Social media is a big part of the world today. Everyone who’s everyone has some form of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. PR practitioners are even exposed to social media and it is only them who can decide how to properly utilize it in the work that they do. Timothy Morton, Natalie Tindall, and Richard Waters (2010) conducted a study that found that public relations practitioners must be able to adapt and become familiar with media catching in order to engage journalists.
It is important to be able to adapt because journalism, such as mentioned above, is also a changing field and moving from a physical, paper, world, to an online world. Less and less people pick up a paper at the news stand and read it. In a world where they can get everything online, they are more likely to move to getting their news from websites and other online sources. PR practitioners need to be able to do the same, adjusting to the fact that everything is online now and they need to gear their work towards that audience.
Also, public relations practitioners should consider including the various social media forms into campaigns that are geared towards connecting with the public. Public relations practitioners who embrace technology such as blogging, podcasting, and other forms of social media must be able to know when to abandon it when it comes to maintaining and establishing relationships with publics (Morton, Tindall, and Waters, 2010). Embracing this technology not only provides another tool to add to the arsenal, but it allows public relations practitioners to give their client a new way to connect with their audience. This could be as simple as replying back on a post that a member of the audience posted on their Facebook page.
However, social media should not be seen as a new channel that will replace everything that public relations practitioners already know. This does not mean that practitioners should not utilize social media because they think it will fade and make a new communication channel. They should embrace social media because it enables conversation (Morton, Tindall, and Waters, 2010). Social media is not here to replace all the old tools that public relations practitioners use. It is, in fact, another tool that will help further what the company is hoping to achieve as well as provide another channel to reach out to their audience with.
Social media also changes how the company in question views their audience. Social media makes PR seem less like a way to blast information at an audience and more a way to bring an audience closer to a brand and soften the barrier that exists when people feel like they are talking a company that sees them as a sale rather than a customer (Folkens, n.d.). When there was just the company’s website, it was a lot easier for the company to see the customer as a sale because, if they were coming to the website, they were most likely buying a product. Now, the company can utilize their Facebook or Twitter page to interact with the customers and hear more about what they actually like about the product versus trying to encourage them to buy something.
Public relations is also crisis management, dealing with the public to reach a solution about an issue. Folkens (n.d.) also talks about social media has turned dealing with consumers into a 24/7 personal service. Public relations practitioners, when dealing with this, take time to evaluate what is the crisis and measure how to respond. This is important to understand because public relations is not just promoting products or services. They also have to help a company deal with the public when a crisis surfaces. In this instance, social media can provide a company with the opportunity to get news out to the public in a timely manner so that they don’t overanalyze and think that the company does not care about the situation at hand.
Jim Dougherty (2014) wrote an article for Cision.com about six ways that social media has changed public relations. He brings up four questions that connect social media and public relations: how can I listen best using social media, how can I engage people best using social media, how can I energize people best using social media, and how can I support people best using social media? Thinking about these questions and answering them can allow a PR practitioner to determine whether or not social media is the best thing to use in a campaign.
Overall, social media can be beneficial, but only after weighing the pros and cons of using social media. It can definitely help with reaching out to the target audience and getting their message out, for example. But there are plenty of other reasons as to why social media is used in public relations.
Dougherty, J. (2014, September 8). 6 Ways Social Media Has Changed Public Relations. Retrieved March 22, 2015, from http://www.cision.com/us/2014/09/6-ways-social-media-changed-public-relations/
Folkens, D. (n.d.). Social Media PR – 3 Ways Public Relations Has Been Changed by Social Media. Retrieved March 23, 2015, from http://www.toprankblog.com/2011/02/social-media-changing-pr/
Waters, R., Tindall, N., & Morton, T. (2010). Media catching and the journalist-public relations practitioner relationship: How social media are changing the practice of media relations. Journal of Public Relations Research, 22(3), 241-264. doi:10.1080/10627261003799202