National Vice President
Public Relations Society of India
New Media in Public Relations Practice
What is ‘new media’
New Media is a means of mass communication using digital technologies. New Media is a 21st Century term used to define all that is related to the internet and the interplay between technology, images and sound. In fact, the definition of new media changes every day and it will continue to do so. What it will be tomorrow is unpredictable, but we know that it will continue to evolve in a fast and furious manner. Use of the term New Media implies that the data communication is happening between desktop and laptop computers and handhelds such as Personal Digital Assistants, compact discs, pen drives and floppy disks and of course, mobile phones.
New Media is a generic term for different forms of electronic communication that are made possible through the use of Internet. The term is in relation to ‘old’ and ‘traditional media’ forms namely print and electronic media. Print Media is newspapers, magazines, books, brochures, press releases etc that are static representations of text and graphics. New Media is also different from Electronic media i.e. Radio and Television, for us to understand. The disadvantages of the traditional media are – slow dissemination of information; less feedback; less transparent; centralized or controlled information; expensive; limited audience; outdated information and time consuming etc
The New media includes: E-mail; Google; Streaming audio and video; Chat rooms; Online communities; Blogs; Web sites; Wikipedia; Web advertising; Podcasting; DVD and CD-ROM; Virtual reality environments; Internet telephony; Digital cameras; SMS; Mobile computing and so on.
As per the data available with the Government, a total of 1,05,443 newspapers are registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India as on 31st March, 2015.
Similarly, a total number of permitted TV channels in India as of July 2015 is 798.
India overtook the US to take second place with 118 million digital TV homes.
Akashavani i.e. All India Radio has got 414 radio stations as on 25th October 2015.
India also overtook the US in Internet user base. The present internet user base is 402 million.
India is likely to have 314 million mobile Internet users by the end of 2017.
The number of mobile phone users is 638.4 million in 2015. It is expected to rise to 813.2 million by the end of 2019.
When both the traditional and emerging media are on rise, there is a wide range of opportunities to source information as well as communicate with the concerned publics.
While the New Media is New as against Traditional Media, the Social Media is also a 21st Century term using websites, social networking platforms and applications that enable users to create and share content. Social Media enables people to participate in social networks with various tools that can post, read and do all sorts of things. Some of the major social network sites are: Facebook; Twitter; Pinterest; YouTube; Myspace; Instagram; LinkedIn; Tumblr; Flickr; Blogger. WhatsApp and the like have revolutionized the Social Media and it has become a challenge to mainstream Media.
Thus, the Social Media emerged as yet another New Media and it is far ahead of Print & Electronic Media.
Public Relations is a practice of managing information and communication between an organization and its publics.
Public Relations Society of America, defined public relations in 1982 as: "PR helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other."
Again, in 2011 and 12, it developed a crowd-sourced definition that read: "PR is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics."
On the other hand, British Institute of Public Relations defined PR as “Public Relations is the deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain mutual understanding between an organization and its publics”. In Feb 2015, it added that “Public Relations is the key to effective communication in all sectors of business, government, academic and not-for-profit organizations”
Thus, in essence, managing information and communication between the organizations and their publics is one of the important functions in the practice of Public Relations.
Functions of PR
Public Information dissemination; Community Relations; Reputation and Image management; Employee Relations; Product Public Relations; Marketing Communications; Public & Product Campaigns; Stakeholder Relations; Financial Relations; Media Relations; Publicity; Political and Government Relations and Crisis Communications etc
Situation in public relations practice
With the trend towards multimedia news releases, the demand to have multimedia elements available for inclusion in such releases is growing. Public Relations practitioners are held responsible for the source of information. There is also the need to consider whether publics concerned have access to new media technologies such as the Internet. It becomes an issue when communication strategies target those publics without such access due to geographic or socio-economic factors. All public Relations practitioners will need to keep abreast of emerging media. PR Practitioners shall be able to analyze how new technologies can aide or hinder traditional public relations roles. In some cases, they are actively engaging in implementing new media initiatives. The practitioners will need to manage the organization’s expectation that all traditional media will be fully serviced as well as integrating many aspects of new media. Additional work generated by these expectations may need to be undertaken without additional personnel or budget allocations.
Research has shown that public relations practitioners who embrace new technologies are perceived within organizations as having more power. These practitioners are willing to be leaders in the industry and use new tools to better reach their targeted publics. Some public relations agencies and in-house units are looking to employ staff with broader qualifications and career backgrounds than public relations. These agencies may instead be considering people with technological know-how to work alongside the traditional public relations practitioners. Mature practitioners are being overlooked in some cases in favor of young, relatively inexperienced, but technically-savvy. As the core of public relations is relationships and reputation, PR practitioners shall have to play an active role in both the areas i.e. Public Relations and Reputation management.
Impact of Social media in PR practice
A survey conducted by a Professional organization of international repute that measured how social and other new media technologies are being used in public relations practice reveals that -
There is a severe influence of new communication media in the practice of public relations in the actual usage of these social media tools.
More and more social media are being implemented in public relations practice.
Various new emerging and social communication media have brought dramatic changes to many basic aspects of public relations practice.
Information Technology i.e. Information Communication Technology has significantly empowered a wide variety of strategic publics by giving them dynamic ways to communicate with all concerned.
Social and other emerging media continue to influence traditional mainstream media. This impact continues to be much more pronounced for external than internal audiences.
Survey results show that a clear majority believe that handling social media is the responsibility of communications and public relations department, but the recent emergence of digital or IT departments has certainly picked-up some support.
The survey also suggest that the percentage of time, PR practitioners spend with various applications on mobile phones, blogs, social and other emerging media during their work is 75%. The percentage of organizations adopting new media and social media has risen from 38.6% in 2009 to 45.9% in 2014 and to over 50% in 2015.
While the advantages of emerging Media are - Expedite circulation of information; Reaching broader audience; Enable to reach people directly; Building connections with public; Reach out and engage public in conversation; Instant feedback; Strengthen media relations; Save organization’s money; Easy access, update and shared workload; Reduce middlemen; the disadvantages are minimal like - lack of control; Misuse; Misunderstandings; Difficulty in selecting appropriate Social Media tools; Necessity to manage different tools, networks and platforms and the like.
New Media including Social Media with Smart Phone applications is having a massive impact on the very life of human beings. It directly influences the Public in view of instant and effective reach. As it is, 56% of journalists report that they feel ‘traditional media’ has become less important than social media.
If that be so, in the public relations front, it is going to be a major area of concern in coming years. Indications are that if public relations practitioners do not update themselves, then others will do so. There is a clear threat to the domain of public relations in some quarters, within organizations, from other specialist areas. It is because the new media technologies can cut across various disciplines. The public relations terrain being attractive is more prone to invasion from those outside the profession. A perception is being developed that the area is now more technology-driven and less about mere communication or traditional media. It is also indicative that public relations practitioners and educators embrace the full potential of new media and social media if they are to overcome any kind of threats. New media is inevitable and unavoidable in practising Public Relations.
Public Relations Practitioners must be aware that “New Media is not a threat, but an array of opportunities”.