The study, produced in partnership with Ginger Research, polled 384 respondents, including 161 in-house professionals and 223 from agencies. It provides a benchmark of how the PR industry uses digital communications.
"On the one hand, we see shifts in how businesses are approaching customer service and community management," said Danny Watmough, PRCA digital group chairman and MD of integrated media at Weber Shandwick.
"On the other, we have the infancy of new technologies such as AI that are making some of these processes far more efficient. Much-hyped disciplines such as influencer marketing are seeing a welcome levelling out as the industry casts a more rigorous eye over how to achieve reliable measurement and ROI metrics from these activities."
Social media ownership
Some 57 per cent of respondents said the majority of their digital and social media content is produced by the PR and communications department, up 12 per cent year-on-year. The second department responsible for managing digital and social media content is the marketing department, at 20 per cent (7 per cent decrease since 2017), and only 12 per cent of respondents say they have a dedicated social media team.
Although PR teams are taking greater ownership of social, there has been a slight decline in the amount of digital marketing budget being spent on social, with the mean spend dropping from 27 per cent in 2017 to 25.3 per cent this year.
About half (51 per cent) of the respondents said their budgets will increase in the next 12 months, compared to 62 per cent in 2016.
If found that brands are cutting their budgets on influencers (12 per cent less spend than 2017) and blogger outreach (down by 9 per cent).
Last year's study forecast social media spend would increase despite of brands' fears of being attacked online.
The largest area of budget spend on social is paid media, which accounts for 55% of social budgets.
Brands use social media for driving awareness (83 per cent), increasing brand awareness (64 per cent) and driving a wider audience reach (65 per cent). There has been a 11 per cent decline to 35 per cent of brands using social media as a customer services platform.
The three leading digital and social media areas on which brands spend their marketing budget are: paid social media activity (55 per cent), web design and build (51 per cent), and video-based content (49 per cent).
How agencies are used
The study asked PR professionals how agencies are being used by organisations. The leading services that PR and communications agencies provide clients are: online press release distribution (13 per cent); text-based content (12 per cent); online media relations (12 per cent); and paid social media activity (12 per cent).
The most common services that clients expect PR and communications agencies to deliver on include: blogger outreach (40 per cent, down from 49 per cent); social influencer outreach (40 per cent, down from 56 per cent); digital crisis management (36 per cent, down from 51 per cent); and online reputation management (36 per cent, down from 51 per cent).
The leading digital services currently offered by agencies are online media relations/outreach (83 per cent), text-based content (78 per cent) and social network strategy (76 per cent).
Facebook, Twitter still dominate
In terms of platforms that are used, respondents reported drops in Snapchat (down 10 per cent) and Pinterest (down 3 per cent).
Instagram’s usage has increased to 56 per cent this year, while Twitter (94 per cent) and Facebook (72 per cent) are the most popular platforms amongst brands.
PR professionals' confidence in measuring the ROI of digital PR has dropped from 63 per cent in 2017 to 58 per cent this year.
This marks the first year confidence in measuring the ROI of digital PR is lower than the ROI of traditional PR activities (63%).