Book Review: Social Media and Public Relations

In her book, Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practices For The PR ProfessionalDeirdre K. Breakenridge emphasizes the importance of a company having a social media policy that is current/up-to-date and uniform throughout the internal ranks/departments. She says,

When social media met public relations, communication techniques advanced, additional practices surfaced, and your roles and responsibilities changed and grew in importance. You cannot control communication. You can only guide and shape experiences which require a flexible and open frame of reference, and the need to embrace knowledge, skills, and the practices that ready you for new and exciting challenges

(Breakenridge, 146)

The rise of social media networking sites has opened a whole new distribution channel for promotion. Now it’s easier than ever to communicate with individuals across the globe in a matter of seconds. “What was once considered the water cooler chat conversations at break time, or even “private” talks between friends in the lunchroom, have now turned into enormous , connected, human-sharing sessions in a network of peers, with “no holds barred.” (Breakenridge, 146). And because of this extreme increase in connectivity and thus reach, there is a need for a coherent and consistent social media policy in order to maintain a company/brand’s image on a much larger level.

She directs her advice to young professionals. (also mentioned by KLM) The younger generation is more knowledgable about social media platforms and can serve as better innovators for this growing field. Young people take for granted their knowledge about current social media platforms and sometimes overlook a lot of the small details that must be addressed when setting up a policy for a company. And therefore, Breakenridge presents her ideas in bullet point and check-list format in order to ensure that all aspects of a task are taken care of. Because the concept of social media is rooted in the idea of quickly grabbing attention with minimal effort, the straight-forward manner of information presentation used is very appropriate.

Breakenridge also touches on Nancy Baym’s idea of social shaping that is discussed in her book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age. (also mentioned by clcab, juliepuliem From this perspective, “the consequences of technologies arise from a mix of “affordances” – the social capabilities technological qualities enable – and the unexpected and emergent ways that people make use of those affordances” (Baym, 44). In other words, while new technologies/social media platforms change our behavior, their development is also based off of our current behaviors; we shape the technology and it also shapes us. (also mentioned by KLM) For example, the affordances of various social media platforms influence how we promote our business. (e.g. Twitter contests, Facebook promotions) but our behaviors also drive the innovations of said platforms (e.g. updates on Facebook’s capabilities, being able to now share things between different SNSs).

Breakenridge also refers to a few other topics that we have discussed in class:

Immaterial Labor (also mentioned by clcabjuliepuliem, nk1345jlake2015) – In “Exploiting YouTube: Contradictions of User Generated Labor,” Mark Andrejevic defines immaterial labor as “a series of activities that are not normally recognized as ‘work’ – in other words, the kinds of activities involved in defining and fixing cultural and artistic standards, fashions, tastes, consumer norms and, more strategically, public opinion” (Andrejevic, 209) One of the most important goals of social media policies is to maintain a companies image and reputation. Breakenridge addresses this need with practice #7, The Reputation Task Force Manager. She says, “Today, your audience has an audience and so on. Social media creates connections that make sharing instantaneous across a human network… Companies can’t control the conversations” (Breakenridge, 103). Because companies have little control over what is said about their brand, the best thing for them to do is to strengthen their image as much as possible in order to influence the conversation. The Reputation Task Force Manger does this by building the human face, helping stakeholders to understand the brand’s core values, learning the best ways to monitor and measure sentiment, and growing the reputation task force team.

Nightmare Readers / Imagined Audiences (also mentioned by clcabjuliepuliem,nk1345, jlake2015) – Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd introduce the idea of nightmare readers and imagined audiences in “I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience.” A nightmare reader is “the opposite of the ideal reader, and may limit personal discourse on Twitter, since the lowest-common-denominator philosophy of sharing limits users to topics that are safe for all possible readers” (Marwick & Boyd, 12-13). Breakenridge’s practice #5, The Pre-Crisis Doctor, creates crisis-prevention plans based on nightmare readers. The Pre-Crisis Doctor thinks “proactively about the possible levels of crisis escalation long before an issue arises” (Breakenridge, 71). By imagining the possible problems that can arise, the pre-crisis doctor can help guide the kind of information that will be released through social media.

Surveillance – (also mentioned by nk1345Lee Humphreys, in “Who’s Watching Whom? A Study of Interactive Technology and Surveillance,” discusses voluntary/participatory panopticon. In this kind of surveillance, “people willingly participate in the monitoring of their own behavior. The voluntary panopticon is based on a consumer society where information technology allows for the decentered surveillance of consumptive behavior” (Lee, 3). Breakenridge’s practice #8, The Master of Metrics, takes this information gathered through voluntary surveillance, and uses it to measure a policy’s success. “Creating the appropriate metrics and tracking changes over a period of time help to prove the value of PR and social media engagement. Metrics are also necessary as business executive decide whether to invest more resources into their employee’s social media participation” (Breakenridge, 119). Surveillance of consumer’s activity is necessary when a company is updating their policy. It gives insight into what works and what doesn’t and therefore needs to be changed moving forward.

Social Capital (also mentioned by clcabjuliepuliemnk1345jlake2015) – Baym defines social capital as “the resources people attain because of their network of relationships” (Baym, 82). These resources include, but are not limited to, information, access to new ties, and/or support. The Relationship Analyzer, Breakenridge’s practice #6, helps a company increase its social capital by maintaining a company’s relationships internally and externally. The Relationship Analyzer develops the audience profile, develops technology to analyze direction/growth, and creates a strategy to build relationships based on community culture. In such a fast-paced environment, maintaining strong and long-term relationships with customers is important in order to keep customers from straying away and going to other new products.

While Breakenridge does bring up some good starting points in her book, she just scratches the surface. She does not go into depth with her suggestions. But perhaps that was her point. Maybe she intended to get young professionals started on the right path but only wanted to guide them; she didn’t want to hold their hand the whole way through their journey. Each individual must bring their own unique approaches and ideas to supplement each of the new practices that Breakenridge suggests.


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