Assessment, “How Public Relations is adapting to the Digital Media landscape” – Part 2

Commentary [2,000 words] “How Public Relations is adapting to the digital media landscape. This could be in the form of four 500-word blog posts and you will be expected to draw on insights from the lecture series, high quality blogs, books and other sources.”

“How Public Relations is adapting to the digital media landscape” – Part 2

This is the second of a three-part commentary focusing on how Public Relations is adapting to the ever-changing Digital Media landscape.

Effect TwoWho’s in Control?

The second and perhaps most fundamental change that the Public Relations discipline must adapt to is loss of control. Social Media channels, in particular Facebook and Twitter, have created an arena in which consumers can constantly create exchanges with brands, businesses and most importantly each other. This allows anybody online to influence an uncountable amount of potential and existing consumers, meaning the consumer now holds a great deal of power in their hands. The individual charged with reacting to these issues online is most likely to be a PR Practitioner.

‘The late 19th and 20th centuries were dominated by mass media and mass communication that predominantly involved top-down, one-way distribution of information to ‘audiences’ which, in the main, had to passively accept what was given to them. ‘This has completely changed with development of Web 2.0-based social media’. (Macnamara 2013:224)

Before Digital Media, a practitioner would create a one-dimensional message with their client and slowly transmit this message through traditional outlets such as print, television and radio. Today a multi-platform message is created; the message must be adaptable and ideally personalised or at least tailored to certain groups. Shirky described this as ‘Once, filter then publish. Now, publish then filter’. (Shirky 2008).

The consumer will then have a huge impact on how this message is received and interpreted by the masses. This reaction is getting faster and faster, and as digital technology develops, the consumer’s voice has only got louder.

When a campaign is created correctly in a multi-platform approach it can create excellent exchanges between organisations and consumers. This builds loyalty and creates a free ‘buzz’ that cannot be bought or falsely obtained. However, the other side of the story is a loss of control that can create enormous challenges for Public Relations practitioners. As well as this, once content is published online it is there forever. Tomorrow it will still be trending, it won’t be fish and chip papers.

AuroraCeleb Boutique, written the day of the  cinema shootings in Aurora. Please click to enlarge.

gapGap, written when a storm was occurring which killed at least 268 people. Please click to enlarge.

The public are unpredictable and issues can escalate extremely quickly with detrimental effect. The issue is further complicated by the 24/7 nature of digital media. Office hours don’t exist in a digital world and pretending this luxury exists could be catastrophic should an issue arise. This is where the role of community management arises, a bi-product of the Digital Media Age. ‘Community Management is the nurturing of an audience, all of whom share a common interest.’ (Fabretti 2013:79) The most successful way practitioners deal with this is by mirroring the way the consumer has acted. A great example of this comes from Waitrose and the ‘#waitrosreasons campaign.

Waitrose Waitrose Reasons Campaign, please click to enlarge.

Complaints are also dealt with in an extremely different manner to the way they were. In the past a consumer would have to pick up a phone and wait to speak to someone (most probably in a Call Centre) or write a letter. The complaints were dealt with discretely, (if at all) and the company seldom encountered hardships.

Digital Media has given the consumer powerful tools which work effectively when airing grievances. A tweet which takes less than a minute to write may be re-tweeted thousands of times. A picture taken on a smart phone has the potential to be seen by millions instantly. Powerful video edited using an App can go viral in less than 24 hours. One person’s experience can determine the future choices of the masses, this is ‘Power Law Distribution’. For example ‘Fewer than two percent of Wikipedia users ever contribute, yet that is enough to create profound value for millions of users’. (Shirky 2008:125)

Virgin Atlantic complaintVirgin Atlantic Complaint – went viral along with the pictures this person shared. Please click to enlarge.

Effect ThreeConversation

Leading on from a practitioner’s loss of control is the eruption of conversation. As predicted in ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto’ Thesis 1 ‘Markets are conversations’.

The days of one way broadcasting or using the ‘Mass Media Model’ are over and messages need to have a clear tailored theme often complemented by high quality images or film added to an online post. On an average day ‘over 400 million tweets are sent’ and ‘250 billion photos are uploaded to Facebook’ meaning plain text will often be lost in the vast pool of information. Interesting posts that have great imagery allow practitioners to create a meaningful and thought provoking digital footprint for their clients. The notion that ideas can be injected into passive audience’s heads, ‘The Hypodermic Media Model’ (Theaker: 2012:31) has now been proven incorrect.

New modernised comms flowModernised Communication Flow, please click to enlarge.

Public Relations practitioners are now becoming operators of user-generated tools; particularly popular means of transmission include blogs and YouTube. Companies can send items to established online bloggers in the hope that they will promote products. ‘Public Relations has undergone a huge shift over the last five years as businesses have started to finally broaden out their definition of who constitutes an influencer.’ (Hallam 2013: 83-84)


Word court part two – 931

Thanks for reading, please move onto part 3 🙂



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