Digital PR has faced an identity crisis as the practice subsumes nearly every modern PR organization. While its meaning can range from social media to emerging facets of the discipline, such as data analysis and app development, in 2013 its significance remains uncontested.

The Holmes Report called upon digital PR experts worldwide to outline the trends that will lead the sector as it continues to define itself this year. Frank Eliason of Citi also chimes in for his take on how digital will unfold in 2013.

1. Vanity metrics under pressure -- As the PR industry came to terms with KPIs and measurement, clients commonly outsourced measurement to agencies who then outsourced the data collection and analysis to digital monitoring services -- enabling sophisticated distortions of the data, often to reinforce each party’s vested interest. “The honeymoon is over -- vanity metrics will no longer cut it,” says Susan Etlinger, an industry analyst with the Altimeter Group. In 2013, the PR industry will be forced to backup vague terms, like engagement or influence, by explicitly proving their worth to the business. With this, shared meanings are likely to emerge throughout the industry, especially when it comes to applied value. “There’s a difference between a retweet and a Pinterest pin -- so we’ll see this benchmarking not being as neat and clean as it has been,” Etlinger adds.   

2. Mobile content takes form-- Since the iPhone, the PR industry has anticipated just how the mobile phenomenon will transform the sector. While some agencies jumped into the app development game, mobile’s content implications are now becoming clearer. “Content will be developed for mobile screens and mobile consumption increasingly,” says Zaheer Nooruddin, regional VP and Asia-Pac digital strategies lead for Waggener Edstrom. This means in 2013, digital PR will involve drafting condensed copy that’s digestible on a mobile screen or video press releases that convey information visually and quickly, as well as applying a “which device” filter to tailor content to everything from tablets to smart watches.

3. Marketing diverges? -- Digital has often been proclaimed as the force that will inevitably lead to the collision of marketing and PR. This isn’t so, says Jon Silk, head of European digital strategy at Bite Communications.  “Digital PR is growing into an important branch of marketing in its own right,” he says, noting that digital PR consists mostly of online influencer relations, conversation tracking and content creation. “The challenge is learning where PR ends and disciplines like marketing and advertising begin…let the experts concentrate on what they’re good at,” Silk adds. This viewpoint will certainly be debated in 2013, as others like Sandy Purewal, CEO of the Octopus Group, forecast PR’s ongoing encroachment into marketing budgets as clients seek better economies of scale in 2013.  

4. More socialized customer service -- Customer service woes will increasingly be played out on social channels -- despite warnings that doing so only trains customers to publicly complain in order to quickly and effectively have their problem resolved. “Channel inconsistency is an ugly phenomenon,” adds Altimeter’s Etlinger, referring to the disconnect between traditional customer service and rapid social responses. To resolve this, savvy companies will make sharing information a priority for developing a consistent customer experience, she adds. This means digital will have to be infused into all aspects of an organization, not just sit with the marketing and PR teams.

5. Strategic data mining -- Last year, the Holmes Report looked into the ways big data is changing how PR is done -- both strategically and tactically. More than one year later, the demand for data-driven PR continues as organizations allocate resources to data analysis. Just last year, PR organizations such as Hill + Knowlton Strategies and Next Fifteen, made investments in data even though its ultimate business value remains hazy. “PR agencies certainly haven’t cracked insight,” Clive Armitage, managing partner at agent3, told the Holmes Report late last year. “It’s a mixture of using rich data and analytics, and also some traditional research to get some first-hand insight into how audiences view companies.”

In-house view: “Some brands will back away from social media...”
Frank Eliason, global social media director, Citi

“I expect 2013 will be a pivotal year for Facebook, especially with the competitors, such as Tumblr, the new MySpace and Twitter as it moves closer to considering an IPO. The year will present challenges for those in marketing and public relations, as consumers continue to demonstrate they control a brand’s image more than what the brand may post to some social media site. We are going to see brands go in two different directions during the course of the year, and I expect both sides will claim victory. Some brands will back away from social media, claiming it has not been cost effective for them -- when the reality is their message is not resonating with their customers, or their brand is not ‘shareworthy’ for a variety of reasons.  We will see some other brands start to go deeper with social media. These brands will establish real-time newsrooms to, not only help facilitate the discussion of their brand, but also to take their message deeper in real time.  Only the nimblest brands will be able to accomplish this.  Data will be the next big discussion as brands attempt to connect their customer data with the information in social media.  This will lead to some inappropriate uses of social data, which will cause concern with consumers, businesses and regulators across the world.  In response we will see companies offer a social media privacy statement or bill of rights to comfort the public.  It will also cause the rise of more private networks, like Snapchat or paid services that offer Facebook-like experiences but with guaranteed privacy.”