Public Relations: How It Works In A Social World

This week, let’s take a moment to look at PR / Public Relations for a moment. PR has long been a primary way by which companies of all sizes influence public opinion, build brand awareness and familiarity, and create general goodwill toward a brand.

With the latest social media tools and networking capabilities, there has been a great deal of debate about how PR is changing. Some speculate that the discipline is due to become obsolete, others advocate a revamped approach, and still others merely see today’s PR environment as a small offshoot of how we have always done it.

Is PR on the brink of extinction?

Let’s start with the notion that public relations is rapidly working its way toward obsolescence. First, let’s set some parameters. One of the best definitions I’ve seen for the term appears on as follows:

Relations with the general public as through publicity; specif., those functions of a corporation, organization, etc. concerned with attempting to create favorable public opinion for itself.

If we look at PR holistically in this way, then social media or social networking is only another medium by which to reach out to constituents. It just allows us to reach more people individually, and in real-time.

Based on this definition, extinction is nowhere near the truth.

Is PR simply undergoing a small evolution?

It would be easy to brush aside the impact of social-based communications media as merely a knit in the grand scheme of public relations, but is that the right way to look at it?

One this is clear; the days of writing press releases and email spamming them out to massive lists of reporters and journalists are behind us. The funny part is that this is less a result of new social tools, and more of a motivating factor from journalists to take back control of their In-Boxes.

So the real question is how big of an evolution this represents. Because reporters and journalists themselves are looking for other ways to communicate and research information, calling it a small evolution is also a bit short-sighted.

It’s Time To Look at Public Relations Differently

Let’s just get the extremes out of the way altogether and accept the fact that PR is still PR, only it takes on a rather different look in the digital age. Here are areas where it has changed the most.


Outreach is the area that is most affected by the digital age. The old way was to “dial for dollars” until you could get a journalist on the phone, and then hope you said something intriguing enough for them to care. Then spam out press releases when they go live and hope for a bite, and start dialing again to see if you can talk someone into picking it up. Heck, this sounds a lot like a business development job, only one that doesn’t pay nearly as well!

Today the whole thing changes. You can meet and build rapport with press and/or analysts immediately. With the right approach, you can maximize exposure while minimizing negative reactions, assuming you have tact, of course. All-in-all, your efforts to connect with those influencers who can help you the most take on an unprecedented amplification in this day and age.

Content Format

Hand-in-hand with new abilities to reach more influencers much more easily, you now have a much richer array of media by which to communicate your message.  Today, you can write a traditional press release, follow it up by a series of micro-releases via PitchEngine or another social PR site, add an audio podcast for those who don’t have time to read but might listen, and even do a complementary short video to help hammer the point home.

The most savvy of PR professionals are all over this. The whole concept of a viral video is exactly in line with this. We keep talking about how Old Spice did such an amazing social media campaign earlier in the summer, but is that what it really was? No! It was a well-constructed and targeted public relations campaign delivered via social media!

Direct Reach to End Customers

This is the area that can be the most powerful, but also the most scary to many of us. This presents a great opportunity, and a new challenge.

First, by reaching end customers directly, we remove the media filter that content might go through when written up for a traditional or online media outlet. You control the message, its delivery, and how you respond to feedback and comments in response. Sure, you have to find creative ways to get in front of those customers, but it’s a revelation that you don’t have to depend on someone else’s opinion of what is important anymore. We should all be rejoicing in the streets at this opportunity!

On the other hand, with opportunity comes increased risk of tripping over your own two feet. What you say, how you say it, and how you react to criticism and/or kudos goes a long way in establishing who you and your company are. If you’re even dabbling in social media, you probably realize that the conversation is happening with or without you, so you know you need to jump in to help influence the sentiment about your business. This is where transparency, honesty, and trust become paramount. At the first sign of shady dealings, the general public will rapidly and happily kick you in the shin.


Don’t listen to anyone who claims PR is obsolete or the “same old same old” in this amazing digital age we are enjoying. This is a rather significant shift, yet one that can provide more value back than ever before. Just be careful how you manage it, be up front and honest, and be sure what you have to say is relevant and interesting. From there, let the public influence each other, and be consistent enough to show that you truly are who you say you are.

What is your experience with PR and social media? Have you been using it in these ways, or are you still trying to figure out how to play in this new environment? Any tips to share that I missed?

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As Founder and President of Return On Now, Tommy Landry provides the vision behind our SEO and SEM methodologies. With over 25 years of business experience and a deep understanding of modern internet marketing techniques, he spends his time providing hands-on consulting, insightful content, and engaging public speaking appearances to Online Marketers of all skill levels.
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