Web 2.0 technologies collectively refers to the second generation of web development and design, which places emphasis on the importance of social networking and shareable content, and moves away from the so-called static webpage. Web 2.0 technology platforms differ from other platforms in that peer-to-peer networking drives them. They are generally highly interactive and function in real-time, with information updated seemingly in the blink of an eye.

While collectively referred to as social media, the web-driven tools that fall in this category are diverse. They include such platforms as social networks (FacebookMySpaceLinked-InTwitter), viral videos (YouTube), blogs and micro blogs, podcasts, forums, social bookmarking, message boards and wikis. Regardless of the delivery vehicle of choice, these social media platforms have accomplished one common goal. They have “…democratized the internet and are allowing individualism to be expressed as never before in this new era of mass creativity and sharing.”[1]

Social media has changed not just how marketing and sales activities are conducted, but how PR is handled. Consumers are no longer simply consuming. They are participating in full force, in almost every imaginable aspect of business, and surprisingly, how to handle the consumer as a participant is stumping more than a few companies as they struggle to find their footing with this ever-evolving platform.

Given that social media is viewed as yet another method of facilitating communication, the idea that PR would rush in to embrace its potential benefits, seemed like a safe assumption. Granted, a few companies have jumped quickly into the social media mix, mastering the unique skill set required of web-based technologies. Yet, a larger percentage of companies and PR professionals have been slower to respond, raising the question as to why.

Some suggest that companies and PR professionals have been slow to embrace social media because they do not quite understand its role and usefulness. This theory may flabbergast many who see social media as being about straight talk and engagement, and of influencing the public through content and dialogue. After all, isn’t this the function of PR? 

Others imply it may be the result of an inability to master the very specific technologies needed to use these web-based tools that has caused many PR professionals and companies to linger on the sidelines instead of jumping into the game. Whatever the reasons may be, the results are the same: a missed opportunity to engage the public, to directly communicate with them, and to promote their message.

Social media is here to stay. It is not a fad or a passing fancy. It has become a major media channel that cannot be ignored. It has forever changed almost every facet of doing business and PR is no exception. Gone are the proverbial clear-cut lines in the sand. As explained by Nicholas Scibetta, “The lines that once separated media are virtually gone. People used to look at a newspaper and expect certain things – facts, context and analysis. We visited shopping Web sites simply to buy things, social networking sites to interact with one another, and search engines to seek out specific information. Nowadays, it’s just as easy to find much of that and more in one place and in many places at the same time.”[2]

PR, like marketing and sales, should embrace social media, as it is the ideal industry to leverage Web 2.0 technologies. Why? Because at its core, social media is about relationships and about using online technologies to create and maintain a connection between a company and its audience; and isn’t that what PR is about – building relationships?[3]

As stated earlier, a few companies have been quick to embrace this new media channel and have reaped the rewards. Some have floundered in their attempts to navigate this medium, and a few have arguably suffered from their inability to truly comprehend and effectively respond to its impact. In the following pages, we will explore the affect social media has had on business through real-life examples of companies that got it right, and those who failed to respond.

[1] Social media and market research: we are becoming a listening economy and, while the future of market research is bright, it will be different, Mike Cooke. International Journal of Market Research. Henley-on-Thames: 2009. Vol. 51, Iss. 4; pg. 550.

[2] Web 2.0 is Weaving a World of Melded Media…and Weaving in the Masses, Too, Nicholas Scibetta. PRweek. (U.S. ed.). New York: 23 de Febrero, 2009. Vol. 12, Iss. 8; pg. P10. 

[3] Conversational Web 2.0 ideal for PR, Brad McCormick. PRweek. (U.S. ed.). New York: 24 de Setiembre, 2007. Vol. 10, Iss. 37; pg. 8.