There’s more to digital PR than social media

posted by Brendan Hodgson

In recent months, I’ve become somewhat concerned by the overwhelming attention being paid to social media at the expense of other digital PR functions.

While social media is inherently an extension of that function, for the benefit of younger PR professionals and those who are still exploring the role that digital plays within a PR context, I thought it important to outline some other activities – in addition to what we are doing in the social media space – that are taking place within H&K Digital here in Canada.

The point being, that we need to avoid the same issue currently faced by our industry around the mistaken association that PR is synonymous with media relations and nothing more. We can’t ignore that social media, like media relations, is becoming a key (and highly visible) subset of our respective offerings, overshadowing many other PR disciplines and areas of expertise.

But we have to avoid falling into that same trap, and yet do so intelligently. Clearly opportunities exist for forward-thinking PR firms and practitioners. But we must also be aware of the challenges related to finding those practitioners with the right skillsets required to undertake these types of assignments – namely the capacity to bridge the chasm that often separates the traditional PR practitioner with the digital specialist (not only the social media specialist) trained in areas such as functional design, information architecture and content management.

The opportunities exist. Here’s a quick sampling of digital projects currently underway in our shop that extend beyond social media:

  • Auditing the electronic communications (EC) function of a federal government department, and providing recommendations on how to position the EC team to more effectively address emerging trends in digital communications, and the changing expectations of their internal clients.
  • Undertaking various training sessions, including conducting a half-day ”Writing for the Web” course for another government department
  • Auditing the communications function of a large energy company as it relates to that organization’s overall emergency response protocol, and making recommendations for digital integration within that function.
  • Providing strategic guidance on the development of a crisis dark site for another large corporation
  • Developing an over-arching online strategy (that will likely include social media) for a large technology firm’s sponsorship of a major cultural event.
  • Supporting an organization’s online efforts to reach out to, and effectively communicate with, both institutional and retail shareholders on a key issue.

To repeat: social media is undeniably a critical component of many campaigns that we now execute on behalf of clients. And while we regularly bake social media into our strategies and programs, and as we are increasingly engaged to create, feed into, or support various corporate blogging strategies, blogger outreach campaigns, and other social media initiatives, connecting ourselves too aggressively to that one segment of the digital universe could result in our being excluded from other more “traditional digital” opportunities… which would be a bad thing for PR as its seeks to re-define its role in the changing communications landscape.



David Jones

That’s why I love H&K.  With so many smart people leading this organization, we have the ability to zig with confidence when others zag.  

As your colleague in H&K Digital here in Canada, I can honestly say that it is rare that we throw the term blogs & podcasts around like others do.  Couching what we do in terms like "digital PR" or "online PR" gives us the ability to start with sound strategies built on communications objectives, decide on the best way to harness digital for PR purposes and then measure and analyze at the end.

Do we do blogger relations and blog monitoring?  Sure.  Create facebook apps? Of course.  Design and develop blogs for clients? Yup.  But these are tactics that are part of an overarching PR strategy and never a stand-alone idea.

We’re growing our existing clients by engaging them with our digital PR expertise, we’re getting opportunities with new clients and we’re incorporating digital in a smart and strategic way in just about every competitive pitch we’re a part of.

I can honestly say, we don’t have a template, a fancy brand name or digital team members who know nothing about PR beyond what they’ve read on blog.  I think we’re blazing a trail for the way it should be done.



Gary Schlee

Your reminder is a welcome one. It’s so easy to tumble head-long into the tools and apps.

When we recently revamped the new media course in our Corporate Communications & Public Relations postgrad program at Centennial College, we consciously stayed away from pegging the course as Social Media (although there is significant exposure to Web 2.0 in the course’s curriculum). It’s called Online PR and it embraces all digital aspects of PR done well.

Your bullet items provide wonderful fodder for areas worth considering.



Brendan Hodgson

@Gary… glad to see you agree. As you indicate, the challenge for educators in PR is going beyond exposure to Web 2.0 (both philosophically and technically) and incorporating the theory and practical experience around web development as it pertains to the broader communications  challenges (reputation vs simply business) organizations face. Social media will be a part of that, no doubt, but there is so much more they can do.

@David… while fancy brand names are, as you know, anathema to my thinking around social media and PR, I do enjoy coming up with names (kinda like picking band names back in high school)… Howzabout Chatterbox, or Pandemic?

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