Net profit: Web is PR's strategic tool [Peninsula, The (Qatar)]
(Peninsula, The (Qatar) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) By Dr Mohamed Kirat
"If everybody is a publisher on the Internet, your company is too. The Net gives you the means to communicate directly to the public. Your candid, useful presentations to your many publics will buy you goodwill in times of trouble", Holtz, a prominent PR scholar asserts.
In public relations, as in other fields, nothing seems more important, than mastering the world of new technology and the advent of interactive workplace: the Internet, the World Wide Web, cyberspace. Internet has tremendous potential power for public relations and other communications disciplines. Today's publics are better educated, smarter and more media savvy. Public relations professionals can use the wired global village for immediate, effective and persuasive communications. They can use the Net to structure their information to respond instantly to expanding issues and market developments and changes.
Organisations today need to convey their thoughts, programmes and objectives to narrow segments of the population. The Net offers such narrow casting to reporters, analysts, consumers and opinion leaders. Electronic mail, intranets, extranets, CD-ROMs and websites are the main tools used by public relations departments. Media relations have been promoted and developed through the Net. Press kits are becoming digital, products are launched through the Net and interviews are conducted online. The World Wide Web is considered to be the first public relations mass medium allowing direct communications between organisations and their publics without going through news media gatekeeping, and journalists' and editors' filtering. Internet is a unique medium with an array of opportunities for organisations to reach and interact with their key publics online. Public relations practitioners can, through the net, communicate directly with their publics with transparency, frankness and democracy. Internet is a strategic tool for public relations to perform interactive communication, professional development as well as to conduct research.
There is a common denominator between online journalism and online public relations, both need each other and both use news, reports and data from each other. Online journalism needs and uses online public relations: Press releases, reports, company and managers' profiles, latest news and events, press clippings, video news items, etc. Public relations departments use online newspapers and publications to monitor the organisation's corporate image, news coverage and public opinion. PR departments use online newspapers to do research, to plan and manage their activities and programmes.
Excellent communications and public relations are those that serve to facilitate the relationship between an organisation and its strategic publics. The Internet can play a significant role in this kind of public relations, but generally it has not yet been used to that end. Most public relations activities on the Internet are limited to using it as yet another channel for the one-way, top–down publishing of information under the traditional formula of mass communication. Most public relations activities online are not strategic, they are not measurable and they are not targeted toward specific audiences or constituencies. For the most part, organisations' online public relations efforts are limited to a small component of a larger, catchall company site on the World Wide Web. A huge number of organisations and institutions have not yet embraced the Internet as a communication tool. The home page is static, it never changes. On the page, the company proudly displays its logo and links to the various sections of the site. As a result, the one site needs to accommodate all possible audiences, from customers and consumers to newspaper reporters and investment analysts.
Internet has become an essential communications medium for PR practitioners. It is a powerful, integrated tool and a worldwide network with broad applications internally and externally. Internet is a new medium requiring new ways of thinking and new PR tactics and techniques. Internet is a medium that cannot be ignored by PR professionals and practitioners. The principles of PR are the same and remain the same, the only change is technology that PR should use and adopt to perform its various activities and reach its different goals. With online public relations, audiences are self-selected by personal interest and no longer geographical, audiences are also global and local. Online public relations mean interactivity, it is closer to direct than mass media. This means that public relations should emphasise interaction with individuals online through two-way symmetric communication.
Online communication serves all tasks and types of content in organisational communication. Online is the closest an organisation can come to one channel carrying all forms of communication from plain text through multimedia. Email is a primary communications tool internally, externally and to national media. Public relations departments can through email send text, pictures and images. Online newsrooms are essential and a must for companies. In times of crises, online public relations help solve so many problems quickly and efficiently. Online public relations help in research and data gathering, as well as monitoring the corporate image through online newspapers and all kinds of electronic publications. Suggestion boxes and visitors' comments and questions through the organisation's web site are major sources for research and data gathering and are important feedback for public relations' activities planning and programming, and a good source for decision making.
Online is a major medium that PR practitioners should use efficiently and rationally for effective public relations. Online has matured quickly as a communications medium, it is a nearly inexhaustible topic. Public relations professionals should adopt and master the new technology because of the various services it provides for a transparent democratic and effective communication to promote and develop strong relationships between the organisation and its various publics.
The writer is a professor of Public Relations and Mass Communication at the College of Arts and Sciences, Qatar University.
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