When the internet began, it was for government use and the public was unaware of its existence.
Over the years the internet became publicly available and became increasingly popular from the early 90s when the World Wide Web enabled the inclusion of multimedia images, videos, sound, and animations. Now the web contains just about anything you want it to, from information encyclopaedias, to the latest movies by illegal download.
The main feature now, though, is the social side of the internet – how users can adapt and change the content of a website and make it their own, how users are interacting with one another, and how the power has been taken away from site developers to the person on their laptop or mobile device creating content.
Introducing Web 2.0
Web 2.0 represents a social rather than a physical evolution. Although better systems, software and servers are in place, Web 2.0 describes the power the user has upon internet content. Websites now feature a variety of tools allowing the user to adapt and change the site. These social media sites are the innovators of Web 2.0, and more traditional sites are having to play catch up.
Rob Brown (2009: 1-2) explains Web 2.0:
“It can simply be described as the version of the web that is open to ordinary users and where they can add their content… In practice is signifies the transfer of control of the internet, and ultimately the central platform for communication, from the few to the many. It is the democratisation of the internet”.
This definition is a great indication of what Web 2.0 is. It suggests that no one person owns the internet, which has always been true, but now it also suggests that no one person has total control over a website, a blog or a post. It is the people visiting that website who make it happen and work. For example, Wikipedia and Facebook need people to add content, so these sites are a form of democracy.
What is PR 2.0?
Does Web 2.0 now require a corresponding ‘PR 2.0’? Traditional public relations was not designed for the new media world, and so a new way of thinking is needed.
Yet PR 2.0 actually began with Web 1.0. Author Brian Solis coined the phrase back in the 90s. However, it was not until more recently that anyone started taking notice.
The early internet had elements of social networking and limited consumer power. Basic forums were introduced where people could communicate on subjects, however these were not as established or easy to use as the forums of today. The consumer was now able to view company websites and in some instances contact them through e-mail, but this was still nothing like today; PR 1.0 could still work in that world.
Now the internet has radically changed. Web 2.0 has ‘democratised’ the internet, and PR 2.0 is essential.
When people interact on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Bebo they gain power by their sheer mass. Twitter has trending topics, which can define the news and set the story arcs for journalists to follow.
Bebo can provide insight into the minds of the younger generation, with consensus on what is ‘cool’ and what is not, highly valuable to certain companies.
Facebook is a dominant player with 400 million users. With Facebook groups, huge campaigns have sprung up, from the harmless to those influencing consumer behaviour. The 2009 Christmas No. 1 was not won by the X-Factor winner, usually considered immovable from the top spot at this time of year, thanks in large part to a Facebook campaign.
The PR industry must take notice of the huge power this kind of media has upon organisations. Organisations are under pressure to participate, not just at a spectator level, or in a superficial attempt to fit with what publics expect. Using the format to not only communicate with the stakeholders at a business level, but also personally.
Solis, B. & Breakenridge D. (2009: xix-xx) explain:
“PR 2.0 starts with a different mindset and approach, neither of which is rooted in broadcast marketing or generic messaging. It’s all about humanising and personalizing stories specifically for the people we want to reach”
This definition makes sense and can offer an indication on what we as PR practitioners should change to be able to compete in this new media space.
I would suggest that public relations has evolved to its second generation. This version of PR takes into account the new social media, and the roles these play in the stakeholder communications. PR 2.0 differs from traditional PR as it does not ignore the power people have.
Sticking to PR 1.0 is not enough, in fact some may say PR 3.0 is what we should be looking towards. Either way, PR 2.0 is needed here and now.