To succeed in our digital age, PR agencies must keep up to date regarding emerging market trends. That is often easier said than done since many of us have only just wrapped our heads around the nuances of social media. However, now is not the time for excuses. It’s the time for action.

Here are five things PR agencies need to future-proof—and the reasons why they will cast the biggest influence on our industry over the next 12 months.

1. Data use

The latest PRCA statistics show that PR agencies are feeling the pressure in terms of data use. A total of 52% of respondents predict that in five years, clients will be looking for more compelling evidence of ROI.

Data and analytics can provide the driving force a campaign needs to be successful; however, only a few agencies use data that way. PR agencies must become much more familiar with data, and they must know how to use it correctly to enhance communication, such as for forming insights on a particular campaign or predicting the outcomes of another.

Data analysis is also crucial to nailing ROI, and it's an important part of successfully navigating the challenges of the future.

2. Measurement of social media success

Too many PR professionals make the mistake of measuring social media success by solely focusing on "counting metrics," such as Facebook likes or Twitter retweets. PR agencies need to overhaul their social media strategy so that a campaign's appeared success reflects its true success. Agencies need to incorporate more meaningful indicators of success into their evaluations—such as engagement, referrals, and even sales—that are often ignored or under-used.

PR agencies also must be aware of buying likes and fans on social media platforms, which can have counterproductive effects on success, as well as clients' becoming increasingly aware of that shady practice.

3. Online communities

Brands have been building online communities for years now, and social media community management is becoming a commodity. PR agencies will—for now at least—continue to make money from this type of work. However, if they don't add value, that type of work will eventually dry up.

The most forward-thinking PR agencies will use their creativity and understanding of community trends to devise ways for clients to use their communities in unusual or unique ways, putting fans back in control of a brand's destiny. Take Kellogg's, for example. After a tweet from Charlatans lead singer Tim Burgess saying how the phrase "Totes Amazeballs" sounds like a type of cereal, Kellogg's created a limited edition Totes Amazeballs cereal and released it via social media.

That kind of creative approach will ensure PR agencies keep their slice of the pie when managing social media channels.

4. Crisis management

Most PR agencies are familiar with managing a client crisis, and it can be profitable work. However, the emergence of social media channels has moved the goal posts, and many traditional tactics no longer apply.

A seemingly minor customer complaint can now be amplified online, and before you know it the complaint can be trending around the world. That means PR agencies have to understand the new crisis norms. Those getting it right can offer tremendous value to their clients, but those who continue to use old crisis-management models will be woefully out of their depth.

5. PRs and SEOs combinations

The latest PRCA statistics show that 72% of PR agencies are now offering SEO services, a massive increase from the 19% that were selling SEO just five years ago. Similarly, SEOs recognize that securing online coverage, with the necessary associated link, is a PR tactic. As a result, the majority of SEOs are now carrying out online PR themselves.

Despite that apparent merge taking place, good PR and SEO agencies can effectively work together in some areas. That can be seen when a PR agency secures media coverage in a relevant and creative way while the SEO agency ensures the coverage is appropriately linked and the landing page sufficiently optimized.

It seems inevitable that the two industries will continue to compete for accounts; however, a holistic approach, with PRs and SEOs working together, seems the perfect solution.

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image of Chris Norton

Chris Norton is the founder of award-winning B2B specialist PR agency Prohibition. He is a social media podcaster and his social media training blog is a Top 10 PR and social media strategy blog in the UK.

LinkedIn: Chris Norton

Twitter: @Chris_Norton