Many professionals find those statistics frightening for two reasons. As social media consumes more and more of a public relations professional's day, the more those pros feel as superficial as their task work. And as more public relations professionals include social media as part of their primary practice because they must, more of them break away from the tenets of public relations in favor of measures that are much more akin to tactical marketing. Some, arguably, have become marketers.
While there is nothing wrong with that per se, the emphasis on tactical work has consequences. I've warned about several such problems many times before. But more than that, the way social media is being practiced tends to take public relations practitioners further way from strategic thinking, which was the quality that provided the profession real substance.
How can public relations channel strategic communication again?
1. Refocus On Relations. With all the pressure to increase impressions or go viral via social media, it's all too easy to forget the real stakeholders. By crafting communication with particular publics, special interests, or industry influences in mind, you can make deeper, longer lasting impressions.
Sometimes the best content isn't designed to generate leads as much as to deliver value to niches that have already expressed an interest in your products and services. If they appreciate it, there's a good chance they'll share their experience or your story— referring qualified leads to you anyway.
2. Stop Dialing Up Content. Sure, automation has its place across public relations and social media, but absenteeism can cannibalize your budget while eroding brand equity. Status quo, especially with an increased frequency or to mass media over niche, will eventually kill the communication program.
Stop setting a news release quota and select only the choicest news over the wire services and then repurpose the release for direct-to-public content with a twist for whatever audience has been assembled there. The same can be said for content marketing. Strive to elevate over educate.
3. News Wants Multimedia. Given the outpouring of studies that support the growing impact of visual communication, news releases need to do more than deliver words. Photos, videos, audio files, interactive graphics, graphs and illustrations are all worthwhile accompaniments for any release.
You don't have to include them all in your pitch or press release: A well-organized landing page or digital press kit makes everything easier, especially when it includes vertical photos for mobile. And what if the story you're selling doesn't merit multimedia? Then maybe it doesn't merit being shared.
4. Inspiration Beats Interruption. While people still consider the Oreo cookie blackout advertisement a classic case study, the novelty of news jacking and link bait is wearing thin. Simply put, the frequency of interruption — and distraction — has outpaced its real-time marketing merit.
Yes, there is still room to be timely on a topic. Successful advertising, marketing, and public relations campaigns have always been tapped into the current culture and current affairs. But with consumers growing wearisome of messages that follow them around (privacy pushback) and interrupt conversations in an attempt to change the subject (ad blocking pushback), it's time to think long term. Ensure those real-time marketing opportunities lend something to the conversation.
5. Be First For A Change. Years ago, I used to tell public relations students to not only know public relations inside and out, but also the industry or industries in which they work in as well. Doing so meets one of the criteria related to traditional public relations, which is to research trends within the industry and marketplace and determine what impact they may have on the organization and its publics.
Nowadays, I tell students that technology needs to be included in the research mix too because we're only a few years out from another disruption in communication. So instead of being reactive to things like social networks and search engines, public relations professions need to be proactive in determining how to apply cutting edge technology to their communication mix with an expressed intent to strengthen the relationships between their organization and those publics it needs to survive.
And if it doesn't? Then the bulk of the profession will eventually be absorbed by integrated marketing communication, with a handful of practitioners remaining to denote some specialty skills such as media relations, crisis communication, and public or government affairs. Who knows? Maybe that won't be such a bad thing. Or will it? I'll leave that one for you to decide.