What has 2011 taught PR?

I have come across lots of predictions for what 2011 would hold for Public Relations, but nothing on what the events of the year have taught the industry. The events of last year really have shaped the way a lot of businesses now conduct themselves and the PR industry can also learn from the happenings of the last 12 months.

Social Media has shown itself to be an incredibly valuable tool. In 2011 social media sites were responsible for the fall of celebrities (Charlie Sheen, Ryan Giggs etc etc), breaking the news on the death of Osama Bin laden and fueling riots across London and the rest of the UK. Of course everybody within the Public Relations industry knew how important Social Media was before all of this happened…right? Jokes as side, 2011 really has proved just how important a tool Social Media is, and if every PR agency and in house team aren’t putting together a Social Media strategy for 2012 then I would seriously question their PR ability.

Trust in the British Newspapers after the phone hacking scandal broke in early 2011 has undoubtedly dropped. When it was reported that the News of the World had hacked into the mobile phone of Milly Dowler, the public was outraged, and rightly so. An already struggling industry really shot itself in the foot and on the 10th July The News of the World published it’s last issue and in September the Leveson Inquiry was launched, looking into the practices of the British press. Newspapers are still an excellent tool for PR, but the industry now needs to readdress how they use this tool in light of the events of 2011 and the findings of the Leveson Inquiry. Theses events have also shown that the biggest empires in the world are not safe, in 2011 the Murdoch family became testament to that.

Mobile technology as with Social Media have been a huge trend for 2011. When RIM went down in October every BlackBerry users in Europe, Middle East and Africa (another lesson for RIM don’t use jargon when speaking to your public!) were left stranded when their emails and BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) stopped working. BBM was also blamed as one of the ways the London Rioters organised themselves during the riots. This shows the dependency that we now have on mobile devices. Public Relations need to make use of this dependency, mobile technology allows you to communicate instantly, constantly and directly to your audience.

These are only three points from 2011 that I think the Public Relations Industry can learn from, I’m sure that there are lots of other lessons learnt from the last 12 months. 2012 is a mixed bag in my opinion, the biggest high is sure to be the Olympics however with the growing discontent of the country (2011 saw various protest, strikes and riots) and the worsening economy the Great British public are going to hard nuts to crack. Public Relations really need to cut the crap and communicate honestly to their audiences, people can see through the smokescreens. I think Social Media is going to continue to grow in importance for the industry, hopefully it will learn to use the tool and monitor it effectively this year. Clients are going to want to know what they are paying for, so PRs need to be able to prove they are value for money.

Platforms and channels, not just a type of shoe or a place to watch TV…

With all this talk of social media and the digital age it’s important to understand the jargon. So those of you that thought Platforms were a type of shoe from the 70’s making a come back or where you stand to get your train from, I’m afraid to say that’s not what they’re talking about!

Although not a shoe, Platforms are something tangible unlike their channel counterparts (which just for reference aren’t where you watch your favourite television programs). By reading this now you’re in fact using both a Platform, you’re computer or internet enabled device and a Channel, this very WordPress site. The internet itself has revolutionised all industries, including Public Relations but now that it is so easily accessible and has a huge variety of websites and social media networks it has just got even harder to control.

There are 5 core elements that are said to ‘drive’ online PR and the advent of powerful Platforms like the iPhone and Channels like Twitter add to the importance of these 5 elements:

Transparency – as I’ve mentioned before Transparency has become essential for organisations, especially in the digital age. Nowadays anybody could take a photo on their phone and have it uploaded onto Twitter ‘outing’ a company’s bad behaviour or unethical practices before they could bat an eyelid. Now more than ever it is important for organisations to be honest with their public before something is leaked and sensationalised creating a worse situation for the organisation that if they were up front from the start.

Agency – this highlights the use of user generated content. The public are no longer just consumers they are also producers of their own media. Channels like Wikipedia have set the trend for sites that allow it’s users to contribute to the content that it provides. This is great for consumers as they can voice their opinion of an organisations for all to read, however this presents some obvious obstacles for organisations as they have no control over what is said about them, another reason for them to practice Transparency.

Porosity – much like transparency and agency, porosity is the leaking of information but usually in this case unintentionally. Now that organisations rely heavily on digital communication channels such as email, Intranet, SMS and social media, it is inevitable that confidential information can find it’s way to the wider public. This can often be bad for obvious reason, but sometimes hearing the real voices of the organisation (especially when the information is not scandalous) can be a good thing for a company’s reputation.

Richness & Reach – richness is the amount of content that the internet can hold and reach is how many people can view this information. For organisations that means that everything about them can be available for all of the world to see. With Platforms like internet enabled mobile phones that means that the public can access this information from anywhere at anytime. As with the other 3 points this has it’s positives and negatives and just confirms the benefits of Transparency.

So every time we use our iPhone (other internet enabled devices are available!) we are exercising the use of an important Platform (the device not the shoe) and when we then use our iPhone to Tweet what we’ve just had for breakfast, we have demonstrated how quick and easy it is to use the Channels that our Platforms enable. Most important to remember as somebody in the Public Relations industry is the 5 drivers of online PR. These serve as essential reminders of the opportunities that the internet and it’s Channels can provide as well as the potential damage that it can cause an organisation. The obvious answer to avoiding the negatives from these 5 drivers is to really take head of the first point and practice Transparency wherever possible.