The book Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practices for the PR Professional by Deidre K. Breakenridge does not leave much room for the imagination. Given the step-by-step layout of the book the reader is firmly held by the hand as they are guided into the world of PR 2.0, which now lives in the world of Web 2.0. As d2i unanimously agreed, the book was made for a PR professional that is looking to perfect their skills within the world of PR, by learning how to use social media in order to enhance communication. However, as many of us pointed out the book did not seem to have one clear audience, as Alexis put it, there was an audience crisis that served as one of the biggest contentions throughout. During our discussion of the book d2i came up with the understanding that since the book was compartmentalized into different categories it was aimed at a company or corporation versus one individual (as specifically mentioned by Ryan). The layout and breakdown of the different practices left the reader with the impression that a different person should take on each practice.
Although the book did act as a step-by-step guide to a PR professional, who would looking to enhance their social media skills, the book did not seem to take into account the non PR professionals that also may come to get their hands on the book. Being a non-PR professional I found myself struggling through the PR lingo, as I attempted to ground it within the framework of the profession. That being said, considering myself a social media professional, I found the social media portions of the book to be overly simplified and stupefied, to the point where I was frustrated. It is obvious that Social Media has become a key component in the field of PR, but the book seemed to repeat a lot of the same concepts and ideas throughout without ever really grounding them as concepts or terms.
The oversimplification of terms could be the downfall of the book. Since we as readers are being thrown so much information at once, it is hard to sift through and find what is meaningful to us. Coming back to the concept of the audience, Breakenridge assumes that although not versed in social media, her audience has access to it, ignoring the possibility of a digital divide (Baym) as is mentioned by Kaitlin Gu and Anna Dutkowsky. She also does not take into account the size of the company she is trying to target. Given her explanations throughout the book, we can assume that Breakenridge is aiming toward an audience of much larger companies, with multiple staff members, big enough to be divided into teams. But, as we know in the reality of the world today, especially because of the power of social media, companies no longer function off a traditional format, and therefor may sometimes be composed of few employees who take on multiple roles. As was mentioned by Ryan, although the book is laid out in such a way that would make it seem like every one of the eight PR practices should be taken on by a different employee, they can also all be taken on by one employee just the same.
Ignoring the audience crisis for a second however, it is clear, as was decided by d2i, that Breckenridge’s book takes on the Baym’s social discourse of social shaping as she encourages her readers to take the relationships they are making offline and transfer them online and vice versa. Throughout her book she is encouraging the creation of Social ties, a concept mentioned by Haythronthwaite, in which the employees work in order to create bonds and relationships with their audience in order to keep the relationship with the brand alive. As is mentioned by Anna Dutkowsky the role of the PR professional is less about speaking from the company, but more about influencing what others are saying about the company, creating a bi-directional, or a two way communication between the audience and the brand, as mentioned by Ellison and Boyd . But as we discussed the idea of forging these relationships as a group, all of us in d2i came to the conclusion that the amount of surveillance (Humphrey) and lurking that Breckenridge suggested the employees and PR Professional do was quite disturbing.
In almost every one of the eight new PR practices, surveillance and/or lurking were involved in one way or another. Lurking as is mentioned by Alexis Dontiz, Kaitlin Gu, Melisa Demaestri, and Ryan Elsman is done within the company, when the employees monitor each other’s online presences by keeping an eye on what their co workers are posting ensuring that they are not posting anything that could potentially harm the company. Surveillance, or “Listening” as it is termed in the book, and mentioned by d2i, is when the PR professional is attentive on all social media sites for words or signifiers that may come to cause a problem for the company, as well as customers who can be adopted as “influencers” who help promote the company. The emphasis put on surveillance and lurking reveals the importance of customer loyalty for the survival of the brand, and since that loyalty can now be tracked on social media Breckenridge’s emphasis on surveillance and lurking, although slighting eerie comes to make a lot of sense.
It is evident that Breakenridge knows what she is talking about, as she touches on all the important factors that come to play big roles within the social media world today. She highlights the importance of having an online presence in order to keep your brand up to date in the public eye, as Stephanie Diggles mentions the importance of face and representing yourself as a professional should be at the top of your priorities list if you are in the field of PR and dealing with social media. It is no longer just about the self face, but also involved the creation and maintenance of other and mutual face as well. It is clear that our relationship with others is based on the premise of whether or not we are able to create a tie with them initially, as mentioned by Ryan “People prefer information from people that they can trust” (Breckenridge 146). Breckenridge makes it obvious that without social media, one will not survive, giving a slightly technologically determinist twist to her book, she leaves the reader with the impression that in order to be successful one must:
a) learn how to “Listen” i.e. become a professional lurker / surveillor
b) create a trust worthy, yet honest face, which others will be able to relate to
c) create bi-directional relationships that will strengthen latent and weak ties
Although there are many other elements that go into the long term success of a brand, this book is none the less a good starting point for the inexperienced social media PR professional looking to take their communication skills to another level.