Power has shifted from the hands of media companies and PR professionals to that of the consumer.
In 2014, BlackHouse Media recorded over a billion social media impressions from different campaigns. In the same year, the company introduced Nigeria’s first mobile application for the media and public relations industry. Figures and facts such as these have become important parameters of growth today in the media and public relations industry.
Print readership has declined drastically over the years, with Facebook and YouTube now regarded as television’s competition. Press releases, buzz words, press conferences are no longer as effective as they were during the times of Edward L. Bernays, Sam Black and Sam Epelle.
Today, technology has led to the evolution of traditional tools of PR and power has shifted from the hands of media companies and PR professionals to that of the consumer. Social media is ruling the world of communication and the fear of displacement and irrelevance has taken over the media industry. This is not unusual, as people fear what they do not understand.
Some believe that the way PR works in the ‘real world’ is different from the way it works on social media. This notion has caused big companies to take ‘expert’ advice from ‘influencers’ who are not certified by NIPR and PRCAN – PR regulatory bodies recognized by the Nigerian government.
Since power shifted and consumers now have the loudest voice, the line between online world and offline world has become thinner. One tweet, Facebook post, Instagram post can damage the reputation of an entire organization. Citizens on social media are constantly challenging the actions and press releases of government. Powerful movements against injustice and corruption such as #OccupyNigeria, #BringBackOurGirls and #OpenNASS began on Twitter.
Consumers are now more informed than they were in the past, thanks to the infinite amount of information available online. This fact has made it necessary that PR practitioners use social listening tools in order to strategically interject their point of views into the discussions on social media to either change the negative perception of the public or position who or what is represented in good light.
But the success of social PR is heavily dependent on rich and fruitful relationships.
Tech companies have created platforms and opportunities to make communication between brands and their publics more amiable and intimate. Consumers relate their stories everyday on social, on their blogging platforms, on their photo or video sharing platforms. What PR needs to do is to observe and study the patterns in these stories, and then craft their messages to empathize with the public and flow with these patterns.
Sending out bulk e-mails or SMS is not really ‘PR’. As the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) plans to regulate the menace of unsolicited text messaging, PR professionals must now focus on adopting acceptable and pleasant means of communication with their publics. Theaker (2012) claims that organizations have experienced criticism about their behaviour on social media. However, foreign brands like Oreo, Charmin, Virgin, Dutch Airlines, Heineken and others are using social media in creative and commendable ways and getting remarkable results.
On the issue of control, no one can stop consumers on social media from sharing negative or positive opinions on brands. What PR pros can do is to be proactive online and create a wonderful experience for audiences whenever they interact.
How else can one counter or nip negative opinions in the bud? Gilpin and Murphy (2010: 75) gave an example of a campaign that was created by a blogger who claimed that Johnson & Johnson’s Motrin painkiller brand failed to monitor their online media on weekends. Now, this may puzzle some people because most companies take weekend breaks; but it is a well known fact that social media never sleeps. Hence, it is imperative agencies must use monitoring tools as their eyes for as long as possible.
It is also not enough for brands to just tell their stories. They must have a passionate community of consumers who have, over time, become believers and evangelists, happy to share their experiences, which are strong enough to convert even the worst skeptic. The marriage of cool technology and great content is the social couple that can ultimately achieve this.
Social is the new normal – not just social media or social business but social impact, social enterprise and social value (Phillip, 2015: 127)