May 16, 2019 / in Comms Best Practices / by Christina Forrest

Did you know that there are over 3.4 billion people active on social media around the world? That’s almost half of the global population!

Social media has impacted nearly every industry but has had a profound influence on the media and public relations professions. In a ING study on the criticality of social media, 81 percent of PR professionals and 78 percent of journalists indicated they can no longer do their job without leveraging social networks.

On average, consumers spend nearly 2.5 hours on social sites every day. With such a focus on this technology, it’s no surprise that 60 percent of brands expect social budgets to continue to increase year-over-year. These statistics alone show how much of an impact social media has had on the PR industry from a quantitative view, but what about the day-to-day changes that this technology brings to practitioners?


Here are five key ways that social media is changing PR:

1. Emerging Tech Trends: New apps, tools and technologies are being created each day.  Using this innovation, consumers are finding alternative ways to gather and absorb information. In 2018, video was named the most popular form of multimedia content. In the first few months of 2019, we’ve seen this shift, as PR professionals are realizing the extent to which virtual reality (VR) can deliver value and creativity for clients. VR provides a level of realness and excitement that a press release or a short video simply failed to do in the past. VR results in a deeper emotional connection with stakeholders that is certain to change the game in digital storytelling.

As social sites begin to leverage the limitlessness of VR, there will be no bounds on how professionals will use this tool to support PR and marketing objectives for brands. Our client, Idaho Commerce, was able to leverage VR at the recent SelectUSA Summit, which draws more than 3,000 companies, including 1,000-plus global investors. Our client’s goal was to promote its region as an exceptional place for international investment, but, foreign stakeholders where not familiar with the state’s business climate. Using VR, the experience allowed people visiting Idaho’s tradeshow booth to virtually visit the state’s landmark sites. This helped potential investors understand what the state had to offer. Idaho became one of the most highlighted booths at the event.

2. Two-Way Conversations: Less than 10 years ago, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defined the PR profession as “the strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” That definition no longer holds true, as public relations, social media and digital marketing have integrated with the wider communications world. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and other social media channels have transformed the communication between companies and the public. The PR process used to be surprisingly one-dimensional, but the future of PR is now a conglomeration, mainly focused on leveraging new innovations to communicate with the public. In the era of instant Twitter and Instagram feedback, companies now have customer service representatives fielding questions in real time via social media.

As the future of PR continues to transform, the line between marketing, customer service and PR will become more and more blurred. People’s trust in companies has diminished rapidly over the past decade. In the next five years, there will be a public call for companies to become more transparent – which may lead to 24/7 live video recordings of manufacturing facilities, daily updates from the CEO or even virtual tours of different offices around the world – all communicated directly through social media.

3.  Niche-Influencers: Public relations is no longer simply about traditional media. Social communication makes it possible for the average person to create their own platform and cultivate their audience in a way that has never been possible before. The future of PR leverages the macro-influencers (those with fewer than 100,000 followers) and micro-influencers (those with fewer than 10,000 followers). As the pendulum swings towards the small, expect these nimble influencers to continue to make a big impact in the PR world.

4.  Dizzying News Cycle: Social and digital media has shortened the life span of news, pushing often-frenzied journalists to turnaround stories in a short time. This has forced PR pros to keep up. Roughly 6,000 tweets are shared every second on Twitter. While this makes social media a highly effective tool for communicating breaking news coverage, it also means the lifespan of a story is so much shorter than it used to be. Journalists are constantly searching for “the next big thing” and PR pros need to keep up with their turnaround time. In today’s turbulent news cycle, journalists and the public turn to Twitter to get the latest news, making the competition to get attention from media even harder. PR professionals will spend less time blanketing news to a wide net of journalists and will instead focus on very targeted media outreach and relationship building. Journalists are often pressed for time in this continuous news cycle, forcing them to prioritize, capture essential stories first and, perhaps, neglect other leads that have some appeal. To ensure this does not happen, be sure to get to the point in pitches and provide the information as quickly as possible, as a reporter would in his or her lead.

5.  Access to Journalists: Social media helps public relations professionals get an inside scoop on reporters. By following a journalist on social networking sites, PR pros can gain insight into a reporter’s tone of voice, opinions on relevant topics and recent work. Now, this doesn’t mean you should drop all other responsibilities and spend 40-plus hours a week sifting through Twitter. Instead, use tools like Cision to find journalists that meet your criteria and get instantly connected with their recent web content and profiles. In addition to social media being a great resource for finding reporters, it will continue to morph into a platform to connect and pitch journalists. While some media still prefer to be pitched by email, Twitter and LinkedIn are both emerging as platforms where journalists are open to receiving relevant pitches.

Social media is constantly changing so PR professionals must stay atop its many trends and innovations. Social media shows no signs of slowing down and it’s up to PR professionals to adapt their strategies or get left behind.


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About Christina Forrest

Christina Forrest is an award-winning communications professional, crafting forward-thinking media campaigns and social strategies for clients at Violet PR, a boutique PR firm based in Montclair, New Jersey. Christina has been named a ‘Top 40 Under 40 PR Professional’ by the NJ Ad Club and has led 10 award-winning campaigns recognized by Bulldog Awards, PRSA NJ and PRNews. Christina works to mentor young women and aims to develop future female leaders in the PR profession.