Social Media and Public Relations: Book Review

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Whether you’re a “young professional entering the work force of a seasoned practitioner” in the field of Public Relations, Social Media and Public Relations by Deirdre K. Breakenridge is practical resource for helping PR pro’s begin to adopt the usage of social media into their practice in order to enhance their client’s online presence in the ever increasing technological age.

“Today, if you’re in communications, technology is your job”

Breakenridge argues that today’s digital media technologies, including the Internet and various forms of social media platforms, have completely changed the world of public relations. Now, not only are you, as the PR professional, concerned about what print and broadcast media declares and spreads about your brand, but you also have to monitor the 24/7 posts from your brand’s loyalist to the haters. In the world of social media, “your audience has an audience,” which means that a plethora of connections can instantaneously share content across human networks involving positive/negative statements shared about your brand.

 The book’s content is split into eight new and different roles the PR professional should take on, either by themselves or as a supervisor to a team of individuals who execute the role. The roles discussed are as follows:

  • The PR Policy Maker
  • The Internal Collaboration Generator
  • The PR Technology Tester
  • The Communication (COMMS) Organizer
  • The Pre-Crisis Doctor
  • The Relationship Analyzer
  • The Reputation Task Force Member
  • The Master of the Metrics

Each of these roles are vital to becoming a champion of the social media sphere, yet their descriptions are very straightforward and simple, leaving me to believe that the target audience would be PR professionals who have some existing knowledge of how social media works, but need a play by play of how to mold and implement their skills into a coherent PR plan. Thus, the book is directed towards the corporate company/business standpoint rather than to an individual social media user. (Also mentioned by clcab and juliepuliem)

Throughout her book, Breakenridge dabbles between the idea of and “technological determinism” and “social shaping” rather than firmly asserting one over the other. Nancy Baym, in her book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, describes technological determinism as when the technology itself begins to control how we as humans behave. Breakenridge repeatedly states how technological growth in the field of communications is inevitable; therefore, it’s the PR professional’s responsibility to learn how to use it or risk failure. On the other hand, social shaping is Mutual relationship, a “co-production” between what the technology affords and the way you want to use it. For example, she Breakenridge states that social media platforms such as “Google+ enables businesses to organize audience segments in circles; to differentiate customers, prospects, partners, vendors, bloggers, media, and so on; and to create more targeted communications for each group.” In other words, the technology allows you to group people, yet you yourself create the groups as well as place specific people into their respected group. The technology works with and benefits the user instead of controlling them. While both ideas are valid, it’s confusing to be told that technology will rule all behaviors and then switch to the idea that humans have the ability to work with the affordances offered by the technology. (Also mentioned by KLM)

Nevertheless, Breakenridge does touch upon some important and insightful concepts throughout her book that would definitely assist the target audience:

Maintaining Consistency:

Breakenridge articulates that in order for you’re brand’s online presence to be successful, it must be consistent. Consistency allows the consumer to familiarize them with your brand. She states, “At all times you will be upholding the voice and the message of your brand, but your own unique voice is what actually breaks through when you engage. If you consistently use the same unique voice day in and day out, your friends and followers can relate to you on a more personal level as well as look forward to interacting with you as a peer who can offer help, advice, and interesting information.” This is similar to Gidden’s theory of the Reflexive Self. He believes that as we process and create new information about the world and ourselves, must be continuously revise our narrative, while still remaining consistent in our ideals order to maintain authenticity. Breakenridge suggest creating a “Brand Style Guide” designed to keep the look, style, voice, and tone of the brand and it’s messages/content consistent through all social media channels.

Surveillance:

Your audience is engaged in a voluntary/participatory panopticon, which permits them to talk about your brand publicly, allowing their connections to view their content. Whether they’re promoting your brand or bashing it, they’re still advertising. Therefore, it’s crucial to monitor their behavior. Some important analytics to review, mentioned in the book, would be:

  • “Number of visitors and page views
  • Referring keywords
  • Recent visitor locations
  • Inbound link monitoring
  • User profile data
  • Bounce rate”

The simplest form of surveillance would be through the hashtag function, but Breakenridge also offers various websites and apps that easily oversee buzz around your brand, including what followers are saying and how they’re searching. Tracking is important because you’re able to quickly and easily see what they consumers are interested in through the material they post. According to Tiziana Terranova, companies can benefit from this type of immaterial/free labor provided by their constituents because then they could better accommodate their desires, thus improving your brand. (Also mentioned by clcabCarolineMisaki, and nkl1345)

Building Community:

Most important to a brand is building a community through social media is by the development of the audience profiles and strategies that build relationships based on community culture. Breakenridge states that PR professionals should aim to “understand the culture of different communities and to apply the cultural norms and group behavior to rally the community on your behalf.” Then, she gives some important tips known as “Relationship boosters,” similar to “maintenance behaviors” discussed by Ellison in her article on Social Capital. Breakenridge mentions actions words such as “share,” “promote,” “engage,” “develop,” “create,” and “drive traffic,” as well as maintaining/gaining face actions by “recognizing, thanking, and rewarding customers, bloggers, media, and other stakeholders for sharing your brand information and activities” are aimed at towards pleasing your followers. These actions will not only keep your customers happy, but they can also move your followers up what Breakenridge calls the “relationship stairway,” or in other words, strengthening latent and weak ties. (also mentioned by nkl1345 and CarolineMisaki)

 While I thought she made some great suggestions, Breakenridge fails to indicate why these roles will gain customer attention. An in depth analysis of the cultural impacts on followers are missing, leaving you feeling somewhat lacking (Also mentioned by nkl1345 and juliepuliem). However, this may be because since she seems to assume that since the reader is an existing social media user, they will already understand why the brand’s followers will positively respond. Nevertheless, I thought this book acts as a great pep talk that gets the ball rolling in adding social media to your brand. 

 

 

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