Kirk Hallahan is a former PR practitioner and now a professor at Colorado State University. In an insightful article for the Institute for Public Relations he summarizes his thoughts on the interaction between public relations and new communications technology. Here are some excerpts:
1. Public relations activities cannot be segregated from an organization’s other uses of technology. Communications technologies have altered PR’s structure and function. Customers and others are increasingly asked to interact with organizations through web- and wireless-based self-service technologies. As a result, technology-driven public relations activities are increasingly indistinguishable from routine organizational activities.
2. Public relations must redefine itself as a result of technology. The rise of new communications technologies makes even more irrelevant the traditional distinctions between communications activities. The critical question is whether practitioners are charged merely with producing, distributing and promoting messages that take advantage of new technologies (the traditional communication function of public relations); or should the real function of public relations be to advise managements at all levels (from chief executives to systems analysts) about maximizing organizational-user relationships regardless of who produces content?
3. New technologies are not the solution to all organizational communications problems. Organizations might be tempted to adopt every new medium that becomes available. But they must invest in new media selectively and strategically. New communications technologies must be combined into an integrated media mix that also takes full advantage of traditional media. The metrics for measuring many of the newest media are only in the developmental stage. More needs to be learned about new media’s impact on organizational relationships and reputation.
4. Technology poses new challenges to public relations and client organizations. New technologies can be incorporated into any of the four basic types of public relations programs involving promotion, relationship building and maintenance, crisis communications or issues management. The speed with which information can be shared with stakeholders during a crisis or controversy is obviously an ideal application of new media. Yet speed has placed new, unintended burdens on organizations as well. New media present new sources of crises that did not exist previously. These range from unfounded online rumors to malicious attacks by critics who enjoy unfettered access to a global audience.