Melvin Yuan on 14 Dec 2006 09:10 am
PR 2.0: The New Dynamics of Public Relations in a 2.0 World
The world is clearly turning ‘2.0’. In 1998, the magazine Business 2.0 was founded to chronicle emerging business trends. Six years later, the term ‘Web 2.0’ was coined to define the new, evolved Internet. And since then, everything else seems to be on its way to a 2.0 upgrade. Media 2.0, Digital 2.0, Education 2.0 and Healthcare 2.0 are just some of the terms that have emerged to herald contemporary eras in the multiple facets of the new economy.
PR 2.0 – the practice of Public Relations in a dynamic 2.0 world – comes as a natural and logical progression to bridge the newly-created chasm between 2.0 business objectives and traditional PR methods.
Today, we have a very tactical approach to ‘Online PR’. It is far too often associated with Blogs and Podcasts, and comprises of far too many random insights and isolated tactics. It is far too often an after-thought or a mere complement to traditional PR campaigns. But PR 2.0 must be more than just that. We need to consistently adopt a disciplined and strategic approach to online PR; and we must start by developing a clear understanding of the new environment of influence – the Web 2.0 world. We must look beyond the buzzwords of the new ‘Internet-powered’ economy and understand the tremendous change that is taking place.
The new environment of influence
Key trends that define the new media landscape
Most significantly to businesses and PR professionals, social media is forging a new media landscape that is fundamentally different from the past. It is today intrinsically and vastly more social and collaborative than it was just three years ago. Audiences don’t just read, watch and listen. They participate. They create. They too, become the Media.
As a result of this, news no longer flows untouched from the source to the receiver. Instead, it is read by others, commented upon, linked to, reproduced, ‘mashed up’ with other content and kept ‘alive’ by online communities that constantly attempt to recreate news and make it more useful and relevant. Even traditional, non-interactive digital media such as newspapers now have an interactive digital component – a 2.0 dimension – to them. Audiences that rely solely on mainstream media are declining in numbers and, to some, if you don’t exist online, you don’t exist at all.
This breaking of the metaphorical hypodermic needle changes the very dynamics of mass influence, and presents a whole new set of challenges and opportunities to businesses and PR professionals who seek to remain effective and competitive in a 2.0 world.
Challenges and uncertainty
The changing dynamics of media influence
We can no longer shape public perception and build trust solely through traditional media channels. Citizenship journalism, unfettered by corporate agendas and dependence on advertising dollars, is fiercely competing with mainstream media institutions for audience and credibility. Unhindered by traditional publishing constraints, it is increasingly becoming a trusted source of timely, first-hand news.
The discerning consumer
Audiences today are far more discerning, demanding and vocal. Interconnected with online communities, individuals now know that the power to reward and punish a company no longer lies only with the traditional media. And just one vociferous individual can sway the sentiments of a whole community.
The massive onslaught of digital content overwhelms audiences with information and spoils them for choice, presenting another enormous challenge – to cut though the deluge of information and sustain interest in a world of rapidly-waning attention spans.
But, perhaps the greatest challenge would be to change the mindsets of clients and other key stakeholders who, because of personal resistance in adapting to the new media landscape or because of corporate guidelines, are chained to traditional and irrelevant PR methods.
New media. New rules. New skills.
Because of the fundamental change in the media landscape, PR professionals have to learn a whole new range of media skills. Bloggers do not follow the rules of traditional media; if anything, because there simply are no rules. News releases and phone calls don’t work in the same way in Blogosphere. Even traditional news media are abandoning old rules and practices, using tools like Blogs and Podcasts to constantly engage their readers.
Opportunities for the skilled
While the 2.0 universe is filled with much uncertainty, opportunities abound for the adept ‘PR 2.0 professional’.
The power of the community
The power of communities is perhaps the sharpest, doubled-edged weapon in PR 2.0. If you can engage online communities effectively, you will find passionate groups of people who would perpetuate your cause, and provide you with accurate and authentic feedback that will be crucial to what you are doing. But if you fail to do so, you’ll find that they can just as easily turn against you.
The publicity hyperspace
The highly-connected 2.0 world is a primed publicity hyperspace. With information flowing through interconnected communities at the speed of thought, all you need is a clever idea and a small budget to harness the power of new media (such as Blogs, Podcasts, video and photo-sharing sites) for extraordinary results.
Direct and personal
One of the most fundamental and often overlooked opportunities in PR 2.0 is the chance to communicate with the audiences in a very direct and personal way. Suddenly, we don’t necessarily have to communicate through mainstream media channels all the time. With the right tools, like an effectively-deployed company Blog or a community Wiki, we can now easily create trusted dialogue with our target audiences.
Thriving in a 2.0 world
Principles of public relations and influence have not changed – but the environment to do so, the channels to work through, and the way audiences react have dramatically changed. We need to change the way we think about media. Because of the speed of information-flow and the ‘wisdom of the crowds’, we must no longer think of the Media as purely ‘channels of communication’ to be ‘used’, but rather, an ‘environment’, or ‘collective communities’ in which we live and engage with the rest of the world.
We need to change the form of our written communications. Press kits need to give way to digital press rooms, hard-to-navigate online media centres will have to give way to easily searchable and interactive repositories of information like Wikis. RSS, not e-mail. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) needs to be second nature to us. Press releases will have to be written differently (Shift Communications’ ‘Social Media Press Release’ is an excellent example of a PR 2.0 media release). We need to know how to use tools like Technorati to navigate the Blogosphere. We need to understand how Digg affects public perception of our news.
We need to read the marketplace differently. Traditional ‘media channels’ may give a wrong or distorted impression of true market sentiments.
PR 2.0 also makes collaboration and shared knowledge even more crucial – the 2.0 world is too vast and complex for any one person to understand and keep up with alone. And because we learn better as a group – with different interests and worldviews – than as an individual, we need to be part of a social unit to understand this new world.
We are crossing the threshold of a huge revolution, and, to be ‘future-proof’ PR professionals, we must gain clarity and acquire the right skills to remain effective in the 2.0 universe. It is not enough to simply keep up with change in the new media environment, but we must constantly engage, influence and help to construct it.