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What’s the difference between PR and Social Media? This is a question that I get increasingly asked as social media becomes a greater part of our lives and a core part of the modern media mix. The truth is that both PR and Social Media are intersecting areas of expertise.

The diversification of the media landscape that has followed the empowerment of consumers in the internet age has led to greater degree of media choice. One subset of new media that has come in the wake of this information revolution is social media – with people now able to choose and even create their own media content.

Social Media Tools
Social media is primarily a set of tools used by the public, as they participate in online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages and multimedia content. There are many differences between this ‘new media’ and the longer-established newspapers and broadcast media. Social media is fast-moving and often ahead of the news, providing stories straight from the source, with news and trends supplied in real-time. Therefore as a news source, it is imperative that it is utilised by the PR industry in much the same way as media relations is.

The type of information exchange offered by social media provides fertile ground for companies to carry out components of their PR strategies and achieve their wider objectives. Any effective PR plan requires content, with social media in particular requiring this. Social media has become a key tool for PR, which allows brands to engage and communicate with their audience in real-time – it is therefore crucial for us as PR professionals to engage with this medium.

Effective Social Media Strategies
One prime Dubai example of an effective social media engagement strategy was during ‘The Address Downtown Dubai’ New Year’s Eve hotel fire. A crisis management operation was launched by the hotel’s media office in response to this on social media, with a negative event turned around into a positive opportunity to engage with the public.

Such real-time responses can also be utilised on apps like Instagram, where fun and engaging photos can be tagged with hashtags, to feed into and capitalise on the latest trending topics. These approaches provide opportunities for the more savvy of PR plans, which can employ social media apps and websites, in order to go directly to the consumer and engage with them on their terms. This live real-time coverage of events has been widely used by new apps in recent years, such as Periscope and Facebook Live. Both of these provide a real-time ability to interact with viewers using cameras on smartphones, answering questions and obtaining feedback on live broadcasts.

A Synthesized Approach
The approaches outlined see Social Media teams responsible for tweeting, live streaming and sharing content across different channels in real-time. In this case, social media becomes the media­ – specialist social media teams have full control of the content they share to the public, when they share it and how it is shared. This content should provide a synthesis between social media expertise and the wider PR strategy, which springs from a partnership between the PR and media experts.

Social Media and Reputations
Social media has become inextricably linked with company reputation and can impact on brand reputation through symbiotic flows. The public feed in to digital reputation and in turn, digital reputation feeds into public reputation. Therefore to communicate with your public it is important to engage with them where they choose to interact with each other, share stories and share their lives.

When considering how this sits alongside Public Relations, we need to go back to the very core of what Public Relations is. This is, as the PRSA defined it is, “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their publics.” The public here are at the crux of all social media interaction. Therefore, by this PRSA definition, it follows that social media must be factored in to any strategic communication plan for any organisation.