As social media expands and evolves, becoming the so-called ‘new media’, I think it’s about time we took a step back to look at what social media involves, and how it can be used by PR practitioners.
I must be honest. If someone had asked me a year ago what social media is, and what it involves, I might have had quite a blank expression on my face and possibly guessed it had something to do with Facebook and Myspace.
I’ve since learnt a great deal about this area of media, although I still believe I will continue to learn throughout my career. Social media shows no signs of slowing down; with new platforms and networking sites becoming available constantly, will we be able to keep up?
In its beginnings, social media referred to internet forums where users had the ability to share their views and opinions with other users from around the world. Instant messaging soon followed this, a medium which is still hugely popular to help people stay in contact with friends, family and colleagues whilst online.
Nowadays social media has grown into a media of its own and has a wide range of forms including blogs, email, podcasts, picture-sharing, vlogs, wall-postings and music-sharing. Social networking sites are currently hugely popular, with sites such as Facebook allowing users to share information and pictures, chat, and keep everyone up to date with what they are doing via status updates.
There seems to have been a shift from old media to new, with newspaper sales declining (albeit, not hugely) and internet usage and social networking sites thriving, and many new blogs being released into the blogosphere by the second. It’s an exciting time for new technology and media, particularly as blogs allow individuals to write their own opinions, on what they care about, and share it with the World Wide Web.
But what is the difference between old and new media? Is it really necessary to embrace social media, or should we just stick to traditional media such as newspapers and magazines?
Social media uses two-way communication, allowing the reader to comment on what has been said. This can often result in debates that can help add to the original post, increasing the depth and content. Old media tends to involve one-way communication, where the writer announces their own views and opinions, without the audience having the immediate ability to agree or disagree.
When trying to find old blog posts, an archive is normally available to view on the page, allowing readers to simply click through to the relevant post. It’s not quite as simple when finding an old newspaper article. In order to access a newspaper archive, the reader will usually be expected to pay a fee after searching around trying to find the right article.
Social/new media can contain multiple media formats as part of the content. Newspapers can only contain text and images, whereas blog posts can include text, photos, videos and audio. The blog post can therefore be seen as more exciting, giving readers more in-depth and interactive content.
When writing a blog post, you have nobody to convince or please. Blogging is a way of expressing your thoughts and opinions on any subject you want. It gives people the ability to read these views at the click of a button; basically it’s a simple and easy way of displaying your views to the world.
Wolfstar is a consultancy that specialises in public relations, social media and word of mouth and also the company that I now work for on a part time basis. Working with the Wolfstar team has allowed me to learn a great deal about the world of PR, and this is where my passion for social media began. After I had found my feet at the company, I became more aware of the importance of social media within the PR industry, and particularly how blogging can help to increase your own, and your clients’ status.
I started up my own blog during my first year of the PR course, and since starting at Wolfstar, I have bought my own URL, personalised my blog and begun posting more frequently. I think a main pointer for anyone who is thinking of starting a blog is to always remember to spell check, and to write frequently (at least once a week). A blog can act as an online CV; anyone can check out your blog, including prospective employers, so make sure the content is clean and well written. Keeping up a blog takes dedication and more importantly a love for writing, so if it’s something you want to do, go for it and keep it up!
Something that has kept me blogging is the stories of people that have been head hunted by great companies because of their fantastic blogs. It is something that can really help make your name visible, and helps show employers your personality, as well as what you can do.
But social media isn’t just beneficial for you; it can also be great news for your clients. Traditional media relations combined with social media can optimise the coverage for a client. News releases can be supplemented with SMNR’s (Social Media News Releases) to increase the coverage received. Social media news centres can also be created, allowing the client to showcase the coverage that they have received to the world. Rather than just targeting newspapers and magazines, blogs and social networking sites can also be targeted, allowing the client to reach audiences that might not respond to traditional PR.
Although social media companies still seem to be fairly niche within the PR industry, I personally believe that as new media grows, the social media sector will also grow to meet demand.
As people start to respond less to traditional media and turn to the internet instead, PR professionals must realise this and alter their services, allowing them to gain the results expected by clients.
I am also a strong believer that social media should be taught to PR students at some point during their degree course. I am lucky that I have had the opportunity to learn from social media specialists at Wolfstar, but other students may still be confused by what it is, and how it is relevant to PR. Teaching students the theory and skills required for social media will allow them to increase their knowledge and confidence, and thus help them find work when they graduate.
Natalie Smith blogs at http://prgirl.co.uk/