All for one and one for all?

Platforms and channels can be a great tools for promotion, but can all of these tools reach your public? The simple answer is no.

Although generational gaps are closer than ever before, with the dawn of social media and emphasis on online presence dominating media channels, it would be naive to say that Grandma Mavis and little Tommy are reached by the same channels. Clay Shirky would argue that there is no such things as Generation X (the Post WW2 generation not the Billy Idol band!) and it is only new opportunities that have created these gaps, and I would tend to agree. With any new technology there are different stages of adoption, Rogers Bell Curve demonstrates the different stages of adoption from Early Adopters to Laggards and it still accurately identifies how people respond to new technology. In time though people catch up with new technology and they become valuable tools, take television for example. Before TV’s became common place in people’s living rooms, radio’s were the main source of information and entertainment. Slowly but surely televisions caught on and now, 97% of households in the UK have a television (TV Licensing).

You may be thinking, what does this have to do with PR? Well in order to reach your audience effectively you need to know what channels and platforms they are using. Creating a Facebook group to promote your local women’s Institute isn’t going to be as effective as creating a Facebook group to launch a new Night Club in town. Now I’m not saying that nobody over the age of 40 uses Facebook in fact the largest users of Facebook are 40-45 year olds, I’m saying that organisations need to look a platforms and channels and judge whether it is an effective tool for their public.

I mentioned in an earlier post that organisations need to understand the channels (e.g. Facebook) before they start using them. Facebook can be a powerful tool, but only if it is used in the right way. This is true of all types of media old and new, before an organisation goes bull at a gate trying to adopt every new channel invented, they need to take the time to analyse the tool and evaluate whether it is the right channel to use to reach their public. Getting it wrong can be hugely detrimental to a company, in 2009 HabitatUK used it’s Twitter account to promote a promotion they were running. Nothing wrong with this, but in order to promote it they #hashtagged trending topics that bore no relevance to the company and effectively spammed the site. This went down very badly with Twitter users and the company was forced to apologise but this faux par black listed the company’s social media standing.

There are hundreds of different forms of media platforms and channels today and there really is a tool that can be used to reach every type of public. Traditional forms of media including newspapers, radio and television are still valuable, especially when reaching an older audience. Equally online media like Wiki’s, blogs and websites are great to reach middle aged publics and social media like Facebook is great for younger audiences (17-35 year olds). Of course these are sweeping generalisations and more in depth research is easily found especially for online tools (Ignite Media has some particular thorough research).

What PR agencies and CEO’s need to take from this is that just because there’s a new media channel it doesn’t mean that you should adopt it. You need to ensure that it is the right tool to target your audience and if it isn’t going to be beneficial then don’t use it. If you were launching a new night club you wouldn’t place an advert in Saga Magazine (unless it’s a night club for the over 60’s!) and it’s no different with any other media channel if it’s not going to reach your public it’s not worth investing in. It is easy in this digital age to forget traditional media like newspaper and radio but this could be a huge mistake. Essentially an organisation needs to understand it’s customers and what types of media they use, once they have this basic understanding then they can look into the most effective media channels to adopt in order to reach them.

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.