Journalists, communications professionals, IT experts – the changing skill set of today’s PR people

It may not come as a surprise to many that social media is now the most popular way of consuming news in the UK, or that the most common way of accessing it is by following what our friends consider newsworthy. This finding comes from a recent survey of 7,500 media consumers, by PR data specialist 72Point.

 

From a PR perspective, the main premise of getting coverage is selling in a newsworthy story, with a topic and content which is relevant to the audience of the outlet you’re targeting. And in this respect, as with so many social activities – selfies, blogging and tweeting – every one of us is now acting as a journalist. All be it not creating, we’re directing relevant content to our audiences – our friends, families and Facebook stalkers. However, it would be too simple to assume that the news people see is exactly what their friends want them to see.

 

As anyone who uses Facebook will know, our social media feeds are not simply a list of posts from our friends, in chronological order. Our news feed is dictated by a complex set of algorithms which give Facebook the chance to bias everything we read and it looks as if Twitter is set to go the same way.

 

The reason for this, according to Backstrom, is that there are simply too many stories for us to process. Facebook’s news feed algorithm boils down the 1,500 posts that could be shown a day in the average news feed into around 300 that it prioritises. Factors include how often you interact with a friend, page or public figure; how many likes, shares and comments individual posts have received; how much you have interacted with that kind of post in the past; and whether it’s being hidden or reported a lot.

 

At the recent @mipaa masterclass, The Road Ahead: Congestion, Convergence and Continuity, one of the speakers raised a crisis communications issue they had experienced. A company they were representing had encountered a negative reaction from its supporters, with the majority of the criticism contained within its Facebook page. However the story blew up when it came out that the company was deleting unpleasant posts. Except they weren’t. It soon transpired that in fact these posts were getting filtered out by Facebook.

 

We heard later in the day how a number of PR companies are now employing IT experts to manage this issue better. Not every PR person can also be an algorithm expert and there is very little chance I’m going to understand how to effectively manage and influence social media platforms on a technical level any time soon, but it is something we should all be aware of when incorporating social media into our communications strategy and campaigns. “Doing” social media isn’t enough – we must understand the way it’s been received and perceived.

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