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8 things we learnt from the PRCA Digital Report

prca-digitalThe PRCA Digital Report provides a benchmark of how the UK public relations industry is getting to grips with media change and the emergence of digital and social forms of communications.

The third annual report, produced in partnership with YouGov, tells the story of how new forms of media are being adopted by other areas of a modern organisation, in addition to their role as reputational armoury. Budgets remain flat indicating that communication team and agencies are reluctant to grasp the opportunity.

#1 Alignment with other organisational disciplines

As social media matures, it is finding applications in every area of an organisation from marketing to sales, and customer service to human resources. In-house leaders report that social media is increasingly aligned with marketing (94%) and customer service (56%).

#2 Emergence of in-house social media team

There has been huge growth in the use of standalone in-house social media teams overseeing platform management, with particular growth in them taking over LinkedIn which may be from the communications department (17% growth over two years).

#3 Shift from defensive, reputational focus

Marketing was cited as the primary application of social media by in-house respondents although two-thirds said it had a role as part of the organisation’s external communications. 6% reported that it was used to tackle negative attacks, and 4% for responding to disgruntled employees.

#4 Investment in digital and social forms of media

The percentage of budgets spent on digital and social media and social media as part of the communications mix remains flat at 16%. My view is that public relations is failing to stake its claim for budgets although almost two-thirds (64%) of respondents said that they expect theirs to grow.

#5 Influencers as media, alongside journalists

Influencer marketing is a natural evolution of media relations practice. New, highly engaged and trusted influencers have emerged alongside journalists on almost every social platform. This area has seen growth of 11% over the past two years to 52% in 2015.

#6 Agency services

Agencies are offering a cross section of digital services: 54% are now offering SEO services, 82% offer blogger outreach/ engagement; 47% offer online ads/PPC; and 76% offer online reputation management. The biggest digital service offering for agencies remains content creation, which 91% of agencies provide.

#7 Building the next generation of web sites

Here’s a surprise given that the web is more than 20 years old. The most significant agency growth area is web design and build – up 12% since last year to 71%. Indeed, in-house staff are reporting 8% growth over the past two years in use of public relations agencies for web design and build services. My view is organisations are looking to public relations to switch out old, admin heavy, complex sites for more agile, responsive and social sites.

#8 Platforms: Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter

In the last 12-months, in-house teams surveyed have seen the biggest growth in use of LinkedIn (14% growth) and blogs (9% growth). 77% expect to use LinkedIn in the coming year, while 73% expect to use Instagram. Twitter and Facebook remain on top, with 96% and 90% of in-house teams having used those platforms over the past year.

“[Organisations] are continuing to evolve in their handling of digital communications, with more expectation being heaped on their agencies to deliver a broad range of activities from blogger outreach to web design and build,” said Danny Whatmough, head of social, EMEA, Weber Shandwick, and chairman, PRCA Digital Group.

“There’s an interesting debate to be had around the longer term role of agencies working alongside in-house teams that continue to strengthen their digital skills,” he added.

YouGov partnered with PRCA to survey 280 agency (123 respondents) and in-house (157 respondents) public practitioners between July and August 2015.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

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