The Future of Public Relations and Social Media

Despite the rise of “fake news”, the internet and social media are becoming increasingly valid sources for receiving news. This statement is not entirely new or surprising, but proposes interesting points about the future of news consumption, and consequently, the professions of public relations and journalism. Traditionally, public relations professionals would help to shape the media’s agenda by pitching stories to newspapers, magazines, or broadcast companies.  Journalists would then report those stories to the public. Of course, the practice of public relations was not journalists only source of information; however, this was PR professionals’ primary role. The rise of social media and the ability to instantly report or receive information skewed these roles.

Now, journalists appear to be relying less on public relations professionals to shape their stories and more on the people who are experiencing events in real time. A 2011 article from The Economist uses the example of Tunisian protests to demonstrate how the field is changing. When protests broke out, people using social media were able to post videos and get the story trending before the Arab news outlet Al Jazeera had gotten a chance to report on it. Although social media users were able to draw attention to the story and provide raw footage, the Al Jazeera reports were truly what propelled the story into a major one for the majority of people in that area.

The Economist article also suggests that forums, such as Storyful, may allow there to be even less news coverage in the future because they organize tweets into chronological order. I highly disagree with this. Although physical newsrooms are closing, the need for journalists will always exist. Although their role may change with the evolution of social media, journalists still have a higher skill set in the field than average Twitter users. First, it is their role to fill in the details of a story, and in turn, hold the influencers in a story accountable. Even if social media users are the first to break the news, it is highly unlikely that they will investigate further into what they are videotaping through interviews or research. Going a step further in the story, along with verifying whatever social media posts they use in their story, gives journalists and news organizations an edge by adding credibility to the story that is increasingly important in a time when fake news is rising. As Clay Shirky says in his article “Last Call” journalist need to expand their roles by becoming good with data, social media, and working with others. For these reasons, journalism is evolving, and what it entails may be growing, but the need for the profession will never go away.

The same goes for public relations. Even though the need for traditional PR may be decreasing, but the essential skill set will always be needed in the field, whether dealing with advocacy PR or social media PR. Brands, people, and other organizations cannot rely on people who simply know how to use social media. Writing and strategic communication skills are a major priority in maintaining good standing with the public. Overall, the roles the field may be changing but the need stays the same.

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