Public relations has always involved a careful balancing act between the needs of a business and the relationship it has with customers. In the past, the scale was firmly in favor of clients, often requiring businesses to go to extremes to avoid any negative press. Now, it seems like barely a week goes by without some type of outcry on social media against brands. Is the importance of customer opinions shrinking? Is PR going through an identity crisis?
What modern customers care about
Regardless of recent social media problems, the core principles of PR haven’t changed. In fact, current business trends show that many customers are even more interested in the “personality” of businesses these days. Millennials, to some extent, and especially members of Gen Z, care more than ever about the stances companies take about social issues.
This doesn’t only apply to national corporations, either. The effect of consumer power is felt across the economy, from restaurants to construction businesses. Businesses still need to be on their best behavior when it comes to PR.
How PR needs to change
There is one vital aspect where PR is undergoing a massive shakeup, though. It has to do with reality vs. perception. Younger buyers are keenly aware of the difference between real values and “marketing speak.” Attempting to spin serious problems isn’t just ineffective; it can make customers even more upset than before.
Put simply, today’s customers want honesty, not words that sound good. They want to see companies backing up their statements with action. There’s greater accountability because smartphone cameras and organizational leaks can quickly uncover any attempts to hide the truth.
Fortunately, this emphasis on business identity can work in the favor of brands. Gen Z has a strong sense of individuality. They are likely to loyally support brands with shared values. The essential thing is to make sure brand stances are firm and convincing.
Real people, real experiences
PR firms can support authentic experiences for marketing by changing the avenues they use. Instead of flowery language and perfect pictures, real people resonate with younger shoppers.
That’s why engaging with influencers can have such a positive effect on sales. Influences aren’t part of the “corporate machine.” They’re just everyday people recommending outstanding products.
Positive reviews continue to be vital for websites, too. To be effective, though, these need to be real reviews written by actual customers. People can tell the difference. Many shoppers of all ages trust reviews nearly as much as the product details on a website.
Interestingly, incentivizing reviews at the right time can produce excellent results. Instead of asking for reviews when a product first launches, businesses can get better results by sending an email a few days or a week later. Clients who have had a few days to enjoy their product may be more inclined to write a glowing review when prompted.
The social media conundrum
Handling social media sites from a PR perspective is tricky these days. Staying active with smart posts can work in a brand’s favor, going viral quickly. The downside is that negative experiences may go viral just as fast, if not more so.
How can brands adapt? First, by knowing their target audience well. This significantly reduces the list of negative triggers. Second, with honesty. These days, brands need to own up to mistakes.
Finally, by responding actively on social media in a positive way. Even negative feedback can look positive to onlookers if the company responds in a good way.
PR hasn’t diminished in importance. The only thing that has changed is which platforms to focus on and how to reach the right audience effectively.