Digital PR skills. A guide to the digital PR skill set

Digital PR skills have dramatically changed in the last ten years because of the emergence of new forms of communication.

There is now a need for digital PR specialists to be multidisciplinary in their approach to campaigns because the role demands it.

This is because digital PR has become a sophisticated strategic function as organisations allocate more budget to it. Stakeholders require engaging in new ways as the media landscape continues to fragment.

Consider how different the media was just twenty years ago compared with today. There are more opportunities to engage with stakeholders in the multichannel world we live in today but this also comes with greater complexity.

Digital PR specialists need to develop a variety of skills to cater to this change and to ensure their work achieves the desired outcomes.

They have to blend the soft skills with the hard and the technological with the strategic. They need to understand the research process while staying up to date with the latest social issues and trends. They need to tell stories to people in engaging ways while at the same time ensure they have optimised for search engines.

It’s a varied and growing skill set.

Communication

The number one digital PR skill is good communication.

A digital PR specialist has to be able to craft press releases that interest journalists and bloggers. They need to be able to write keyword-rich blog posts and articles for search engines.

The social media content they create for clients has to be engaging and, if appropriate, meme-able. When speaking at an event or hosting a webinar they have to do so with clarity and credibility.

Communication today is multichannel and digital PR specialists need to be proficient in all of them. It doesn’t matter if they’re communicating with an individual, a group of people or indeed an algorithm.

Good communication is as much about listening as it is about talking. The ability to understand and interpret what others are saying is often the most important part of the process.

It’s both a skill and an art and in digital PR it comes in many forms.

  • Articles
  • Press releases
  • Opinion pieces
  • Blog posts
  • Website copy
  • Presenting
  • Speaking
  • Interviewing
  • Vlogging
  • Memes
  • Tweets

Rhetoric

The ability to understand and apply persuasive communication is a key digital PR skill.

The art of rhetoric is thousands of years old and was developed by the ancient Greek philosopher, Artistole.

While technology continues to change, human nature does not and rhetroic is as important today as it was thousands of years ago.

Aristotle identified the three factors you to persuade when communicating. These are;

  • Ethos (credibility) – being an authoritative and credible source
  • Logos (logic) – using factual information, data and reasoning
  • Pathos (emotion) – appealing to the recipient’s emotions

Knowing when to apply each is key.

Ethos must be a part of everything you do but you may use Logos and Pathos together or individually.

If you have just commissioned some research for a client and you want to publish the data to position the company has a thought leader that is Pathos.

If you are helping a charity raise money for a cause then you would appeal to potential donators’ emotions and use Pathos.

You can persuade people by using logic or emotion but either way you must always have credibility when doing so.

Storytelling

The world runs on stories. We teach ourselves stories to help make meaning. Storytelling is how we remember facts and information, and we use stories to hand down information from generation to generation.

All the best brands have stories too. They are stories that are relatable and that attract and engage customers who also tell their story for them. I’m sure you can name a brand story you’ve heard in the past that you still remember today. I recently spoke with a friend about a smoothie brand and I could not remember any of the products they sell but I could remember their origin story.

The world runs on stories because humans make meaning from them and tend to remember them more than facts alone. A key digital PR skill is to create and tell stories that resonate with the intended audience.

Stories are always about people which means in the world of social media they have never been more important. Stories contain facts (Logos) and also stir up emotion (Ethos) and while stories are meant to be entertaining (why else would anyone listen) they always have a clear meaning.

Research

Every stage of the digital PR process requires research. That could be understanding a new client’s industry, preparing for a new business pitch, putting together a survey, doing keyword research for SEO, understanding how a brand is perceived in social media or using website analytics to measure your campaign activity.

Research is every part of the process which it’s why an important digital PR skill. It comes in many forms depending on the requirement. Some of which include;

  • Primary research
  • Secondary research
  • Investigative research
  • Internet research
  • Social data research
  • Keyword research
  • Website analytics research

One of the major digital PR skills is research which explain why most digital PR specialists are inquisitive by nature.

Strategic thinking

Most industries today say strategic thinking is a prerequisite for success but rarely do they clarify what that means.

Being ‘strategic’ means you have a digital PR strategy in place to achieve a long term goal.

A strategy usually requires different kinds of rational thought, research and planning. In other words, there is not one way of strategic thinking but instead there are multiple type depending on what you’re trying to achieve.

For example, long term thinking allows you to focus less on short term rewards and see the bigger picture. Critical thinking helps you find flaws in your plans and anticipate any future problems. Second-order thinking allows you to understand the second-order effects from a decision. Process thinking helps design workflows and communications cascades. Creative thinking helps you come up with new and novel solutions to problems.

Applying the right type of thinking at the right time is one of the most important digital PR skills. The following are key strategic thinking concepts to learn and apply.

  • Long term thinking
  • Critical thinking
  • Inductive reasoning
  • Deductive reasoning
  • Process thinking
  • Creative thinking
  • Analytical thinking
  • Systems thinking
  • First-principles thinking
  • Second-order thinking

Technology

Technology has dramatically changed the world in recent years and non so much than digital PR. It’s a core component of the digital PR skill set.

All forms of communication have a technological component to them today. There are always new apps, services and social networks that digital PR specialists are required to learn and apply to the job.

Often this comes in the form of experimentation and being the first mover adopting a new technology is often the most advantagous.

Digital PR specialists have to become communications technologists. In other words, they have to be experts in social data, CRM, keyword analysis, technical SEO and so on. Technology is the digital PR infrastructure.

Social psychology

The definition of digital PR is about engaging with and influencing a range of audiences and individuals. In essence, it’s about people and understanding how they think and the influential factors that shape how they make decisions.

To do this, the digital PR specialist has to understand social psychology which is “the study of how individual or group behaviour is influenced by the presence and behaviour of others.”

Two subcategories of social psychology – Social influence and behavioural psychology – have a variety of theories that help you understand influence at a psychological level and the cognitive biases that go along with them.

There are many more than this list but learning and understanding them helps you apply them to digital PR campaigns and identify them in your own thinking.

  • Confirmation bias – we tend to recall, interpret or favour information that supports our beliefs
  • Social proof – we are more likely to do or believe something when we see others doing or believing it
  • Availability heuristic – we make decisons based on an example, information, or recent experience that is that readily available to you
  • Like/dislike principles – we tend to comply with requests from people we like. The opposite is we ignore any virtues of the people we don’t like
  • Authority bias – we believe the methods, opinions, strategies and advice of an authoritative person without applying thought or considering facts
  • Reciprication tendency – when someone does something good for us we want to receipricate and return the favour
  • Groupthink – when individual members of a group set aside their conflicting beliefs for harmony and consensus
  • Familiarity bias – we often go with what is familiar to us even though the results may be less than desired
  • Dunning-Kruger effect – when we overestimate our knowledge in a subject we have little experience

Current affairs

To be an effective digital PR specialist it’s important to keep up with the issues of our time. This goes beyond ‘the news agenda’ which is often fleeting and ephemeral. Instead, it’s about understanding the social issues that will be in the mainstream agenda for the long term.

These issues tend to be font and centre of many organisational strategies which means it is incumbent on the digital PR strategist to understand them and factor them into their campaigns when necessary.

Some important social issues of the day include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Gender inequality
  • Race inequality
  • Climate change
  • Mental health
  • Flexible working
  • Cost of education
  • Cost of healthcare

Digital PR skills will continue to evolve

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that the digital PR skill set will continue to evolve just as the world does.

Technology will continue to play a huge part of this change by providing new ways to communicate but also more potential for reputational threats.

There will be a greater demand for more sophisticated and long term digital PR campaigns which means the digital PR teams will be required to continually upskill to stay effective.

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