The impact that social media has had on modern society is undeniable. Over the past few years, social media has rapidly transformed the way we interact with our friends and family, how we work, and even played a prominent role in the revolutionary uprisings during the Arab Spring. One of the key impacts of the rise of social media has also been how it has completely transformed the way businesses operate and interact with the public, and one would be hard pressed to find a company, regardless of how large or small, that does not have a presence on social media in 2015.
Another influence of social media is that is has blurred the lines that previously existed between PR and marketing. Public relations used to simply be about securing third party endorsements of your company or products, whereas marketing is thought of as focusing upon directly communicating with consumers. Social media, however, merges both these activities; allowing you to communicate directly with consumers, making it a two way avenue for direct marketing, but also being an opportunity for companies cultivate a brand identity, develop relationships with key influencers and try to create public awareness of their brand and it offers, activities which come under the traditional ambit of PR activities. These unique aspects of social media means many companies are left with a dilemma as to whether to best use their social media channels as an avenue for traditional direct marketing, or whether to utilise them as an extension of their public relations activities.
On the one hand, direct marketing through social media is a necessity; Facebook, Youtube and Twitter all rank in the top ten most visited websites in the world, with recent figures suggesting that Americans spend more time on social networks than any other internet activity, it would be nonsensical for marketers and advertisers to neglect these channels when it comes to traditional marketing.
While we may be biased, social media is perhaps best and most effectively utilised as an extension of a company’s public relations activities. Social media can allow public relations firms and departments to communicate with the public at a more personal level and on a more frequent basis, providing companies with another avenue through which to cultivate their brand. Perhaps the main reason why using social media as a PR tool is so much more effective than using it as a means of direct marketing is because using social media relations is more in tune with how consumers like to use social media. While social media certainly can be a venue to leverage sales, the average user does not go onto their favourite social media site with the intention of spending money. Instead brands are encouraged to boost their levels of engagement on social media by providing consumers with content that can inspire, entertain or inform, making social media a realm that is best suited towards the toolbox that public relations professionals possess.
This is not to say that the activities of traditional public relations and communications will be seamlessly transferable into the digital age. The immediacy at which information can be communicated and the ability for reciprocal conversations with users, are both unique to social media and present PR professionals with new challenges and opportunities as to how best to utilise social media as a communications tool, a challenge that we at Curzon PR have relished taking on and will continue to do so in the future.