What Peer-to-Peer Means to PR

FLASH! “Public relations and communications specialists are struggling to recognize the impact that the Internet will have on how communication occurs” (my italics). This revelation comes to us toilers in the PR salt mines from a new, $795 study by Stamford, CT-based IMT Strategies. The only surprise it holds for me lies in its use of the future tense.

Yes, Virginia, “PR pros are reacting slowly” to the changes online communications and culture are wreaking, according to “The Impact of the Internet on Public Relations and Business Communications: How New Models of Communications Will Create Risks and Opportunities for Communications Professionals,” a survey of 100 marketing and communications professionals at “large traditional business, new Internet firms, offline and online media, public relations firms, marketing agencies and specialized communications consultancies.”

Gone forever are the carefree days when linear communications channels dominated the landscape. In its place Internet PR pros face an open-networked, online world ruled by a rapidly evolving interconnected peer-to-peer communications model.

Got it? In short, while hundreds of millions of PC users clambered aboard the Internet in the ’90s, some fundamental changes in the communications processes took place.

Unfortunately, the IMT Strategies study finds the PR industry has largely been asleep at the switch. Rather than see an abundance of opportunity to expand its services menu and move up the corporate org chart, survey respondents felt the top ways the Internet had affected PR were obstacles or challenges: the ever-faster speed of communication, more and new media to contend with, an increasing noise level, the lack of control over online messaging, and the unchecked spread of rumors online. Scary indeed. It appears PR has its work cut out.

Let’s elaborate on the changes that are arriving along with this new Internet-enabled, networked communications model. “The Internet has triggered a fundamental shift in the way people communicate with each other and the way businesses can communicate with them.”

Exactly. We find ourselves entering a brave new world of targeted, one-to-one communications where the establishment (institutions) no longer controls the message, where the messenger (the individual, the customer) is king and relationships built on brand and corporate experiences rule the day. In short, a new world of direct peer-to-peer communications that is largely non-networked and unmediated.

IMT Strategies envisions the Internet forcing change on corporate communications in six key ways:

  1. Quality and authenticity will be self-regulated.

    “People will vote by mouse clicks as to the sources of information they trust.” Don’t expect these to necessarily be the established communications networks.

  2. Information volume will continue to grow.

    The already overwhelming info glut will continue its out-of-control spiral, but “people will manage with a combination of new technology, trust relationships and personal information processing skills.”

  3. Media sources will continue to proliferate.

    Online publishing and distribution costs have collapsed (matched only by revenue models, it seems), making entry attractive to small to medium-sized operations aimed at ever more niched audiences.

  4. Centralized information control will continue to decrease.

    The growing demand for information and simplicity of distribution (read “free”) means that traditional controls over access will become increasingly unmanageable.

  5. Communications will become more efficient.

    People will establish new personal routines among proliferating information sources, filters, and channels to get most efficiently just the info they need. (Ask yourself how many zines you read and search bots you use.)

  6. Collaboration will increase.

    This new ease of communications, personalization, and one-to-one marketing empowers customers (no longer mass consumers) to demand increased interaction (read as positive experiences and relationships) from organizations.

OK, you ask, where does the PR pedal hit the metal? Right in your skill set because, in case you haven’t noticed, things are going to change must faster in the Internet years to come.

To be successful, Internet PR pros and Internet agencies must become proficient in:

  1. Online constituent intelligence: the art of extracting strategic value from the info glut.

  2. Communications architecture: mapping a comprehensive plan for effective intermedia coverage in networked marketing communication programs.

  3. Dialogue facilitation and community building: the ability to engage, participate in, host, and foster dialogue and community building among client constituencies.

  4. Mastery of new communications tools: command of a new tool set and strategies to enhance online credibility, awareness, reputation, drive traffic, and so on.

Finally, a brand-new Internet PR tool chest is rapidly filling in four broad areas:

  1. Marketing communications automation: email tools, online clip tracking/analysis, virtual press rooms, and so forth.

  2. New communications channels: chat and discussion lists, intranets, extranets, instant messaging, rich media, and wireless.

  3. New publicity models: affiliate networks, content syndication, and loyalty programs.

  4. New analysis and business strategy techniques: data mining, web and content development, CRM strategy, online surveys, and so on.

So why are you still reading? You’ve got lots of homework to do.

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