One can no longer dispute the influence social media has had on information seekers throughout the world. These free social platforms are connecting people and businesses in unprecedented ways by simultaneously lessening our reliance on traditional media outlets for news and information while increasing the opportunities for public relations professionals to interact directly with prospective clients and customers.
For the PR industry, whose main objective is to cultivate mutually beneficial relationships with information sources, the changing communication landscape has required a bit of adaption.
“We understand that the media and advertising landscapes are shifting. It’s no longer enough to offer a stand-alone traditional public relations service for clients,” said Kellie O’Brien, who has run her Mum PR agency out of Melbourne for the past year and a half.
Once considered a non-traditional form of marketing, social media is quickly becoming the norm in this industry.
“Before, there was a strong focus on traditional press – newspapers, magazines and radio,” said Ms O’Brien. Now, with these outlets shrinking their staff and focusing more on the digital space, “a PR professional’s role is to work on combining digital and traditional [methods] and build relationships [directly] with journalists, broadcasters, bloggers and social media influencers.”
Making the Transition
For many businesses, transitioning into the corporate Twittersphere was a result of client demand. Simone Marshall, director of the Melbourne-based Two Hands Agency, noted that her company’s expansion from PR and marketing into the social media realm was inspired by her clients’ evolving needs.
“There were more and more clients asking me to do their social media, [be it] Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc,” said Ms Marshall, whose agency represents fashion brands such as Tony Bianco, DECJUBA, Aquila and Linen House. “One day I thought to myself, wow, there's a real opportunity here for my business to grow and to complement my existing services.”
By hiring a team of digitally skilled people, Ms Marshall successfully took her agency from being simply public relations-based to incorporating the social aspect.
“It [has enabled] each of our clients to deal with one team across all their marketing,” she said of the integration. “We essentially treat ourselves as part of the in-house team for each brand, regularly meeting and discussing what to do next with their social media platforms.”
As a result, her company – and the brands it represents – is flourishing.
“We've seen huge growth: in fan numbers, in driving traffic to websites and increasing revenue which, for all brands, is the main factor,” she said. “It's such a hugely exciting medium; it challenges us and inspires us and we take that passion with us to every client meeting.”
The growth of social media as an online marketing tool begs a crucial question: if a company can simply log into one of these social platforms and post something about a new service or upcoming event, is there a necessity for an outside public relations professional?
“Social media, as an independent entity, is difficult to get results from,” said Phil Sim, chief executive of online software firm MediaConnect. “It’s very much about reputation, both improving it and protecting it when it’s under attack.”
Therefore, when a business is looking to expand its social media presence, it pays to have a dedicated professional at the helm: “someone with a strong understanding of the business, and who has the credibility within the business to be a spokesperson for what the company is trying to achieve,” advised Mr Sim.