“Social Media and Public Relations” by Deirdre Breakenridge offers 8 new practices for professionals working in the field of Public Relations. As she claims, technology is constantly changing the way society communicates and as a result, PR professionals need to adapt to these changes and take advantage of the technological affordances provided through social media. Throughout the book, Breakenridge highlights three main strategies in order to master the web; new research methods, policy development, and public participation. Breakenridge highlights 8 practices a company should take in order to be an expert in the world of social media. From being a “Relationship Analyzer” to a “PR Technology Tester”, these different roles within a company all aim to effectively communicate with online communities, and stop company crisis’ before they happen.
As I began reading this book I started to question the relevance of each of these practices and some of my fellow classmates in #d2i agreed including Patrick Domingo and Ryan Elsman who both noted the overlap in these 8 practices. Breakenridge’s suggestions seemed obvious and repetitive. Anna Dutkowsky similarly said, “although this book has been organized into eight separate sections pertaining to different skill sets, ultimately they all bleed into each other and the content can get repetitive”. This led our group #d2i to an important conversation regarding audience. This book is not intended for a tech savvy student studying social media. It is for a specific PR professional who doesn’t engage in social media regularly and needs very clear roles defined.
Throughout the entire book Deidre Breakenridge stresses the importance of PR agencies to adapt to new communication technologies. Her discussion of technology made #d2i really question what stance she was taking regarding society and technology. A real debate formed when discussing Nancy Baym’s 3 types of technological discourse and which point of view is present in this book. After much debate I feel as though the book is technologically deterministic. The author has a sense of urgency that PR professionals need to adapt to new online mediums that shows a lack of agency among individuals. Melisa Demaestri pointed out an important quote that shows the technological deterministic nature of the text. “The Internet changed how quickly and directly we could interact, communicate, and share information.” (p. 110) As Melisa notes, Breakenridge never acknowledges peoples roles in creating social media sites. She considers technology to be this movement that in order to succeed, companies need to take part in and learn how to use. Caity Grey started to see this approach towards the end of the book. She notes, “[Breakenridge] rarely discusses how we behave outside of the social media context and how that effects a lot of the practices she so adamantly is pushing. Why do we have to do these things? To feed into the system as she suggests? Or is it more of us using this system to further perpetuate what we already have in practice.” Caity is pointing out the key question that our group grappled with answering. Breakenridge seems to believe technology communications are taking over the way companies need engage with their audiences, and they either need to adapt or they will become irrelevant.
One of the main course concepts that #d2i noted and agreed is present in almost all 8 practices of the book is surveillance. Surveillance is a concept we first discussed when reading Lee Humphreys’, “Who’s Watching Whom? A Study of Interactive Technology and Surveillance.” Deirdre Breakenridge encourages professionals to research and monitor what other companies are doing on social media as well as monitoring employees internally. By conducting a SWOT analysis on other company’s online presence, it becomes easier to self-reflect and determine an effective strategy. Monitoring employee conversations acts as a form of surveillance in order to ensure compliance. The “PR Policy Maker” works within specific departments of the company to increase sharing, collaboration and innovation for better internal and external communication. Surveillance is key in order to understand both online and offline communities. However this brings up an important question of free speech. When monitoring employees’ social media, how does a company separate work from private life? Breakenridge believes these lines are being blurred. She claims, “If employees are speaking on behalf of a company, they should abide by company standards.” (20) It is true that PR agents act as brand ambassadors but when can they be off the clock.
Another type of surveillance is done by the “Relationship Analyzer”. Breakenridge states that the job of the relationship analyzer is to understand how an audience connects with their brands and to their respective communities. Humphreys would call this practice, being “the lurker”. As Katilin Gu pointed out in her notes, the analyzer acts as a lurker in order to gauge topics of interest, community standards, and social ties. Their job is to act as a “relationship booster” in order to move “casual relationships to higher steps”. Kaitlin pointed out how the relationship analyzer can be closely related to our class reading from Nancy Baym on social ties. In this role there is a person who is managing weak ties, trying to convert latent ties and acting as the bridge between the company and their audience. Antonia Iragorri in her notes mentions the “relationship stairway” Breakenridge discusses, and how it can be thought about using our course concepts. Going up the stairway is the transition from latent to weak to strong ties.
This job of creating and controlling social capital is what Tiziana Terranova in the reading, “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy” would call “immaterial labor”. The Relationship Analyzer is being paid by a company to create social capital, the effects are not something material you can grasp, but a value that is important to a company in order to have a strong brand presence online. Everyone in #d2i agreed that the PR industry’s work revolves around immaterial labor and Stephanie Diggles in her notes similarly saw the connection to Terranova’s piece on the digital economy. Stephanie found that Breakenridge encourages companies to find consumers who can enforce free labor by acting as brand ambassadors. Breakenridge encourages social media experts to “identify people who can help to share your company’s content as potential brand champions”(45). This is using online users as free marketing, or what Terranova would classify as free labor.
Crisis management has always been an important role in the PR industry and Breakendridge discusses the many ways a crisis manager can use social media to anticipate problems and stop them before they happen. The “Pre-Crises Doctor” lurks on conversations and monitors the internet in order to see if there are any disasters on the horizon. However besides surveillance, Breakenridge gives advice on how a company should approach their audience. As Patrick Domingo points out this advice is reminiscent of what Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd discuss in “I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately”. Both Breakenridge and Marwick and Boyd talk about the imagined audience, or creating content based on your lowest common denominator as to not offend anyone. Crisis management is also important for a company to save face among their consumers. As Alexis Donitz points out, PR experts focus on a company’s self-face even outside of a crisis situation. The idea of saving face can be related to our course concept of face work which is reputation management or trying to gain prestige. What is important about this is that it accurately can summarize the entire book.
Deirdre Breakenridge uses 8 practices to encompass the way a Public Relations professional should be approaching social media, however it can all be summarized in 1 practice which is this. A PR professional needs to effectively understand the landscape of social media including how other companies and communities are using the platforms in order to engage with their ideal audience in good times and in times of crises.