Technology: Online development could help mitigate the credit crunch

PROs should team up with tech specialists to use networking sites and create sophisticated content, says Vicki Hughes.

With 2008 now well under way, business expectations for the PR sector remain cautiously optimistic, although the full impact of the credit crunch remains to be seen. However, hindsight tells us that PR is often one of the first victims when the economy takes a downturn. So how can we lessen the impact this year?

Beyond the obvious on-going high service and added value to existing clients, consultancies should maximise the now well-established social media and online routes when developing their new business strategy.

From bespoke widgets to user-generated content, some may argue the subject has been over-hyped in 2007. However, it has fundamentally changed the speed and way in which we communicate. Social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, as well as Flickr and Twitter, continue to build their user bases and influence. While the increasing, and highly controversial, influence of advertising within sites such as Facebook may well change current users' behaviour, they remain popular for now.

Blogs are also gaining in popularity and credibility, often being the first port of call when looking for information on a new product or service. When evaluating a campaign's success, online contributions are becoming as important as traditional media column inches.

The PR industry should ensure the communication goals of an organisation are at the heart of any new media approach. Incorporating online tools into the evaluation of a campaign should also be the norm, with 'buzz monitoring' being standard for an agency's existing media monitoring efforts.

An issue for concern is whether PROs will lose influence over a company's online approach. Building online communities, developing blogs, as well as reacting to campaigns, may become dangerously removed from the press officer.

PR specialists are in the perfect position to use their comms expertise and develop and expand all channels of communication, including those online. However, success will only be possible if we understand digital media tactics and join forces with the technology specialists to make them happen.

I expect to see a much closer collaboration between traditional PR and digital media agencies in 2008, but more importantly, I hope to see PROs taking the lead role.

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