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There are very few aspects of modern life and business that haven’t been changed profoundly by the rise of social networks and other new forms of communication and connections. Public relations is not exempt.

For PR professionals, it isn’t really a question of whether to embrace this new reality, but one of how to make the most of is incredible power to expand the reach of every brand.

What is Digital PR?

Digital PR is the intersection of traditional PR, content marketing, social media and search. In addition to pitching news to the media, digital PR professionals start conversations directly with target audiences online. Modern PR is about using platforms that invite dialog, like social media, blogs, and review sites to create deeper connections with customers and prospects. In digital PR, earned media isn’t limited to a journalist writing about the brand in a publication, it also encompasses ordinary people and influencers sharing, commenting and engaging with owned content.

Does Digital PR Matter?

According to Pew Research, 74% of all Internet users use social media. The equation is simple, if you want to communicate with an audience, you need to be where they are. An earned media mention, is only valuable to the extent that people see it. Social media is key to putting your best mentions on the screens of your public.

This is why it isn’t surprising that research from the Public Relations Consultants Association, conducted earlier this year, found that 32% of agencies are now seeing up to 20% of their revenues coming from digital/social. The study further found that 62% of organizations have seen digital budgets rise over the past 12 months and they expect the growth to continue.

Digital PR vs. Marketing

It isn’t unreasonable to ask, “Where does marketing end and digital PR begin?” The line is certainly becoming more blurred. Traditionally marketing’s role has been to promote products and services directly to potential customers, while PR has focused on creating a positive impression of the brand and its products with the general public. The new online landscape and the advent of content marketing has marketers and PR pros using many of the same tools, and often related content. 

Rather than try to parse who owns what, smart brands are working to align PR and marketing, letting messages and audiences cross over where they may. For agencies, this means working more closely than ever with each brand’s marketing department and coordinating paid marketing spend with earned media pitches and social campaigns.

Effective Digital PR Content Development

The idea of moving beyond traditional PR activities and into content development and social promotion might seem overwhelming, but it needn’t be. The good news is that one piece of content, a press release, for example, can be transformed into many assets that work well in various digital worlds. The press release might evolve into a slide presentation, a blog, an eBook, and an infographic. The important thing is to match the content type, tone and message to both the audience and the forum. The goal is engagement, so always consider what you want the audience to do with the content while you are creating it.

Giving Up Control

Another difference between marketing and PR is control. With marketing and advertising, the brand has control over the message, format, and distribution channel. Digital PR relinquishes that control. That’s because modern PR is all about starting conversations and once you do so, you don’t get to dictate where the conversation will go. As difficult as it is, PR professionals must learn to accept and adapt to the fact that today’s audiences can, and will, go right around you to talk directly to each other about your products and brands. In fact, people trust information about brands that they get from friends and colleagues far more than that which they get directly from companies. You can’t control the conversation, but you can’t afford not to be a part of it.

Monitoring

The good news is that while PR has moved into the digital sphere, technology solutions have been developed to support it. Due to the breath and complexity of the online world, modern PR requires support from software that can comb the web for relevant conversations and sort through the noise to identify the most important. Accurate media monitoring is necessary for both identifying opportunities to comment or influence a relevant conversation and to respond to negative mentions that might damage a brand’s reputation.

Measurement

One big advantage that advertising has had over PR when it comes to budget allocation is measurement. It is easy to measure the impact on revenue of an advertisement, but it has been almost impossible to do the same for PR.  After all, how to you measure how much a person’s good feelings about a brand influenced a purchasing decision one way or another? Digital PR gives us the opportunity to do just that. By taking you messages directly to the audience you can measure concrete things like engagement, social amplification, website traffic, lead conversions, and ultimately even revenue. Your audience leaves a digital trail that can be directly traced back to your PR efforts, finally allowing for an accurate ROI and a better financial justification for continued investment in PR.

Search Engine Optimization

Google has changed its algorithm more than 40 times (that we know of) to punish every SEO trick in the book. Keyword stuffed press releases and promotional guest blog posts are right out. That forces brands to focus on what Google prizes, links and mentions from sites with great reputations. Who is better at earning those than a PR professional? Developing quality content that attracts influencers is the key to boosting your site rankings through digital public relations. Just as your content should be written for humans, not search crawlers, your social conversations should be designed to engage your audience, not just to generate a link. Google’s ability to understand the difference will only continue to be enhanced.

It is an exciting time to be part of the PR industry. Engaging directly with the people, influencers and writers that matter to your industry can help take your business to a different level. Instead of talking about, pitching and positioning your brand all of the time, you have the opportunity to listen, connect and develop a grand personality that people enjoy. With the right tools, a good strategy, and synergy with other parts of the organization, today’s PR professional really has the chance to shine.

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