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.

The Importance of Being Transparent

Despite the ever growing popularity of social media and user generated content organisations still insist on holding back the truth from the public!

For a long time it seemed that organisations didn’t always believe that honesty was the best policy. Companies would frequently bend the truth’ or completely withhold information from the public in order to ‘save face’. Before platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, this could be easily managed however now that user generated content and social networking sites are becoming some of our main sources of information, organisations need to realise that transparency really is key.

Just within the last couple of months there have been incidents that highlight that information can no longer be with held from the public. The case of the super injunctions where public figures obtain court orders to stop scandalous stories being sold to the press about them. Ryan Giggs’ injunction became the country’s worst kept secret after it was leaked on Twitter about his long term affair. Most recently Blackberry’s horrendous handling of their system failure, where RIM declined to acknowledge the severity of the situation to their customers, caused many people to loose faith in the brand. Had Blackberry been upfront and honest from the start they could have come out of the situation a lot better off.  Social media played a big part in both of these cases whether it be in leaking the information directly or as a platform for consumers to relay their negative feedback on an organisation.

It used to be that you just had to worry about journalists digging through your dustbins but now we are in the age of social media, everyone can be a whistle blower. A company’s reputation and brand value can be hit a lot harder if a scandal is leaked through Twitter instead of the CEO coming forward and addressing the public directly. The internet really has made it integral for companies to to be up front with their consumers, it now costs organisations more with holding information than it does just being honest from the start.