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Technology in this age is putting a spin on how an organization establishes and cultivates an ongoing mutually beneficial relationship with its publics. Social media is an evolving, ever present catalyst in the communication realm of public relations. Public Relations in its earliest years, the era of Antiquity, acknowledged the importance of public opinion, but their scope was limited to an arm’s reach of their publics. Social media has become both a window and a bridge to the public relations practitioners’, by enabling them to interconnect the internal objectives of the organization with the constant changing externalities.
In the arena of public relations, an array of hats is essential to effectively carry the overall message of an organization into a stage of visible outcome. An organization’s public relations department amongst many other tasks must build awareness, research and analyze public attitudes and perceptions, strategize, and implement crisis plans. Social media provides a way for organizations to do these things on a scale not known in earlier times when messages had to first bypass the filter of the media “gatekeepers”. As stated by Rupert Murdoch, “Technology is shifting the power away from the editors, the publishers, the establishment, and the media elite. Now it’s the people who are in control” (p. 1).
Social media as defined by Wikipedia is “an umbrella term for the various activities that integrate technology, and social interaction” (p. 1). This includes internet forums, weblogs, social blogs, wikis, podcasts, pictures, and videos. Forrester, The Growth of Social Technology Adoption estimated in 2008, that 3 out of 4 Americans use social technology. It is this type of growth that makes it an inevitable, essential tool in creating a survivable existence.
In the world of public relations, building awareness and brand reputation are cohesive. Social media is not only being used for its direct to audience approach, but also as an effective generator of media relations. Both awareness and reputation come on the tail of an organization’s integrity. In order for an organization to build a positive reputation, it must nurture relationships. It is not science that viable relationships come from a foundation of trust. The trust that social media provides is authenticated by the fact that it allows for the relationship to be carried out in a two-way process. This type of communication permits an organization to truly listen to their public’s needs and opinions, giving the organization an open opportunity to be actively responsive. Before social media, the standard “press release” into traditional industrial media was a shot in the dark towards reaching the true potential of interest.
It is important to understand the many different branches to which an organization may utilize in building awareness and how. Through internet forums or “social networking” sites, such as MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn, to name a few, as well as blogs, make an organization able to centralize their audience. Instead of “talking at” the masses, they are able to “talk with” a selected tuned in, interested community. It is in these communities where a considerable buzz of web chatter stirred, enters the web world and reaches the eyes and mouths of influential mediums that were otherwise unlikely to be reached by just any “Joe” before.
In social media, ideas can spread like a wild fire, through an effect called “push and pull”. According to Oden 2009, in the push aspect there is “instigation of a new concept in social media situations, providing useful information and provoking discussions about it” (p. 2). This creates an influence of “pull” which is the drive of traffic from people searching for more information. A common threaded resource between the “push and pull” theory is what is called Really Simple Syndication (RSS). RSS is a jeweled technology in the search and sift element of both public and media relations.
On the side of the public relations, RSS is useful in recognizing content analysis, by keywords or concept references. This type of insight gives public relations a heads up into their competition and identifies their own strengths and weaknesses accordingly. On the side of media relations, journalists are able to receive content that is in relevance to their interests or “beat”. The research that takes place within the public relations department is essentially the bones of the overall success of an organization. It is a stage that is unending, and social media provides a platform for which information is delivered in real time format.
Another dynamic of research affected by social media is the scale upon which surveys are able to be given. Not only do social media make it possible for samples to be gained on a global level, through certain software, presentations are part of digital exhibits and interactive sites record message resonation. Although, some may view this “open door” to the world mentality overwhelming, it is a way for an organization to see where their message may penetrate beyond their eyes’ conception.
After the research, an organization must take all those pieces of information to organize, strategize, and implement into a plan. In the text Using Public Relations Research by Glen Broom and David Dozier (2009) “Strategic planning is deciding where you want to be in the future and how to get there. It sets the organization’s direction proactively, avoiding ‘drift’ and routine repetition of activities.” The quality of content is a core value in success, so developing a strategy that engages people is important. When formulating a strategy through social media the five W’s serve as an outline. Who are you trying to reach? What are you trying to accomplish? Where are these people online? When and how is the best time to reach them? Why will they care about what you have to say?
In order to create a credible presence, the content must be consistent. Tactics that reinforce the strategy of an organization’s power in the clutter of information is redundancy. Using multiple communication channels within social media, such as blogs and podcasts, fights entropy. Also, increasing the channels a message is delivered optimizes the search engine visibility. It is through search engine optimization that an organization leaves its footprints in the virtual world.
However, these virtual footprints can have adverse affects in the light of a crisis. A constant flow of information circulating can lead to misinformation, and in turn misunderstanding (McLintic 2009). A good crisis management plan must involve actively monitoring the web for any content that could be damaging to the organization’s image and reputation. Social media gives organizations a way to be transparent in their management. With a constant flow of communication between an organization and its’ public, it is much easier to indentify and diffuse a small problem that could’ve escalated to a bigger one (Hall 2009). As with any situation, it is ideal to be proactive rather than reactive in nature. There are certain methods of preparation that can greatly change the outcome of a crisis.
Through anticipation, an organization can take a front line approach to crisis planning. One way that a crisis can be redirected, is by the purchase of generic crisis terms that ensure search engine positioning of the public to “landing” pages set in place to address issues, before they link to others that could possibly reinforce negativity.
Before venturing off deep into the social media dimension, it is a good idea to benchmark the current position of the organization, so that there is a clear start of measure on the ROI. A few simple markers Chris Lake suggests in his article 10 Ways to Measure Social Media Success would be to “make a note of the obvious numbers, (facebook fans, twitter followers, dig links, etc). Make a note of the less obvious benchmarks, (SEO rankings, customer satisfaction scores). Make a note of ROI benchmarks, such as how much is being paid to acquire customers via other marketing channels.”
However, reality is, social media humanizes a process that was once broken down so analytically. In order to measure the success of social media, you must come to the realization that there is no true assessment by which impact can be calculated. Although, it should not go without saying that it stands as an effective means to communicate to millions, far below the cost of any other form of media. The relationship it assists in building is priceless, and retention is a pretty effective bottom line tool of evaluation.
In every new media there has been resistance to change. As a product of generation Y, I have been witness to the crossover over in media convergence, and I see a world of possibilities as it evolves. In the world of PR, I feel social media is an undeniable asset to an organization’s ability to connect in ways that attributes to immeasurable value in what they strive to represent and stand for. Social media is a hub to the PR obligations. To underestimate its power to redefine and shift the foundation, by which PR once stood upon as “news beggars”, is to remain oblivious to the treasure bestowed at our fingertips.
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