The Role of Social Media in PR

In my latest blog post, I discussed my personal opinion on how I use social media and my interpreted uses within today’s society.  In this post, I am going to take the opportunity to discuss an aspect of social media that I haven’t yet covered, and that is its role in the Public Relations field.  Social media has created a new public platform for users to state their opinion of a brand or product.

The social media platform is one that has various benefits to anyone that is interested in boosting the public presence of any product, organization, or movement.  First of all, maintaining an account that promotes something at the most basic level is free of charge.  Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter offer free pages that make spreading brand related content as easy as a clicking ‘retweet’ or ‘like.’  This is very useful to organizations with a small advertising/Public Relations budget.

They also have a unique ability of garnering a very specific audience.  Other users that follow or like a brand can be easily exposed to promotions or brand related information.  Since the users have already decided to like or follow the page, they obviously have some sort of interest in what is being promoted.  This essentially means that any information that this organization puts out via social media will reach who it is intended for.

However, social media websites can often times harm an organizations image if said organization handles it wrong.  This is an easy trap to fall into because the PR field is still trying to perfect the science of PR in the new field social media.  There is no decorum that has been set in stone when it comes to handling PR related issues on the web, and everything must be well planned, or disaster may ensue.  Deirdre Breakenridge from PRNews says it best by emphasizing that, “Like anything else in PR, strategic planning is necessary to create a communication program with the required elements for success; it’s the planning process that allows you to reach your goals and objectives. Planning creates the road map for you to achieve a winning initiative,” (Breakenridge, 2013)

For instance, a recent example of poor PR planning was the Chick-Fil-A disaster that occurred in the summer of 2010.  Chick-Fil-A had then come out stating that they were a ‘family’ business that opposed the idea of gay marriage.  Needless to say, this warranted a barrage of unhappy tweets and Facebook messages; as eating a chicken sandwich had become a political statement of some sorts.  For some reason, the PR firm that managed this crisis found it to be a good idea to create Facebook profiles defending the company (granted, this is speculation — Chick-Fil-A has publicly denied using any fake profiles).  One profile was a teenage girl who seemed just a little bit too enthusiastic in her defense of Chik-Fil-A to not be affiliated with the cooperation.  As the internet has proven to us over and over again, never underestimate the power and intelligence of its users.  One user uncovered that the profile had been created a mere eight hours prior to a post defending the brand, and that her profile picture was a stock photograph.  Melissa Agnes, a digital crisis manager, had a lot to say about this issue.  On her website she states that, “Social media is based on truth and transparency, and when it comes to the Internet nothing stays buried long. When you’re caught in such an attempt – and odds are you most definitely will get caught – you will pay for your schemes ten fold” (Agnes).

Works Cited

Breakenridge, D. (2013). Social media and public relations begin with strategic planning. PRNews, Retrieved from http://www.prnewsonline.com/topics/pr-insiders/2013/08/22/social-media-and-public-relations-begin-with-strategic-planning/

Agnes, M. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.melissaagnescrisismanagement.com/5-lessons-to-learn-from-chick-fil-as-social-media-crisis/

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Opinions on Social Media

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Although the Internet has been around since the mid, 1990s, it wasn’t until the mid 2000’s that social networking websites began to take a firm hold.  The term social media has essentially become ubiquitous with our generation, which has recently been dubbed ‘Generation Y.’ A recently conducted Pew study cited shows that a whopping eighty nine percent of eighteen to twenty nine year olds use some form of social media (Brenner).  At the head of this charge is the social media giant Facebook, which reports that approximately 1.15 billion users access the website monthly. Whether you choose to accept it or not, the inevitable fact is that social media is quickly engulfing the online landscape, and changing the social dynamics of communication within our culture.

At its best, social media has a variety of uses that can positively benefit society as a whole.  The main objective of any social media website is to allow users to maintain contact with other users, or allow users to meet others in order to create and maintain new connections.  This primary function of social media is very beneficial, and is how I personally choose to use social media.  However, I use social media websites differently depending on my audience.  On Facebook, my audience is predominantly fellow high school graduates as well as family.  I limit my communication on Facebook to posting statuses regarding important, personal life events and checking up on everyone.  On the other hand, I also have a twitter account that I limit to only my friends.  My followers are comprised of a few close friends from high school, as well as friends I have made at Grand Valley.  I use Twitter a lot more frequently, and post about things in my day-to-day life and issues relevant to other Grand Valley Students.  I also follow trending topics that apply to me, and through these trends I have discovered breaking news as it happened, and found tons of new music.

However, not everything about social media is beneficial.  Social media sites, such as Reddit, in particular, often fall victim to the faults of “crowdsourced information.”  Crowdsourced information is data provided by users of social media sites, and at its best, spreads beneficial news quickly and helps promote a story.  At its worst, other users can use it to turn an individuals world upside down, something I personally witnessed shortly after the tragic Boston Marathon Bombing.  Shortly after the Boston bombings, a user from the social media giant Reddit opened a thread discussing the appearance of the Boston bombing suspect #2, later revealed to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  The thread looked to users to supply information regarding the suspect, essentially creating an internet witchhunt.  The thread proved to be less than beneficial.  Instead of finding the actual suspect, users identified a man by the name of Sunil Tripathi as the boston bombing suspect #2, and compared their facial features in a side by side ‘picstitch.’  The community then used this crowdsourced information to assume that suspect #2 and Tripathi were one in the same.  This lead to police involvement as news outlets reported that suspect #2 had been positively identified. Unknown to the Reddit community, Tripathi had passed away prior to the incident and was evidently not Suspect #2.

Its instances like these that occur every day on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but to significantly less extremes.  These sites often host and promote rumors and false information.  After all, how many times have we all seen those shared Photoshop pictures that convince people to believe that something is or is not of importance?

Although there are both pros and cons to social media, it is important to keep in mind that these websites as a whole have helped the Internet advance.  To the dedicated user, a world of information is just waiting to be discovered behind the login screen.

Works Cited

Brenner, J. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/March/Pew-Internet-Social-Networking-full-detail.aspx

Bort, J. (2013, September 11). Mark zuckerberg to connect the world. Business Insider, Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/mark-zuckerberg-to-connect-the-world-2013-9