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Current Online Communication Trends and the Future of Public Relations

on line communication

Public Relations (PR) is an important component of public life.  Public relations practice is the art and social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organization leaders and implementing planned programmes of action that will serve both the organization and the interest of its public (Jefkins 1994). PR is the strategic management activities that help to continue mutual lines of communication and collaboration between the organization and its stakeholders. The degrees of success of PR activities are very significant for the fortune of an organization.

Activities on Public relations help an organization to achieve its objective in an appropriate manner. Public Relations is not creating good image for a bad team. Although the products of an organization may be good enough to satisfy its customers, despite it needs an effective Public Relations campaign for attracting, motivating and sustaining the demand for the products among its public.  The Institutes of Public Relations (IPR) sees public relations as synonymous with reputation-it is the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. The IPR goes on to define public relations practice as the discipline which look after reputation with the aim of earning understanding and support, influencing opinion and behaviour (Beard-2001). The activities of PR is not only encouraging the involvement from the public but also resulting in the better image for the organization.

According to PRSA[1] (1982), “Public relations help our complex, pluralistic society to reach decisions and function more effectively by contributing to mutual understanding among groups and institutions. It serves to bring private and public policies into harmony”. This definition was adopted before the advent of internet. During that time print media was the sole media for distributing information.

After the innovation of internet facility the communication trend has changed a lot. Considering this reality PRSA[2] (2012) defines public relations as a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and its publics.

According to Kitchen (1997: 25) “the early functions of PR concerned public contact (publicity), then research into public opinion with a view to influencing such opinions favourably. Following the Second World War public relations sought to change its image from manipulative and one way to two ways, reciprocal and interactive”. Due to the interactive role of public relations, it act as the enabling mechanism for public debate, and therefore for public opinion and the public sphere (Pieczka 2006).

From practical point of view, public relations is the practice of presenting  public face of an organization,  the expression of the organization’s goals and objective and view of the organization on issues relevant to it (L’Etang-2004).  Information is the currency for PR industry.

This essay will describe the role of PR in society and at the same time will describe the trends of online communications, the various communication forms of online media and the impact of online media on society. Finally a brief discussion will be done on the   future of online and print media in regard to future public relations activities.


2.0  The Components of Public Relations:

 Public relations is the set activity for an organization to ensure its relationships with its stakeholders and the target clients. For a successful public relations activity the components are as followed:

  • Public
  • Relations
  • Online Communication
  • Online Media
  • Print Media
  • Electronic media
  • Campaigns

2.1 Public:

Public describes a group that gets together in response to an issue that affects them, yet public relations practitioners and academics use the term to describe large groups which share similarities  (shareholders, employees) but who may never have had any direct contact with each other (Leitch and Neilson 2001).

2.2 Relations:

Human being always tries to establish relations with one another. The behaviour of an individual affect his/her relationship with in a group. Therefore, to understand any relationship, one must understand the need and desires involved with in the group. Relationships can be of various types. We have relationship by Friendly, jealous and hostile. A relationship may be active, or it may be passive.

2.3 Online Communication:

Online communication is the use of digital telecommunication divide for conveying information and ideas among the users. The use of e-mail and the internet becomes more and more wide spreading. These tools become more valuable and useful in PR Industry for the purposes of increasing relationships with the target clients, and facilitating conversations between organizations, retailer and end user.

2.4 Online Media:

Online media (also known as digital media) transmit  information based on internet. It includes web site, email, Blog, online chat, file transfer, social media (e.g. facebook and twitter), and other devices such as mobile, laptops, ipad and tablet.

2.5 Print Media:

Print media use a physical object as a means of sending information, such as a Newspaper, Book, pamphlets, comics, brochures, flyer, newsletters, leaflets, e-book, magazines, billboards, signs and placards .

2.6 Electronic Media:

Electronic media (also known as Broadcast media) transmit  information electronically . It includes radio,  television,  film, CDs, DVDs, and other devices such as cameras and video consoles.

2.7 Campaigns:

It is the single-objective publicity programme, usually on a more or less elaborate scale, employing coordinated publicity through a variety of media, aimed, at a number of targets. It is focused on specific targets. A campaign objective may be the creation of awareness on a specific issue or may be the promotion of a food product.


3.0 Role of public relations in society:

Public relations involves in supervising and assessing public behavior. The task of public relations is to develop channels of communication and to formulate new ways of setting up a two-way flow of information and understanding (http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Important-Role-Of-Public-Relations&id=198392).

According to L’Etang (2008) in basic descriptive functional terms public relations involves in the communication and exchange of ideas in response to, or to facilitate change. It is thus intrinsically connected to policy initiatives, their promotion and responses to these by organizational actors and their representatives. Most communication is achieved through the use of various technologies (telephone, email, internet, SMS, website, electronic media, print media).

In this regard “Habermas has suggested that PR has the ability to set the agenda and thus intervene and disrupt the bottom-up flow from citizens to those in power.   Other media sociologists picked up this critiques and argued variously that PR was the tool of capitalism; that PR interfered with public public communication between government and governed; that corporate resources could buy influence; and that the media can be manipulated by public relations practitioners” (Garnham, 1986:41).

According to Habermas (1989: 27), “the notion of the public sphere is of a space where private opinions could be transformed into a more general public opinion in relation to democratic procedures and state policy development and decisions- the sphere of private people  come together as a public”

Hebarmas (1989: 194) argues “In public sphere engineering of consent is the central task for PR”. Political and corporate institutions that can afford PR services are able to dominate news agendas so that media businesses become ‘the gate through which privileged private interests invade the public sphere’. In this context PR professionals are the gatekeeper.

L’Etang (2004 : p.6) pointed that,  “Habermas’ intervention urges us to see the importance of contextualising specific public relations activities such as media relations with in broader structure of society. In order to understand their wider implications. Specifically he identified public relations as supporting the dominance of elitist and reinforcing structural inequalities”. From sociologist view the dominant paradigm is broadly liberal pluralist and sees public relations as supportive of democracy, opening up channels of communication in society and facilitating dialogue between organization and publics. The conception of two way symmetrical communications entails the use of bargaining negotiation and strategies of conflict resolution to bring about symbolic changes in the ideas, attitudes and behaviours of both the organization and its publics (Grunig 1989).

How ever, public relations activity is needed for a variety of institutions in the society. The government agencies, educational institutions, business concerns, social organizations are the nurturer for PR. To achieve own target, these organizations must maintain fruitful relationships with their publics such as employee, citizen, students, local communities. The management of these organizations must understand the demand and the behavior pattern of their publics to achieve organizational goals. The PR practitioners acts as a catalyst to management and as a mediator, assisting to translate private aims into rational and commonly implacable policy and action.

Universal Accreditation Board (2003) describes several ways on benefits of PR for the society. It includes the following:

  • PR helps in establishing smother relationship between organization and groups.
  • PR acts as the safety valve for freedom. It gives customers necessary information to make their own choices.
  • PR enables individuals to be aware of many aspects of subjects that affect their lives
  • PR plays significant role in activating organization’s social conscience.
  • PR is universal activity. Every business concern practices principles of public relations in seeking acceptance in the market arena. PR professionals only practice it in a more professional way.

Public image is important to all organizations. During crisis moment PR agencies provide key information that saves the reputation of an organization. According to Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), “Public relations helps an organization and its public adopt mutually to one another.”


4.0  Public relations by print media:

Among various tools of PR, the print media is one of the oldest. It is the most widely used common and vital channel for interest group to disseminate the message properly and influence the surrounding significantly. PR industry and its practitioners are using print media for long history to spread information, persuasion and also for building opinion among the public on behalf of their patrons. Networking, maintaining relationship, producing news and intended activities to be published in the print media are thus part of everyday schedule of PR professionals. Studies on the relationship between PR professionals and the press prove that, PR actors and the journalists often make a circle and create close relations with each other to fulfill mutual desires.  (Davis 2002; Allern 1997; Wien & Lund 2001). The condition is comparable to the relationship between the media and the political leaders or those in powers. (Gans 1979; Ericson et al. 1987; Cook 1989; Larsson 1998).

The impact prospective of the print media is vital factor for the target group where online media is commonly scarce. This is the core reason for which journalists were prioritized from long time. During the golden age of print media journalist were the sole gatekeepers for mass information. But, with the advent of online PR the role of gate keeper is changing favouring the PR professionals. How ever, there are at least two specific reasons for which print media is still the best channel for reaching the mass audience and there by play momentous role in governing and building public opinion on desired direction. First, publication in daily news paper has a higher level of credibility than other communication channel in the society and secondly, compared to advertising and electronic media publicity, press is a cost effective method.

The relationship among print media, PR and internet are very complex. For instance if you pick up a piece of paper that has a message, you will see that message but on the internet the recipient of the message has to find that out for him or herself. According to Moloney (2004: p.76) “this is a common problem across all groups using the internet. Good website publicity and audience building depends on good traditional publicity in print and in the media.  In the first instance, you have to get the PR message onto paper, onto television screen or passing through word of mouth before you can people to go to electronic with you. There is a self generating element after that and that has to do with the technology of linkages. The starting point in many cases is pre-electronic technology.”

Expert PR agencies always prepares appropriate press release onto which they publicize needful company news. This way PR agencies with their own professional network with the press actors, news reporters try to maximize their chances for getting news coverage.


5.0 Public relations by online:

The public relations industry has, historically sought a flexible way to create common information formats (such as press release). Now there is an exciting new way of achieving this on the web (Phillips 2001).

After the innovation of internet facility the online PR practices has brought relationship and reputation of a company at front line of business activity. The business concerns are now closer to their clients and publics than before. Online PR touches them directly. An email to a chief executive opens up opportunities for interrelationships that were once slow and now are fast and intimate. The content of the web site and comment in newsgroups offers kinship between individuals and the community interested in your organization that was not possible before.

Effective use of email, the web and other internet resources is now becoming a necessity. Creating relationships with online information partners, ambassadors and management of issues-driven third parties is a necessary skill.

This year the number of UK corporate companies using social media application for customer communication has increased three times compared to last year. 40 per cent of FTSE 250 companies are using social media as their communication tool with the publics. The figure was 14 per cent on last year (Mattinson 2013).

According to Mattinson (January 2013), “Marcus Fergusson, head of social media at Investis, said that they are now approaching a stage where talking about social media as an optional add-on is no longer relevant; it is rapidly becoming a day-to-day part of how communities communicate and as much a part of corporate communications as a press release”. Visit the page of middesbrough council website (http://www.middlesbrough.gov.uk). This page is linked with Twitter, Flicker and youtube. In the Twitter page https://twitter.com/mbrocouncil of the council number of followers is 3259 and number of tweets is 953 as on 20 February 2013. Thus users easily get important information from this page in a minute in their computer, laptop, mobile phone, tabs or in their net book. Like other social media Twitter is performing online PR role favouring Middlesbrough council.

The scenery of communication trend has faced generous changes in the last 20 years—and the change is still in opderation (The New Media Consortium 2007). Email is playing the significant cause on the way for keeping people in touch. Communications are now easier and interactivecompared to early letter writing norm. Response time has severely reduced. Now a days, we are surprised if found someone without email address.

Organizations now a day are more interested for online PR compared to traditional PR practice. Circulation of print news papers are gradually reducing, network televisions are facing audiences decreasing, radio is squeezing and commonly said that Magazines are lessening (Horton 2009). With in this scenario, there are millions of bloggers and Facebook users, Twitterers and texters. As reporters are switching from traditional print  media, PR practitioners are forced to consider and to use online media.

Online communication tools have the potential to raise our awareness significantly about our social contacts. Facebook, for instances always updates us, who is writing a new blog post, who is about to have lunch with a friend. Technologies like Twitter, Flicker, Linkedin, youtube enable us to get fastest information about society even when the members of our community are not within sight.

Internet is the vehicle, for performing online communication. Progressively, it is the “third place” (the first and second places being home and work) where people attach with friends, listen to music, watch television, build a sense of togetherness with people across the world ( Gooltz 2007). The biggest potential for online PR is that it is comparatively cheap and faster than any other media.


6.0 Analyzing the trends of online communications:

Based on the Digital Center Report[3]-2004 and Australian Communication and Media Authority Report[4]-2008 the major trends in online communications over last twenty years are as followed:

6.1 The media habits have changed, and continue to change:

For the last 50 years at home people were dominated by television. But, promising by last 10 years internet users are diverting from televisions and increasingly spending time in internet. The more the user is expert the less time is spent on television.

6.2 The Internet has become the number one source for information:

The Internet has become the most important source of current information for users. The “always-on” function of broadband has accelerated this importance. Now a day, one can instantly access the latest movie charts from a bookmarked location of his computer.

6.3 E-mail: e-nuff already?

E-mail is still the single most important reason for people for connecting with online. . E-mail is a tremendous convenience and free service with enormous benefits. E-mail opens opportunities to communicate more often and with a much broader circle of people than we ever reach by telephone or by mail.

 6.4 Broadband will change everything:

The speed of internet is increasing day by day. Thus broadband is changing our relationship with internet at home, in office. The frequency of using internet for personal and commercial perpose in increasing tremendously, compared to early days of internet innovation.

According to Subrahmanyam K. and Greenfield P (2008) The following  various forms of online communication are available now a days due to the advantage of internet connection.

Online Communication Form Example
E-mail www.yahoo.com
Instant messaging Mobile phone
Text messaging Twitter.com
Chat rooms Yahoomessenger.com
Bulletin board www.collegeconfidential.com
Blogs Websites such as www.livejournal.com
Social networking utilities www.myspace.com
Video sharing www.YouTube.com
Photo sharing www.Flickr.com

Table 1. Various Online Communication Forms.


7.0 Impact of online communication on society:

Interactivity is the main reason for feeling inspire to use the Internet. More than 90 percent of people who used the Internet in a typical day during the year 2000 sent or received email (Kiesler etal 2002). People use more time online for communicating with e-mail than before. Online facility encourages people to use the Internet for information, entertainment and shopping, and discourages them from leaving Internet service (Kraut et al. 2000).

Online Communications, including contact with friends, family members, and participation in social groups has improved people’s level of social participation, (Diener et al. 1999).

The impact of online communication on society has both positive and negative effect. But, mostly it depends on the quality of people’s online activities and what they give up for spending time in online. Stronger social ties generally lead to better social outcomes than do weaker ties (Neuling and Winefield 1988; Wellman and Wortley 1990).


8.0 The future of online PR:

According to Owens (2004: p.156) “The internet has increased the speed of reaction and need and changed the way we communicate….Internet will develop more. It is developing. I think it will become more and more important. I’m sure we will see more reliance on PR because it is still the thing that makes most sense. It can reach out to people as individuals and it is the personal that people want”.

A key feature of the internet, from a public relations perspective, is that it facilitates direct, unedited, communication and most future public relations effort doubtless will focus on developing ever more innovative ways of achieving this. It is also very cost-effective channel, not only for sending messages out but receiving them back as well. The internet is a democratizing tool that tests organizations wanting genuine two-way symmetrical dialogue. In other words, for organization it can be a great leveler (Davis 2007).

According to PRweek (2012) in future the press release published in the organization’s website will be the source of news for various media. For example, on 29 October 2012 Apple published a press release on their website at http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2012/10/29Apple-Announces-Changes-to-Increase-Collaboration-Across-Hardware-Software-Services.html regarding the internal decisions taken by new Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook. It was published by the PR department of the company. This became the lead news for Wall Street Journal on 30 October 2012. News available at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204840504578089102411834238.html?KEYWORDS=tim+cook+era+at+apple . This example again gives us the indication that in future PR practitioners will be the gatekeeper in the media world with the increasing expansion  of the online PR.

In recent days, for newspaper industry the amount of subsidy is gradually increasing. Because of the finan­cial and personnel cutbacks, many news organizations have undergone. Social researchers claim that this type of economic shrink has forced journalism to become increas­ingly dependent on mostly to online sources (Blumler & Gurevitch 1995; Bennett & Mannheim 2001). On the other hand the practice of citizen journalism is increasing day by day.  People are now used to with technologies and are more interested on social media. The sale of smart phone is increasing gradually and the demand for latest iphone is always sky touching. Various mobile apps has increased  the communication scope.  Huge options are available now for getting needful information and the preferable one in the online media due to its interactive facility. To catch a greater amount of public with minimum expenditure the on line media is best option for PR practioners. Considering this reality White (2011) in the publication ‘PR 2020: The Future of Public Relations’ said, “Special efforts will have to be made to incorporate digital and social media, but by 2020 competence in use of these will be up across the board and there will be more competition with others using the same media to reach audiences”.


9.0 Conclusion:

Mass media (e.g. newspaper, Television, Radio) will never disappear. Societies will protect these institutions for having a common reference point to discuss and engage with. But, at the same time, media is fragmenting into a multitude of channels and perspectives. The new wave of ‘online media’ is only the expansion of media multitude for PR practitioners, which includes every type of communication forms as noted in this paper on table 1.

 Dawson (2006) pointed in ‘The six facets of the future PR’ the science and art of PR is about influencing perceptions. In a broader perspective, there is little difference between traditional media public relations and online media public relations. According to Horton (2009) “In traditional media relations, practitioners identify reporters and editors and build relationships with them in order to get client news disseminated. In online media, practitioners identify influential participants and build relationships with them in order to get client news disseminated”. From the trends of online communication and discussion of this paper it is clear that online is a fast expanding media in our society as well as the cost effective, speedy and effective medium for disseminating information. One problem for online media is that there are lots of participants and there is less clarity in determining the key player’s identity. From history, we can predict over time influential people will unite with in online media and PR practitioners will have a definite perspective on where to go. This transformation is happening in the arena of online pr, but still there are large areas of online pr need to unlock for further investigation.


*Writer of this article Dewan Mohammad Ahsan Habib, is working as Deputy Director (Traffic) in the Head Office of Bangladesh Betar (Radio), Bangladesh.


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