Social Media & Media Relations – More Aligned Than We Thought

fascinating study recently released by communications industry consultancy StevensGouldPincus sheds light on the power social media now imparts upon the public relations and communications professions. Released under the headline “Social Media Will Overtake Traditional Media as PR Tool in Next Two Years,” the study clearly demonstrates how social media is no longer viewed as merely a one-off component for successful campaigns, but is increasingly taking the place of traditional PR tools and tactics.

Boy in business attire by printer

While intriguing to read and think about, I found one central point of the study somewhat counterintuitive to what is often said by experts: According to the study, media relations is the dominant function used within social media by communications practitioners, averaging 36 percent of use per professional.

That’s followed by product marketing (25%), issues advocacy (20%), special events (16%), grassroots advocacy (16%), political campaigning (16%) and crisis communications (13%).

I’m not sure if this is a good sign or is more telling that perhaps communicators and PR professionals are still not quite on board with the general consensus of experts and social media consultants regarding how we should be utilizing social media (e.g. audience/influencer engagement, brand and sentiment analysis, etc.).

Or perhaps it’s merely a sign that the profession is doing a better job of blending traditional practices with social and digital tactics. A recent post by Andy Beaupre backs this up, noting how social media has actually enhanced the value of public relations, rather than kill off the profession:

Strategically practiced, PR takes on a wide-ranging role, focused on earning a trusted reputation by acting in the best interests of these publics – not the organization’s own myopic agenda.

Social media is the latest expression of relationship building (a two-way model that’s far more inclusive and participative); other exciting new iterations will follow. . . . We’re the industry in the best position to “put the public back in public relations” and keep it there by never staying put.

Another encouraging nugget from the study was the finding that a primary concern among PR agencies and executives is tracking and measuring results and quantifying value. For a profession that has long struggled to create accepted industry-wide standards for measurement, this is a welcoming sign.

According to Don Bates, an author of the report, the “use of social media has become critical enough that both firms and clients want to know what they’re getting for their money; what’s moving the needle and what isn’t. If firms aren’t measuring now, they will be in the next couple of years.”

Implications from this study are profound, including validation for practitioners and agencies for the continued use and advancement of sophisticated social media strategies and tactics to drive clients’ business objectives.

This can only serve to enhance the value of public relations and social media, and is a welcome sign as communicators continue their evolution within the digital and social media landscape.

Keith Trivitt is associate director of public relations for the Public Relations Society of America(PRSA). He is also a co-founder of the PR industry blog, where he writes about issues and trends affecting the communications and marketing industries. Contact him on Twitter @KeithTrivitt

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