Social Media and PR: Audience Matters

            Audience matters. The first thing I noticed about Social Media and Public Relations by Deirdre K. Breakenridge is that this book wasn’t written for “me”. I’m a young college student studying Communications in NYC; I’d like to think I’m fairly social media savvy and up to date with what’s popular as I use most platforms like Twitter and Facebook almost daily. I’m not, however, a PR professional who’s been in the field for “x” amount of years and knows the “in’s and out’s” of successful traditional PR strategies. I don’t need to incorporate new practices to be up to date, where “social media meets PR and communication unites with technology” (Breakenridge 2). The 8 PR practices she offers in this book are great for those organizations in transition from traditional PR to the current social media minded PR. She covers how to develop social media policies, how to get your company internally on board with the practices, how to interact with the public, how to create content through different mediums, how to avert crisis, how to create an authentic brand voice and even how to measure social media outcomes, outtakes and outputs. She also has a nice Social Media Strategy Wheel to “help PR and communications professionals visualize the core components of social media strategy and planning” (Breakenridge 157). Her book is neatly organized; each chapter has a PR practice and is broken down by sub-sections and headings with relevant questions. She works in easy to follow paragraphs, lists and interviews with prominent figures in the industry. She offers examples for monitoring systems for Twitter and Facebook and programs to analyze reception, usage and metrics. The book is full of relevant information for a PR professional, but I consider myself more of an academic “professional” on social media. With my understanding of media scholars’ studies I believe I have some interesting insight and comparisons to offer.

            Breakenridge seems to make many references to the idea of surveillance, which was discussed in Lee Humphreys’ piece “Who’s Watching Whom? A Study of Interactive Technology and Surveillance”. All members of my blogging group #d2i brought up surveillance at some point in our conversation about this book. The Pre-Crisis Doctor mentioned in Chapter 5 has the task of “listening” to make sure there are no negative sentiment among customers or bloggers. It also instructs how to prepare for and then quickly address a crisis situation. In Chapter 7, the same idea of “sentiment monitoring” is brought up: “to catch what could be the wave of negative wildfire, you want to set up keyword monitoring so that you see any mentions of the company name, executives, products, or services across millions of social media sites” (Breakenridge 110). To uphold reputation, it seems as though it’s necessary to watch your brand every waking moment (or every hour) to make sure everything is positive. I understand the importance of reputation, but surveillance can also be used to target people: “The monitoring of individuals through information technology allows for people and groups to be sorted into categories based on their presumed economic or political value” (Humphreys 576). Sorting people based on their value is necessary in the business realm, however, it can marginalize some groups of people and have negative social implications, such as reinforcing stereotypes. 

            “The Relationship Analyzer”, discussed in Chapter 6, is in charge of understanding the audience and reaching out to them in meaningful ways. There are different degrees of closeness with your customers: “Technology reveals the weak connections between you and a friend/follower, or between your brand and its stakeholders, so you can apply new strategies to strengthen those bonds” (Breakenridge 91). This reminds me, as well as members of my blogging group #d2i of Caroline Haythornthwaite’s discussion of weak and strong ties in her article “Social Networks and Internet Connectivity Effects”. “The strength of strong ties, i.e. our close friends and coworkers, is their willingness to work with us, sharing what information and resources they have, and access to the contacts they know” (Haythornthwaite 127). Both Breakenridge and Haythornthwaite understand how important it is to capitalize on strong ties. In the case of PR practices, those strong ties are your social media champions who can help you with endorsements, advocacy, registration and sales. Just as in Haythornwaite’s article where there is a progression from latent to weak to strong ties, Breakenridge has a “Relationship Stairway” where relationships can move form the “casual friend” to the “Trusted confidante and/or brand champion”. She also offers the example of MentionMapp as a way to measure strong and weak connections on Twitter through graph representation. Her “Twitter Relationship Boosters” (Breakenridge 95) also sound like Haythornwaite’s idea of maintenance and grooming: “promote your own community members’ content” and “recognize, thank and reward customers” (Breakenridge 95). 

            Another way to maintain or even build strong ties is through authenticity. Reputation or the way your followers/friends view your brand affects sales and productivity. It’s important to put a face to the brand: “If you consistently use the same unique voice day in and day out, your friends and followers can relate more to your personality and look forward to interacting with you as a peer who can offer help, advice and interesting information” (Breakenridge 107). This consistent narrative described reminds me of Anthony Giddens’ “reflexive project of the self”. Anna, Alexis, Caity and Melisa all pointed out the importance of authenticity: having that unique, relatable voice makes you a trustworthy brand. Even concentrating on the voice, style and tone is very important: “include photos and video, and maybe, even some humor or honesty” (Breakenridge 53). She offers the advice of creating the traditional “brand style guide” whose purpose is to “keep the brand’s look and feel intact and to ensure its messaging remains consistent” (Breakenridge 108). These days just relaying information the old-fashioned way like a robot will not get you any attention. It all comes down to human interaction and relationships. I think that’s a great lesson we can all learn, both in the digital and physical world. 

            While I didn’t address every aspect of this book (honestly there’s just too much to cover) I think it’s important to focus on the audience. Some of my fellow bloggers were a little harsh on the book itself. Yes, we already understand social media and don’t need a book to explain to us how to use it in a field we may or may not be going into. I think as millennials, though, that we’re a little impatient and expect everyone to be “masters” of social media regardless of their age. Books like this make it possible for everyone to get on board and feel connected. Some of these PR practices were new to me; some I already understood and use daily for my own personal branding. It seems that the power and authority to change the internal workings of a company she talks about are beyond my current expertise. I don’t see myself being hired at a PR firm as an entry-level employee and being given that task, but after reading this book I have the tools to do just that. And even as a millennial, I think I can appreciate the importance of incorporating the old and the new to create success.

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