PR and big data

      47 Comments on PR and big data
Bert Cunningham

Bert Cunningham

My friend and PR mentor Bert Cunningham frequently suggests topics for Public Relations Nation. As I’ve done before, I asked Bert to be a guest columnist this week. I’m very happy he’s again providing us with his wise observations.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to one of Professor Morosoff’s PR classes. One of the challenges, and opportunities, discussed was that PR pros need to know how to use Big Data.

A recent New York Times article entitled “How Facebook is Changing the Way its Consumers Use Journalism” underscored the issue. The article described how Facebook’s use of algorithms to drive news to its users is “changing the way its users consume journalism.” In turn, Facebook’s algorithm-driven news feeds impact how news content providers structure their respective print, Internet and digital products, and how advertisers advertise and on what platforms.

It’s still a “bold new world” for traditional news media seeking to survive as the impact of social media and digital apps drive more of the news delivery process. What struck me was how this changes the PR pro’s role.

A cornerstone of PR is media relations. The basic tenet of media relations is to build relationships with reporters, editors and assignment desks. How will Big Data news algorithms change that equation? How does a PR pro build a relationship with an algorithm? I can imagine a Big Data-influenced call to a reporter going something like this: “Hi, Bill. It’s Bert. I have an interesting story for the XYZ non-profit’s annual fundraiser that’s truly unique.” “Really, Bert, sounds interesting. Let me see how non-profit fundraising stories are trending on Facebook’s algorithm…Sorry, way down. Call back when the algorithm is up.”

Extreme? Perhaps. But, here’s the point: The human factor is being taking out of the news business, because of the need to survive. News outlets always had to survive, but there was a wall between the news content side and the advertising side. Those lines are blurring more and more because of social media-driven news feeds. When the human factor goes out of the news business so will the ability of PR pros to build meaningful media relationships.

So what do future PR pros do? How will they cope with Big Data and news feed algorithms? Your thoughts?

47 thoughts on “PR and big data

  1. Jessica Vallario

    What is complicated about this situation is that the people ‘determine’ the algorithm, but how do the people are only about to determine it using the knowledge they have already obtained through the media. It seems like give and take. I think reporters need to realize that the algorithm cannot be the only factor that decides what is news worthy. After all, the journalists and PR agents are the professionals who should be deciding what is actually news worthy. It shouldn’t rely on the public alone. Algorithms should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, the internet is so fast paced that whats trendy one minute could be yesterday’s news the next.

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  2. Danielle

    We should leave what is and isn’t “big news” up to the journalists, not an algorithm. Personally, I believe it can leave damaging effects not only on PR professionals, who won’t be needed to promote news when technology can take over, and journalists, but to organizations as well. If their product doesn’t meet the algorithm, it can be dangerous for an organization’s future.

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  3. Anjelica Johnson

    PR pros have to go with the changes happening in the field. They have to learn to adapt and keep track of the changes to make sure they are up to date! Although the idea of the human aspect leaving is a bit scary.

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  4. Gabrielle Furman

    Social media in general has become a big part of everyones everyday lives. There is always some kind of news that is being circulated and spread from one user to the other. This is how people are connecting, getting their source of news whether it is correct or not, or keeping up with the latest trends. PR pros should be keeping an eye out of what is being put out into the world of social media because they can get an idea of how to stand out and be different, and build their own connections with social media users. Social media looks like it will keep growing and always have a role in peoples lives.

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  5. Whitney Shepherd (@WhitneyPRGirl)

    I think this topic is very real and is something that future PR professionals need to know about and learn to understand. it is somewhat frustrating that the personal connection of calling up the reporter and pitching your story is now based on how it is trending on Facebook’s newsfeed. I remember in class we talked about how basically the news is being chosen for you and that is not something that journalist or PR pros want. The purpose of print media like newspapers is to provide the top stories, but also give the reader the chance to flip through the pages and find stories that catch their eye. WIth the algorithm, the process of just searching through the news is not allowed to happen and that is something that we must consider.

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  6. Bert Cunningham

    Congrats to all who commented. Your observations are insightful and well thought out. PR is an ever-evolving art and science. Technology, since the invention of moveable type, has and will continue to have a major influence on how we exchange information, and how civilization advances. By and large everyone in his or her way expressed an understanding of that impact by Big Data. Nicely done!

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  7. elizah9

    This blog really caught my attention because traditional media is indeed very important to our everyday lives; however, it has been dying out recently due to the increase use of social media. If you ask a group of students where they get their news at a majority will say social media. The culture of where people get their news at is changing drastically, which is quite interesting because it has influenced the roles of public relations (PR) professionals. I can only imagine how the roles of PR professionals will change as social media becomes even more popular in the years to come.

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  8. michaela marano

    Facebook is trying to make their website more personal to each individual user. Thats great and all but we are losing that human contact. We need real people with reading, writing, and editing abilities to be able to communicate wit one another about what is going on in the world around us. we should rely on a math equation and frequency to do so. Algorithms may allow stories you would be more interested in to appear, but are they really whats more beneficial and important to your life? Most likely not. Lets keep it old school and bring back the old school person to person reporting on your local new channels or radio.

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  9. Erik Freitas

    In this day and age, all news companies and all companies and general will most likely be using social media data in some way or another to determine how they do business. PR professionals would do well to also analyze this data and stay ahead of the curve so they know which stories to pitch and dont get rejected as in Mr. Cunningham’s Example.

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  10. liadzayit

    I know this is not what PR pros want to hear but they need to adapt and accept whatever the big data may bring. Everyone tries to keep up with trends because if you don’t keep up with, lets say social media, you will end up falling behind. There is no way around it. Social media has become a HUGE part of our lives in both the person aspect and business aspect. PR pro should have a way of standing out and being unique. Social media though will constantly arise and always change journalism and PR pros

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  11. Sarah Ramos

    Facebook using data to tailor the ads to the user is a great way to create a more tailored experience. While it may seem like an invasion of privacy it is effective for those trying to reach the most people possible

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  12. sophia1212

    Social media has, and will continue to evolve and change how we go about our lives. It is taking away a lot of jobs, as pointed out in the post, and future PR pros are going to face a challenge, but I’m sure another form of media will appear that will help in the change.

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  13. nicole_lombardo

    The same way PR professionals have to constantly keep tabs on what is going on in the world around them I feel they have to do the same with social media. Technology is constantly changing the way we do things and to be the best PR practitioners we must know the best and know how to use it. To be successful it helps to adapt to the surroundings you are constantly presented with.

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  14. Daniel Walsh

    The accuracy of social media algorithms is very scary. My feeds are always covered in topics that i do indeed care about and its amazing how quickly that information is gathered. The future of the PR field will be a lot different 20 years from now and it is certainly interesting that we are growing up in an era of a revolutionary technological change.

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  15. Vanessa Felder

    PR pros just need to adapt and accept whatever BIG Data may bring. Keeping up with trends like social media is part of the job description. In this day and age, there is no way around it. Social media is an inevitable part of our lives both business and personal. And it will continue to change the way we communicate and interact with others.

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  16. Sarah Abuharaz

    I have noticed that Facebook and Twitter advertisements are tailored to my interests. It was always weird to me how they could tell such things but now it makes sense when talking about algorithms. This is why PR pros should master how it works so they can stay unique and stand out. Our news feeds are constantly becoming cluttered with all different types of information, a PR pro needs to keep basis in order to get their point across.

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  17. jheiden1

    I think media will only continue to become more specialized. With the way specific interests are followed, there is a very narrow pathway of desired information getting to each person. Since social media is said to be in its infancy, I can only see this specialization becoming more structured.

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  18. nikkigyftopoulos

    It is sad that most people, especially the millennial generation, are getting their news from social media, which can be very one-sided and targeted. However, this digital journalism trend is not going to stop. Therefore, journalists have to find ways to make their stories fit what is trending on social media. In the same way, PR professionals must find ways to connect their client to what is trending so that journalists will want to write about it. It has become a chain effect with the news constantly stemming from what is popular and trendy to those on social media. Keeping up with these trends is the only way for journalists and PR professionals to survive this “news feed algorithm”.

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  19. fcolav1

    The use of algorithms to drive news is something that caught my eye, but never made me realize how it could affect PR until just now. However, I am not worried! Life always causes things to change, and like in the past, PR has always found a way to not only adapt to change, but to become better from that change. Yes, Media Relations is a crucial part of Public Relations and I don’t think it is going to disappear: I think it will evolve. PR professionals just need to be open to a change and willing to evolve as society evolves around us.

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  20. Deana Meccariello

    I think the whole Facebook algorithm is a bit creepy. The advertisements I get are way to accurate to things I search or things people I frequently interact with search. It has become a bit too intuitive and makes me seriously consider deleting social media.

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  21. Meredith O'Connor

    I feel that things like Facebook and twitter really have become more then just a fun way to connect- they are now very important in the PR industry. I feel that a good PR professional must take the major platforms seriously because the public certainly does.

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  22. Natalia Dutt

    It is definitely evident that social media is changing the journalism and public relations worlds. I think that it is both a scary and good thing. It adds a whole new element to these fields.

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  23. Makayla Sapienza

    I feel that one way PR will adapt to the de-humanization of reporting will be by using algorithms to their advantage. Because an algorithms is generated from what people do on the internet, it’s possible for PR pros to constantly send out their message through social media and have more people pick up on what message the PR pro for whatever company is trying to say. It may be possible that “removing the human factor” makes the work of a PR professional easier because they can get publicity without having to be approved by a journalist. In today’s world something trending online will be in the news.

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  24. Gia Palomo

    I feel like PR people will just have to learn to adapt and survive to the loss of the human factor. If anything, i feel like theres always going to be that need to interact be it to the audience now or the people behind facebook who oversee its content. You never know how its going to change.

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  25. danielle32493

    I think that this is a perfect example of how the PR industry is constantly changing. It is crazy to see that an industry that was once built solely on media relations now begin to shift over to algorithms such as those used by Facebook.

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  26. kcormi2

    Social media has undoubtedly change the way people connect with one another. It has also had an effect on journalism and consequently, the field of PR. PR, especially, is a field that requires a great deal of human interaction and it is discouraging to me that this human factor is slowly but surely fading out.

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  27. gdallecarbonare

    With the ever changing ways of PR and technology now-a-days, we never really know what is coming next. Information and news is coming out faster than it ever has before and if you think about it, it’s scary. It is true that algorithms are taking place of human interaction with the placement of personalized ads per person. Which is yet another example how technology is taking over our lives in yet another way.

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  28. lspurgeon105

    I am currently taking a PR class and we are talking about how social media has a strong influence in the world of PR. I enjoyed reading your blog it just brings everything that I have learned to a new light.

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  29. Areanna Rufrano

    It’s really hard to predict what the future holds for public relations. With these data platforms constantly changing, there is never a set foundation to build upon. The best strategies for PR should entail back-up plans and adaptions. And it is true that the lines between news and advertising are becoming more and more blurred. So, it becomes imperative that PR professionals establish a strong basis for the material they handle and conform to this evolving society.

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  30. bibianabogues

    I enjoyed getting to hear from Bert Cunningham in class the other day. He has a lot of insight into the PR world and provided us with a lot of valuable information regarding Big Data and media relations. I believe the future PR pros will understand and work parallel to the algorithms, even though it is challenging. Social media has impacted and changed many aspects of our lives and it continues to increase.

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  31. Rebecca Costa

    Especially in the last year or so, I have noticed that social media sites, like Facebook, have been using a lot more advertising/ marketing/ public relations on their newsfeed. Facebook takes news, shrinks it down to a picture with a bold headline and hopes that its users will click on the link and maybe even “share” it with their 400 friends. Personally, I have learned a lot through Facebook and Twitter by reading these articles. Social media now plays a huge role in PR because social media networks are where people go to first.

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  32. meghanazralon

    PR has been able to adapt with the changes that have been made throughout history. I feel like PR pros now will just have to find a new way to keep up. However, I believe taking the human element out of news is troubling.

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  33. Ashley P.

    PR has definitely changed and adapted to the times within the past twenty years, and it will continue to do so, I’m sure. Social media is becoming increasingly important in this day and age, and I believe that PR professionals will learn to adapt to these changes. It is sad, however, that the “human factor” and the human relationships that were once so important within this field may be slowly coming to a close because of this increased reliance on social media and the internet.

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  34. maxeisenberg8

    I think PR professionals will have to be on their computers a whole lot more than they already are and will be constantly monitoring the internet. Their jobs will be similar to how an investor constantly monitors the stock market and may take out a bit of the creativity out of the job. I do hope that the PR profession doesn’t end up that way though.

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  35. mconno25

    Bert Cunningham always brings up valuable information for PR professionals. I met with him a few weeks ago to discuss PR ethics at my internship and he really knows what he is talking about. Like the importance of PR ethics, coping with Big Data and news feed algorithms is very importance for every PR professional. It’s difficult to wrap my head around the fact that building relationships for reporters for example may not be a part of our job as PR professionals. I just recently had an interview for Pace Public Relations in NYC and a major part of my job would be media relations by writing up pitches to send out to television stations to get their clients on air to speak on a specific topic. This company has built and have grown various relationships with television companies to get their clients publicity. However, Facebook is building off of algorithms and like mentioned above, how do you build relationship with an algorithm? Over time and research, I assume PR professionals will understand what information is more popular and why.

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  36. laurelroseo

    I definitely think that the way we write, pitch, and communicate with other businesses is going to change because of this. Both the PR industry and the journalism industry needs to be adaptable. Our need for social media relations will continue to increase and we must change how we look at our target audiences. The fact that the human factor is being taken out of this industry is huge and scary but I think if we work with the journalism industry in the right ways we can adapt correctly.

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  37. alexisgionesi

    I think that as social media changes the way we are delivered news, PR pros will find a way to adapt with the changes. I have to assume that PR has changed drastically over the years, and it will find a creative way to adapt with changes in society.

    P.S. I had about a two hour conversation with Bert at my internship and he is amazing!!

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  38. nixablevins

    It is very interesting to look at the future of the PR industry. I see how scenarios might play out like this. Thankfully there is still a lot of room for local news that might not be trending online. But, still important to the community. I feel that social media is very important to journalism as well. We will have to stay creative as technology advances.

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  39. Amy Schildwaster

    I find it really interesting how much news is consumed through Facebook and other forms of social media. It just shows how important being able to pitch a story from many different perspectives. A public relations professional has to be able to pitch a cover story as well as a Buzzfeed style Top 10 post.

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  40. Sarah Lopez

    Keeping track of what is trending is so important for PR professionals. At one of my previous internships, I would have to look up the daily trends in the banking industry. The purpose of this was to see how the client could fit in to what was currently trending. Based on the results I was able to come up with, someone on the team would pitch stories around the trends and clients. A big part of what PR professionals have to do now is constantly look at what is trending to see where certain clients are relevant. Social media currently drives a lot of the conversations and it is important to stay on top of what is trending because that is what reporters want to cover now. It is almost as if reporters are not interested in stories that are not currently relevant on social media and the like.

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  41. Doug Gillies

    It’s no secret that the media world has changed and will continue to change rapidly. As a PR practitioner we need to examine who and what will be affected by the changes and how we can adapt. Our need for media relations is going to border on extinction so we need to find a way to continue to reach our target markets through the use of algorithms and the social media world. One way to tailor our profession is to make our news important by linking it to current events that are trending. We need to make our messages appeal to the masses. I realize this isn’t always possible, but we can find ways to tie our message to other trending topics that will gain more recognition.

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  42. Laura L.

    Of course, it is very important for PR pros to keep up with what’s trending and what’s catching the public’s attention at any given moment. Every day on social media, news stories, ads, and personal posts clutter up news feeds. It is very hard to be noticeable and unique in this day and age. Although it is nearly impossible to have a personal relationship with an algorithm, PR professionals and anyone else putting content through these outlets should remember to keep it fresh, exciting, and unique.

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  43. Jenna_xo

    I think PR pros need to consistently track social media platforms and keep an eye on what is trending daily. This is rather time consuming but it’s worth it because then you can stay on point with all campaigns, etc.

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  44. Courtney Zanosky

    I am really not a big fan of this change. As an English major and journalism minor, I personally find the human factor in writing and communicating to be very important. However, social media have completely changed how we read, speak, and relate to one another. To me, the “human factor” is not just being taken out of the news business, but it is being taken out of relationships and how we communicate.

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  45. Lyndi Catania

    Social media is continuing to change journalism. Although I enjoy receiving my news through shares on social media outlets at times, it’s very scary how the human factor is slowly being taken away from many jobs. PR needs these reporters and editors!

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  46. Ashley Iadanza

    We just started talking about social media in my PR class. This thought process in the blog here brings what we were discussing to a whole new level that’s so incredibly interesting.

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