What is the difference between digital communication and PR?

In this article, we'll explore the key differences between digital communication and PR and how they can be used to build relationships with your audience.

What is the difference between digital communication and PR?

Digital communication and public relations (PR) are both forms of marketing communication. While they share some overlap and sometimes get used synonymously, they are not the same. Digital communication is a powerful and relatively modern tool for individuals and organisations to connect and interact with their target audience. Public relations, on the other hand, has been a mainstay in the world of communication for decades, but it has also evolved with time.

In this article, we’ll explore the key differences between digital communication and PR and how they can be used to build relationships with your audience.

Defining digital communication and PR

Digital communication and PR are both central to a modern company’s marketing strategies. Digital communication is a broad term that can generally be defined as the use of digital technologies, such as social media, email, websites, apps, online advertising and so on to communicate with customers and distribute information. Since this communication happens online, it allows for real-time interactions between a company or brand and its customers.

While digital communication can be used as part of a PR strategy/campaign, not all digital communication is part of PR.

Public relations is the practice of maintaining a positive public image for a brand or company by managing communication with the media, the general public and people of influence. Traditionally, PR used press releases, printed publications, events and trade shows to influence public perception. Nowadays, digital PR uses traditional PR channels as well as online tools and platforms to amplify brand messages, shape public opinion, and create a favourable online presence. So digital communication is almost always part of a good PR strategy or campaign.

Digital communication and culture

The rise of digital communication tools such as text messages, email, chat integrations and social media platforms fundamentally changed how companies and brands communicate with customers and vice versa. As such, companies and their communications team can now directly influence the culture around a brand or a product. To stay relevant in this fast-moving online environment, brands and their respective digital communication employees need to embrace collaboration with as well as the feedback and creativity of their community.

Correctly utilised digital communication tools can help to build a strong online culture around a product or brand and amplify brand messages, which can translate into high-quality brand loyalty and ultimately more sales.

Measuring success differently

While both, PR and digital communications share the overarching goal of driving a company’s growth, they differ in how they measure success.

In PR, the goal is to create ’earned media’ coverage for your company or brand. Earned media encompasses all media coverage about your organisation that you did not have to pay for; it’s free coverage that you earned. This coverage can come in the form of a newspaper article (online and offline), a blog, being mentioned in a podcast or by a social media influencer. Since you don’t pay for this media coverage, it’s harder to measure how successful your PR efforts are. Typically, you would look for an increase in social media followers, online mentions and new website visitors to determine the impact of a PR campaign.

In comparison, measuring the successes of your digital communication efforts is a lot easier. That’s because you or your team create the content, share the social media post, write the email or pay for the digital ad placement. All the different platforms and tools offer precise tracking of individually defined success metrics. Here, measurements of success can be the open rate of an email, how often a post was shared or how many new visitors a Google ad brought to your website.

Targeting your audience

Targeting your audience is essential in both digital communication and PR campaigns. By understanding your audience’s demographics, interests and behaviours, you can tailor your messaging to resonate with them. For example, a PR campaign aimed at millennials would likely use different messaging and communication channels than one aimed at baby boomers.

In digital communication, you can, and should, identify your audience’s preferences on a per-platform basis. Otherwise, you could end up publishing the wrong content on the wrong platform. For example, a 10-minute video about a new company initiative could be uploaded to TikTok but is probably better placed on YouTube where the audience is generally used to longer videos. Having identified the preferred channel, you can then tailor your messaging and presentation of your content and ad campaigns to it.

While traditional PR campaigns or earned media can also be targeted at a specific audience, you cannot finely tune who gets to see your content, which is possible with paid social media or search engine advertisements (SEA). The ability to identify and then target a specific subset of your audience is what really sets digital communication apart.

Social media platforms and their role in building brand awareness

Social media platforms have become a critical component of digital communication and marketing strategies. Platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok allow organisations to reach a broad audience and engage with them in real-time. Social media platforms are also an effective way to build brand awareness, create an online community and promote products or services.

To make the most of social media platforms, it’s essential to understand the nuances of each platform. For example, Twitter is well-suited for real-time updates and short messages, Instagram for photos and short videos, TikTok is for starting trends and YouTube for longer videos.

Using the various community management tools of these social media platforms can also greatly impact the perception of the brand. Engaging with the community in the comment sections in a friendly and on-brand manner can increase brand reputation, trust and loyalty.

The benefits of pursuing a Master of Digital Communication online

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in communication, our Master of Digital Communication online program is an excellent option. It provides you with a deep understanding of communication theory and practice, and prepares you for careers in a variety of fields, including digital marketing, digital communication and PR.

One of the key benefits of pursuing a Master of Communication online is the flexibility it provides. Online programs allow you to complete coursework on your own schedule, making it easier to balance work and family obligations.

QUT is the highest-ranked University in Australia for Communication and Media Studies and ranked 19th worldwide. By choosing to study with QUT Online, you will earn the same highly sought-after qualification with a strong reputation in the industry as on-campus students.

If you’re interested in furthering your career opportunities with our Master of Digital Communication, contact our Course Consultants at 1300 104 196 or apply online.

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