Social media is no longer a young man’s game. It’s been adopted by an enormous slice of the population, and is now ingrained in how we connect, support and educate. It has also revolutionised how businesses operate, with the PR industry having to adapt to these new challenges and social medias undeniable influence in the public sphere. Let’s put traditional PR under the microscope, and look at the 4 ways social media has changed it forever.
Social media decides fact and fate
The idea of ‘getting ahead of the story’ or even managing it in any way is standard fare in PR, but it’s not exactly how things go on social media. The public will ultimately follow the stories that are of interest to them, with a public forum ensuing that will decide the fact and fate of the brand, individual or subject of the story. This is, of course, not fair as the story can be penned by just about anyone and all sides of the story are rarely represented adequately.
Take the Folau case against Rugby Australia where his unacceptable slurs prompted the public (using social media as their vehicle) to put pressure on Qantas to have Folau dropped. Employment lawyer, Alan McDonald has stated that these actions might have made Qantas liable, which isn’t the side we saw play out on social media.
Statements aren’t planned, they are demanded
There was a time when a brand would prepare their statement with a PR team well in advance, and deliver this message in a format that is best for that brand. Now, it is the public and their unearthing of a story who demands a statement of that brand, which is typically delivered on social media. As we have seen with the underpayment scandal that saw Woolworths, Super Retail Group, Bunnings and many more failing to pay the correct award rate, social media got this story to a wide audience that caused a chain reaction for these business titans to respond with an appropriate message.
In fact, the businesses that were withholding certain details (such as how much was withheld and by when it would be paid back) received increased pressure from the public and have been held accountable to reporting their progress on this issue. Social media has also allowed ex-employees to see these stories and come forward to make themselves known and collect their payments.
It’s ‘always on’
Another defining way in which social media has changed PR is that it is an unrelenting channel, that is scouring and cultivating a forum on any number of issues or stories at the one time. A PR agency is made up of human resources, and this cannot meet the ‘always on’ nature of the social media news cycle. McDonald Murholme is an employment law firm that often adds commentary surrounding the topical stories that unfold in our newsfeed, and it’s astounding to see how insular social media really is in respect to the law, privacy and other values we respect in any other area of our life.
This poses many pros and cons, as social media is insatiable but brands and news outlets should not try to fill these gaps with messages and content that is not appropriate or devaluing their brand for the sake of a higher ‘like’ count. Quality is not always the prevailing parameter on most social media platforms.
It’s lowered the barrier to entry
Another way that social media has changed PR is its low barrier to entry. Anyone with a social media account can ultimately cultivate an audience, and position themselves as a person of authority and amplify their beliefs further than a PR agency in some cases. This puts PR operatives in a challenging position as brands might see greater value and reach from an influencer instead of paying a PR agency to pitch to a media outlet that doesn’t necessarily capture a wider audience.
In fact, this is becoming such a prevalent fact that a huge part of PR daily job is about influencer outreach and shifting their focus on this channel over grassroots press tactics. With influencers now pitching directly to brands, it will be interesting to see the future of PR unfold.
Social media is not going anywhere, and as our screen time increases PR operatives will have to think creatively about how they can yield this channel for their own benefit, while still toeing the line so they don’t break any media laws.