Social Media and Public Relations Book Review

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Deirdre Breakenridge‘s “Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practices for the PR Professional” offers many helpful tips and tools to those seeking enlightenment in the ever-changing field of PR in the online world. In writing the book, the author hopes to assist the average public relations professional to change their previously-held views of communication and “be a propelling force, leading the charge, and a change agent who makes the new practices systemic in [their] organization.”(6) Breakenridge uses a step-by-step breakdown of her “Eight New Practices” to promote a well-rounded professional, who uses all aspects of social media technologies to communicate with the ever-important consumer and become this “propelling force”.

Included in these practices is the “PR Policymaker”, a leader-within-a-company that helps set standards of online conduct and procedures that will be utilized by a company in their online Public Relations. The “Internal Collaboration Generator” is tasked with making the company internally compatible and comfortable with using new technologies in a collaborative, intra-company format. Breakenridge stresses the importance of good communication internally to facilitate effective PR externally with other companies and consumers. Breakenridge’s third new practice is the “PR Technology Tester”, someone motivated and curious to test new media formats and communicative technologies for potential use within their organization. The Communications (COMMs) Organizer is responsible for changing the way companies connect to their consumers by getting rid of old “one-to-many” forms of communication and introducing new connective technologies and fresh content to the equation.

Breakenridge also promotes preparedness and damage control on all social media platforms through her fifth new PR Practice, the “Pre-Crisis Doctor”. Practice number six, the “Relationship Analyzer” implores the reader to explore the connections created every day between the public and the businesses of PR , and to chart and map this data in order to create more useful interactions between “the brand” and customers. Practice number seven, the “Reputation Task-Force Member” is concerned with portraying a positive “voice” and “value” in a brand, and maintaining this voice through repeated interactions with customers and fellow corporations. Finally, Breakenridge finishes her list with the “Master of the Metrics”, a data-hound who evaluates, analyzes, and presents coherent measures on the connections that each company makes and maintains in the media-rich business world.

Breakenridge’s advice and guidance are vastly informative for both the established professional in public relations that is still learning the ins and outs of socially-mediated business, and for myself, as a student currently weighing the possibilities of working in public relations. Every “practice” is framed in the sense of a role for the reader to play, and with each of these roles, Breakenridge offers many existing apps and media platforms that could be of use. Because her primary target audience is already a “PR Professional”, and not a teens-or-twentysomething student that has grown up with Facebook and Twitter as a part of their everyday life, Breakenridge must constantly promote change and innovation in communicative technologies as both the cause of and the most exciting aspect of today’s media environment. As the author puts it, “For better or for worse, a career in PR means handling communications in public spotlight because of the increasing use of social media.” (1)

Coming from the perspective of a professional, I can see the content of “Social Media and Public Relations” getting slightly overwhelming. After all, each chapter is dedicated to a given Practice and each Practice has accompanying technologies Breakenridge thinks the professional might find useful– but ultimately, as the author noted, change is now in the nature of the way we communicate, and those that can’t keep up with “the times” will be left behind. From the other side of the coin, as someone NOT YET in the industry, I found that many of the business jargon and corporate structure that Breakenridge references started to become confusing, especially when they weren’t backed with any physical examples or evidence. Take this quote for example, from chapter 5, “The Pre-Crisis Doctor”, “In addition to your internal channel managers and your crisis team, collaborate with the organization’s brand champions or ambassadors involved in your social planning, these individuals are critical for outreach, particularly during negative trending periods.” (83) With two competing tracks of terminology (business-speak vs. millenial jargon), some portions of each chapter become slightly bogged down in their attempts to place the author’s practices into real situations. Really, though, this is the point of Breakenridge’s endeavor, to combine separate ideologies and force PR pros and high school kids alike to see the common ground in human communication. I find no problem with this small cloud of confusion I possess (the point of reading a book, after all, is to learn something previously unfamiliar, no?) about minor details of Breakenridge’s practices, but I do wish the author could have used more real-life examples from actual companies and organizations.

One thing all my KLM group members (Caroline Maeda, Cari Lieberman, Victoria Leib, Helen Li, Natalia Karavasili, Madeline Knight, and Julie Meltzer) and I noticed was that in relation to our readings, and in particular those of Nancy Baym in the textbook Personal Connections in a Digital Age, was that much of the book (if not the entire thing) is based off of Baym’s social discourses of technology. In particular, social shaping and technological determinism- “…because technology is far more advanced than years past, it’s time for you to think about updating how you collaborate with your peers to reach maximum efficiencies for your company.” (23) Because Baym’s textbook and Breakenridge’s book are both fairly new, there is not much of a “new light” to be cast upon Breakenridge’s findings by Baym’s discourses, but it is merely an overarching theme that guides the book, that technology is driving the change in business, leading us to experience the transaction between producer and consumer in different ways.

As I said in my notes, Breakenridge also touches upon affordances new to the PR industry, like “disembedding”, first discussed in Michael Wesch‘s famous “An Anthropological Introduction to Youtube“. The second practice, the “Internal Collaboration Generator” is the role that finds the most use in the disembedded nature of today’s communication and collaboration. Breakenridge writes on page 23, “Whether your team is in the same office, in the next state, or across the country, the Internal Collaboration Generator knows how to maximize everyone’s time, boost productivity, and cut down on the email that clogs your email inbox.” The Internal Collaboration Generator, as the one working most to streamline communication and work-sharing in the organization, is the one most likely to extol technologies that facilitate cooperation and work-sharing over large distances. This practice, Breakenridge argues, is key to facilitate streamlined communication on the inside of organizations as well as on the outside, with its customers.

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