PROs must heed Ofcom digital report to navigate the net

Stephen Davies says that last week's Ofcom survey should be ringing many alarm bells for technophobe PROs.

Online: women are frequent
Online: women are frequent

Marc Prensky, an acclaimed software desig­ner, once wrote a paper titled ‘Digital Nat­ives, Digital Immigrants’ where he claimed that there are two types of users of digital technology.

Digital Natives, said Prensky, are the younger generation, who grew up immersed in digital technologies such as the internet, mobile phones and mp3 players. On the opposite end of the scale are the Digital Immigrants, the older generation for whom digital technology may require some uncomfortable adjustment.

As Digital Immigrants begin to adapt to their new env­ironment, they always retain one foot in the past. Prensky claims that Digital Immigrants might ‘turn to the int­ernet for information second rather than first’.

But is this really the case? Not according to Ofcom. The fourth annual survey into Britain’s digital habits by the industry regulator found that the over-65 age group is one of the fastest growing online demographics and not, as one might expect, Prensky’s Digital Natives.

Perhaps just as surprising, the report found that among the 25-34 age bracket, women are now the dominant web users, not the stereotypical male geeks in glasses.

Alarm bells should be ringing in the ears of PROs whose target audience makes up these demographics. It would seem that the additional time, effort and resources spent on online comms are now warranted.

Like any PR campaign, the first step of the process is thorough research. PROs should first be answering a few basic questions. What is the target audience using the internet for? Which sites are they visiting, and why? Do they read online publications regularly? Do they create their own content and engage with others online using soc­ial media? If so, what are the themes of those conversations? How can PR provide added value to these people?

PROs should understand that social media is different to traditional media. Mass-emailing press releases to bloggers will not do anyone any favours, and agencies are criticised for such tactics.

Unlike regular online publications, social media sites and social networks tend to be used in a personal capacity. Users have built large communities around them, and PROs who are looking to est­ablish relationships must bec­ome part of the commun­ity themselves.

Coming out of the shadows is unnerving to some PROs but it is an increasingly necessary move.

Stephen Davies
(l) is social media manager for online news distribution company webitpr. He writes

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