Book Analysis (Because ‘Book Reviews’ are for Fifth Graders or Amazon Comments!)

In the past couple of years social media has reformed communicative culture on an individual and societal level.  People are going crazy and becoming addicted to connecting with others in the online realm. The fairly recent territories of social media technologies have separated us into two groups: those who know & those who don’t know. Due to the astounding popularity surrounding Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. the less knowledgeable are craving to learn about how to join in on the fun. Which is why there are an unbelievable amount of books available on social media dynamics and its role in our lives. Social media has become a form of immaterial labor- its popularity has made its maintenance a necessity among businesses everywhere, particularly the public relations realm. Which is why Deirdre Breakenridge wrote her book Social Media and Public Relations. This book lays out how a public relations organization can better the company through strategic social media planning; which, in this case, is done by creating eight roles with in the company. To Breakenridge, teamwork and communication is the key to navigating your PR firm through the newly discovered and ever-changing waters of social media.

Now We Know What To Do… But Why?

In reading Social Media and Public Relations it is clear the Breakenridge knows what she is talking about. The concepts that she touches upon are certainly valid and are ideas that scholars of media and communication discuss at great lengths. But due to the nature of the book, it feels like the explanations of why these practices are relevant come up short. Now we know what to do… but why are we doing these things? Public relations is an industry focused on the curating of relationships between people and/or companies. She frequently discusses the important role social media has in developing the relationship between the firm and their consumers. Understanding this relationship is crucial to understanding why PR is so important in the first place. This is where I wished she had gone into more detail.

The consistency of brand voice is something she focuses heavily on. Consistency of voice whether as a company or an individual is the key to understanding each other and ourselves. Social theorist, Anthony Giddens, says that we deal with the constantly changing world around us by developing a coherent narrative for ourselves. His idea is that we find authenticity in the stability maintained in our self narrative. This links directly to Breakenridge’s idea, a company must have a plan of consistency when it comes to how they talk amongst themselves and to others. A consistent brand ideology is essentially like a consistent individual identity that a person may create online. Breakenridge says that we trust people, not corporations- we want to get the sense that a human is behind the social media but this human voice still must remain consistent with the brand. This builds a sense of familiarity and makes people feel tied to the company and those running the communication network. Nancy Baym in her book Personal Connections in the Digital Age discusses the importance of social ties that are created by social networking. Each relationship built is a “tie” and the difference between strong and weak ties lies in the activity level and the number of platforms used to communicate. Media multiplexity (when numerous platforms are used to communicate) and the extent to which you communicate builds stronger bonds which creates consumer loyalty. And in the world of PR, each consumer is a means of social capital which eventually helps your company expand.

Breakendridge does not take her explanations this deep- possibly for good reason, maybe her imagined audience would not care to know about the ideology behind online relationships. However, a foundation may have been helpful in developing her ideas. If she acknowledges the way in which relationships work and how they are based on identity and personal relationships it could really develop the idea that public relations is not just a medium now ruled by social media, but one ruled by interactions among people.

Mild Reader Confusion

Breakenridge states that “companies never actually had control of their brand communications” that is, until social media came to life. Throughout her writing she speaks as though we, the PR firms, are subjects to this rise of social technology and we must adapt… or fail. As Melissa notes, she does not fully discuss the fact that we created social media, and since it has been shaped by previous social norms there are offline reasons as to why these new online practices should work. She takes on a technologically determinist approach throughout much of her writing. For example, She discusses that social media is undergoing constant change and it is the job of the employee to be aware of this. Social media theorists, Ellison and Boyd call this “perpetual beta”. Social media is never in its final version but is under constant revision. This book discusses these constant changes as something we need to be open to or they will sink the company. Which is not a false idea- and she discusses that these new technologies will help with future communication. However, it is discussed in the sense that these changes are made and we operate under them, rather than employing them as an extension of our own social processes that have already been established. Yet, Ali sees her approach as one of social shaping; new technologies and social norms work hand in hand to develop approaches to technology. I would say that both Melissa and Ali are right. This created some confusion among my group because she speaks in deterministic ways yet her ideas seem to stem from social shaping ideology. There seem to be some contradictory language within the book that makes it difficult to pinpoint her exact mentality behind social media and its effect on the PR world.

As scholars of social media I am not sure my class group and I were the target audience for the book. In fact, my group and I were unclear of who the audience of the book truly is. There are seemingly two groups of people who would pick up this book:

  1. Social media enthusiasts: who would likely read in order to figure out more behind why these practices are so crucial to our lives.
  2. PR firm employees who have not yet engaged in efficient social media use: who would want to know in detail how to use each of the social networking sites.

This book treads lightly over each of these but never fully dives into either one. As Ryan said, “she lights the fire but doesn’t necessarily keep it going.” This book is a great beginning manual and provides information in an easy to read outline format but would serve best when supplemented with other information in order to fully develop the importance behind the evolution of relationships during the triumph of social media.

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