Impact of Social Media on Public Relations

Impact of Social Media on Public Relations

Impact of Social Media on Public Relations

Organizational communication has evolved significantly in the last ten years. Currently, social media plays a critical role in building and sustaining relationships with stakeholders. Multinational companies and small and medium enterprises alike, are increasingly embracing social media platforms to improve and safeguard their reputational assets. Consequently, public relations professionals have begun to shift from overreliance on traditional media such as television and newspapers to social networking sites. Social networking sites have boosted public relations programs by fostering engagement and relationship building with users.

Impact of Social Media on Public Relations

            The emergence of social media technologies has revolutionized the public relations sector. Through social networking sites, organizations have been able to create and sustain new relationships and link with other companies and stakeholders. Social networking sites are collections of online apps that are founded on the conceptual ideals of Web2.0, and promote the creation and exchange of user-generated messages (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010).  The leading social networking sites include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, as well as MySpace. The potential effects of social media on PR have resulted in the Public Relations Society of America to explore the need to redefine public relations. Essentially, social media has radically changed the purposes of public relations and its strategic value to organizations. From its foundation as an area of professionalism, the field of public relations has depended on traditional media channels such as television and newspapers to communicate with the public and its target audiences (Michel, Ruggiero & Yang, 2016).  Nonetheless, social networking platforms have given public relations experts the opportunity to reach out to their stakeholders through two-way communication. Consequently, public relations is increasingly being transformed through timely delivery of press releases directly to the target audiences. Although public relations continue to utilize traditional media platforms, the turn of the 21stc century has generated a list of challenges and transformations that have the ability to influence the future of public relations.

            Social media has tremendously transformed communication models of many organizations. In the past, most public relations campaigns operated on a closed communication model in which there was minimal feedback from the target audience. As such, people used to be passive receivers of organizational messages bombarded to them. Organizations were not ready to accept views from the public, which would potentially transform or improve their operations and services (Michel, Ruggiero & Yang, 2016).  However, the emergence of social media implies that companies have to embrace an open communication model that is characterized by two-way communication. Through responses and comments from user, companies can gain insights into the real views and perceptions of people towards their reputation or activities (Breakenridge, 2012). Thus, organizations are increasingly embracing a listening culture that goes a long way in establishing and maintaining mutual understanding and goodwill between them and all stakeholders. By taking advantage of two-way-communication channels, public relations practitioners can design dialogues between their firms and stakeholders instead of merely using one-way communication strategy that limits free exchange of views.

            The role of social media is critical in accommodating user-generated content. In this respect, social media supports users to deliver messages and put in place effective campaigns. Social media allows users to create public profiles and put in place a contact list for the purpose of sharing the connections of other user groups (Allagui, & Breslow, 2016). In so doing, it enables users to publish digital creative contents and gain access to real-time feedback through online discussions. As such, it accommodates the process of editing of the original message contents (Allagui, & Breslow, 2016).  Social networking applications are utilized in organizational public relations mainly as mechanisms of community building and knowledge sharing. 

            A few multinational corporations tend to avoid participation in social media based on the view that they have minimal power or capacity to control communication. However, companies place themselves at a greater risk if they overlook the social media and leave conversations to happen without awareness or participation (Motion, Heath & Leitch, 2015). Companies are often deemed responsible for the contents that they post on social media platforms. In some situations, companies may not be expected to prevent postings, but may monitor such sites and remove offensive postings that may be libelous or infringe various laws.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Social Media in Public Relations

            There are various benefits and limitations that come with the use social media to support public relations activities. For instance, unlike traditional media channels, social media increases user engagement, thereby improving positive perception of the public towards an organization. User engagement is the connection that an organization establishes with its publics beyond purchase. It enables organizations to build strong relationships with different stakeholder groups, leading to positive reputational outcomes. Social media promotes two-way communication between an organization and its publics through user-generated contents. As a consequence, both the organization and its publics learn from each other, leading to improved interaction. Both user-generated contents and friendship networks are critical in user profiling, which is an important source of valuable information for public relations; it enables an organization to understand the characteristics of its audiences in terms of their geographical locations, age, gender, as well as level of income (Zhao et al. 2017). Most importantly, social media allows public relations professionals to uncover deeply hidden attitudes and perceptions that are important in an organization’s image.

            While social media applications provide forums for relationship building, they have potential limitations. For instance, the use of social media to analyze people’s views can be time-consuming (Nadaraja & Yazdanifard, 2013). This is especially the case when an organization is undertaking a discourse analysis, which takes significant time and effort. Social media can potentially ruin an organization’s reputation due to viral communication. Unlike other traditional media platforms that can be easily controlled by an organization, social media’s viral communication capabilities can result in negative information spreading across millions of people within a short period of time. It only takes a user to ‘share,’ ‘tag,’ or post a negative perspective about an organization (Nadaraja & Yazdanifard, 2013). Therefore, it may not be easy to regulate the spread of information that circulate via social media.

            Social media has transformed the ways in which organizations communicate to their stakeholders. In particular, the emergence of social networking sites has boosted public relations exercises by giving companies the opportunity to directly connect with its different target audiences. In the past, organizations used to operate on a closed communication mode that discouraged reception of feedback. With the widespread adoption of social media, companies can now embrace a listening culture by gathering social media opinions. As a result, firms are now able to establish and maintain mutual understanding and goodwill with their stakeholders.


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Kaplan, A. M., & Haenlein, M. (2010). Users of the world, unite! The challenges and

opportunities of Social Media. Business horizons53(1), 59-68.

Michel, A. I. G., Ruggiero, T. E., & Yang, K. C. (2016). How Public Relations Practitioners

Perceive Social Media Platforms?: A Media Richness Perspective. In Managing Public

Relations and Brand Image through Social Media (pp. 1-19). New York, NY:  IGI


Motion, J., Heath, R. L., & Leitch, S. (2015). Social media and public relations: Fake friends

and powerful publics. New York: Routledge.

Nadaraja, R., & Yazdanifard, R. (2013). Social media marketing: advantages and

disadvantages. Social Media Marketing, 1-10.

Zhao, Z., Du, J., Gao, Q., Gui, L., & Xu, R. (2017). Inferring user profile using

microblog content and friendship network. In Chinese National Conference on Social

Media Processing (pp. 29-39). New York, NY: Springer, .



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