Social Media and Public Relations Book Commentary

In Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practices for the PR Professional, Breakenridge talks about  8 new practices and roles required for people to be successful within the PR/social media sector. In a total of 160 pages, Breakenridge has put together a set of guidelines, opinions that are designed for the communicators of our generation, who I would refer to as “network savvy”. Social media makes people shift from wanting to pursue individual actions to collaborating for a greater good. Each new practice the author talks about has to do with the results of social media meeting PR and technology. Each chapter focuses on a particular practice and includes interviews and insights from key PR professionals in each of these areas. I was excited to read this book but have some thoughts I would like to share about it.

What made this book easy to understand was that in the end of each new practice(chapter), the author provided a checklist, which was basically a sum up of the important points of each chapter. The possible audience of this book are young professionals who want to enter the industry or are social media oriented people within the work environment that want to regulate internal communication. I agree with my classmate Johnny Lake who says the book is slightly basic for someone who’s taken classes and is majoring in Media, Culture, and Communication, but can see how it would be a great tool for older professionals or those who haven’t grown up with daily social media usage. While reading the book, many course concepts came to mind so I believe it is important to look at each chapter and evaluate its significance.

To begin with, the first practice Breakenridge talks about is the PR Policy Maker. The person having this role has to help the company, the employees as well as the public join conversations in the right way. PR has become more about influencing what other are saying about the company and this is why Breakenridge carefully divides responsibilities within each practice to avoid misunderstandings, negative critiques and customer complains. The next practice mentioned is the Internal Collaboration Generator, which refers to the person who works strategically to evaluate how social collaboration starts internally. This person knows how to maximize everyone’s time while boosting productivity no matter where the people are. Location is not a factor that prevents communication. This idea is further enhanced by Don Slater’s article Social Relationships and Identity Online and Offline. My classmate Julie Meltzer also saw this connection. Slater introduces the term disembedding to talk about communication between people who are spacially dispersed. Slater sees the process of desembedding as “freeing one from the confines of one’s immediate location,empowering participants to connect with anyone from anywhere in the world on the basis of common interests or pleasures”. This is exactly what social media allows people to do. The next practice in Breakenridge’s book is known as the PR Technology Tester and refers to the person who takes time to research, test and implement a new technology. Technology is ideally naturally blended into working hours as much as it does in personal lives and thus stops seeming as a technology. My group members all agreed that Baym would consider Breakenridge’s arguments to be understood as a social shaping approach since she says “The technology enables you to see where your connections are the strongest and where you need help with your engagement to move from awareness and the casual friend to a confidant or loyal brand advocate” .

Practice #4: The Communications Organizer mainly focuses on evaluating the company’s current communications process to create a new process according to human resources instructions. Thanks to social media, customers feel empowered and audiences let companies know how they feel. This idea is supported by M.Welsh in his video An Anthropological introduction to Youtube, where he talks about empowerment. People are given platforms to talk about themselves, express their concerns, be creative and geographically mobile.

A part of her book I found really helpful was the Practice #5: The Pre-Crisis Doctor since it is always an advantage if one knows how to handle an urgent situation without stressing out.  As Breakenridge states “As a Pre-Crisis Doctor, you must set up potential negative or crisis keywords so that you can watch closely how people refer to the brand to catch any activity before it escalates” . The importance of taking actions, listening before a crisis occurs and becoming aware of new emerging technologies is critical.

Another particularly important chapter, in my opinion, was the practice #6 called the Relationship Analyzer. This practice looks into the psychographics of people based on common critical issues and behavioral actions. One of the responsibilities is to develop the audience profile which includes customers, prospects,influencers(etc), while another task is to use technology in order to analyzer growth/direction. What one learns by doing this is that friendships can be categorized into groups, which have potential to move from one group to another. The grouping goes as follows: Casual Friend,Taker with Good Info, the Giver, the Giver and Taker Friendship, the Trusted Confidant/Brand Champion. This grouping can be connected to what N.Baym says in her book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, about social ties. According to Baym ties can be weak when people use one or few media formats as well as the least amount of effort to communicate. Then she talks about latent ties which refer to someone you have the potential to communicate but haven’t put the effort yet. Not only do Breakenridge’s groupings relate to social ties but also to the discussion on social capital. Social capital is a form of capital that describes resources embedded in social relationships and interactions within a network. According to the reading Cultivating Social Resources on Social Network Sites: Facebook Relationship Maintenance social capital is often separated into bridging and bonding. The author says “One’s ability to access useful informational resources, a key component of bridging social capital, is related to the composition of one’s network, one’s position in this network, and one’s communicative and analytic skillset. Bridging ties—dyadic relationships spanning two clusters—allow novel information to spread across a network more effectively by creating information pathways that close “structural holes” between two otherwise unconnected groups”.

Moreover, practice #7 The Reputation Task Force Member relies on the importance of having a positive brand reputation. It is all about building the human face by following a style guide designed to keep the brand’s look consistent. Lim , the author of Facework on Facebook , would call this facework since by having a style guide the company is trying to gain face and participate in impression management.

Terranova, the author of Free Labor:Producing Culture For the Digital Economy would classify PR as immaterial labor since it is an activity that produces cultural content and has to do with connectivity and branding.

As my group member Cari says what is missing from the book is tips on how to motivate individuals who are not interested in social media. Breakenridge assumes that all people reading this people have basic knowledge on social media and are thus interested in it but fails to talk about the cultural, broader perspective of social media. While discussing this book with my group members  we agreed that it is a very general guide and although it is not very old it could already be updated. I believe chapters 8,9,10 could be omitted from the book since by reading all the previous chapters things should be clear and obvious to those wanting to get involved. Each practice seemed so separate, but many of these practices can be done by the same person so there was a lot of repetition.

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