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The impact of social media on communications

This is article is the first of a two-part series on social media and the impact on public relations.

The way we seek and share information is changing, and the shift has many wondering how to effectively communicate with their audiences.

It’s no secret traditional media is suffering, and while some have been forced to fold others have been able to stay afloat by operating on a skeleton staff. For those in the media this has translated to job loss, increased workloads and major transitions either into online media or a departure from the media all together. For those in communications industries, like public relations, it has meant a decreased pool of resources in traditional media, and the need to become versed in social media and social networks.

How will this shift continue to affect the public relations industry? As traditional media outlets shrink will opportunities for PR do the same? Will there be a need for PR practitioners in the next few years?

Ryan Zuk, APR, believes we are transitioning from dictation to collaboration and that opportunity resides in this shift. (He discusses this more in depth in his post for CRM Magazine, “Social Media Maturity Model: Moving Communication from Dictation to Collaboration“.) He said there is a need for PR practitioners to not only be aware of what journalists need and provide them appropriate resources, but also utilize the power of social networking forums to deliver messages direct to consumers and businesses.

“Practitioners need to be ever mindful of what journalists need to best support their readership,” Zuk said. “Overall I think PR practitioners are becoming a re-energized and much more focused community of communication consultants that, upon demonstrating full knowledge of social media, will experience greater demand for its unique services.”

Most PR practitioners have integrated some element of social media in their client communications strategies and should be implementing it in their own business practices as well. Social media forums are proving to be instrumental not only in fostering relationship building with those in the media, but also providing a place for content creators to become their own news hubs.

“I use social media (Twitter for example) to follow, get familiar with and help me build relationships with journalists, industry analysts, partners and customers,” Zuk said. “Using social networking to activate a fan base or core group of partners is another way to blend the two – enlist your people to cover you and generate buzz that traditional media will notice, pull details from and add relevance to.”

Companies, community organizations and individuals now have the ability to engage others – customers or fans in many cases – in social networks to help tell their story. With this ability to communicate directly with the consumer or audience – bypassing traditional forms of media – will PR practitioners be fazed out by social media consultants or will the line between the two blur?

“I think the majority of PR professionals bring strong communications skills to the table – what to say, how to say or write it, counsel for leveraging the positive and mitigating the negative, the ability to proactively create valuable relationships,” Zuk said. “I also think social media consultants offer a keen understanding of the social Web’s infrastructure. It is possible to mature into being both a PR and social media consultant, and critical for PR pros to gain a thorough understanding of social media’s inter-workings in order to move the profession forward.”

Zuk also said, just as with vast specializations within any communications field, social media consultants can also vary among someone who focuses on publicity and someone who has more experience building social media marketing campaigns.

While the landscape is changing, in the end it boils down to relevant media and consumers of news will dictate how and when they want to receive it. There will always be a need for content creators. And as long as content is being created, no matter the medium used to deliver it, there will be a need for consultants who can advise on how to most effectively communicate to any given audience.

Ryan Zuk can be reached on Twitter: @ryanzuk or via his blog: Zuk also authors a monthly Digital Dialogue column for PRSA Tactics.

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