AOL is turning into a content giant; iPad-only news publication launches; startup raises millions for social networking storytelling. These are all headlines you may not have expected but are becoming the reality in 2011 as traditional and social media continue to blend and evolve and change decades-old thinking.

From a public relations perspective, the old “media list” isn’t cutting it anymore. PR pros need to search and audit who is talking about their business and where and determine those sources with waning influence.

We’ve all had bosses or board members the clients who want to be in the Wall Street Journal or to be on Good Morning America. The question we need to respond with is “why?” and what we need to understand is “where” our customers, prospects or potential acquisition partners are accessing information.  In many cases, these oft coveted objectives are indicative of thinking that is standing in the way of true success within the organization.

In the same way, many business leaders now come to their PR expert and declare they need social media, but often they’re not sure why. This is another opportunity to demonstrate a critical eye and ensure that communications efforts have the benefit of strategic thinking that ties into a company’s business objectives.

When “the media” is no longer cut and dry, the ability to evaluate the influence, sentiment and reach of communications channels becomes an even more powerful skill to manage public perception of a business, but only if you exercise it.

—Tonja Deegan