The 7 vital Digital PR skills you need in 2020

Digital PR skills
Charlene White, DigiPR

By Charlene White, DigiPR Founder and Chief Digital PR Strategist

The world of Public Relations and Communications has changed dramatically in the past decade thanks to the emergence of new technology and Digital PR skills. It’s an exciting time for PR pro’s as there are so many new tools, techniques and processes we can now incorporate into our work that makes us better as practitioners and achieves more measurable results.


Yet our industry has been relatively slow at embracing this new technology and stretching ourselves beyond traditional PR to develop our Digital PR skills.


At the same time, Marketers and SEO pro’s have realised the value of our craft, especially if adapted to digital, and are incorporating Digital PR skills into their work.


This has resulted in more content being generated in the last few years than in almost the entire history of mankind. In turn, this has created more competition than ever for column inches and a share of our audiences’ attention.

Developing Digital PR skills is fundamental to our industry's survival

The art of Public Relations has always centred around authentic story-telling, reputation management and building trust with our audiences.


The good news is, as PR practitioners, our core PR skills have never been more relevant and in demand than they are today. Successful (traditional and digital) PR campaigns rely on authentic story-telling in order to build trust and there is so much opportunity available to us.


The beauty of digital is that it allows us to communicate to our audiences via so many different mediums rather than just solely relying on media to tell our stories.


But, as PR practitioners, this requires us to go wider with our work, beyond just traditional PR (i.e. media relations and social). We now need to embrace a number of new Digital PR skills, tools and channels to elevate our work.


What is Digital PR?

Public Relations has always centred around reputation and issues management, stakeholder engagement, media relations and quality communications that tells a story. None of that has changed.


But what has changed is our audiences behaviours and we need to now build campaigns that deliver to your audience. 


Adapting our skills to Digital PR provides us with a plethora of tools and new digital techniques that help us better understand our audiences so we can better provide for their needs. We can do this by creating an omnipresence using an data, better content and an integrated PR channel strategy that reaches people in both ‘Browse’ and ‘Search’ mode.


No longer is it just about media or social media in isolation. Owned, earned, shared and amplified media all now need to work together for your communications to be successful in the digital world. Your content also needs to be designed and geared in the right way in order for it to be found in both ‘Browse’ and ‘Search’ mode. No longer can we just create content for short-term media or social gain without ensuring it can rank and compete, in the long-term, online.


Digital PR also makes our work easier to measure than ever before. Sentiment and column inches can no longer be a gauge of our success. Digital PR clearly shows you the impact of your work, how your audience is engaging with it and what action they are taking as a result.

How Digital PR skills elevate your work

Let’s face it – digital has changed the way we, as humans, now live and behave. The majority of us are online, highly connected and now fully in control of where and who we get our information from. We have the power to find our own tribes with digital and choose who to trust based on our own values and views. The best authentic story wins.


As a result, a fickle ‘search and scroll’ society has emerged. Research suggests our attention spans have decreased in the last decade from 12 seconds to as little as 2.8 seconds – that’s less than a goldfish! So while we have more channels than ever before to communicate to our audience, it is harder than ever before to reach and hold them.


What’s more, digital has up-ended traditional PR and Marketing. Our audiences no longer want to be talked at or sold to with old-school techniques. They want relevant, quality, authentic communication that earns their trust and its place in their feeds.


Research suggests people need to come in to contact with your brand at least 7 – 8 before they begin to trust you – this can’t be achieved just with random acts of content.


No longer can we also rely on just one medium (i.e. traditional news media) to interpret our world for us. It’s just one channel in the mix.

Fact: Over 80% of people now carry out their own research online before making any kind of decision, purchasing or taking action on almost anything.

In addition, the higher the price point, the more research people do.


Traditionally, PR pro’s have only ever used direct communication, media and social media to communicate to our audiences. But there’s a problem with this – it only reaches people in what I define as ‘Browse’ mode.


What’s more, we have largely ignored one of the largest, most trusted, media properties in the world as part of our work – Google. Communications pro’s have never really delved into the world of Search and SEO – but it has fast become fundamental to our work. 




Because ‘Search’ mode is now where you will find your most qualified, targeted audiences.


What is 'Browse' mode?

I define ‘Browse’ mode in Digital PR as capturing audiences in the moment via traditional media (both print and online) and social media channels.

‘Browse’ mode targets a broad audience (particularly if unpaid) who are typically less engaged. Those in ‘Browse’ mode are typically a cold audience as they’re not expecting you in their feeds or when they visit a news site. However, they will stop scrolling if your content is relevant or engaging enough for them.

Hope is the key strategy here though as it relies on the law of averages for the right people to be on the right channels, at the right time to consume your stories. It also relies on your work resonating enough with a percentage of those who have come across you to stop and take action.

When you look at it that way, it’s a little crazy to just rely on this strategy alone right?

What is 'Search' mode?

‘Search’ mode is where you find your most qualified audiences with Digital PR as they are actually in market for what you have to say.

People in ‘Search’ mode are specifically researching online for what your brand has to offer (sell) or say (thought leadership/influence to action) and they want quality authentic content rather than paid ads.

Some numbers:

·       90% of all search queries are via Google.

·       On average, there are 5.6 billion search queries on Google everyday – that’s around 63,000 searches every second.

·       80% of people who use Google only click on the organic search results rather than the paid adverts.

·       67% of all click on Google’s P1 are on the first five organic results.

·       Only 4% of people make it to the second page of their search results.

This clearly tells us people (globally) want quality, authentic content that’s earned its place in their search results. This is great news for PR and Communications Pro’s as we invented earned reputation!

But our industry has largely ignored ‘Search’ as a media channel and are also unaware of just how much Google is influenced by our work with media, influencers and other organisations. 

Yet Digital and Content Marketers and SEO pro’s realised the value of our craft (story-telling and how media helps gain online authority and the top ranking spots) with Google several years ago and are now doing it for themselves.

If you’re not gearing your content to rank in ‘Search’ and be found online when your hottest audiences are searching for it, you are doing your brand/client a serious disservice. Even if you are getting great media article, you are only now doing half the job required in the digital age.

We also can’t just leave it for others to do, you need to understand how Search works and make it a fundamental focus of our work.

So how does Digital PR solve this for PR pro’s?

As Communications professionals, we now need to adapt and do things differently – which is where Digital PR comes in. 

But it involves learning new skills and doing things differently.

Digital PR helps you create quality campaigns that capture your audiences in both ‘Browse’ and ‘Search’ mode.

That’s how we can now build trust and online authority for our brands in the digital world.

It involves researching, planning and creating high quality campaigns that leverage content across all channels and is also built to rank on P1 of Search Engines. 

It also requires you to pitch to media differently and create online engagement in a way that builds online authority for your brand. 

Reaching audiences in ‘Search’ mode means you can create the perfect intersection between providing something you know your audience actually wants and delivering high quality content exactly when they are searching for it.

Gearing your communications strategies for ‘Search’ as well as ‘Browse’ mode involves using data, new digital tools and also PR-SEO to ensure it can compete and rank for the top spots online.

This is only possible with Digital PR.

When you do it correctly, it benefits your brand’s entire online authority and reputation as it creates a Digital PR omnipresence across your channels and real measurable results for your brand.

Evolving our PR skills to the changing digital world

The world is changing at a rapid pace and as Communicators, we must keep up with the changing needs and behaviors of our audience. This requires us to go wider with our work rather than continuing to do the same things we’ve always done and risk getting diminishing results.

If you need more evidence of just how fast our world is changing, a recent Deloitte report stated:

“Over 65% of 5-year olds entering primary school today
will have jobs that haven’t even been invented yet.”

Forget Millennials – we now need to start focusing on the changing needs of our current audience as a whole as well as the next generation of digital natives who have grown up with digital. They are attuned to having Google at their fingertips, have less patience than even Millennials when it comes to finding information and rely on digital for everything they do.

The good news is Digital PR help us evolve and provide for the changing needs of our audience. But we need to evolve our Digital PR skills – and fast!

The 7 key Digital PR skills you need in 2020

1. Data

Data has become a real buzz word for companies, big and small, over the last five years. It offers so much opportunity to understand your audience better and deliver engaging, relevant experiences that they want – rather than what you think they want. Digital provides so many new insights on your audience (without being creepy) and most of it is accessible for free.


You may be questioning why you would need to use data given you may well have a good feel for your audience already. There are three key reasons:


Guesswork is not an option anymore.


If you look at some of the largest, most successful companies in the world (Amazon, Facebook, Uber,      Spotify, Netflix) they are all built on data and provide relevant experiences to their audiences which keeps them coming back for more. 

Data helps them know their audience inside and out. As a result, we have all become a bit spoilt and if we feel we are not understood or getting what we need from a brand, we will quickly move to another who will. 

As Communicators, we must truly understand our audience and deliver to what they are searching for – not what you think they want or what your exec team want to tell them. Our audiences are now fully in control of their information and if we want to build trust, we need to deliver to their needs.

Data clearly shows you what people are actively searching for and want to know so you can build  campaigns that deliver to that.

2. Digital Tools

There are so many new digital tools that help us be better as practitioners. From understanding where your audiences hang out, what they want, how they are engaging, creating engaging content, measuring your success right through to action. 


Digital tools – such as Google’s suite of free tools, make it easier to plan and execute quality communications as it takes the guesswork out of our work. The trick is understanding what is available to us and then using it in our work efficiently.

3. Keyword Research

Keyword research is a fundamental part of creating communications that reach people in ‘Search’ mode. It allows you to understand what your audience wants and whether you can actually compete for it online or not based on your current online authority. 


No Digital PR plan can operate efficiently without it. Keyword research allows you to build campaigns that work for your brand/client in the long-term in areas and on pages that you have a chance of ranking and capturing your audience in.



No longer can we get away with just writing quality content for humans. It now must be designed to resonate with humans and search engine spiders. A lot of time and resource is being put in to creating quality content, but if it is not geared to rank properly or be found by search engines, you’re practically wasting your time. 


Media and social are short-term communications tactics – your content goes out and gets an initial lift of engagement but then plateaus off. Whereas ‘Search’ provides long-term benefits for your brand. 


Your content needs to be geared with search engine algorithm requirements in mind and SEO’d, front and back-end, to give it the best chance possible of being found online and, ultimately, earning the top organic spots on page 1 of Google.

5. Owned Content

Content has come a long way in a few short years. Video is exploding and people are preferring short snippets of information as well as content that is useful or provides them with some sort of value in a number of formats. No longer is it just about creating a press release or blog and gaining some short-term media and social attention and thinking your job is done.


Content needs to be created consistently in a specific way about a particular topic that represents your brand. It also needs to provide value and reasons why people should trust your brand over others.


One-off pieces also no longer cut it. You need to create a body of content to build authority and it all needs to feed into each other and work together. Google and other search engines are looking for how you create content and the level of engagement you get from it in order to elevate (or relegate) you to (or from) the top organic spots online.


You need to understand how to develop content in a strategic way that meets the needs of your audience as well as satisfying the needs of search engines. This requires you to incorporate a mix of art and science into your work.


6. Integrated media channel activation

To create an omnipresence for your brand, you need to use content across a range of channels (owned, earned, shared and amplified) in a way that reaches and creates engagement with people in both ‘Browse’ and ‘Search’ mode. This is where an integrated media channel plan comes into play.


Google watches this engagement and will look to elevate your authority up the ranks if you can show, with content, endorsement and engagement, that you are an expert in your field.


Earned Media

While earned media is typically traditional media, our work also needs to embrace influencers and other higher authority sites which can help grow your brand’s online authority. Achieving quality media stories or contributed content is still a fundamental part of the Digital PR mix, but it also requires you to stretch further with your angles and content and you also need to pitch to Editors in a different way to help boost your online authority. This requires additional skills in terms of both content strategy and understanding how media can benefit your overall digital footprint.

7. Digital Measurement

There is no better time to show the value of your work than now. Digital provides so many different ways to show the impact of our work, over and above sentiment and column inches. Both these measurement techniques have always perplexed me as it doesn’t actually measure what people did with your coverage after it went out – only the impression it potentially made.


But what sort of impact did it have on your brand? Did it compel people to take action, did it increase leads or sales?


At the end of the day, while we are here to maintain reputation, we are also here to benefit our company in some way – whether that is to help generate leads, sales, engagement, signups directly or indirectly. Digital allows us to better measure our success in real-time which is a game changer!


Want to learn the fundamental new skills of Digital PR and how to make them all work together?

Enrol in our ‘Digital PR101’ course! 

Our online Digital PR course, which is endorsed by the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand (PRINZ), provides you with a complete blueprint of everything you need to know, do and use to research, design and activate an effective Digital PR strategy.

It will change the way you see and do PR/Communications forever!

Why should I take this course?

Quite simply, because it will give you all the tools and vital knowledge you need to succeed in the digital age. 

Digital has up-ended almost every industry in the last few years, including the Public Relations/ Communications sector. We need to evolve – or risk being left behind. 

While traditional media relations and social are still very effective tools in a PR professional’s arsenal (if used for digital correctly), they are only half the channels we now need to use to reach our audiences and create real measurable results. 

Digital has also given rise to so many great new tools and ways to plan and execute a successful PR strategy in the digital age.

Our Digital PR course shows you what they are and how to use them to create wider-reaching, more measurable PR results with one easy-to-use process.

Want to step up your Digital PR game?