Why Social Media is the Future of Public Relations

The 7–year anniversary of this blog passed by without remark this summer, and — well, I want to remark on it. Ya can’t blame a fellow for pausing to look in the rear view mirror now and then.  This blogging business is a slog.

Rbc5_35What is this blog about?  What is the single driving idea that prompts me to continue it?

It’s simply this: the future of PR rests on the realization that everyone is an online publisher. Everyone has the power to impact the brand.

Look out your window.

See that guy drinking espresso while fiddling with his iPhone?

Maybe he’s writing a Yelp/TripAdvisor/Angie’sList/Glassdoor/Amazon/Twitter/Facebook review of your company or product… which will be indexed by Google… which will be excerpted in a mainstream media feature… which will get picked up by a blogger… which will impact the purchase decision of your next customer.

That guy drinking espresso while fiddling with his iPhone may be as important to your success as a NYTIMES reporter.

What does this mean to the modern marketer?  What stories can you tell to that guy, to attract his attention and approbation?  How can you serve him in a way that motivates positive Word of Mouth?

Figuring out how to deal with this paradigm shift is critical to the future of the profession.  (“Paradigm shift?” Yea, I went there.)

Seven years later, it still blows my mind.

Posted on: August 24, 2011 at 9:05 am By Todd Defren
47 Responses to “Why Social Media is the Future of Public Relations”


  • elisabeth says:

    very true! it is important for pr practitioners to understand how to deal with the paradigm shift of social media, and all of the threats and opportunities that comes with it.

  • Carmen says:

    I think social media will not only just take over public relations, but the internet in general. People like the idea of being able to publish what they want, when they want to. Even if it isn’t read, they feel like they’re doing their part in promoting or trashing a product, place, service, etc.

  • Nicole says:

    I completely agree that everyone can be an online publisher and impact a brand with their social media presence. The other day I simply tweeted the Melting Pot restaurant saying how much I loved their peanut butter chocolate fondu and 20 minutes later received three responses from the company and a follow back. It was crazy to think how one simple tweet received so much attention, and so quickly at that. I can only imagine what would have happened if I tweeted something negative!

    Being a senior in college, I’m still getting accustomed to using all my social media accounts for professional uses. I currently update a blog weekly for one of my classes and it surprises me that with a simple tweet or Facebook post I can draw multiple views to my site. I really think people should be more conscious of what they post in the social media world. It has a huge impact, and sometimes not a positive one. Social media is becoming more and more popular, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

  • Jon Pr says:

    PR has indeed changed so much, keeping a valid public image is not that easy any more, as you said any person out there nowadays has an impact especially when using social media. Its even more important then ever to make sure that all customers are duly satisfied giving them no reason to give you a bad name if they ever intend to write something like a review.

  • Your article is very true.

    But if I can play devils advocate though (great for getting your blog going), as more people use social media it makes me realize that most people don’t have much to say

  • Veronica says:

    The shift in social media is a necessary facelift for this profession. Although, when I look back on all of the times I had a bad experience with customer service or a restaurant for example, I could not say that I used social media to vent my frustrations. While I am all about viewing consumer reviews for a product or service I purchase online, I am not sure that every company has to worry about managing their social media accounts as constantly as others.

    Also, if getting any brand’s name out there requires it to be a trend in social media, does that mean you get shut out if you’re not?

  • elizabeth says:

    PR is all about managing relationships and now with the ‘paradigm shift’ you are correct, it’s a Brave New World where PR is now done on more mediums than were previously utilized or even realized. Granted, PR and social media could be a dangerous combination for better or worse. Problems appear faster and yet can be fixed faster. Social media is simply another medium where PR practitioners can hone their craft and manage relationships more effectively in a world where the keyboard has become mighter than the pen.

  • Ying says:

    True. The growing up of social media symbolizes what Thomas Kuhn referred as “Paradigm Shift.” Social media has not only changed one’s lifestyle, but has overwhelming power to change the way the world changes. The public get the news immediately not from traditional newspapers but their cellphones and access to the Internet. Especially if the central is control oriented, social media hands up for the transparency and democracy. The danger is sometimes people are difficult to identify authority of the source, whether it’s reliable or not, whether the news is true or made up. A stir may be caused due to inaccurate information. Using social media strategically in PR is what we should think about for the future trend.

  • joanne yu liang says:

    There is no doubt that social media have greatly changed public relations. But social media also cause many problems to the practices of PR, especially with an growing number of social media platforms. How can PR people effectively pitch media and reach audiences via social media? How can PR people deliver unified messages on various social media for audiences may have different identities when using different social media? How can PR people accurately measure PR campaigns on social media? There are many questions need to be answered before social media are correctly and effectively used by PR people.

  • sami says:

    Social media already has changed PR. If you have not adopted, at the very minimum, some sort of social media platform, your company is probably being left in the dust.

  • Martin Bredl says:

    You are right. This will change the PR Job.

  • Yang says:

    I’m quite agree with the idea that everyone could be an online publisher with social media and everyone has the power to influence the brand. Any comsumer may post a blog or something else to talk about your product which will definitely have positive or negtive influences on your brand and your company. That’s the situation PR2.0 has to deal with.

  • Colleen says:

    It is crazy to think that any jo shmo can impact a company with just a few words on twitter or a upload on YouTube. That is kind of terrifying for companies, especially established companies that like to control every aspect of what is said and put out about their company. It is also really cool because it keeps companies more transparent, I think, and focused on the customer because they never know where the experience of the customer will end up, or how many people will read it!

  • Emily K. says:

    This idea of the individual blogger being as influential as any New York Times reporter in the realm of creating positive or negative public opinion is very true. It is also so important to the formation and distribution of messages. It is also very important in knowing how to deal with the various consumers that company staff and even executives come into contact with on a daily basis; any customer can offer their opinion concerning your product, customer service or any other aspect that he or she found either highly satisfactory or highly unsatisfactory. That is why not only an effective public relations team is necessary but also an open, useful, and knowledgable front-line staff to ensure customer satisfaction.

  • Eric Doyle says:

    So true, Todd. Back in the day, blogger Jeff Jarvis set off a firestorm that prompted Dell to become a leading social media brand. Got any recent examples of the one guy commenting or blogging, being indexed, creating a rumble in the blogosphere, spreading to “traditional” press, etc?? I guess the big JetBlue fiasco — and solid company response IMHO — is a good one. Others? Aside from the relentless Apple rumor machine. A bubbling up as it were from social to “traditional” media (is any media really traditional anymore? I digress) in the ongoing bi-directional influence between social and traditional. Thanks! Rock on!

  • I just wanted to say congrats on 7 years!

  • Rex Riepe says:

    I’ve been here about half that time! Thanks for all the wisdom.

    For some reason when you described the guy with a phone, I imagined him having a mullet. And there’s the lesson, and the thing that’s really changed: Key influencers can now have mullets.

  • Claire Celsi says:

    Todd, I’m in awe of your blogging milepost! Quite an accomplishment, indeed. And I agree with the premise, too. Only those not immersed in this social world are unable to comprehend its magnitude and significance. Thank you for your thought leadership in the social space!

  • Richard Cole says:

    Thanks, Scott, for acknowledging that we often use the phrase public relations when we mean media relations. Perhaps this is only a reflection of how most people think about PR and why they use “PR” as a verb (as in PRing an issue, etc.) The many definitions of public relations are actually evolving in the direction Edward Bernays hoped they would (nearly a century ago) when he created the designation counsel on public relations as a deliberate attempt to differentiate this role from the role for which he was best known — publicist. He thought of, and I think of, public relations as the art applied to the science of adjusting organizational behavior to better conform to the values and aspirations of audiences upon which the client organization depends (Bernays’s adjustment function) and then making sure the audience knows that the adjustment was made out of a desire to develop or enhance a relationship (what Bernays called fulfillment.) Both functions are enhanced by dialogue, and no communication innovation has done more for dialogue than social media. So, at least in this respect, I agree with the premise (if not every detail) of your column and will save it for the next edition of the soon-to-be-published “New Media Drivers License” resource guide.

  • Scott Piro says:

    Thinking about the espresso guy….if I’m not telling him stories via MSM, what’s my medium for storytelling? My blog, I guess. A viral video is certainly storytelling. But while social media campaigns and/or contests might reach this guy…is that the same as telling a rich story? I think it’s still getting his attention, but only a MSM profile is going to allow for rich storytelling. Right?

    Now, about “impressions.” Getting coverage for a client in an NYT story means a big number of initial eyeballs/attention for the client (plus, magnified by all the social sharing happening after the article runs). Word of mouth from something driven purely by social w/o the MSM component to kick it off can certainly net big impressions, but *only* if it goes viral. So, I guess that means you just have to be good. But still, if the MSM route is going to have a social sharing afterlife anyway….I’m *still* feeling like old school media relations nets more eyeballs than pure new school social campaign.


    • Todd Defren says:

      When I say “Social Media is the future of PR” I do *not* mean to imply that MSM outreach is “dead.” It’s a virtuous cycle: more MSM coverage means more SM buzz, and vice versa. The point of the post is to marvel at the increasing level of POWER at the consumer level to impact branding.

      Take a look at the Paul Gillen post I link to, for a perfect example. A hotel that somehow gets AWESOME coverage in the media but which gets shitty reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor is going to fail. Ten years ago that would NOT have been the case. Ten years ago consumers RELIED on the media. Now the media AND consumers rely on each other. HUGE power shift.

  • Good social media activity is all about the relationship, which shouldn’t be unfamiliar territory to those who practice good public relations. Media has always been social, and the future is, inevitably, a more connected environment – so is social media the future or is connected media and relationships where PR pros need to focus?

  • Interesting though, that so often the primary generator of conversation on social media is a news story published by “traditional media” and easily shared online. Tradition media relations and social media clearly very intertwined at this point. They need each other.

  • Scott Piro says:

    You know, in my Google Reader, I send your RSS feed into a folder called “PR blogs.” I read plenty about social on here, but that’s how I was categorizing you. After reading your “renewed vows”, I might need to move the feed into my “social business” folder.

    Thanks for making me smarter.

    • Todd Defren says:

      I guess it depends on how you think about “PR.” If you primarily think about it as “Media Relations” then, yea, I’m probably in the wrong folder… and have been, for a while. ;)

      • Scott Piro says:

        You’re right. When I talk about “PR,” I *totally* mean media relations. Not that there’s anything wrong w/ media relations, but I’m going to start calling it by its real name and meditating on “PR.” Thx.

      • Ari Herzog says:

        Intriguing you synonymize public relations with marketing. Are the two the same to you?

      • Todd Defren says:

        I believe in a relationship-centric marketing philosophy, in which PR (public relationships?) plays a more central role than ever before.

  • Colleen Green says:

    I agree social networking is evoloving constantly and it will always keep me amazed!

  • CHRIS nORTON says:

    I think I might remember the original post from all that time ago. I think things have massively changed but the fundementals stay the same and the turf wars between digital agencies and PR agencies will continue.

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