Month: November 2013

How have digital platforms changed PR strategies and how do they interact with non-digital platforms?

Public relations (PR) as defined by Pembroke (2013), is vital to effective communication, being the “deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain a mutual understanding between an organisation or individual and its publics”.

Digital platforms have changed PR strategies as they give organisations further tools to engage with their audience. They grant self-publishing rights and give organisations the opportunity to ‘own’ their media channels. Organisations no longer have to rely on traditional media coverage through media entities to reach their audience (Pembroke 2013), which signifies a great cost reduction too. There are minimal distribution limits to digital platforms: information can spread rapidly and interaction can be achieved instantly.

Image credit: Pop Results
Information can be shared and interaction can be achieved at the click of a button.

Digital platforms facilitate digital storytelling, where an organisation can be an observer, participator, researcher, facilitator, curator and storyteller (Burgess & Vivienne 2013). Digital storytelling is the fastest way to achieve mass communication, as organisations are able to observe the interplay, agreements and disagreements of their audience. It allows for active and passive research, as organisations are able to both ask and learn about their audience (Blank 2010). This is also similar to the way journalism has evolved in the digital world. Journalists are no longer reporting to a passive audience, as readers are able to engage with the content to become a participator, researcher and curator, not only an observer.

Brisbane-based online clothing store, Black Milk Clothing, encourages customers to post photos on Instagram, wearing their clothing purchase and utilising a corresponding hashtag. Black Milk then links (and curates) these posts to their website, so potential buyers can readily see what their pieces look like on other customers.

British makeup brand, Illamasqua, utilises a YouTube account to publish video tutorials using their makeup. This shows their customers practical and creative uses for their products and gives Illamasqua the opportunity to listen to feedback and interact with their audience.

Digital is different as the interaction happens extremely quickly and publicly. Any delay in communication can have a negative impact on the audience, and as Norton (2013) suggests, an internal approval system for digital correspondence is ill-fitted to the speed at which digital operates. Organisations, therefore, need to be properly equipped and responsive concerning their digital presence.

Hertz have social media staff employed 24/7 to focus on customer enquiries, compliments and complaints received via Twitter.

Digital is also different as the reach and level of engagement can be measured via data in terms of effectiveness. Pembroke (2013) states “analytics on websites show how long people stayed on the page, where they visited from, if comments were left and what other pages they visited”. Therefore, the success of an organisation’s digital engagement aims, objectives and outcomes can be evaluated through the: reach – the number of people who saw the message; interest – the number of people interested enough to engage in some way (share, like, comment); and influence ­– the number of people driven to take secondary action (e.g. sign a petition or enter a competition) (Norton 2013).

Birdsong, a social media reconnaissance tool, displays an insight into the success of Redbull’s Facebook engagement.

Digital platforms can interact with non-digital platforms where the audience is driven from the non-digital, to the digital, via a call to action. A good example is through a QR (quick reference) code – a two-dimensional barcode that is a visual representation of a web address. Organisations can utilise non-digital platforms such as product packaging to drive customers to engage with the brand online – continuing the storytelling.

Coca-Cola (Coke) German cans were printed with a QR code that referred customers to their Spring campaign webpage, where Coke planned to release details of exclusive, one-time only, music shows in German cities.

Digital newspapers are also a different example of digital interacting with the non-digital. Online versions of newspapers and entirely digital newspapers are becoming more common. For example, Guardian Australia is a solely digital newspaper.

Guardian Australia puts their readers at the “heart of what they do” and encourages suggestions, corrections, clarification, engagement and debate.

Overall, digital platforms drive organisations to reconsider how they communicate. Digital has evolved PR strategies through granting organisations effective avenues to market their content, measure their success and adjust their approach to remain relevant to the audience.


Referring to Phillips (2012), how should organisations consider trolling/uncivil behaviour in designing their online engagement strategies?

To define the origin and provide context to the term ‘trolling’, Bergstrom (2011) states:

Based in Norse mythology, trolls were said to be supernatural creatures with less than benevolent intents. While trolls still make appearances in children’s stories and fairy tales, the term ‘troll’ has also taken on a new meaning in our digital age. To be a troll on the Internet is to be much like the Norse trolls, but with less supernatural powers and (perhaps) more malicious intents. When using the term troll to describe behaviour online, it often brings with it certain ideological baggage. To troll is to have negative intents, to wish harm or at least discomfort upon one’s audience. To be trolled is to be made a victim, to be caught along in the undertow and be the butt of someone else’s joke.

In the digital age, Phillips (2012) specifically defines trolls as “users who revel in transgression and disruptiveness”, where a vast majority of user content is created anonymously. Anonymous users who engage in trolling are able to publish offensive, uncivil and viral content while being afforded a hidden identity. Phillips (2012) claims a troll’s aim is to target a particular audience and ensure that audience pays attention. This can be achieved by baiting other users, hacking individual and organisation information, in addition to posting racist, sexist, homophobic or exploitative text and images. Phillips (2012) also suggests that trolls believe nothing should be taken seriously, and proposes they feed off users who protest and publicise their uncouth behaviour. This essentially provides the troll a behavioural blueprint and raises their visibility: a considerable feat for the troll subculture.

Image credit: The Internet Reaction Face Archive
The online symbol (troll face), used in many memes, meant to display the expression that trolls have whilst engaging their victims.

As an online presence is essential for organisations in today’s world, an organisation must consider trolling/uncivil behaviour and build their strategy around it. As identified by Bridges (2013) there are key concerns in regards to trolling/uncivil behaviour in an online environment and they are (though certainly not limited to): anonymity, authority and security.

Anonymity can afford users an ability to engage with others without the hindrance of a definable identity, which, when combined with significant freedom of expression, makes one highly volatile mix (Breeze 2012). Therefore, organisations should consider that facilitating verification of user identities can help minimise the threat of trolling/uncivil behaviour. Verification of identity by having users register through Facebook or Google+ accounts creates a filter, helping to separate the authentic from the potentially insincere. It also helps an organisation learn more about their market by providing deeper research channels that give great insight (personal information) into the needs and wants of the audience sought to engage (Blank 2010).

In order to join the Behance community, users can sign up through their Facebook, Adobe ID, Google+ or LinkedIn account.

Authority in terms of rules and regulations regarding online content can aid positively in an organisations engagement strategy. Terms of service or terms of use agreements are legally binding and define organisation and user rights and responsibilities including (but not limited to) proper usage, accountability and privacy. They can give an organisation authority to quantify the value of, and censor content, where trolling/uncivil behaviour can have consequences. As Bridges (2013) suggests, self-regulation in terms of up-down voting, the ability to report/block other users and individual moderation of interaction also helps quantify the value of, and censor content.

An interesting strategy executed by online social and digital news site, Mashable, was to trivialise trolls by affording them “Deck the Trolls“. This event encouraged trolls to identify themselves and engage in minor troll-like behaviour in order to win iTunes, Apple or Amazon vouchers. As this event stripped the trolls of transgression, Mashable was able to better domineer the nature of the content published on their site by users.

YouTube partnered with Google+ in order to improve their comments feature. The new changes allow users to sort their comments by either newest first or top rated, to tag friends in posts and rate comments in order to provide smarter sorting and more meaningful conversations.

In terms of security and minimising the risk of cyber-bullying and hacking individual and organisation information, the Australian Government Department of Communications (2013) suggests all organisations should have an online security policy. An online security policy can cover various matters such as acceptable use, the handling and storage of sensitive data, anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-spam software, alerts and an action plan in case of a breach.

The web collective, Anonymous, and offset, LulzSec, stole business and government data through cyber attacks. Forbes correspondent, Parmy Olson (2011) describes them as both hacktivists (hacker activists) and trolls.

In conclusion, it is impossible to eliminate trolling and uncivil behaviour online, but organisations can minimise their risk of being a target to transgressed and disruptive behaviour through developing a sound online engagement strategy. This strategy should consider anonymity, authority and security to lower the risk, and always incorporate the old-school Internet motto: “do not feed the trolls”.