Up until today, Public Relations has largely been viewed as a way of sharing an organization’s news with their public in order to build a positive image. To communicate the organization’s view through channels other than advertising. To build credibility. Sadly, this also means that the “relations” component in “Public Relations” is basically one-way: from the organization to the public. In many cases this has reduced PR to a tool in the Marketing toolbox. But now organizations are forced to evaluate Public Relations in a different light due to the evolution of online communication.
In the course of history, technological advances have often had a profound effect on human communication. Newspapers, the radio, telephone, television: all are examples of how communication has changed through technological progress. However, the greatest changes are often brought about when individuals start applying technology in new ways. Currently, we are experiencing exactly such a communication (r)evolution. The World Wide Web was originally designed as an information-sharing structure: static web pages connected through hyperlinks. But in recent years this has changed radically.
First websites became more dynamic – weblogs being the best example: blogs produce dynamic sites, a means to share information on a changing basis . Now, everybody with internet access has a (possibly global) publishing platform. Then the sites became more interactive, for example through comments one can leave at a blog thus enabling discussions, conversations. The rise of social sites (such as Facebook, MySpace and the like), created communities online where people shared their interests, and more importantly: their views and opinions. Real-time global conversations are now very common.
The internet has now become a global interaction platform with huge consequences for all organizations. This is because – internet or not – if someone is interested in something (product, service or anything else), this person starts looking for information. And decisions are primarily based on the opinions of people they trust. Because of the way the internet is currently used, these “trusted sources” can be, and often are, from anywhere in the world. And they can be basically everyone. No longer is an organization itself the sole or even primary source of information about their own product, service or philosophy.
Organizations will have to change their communication whether they want to or not. This change is simply too large to ignore. With virtually every individual having access to a global publishing and discussion platform, the published opinions of every person have a potential global impact. And possibly a very large impact at that. There are already many examples available, with people complaining or singing praise of an organization online.
Organizations need to reassess every communication they have with everybody, one-to-one or one-to-many. And even within the organization itself. A single customer service call can turn into a Public Relations success-story or nightmare. Everyone, everywhere in the organization needs to be aware of this, but general management in particular. In this light, the name “Public Relations” says it all: the relations (every single one of them) with the public (every single individual). True Public Relations now goes far beyond mere marketing.
Public Relations online is not about ‘including online channels to send a press release to’. In fact, PR shouldn’t be about press releases in the first place. Public Relations in a strategic sense needs to be concerned with every aspect of building relations with the public and monitoring the interactions of the public among itself regarding your organization. Today, Public Relations needs to be concerned with monitoring and listening as much as with ‘sending’. Public Relations is now a valuable management discipline instead of a marketing tool. The current development of the internet has made Public Relations into a vital communication strategy, but only if PR people and management understand its changing role and adapt their strategies accordingly.