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Public Relations: Digital Age is Setting In

Prof. Jaishri Jethwaney |

Internet and its access & reach across the world have been the most defining technological breakthroughs that the world has witnessed in the last few decades. In fact internet has changed the way we see and interpret our world. It has got us in touch with people we may never meet in life but who share our hopes, aspiration, ideology and miseries

Digital PR often referred as E-PR, Online PR or PR 2.0 is defined as the communication vide the internet and the use of new technology to effectively communicate with an organization’s varied stakeholders.

Internet and its access & reach across the world have been the most defining technological breakthroughs that the world has witnessed in the last few decades. In fact internet has changed the way we see and interpret our world. It has got us in touch with people we may never meet in life but who share our hopes, aspiration, ideology and miseries.

If anything has brought us closer to the age-old Indian philosophy and vision of Vasudhev Kutumbkam (The entire world is one family), it undoubtedly is the Internet. Time magazine in the year 2006 declared “You” as the person of the year; You, “Represented by the individual content creator on the World Wide Web”.

Target audience for Digital PR

While an organization has a set of target audience (TA) depending on what business it is in, in the context of digital media, it is more complex as many who may not be directly an organization’s TA may still have an opinion about it and express it. The emergence of on-line communities has brought about a paradigm shift in how one handles stakeholder relations management. An online community is a broad term for a network of people who interact or observe in a virtual environment.  Most online communities have a common goal, interest or purpose, but are not typically bound to geographical locations. Such netizens may not always write an original post, but may be drawn in an argument or response via a friendly circuit through a social media platform.

Public Relations as we know is the art of generating and maintaining goodwill for an organization / important individual. This often is achieved through influencing the influencer, who in PR lexicon often are the journalists. PR practitioners traditionally have interfaced and ‘mentored’ the beat reporters to achieve the desired objective. The Internet however has changed it all. More than half of the world population accesses the Net and about one billion pages are added each day on the Net from people with varied interests, aspirations, ideologies and mind sets. There are millions of ‘accidental influencers’ who enter the communication spiral through either their comments, observations or activism. PR professional   can ignore them only at the cost and risk to their client/company. Organizations that are listed on the stock market have to build relationship with financial journalists who by and large are located in the financial capital of the country, in the Indian context, Mumbai. Just being in touch with the beat reporter no more suffices. Then there are market analysts, whose word is a kind of command for investors. PR practitioners have to track their analysis of various financial products continuously and interface with them.

Managing reputation in the Net age is challenging if not impossible. What communicators need to understand is whatever appears on the Net is almost irrevocable as the footprints remain eternally. If the going is good, it works fine, but if there is some controversial material on the Net it remains, despite the fact that the concerned organization may have resolved the issue, as some case studies in the chapter will bear out.

Why use Digital PR?

PR 2.0 according to Deirdre Breckenridge was born through the analysis of how Web and multimedia were redefining PR and marketing communications, while also building the toolkit to reinvent how organizations communicate with influencers and directly with people. The purpose behind using the new media in PR, argues Breakenridge is to maximise favourable mentions of   the organization or brands or even web sites on third-party web sites which are likely to be visited by the target audience. Online PR  is able to extend reach and awareness of a brand within an audience and will also generate back links vital to Search engine Optimization (SEO). Digital PR can also be used to support viral or word-of-mouth marketing activities in other media.[i]

Analysts believe that digital PR benefits accrue to an organization when it joins in the Web, not at a spectator level, but when it opts for it to connect with its stakeholders both at business and personal levels. Through on-line PR, the organizations get a chance not only to work with traditional journalists, but also engage directly with a new set of accidental influencers. Web in fact is a great platform for an organization to talk with its customers directly through on-line forums, chat rooms social networking sites and answer their queries and misgivings about a brand, its pricing, quality or service aspects.

The emerging importance of social media

Social media an offshoot of the Internet, in effect is a consequence or expansion of the world wide web. Social media is anything that uses the internet to facilitate conversation between people. Social media encompasses applications like blogs, podcasts, wikis, RSS
(Really Simple Syndication) technology, streaming videos and vBlogs or interaction on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, Instagram, LinkedIn and a host of other sites. Social media,   feel experts is reintroducing sociology, anthropology, psychology and other sciences back into marketing. Viral marketing in fact is the synonym of ‘word of mouth’ of internet- i.e., people sharing information voluntarily.

Reaching out to media via the e-PR and social media route

Some companies both global and Indian have used ePR/CC befittingly for which they have received recognition also.
Let’s look at two areas of its applications:

  1. a) Media interface
    b) Investor outreach and Customer Relations Management

Media interface@ Net age

Legacy media like television, radio and press continue to be mainstream and there is no denying that Net continues to draw its ideas in no small measure from them. Journalists working in mainstream media often have their blogs and wish to be followed and interacted with by their readers and program consumers.

Highlights of Research jointly conducted by IIMC and MSL on the changing sources of news of journalists in India in 2012-13[ii].
Of the 309 journalists interviewed across the country , as many as 92% of the respondents have adopted the use of internet for reasons ranging from research to sourcing information and getting story ideas to validation. While a meager 4% use it to get story ideas, 11% consume it for validation and 64% journalists use it for research and information sourcing.Digging deeper, the research found   that 75% of science and technology journalists are using their online time for research and information sourcing, followed by business and corporate journalists at 69%.

The net has well and truly cast its web with 61% journalists confirming that the internet has become the biggest source of gathering information; while only 11% think that the time is yet to come. This is an indication of the importance of being seen online in the right context and ensuring relevant content enrichment in the online space.

As expected, the younger the journalists, the more they depend on the internet. 95% of the respondents with less than 5 years of experience use internet for myriad reasons in the context of news. 86% of the journalists with more than 20 years of experience have also adopted the internet of which 54% use it for background research and information sourcing.

In the region-wise analysis, South ranks the highest with 98% of the respondents using internet, followed by West at 95%and North at 91%. East lags behind in the usage with 82% journalists using internet.

Out of the 309 journalists interviewed, 90% of the journalists use social networking platforms and that just reaffirms the way the communication landscape is changing. The age-factor presumably plays up here as well with younger journalists accessing and using social networking platforms more. 94% of the journalists with less than 10 years of experience frequent social networking platforms versus 59% of their counterparts who have over two decades of experience.

Social networking platforms seem to be more popular with journalists covering lifestyle and entertainment. 95% of journalists from this beat use these platforms. 87% journalists covering business and corporate frequent social networking platforms versus 85% of those covering sports. while the Facebook and Twitter were the two favourites for both genders, Google+ is more frequented by male journalists vis-à-vis the women journalists.

Company websites are accessed by journalists to get authentic information, especially for quotes.

The lesson for the PR practitioners is to observe and not necessarily interact with their beat reporters on the Net. They need to clear see reporters following and interface with their followers. A lot of insights can be drawn by PR practitioners on day to day basis.   They however need to understand that Journalists often don’t like too much familiarity and intrusion from PR sources. Experts believe that editors and reporters build relationship if the PR person works for a well known company or a PR firm that can give input on newsworthy stories. If the PR persons wish to build a long-term symbiotic relationship with media persons than they have to understand the DNA of the media organization/beat reporter. The Net has provided a great opportunity to organizations to constantly remain in touch with the media fraternity through an on-line interactive newsrooms.

Interactive newsroom

An interactive newsroom implies an online newsroom that allows a continuous interface with the media.
What is an On-line newsroom?
An on-line newsroom is set up in a virtual setting that can be accessed by media persons all the time. A journalist needs a PR source for an update, authentication, sound byte, quote, an exclusive etc. An interactive newsroom is a great way to maintain control of brand communication. In crisis times, it is important to keep updating it. Empirical research suggests that in times of crisis, journalists first of all access concerned company’s site.

What are the best practices for on-line media rooms?

An on-line media room has to be constructed after a lot of thinking and strategy. As technology is involved, analysts beware PR practitioners not to let the IT department handle the content. The PR people have to be in charge and control of the content. Some of the points to be kept in view include the following:

  1. PR people need to begin with needs analysis keeping in view broadly the marketing, PR and media relations strategy.
  2. The navigational design has to be such that it provides valuable information that the visitors may have on their minds.[iii]

What should it ideally have?

Key elements of Interactive newsroom:
1. Contact information for company’s PR person, editorial contact to be clearly listed on the front/home page with (navigation instruction)

2. Basic facts on company; a factsheet, names of key executives, product line/service and turnover.

3. Company’s perspective on its industry or current events, industry presentations, speeches and publicity

4. Access to financial information, sales/revenue figures for a quarter/specific period with corresponding figures for last one or more years, to put the figures in perspective.

5.Information is oxygen for journalists so it is important that a lot of background information is created to facilitate the journalist in expanding his/her story.

6. Easy downloadable images of logo, pictures of events with clear labels. ( Quality -at least 300 dpi).

  1. Archival page with old press releases arranged subject/year/date-wise.
  2. Press reports/coverage (the company has to be careful if it wishes to add this page. . By just uploading favorable coverage and not negative one may create credibility gap)9. Register journalists for pass-word enabled information. Send weekly updates in the Newsroom through e-mail alerts to journalists on the beat.

Journalist can be offered to have personal folders in the newsroom with a password protected area to store information that they may have researched and wish to archive on a company’s site for future use. For instance among many organizations who have interactive newsrooms, at Accenture, Journalists can sign up and receive RSS feed in the Accenture newsroom. The feed contains updated information on events, innovation, financials, new contacts etc. The information is easily downloadable automatically in to a journalist’s computer via internet explorer.

Value of on-line newsroom in Adverse times

if in crisis, an interactive newsroom can become an organization’s life support system in explaining itself, disseminating information quickly, reaching out to its various stakeholders through the media as well as the website and most importantly facilitating media to have a continuous flow of information, graphics and video clippings.
Some do’s
1. Constantly update information.
2. Add sound bytes of those who matter. The communication must not only be but also seen an authentic and reasonable.
3. Videos of the happening/accident site
4. Videos of acts of human kindness/beyond the call of duty.

Keep –e-press kits ready for the scribes on specific targeted news releases, images, statements and related content.
Some Don’ts

When in crisis don’t argue in organizations supposed interest; explain its perspective

Be empathetic in words, body language and intent.

The viral nature of communication can make it worse, so have patience as soon as the crisis breaks. People would like to know what are you doing to mitigate the crisis , especially if human life in involved.

The organization may not have been directly responsible for the crisis, but issuing denials when the suffering of the people is apparent would boomerang.

Share your concern, the plan of action with facts, figures and graphics/videos for credibility.

Look for   sound bytes from people who trust you. It will make a difference.

Investor outreach and Customer Relations Management@ Netage
Reputation Management

As with human beings, reputations are very dear to companies also and they would do anything to safeguard their ‘fair name”. With the onset of social media and UGC (User generated content, Reputation Management (RM) has acquired different dimensions. If on the one side it can proactively enhance a company’s reputation by sharing with investors and analysts the good points about the company, on the flip side, the company may experience a harrowing time if it has substantiated or unsubstantiated criticism of its brands or people on social networking sites. The viral nature of communication often has a cascading impact on the brand equity of an organization.

Many companies are now opening up to the idea of interfacing with their stakeholders online to build relationship and bonding. Many CEOs have come out of the closet and are interfacing on social media. Does it really work? How do executives of companies that have social CEOs feel about this and what could possibly be the gains, were some of the questions on the mind, when a leading PR firm Weber Shandwik’s conducted research on the issue. Its 2012 audit of the online engagement activities of top global CEOs (Socializing your CEO II) has brought in some interesting insights on the use of social media by CEOs and the resultant impact on such organizations. Here are some of the highlights[iv]:

The CEO Net sociability has increased from 36% to 66% between 2010-2012.

Seventy six of global executives believe that it is a good idea for their CEOs to be social both internally and externally. Nine out of 10 executives interviewed had a personal social media account and six in 10 said that other executives in the firm (60%) used social media as a part of their jobs. Fifty two percent respondents said that their CEOS’s social media presence inspired them and 41% percent felt proud of their social CEOs. Interestingly 6% each felt   embarrassed and nervous with social CEOs. Social CEOs in general were perceived to be better leaders by global executives.

The top most benefit of a CEO’s sociability according to 80% executives whose CEOs were sociable was that it was a means to share company’s news and information. Eighty five percent executives said that blogging CEOs showed innovation, 84% said it helped CEOs build good relationship with media, 76% said it gave positive impact on business results and an equal percentage of respondents said it made the working place more attractive for them. Seventy four percent felt it enhanced a company’s credibility in the market place.

Social participation is a great democratize. It enables the CEOs to communicate with multiple stakeholders.

If the Net has brought in immense opportunities for organizations to reach out to their disparate set of audiences, it has also become a cause of much distress for them, if the going is not good. If not careful or responsive to the genuine concern of a stakeholder, the viral nature of communication can bring a lot of disrepute, even if the organization was not really at fault. The lesson for PR/corporate communication practitioners is to understand the medium, keep updated about the changes and use it optimally in the interest of the organization.

[i] Deirdre Breakenridge, “ PR 2.0- New media, New Tools, New Audiences, 2008 (Pearson: New Delhi)

[ii] http://www.slideshare.net/fullscreen/2020MSL/mediainsights-report/32. The Research was conducted by IIMc and MSL team under the overall supervision of Dr. J Jethwaney, IIMC

[iii] David Meerman Scott, “ The New Rules of marketing & PR”, 2012 ( Times Group Books:New Delhi) 275-277

[iv] With partner KRC Research, the Weber Shandwik survey covered 630 professional managers on up to C-Suite, excluding CEOs, about the social participation of their CEOS. The respondents worked in companies with revenue over USD 500 Million or more and represented 10 countries across North America, Europe, Latin America, Asia and Pacific, emerging markets across a variety of industries.

Prof. Jaishri Jethwaney did her masters in Political Science from Delhi University and Doctorate in Media and Elections from School of International Studies, Jawahar Lal Nehru University. She did PGDs in Advertising & Public Relations and Journalism in India and attended the International Training Institute at New South Wales for a fellowship in Public Relations.

 Beginning a career in brand management, she worked for about a decade in corporate communication and PR. She joined the Institute as Associate Professor in 1989 and became Professor in 1995. She is the Program Director for the PGD in Advertising & PR. She takes courses in the areas of Corporate communication, Public relations, Social marketing and Advertising.

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