Evolution of public relations relationships

No longer are the days that public relations primarily focuses on building relationships with traditional media. As the communications landscape continues to rapidly evolve, public relations practitioners are expected to build relationships directly with an organization’s audiences through digital media channels such as blogs, social media and newsletters. In addition, there is an increased level of competition to get your messages to the correct audiences. Not only are your competitors competing for consumer attention, but consumers are also communicating with each other about brands and products.

As public relations professionals, we need to consider a few best practices to better align with the future of communications and be successful despite the noise of myriad voices.

Transparency and Honesty

Being transparent is key when communicating with your consumers in order to build trust. Geoff Beattie, a global practice leader of corporate affairs at Cohn & Wolfe in London, wrote a great article for Fast Company on how honest communication is the number one thing that consumers want from brands. As he explains, although the recession is mostly past, consumers seem to have become increasingly cynical about the authenticity and behavior of businesses. In fact, Cohn & Wolfe’s study of 12,000 people from around the world discovered that only 3% of those in the United States, Great Britain, Italy, Sweden, Spain, and France believe that big businesses are very honest and transparent.

Further, with the rise of the Internet, consumers can not only “shop around” to gain a better understanding of a product’s features and pricing in comparison to those of competitors, but also the brand’s reputation. Negative word of mouth can spread like wildfire so it’s best to be upfront and deliver honest messages that resonate with your audience.

Awareness and Engagement

On a similar note, you need to be aware of the conversations surrounding your brand – both positive and negative. It is important to monitor these conversations so that you can ensure you are delivering the right messages and communicating with your customers in a timely and effective manner. From online forums to social media pages, your brand can be mentioned in various different places, whether good or bad. In order to build trust with your audiences, you should not only keep track of these conversations, but also engage with the individuals as appropriate. A reporter on Seek Social Media asks her readers, would you ignore or talk back to a customer if they called you on the phone or walked into your office? I hope not! It’s important to practice great customer service both on- and off-line, offering solutions where you can. Remember, when conversing with customers online about complaints, each visitor of the page is also seeing these remarks. Depending on the issue, it’s often best to respond with an apology and take the rest of the conversation offline by reaching out directly to the consumer to take care of their concerns.

Evaluate and Adapt

Digital media provides a great way for brands to communicate directly with their audiences, but the messages may not always resonate with customers. Utilize online feedback and analytics tools to analyze your messages and communications efforts. Whether certain Facebook posts garner more positive engagement than others or one blog posts gets more traffic than another, you have a wealth of data right in front of you. Use this data to be more strategic about your communications efforts and adapt to what your customers are seeking. With most traditional media, it is much harder to gauge such specific reactions to your message. For example, if you are quoted in a newspaper, you will never know exactly how many people read it and enjoyed it. However, if you post a link to your latest blog post on your Facebook page, you can see exactly how many people the post reached and how many “liked it.” Further, you can see which demographics are visiting the social media page more than others. Now this is not to discredit the power of an article in a newspaper as we do know earned media is a very powerful tool for brand awareness and credibility. This is to showcase how much valuable information is at your fingertips regarding your audience that you can then use when communicating through both digital and traditional outlets.

What we now know to be public relations began back in the early 20th century. Though the industry has significantly evolved since its origin, we should expect it to continue to change with the introduction of new technology, as well as the continuously changing relationships between organizations and their audiences.

Article by Jillian Kanter