A blog about digital & online

The Evolution of Online PR

Way back when, in the dark ages of SEO, online PR was an advertorial disguised as a press release that was uploaded to various distribution sites while the authors held their thumbs. The idea was that journalists would see the piece and be so enamoured with it that they immediately published it on their internationally acclaimed websites. The truth is they didn’t. At least, not often.

I mean, would you publish a press release called, ‘NumNum Chicken Launches New Style French Fry’?

That’s the kind of stuff that was put out there. Yeah, occasionally something really newsworthy would come along and would, no doubt, be picked up but, by and large, press releases did not result in brand awareness and traffic generation.

And that was sort of ok. Competition wasn’t as tight as it is now, Google still let blackish hat techniques slide and clients just thought that having press releases online sounded good – they didn’t have to know the low rate of return.

All of that has changed.

The great social overlap

Facebook changed everything (yes, it did).

People discovered that they could form communities online. They discovered their voices. They discovered their power.

More social platforms sprung up and their power increased.

Suddenly, clients were at the mercy of their audience and online public relations became online public reputations.

The upshot is that that every single thing that clients do is a matter of online PR.

Digital marketing companies that included online PR in their list of services found that they either learnt how to navigate social media or they lost clients and new leads.

But the road doesn’t end with the subtle art of Facebook pages and status updates, Pinterest pins, LinkedIn networking and engaging tweets. It didn’t end with interaction and two-way communication. Nope, now there is brand journalism to contend with it.

Is it or isn’t it?

Have you heard the term brand journalism? It’s kind of hot right now, at least in the online PR/social media guru world.

A brand journalist is someone who writes news stories on behalf of a specific brand/client. The news doesn’t necessarily have to relate specifically to the client, but it should be relevant to the client’s industry. So, if you have a client who sells fishing equipment you could write about the importance of sustainable fishing practices, as well as the benefits of the brand new Fishing Pole Whizz 2000.

In theory, these pieces need to adopt journalistic principles: they need to be objective, transparent and well-researched. In practice, well, objectivity is subjective, isn’t it? Transparency is in the eye of the beholder and research is only useful if it helps your client.

In practice, brand journalism is more likely to resemble interesting (and not so interesting) advertorials that pop up in blogs and find their way onto social media platforms.

It’s for this reason that some people object to the term; people like Tom Foremski. Foremski was a newspaper journalist before he turned his attention to blogging. He doesn’t think that anything that isn’t journalism can be called journalism. And writing on behalf of brands definitely doesn’t qualify as journalism in his books. He prefers the term corporate media; which, when you think about, accurately describes the intention behind the practice.

You can bet your boots that online PR won’t end with corporate media (or brand journalism, whichever you prefer) either. It’s a fluid industry that, like the digital realm that spawned it, is in a constant state of flux and which requires all practitioners to stay on their toes.

Where do you see the next step in the evolutionary chain going?


Image credit: John Strathdee, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, via Flickr

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