The era of social media is an era of change and disruption. It has redefined the way individuals, businesses and governments establish, build and maintain relationships with their stakeholders. Even the creators of the technology never bargained for what they are getting today.
When Mark Zuckerberg and fellow roommate and student of Harvard University, Eduardo Saverin created Facebook, they were thinking only of connecting with fellow students of the University. Twitter was first set up as a more advanced way of texting and Linkedin as a recruitment resource. Today their global reach, influence and acceptance is phenomenal.
Statista’s Global Social Usage Report released in April 2016 reveals that Facebook is the most popular social network with 1.6 billion active users, and Facebook – owned WhatsApp with one billion.
Facebook Messenger has 900 million active users according to the report and Instagram,Twitter, Snapchat and Linkedin have 400 million, 320 million, 200 million and 100 million active users respectively.
Is this phenomenal growth across the globe enough to pronounce a death sentence on PR? Perhaps not. I think the fear stems from the fatal blow it has dealt on especially the print media in terms of circulation figures. It has also taken attention away from radio and television.
Traditional media presents many opportunities for PR professionals to do their work. With press releases, they tell their organizations stories. Media interviews afford the opportunity to address thorny issues, create awareness about what an organization is doing and raise the profiles of executives as experts in their field. Press conferences present an opportunity to break hard news and manage crisis. What’s more, PR people can have a measure of control on the messages they release. But in the age of social media, anyone can publish in text, graphics and video format to a global audience. Many wonder what PR people will be doing when everyone can do their work. They contend that what everyone is now doing through social media is what PR people do for their clients. And they conclude that social media is taking away the work of PR professionals, and this is killing PR.
That conclusion is hasty and faulty. Here are the reasons:
- PR is not all about publicity. It is about establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationship with stakeholders of an organization or an individual. Publicity is only an aspect of it. And social media is not the only way to garner publicity.
- PR uses an array of communication tools and channels to reach out to stakeholders of an individual or an organization. Social media is just one of the channels.
- The tools or channels of communication PR uses does not define it. It is rather defined by the quality of messages and the actions of the individuals or organizations issuing the messages. Messages and behaviours that reflect those universal values that hold humanity together such as integrity, truth and good neighbourliness are what drive PR. Channels and tools are only the means of delivering these principles. So, no tool or channel of communication can kill PR.
If Television and radio did not kill PR in their heydays; then, social media cannot. If anything, it has made its work easier as the communication technologies before it. Facebook, for instance, allows PR practitioners to engage with their audience in the form of post, images, videos, info graphics and links. Facebook Audience Insight is an excellent tool for PR planning. It helps you gain valuable insights into the locations, interests, age and gender of your target audience since Facebook typically leaves a data trail of its users..
Twitter is a great tool for making announcements. Many researchers have acknowledged it as an excellent crisis communication tool which helps to keep an audience updated on developments in a crisis. PR people can also use it to conduct research by keeping tabs on what competitors, media or influencers are tweeting about.
Instagram presents an opportunity for PR professionals to show what their organizations have to offer, and they can use it to create and raise awareness about issues and causes.
Let’s not forget blogging which gives PR people the opportunity to tell their clients’ stories without a third party determining what should be told or not. Interestingly, these stories can be told through text, videos or podcast, making stakeholder engagement even easier.
Social media is a blessing to PR. It has given it the wings to fly. PR practitioners only need to keep pace with its developments and integrate them into their work.
- Rarzack Olaegbe is the co-founder, and Director of Emaginations, a Lagos based Public Relations firm