If we take a peek back into the recent past, the spread of information was primarily through print outlets and television networks. Today, the power of media no longer lies solely within the hands of reporters, columnists, or radio announcers. In an era inundated with social networks and various, evolving forms of internet media, anyone and everyone is a reporter, a fan and most importantly, a critic. This has caused a massive shift in the media landscape and subsequently has made the work public relations professionals even more important
With the rising popularity of social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to name a few, nearly anyone can spread news, opinions, and information to thousands of people instantaneously. This incredible phenomenon is both a vice and a virtue for brands. For example, if someone has an exceptionally good experience at a restaurant, she can easily share this experience with everyone within her social network, which could be a strong asset to the business’s growth. If someone has a negative experience at a restaurant, however, he is also able to share his complaints and negative feedback with everybody within his network. Social media has given the consumer a voice to share opinions, whether they be positive or negative, about brands. This means that the opinion of the consumer has never mattered more, especially because people tend to weigh consumer messages more heavily than brand messages.
In today’s age of rapid mass-communication, both fans, as well as critics, can quickly and easily spread their opinions to a potentially unlimited number of people. This is a double-edged sword for brands. The existence of social networks has given rise to limitless marketing opportunities, yet also presents the risk of creating serious crisis situations. Consider the phenomenon of virality, where something spreads quickly and ubiquitously across social networks and the internet, such as with the case of the United Airlines PR crisis. Virality can be either positive or negative, and making brands go viral in a positive sense can be groundbreaking for their growth and image. If a brand goes viral for negative reasons, however, a critical and tricky public relations crisis arises. It can be nearly impossible to stop a negative viral message from spreading across the internet, reaching millions of people, and tarnishing the brand’s reputation. Because of this, brands need to be cautious about the content they produce and the way they project it to the world. Consider the Pepsi advertisement with Kendall Jenner that ran in 2017. Many people found it to be tasteless and offensive, and this caused a viral outcry across the internet against Pepsi. On the other side of things, positive virality can make brands become a household name. Consider the case of the ALSA (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association) “Ice Bucket Challenge”. If you aren’t familiar with this, do a quick Google search and you will see just how widespread the ice-bucket challenge became. The campaign went completely viral and ended up raising $220 million for ALS organizations worldwide.
A skilled public relations or digital agency should be able to manage the image of organizations across social channels, conscientiously develop strong social media strategies and monitor public perception and conversations about brands. On top of this, great agencies may be able to reverse-engineer viral trends in the digital space and help other brands go viral in a positive manner. Although this is tricky business, it is certainly possible.
Working with a brand’s presence across digital networks is a duty not to be taken lightly, as improper utilization of these outlets can lead to a vast array of problems. If these outlets are misused or abused, it can lead to a waste of resources, consumer alienation, or crisis situations. That being said, a presence across social networks is an absolutely critical component for success in today’s competitive business environment. Because everyone is competing for attention, your brand must be present on digital outlets. If your organization does not have a presence on important social networks, you will most certainly fall behind the competition and get lost in the noise. Just remember to work with an experienced and credible team when venturing forward into the world of social media, and your brand will reap the benefits of limitless marketing possibilities.