Social Media and Public Relations: A Review

In Social Media and Public Relations, Deirdre K. Breakenridge describes 8 social media skills and mindsets linked to PR success TODAY.  There is a new PR mindset that suggests that more businesses are becoming, or need to become, “socialized” to meet the needs of their customers, and that is why social media is an essential part of PR success.  Breakenridge argues the importance of integrating social media and PR with other key business functions in order to enhance communication with coworkers, with the hope of enhancing offline communication.  Don Slater’s publication, Social Relationships and Identity Online and Offline further discusses the importance of communication with his disembedding theory stating that the physical location is irrelevant because people come together a new, virtual space.  Breakenridge urges PR professional to aim towards this virtual communication in order to enhance their communications skills and, thus, the company. The goal of Breakenridge’s book is to aid those who are unfamiliar with the advantages of social media, and demonstrate how social media will create a successful PR company.  It is directed towards larger, more traditional companies who may be outdated and have not yet incorporated the new digital age into their companies’ business tactics.  Breakenridge suggests that these professionals change their strategies and techniques in order to be more successful.  However, d2i discovered that there is somewhat of an audience crisis because to those who are aware of social media and how to use it, the book is extremely repetitive, but to those who know nothing about this new world, it could be highly confusing. The book really is only relevant to PR professionals looking to change their companies because it is simply about PR and social media tactics spoken by a social media expert to professionals who may not be taking full advantage of the technology around them.

Breakenridge organizes the book by creating eight sections that correspond to each of the eight new practices PR companies should adopt in handling their communication.  Each of the sections seems to meld together in the end, though, because the professional can choose to either embody all of them or only some of them.  Breaking the book into eight parts only presents a more attractive structure for the book and its concepts to the audience, but it is not necessarily the best way to demonstrate the main ideas.  Each of the sections overlap and Breakenridge even contradicts herself a few times because of the constant repetition throughout the book.  I think it is slightly unrealistic to have each and all of these eight jobs within every PR firm because so many of them accomplish the same task, just in a slightly different manner.  I do acknowledge, however, that my peers and I were born in to the social media and technological world so it is more difficult for us to understand how someone else may not understand the concepts addressed in the book.

Social Shaping:

I think Breakenridge uses Nancy Baym’s social shaping discourse, from Personal Connections in the Digital Age, throughout her book because she explains how the merging of PR and social media is essentially merging the offline and online worlds.  PR professionals need to take advantage of technological affordances to help build the company and its success.  Caity mentioned that the technology might be spearheading the social shaping.  As Breakenridge says, “the Internet and social media made this more than a possibility; it’s your new reality” (39).  Social Media is much more modern and updated in terms of strategies and ways to create new business plans, which are now all done on the online world.  Businesses don’t have to be technology-based companies in order to implement social media strategies into their businesses.  Technology provides ways to create a more successful company, and the users use those affordances to their advantage.  Technology allows for certain affordances to develop success, and users use these affordances to their advantage; it is a mutual relationship in which the technology and social context influence each other.  With that said, Melisa made an interesting point that Breakenridge may be leaning more towards a technological determinist side, where the machines are using the users and shaping how users behave, because of her emphasis on the necessity for companies to use technological affordances to their advantage in order to be successful.  She stresses it so much almost as if the companies need to conform to technology in order to be successful.

Earlier Concepts:

I found each of the eight practices to correlate with a specific concept we have discussed over the course of the semester.  The PR Policymaker who learns the development of social media politics, training and governance operates the surveillance and matrix.  The Internal Collaboration Generator who appreciates how social media collaboration starts on the inside of the organization is in charge of disembedding.  The PR Technology Tester who uses technology strategically for greater peer-to-peer communications is the Lurker.  The Communications Organizer who must educate and redirect an organization to implement a new communications process is in charge of free labor.  The Pre-Crisis Doctor who realizes that every company today can face a crisis is in charge of impression management.  The Relationship Analyzer who turns into the communications sociologist with the help of technology is the social capital operator.  The Reputation Task Force Member who practices reputation management on steroids is the maintainer of self-presentation.  Lastly, the Master of the Metrics who forges ahead with measurable objectives and metrics tied to higher-level organizational goals is the business and social media combiner.

I think the main concepts that are brought up in this book are Lee Humphrey’s concept of surveillance in Who’s Watching Whom? A Study of Interactive Technology and Surveillance,” Nancy Baym’s ideas of lurking and social capital in Personal Connections in the Digital Age, and Erving Goffman’s impression management.  This book discusses surveillance within the company and also in the public.  Policymakers must do surveillance in the company to choose the best ‘champions’ to create the visions and strategies of the company.  These champions also help research and discover how colleagues feel about the new technology.  In the public, professionals must understand and predict one’s potential influence through audience size, engagement and relevance.  Lurking is also done within the company and in the public.  Breakenridge explains that “it’s important to reach employees wherever they hang out” (27) like in the restrooms or common areas.  It may sound odd, she acknowledges, but it’s the only way to get their attention.  There is also the idea of “listening” in social media by listening to conversations through the use of search and key words.  Professionals are also urged to monitor all types of user activity such as recent visitor locations and user profile data.

Social Capital is about realizing what resources you get from what type of tie, and it is crucial in PR to have good relationships with the media as well as the general public.  Breakenridge discusses the Relationship Staircase where each step brings the relationship closer to advocacy and the top gets the company an experience or ultimate engagement (91).  Ties ultimately lead to higher-level business goals, however with some of this surveillance also comes free labor as addressed by Tiziana Terranova in Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy.”  You must create strong ties in order to have those people promote the company, so employees must go out of their way to create those ties.  Because technology naturally fits into employees’ working hours as much as it does in their personal hours, they essentially can do free social media work by simply tweeting about the brand or monitoring social media channels.  Companies can make off-hour social media use attractive to their employers by making them feel that if they participate in this new technology strategy they will be more more involved in the company’s success.  This essentially boosts the company’s image for free, while simultaneously having their employers learn and help create success.  Social media truly never stops so just because the normal business day ends doesn’t mean the job is over.  Impression management is important in planning and strategizing for a crisis much before the incident actually occurs.  It is about keeping the front and back stages of the company separate in order to control how people think of the company.  A team must proactively monitor social media channels to predict a crisis on the front stage (negative tweet) and fix it using the back stage (sending a direct message to remove it).  This also relates to Goffman’s concept of face work combining the social relationships and impression management.  PR is most about self-face because the company tries to manage what other people think of them, and they have a concern for self-image and reputation.

A Review:

While Breakenridge’s book may be accurate, all the information could have been summed up in an introduction, a few points on the key concepts and a final conclusion rather than repeating ideas and putting similar charts into each chapter. I was able to understand the main ideas of each practice just by reading the first two pages of each section.  This made it difficult for someone who understands social media to read, and may have been too confusing for someone unfamiliar with the technology.  As a person familiar with social media, I did not like this book because of its repetition and the overlapping concepts discussed in each section.  I think Breakenridge made some important and interesting points about the use of technology for the more traditional companies, but they were not addressed properly or in a proper manner to her intended audience, which is also difficult to depict.  Clarity and audience are two crucial aspects to getting the point across, and these are the two areas in which Breakenridge lacked success.

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