How Digital Disrupts Public Relations

Digital has disrupted shopping, banking, newspapers, work and public relations. That disruption has created or amplified challenges facing PR professionals – from ethics to the liberation of self-publishing your own content.

Digital has disrupted shopping, banking, newspapers, work and public relations. That disruption has created or amplified challenges facing PR professionals – from ethics to the liberation of self-publishing your own content.

The digital age has disrupted newspapers, the workplace and shopping patterns. It also has disrupted the world of marketing and public relations.

Influential PR blogger Michelle Garrett identifies four significant ways digital media has changed the way PR works:

  • Crisis response now must be almost instantaneous and continuous.
  • Keeping something secret is even more impossible.
  • Free-flowing media creates new, challenging ethical dilemmas.
  • Self-publishing content is easy and cheap, but it isn’t always in sync with strategy.

In a piece published by Meltwater, Garrett says, “Everyone is online 24/7, creating a completely different environment for those of us who communicate for a living. While the Internet has made many facets of our jobs so much easier – like getting out press releases – it also has created an entirely new set of challenges.”

Crisis Communications

None is more obvious than crisis communications. With ubiquitous smartphones, an accident or incident can be online seconds after it occurs, with the news media and affected neighbors or customers close behind. There is virtually no time for a considered crisis response. The pressure is on to respond immediately and substantively.

The immediacy of crisis awareness demands more thorough-going crisis preparation. Organizations need to anticipate the most likely crisis scenarios they could face and identify in advance who would be the crisis team leader, the designated spokesperson and the go-to team for solid facts an information. Without hours or days to assemble a response, organizations need to have relevant background material ready to post or share with the news media, an active Twitter account to respond in real-time and a spokesperson who has undergone media training and knows how to deliver a crisp, clear key message.

A crisis has always posed a threat to a brand or a reputation. In the digital age, more scrutiny is given to the competency and timeliness of the crisis response. People may forgive what caused the crisis, but not forget how well you handled it.

Keeping Secrets

The walls have always had ears, but now they also have eyes. Trying to keep something significant or juicy private is increasingly harder, if not impossible. This has led companies such as Apple to “leak" their own secrets, sometimes using their own employees as the leakers.

If you want to avoid being scooped on your own news, find a way to scoop yourself.

Ethical Dilemmas

Avoiding obvious conflicts of interest or relationship conflicts have been part of PR since its founding. But now new dilemmas loom in what some call the “post-fact era.”

What responsibility do PR professionals have in making sure the press releases, op-eds, fact sheets and advertisements contain truthful statements and accurate claims? Are they, in fact, the guardians at the gate for the truth, even if that means refusing to take n a client or resigning from an account? If many if not most PR professionals perform ethically, what is there obligation to police their ranks and weed out those who don’t adhere to ethical behavior?

This involves a lot more than storming out a conference room door after losing a fight over how to message an issue or brand a product. It may involve pushing clients toward authenticity as the brand loyalty builder and ultimate customer relationship management scheme, convincing business executives that telling the truth has benefits.

Rushing to Self-Publish

Online channels such as websites, email, blogs, Ebook and social media sites offer built-in access to customers, clients, stakeholders and followers. You can bypass traditional media and send your information without a filter to an intended audience.

There is lots of content flooding online channels. The question is whether the floods are reaching the most fertile fields to generate clicks that lead to sales. The underlying question is whether the content is connected to the marketing strategy.

Not only does content need to be relevant to a viewer, it also needs to resonate. That can require punchy copy, a compelling story, informative graphics and engrossing photography. Nothing completely new in PR, but the tone and clarity need to match the milieu of today’s digital media.

As Garrett writes, you can post pictures from a Marvel comic book and earn clicks. But will it earn you a follower, brand loyalty or a sale? PR needs to evolve. You need to evolve to survive.