Social Media and Public Relations Book Review -@patdomingo

Social Media and Public Relations by Deirde Breakenridge attempts to frame and create a system from which a company(or more specifically a PR professional within a company) can operate and incorporate Social Media into their current or nonexistent PR efforts. This is meant to be, as Alexis Donitz puts it, for outdated “PR professionals [who] need to change their strategies and techniques in order to be more successful.” Antonia Iragorri states that the book is tailored towards an audience of PR professionals where “expertise is expected but not about social media“.

Breakenridge introduces us to the fact that PR has changed tremendously and will continue to change with the advent and use of Social Media, consequentially uprooting traditional PR practices and calling for a huge and drastic change in the way companies interact with consumers and vice versa. She thoroughly breaks everything down into 8 practices that will help PR professionals achieve digital literacy.

One example of a practice includes the PR Policy Maker, who’s job it is to “not only [develop] social media policies, but also [maintain] them”(2). While there are many other practices like “The Internal Collaboration Generator” and “The PR Technology Tester” one job that seems to come up in many of the practices include the idea and role of monitoring both internal communication within the company and external between the company and the customers. This idea relates directly to Nancy Baym’s idea of Surveillance and “Lurking” in Personal Connections in the Digital Age, which has to do with the constant monitoring of social media activity, and Panopticism from Erving Goffman‘s The Presentation of Self in Every Day Life, which also deals with constant monitoring as a form of self censorship and punishment, where people will regulate their own behavior for fear of others watching. The practice of using negative keywords or  “crisis keywords”, is an example of such a practice, and likely one that will provide valuable information and data about what a company’s brand is negatively associated with(Breakenridge 81).

Essentially, what most of these practices attempt to do is perform quality control and filter out anything that isn’t consistent with the company brand. To what extent though? Does that really entice employees within the company to buy into the company brand? It seems like this constant monitoring would prove to be the opposite and somewhat restrictive, but I suppose it will depend on how strict monitoring will be. Breakenridge also discusses that one must “steer” those of influence within the company(like CEOs) to understand the value of social media with internal communications, citing the example of finding “quick answers” when CEOs “become frustrated” with problems their employees might know the answer to(148).  So it seems that there needs to be not only monitoring and censorship, but also an exchange of value and an incentive to reward positive behavior.

As with many of the examples, it seems a bit too idealistic/simplistic to say that a person in any size company, big or small can achieve this “Hybrid Approach” that Breakenridge lays out. The politics and the way businesses work vary in many levels, and while Breakenridge does a great job of having the guideliness as flexible as possible, there are still some shortcomings. Many of my D2i cronies have chimed in, with Anna Dutkowsky saying that “if a regular, lower level employee is reading this… it’s ultimately up to their boss” to give the go ahead. The example of Nancy Baym’s concept of the digital divide, where access to technology is in fact a privilege, plays well into this example, as huge corporations normally have access to thousands of expensive tools, better job candidates, and other benefits when compared to smaller businesses. Along with that, Breakenridge doesn’t go enough into what to realistically expect and how to handle initial and ongoing resistance internally, which seems to be a primary goal in the book.

When speaking of becoming an influencer within a company and to other people outside of it, or as Breakenridge puts it, a “True Change Agent,” the framework she proposes seems a bit contradictory in nature, as if there are literally rungs in a ladder to be climbed and becoming this all encompassing influencer. It seems as though the personal agenda is coming first, as opposed to wanting to truly help others. I know that that is definitely not her intention, but the way that it’s formatted, at least to me, gives off the impression. 

So should I aim to be a Hybrid Professional or a True Change Agent… or both? While I understand that, as she puts it “the eight new practices are a way for you to..create good communication practices on the inside first..then shape better communication experiences…with the public,” it seems that there are way too many buzzwords and different frameworks for someone to realistically adhere to, which complicates the overall process(152). She claims that the practices aren’t exactly “tactical” but a way of thinking, and while that is true, there are actionable steps one can take with each practice (like answering the various questions provided for one’s own company/employer) that it’s hard to see it as only a way of thinking(152). She’s very intelligent, but I found myself lost a lot of the time. As Allison Emes points out, are “all these positions really necessary?”  D2i agreed that we feel like many of them overlap, and I feel that, realistically, less practices would make it a little more digestible for one person to attempt to embody.

D2i also agreed that she doesn’t go into the relationship and dynamic between traditional(offline)  PR and how to integrate both of those. While that is a whole new subject to tackle, I would’ve liked to see some of that addressed, since traditional, offline PR still does have value. 

Breakenridge’s book attempts to create a framework that will allow seasoned PR professionals to make sense of Social Media, while disclaiming that one “cannot control communication”(146). It seems that while she does see the chaotic, unpredictable nature of communication, that there is a way to tip the odds in one’s favor, by way of corporate impression management via social media, according to her. The book is thorough and attempts to cut through the chaos, albiet with some shortcomings.


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