Social Media and Public Relations – Book Review

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“Consider these thoughts a blueprint for both communication and engagement in an era of social business.” – David Armano, Foreword, ix

In “Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practices For the PR Professional”, PR professional and CEO of Pure Performance Communications Deirdre K. Breakenridge offers eight practices for public relations professionals on how to succeed in raising awareness for their various brands and how to engage with customers through the use of social media. These eight practices include the PR Policymaker, who develops and maintains social media policies, training and governance, the Internal Collaboration Generator who initiates social collaboration across the organization internally, the PR Technology Tester who researches, tests, and implements current and upcoming technology, the Communications Organizer, who educates and redirects an organization to implement new communication processes, the Pre-Crisis Doctor who works to prevent crisis’s before they can happen through proactively monitoring social media conversations and the tracking of customer and stakeholder sentiment, the Relationship Analyzer, who observes and analyzes how audiences connect with brands, and using that information to visualize and map connections for better strategic interactions between the brand and customers, the Reputation Task Force Member who manages and protects the reputation of the brand through helping consumers understand the brand’s core values, and the Master of the Metrics, who measures progress and performance of social media initiatives, and creates the appropriate metros and reporting measurements for executives. Each of these practices are elaborated upon in a chapter of their own, complete with interviews and insights from various PR professionals, providing the audience with solid advice on good practices within the industry. The embrace of change is important in this book, as Breakenridge advocates for changes in mindset, group organization, work processes, etc in order to meet the demands of the changing online PR arena. Social media has changed the world of public relations and in order to be a serious contender, it is necessary to understand and integrate social media into PR practices. The modes of communication have changed due to the integration of social media and through this book, Deirdre Breakenridge provides a guide on how to navigate these changes and more importantly, how to succeed within the new playing field.

One of the reasons that “Social Media and Public Relations” succeeds in the presentation of ideas and practices is in its language and rhetoric. Although a seasoned PR professional, Deirdre Breakenridge still manages to write in a way that appeals to even the most inexperienced student just beginning to learn about public relations. Her target audience appears to be professionals who are able to understand, utilize, and integrate social media usage to influence what is said about the brand, but is still knowledgeable about public relation practices. People who grew up with social media and with the knowledge of how to use it are at an advantage and can more easily assume the eight roles that Breakenridge outlined, due to their knowledge and experience with the technology. Although the language of the book did come across as too basic to some of my group members, I believe that it is an advantage because it reaches out to not only the inexperienced in the field of public relations, but also to older professionals who are making the transition to utilizing digital technology. The simple and direct language of “Social Media and Public Relations” allows for it to be an quick, yet informative read.

Another area that I found Deirdre Breakenridge to have really succeeded at with “Social Media and Public Relations” is in the many examples of technology tools and platforms, free and paid, that she provides throughout the chapters to supplement the examples of public relations practices that she provides.

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screenshot taken by author

I found these tools and technologies to be extremely useful, especially as a student just beginning to study public relation practices and methods. Although there are tools that I have known about prior to the reading the book, there are many more that Breakenridge introduces, along with comparisons and summaries on how to utilize the difference affordances of each of these technologies to further the goals of our social media strategy. In introducing these tools and technologies, it is possible to see that Breakenridge agrees with Nancy Baym‘s ideas regarding the social shaping ability of technology, in which our usage of technology and our social ties mutually influence each other, allowing the user to customize their usage technology beyond the technology’s intended use. These tools provided ways for a brand to receive data such as the number of visitors and page views for a website, a website’s referring keywords, recent visitor locations, inbound link monitoring, user profile data, as a way to monitor a brand’s performance, but team KLM also agreed that the suggestion for increased reliance on technology to monitor and report consumer activity and interests was troubling because it concerned the problem of promoting consumer surveillance.

When consumers voluntarily engage in participatory panopticon through talking about the brand on social media, and unintentionally advertising for the brand, not only do they allow themselves to be tracked and monitored by brands, but they also provide free labor for companies through talking about them, and promoting them throughout their networks. Brands benefit from this type of immaterial labor, as it allows them to receive data on how to improve their products or services without spending money on focus groups or on research. Several roles are dedicated to the surveillance of consumers, including the Pre-Crisis Doctor, and the Metrics Master, which relies on information gathered from voluntary surveillance, and uses it to measure the success or failure of a social media policy. It is personally concerning to me, that Breakenridge would speak so blatantly about the surveillance of not only consumers, but also employees of the brand as a way to control the dialogue surrounding the brand, but I do understand the necessity of utilizing all the resources available to a brand in order to measure its growth or manage its reputation.

Although “Social Media and Public Relations” appears to only succeed in providing useful and realistic approaches towards brand management for businesses, the practices that Breakenridge offers can also be applied to personal brand management as well. Breakenridge dedicates the 6th role, the Relationship Analyze,r towards visualizing and mapping connections for better strategic interactions between groups of differing social ties and of varying social capital. Although it may appear as though Breakenridge advocates for the exploitation of the resources in social relationships, is is also a way of strengthening ties, and for moving up the “Relationship Stairway”. The promotion of a brand, be it personal or commercial, relies on strong ties in order for information regarding the brand to travel through networks and reach new audiences. Without building a foundation for good relationships with consumers and audiences, a brand cannot hope to compete in the digital technology landscape, where much of the sharing occurs between peer to peer, rather from a “top-down” strategy.

Overall, my team and I did agree that “Social Media and Public Relations” was a very thorough and inclusive read, and I personally felt that it was a really great read, especially for college students like me who are looking to enter the public relations sector. The book does an incredibly good job of laying out the blueprint for a social media strategy to work, and in terms that a beginner in the field would be able to easily understand. Of course, the book is not without areas in need of improvement. Criticisms of the book include its redundancy of roles, since some people felt that several of the roles could be condensed into one role. Other criticisms include confusion over the intended target audience of the book, and the fact that the book is not as encompassing as it could have been, with real life, historic and current examples to supplement the methods and examples Breakenridge included in the book. Additionally, Breakenridge also failed to address the issue of off-line brand management, nor did she adequately address the issue of how to incentivize people’s participation into social media.

In retrospect, if one regards the book as more of an encouragement on the possibilities that integrating social media into public relations strategies can bring a brand, then the “flaws” would not seem that serious. I would argue that “Social Media and Public Relations” works best as a point of reference, rather than as a step by step instruction manual on the administration of a social media strategy.

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