These days, everything happens online – shopping, booking holidays, even relationships. The internet is a highly efficient communication channel, probably the most important one by now. Press offices and PR agencies in particular need to continuously adapt and adjust to what is happening online.
In contrast to classic public relations, strategic online PR focuses on the internet as a communication channel. Social media channels support customer service. Emails convey press releases. Companies send e-newsletters. Blogger cooperations as a part of media relations are an important way to supplement contact with journalists. Nevertheless, many companies fear that the credibility of information will be called into question by the way content is disseminated in the Web 2.0.
But the internet has not only changed how information is distributed, but also how journalists carry out their work. For one thing, the internet offers a unique chance to enter into a direct dialogue with target groups. At the same time, it serves as the basis and medium for journalistic research. Internet users, whether they are journalists or consumers, form their opinions based on information and discussions found in forums, blogs and social network communities. It should be noted that online editions of well-known media titles such as the Spiegel, Handelsblatt etc. are no longer the only sources of information forming people’s opinions. PR agencies undertake to help their customers overcome the initial inhibitions of establishing an online presence and to exploit the potential of online PR to the fullest extent. PR agencies must aim to lead their customers to where the target groups are located and dialogue can occur.
Online public relations, just as classic public relations, is about managing corporate communication*. Online PR uses the internet as a main tool. In many areas, it is possible to simply transfer classic public relations to online PR. Nevertheless, there are fundamental differences between these two specialist areas of public relations: Classic public relations is mediator-driven and relies predominantly on journalists and editors. Online public relations additionally addresses the public directly. Thus, internet-based public relations does not replace classic public relations. Rather, it serves as a supplementary tool.
Dialogue is the central component of internet-based communication between organisations and the public. It enables companies and brands to build trust and to strengthen their image in the long run. Relevance of the information provided is of great importance, not only because companies use it to attract the attention of their target groups, but also because content affects search engine results. Developing relevant content and positioning exiting topics in the media is the traditional task of PR consultants. At ad publica, we transfer this core competency to online PR. For us, content is key, both online and offline.
Unlike traditional media, the internet is recipient-driven. It is the users who decide what information they access online. The push-principle is supplanted by a pull-strategy. Another specific difference to classic public relations is the opportunity for interaction offered by the world wide web. Discussions are held, users exchange views and form opinions, information is shared, there is complete transparency. Online communication offers recipients an opportunity to provide direct feedback. Thus, it breaks open the traditional, hierarchical communication structures. Everyone can be an author on the internet. That has led to the dissemination of so-called urban myths or hoaxes, which can cast doubt on the credibility of specific information. Faced with a vast number of new information sources, recipients must be highly selective and check carefully before deciding to trust a specific medium. At the same time, companies cannot influence whether, and in what terms, they are discussed online, nor what unchecked information is being published and exchanged. They do, however, control whether they participate in the discussion and take an active part in guiding the communication. As a result, the roles of sender and recipient of communication become interchangeable. The traditional sender-recipient model is no longer relevant in online communication. Rather, all communication partners participate on an equal footing. Companies should accept this role to find the right tone for online communication and to use online public relations to their advantage.
Online presentation of companies is not necessarily aimed at increasing sales, but rather at promoting branding and brand visibility. Digital dialogues exert a constant influence on how labels are perceived. Social media presence and blogger cooperations allow companies to reach their target groups online. They have a chance to boost positive public perception and to participate in, guide or enable discussions – for example by providing suitable platforms.
One consequence of the digitalisation of society is that consumers and target groups increasingly use the internet as a source of information. Whether in a random search or highly specific market research, a company’s online positioning is now essential in determining its reputation. Search engine optimization is another important factor. It must be possible to find companies, even if the user is conducting a non-specific search through Google, YouTube or similar engines. Various online measures can help companies to appear in the top position of search hit lists. Increasing traffic on the company’s own website is of course another factor. It allows companies to distribute information swiftly, simply and immediately while strengthening customer loyalty and retention. Consequently, online relations, as a part of public relations, is important in terms of presence, reputation, relationships and competence of a company.
*In this context, this also includes non-corporate organisations.