Public relations is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘the professional maintenance of a favourable public image by a company or other organization or a famous person’. 

But public relations is so much more. PR over the last 10 years has changed dramatically, evolving into a multi-focused profession offering a continuously increasing range of services.

This year will see the changing media landscape influence trends in the public relations profession. As practices are evolving and changing with the incorporation of online and social media, new and old trends will emerge.

1. Online Reputation Management

Online reputation management will continue to be at the centre of all social media activities in 2016. 

Online reputation management became increasingly important in 2015 as many public relations issues became viral on social media and caused larger issues for organisations and individuals. Small mistakes were being blown up on social media and at times spiralled out of control.

Online reputation management is not only waiting to react to negativity but also taking a proactive approach and monitoring platforms to understand what is being said about your organisation and flagging issues or concerns before they arise. Organisations need to stay relevant to audiences on social media and can achieve this by engaging in the online conversation and keeping abreast of emerging online trends.

It is however important to note when it is not appropriate for an organisation to take part in the online conversation. Last year, popular household brand Mortein came under fire for its post on social media which depicted Louie the Fly hanging out his vest in sympathy for the murder of Leeton school teacher Stephanie Scott. It was labelled insensitive and the organisation quickly removed the post. 

Organisations need to stay away from sensitive topics when attempting to be a part of the online conversation and consult a social media strategy before positing, as rushed and unplanned social media activity can be damaging to online reputation. 

If online reputation management isn’t a priority to your organisation in 2016 it should be.

2. The media release is dying

A media release was once the favoured communication tool for public relations practitioners to gain media attention, but it is no longer the case. 

The development of social media and the greater control audiences now have means public relations practitioners need to embrace new and innovative ways of communicating. 

By using only media releases organisations will start to pigeon hole themselves, as there is now multiple ways to communicate with different audiences. 

New ways of communication that will continue to increase in 2016 will include the use of social media, the use of visual communication in particular video and the formation of relationships with industry influencers and journalists. 

For example having a strong social media foundation could increase the chance of a news publication sharing an organisations story. 

During 2016 the use of media releases is predicted to decline, however it is still a valuable public relations tool in providing information and shouldn’t be discounted.  

3. Social media in political campaigning

With the next Australian federal Election due this year, it can be expected politicians will utilise social media to gain public support. Kevin Rudd was notably one of the first Australian politicians to take to social media to gain support in 2013. Mr Rudd was across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and posted personal messages, which were praised by the public. Prior to ousting Julia Gillard in 2013, Mr Rudd had 850,000 more followers on Twitter than Ms Gillard. 

Since then it is has become the norm to see politicians sharing personal posts, photos and videos on social media sites and audiences are responding positively. For example Mike Baird’s commentary on the television show The Bachelor’s finale saw wide spread media attention and popularity among Bachelor fans. 

The use of social media is also interesting as it can allow politicians to bypass the filters of media and allow for followers access to unfiltered statements.  

Politicians’ incorporation of social media does raise some issues as it is harder for them to fly under the radar. For example Bronwyn Bishop and her taxpayer funded trip from Melbourne Geelong for a Liberal party fundraiser was scrutinised across multiple online platforms.

The fast paced nature of social media can also be troublesome for politicians. Politicians can easily go from being favoured to heavily criticised based on the content they upload.  

4. Storytelling will be point of difference

Every time an organisation publishes media content it should be linked to previous content to ensure there is a continued ‘story’. 

The idea of storytelling enables an audience to build an overall image of an organisation and be able to follow the organisation through its transitions and changes. It allows audiences to create feelings, ideas, and attitudes towards an organisation. 

Storytelling is not something new to the public relations profession but the changes in media have provided new mediums, for which stories can be communicated, specifically the use of visual imagery across social media to display stories. 

Story telling will become popular again in 2016 as organisations try to differentiate and further connect with audiences. The rise of the influencer will help further connect organisation ‘stories’ to audiences. 

5. Rise of the influencer

Influencers will become a permanent fixture in communication strategies in 2016. 

The classification of who an influencer is has dramatically changed with the introduction of online and social media. 

With the rise of social media and the changes to traditional media; influencers can be any individual who has a medium to large following in a specific area, topic or industry. Professionals, academics, and bloggers can all be considered influential and will help take traditional media into the social and online media age. 

It will be essential for organisations wanting to be different and noticed in 2016 to form relationships with relevant influencers to compliment media strategies. 
Organisations who do will find media reach becomes more targeted and reaches a wider audience.