Social Media and Public Relations Afterthoughts

While reading Social Media and Public RelationsEight New Practices for the PR Professional by Deirdre Breakenridge, my mind wandered to the broken-down, home-spun and nearly extinct businesses that I’ve worked at throughout the years.  Why?  The reason is that these businesses, who had little or no public relations departments, would have greatly benefitted from the structure Breakenridge offers.  While the book is geared more so for public relations professionals, it’s easy to comprehend the key concepts, and the structured format is an ideal read for both the professional seeking introductory knowledge of SNS protocol, and even your Mom & Pop’s businesses looking to have an online social media presence.  The eight social media skills outlined in the book, prescribe a notion that in order to stay in tune with brand relationships, client needs and social media habits, PR professionals should engage in consistent online dialogue as well as improve their communication among, to and with their co-workers.  The eight guidelines (or roles)  prescribed are:

1.  The PR Policy Maker

2.  The Internal Collaboration Generator

3.  The PR Technology Tester

4.  The Communications Organizer

5.  The Pre-Crisis Doctor

6.  The Relationship Analyzer

7.  The Reputation Task Force Member

8.  The Master of the Metrics

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What’s really fun (and multi-tasking) about the chapters in this book, is that each is summarized with checklists for the reader or PR professional, to recap and implement the strategies and practices while guiding oneself through the technological affordances.  Breakenridge conveys the message that the world of PR has had many shifts and continues to evolve in order to adapt to various social media platforms.  Chapters convey this message with step-by-step instructions, in addition to advice from PR professionals as it pertains to each chapter.

Overall, while I’m sure these practices are good for providing some sort of beginning guidelines for PR professionals working in companies with no to little social media presence, the book was preoccupied with monitoring and surveilling to the point that its suggestions for such, may turn people off; especially those having to convince companies and their employees that, in the words of Martha Stewart, “it’s a good thing!”  For further understanding of lurking and surveillance, Lee Humphrey’s Who’s Watching Whom? A Study of Interactive Technology and Surveillance would be an especially good read before or after Breakenridge.  Many within our CSMT13 group found humor, invasion and awkwardness in the fact that Breckinridge suggested reaching out to co-workers in common areas that included restrooms.  When someone is taking a shit, the last thing they want to be reminded of is perverted corporate eyes and agendas.  Is The Communications Organizer a communication maven or bathroom monitor? Breakenridge further states that employees should ‘advertise’ and speak highly of (naturally) their employers on their personal social media sites, evoking the concept of Erving Goffman’s panopticon in his book, The Presentation of Self in Every Day Life.  The idea of a panopticism is that individuals partake in a self governing system driven by the ‘all seeing eye’ and its consequential tactics for not towing the line.  This is a sociological concept that employers have even adapted into their new hire agreements in which employees sign off on the fact that they act as an agent of the business  … even off of the clock!  This coincides with  Tiziana Terranova’s concept of free labor in Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy.  I feel that being expected to engage in social media discourse during off work hours is an act of passive aggressive behavior on the part of the employer.  While they prompt it as a way of creating strong ties and promoting the company, it’s really a corporate ploy to get free labor and monitor employee social behavior.  While off of the clock and not in the workplace, the moment an employee misrepresents the brand, the company will use that same social media platform as grounds for discipline.

Out of all the chapters, I found The Relationship Analyzer to be the most provocatively interesting.  This chapter describes this role as one in which the employee will “Analyze how audiences connect  – not only with their favorite brands, but also with their peers in web communities.” (Breakenridge)  The audience profile is created by grouping people according to the type of friend they might be, becoming an examiner of relationships versus a relationship builder.  The analyzer’s ultimate goal is to study the psychographics of connection and thus strengthening or deepening the bonds based on the culture of the online community.  The author says that the friendships fall into “buckets” from which to “grow relationships and measure the outcomes through technology.” (Breakenridge)  Personal Connections in the Digital Age by Nancy Baym correlates to this in terms of social shaping and building social ties.

One thing I look for in any brand representation is consistency.  I look for this in my personal relationships too, or the bums can take their toothbrushes and get to stepping.  This section was the most interesting and realistically prescribable.  It’s also a great starting point for getting a brand organized and the employees acclimated to social media presence.  The Brand Style Guide is something every company should adhere to, as it encourages companies to keep a consistent aesthetic and voice.  There’s nothing more frustrating than inconsistency.  Breakenridge could devise this concept into a whole other book!  Consistency is the key to and a measure of success.  Consistency also allows the creation of a community and the consumer to form their own brand identity with a company.  I immediately thought of Anthony Giddens  reflexive project of self.

Overall, the guidelines of the book are easily understandable to those working in the pubic relations field or students studying media and social networking.  Use of the eight strategies were redundant and contradictory throughout her book, which could be confusing to those just getting familiar with social media etiquette and the technological affordances.  Our group brought up the point that the book lacks the motivational aspect necessary to engage people who are not interested in social networking.  The book takes the perspective that everyone is willing, but the check lists at the end of each chapter could have been more helpful if they had included advice and tips to overcoming opposition to each guideline.  From the customer point of view, Breakenridge also did not elaborate what factors would garner customer interaction and brand loyalty.

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