Ranchhod et al. (2002) identify four key differences between online PR and traditional PR.
1 The audience is connected to organisations. Previously, there was detachment - PR people issued press releases which were distributed over the newswires, picked up by the media, and then published in their outlets. These authors say:
the communication channel was uni-directional. The institutions communicated and the audiences consumed the information. Even when the communication was considered a two-way process, the institutions had the resources to send information to audiences through a very wide pipeline, while the audiences had only a minuscule pipeline for communicating back to the institutions.
2 The members of the audience are connected to each other. Through publishing their own web sites or e-newsletters or contributing to reviews or discussions on others, information can be rapidly distributed from person to person and group to group. The authors say:
Today, a company's activity can be discussed and debated over the Internet, with or without the knowledge of that organisation. In the new environment everybody is a communicator, and the institution is just part of the network.
3 The audience has access to other information. Often in the past, the communicator was able to make a statement that it would be difficult for the average audience member to challenge - the Internet facilitates rapid comparison of statements. The authors say:
It takes a matter of minutes to access multiple sources of information over the Internet. Any statement made can be dissected, analysed, discussed and challenged within hours by interested individuals. In the connected world, information does not exist in a vacuum.
4 Audiences pull information. This point is similar to the last one. Previously there were limited channels in terms of television and press. Today there are many sources and channels of information - this makes it more difficult for the message to be seen. The authors say:
Until recently, television offered only a few channels. People communicated with one another by post and by phone. In these conditions, it was easy for a public relations practitioner to make a message stand out.
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