Its influence is simply too large to ignore.
With a global usership in the billions, social media has become one of the fastest growing industries in the world.
While it has touched just about every industry under the sun in some capacity, it has had a huge—and arguably more pointed—impact on the public relations industry.
From changing the way people consume their news to contributing to the rise of the citizen journalist, social media has forced PR pros and reporters to adapt or perish.
Here are five key ways social media has impacted the PR industry and why it’s essential for all professional communicators to get on board.
1. The lifespan of a news story is shorter—but its reach is astronomical.
Social media is immediate and noisy. How noisy? Roughly 6,000 tweets are shared per second on Twitter. That’s just one of many social networks.
While that makes social media a highly effective tool for communicating breaking news coverage, it also means the lifespan of a news story is much shorter than it used to be. This means that journalists are constantly searching for the next big thing and PR pros must keep up.
However, even though the lifespan of a story may be shorter, social media has the power to broadcast a story farther than ever before. Thanks to social sharing, an article in a small local publication in the middle of the country may go viral online, spreading globally and becoming the next big story.
2. Crisis communications has become even more crucial.
As if PR pros needed another thing keeping them awake at night, social media has provided a whole new way for brands to mess up big time in front of their audience if they aren’t careful.
Beyond scheduling media interviews and pitching stories, PR professionals are now responsible for managing brand voice and protecting the organization’s online reputation via the publication and promotion of additional content, community engagement, media monitoring and measurement.
Failure to monitor social media for brand mentions and have a plan in place for responding to customer feedback (both good and bad) could mean a missed opportunity at best (like the Red Lobster-Beyonce faux pas from early 2016) or a full-scale crisis at worst (United Airlines).
3. PR pros have increased access to journalists.
Social media helps PR pros get closer than ever to reporters. By following a journalist on social media, PR pros can learn about a reporter’s tone of voice, opinions on relevant topics and recent work.
However, this doesn’t mean you should drop all other responsibilities and spend 40 hours a week sifting through Twitter. Instead use a tool like Muck Rack to find publications and journalists that meet your criteria and get instantly connected with their recent tweets and social media profiles.
A word of caution: While social media can be a great place to research reporters and make connections, it’s not a good idea to tweet or direct message your pitch directly toa reporter unless their bio explicitly indicates to do so.
4. PR pros find themselves in the customer-service trenches.
Social media interactions happen in real time.
This means that social media users expect an immediate response from brands when they have a concern, complaint or question.
Although the primary responsibility for most PR pros is still to secure media placements for their client or company, they’ve had to become much more customer-focused.
Building your brand community on social media is now just as important as snagging that interview for your CEO; depending on your industry, it might be even more influential than traditional media coverage.
5. Social media has introduced a new PR phenomenon: influencers.
Social media hasn’t just provided an outlet for professionally-trained journalists to share breaking news; it’s also brought about a new type of citizen journalist: the influencer.
From a beauty vlogger with 3.7 million subscribers on YouTube to a travel blogger with 175k followers on Instagram, influencers are considered one of the best ways to attract new customers to a brand.
Consider the fact that 71 percent of American consumers say they are more likely to make a purchase based on a social mediareference. That is real power.
More than ever, these social media influencers with high follower counts could mean big opportunities for PR professionals and the brands they represent.
What other ways has social media changed the public relations industry, PR Daily readers?
Jessica Lawlor is the features editor for the Muck Rack blog and handles PR and social media for Muck Rack. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.