“Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practies for the PR Professional”

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In a world that is becoming increasingly more digital, the importance of the online world in relation to business has becoming undeniable. With new plans of merging the world of social media with the world of business, professionals look to experts for prescriptions on how to successful integrate new age tactics within traditionally structured model. Deirdre Breakenridge, author of “Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practices for the PR Professional”, sets out to provide eight PR practices that she suggests are the recipe to successful use of social media in the world of public relations.

My class group D2i all seemed to agree that Breakenridge writes to an audience of young professionals in the field of public relations. The audience is in need of help to be up to date with social media practices. Breakenridge writes as if her readers have little to no prior social media knowledge/usage. Stephanie Diggles, Melisa Demaestri, and I all seemed to agree that it would be hard to believe that in today’s digital age, such a person or organization with that little knowledge exists. I was very surprised to learn how recently the book had been published. Furthermore, as a whole, I found that the text seems to be geared towards an organization, company, or department as opposed to simply the individual.

Breakenridge structures her book around the eight PR practices as detailed below:

1. The PR Policymaker – Develop and maintain social media policies

2. The Internal Collaboration Generator – Increase internal/external social media usage and collaboration across a brand.

3. The PR Technology Tester – Strategically uses and tests social media for better communication peer to peer and to the public

4. The Communications (COMMS) Organizer – Guides a company into the new forms of social media communications

5. The Pre-Crisis Doctor – Strategic and pre-emptive crisis management

6. The Relationship Analyzer – Monitors and assesses ways in which people interact and respond to social media

7. The Reputation Task Force Member – Assures that a company’s reputation and name is kept clean via social media and knows how to respond to a threat to this

8. The Master of the Metrics – Measures and distinguishes social media business outcomes/outtakes/outputs

In breaking down her prescribed eight practices for social media policy, Breakenridge explores and details the various ways in which technology and people interact and work together. D2i couldn’t help but draw parallels from this to Nancy Baym‘s discussion on social media discourses in her book “Personal Connections in the Digital Age”. Some confusion arose as to whether or not Breakenridge takes a more social shaping or technological determinist point of view. With quotes such as “You cannot control communication. You can only guide and shape experiences…”, it is hard to interpret what Breakenridge is suggesting. Is she saying that technological affordances affect the way in which people communicate in a digital age? Or is she saying that technology dictates the course of action?

Melisa seems to believe the later, interpreting the text as reading “social media happened, now we have to change our methods.” Other member of d2i, such as Alison and Patrick, felt that Breakenridge was detailing ways in which social media and PR professionals could work together and influence each other. I would say that initially I completely felt that Breakenridge was taking on a social shaping approach, but after more thought, I can absolutely see how at times, her tone switches to a more deterministic viewpoint. I think the exemplifies the issue of inconsistency that I found somewhat troublesome throughout her book.

Looking deeper into the descriptions that Breakenridge provides for each of the practices, I could not help but notice a lot of repetition and overlap between the eight roles. This was not lost to Patrick or Alexis either. Alison also later picked up on this trend. It seemed as if many of the role descriptions encompassed very similar responsibilities and tasks. One of the key components of several of the practices involved surveillance. As detailed in Lee Humphreys in “Who’s Watching Whom? A Study of Interactive Technology and Surveillance,” surveillance encompasses observing and monitoring  online behavior for some type of benefit or gain of knowledge, power, etc. It often relates to some kind of management. Breakenridge believes it to be important to keep a constant, surveilling eye both internally at a company, to protect image, and externally, to examine others responses, reactions, and ways in which engagement occurs. As a whole, d2i found surveillance to be a formative thread throughout the text.

Another major concept visible throughout the text is the idea of immaterial labor. Immaterial labor, as described by Tiziana Terranova in “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy” involves producing cultural content on a visible forum and creates emotional capital. It is an important way to add value to the brand. Alison notes specifically how “The Relationship Analyzer” creates social capital which elevates a brands imagine through material labor. Furthermore, Caity and I both saw how the role of “The Reputation Task Force Member” heavily involves immaterial labor in the sense that they are responsible for keeping a cohesive, fluid brand image and much of that involves education of employees on branding efforts and tasks that are etherial rather than concrete.

As a whole, I found the book to be not as effective or interesting as I had hoped. I really feel as if the book could have been half of the size an accomplished the same end goal. I would have appreciated more details in area such as how the conversation in the online world can be continued in the offline world. I very much got the sense the Breakenridge lights the fire for change and inspiration, but doesn’t give the full set of tools to keep it running. In class discussion, many of my fellow d2i‘ers agreed. The text felt like an outline for a motivational speaker coming in for an hour and just dusting the surface. On a more positive note, I do feel like Breakenridge knows what she is talking about and many of her suggestions are valid, but perhaps second nature or implied in today’s digital world.

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